- The Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism and the Origins of the Israeli Right
Colin Schindler's book, The Triumph of Military Zionism, offers a fascinating, and important, look at the creation of the Israeli right. Schindler reviews the development of the Zionist right during the 1920s and 1930s, and clarifies the complicated process by which a belligerent nationalist concept—termed "Military Zionism" by its supporters—gained control of the Zionist right and rebuffed Vladimir Jabotinsky's comprehensive, non-violent brand of "Political Zionism."
The Israeli (and Zionist) right is generally depicted as a monolithic political movement expressing "Maximalist Zionism," i.e., the idea that a sovereign Jewish state should be established on both sides of the Jordan River and conduct a militarist policy against the Arabs in Palestine and the neighboring states. This image of the Zionist right was conceived by Menachem Begin and his followers, as well as by the Zionist center and left. Schindler's book, however, demonstrates that this view of the Zionist right is a misconception. By examining the ideas of leading right-wing figures such as Vladimir Jabotinsky, [End Page 163] Abba Achimeir, David Raziel, Avraham Stern, Menachem Begin and others, Schindler shows that the transformation of the Zionist right was not a "simple" teleological process but rather a complicated progression entailing many variants. This is where the importance of Schindler's book lies—not only in historiographical insights, but also in its methodological perspective. Schindler repeatedly demonstrates that history "progresses" by way of tension and contradiction and is invariably more complicated than it generally seems.
The book's main argument is that "Military Zionism" was not always the central ideology of the Zionist right, and that its ascendancy in the late 1930s signified a major break from Jabotinsky's ideas and policies. Whereas Jabotinsky envisioned a political solution, other right-wing Zionist leaders sought a military answer. While Jabotinsky rejected the use of force against Palestinian Arabs and the British government (except in the case of self-defense, as set forth in his celebrated article "The Iron Wall," written in 1937), many of his followers preferred a vigorous application of Jewish strength in retaliation for Arab attacks or as a means of ousting the British from Palestine.
Indeed, much of the book concentrates on Jabotinsky's thought and his Sisyphean efforts to consolidate the militant and moderate groups in his movement. As the Jewish situation in Palestine and Europe (especially in Germany and Poland) deteriorated, it became increasingly difficult to restrain large groups in the Zionist right from "direct action" against the Arabs and British.
The book is also intriguing because it depicts Zionist right-wing ideology—especially Jabotinsky's convictions—not just as a response to growing external threats, but as an ideology deeply rooted in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European political thinking. In this light, we can understand Jabotinsky's dilemma in harnessing the militant wings in his movement, since they expressed, in essence, the complexity of his own political ideas. Although he feared the burgeoning Fascist and militarist tendencies in his movement, he regarded them as natural expressions of Jewish pride and the yearning for independence. In the end, he did nothing to eradicate them.
The book's main strength lies in its comprehensive analysis of Jabotinsky and the Zionist right; but this is also the book's weakness. Jabotinsky was undoubtedly a complex, profound political thinker and national leader whose ideas were firmly established in the nineteenth-century European liberal-nationalist tradition. For example, it is widely accepted (as Schindler himself admits) that unlike many of his followers (including the young Begin), Jabotinsky despised Fascism. It is also known that most of the members in his movement found his intricate ideas beyond their intellectual capacity and could not tolerate his vacillation (especially during the bloody events of the 1930s). But Jabotinsky was far from the tragic figure that Schindler depicts. The truth is: [End Page 164] Jabotinsky's disparagement of democracy contributed prodigiously to military Zionism's development...