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President Shimon Peres

The first official duty of President Shimon Peres was to address a memorial ceremony for Zeev Jabotinsky, the revered founder of Betar and Revisionist movement - the forerunner of the Likud party. At the service on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl, President Peres spoke of how even David Ben-Gurion had exaggerated the rift between the Revisionists on the Right and Mapai on the Left when it came to the Greater Land of Israel. Peres said that Jabotinsky advocated holding both banks of the Jordan River while Ben-Gurion was in favor of dividing the land. Peres added that both leaders had agreed on the need to ensure a Jewish majority - an issue that is topical to this day.

Biography of Ze'ev Jabotinsky

Ze'ev Jabotinsky

Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky was born on October 18, 1880 in the city of Odessa, Russia. At the age of 18, he left for Italy and Switzerland to study Law, and served as a correspondent for several well-known Russian newspapers. His reports and articles were widely read and soon became recognized as one of the brilliant exponents of Russian journalism. All his reports and articles were signed with his literary pseudonym "Altalena".

The pogrom against the Jews of Kishinev in 1903, spurred Jabotinsky to undertake Zionist activity. He organized self-defense units and fought for Jewish minority rights in Russia. Jabotinsky was elected as a delegate to the 6th Zionist Congress, the last in which Theodor Herzl participated. During this period, Jabotinsky was active in spreading the Hebrew language and culture throughout Russia, and the establishment of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Jabotinsky in the first Jewish Legion

Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he left for the front as a newspaper correspondent. While in Alexandria he met Joseph Trumpeldor; and from then onward, worked for the establishment of the Jewish Legion. Jabotinsky was not interested in the creation of an auxiliary unit; and upon reaching London, took energetic steps until the final confirmation was received in August 1917 of the creation of the first Jewish Legion. Jabotinsky also served as a Lieutenant and participated in the assault of the Jordan River crossings and the conquest of E-salt in the campaign to free Eretz Israel (Palestine) from Turkish rule. During Passover, 1920, Jabotinsky stood at the head of the Hagana in Jerusalem against Arab riots and was condemned by the British Mandatory Government to 15 years hard labor. Following the public outcry against the verdict, he received amnesty and was released from Acre prison.

From 1921 onwards, Jabotinsky was a member of the Zionist Executive and one of the founders of "Keren Hayesod". After a series of policy disagreement on the direction of the Zionist Movement, he seceded and in 1925, established the Union of Zionists-Revisionists (Hatzohar) which called for the immediate establishment of a Jewish State.

In 1923, the youth movement Betar (Brith Joseph Trumpeldor) was created. The new youth movement aimed at educating its members with a military and nationalistic spirit and Jabotinsky stood at its head. During the years 1928-1929, he resided in Palestine and edited the Hebrew daily "Doar Hayom" while at the same time undertaking increased political activity. In 1929, he left the country on a lecture tour after which the British administration denied him re-entry into the country. From then onwards he lived in the Diaspora until his death.

In 1935, after the Zionist Executive rejected his political program and refused to clearly define that "the aim of Zionism was the establishment of a Jewish state"; Jabotinsky decided to resign from the Zionist Movement and founded the New Zionist Organization (N.Z.O) which conducted independent political activity for free immigration and the establishment of a Jewish State.

Jabotinsky in the 17th Zionist Congress in Basel, 1931

In 1937, the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (I.Z.L) became the military arm of the Jabotinsky movement and he became its commander. The three bodies headed by Jabotinsky, The New Zionist Organization (N.Z.O), the Betar youth movement and the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (I.Z.L) were three extensions of the same movement. The New Zionist Organization was the political arm which maintained contacts with governments and other political factors; Betar educated the youth of the Diaspora for the liberation and building of Eretz Israel; and the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (I.Z.L) was the military arm which fought against the enemies of the Zionist enterprise. These bodies cooperated in the organization of Af Al Pi illegal immigration. Within this framework, over 40 ships sailed from European ports bringing to Eretz Israel tens of thousands of illegal immigrants.

Throughout this period of intense political activity, Jabotinsky continued to write poetry, novels, short stories and articles on politics, social and economic problems. From among his literary creations, The Jewish Legion, Prelude to Delilah (Samson) and The Five, served as an inspiration for Jews of the Diaspora.

Ze'ev Jabotinsky with his wife Joana and son Ari

Jabotinsky was fluent in many languages and translated into Hebrew some of the best known classics of world literature.

During 1939-1940, Jabotinsky was active in Britain and the United States in the hope of establishing a Jewish army to fight side by side with the Allies against Nazi Germany.

On August 4, 1940 while visiting the Betar camp in New York, he suffered a massive heart-attack. In his will he requested that his remains may only be interred in Eretz Israel at the express order of the Hebrew Government of the Jewish State that shall arise. His will was fulfilled by Levi Eshkol, Israel's third Prime Minister. In 1964, Jabotinsky's remains and those of his wife Jeanne were reinterred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

The name of Jabotinsky will be inscribed in the pages of the history of the Jewish people as a distinguished political leader, journalist and philosopher; a guide and inspiration who consistently fought for the return of the Jewish people and the establishment of the State of Israel.

David Essing

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