web analytics
February 27, 2015 / 8 Adar , 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Ze’ev Jabotinsky: Civil Rights Champion

Ze’ev Jabotinsky

Ze’ev Jabotinsky

The popular image of the Jews who took part in battles for black civil rights is of liberal activists and idealistic college students. Yet several important early civil rights efforts in the United States and South Africa were undertaken by officers of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the Jewish underground militia in British Mandatory Palestine.

Last week’s 70th anniversary of the passing of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Zionism and the Irgun, is an occasion to reflect on Jabotinsky’s little-known legacy of anti-racism.

Jabotinsky was arguably was the most controversial Zionist leader of his era. He was dismissed as an alarmist when he predicted European Jews would be engulfed by anti-Semitism. Socialist Zionists bristled at his preference for free market economics over Marxism. Because he promoted weapons training, he was denounced as a militarist. And because he believed the Arabs would never accept a Jewish state, he was branded a racist.

Those familiar with Jabotinsky’s writings knew those labels did not do him justice. He envisioned a Jewish state that would have a large Arab minority alongside its Jewish majority. Arabs would have full civil, political, and cultural rights, including representation in parliament, and both Arabic and Hebrew would be official languages. Moreover, he argued that if there was a Jewish prime minister, there should be a deputy Arab prime minister (and vice versa).

Jabotinsky also had more than a passing interest in the question of American race relations. Following a wave of race riots that erupted in the U.S. after black boxer Jack Johnson defeated his white opponent in 1910, Jabotinsky wrote (in the Russian periodical Odesskie Novosti): “In the United States, the most free republic on earth, there are ten million citizens suffering a shocking lack of rights simply because of the color of their skin.… The political rights of the ‘free and equal’ black citizen are non-existent.”

Ten years later, on a visit to the U.S., Jabotinsky witnessed a Ku Klux Klan march in Texas. It reinforced his disgust at racism in America. In a letter to a friend at the time, he wrote that both Jews and blacks in the U.S. would soon find it necessary to physically defend themselves against their enemies. So perhaps it should be not be surprising that officers of the Irgun stood up for black civil rights.

In early 1940, Jabotinsky sent a number of young Irgun officers from Europe and Palestine to the United States to mobilize American support for the rescue of Jewish refugees and creation of a Jewish state. Led by Hillel Kook, using the pseudonym Peter Bergson, they organized rallies, sponsored newspaper ads, lobbied in Washington and, in 1946, staged a Broadway play to rouse support for Zionism.

The play, called “A Flag is Born,” served a surprising role in the fight against racial segregation. Starring a young Marlon Brando, “Flag” had a successful 10-week run at Manhattan’s Alvin Theater (today the Neil Simon Theater) and then hit the road. A planned performance at the National Theater in Washington, D.C. in early 1947 was relocated to Baltimore’s Maryland Theater because the play’s author, Ben Hecht, would not permit his works to be staged at theaters, such as the National, that barred blacks.

When Hecht discovered that the Maryland Theater restricted blacks to the balcony, Bergson’s group and the NAACP teamed up to protest: The NAACP threatened to picket and a Bergson official announced he would bring two black friends to sit with him at the play. The management gave in, allowing black patrons to sit wherever they chose. NAACP leaders hailed the “tradition-shattering victory” and used it facilitate the desegregation of other Baltimore theaters.

“I am proud,” Hecht declared in a statement afterward, “that my play has been the instrument to break down one of the most un-American and undemocratic practices that has disgraced our country.”

Meanwhile, Jabotinsky’s followers took an interest in the fight against racism in South Africa as well. Former Irgun commander Menachem Begin, leader of the opposition Herut Party, paid his first visit to South Africa in the autumn of 1953. Hertzel Katz, an Israeli attorney who was a leader of the local branch of the Revisionist youth movement Betar, recalls that Begin’s hosts arranged for a rickshaw, the customary form of local transportation, to take him to a speaking engagement.

About the Author: Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C., and author of 14 books about the Holocaust, Zionism, and American Jewish history. His latest book is 'FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith,' available from Amazon.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Ze’ev Jabotinsky: Civil Rights Champion”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Netanyahu in a previous address to Congress-
ABCD – Applaud Bibi’s Congress Decision
Latest Indepth Stories
Netanyahu in a previous address to Congress-

Bibi’s speech to Congress will bring respect and honor to the Jewish Nation from the US & the world

Korenblit-022715

Obama & Putin have handwriting/signature clues indicating differences between public & private life

NY City Councilman David Greenfield: "They are angry because Hitler did not finish the job."

It’s time for a new Jewish policy regarding Ramallah, NOT just because of the yarmulke incident

Levmore-022715

“GETT’s” being screened for Israeli Rabbinical Court judges at their annual convention.

If Jackson were alive he’d denounce Democratic party’s silence towards virulent anti-Semitism

Victim of Palestinian Arab terrorism, a victor in NY federal court, after years of being ignored by Justice Dept.

March 2013: Arabs hurled stones hitting the Biton’s car; Adele’s mother swerved the car-into a truck

The real issue is that in many respects the president has sought to recalibrate American values and our system of government.

Former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, writing in the Washington Post on Sunday, provided one of the clearest and most compelling analyses we’ve seen of the importance of the prime minister’s speech.

A central concept in any discussion about happiness is achieving clarity. “Ain simcha ela k’hataras hasefeikos” – there is no joy as that experienced with the removal of doubt.

“Je Suis..,” like its famous origin 400 years ago, implies the ability & freedom to think & question

Many anti-Israel demonstrations at universities have a not-so-latent anti-Semitic agenda as well

Believing a few “extremists” hijacked Islam is myopic in history and geography, numbers and scope

More Articles from Dr. Rafael Medoff
Charley Levine

Prominent Jewish leaders acknowledged that their predecessors had mistreated the Bergson Group.

Armenian Orphan Rug

The long ordeal of the Armenian Orphan Rug, held hostage to fears of angering Turkey, has finally ended. Or has it?

Carter developed a fondness for Arafat believing “they were both ordained to be peacemakers by God”

With generous support from the Egyptian Jewish community, the exiled family built a new life for itself in the Mafruza and Gabbari refugee camps near Alexandria.

While grateful not to be returned to Germany, the passengers understood they were still in the middle of a danger zone.

These “Jewish Amazons” were living proof of the failure of the enemies of the Jewish people.

Jewish soldiers in the Polish forces often encountered anti-Semitic prejudice.

Sulzberger, one of the most famous “religious Jews” who opposed Zionism did not change his mind even after the Holocaust.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/zeev-jabotinsky-civil-rights-champion/2012/08/01/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: