Daily Israel Report

Op-Ed: Shmuel Katz's Legacy

He left a body of valuable literature.
Published: Thursday, May 22, 2008 12:28 PM


Shmuel Katz, a former legislator in Israel's Knesset and a longtime leader of Israel's nationalist camp, passed away in Israel in early May at the age of 93.
 
Katz died on the fourth of Iyar, the traditional Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers (Yom HaZikaron) and the eve of the traditional date of Israel's Independence Day (Yom Ha'Atzmaut).
 
The timing of Katz's death is reminiscent of the passing of other great patriots. Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4,
He was a leader of the effort to retain the lands Israel liberated in the 1967 Six Day War.
1826.
 
Katz served in the Herut party's first Knesset delegation and had helped Menachem Begin create Herut. Earlier, he had served the cause of Zionism as an assistant to Zev Jabotinsky, an emissary for the Revisionist Zionist movement in London on the eve of World War Two, as a member of the Irgun's High Command and as the Irgun's last operational commander in Jerusalem.
 
As other commentators have mentioned in their tributes to Katz, he was a leader of the effort to retain the lands Israel liberated in the 1967 Six Day War. It was through the Land of Israel Movement, as it was known, that Katz came to the attention of many Zionist activists in America.
 
Here, I will quickly survey half a dozen of the books that Katz, a native of South Africa, wrote in English.
 
Days of Fire: The Secret Story of the Making of Israel (1968)
This book provided perhaps the first, solid overall history of the Irgun's revolt against the British. Katz was a direct participant in many of the events he writes about and this, along his unique access to dozens of other Irgun veterans, makes Katz's perspective on this topic hard to match. The inspiring stories of the valor of the Irgun soldiers and the goals they fought for are just as relevant today as they were in the 1940s.

Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine (1973)
Written after the Six Day War, here Katz lays out the historical and strategic reasons for Israel to retain control of the lands liberated in the war. Battleground works as an encyclopedic source-book for those involved in Israel's hasbara (public relations) effort, as well as a quick way to get a firm grounding in the ins and outs of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
 
This is the book that Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI) and other groups distributed thousands of copies of for decades to pro-Israel activists across America. With the publication Battleground alone, Katz could have earned the title of the father of hasbara in America. Katz, however did much more guiding the founders of AFSI, writing for the Jerusalem Post, speaking and counseling many other researchers and writers.
 
The Hollow Peace (1982)
Here, Katz attacks the folly of Camp David and exposes the dangerous situation President Jimmy Carter was creating for Israel decades before most woke up to just what Jimmy Carter was really all about. Katz permanently broke with Menachem Begin over Camp David and here he sets out the details of his objections. The ongoing missile attacks Israel now faces from Gaza could not be occurring without the non-stop smuggling from Sinai. Katz's warnings were clear.
 
Battletruth: The World and Israel (1983)
This is the only published collection of essays and articles by Katz. It covers the Camp David Accords, the retreat from Sinai and other issues.
 
Lone Wolf: A Two-Volume Biography of Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky (1996)
Katz's two-volume masterful work is a breathtaking effort. So much information about Jabotinsky and his tremendous impact on Zionism is related that it causes a new appreciation of the man and his ideas, even among those who already consider him the greatest Zionist leader after Herzl. Unfortunately, Katz mostly ignores many to his own right who were important to Jabotinsky's movement and who should have been given more attention, such as Israel Eldad, Hillel Kook, Abba Achimeir, Yirmiyahu Halpern and Uri Zvi Greenberg.
 
The Aaronsohn Saga (2007)
Katz's last book was about the NILI intelligence network that aided the British against the Ottomans during World War One. The remarkable story of these Zionist heroes and their pure sacrifices is exciting as well as emotional. Most of the young group lost their lives. Here, Katz allowed a nearly 100-year-old story of bravery to be accessed by today's readers. A comprehensive history of NILI had never been written and Katz's final years were occupied with this noble deed.
 
"I have never felt so downhearted about Israel as I do now. We're in a terrible state," Katz told journalist Judith Miller in a February 11, 2008 New York Sun interview shortly after The Aaronsohn Saga was published. Surely, without Katz's direct help that "terrible" position becomes that much harder to remedy. However, it is fortunate that Katz left a body of valuable literature that pro-Israel advocates will continue to look to for generations to come.