[ Ed. note – The article below was originally published in January of 1996. It discusses, among other things, the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which had occurred only a few months earlier. The author, Donald Neff, was a journalist who worked many, many years in the mainstream media, including a term as Time Magazine’s Jerusalem bureau chief.
But Neff was not your typical mainstream media presstitute. Over the years he began to experience a major shift in his views on the Palestine-Israel conflict, and in 1979 he left Time Magazine, his articles thereafter being published mainly by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. According to Wikipedia, Neff “wrote a retrospective piece in 1995 detailing the change in his pro-Zionist perspective during his years as correspondent in the Middle East.”
In the article below, Neff discusses what he refers to as “revisionist Zionism,” a particularly virulent strain of Zionism founded in the 1920s by Zeev Jabotinsky, who had a slogan he often used: “We shall create, with sweat and blood, a race of men, strong, brave and cruel.” It was a philosophy that ran somewhat counter to the “mainline Zionists,” who were concerned more with the pragmatic aspects of founding a state while maybe doing a little kibbutz farming on the side.
It was in the 1940s that the revisionist Zionists came into full prominence with the emergence of Jewish terror groups, one of which was the Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, a Jabotinsky follower who would later go on to become prime minister of Israel. Among the Irgun’s exploits were the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946 and the Deir Yassin massacre in 1948–while Begin, as prime minister, would go on to preside over the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982.
Neff discusses all this history in the context of the Rabin assassination–for while Jabotinsky died in 1940, and Begin left this life in 1992, revisionist Zionism has of course remained. Neff says the assassination, which took place on November 4, 1995 was carried out by the “spiritual heirs” of the Irgun…and of course the same ideology is pervasive in Israel today. In fact, Benzion Netanyahu, the father of the current prime minister, was another revisionist Zionist–one who actually served for a while as Jabotinsky’s personal secretary. ]
Rabin’s Murder Rooted in Zionism’s Violent Legacy
By Donald Neff
It was 48 years ago, on Jan. 4, 1948, when Jewish terrorists drove a truck loaded with explosives into the center of the all-Arab city of Jaffa and detonated it, killing 26 and wounding around 100 Palestinian men, women and children.1 The attack was the work of the Irgun Zvai Leumi—the “National Military Organization,” also known by the Hebrew letters Etzel—the largest Jewish terrorist group in Palestine. The Irgun was headed by Revisionist Zionist Menachem Begin and had been killing and maiming Arabs, Britons and even Jews for the previous 10 years in its efforts to establish a Jewish state.
This terror campaign meant that at the core of Revisionist Zionism there existed a philosophical embrace of violence. It was this legacy of violence that contributed to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Nov. 4, 1995.
The Irgun was not the only Jewish terrorist group but it was the most active in causing indiscriminate terror in pre-Israel Palestine. Up to the time of the Jaffa attack, its most spectacular feat had been the July 22, 1946 blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, with the killing of 91 people—41 Arabs, 28 Britons and 17 Jews.2
The other major Jewish terrorist group operating in Palestine in the 1940s was the Lohamei Herut Israel , “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel,” Lehi in the Hebrew acronym, also known as the Stern Gang after its fanatical founder Avraham Stern. Two of its more spectacular outrages included the assassination of British Colonial Secretary Lord Moyne in Cairo on Nov. 6, 1944, and the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden in Jerusalem on Sept. 17, 1948. 3
Both groups collaborated in the massacre at Deir Yassin, in which some 254 Palestinian men, women and children were slain on April 9, 1948. Palestinian survivors were driven like ancient slaves through the streets of Jerusalem by the celebrating terrorists.4
Yitzhak Shamir was one of the three leaders of Lehi who made the decision to assassinate Moyne and Bernadotte. Both he and Begin later became prime ministers and ruled Israel for a total of 13 years between 1977 and 1992.
They were both leaders of Revisionist Zionism, that messianic group of ultranationalists founded by Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky in the 1920s. He prophesied that it would take an “iron wall of Jewish bayonets” to gain a homeland among the Arabs in Palestine.5 His followers took his slogan literally.
Begin and the Revisionists were heartily hated by the mainline Zionists led by David Ben-Gurion. He routinely referred to Begin as a Nazi and compared him to Hitler. In a famous letter to The New York Times in 1948, Albert Einstein called the Irgun “a terrorist, rightwing, chauvinist organization” that stood for “ultranationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority.”6 He opposed Begin’s visit to the United States in 1949 because Begin and his movement amounted to “a Fascist party for whom terrorism (against Jews, Arabs, and British alike), and misrepresentation are means, and a ‘leader state’ is the goal,” adding:
At the core of Revisionist Zionism there existed a philosophical embrace of violence.
“The IZL [Irgun] and Stern groups inaugurated a reign of terror in the Palestine Jewish community. Teachers were beaten up for speaking against them, adults were shot for not letting their children join them. By gangster methods, beatings, window-smashing, and wide-spread robberies, the terrorists intimidated the population and exacted a heavy tribute.”
Ben-Gurion considered the Revisionists so threatening that shortly after he proclaimed establishment of Israel on May 14, 1948, he demanded that the Jewish terrorist organizations disband. In defiance, Begin sought to import a huge shipment of weapons aboard a ship namedAltalena, Jabotinsky’s nom de plume.7
The ship was a war surplus U.S. tank-landing craft and had been donated to the Irgun by Hillel Kook’s Hebrew Committee for National Liberation, an American organization made up of Jewish-American supporters of the Irgun.8 Even in those days it was Jewish Americans who were the main source of funds for Zionism. While few of them emigrated to Israel, Jewish Americans were generous in financing the Zionist enterprise. As in Israel, they were split between mainstream Zionism and Revisionism. One of the best known Revisionists was Ben Hecht, the American newsman and playwright. After one of the Irgun’s terrorist acts, he wrote:
“The Jews of America are for you. You are their champions …. Every time you blow up a British arsenal, or wreck a British jail, or send a British railroad train sky high, or rob a British bank, or let go with your guns and bombs at British betrayers and invaders of your homeland, the Jews of America make a little holiday in their hearts.”9
The Altalena was loaded with $5 million worth of arms, including 5,000 British Lee-Enfield rifles, more than 3 million rounds of ammunition, 250 Bren guns, 250 Sten guns, 150 German Spandau machine guns, 50 mortars and 5,000 shells as well as 940 Jewish volunteers. Ben-Gurion reacted with fury, ordering the ship sunk in Tel Aviv harbor. Shellfire by the new nation’s armed forces set the Altalena afire, killing 14 Jews and wounding 69. Two regular army men were killed and six wounded during the fighting.10 Begin had been aboard but escaped injury. Later that night he railed against Ben-Gurion as “a crazy dictator” and the cabinet as “a government of criminal tyrants, traitors and fratricides.”11
Ben-Gurion’s deputy commander in the Altalena affair was Yitzhak Rabin, the same man who as prime minister was assassinated by one of the spiritual heirs of Menachem Begin’s Irgun terrorist group. All his life, and especially in his last years, Rabin had opposed Jewish Americans and their radical allies in Israel who continued to embrace the philosophy of the Irgun and who fought against the peace process, thereby earning their enduring hatred.
Thus at the heart of the Jewish state there has been a long and violent struggle between mainline Zionists and Revisionists that continues today. Despite cries after Rabin’s assassination that it was unknown for Jew to kill Jew, intramural hatred and occasional violence have marked relations between Zionism’s competing groups.
The core of that conflict, one that continues to divide Israel and its American supporters as well, lies in the different philosophies of David Ben-Gurion and Vladimir Jabotinsky…