Ze’ev Jabotinsky remembered 80 years after his death

Jabotinsky has guided my entire worldview.  He touches our soul, our imagination and our minds. Here are his 5 basic principles. Op-ed.

Ronn Torossian ,

100 Israeli old Shekel coin - Zeev Jabotinsky
100 Israeli old Shekel coin - Zeev Jabotinsky
צילום: iStock

Ze’ev Jabotinsky died on August 4, 1940. This week marks 80 years since he died – yet so much of what this great Zionist visionary said is still so relevant today.

Picture Ze’ev Jabotinsky urging the Jews in Europe to leave in the days before the Holocaust.

Picture the days before the State of Israel when the Irgun forced the British to leave the land.

Picture the one-armed hero Joseph Trumpeldor, who fought at Tel Hai in 1920 – dying with the words on his lips "Never mind, it is good to die for our country"

Picture the boys of Betar, the youth movement Jabotinsky formed, those who formed Plugat Hakotel and protected Jews who visited the Western Wall when Jews needed protection going there.

Realize on the 80th anniversary of the death of this great man, that the ideals of Jabotinsky are very much alive. In Israel, in the Prime Ministers’ office hangs a picture of the great Ze’ev Jabotinsky (Bibi Netanyahu’s father was a long-time assistant to Jabotinsky). --- and all over the world, in the United States and elsewhere, those of us who admire and follow in the footsteps of Ze’ev Jabotinsky are often on the front lines of fighting for important issues for the Jewish people.

Those who have read and studied the work and words of Ze’ev Jabotinsky realize that this man’s ideology offers a guidepost for life, something which leaves one - as he said - with a proper “philosophy of life” and a guidepost on how to live life as a Jew.

Of course, the duty and aim of Betar, the organization dedicated to him, is very simple to state, though difficult to achieve: that is, to create a "normal", "healthy" Jew. The greatest difficulty is encountered because, as a nation, the Jews today are neither "normal" nor "healthy." During two thousand years of exile, the Jewish nation lost the habit of concentrating its willpower on an all important task, lost the habit of acting in unison as a people, lost the ability to defend itself, instead, the Jews became accustomed to shouts rather than deeds, to disorder and disorganization, to negligence.

Those of us who follow Jabotinsky realize the need for normalcy in everything we do in life as Jews – and as people.

As a former Rosh Hanhagah of Betar – the national president of Betar North America for many years – as a human being, a Jew, an American, as an entrepreneur, Jabotinsky has guided my entire worldview. Jabotinsky touches our soul, our imagination and our minds.

There are many lessons which he taught us, but I would like to impart 5 key principles which are core and vitally relevant to our people, and the world in which we live today.

Zeev Jabotinsky is very much alive.

Principle 1: Ahavat Yisrael--love of Jewry. Jabotinsky taught us we must stand by our fellow Jews – and love them and stand with them. This is something which cannot be emphasized enough. Love the Jewish people.

From Jewish education and learning Hebrew to standing up and speaking out for the Jewish people, those are things which are necessities.

Stand with Jews – and for Jewish issues. Jews all over the world need to be reminded of the importance to stand up for the Jewish people and for Jewish issues.

Love every Jew – for we are, as Jabotinsky taught us, the descendants of kings. We are a race onto our own – and whether it is Israel being unfairly attacked and facing a double standard, or the threat of Antisemitism we see rising worldwide, it is hard to depend upon others.

A follower of Zeev Jabotinsky – Benjamin Netanyahu raises a voice of moral conscience against Iran, an enemy of the world who vows to destroy the Jewish people.


Ze’ev Jabotinsky said: “We hold that Zionism is moral and just. And since it is moral and just, justice must be done, no matter whether Joseph or Simon or Ivan or Achmed agree with it or not.”
About a year before becoming Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon said that if Zeev Jabotinsky would have been the head of the Jewish Agency instead of David Ben-Gurion, millions of Jews would have been saved from death during the Holocaust. Immediately afterwards, “post-Zionist” politicians told Sharon he should apologize for having said this. To which Sharon replied, "I was there and I know what happened, if you want we can debate about it in public." No further comments were heard. He was right. Jabotinsky commanded us to love Jews- and in action not in theory.

Worldwide, my Jewish brethren should read Jabotinsky’s 1908 essay which spoke of Jewish intellectuals who displayed an ambivalent attitude to their people - “The bitter root of our shame and our suffering is that we do not give our own people the full love of a patriot. It would be better if we did not love our people at all, if we were unconcerned as to whether it existed or had disappeared, rather than that we should love it halfway, which means to despise it. The Jewish character has some negative qualities; yet it is not because they are negative that we despise them, but because they are Jewish. As for those qualities of our race which are morally or esthetically irrelevant, they awaken our disgust because they remind us of our Jewishness.”

“The Arab name Israil carries a beautiful and poetic sound to our ears, but those among us called Yisrael are never happy with their “ugly” name. We readily accept the fact that the Spaniard’s name is Jaime, but turn up our noses when we have to pronounce the name Chaim. The gestures made by an Italian we find captivating; they annoy us when a Jew makes them. The specifically Jewish intonation in our speech is not pleasant. The southern Germans and the Swiss articulate exactly the same jarring singsong and we do not complain; but the same sound from a Jew seems intolerably tasteless to us…”

Love the Jewish people – and of course love and stand with the Jewish State.

Principle #2 – Hadar: Hadar is a Hebrew word which is hardly at all translatable into another language: It combines various concepts such as outward beauty, respect, self-esteem, politeness, faithfulness. The only suitable "translation" into the language of real life must be the Betari - in his dealings, actions, speech and thought.

Nevertheless, "Hadar Betar" must be the daily goal of each one of us: our every step, gesture, word, action and thought must always be strictly executed from the Hadar viewpoint. In so many ways, it is the total essence of what it meant to have Jewish pride. To be a mentsh and to be a good person. To stand up – and be ethical and collected and good – yet stand up and speak out and carry ourselves with dignity.

Have moral values. Have decency. Be grand, be strong and sharp, courteous and honest. Hadar is to do what is right, and not what is popular or convenient. Hadar is honor, splendor, glory, the mission of Jews having a backbone. That which we see among Jews who stand up for themselves and our people.

In its original sense, it conveys a sense of splendor, of glory; in the context of Jabotinsky’s code, it is almost untranslatable. The closest rendering of its meaning would probably be “overall impeccability.” … Jabotinsky’s own statement of the virtues inherent in Hadar included all the trivia that make up our daily lives – external sightliness, cleanliness, tidiness, punctuality, courtesy, chivalrous and considerate behavior towards women, the old and the very young. … Hadar, which he felt should be a universal code, was especially important to the masses of Jews.”

And hadar teaches us as Jabotinsky said

Human society is based on reciprocity. If you remove reciprocity, justice becomes a lie. A person walking somewhere on a street has the right to live only because and only to the extent that he acknowledges my right to live. But, if he wishes to kill me, to my mind he forfeits his right to exist – and this also applies to nations. Otherwise, the world would become a racing area for vicious predators, where not only the weakest would be devoured, but the best. [Jabotinsky in Ethics of the Iron Wall.]”

In an entirely different era, he clinged to his firm-belief that Jews needed an army of their own. As Jabotinsky asked in a speech to a Polish Jewish audience: “Is a situation moral in which one side can commit any crime or murder and the other is forbidden to react?”

This is as relevant today as it was then. Every word must be a "word of honor", and the latter is mightier than steel. A Betari – a follower of Jabotinsky is someone whose word matters, whose honor matters.

Principle #3 - Barzel (iron) – Be not afraid. Do not allow Jews to be taken advantage of. We must support Jews who fight and protect the Jewish people. The philosopher Max Nordau has been quoted as telling the Jewish leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky that “the Jew learns not by way of reason, but from catastrophes. He won’t buy an umbrella merely because he sees clouds in the sky. He waits until he is drenched and catches pneumonia.”

And indeed, these are scary times.

Say it loud and clear – there is no occupied territory, and the world today is not Anti-Israel. They are Anti-Jewish.

It’s against the Jews, just as it was and just as it always will be. As Jabotinsky said, “It is not the anti-Semitism of men; it is, above all, the antisemitism of things, the inherent xenophobia of the body social or the body economic under which we suffer.”

And that continues today all over the world.

Jabotinsky always realized only strength would bring peace, noting “We cannot promise any reward either to the Arabs of Palestine or to the Arabs outside Palestine. A voluntary agreement is unattainable. And so those who regard an accord with the Arabs as an indispensable condition of Zionism must admit to themselves today that this condition cannot be attained and hence that we must give up Zionism. We must either suspend our settlement efforts or continue them without paying attention to the mood of the natives. Settlement can thus develop under the protection of a force that is not dependent on the local population, behind an iron wall which they will be powerless to break down.”

He certainly was not talking about settlement in Judea and Samaria!

We do not want the world's love, we demand its respect. And the only way to gain respect is to earn it.

Today, we must heed the words of Jabotinsky, "We were not created in order to teach morals and manners to our enemies. Let them learn these things for themselves. We want to hit back at anybody who harms us. Whoever does not repay a blow by a blow is also incapable of repaying a good deed in kind. The Latin proverb says “of two evils choose the lesser. When we are in a position where – through no fault of our own – physical force dominates, only one question can be asked: what is worse? To continue watching Jews being killed and the conviction grows that our lives our cheap, and among the whole world that we are spineless?...the blackest of all characteristics is the tradition of the cheapness of Jewish blood, on the shedding of which there is no prohibition and for which you do not pay."

"It is always aimed at us, and we must respond. We must end this abuse of ourselves, at all costs. And it is very easy. They spit in our faces without fear, 'in passing', for no reason – not because our insulters are blessed with courage and want to pick a fight with us, but because this pleasure is so cheap for them: they will spit at us and go on their way, and nothing will happen. We must accustom them to the thought that from now on this pleasure will come at a hefty cost.

"A new commandment must enter our hearts: that even where there is only one Jew, the word 'Zhid' must not be heard without response. Wise people will come and try to dissuade us - But it is not our purpose to win in every single incident. Our objective – to create about us the belief that a slur on our national feelings is no longer what it once was, a small diversion free of cost – but will rather, with an absolute certainty and a mathematical precision, result in a sharp and unpleasant confrontation.”

And this is a lesson which our enemies have learned – and continue to learn. And this is a value which Jabotinsky brought to the Jewish world.

As Ze’ev Jabotinsky said: “We hold that Zionism is moral and just. And since it is moral and just, justice must be done, no matter whether Joseph or Simon or Ivan or Achmed agree with it or not.”

Principle #4 - Unity is one of the biggest problems Jews have faced throughout history.

Yet do not mistake unity of standing with others. It’s the confidence of realizing that you can stand alone and be united with truth. They are wrong and we are right.

As Jabotinsky once wrote, “"Everybody is wrong and you alone are right?" No doubt this question springs by itself to the reader's lips and mind. It is customary to answer this with apologetic phrases to the effect that I fully respect public opinion, that I bow to it, that I was glad to make concessions....All this is unnecessary, and all this is untrue. You cannot believe in anything in the world, if you admit even once that perhaps your opponents are right, and not you. This is not the way to do things. There is but one truth in the world, and it is all yours. If you are not sure of it, stay at home; but if you are sure, don't look back, and it will be your way.”

Stand united in the face of the enemy. The first consequence of "every man is a king" is, obviously, universal equality: the essence of your or my royalty is that there cannot be anyone above you or me in dignity or status. The second consequence is individual liberty: a king is nobody's subject."

Be comfortable standing alone in unity.

As Ze'ev Jabotinsky declared settlement of the "land" is the only "law." As he said: "There is no justice, no law, and no God in heaven, only a single law which decides and supersedes all -- [Jewish] settlement [of the land]."

That is unity - And that is true - “Our tradition has it that in the beginning, G-d created the individual. Man is intended to be free. Democracy’s meaning is freedom and the goal of democracy is to insure the influence of the minority.” “Introduction to the Theory of Economy — Part Two,” 1934, in Nation and Society (Hebrew), pp. 218-219

Have unity – and be strong.

Principle #5: Bitachon (faith, reliance on God). It is faith in the indestructibility of the Jewish people. Strength matters. And this is strength on so many levels.

The economy – realize that one of the most fundamental differences between the right and the left then and now is something people don’t associate with Jabotinsky. He was a capitalist. Jabotinsky believed that “every individual is a king” and the state should not impair one’s freedom. He noted that freedom of speech and assembly, majority rule, and equality for all are ideals that socialism combats. Practically, he advocated an end to the Histadrut’s monopoly over labor in Eretz Israel, which was preventing non-socialists from getting work.


Jabotinsky said "Tell them [the Jewish People] three things in my name, and not two: they must get iron [i.e. weapons]; they must choose a king; and they must learn to laugh."
Jabotinsky wrote that the Bible is full of social protest, but not socialism. Its economic and social policy is one of freedom rather than direct control over economic activity by the government. Jabotinsky believed in a competitive market and explicitly wrote that Israel’s economy must be a free market.

And that of course is one form of bitachon.

And bitachon of course is also a healthy fear of Gd…. Which Menachem Begin showed the world when he stood as a proud Jew in front of the world, as the 1st Jabotinsky follower – and 1st nationalist to serve as PM of the modern day State of israel.

And bitachon of course is the strength of the IDF - Perhaps the most important contribution of Jabotinsky’s movement to Israel’s founding was its insistence on the importance of a Jewish Army. Jabotinsky stressed the concept of the new Jew, who would be a “fighting Jew.” As he said in Manhattan in a speech on the eve of World War 2, “I challenge the Jews, wherever they are still free, to demand the right of fighting the giant rattlesnake … as a Jewish Army.”

Jabotinsky said many years ago that “The past lays a railroad track for the future.” Indeed while the years go by, Jabotinsky’s gems can be studied for eternity.

And to our eternal teacher Zeev Jabotinsky we say thank you. The words of Jabotinsky are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them many years ago.

Betar has taught me so much in life. From the power of the written word – he of course was a great writer – to the power of publicity.

Stand up for yourself and even if everyone says you are wrong – do it anyway. You can do it and you alone can make a difference.

Stand up to our enemies. Protect and care for Jews. Have Jewish dignity and pride. Being born a Jew is not an accident of birth.

As Jabotinsky said "Tell them [the Jewish People] three things in my name, and not two: they must get iron [i.e. weapons]; they must choose a king; and they must learn to laugh."

I took a vow at the age of 13 – the vow – the neder of Betar which said “For the command of Betar is the echo, of my convictions: To the vow that rises from the depths of my blood.” As Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote in Shir Betar (The Song of Betar), “Silence is Despicable!””

Ronn Torossian is founder & CEO of 5W Public Relations (5WPR). Zeevjabotinsky.com is a project of the Ronn Torossian Family Foundation.



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