Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880–1940) was a liberal Zionist leader and author. He was born in Odessa, then a part of the Russian Empire. At age eighteen he went to Italy and Switzerland to study law and then served as a correspondent for several Russian newspapers, signing his articles and reports with the pseudonym Alatalena. He earned a law degree from the University of Rome. The pogrom against the Jews of Kishinev in 1903 spurred Jabotinsky to join the Zionist movement. He organized self-defense units and fought for Jewish minority rights in Russia. He was elected a delegate to the Sixth Zionist Congress, which was attended by Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism. During this period, Jabotinsky also worked to promote the use of Hebrew and for the establishment of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Following the outbreak of World War I (1914–1918), Jabotinsky left for the front as a newspaper correspondent. In Alexandria, Egypt, he joined Joseph Trumpeldor in organizing the Jewish Legion, battalions that fought with the British army against the Turks. Jabotinsky opposed the Zionist leadership and asserted the right of the Jews to seize Palestine by force if necessary. He participated in the assault on the Jordan River and the conquest of Esalt. In 1920, after his discharge from the army, he stood at the head of Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization, against the Arabs and was condemned by the British to fifteen years of hard labor, a sentence that was later commuted. From 1921 on, Jabotinsky was a member of the Zionist executive and one of the founders of Keren Hayesod, a fundraising organization for Israel. Following further disagreement with the Zionist movement, he seceded in 1925 to establish the Union of Zionists-Revisionists (Hatzohar), which called for the immediate establishment of the Jewish state. In 1929 he founded the youth movement Betar to instill a militant spirit in Israeli youth.Also in 1929 he left Palestine on a lecture tour and was not allowed to reenter.
In 1935 the Zionist Executive rejected Jabotinsky’s program calling for the immediate establishment of the Jewish state. He thereupon resigned from the movement and founded the New Zionist Organization (NZO). In 1937 he founded his third organization, the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, as the military arm of the NZO. These bodies cooperated in the Af Al Pi, the illegal immigration of Jews into Palestine during which forty ships transported Jewish immigrants from Europe.The groups that Jabotinsky founded evolved after the formation of the State of Israel into the Herut Party.
Jabotinsky was an outstanding orator and continued to write poetry, novels, short stories, and political commentaries until his death in 1940. He is ranked among the most noted Hebrew writers, poets, and translators of the modern era. His complete works and speeches were published in fifty volumes in Israel. He was a great promoter of the Hebrew language, which he considered part of the Jewish identity. He demonstrated this affinity by changing his Russian name of Vladimir to Ze’ev, which means wolf.
Jabotinsky wrote a number of books on his struggle on behalf of the Jewish people. They include Turkey and the War (1917), Samson the Nazarite (1930), The War and the Jew (1942), and The Story of the Jewish Legion (1945).
As a political Zionist, Jabotinsky was the heir of Herzl, but he added military strength to the Herzl legacy. He was a National Liberal in the great nineteenth-century tradition and a revolutionary in the mold of Italian soldier and patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi.
- Brenner, Lenni. Zionism in the Age of Dictators. Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1983.
- Katz, Shmuel. Lone Wolf: Biography of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky. New York: Barricade, 1996.
- Schechtman, Joseph B. The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story. New York: Barnes, 1961.
- Shavit,Yaacov. Jabotinsky and the Revisionist Movement, 1925–1948. London: Routledge, 1988.
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