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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 4.1 (2003) 232-238

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Israel Kleiner, From Nationalism to Universalism: Vladimir (Ze´ev) Jabotinski and the Ukrainian Question. Edmonton and Toronto: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, 2000. xvi +199 pp. ISBN 1-895571-25-1 (cloth), 1-895571-33-2 (paper). $34.95 and $19.95.

Israel Kleiner's book was written in Ukrainian in 1982 in Israel, where the author emigrated from the USSR in 1971. In 1995 it was published by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, which has now published it in English translation. It is devoted to several episodes in the life of the distinguished Zionist activist Vladimir (Ze´ev) Zhabotinskii that most clearly illustrate his attitude toward the Ukrainian question.

A quick survey of the bibliography reveals that the author did not revise his text in any significant way between the time he wrote it and the time of publication, despite the time that elapsed (13 years for the Ukrainian version; 18 years for the English version). The only item in the bibliography published later than 1982 is Robert Conquest's book The Great Terror. There are no references to archival documents in the book.

The bibliography does not contain any theoretical works on the problems of nationalism and the formation of nations. Nor is there is any reason to suspect that the author knows about them. Therefore, one can say that Kleiner is an elemental primordialist because of his conviction that nations have existed since time immemorial, at least in the capacity of "sleeping beauties." This view is the fruit of faith and not of serious study of the basic body of literature on nationalism, which holds a different point of view. The author of this work on nationalism is thus capable of writing that after the age of 20 Zhabotinskii "started learning his native language" (11). Kleiner genuinely thinks that the worst thing that can happen to a man is assimilation.

The introduction to the book is an attempt to characterize the situation of Jews and Ukrainians in the Russian empire, above all in Ukraine, and especially in Odessa, where Vladimir Zhabotinskii was born in 1880. For a more fundamental analysis of these questions one can turn to the books by Patricia Herlihy, John Klier, Bohdan Krawchenko, and Theodore Weeks, which are missing from the bibliography. 1 Several of the author's assertions, for example, about the rare cases of participation by Jews in Polish political parties, are perplexing. [End Page 232]

Kleiner describes how Zhabotinskii, as a result of the wave of pogroms at the beginning of the 20th century, renounced his successfully begun career as a Russian journalist and became a convinced Zionist. One of Zhabotinskii's key ideas as a Zionist was the search for a union with the national movements of those peoples in the empire among whom the majority of Jews lived, and above all with the Ukrainian movement. Zhabotinskii assumed that such tactics would reduce hostile feelings toward the Jews both among the leaders of the national movements and among the general population. Kleiner considers these tactical considerations to be secondary, and characterizes as insincere Zhabotinskii's statements that the interests of other national movements were important to him only inasmuch as they promoted the implementation of the Zionists' program. The chief motif of Zhabotinskii's thought was the universal values of national self-determination and freedom, hence the title of the book.

It is already clear from the introduction that the author does not simply love his hero but considers his ideas fully suitable even for the time when the book was written. Moreover, in his choice of arguments to prove this fact, Kleiner is noticeably less discriminating than the politician and propagandist Zhabotinskii.

Kleiner argues for a distinction in principle between Russian anti-Semitism and the anti-Semitism of the other peoples of the empire — Ukrainians, Poles, and Lithuanians. The non-Russian peoples, Kleiner asserts, "saw in the Jews and Jewry nothing mystical, mysterious, or supernatural...