Jan Zouplna. Journal of Israeli History. Volume 36, Issue 1. March 2017.
The complexity of the Palestine/Israel stalemate remains among the most troublesome and perplexing remnants of the British imperial legacy, with consequences reaching far beyond the Middle East. In line with its nature and origins, the situation has been complicated since the early days of British rule. The conquest of Palestine in the years 1917-18 and its eventual military administration during the period 1918-20 did not always proceed as planned. The idea of a Jewish national home, appearing in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and incorporated into the text of the Palestine Mandate in 1922, had had numerous opponents in imperialist circles, post-war Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon in particular. Once the British Mandate over Palestine was formally approved, it had a direct impact on no less than four parties: the British, the (Zionist) Jews, the (Palestine) Arabs and the League of Nations. It never ceased to be challenged. The political leadership of the Palestinian Arabs systematically rejected the idea of a Jewish national home, while the popular elements vented their frustration by engaging in large scale rioting (1920-21, 1929), and eventually an uprising against the combined effects of British rule and Jewish settlement (1936-39). Interestingly enough, the actual post-1922 arrangement also had its critics among Zionists, albeit that the approval (and the wording) of the Palestine Mandate was undoubtedly a success and a personal victory for Chaim Weizmann (the then president of the Zionist Organization).
The protest banner was raised by a group of activists, who, in April 1925, established the Union of Zionists-Revisionists (hereafter the Revisionist Union). Needless to say, their criticism stemmed from different conclusions than those reached by the Palestinian Arabs—the progress of Jewish settlement was seen as far too limited. Headed by former members of the Zionist Executive (ZE), such as Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky (himself an architect of the wartime Anglo-Zionist alliance) and Richard Lichtheim, the opposition challenged Weizmann on a plethora of issues. Regarding Palestine, it eventually formulated its own set of counter-proposals, referred to (in English sources) as the “Colonization Regime.” These included security provisions (the reestablishment of the Jewish Legion) and the (re)inclusion of Transjordan into the sphere of Jewish settlement. The objective, rooted in political Zionism, was simple: to convert Palestine into a country with a Jewish majority, thus finding a territorial—and internationally sanctioned—solution to “Jewish distress.” Strange as it may sound at first, the party found the majority of its converts not in Palestine, but among the young, lower-middle class Jews of Eastern Europe.
The focus of the current article rests on a single item from the RU agenda, i.e. the opposition’s relations with the Mandatory Power. The attitudes of the (unruly and incongruent) Revisionist movement towards the British displayed many apparent paradoxes and contradictions. On the one hand, the later paramilitary groups, such as Irgun or Lehi, asserted anti-British positions (in both word and deed) earlier than other parts of the Zionist spectrum. Yet, as Joseph Heller has pointed out, Jabotinsky himself was actually more pro-British in many respects than Weizmann. The aim of this paper is to explain this fundamental paradox by examining the original views of the RU founders in relation to the British presence in Palestine. Correspondingly, the Revisionist aspirations are compared with the attitudes of the Colonial Office (CO) towards them. The article stresses that the RU’s irate proclamations, treated by many as anti-British in nature, were actually conceived as part of a broader strategy aimed at converting Jewish as well as non-Jewish public opinion to the Zionist standpoint. Though inherently critical of the Palestine administration, the RU leaders always considered the British public to be among its key allies. Furthermore, it is argued that the transformation of attitudes after the Palestine riots of 1929 had its parallels in Zionism, but it was primarily the opposition which accused the British policy-makers of having either “betrayed” or “sold out” the Zionists, and they did so vocally. The widespread disharmony in Revisionist Zionism at large contributed to an incoherent message. Last but not least, it is noteworthy that the RU never formally abandoned its pro-British orientation during the time of its existence. Though it might not have been so apparent to observers at the time, Jabotinsky, whose determination was supported by leaders such as Meir Grossman, invested a considerable amount of energy in cooling the tempers at both the grassroots level as well as among other RU leaders. Based on archival documents, periodicals, and other original sources in six languages, the article covers the period from the first quarter of the 1920s until the mid-1930s. During the years 1933-35, the original Revisionist leadership fell apart, terminating one phase of Revisionist history. The outbreak of the Arab Revolt in 1936 brought the entire Palestine stalemate to a new stage.
The Era of Unsolicited “Enthusiasm”
Curiously, the RU leaders considered their political program to be in no way anti-British, regardless of the rabble-rousing label that became associated with the party from an early point. Judging by their own pronouncements, the objective of the RU was not to negate, but, on the contrary, to intensify collaboration between the Zionists and the British in Palestine. As Lichtheim, a vice-president of the RU, put it in his opening address to the Third World Conference of the Union of Zionist-Revisionists (Vienna, December 26-30, 1928; hereon, “the Third World Conference” etc.,)—the relationship between the Mandatory Power and the colonization work had to find an “adequate adjustment,” based on joint cooperation and mutual trust. In line with the RU’s political style, this cooperation was defined in quite an unorthodox fashion. The proposition was not without conditions; it did not follow the usual diplomatic channels and was definitely not couched in a language one could describe as politically correct. Yet the actual principle was presented in pragmatic terms—a flourishing Jewish Palestine was in the best interests of Jews and the British Empire alike.
From the perspective of an external observer, the RU stance displayed certain specific features: First, the alliance between the Zionists and the British was not seen by the RU leaders as something which had automatically been accomplished by the establishment of the Mandate, but, rather, as something to be accomplished by its implementation. Unlike many other factions, the Revisionists perceived the contemporary state of affairs in Palestine as a failure—the political gains were few and the achievements were meager, particularly in terms of Jewish immigration. The above failure was deemed by the critics as not resulting from shortcomings on the part of the Jewish people, but was attributable to the bureaucratic apparatus, both Jewish and British. Secondly, the dissemination of the political message was dependent on numerous paradoxes. Much of the debate about Zionist-British relations remained, initially, an internal affair, taking place in party publications and at conferences. During the first years of the RU’s existence, many of the declarations of Revisionist loyalty to Britain appeared in Russian and German (rather than English). While the later criticism of British policies did not remain unnoticed in London, the original zeal for an upgrade in relations was, to a large extent, ignored. Moreover, for most of the 1920s, the critics represented only a marginal Zionist opposition group, albeit that they purported to speak in the name of the Jewish masses.
The axis of Zionist-British relations, as seen by the RU leaders, was relatively simple in essence: a demand for greater assistance in exchange for the construction of a strategic outpost, serving broader British interests in the region. Jabotinsky was already earmarking intensified cooperation with Britain as the cornerstone of Revisionist politics in his article, “Political Offensive,” of March 2, 1924. Support from the British was the sine qua non of the Zionist enterprise, stated the RU figurehead. Simultaneously, he stressed that neither large-scale nor small-scale colonization was possible in an “averse political atmosphere” and that the Revisionists demanded a “radical transformation” of the “regime” in Palestine and firm governmental guarantees. These were to be achieved by means of a “struggle on the basis of a purely political agenda.” This view was fully endorsed by Grossman, the RU’s vice-president, who stated categorically at a public lecture in 1925 that without the continued efforts by the Mandatory Power to promote developments in the spheres of industry, immigration, land reform, and security protection, no Jewish national home could be built. Britain’s obligations did not consist of acting as an impartial arbiter, but of becoming an actively involved participant, stressed Grossman.
Consisting mostly of trained lawyers, the RU leaders were always ready to remind the British authorities of the obligations stemming from the text of the Mandate, namely those of providing suitable political/economic conditions and facilitating immigration (articles two and six). Indeed, the Revisionists were never timid in voicing either expectations or discontent. In the platform drafted at the founding convention of the RU in 1925, we find, among other items, demands for the High Commissioner to be selected in agreement with the Zionist Organization (ZO) and the appointment of pro-Zionist British officials. At the Second World Conference (Paris, December 26, 1926—January 2, 1927), Jabotinsky tried to clarify the nature of the conceived partnership: when approaching the British, the Revisionists had the English people and not the Palestine bureaucracy in mind. Revisionist foreign policy was based on having faith in the “conscience of the civilized world.” The RU sought to avoid two opposing extremes: the perception of the Englishman as an “angel of goodness,” and enmity towards Britain. From the Revisionist perspective, the limits of the collaboration were thus apparent, delineated as they were by the ultimate Zionist objectives. Jabotinsky made no secret of these, at least in private. In a letter to Lichtheim, dating back to March 1922, Jabotinsky stated he would fight attempts to restrict the implementation of the Balfour Declaration “tooth and nail … going even to the limit of provoking a complete break with the Colonial Office.”
Consequently, the Revisionist standpoint was full of innate contradictions. On the formal level, the pronouncements of the RU leaders never refrained from proclaiming a pro-British orientation. Already by 1925, the founding document of the Central Committee of the RU, the party’s highest body, defined relations between the Zionists and Britain as being characterized by “mutual loyalty.” In 1927, Grossman further commented that the party was of the opinion that “Jewry and England share common interests in the Near East,” and as such aimed to turn this principle into the foundation of its policy and its relations with Britain. The Revisionists perceived allegiance to the Mandate as being tantamount to having “trust in England” and being engaged in “common action” with it. Moreover, the RU leaders also tried to bring this understanding to the attention of the CO, as a means of countering the propaganda of their political foes. Jabotinsky himself suggested a readiness “to provide … reliable information on the activities of the Revisionist Union” in a letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, L. S. Amery, in June 1928.
On the other hand, the innate criticism of the Mandate Administration represented an obvious curtailment of the relationship. This was even more the case as the criticism was more extensive than the pledges of loyalty, both in terms of quantity and theoretical elaboration. The Administration had been challenged since its inception. In 1923, Josif (Joseph) Schechtman, one of the RU’s prominent founders, asserted that the relationship between the official Zionist bodies and the Administration was making limited progress. In terms of Jewish autonomy, greater success had been achieved in Lithuania than in Palestine, observed Schechtman with a touch of irony. The Administration was systematically accused of failing to provide Jewish colonists with adequate support, such as tax breaks and other forms of economic incentives, and physical protection. Overall, the RU leaders adamantly protested against the “derogation” of the Balfour Declaration and infringements of the “spirit” of the Palestine Mandate. The RU leaders repeatedly insisted that there was no alternative to a Jewish numerical majority in Palestine, thus rejecting notions of a settlement that only aimed at promoting cultural revival or improving the quality of immigrants.
The tone and spirit of the accusations made by the RU leadership knew no bounds and targeted all the High Commissioners, starting with the first one, Herbert Samuel, who became something of a favorite object of their hostility. Further colorful invectives focused on the Administration’s (planned but never realized) projects to pacify the Arab opposition (specifically, the Legislative Council and the Arab Agency). To illustrate the atmosphere reigning at the Revisionist gatherings, in 1926, Jabotinsky asserted that the Jewish nation had passed the test of colonization. It was the Administration that had failed. Even if “the experts had been angels and the settlers the archangels,” the damage would have only been slightly less severe, due to the existing legislation and the nature of the “regime” in the country. The ZO itself tried, without success, to secure the nomination of its personnel to the Mandate authorities and extract funding from the authorities. Reservations about Samuel were not unique to the RU; some critics made them publicly (the Labor movement), others, privately (Weizmann). Yet a concerted critique along the lines of the RU was relatively rare. From very early on, the Administration began to identify Revisionism with trouble.
The alleged inability of the official leadership to “unmask” the Palestine reality to the British public was a recurring theme in Revisionist phraseology. Documents from the late 1920s spoke of the work of Zionist bodies in England as being “quite ineffective” and conducted at “great expense.” In a letter to Lichtheim, Grossman lamented the fact that “Weizmann and his Executive neither put forward the idea of Palestine being a joint Jewish-British interest, nor did they secure the support of international factors.” Overall, the RU leaders concurred that the presentation of Zionist aims was ill-conceived and insufficient. This included the efforts undertaken at the League of Nations: “Our work was being carried on in a primitive fashion, the moral power of the World-Press was not utilized, for Weizmann was continually in fear of the Colonial Office’s possible dissatisfaction with our propaganda,” as was concluded in confidential documents of that time, marked for internal party use only.
Although some of the above comments were withheld from a wider audience, the RU eventually decided to make its grievances as public as possible. According to the founders, the party intended to disseminate its political program by “means of tranquil, loyal and constitutional, yet, at the same time, energetic and proud didactic work, aiming at public opinion in England and the cultural world.” The RU thus deliberately opted for tactics entirely different from those of its rivals. While Weizmann and his associates preferred private talks with British politicians, the RU leaders would go directly to the masses, both Jewish and non-Jewish, using the propaganda weapon as the most influential instrument in support of the Zionist cause in Palestine. According to Israel Trivus, another prominent RU founder, backstage diplomacy, independent of public opinion, suited at most the conditions of the nineteenth century. The task of contemporary Zionists was to gain the support of “moral factors of the world.” The RU leadership denied there was anything anti-British in this outspoken course of action: “Calumniators are trying to slander us in front of the Mandatory Power as allegedly trying to force England into something, but we, in reality, are trying to convince public opinion in England and in all other countries of the reasonability of our demands,” asserted Jabotinsky in 1926. The RU leaders acted as if genuinely certain that the public relations campaign would convince the Administration to change its mind in favor of their demands, professing a faith that the British political circles were ready “to face squarely the facts of a situation when properly presented to them.” Rhetoric aside, the instrument of propaganda was the only weapon the dissidents leading the RU had at their disposal.
The stance of the RU leadership on defining relations between the Zionists and the British can be further disclosed via reference to the notion of a Jewish Palestine being converted into the so-called Seventh Dominion of the British Empire. The notion, originating with the Labor MP Josiah Wedgwood, was eventually discussed at the Third World Conference of 1928. The terms were obvious: self-administration would be in the hands of the Jews, while the country would remain within the orbit of the British Empire in the realms of foreign and defense matters. Jabotinsky hailed the notion as a “splendid concept” and a resolute answer to the critics of British imperialism (among the Zionists). The internal RU documents of the time indicated that the concept of a crown colony, in which the local population (including the Jews) would not constitute a majority in the representative bodies, would then be in “full concord” with the Revisionist program. True, Jabotinsky’s enthusiasm was not shared by everyone. Lichtheim commented dryly: “We can only say this idea is incompatible with the establishment of our Jewish state.” However, the notion was ratified by the conference, which declared, simultaneously, an “unshakable loyalty to the provisions of the Mandate,” with the appropriate resolutions describing the creation of the Seventh Dominion as an “ultimate end of Zionism.” A year later, it was embraced by the newly created Executive Committee (which was to replace the Central Committee of the RU in relation to its functions) as a part of its working plan.
How wise the entire approach of the RU elites was is open to debate. The Zionists and the Administration each had a different set of priorities. For the former, the story was about the development of the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish settlement). The Administration sought stability; its high-handed policy resulting partially from the inability of the various communities to agree on joint representation. Protection of the Crown from any fiscal burdens was among its top objectives. Accentuating the contradictory interpretations of the Mandate, in the way the RU did, did not improve matters. Indeed, the RU leaders had tried to transmit the message of differentiation between the “good” is His Majesty’s Government and the “bad” officials in Palestine, aiming to reduce any undesirable repercussions. As an example of this, in a letter to the CO of June 1928, the RU leadership assured London officials that “neither the sincerity nor the benevolency” of the latter “is by any means questioned,” simultaneously warning that “the activities of a colonial bureaucracy can sometimes spring upon the Home Government a situation amounting to an all but accomplished fact.” Though some of the internal Revisionist documents figure among the CO files, the overall impact of such initiatives remained, for obvious reasons, limited.
Eventually, this attempt at wooing by a minor Zionist faction did not prove to be much of a success. The early attitude towards the Revisionist initiatives was probably best characterized by John Shuckburgh, an assistant under-secretary at the CO, in July 1928: “Mr Jabotinsky, though I believe him to be a perfectly honest enthusiast, is a man of little judgment or sense of proportion and has never been brought to appreciate the political difficulties with which we are faced in Palestine.”
The Stance on Zionist-British Relations after the 1929 Riots
The 1929 riots, erupting on August 23, cost more than two hundred and fifty lives (on both sides). Disputes over access to the Wailing Wall added to already tense relations, religious affections complementing nationalist claims. The riots transformed the Palestine intercommunal landscape. Their scale and intensity shocked the Zionists, who mounted a political campaign in response. John Chancellor, then High Commissioner, developed an antipathy to the Zionists as a result of their verbal attacks. The impact of the riots upon Revisionism, and on its stance with regard to Zionist-British relations, was even more remarkable. From this time forward, the Administration was not only criticized indiscriminately, it was portrayed as an authority which was responsible for the riots in a way not dissimilar to its predecessors in Imperial Russia during the infamous waves of pogroms. Furthermore, the ultimate designs of the British in the region were increasingly observed with anxiety, with many of the initiatives aimed at solving the Palestine stalemate being overtly questioned. At a grassroots level, the calls for a general reassessment of relations with the Mandatory Power accelerated. As we shall see, the RU leaders continued to insist, as before, that Jewish colonization of Palestine was in the combined interest of Zionism and the British Empire alike. However, their (often misinterpreted) speeches, irate propaganda (a significant dose of which now appeared in English) and unruly (and often violent) followers convinced many that the RU was more of an aggressive anti-British force than merely a party using the (only) means at its disposal to demand a reversal in Palestine policies.
The RU’s narrative and reading of events is noteworthy. Contrary to most accounts of the 1929 events, the party dissociated itself from any active involvement in the Wailing Wall demonstration (August 14, 1929)—instead, the demonstration (leading to the build-up of tension) had been supposedly the initiative of a “number of young people belonging to various parties.” A protest meeting, organized in Paris on August 29, revealed the full extent of the heated feelings. In Jabotinsky’s assessment, the Arab rioters must have drawn the inevitable conclusion that the Jews were under no protection whatsoever, given the chronic attitude of the Administration towards Jewish colonization. The RU leader was cited in Rassviet (Dawn) as referring to the Administration as “abominable, disloyal and unfriendly.” In principle, other RU leaders echoed his indignation. Grossman accused Samuel of bearing the largest share of responsibility by dismantling the Jewish Legion and permitting the return of the Mufti to Palestine. Lichtheim supported this stance by adding that during the previous ten years, Palestine had not been governed for a single year according to the spirit of the Mandate. The RU’s official documents placed the blame for the riots on the Administration, claiming it had failed to implement the Balfour Declaration and created the impression “of being against the Jews.”
At the same time, the Zionist officials were also subjected to the usual share of colorful invective as well. A document issued by the RU at the end of August 1929 stated: “It is our painful duty to declare that events in Palestine must be interpreted as the bankruptcy of the whole political system adopted by the Zionist Executive.” In the words of another statement published only a month afterwards, the ZE “had no effective connection either with the British Press or with those influential circles whose sympathies it had so long paraded before the Jewish public.” However, the center of gravity of criticism started to shift from the incompetence of Zionist officialdom to British policies. Although many of the internal documents used in this article were, in their own time, classified, the frustration among the Revisionists, and the grassroots elements in particular, ran high and became widely known. A feeling of distrust (at first) and animosity (later on) towards the British was established in major political events.
A more formal and official assessment of the changes concerning Zionist-British relations was detectable in the deliberations of the Fourth World Conference (Prague, August 10-14, 1930), the first major Revisionist meeting to take place after the riots. While tempers on the part of the RU leaders seem to have cooled somewhat over the previous year, feelings in broader Revisionism had not.
At the conference, Jabotinsky set about demarcating the lines of reserved activism that were to characterize the leaders’ attitude in the early 1930s: alliance with the British was a desideratum, but the patience of the Zionists was running out. In his key address, Jabotinsky repeated many of his earlier statements. Among these, he asserted that the British had proclaimed “neutrality” so far as Jewish colonization was concerned, and demanded, on behalf of his party, their active support instead. Simultaneously, he proclaimed a so-called “last period of experimentation.” The Zionists could not wait much longer. It was necessary to determine whether the interests of the British and the Jews were identical. The Zionists believed they were, concluded the RU leader on this occasion.
Grossman assessed the situation differently, stressing that an orientation towards Britain was not tantamount to identifying with its policies. Unlike Jabotinsky, Grossman came up with a set of practical proposals for making the British submit to the ultimate demands of the Zionists. As such, the RU leader introduced the notion of a time-limited suspension of relations with the Administration in Palestine. The so-called “pause” rested on three pillars: a) no purchase of land, b) investment exclusively in enterprises owned by Jews, c) noncooperation with the British authorities. The initiative was aimed at targeting the “enemies” of the Jewish national home concept via the means of a “financial blockade.”
Although the leaders shared a common objective, their strategies for its achievement were far from uniform. Lichtheim had to acknowledge that different viewpoints prevailed within the leadership with regard to the idea of “noncooperation.” Furthermore, the views expressed by Schechtman confirmed an increasing ambivalence. On the one hand, Schechtman reprimanded the “cheap radicalism” against the British that was currently floating in Zionist circles. At the same time, he asserted that it was the task of the RU to proclaim, in front of the entire world, that Britain had “sabotaged” the Zionist endeavor. Overall, the various attitudes towards the issue of Zionist-British relations caused internal tensions. Numerous delegates, among them Abraham Recanati, demanded the actual severing of ties. Recanati, a delegate from Greece, accused the British of destroying the very foundations of Jewish colonization. A pro-British policy could prove fatal, warned the Greek delegate.
In his concluding speech, Jabotinsky did not fully succeed in calming the delegates. He insisted on upholding his continued belief in the “community of interests” and in the “English conscience.” “I, however, no longer hold the same level of prior trust even when it comes to the determination of the best among our friends,” confessed the RU president. The Zionists could not afford to wait another ten years, in his view, and had to mull over other alternatives if no improvements took place within the year. The resolutions of the Fourth World Conference eventually expressed support for the idea of “common interests between the Jewish people and the British Empire.” However, the contemporary situation was described as being “the last attempt at unreserved cooperation with the British government.”
The transformation was thus apparent. The belief in common Zionist-British interests remained, but the erstwhile trust in the British had dissipated. The questioning of the pro-British orientation, even though it never became official policy, became frequent and acquired legitimacy. The deliberations at a top party level confirmed this mindset. In June 1930, Eugene Soskin, then a member of the ECRU, reached the conclusion that Britain had “betrayed” the Zionists. The attitude of the presidium was aptly expressed by Grossman in November 1930—pro-British zeal was weakening, but other avenues were deemed dangerous: “The cardinal question is: Are we to create a movement ‘May God punish England’? Are we to demand that England be deprived of the Mandate? We cannot come up with proclamations against England if we are to appeal to the English people … My conviction is that no country is better than England and one can still find goodwill in [England’s] case.”
Hesitation on the part of the top leadership alone would not suffice to explain this ongoing transformation. It was the pressure of junior leaders (members of the party council in most cases), many of whom had been among the very founders of the RU, which added to the process of reevaluation. The debates in Rassviet, a party publication we may still consider as a think tank forum for the RU elites at that time, were far less nuanced than the speeches at party conferences or deliberations at ECRU sessions.
The lengthy article by Julius Brutzkus, “Psychology of Pogroms,” published on April 27, 1930, serves as an appropriate example here. As Brutzkus, himself a prominent founder, put it, “the method of solving the political and religious issues by means of mass slaughter” was not uncommon in the Middle East. It was rather the case, in his view, of the British public finding itself in an odd position, full of evident paradoxes. When the pogroms had taken place in Imperial Russia, the public had raved against such atrocities. Now, it did not know what position to take when the same was happening in a country governed by the Crown. The authorities’ sole intention was, in his view, to cover up the whole affair, putting the blame for the events upon the unpredictable psychology of the Arab masses. This approach was deliberately aided by the Shaw Commission, which had provided “implausible data,” “falsified maps,” and “phantasm-like charts” for that purpose. Yet there was another psychological element worthy of investigation, asserted Brutzkus. Incidents of this kind always occurred when the mob felt its actions would go unpunished. The policy of constant retreat had led the agitators to the inevitable conclusion that their actions were in accord with the Administration’s intentions.
Brutzkus was not alone in these assumptions. In his article “How Could This Have Happened?,” Mikhail Berchin, a Rassviet editor, was swift in denouncing the fact-finding mission led by John Hope Simpson less than a week after its arrival (May 20) in Palestine, and well before any of its findings were known. A situation had arisen, in his view, where not only the Administration but also the actual government had foiled Zionist aspirations: “The British cabinet overtly adopted a hostile position towards us and sympathized not only with the Palestine officials, but also with those among the Arab notables who had inspired and organized the Jewish massacre.” Berchin further accused CO officials of perfidy and “lying.” Israel Rosov, also an RU founder, joined the chorus by asserting that all the argument around the issue of economic absorptive capacity was only a veiled attack upon the right to free immigration.
Interestingly, members of the presidium such as Jabotinsky and Grossman kept a relatively low profile in the debate. Grossman warned that the “gradual liquidation” of the rights of the Jewish colonists was being carried out without any structural changes of the Mandate. In other words, such changes would have had to be approved by the League of Nations and might have provoked an international uproar; instead, the government was killing the settlement step by step, pretending no fundamental changes were taking place. Other members of the ECRU were less reserved. “We were sold out by friends,” lamented Schechtman with regard to Labor government policies.
The anger voiced in Rassviet was not without parallel in Zionist circles. The dissatisfaction was actually so general that it caused concern within the CO, which investigated ways of “promoting smoother relations” between the Zionists and the Palestine Administration. Chancellor in particular became a favorite target after the riots. Moreover, the dislike was mutual. According to CO documents, the High Commissioner considered some of the Jewish Agency’s representatives to be “personally distasteful and perhaps untrustworthy.” Further, even the idea of lobbying against the Administration was not entirely uncommon. Weizmann had to be reminded that administrative problems (in Palestine) were within the authority of the High Commissioner and not the CO when, in 1931, Chancellor was replaced in office by Arthur Wauchope. Moreover, despite the extremist label the Revisionists were to acquire at a later stage, many of the internal CO documents attest that they had been, at least in the early 1930s, considered a part of the Zionist front. This was particularly the case with regard to the wave of protests that were erupting all over the Jewish world in response to the 1929 riots and the resulting British policies. “There are differences of opinion between the Revisionists and the official Zionist Organisation, but in some ways they seem to work together,” observed O. G. R. Williams, an official at the CO’s Middle East department, in early June 1930. He continued: “It certainly looks as if the Zionist Organisation has used its machinery to promote these protests … instead of using it to counteract hostile propaganda it tolerates such propaganda and in some cases instigates it.”
Although many of the attitudes and feelings evident among the Revisionists were not uncommon within their immediate surroundings, the RU had one grievance specific to the party: its president had been banned from reentry to Palestine (eventually, for life). The withdrawal of Jabotinsky’s reentry permission by the British Mandate authorities followed his fiery speech given in Tel Aviv on December 23, 1929. The actual speech contained the usual dose of Revisionist gospel centered on the notion of Jewish majority. As Colin Shindler has pointed out, Jabotinsky had said nothing new, nothing without parallel in his earlier utterances. It was the explosive atmosphere, caused by the riots, which provided the new context. In a letter dated January 17, 1930, Chancellor justified his decision to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Passfield, by referring to its inflammatory content. The speech was reputed to have caused “considerable excitement among the Arab population” due to its “arguments against rapprochement with the Arabs and the extravagant claims made for the Jews in regard to the establishment of the Jewish National Home” which had had “a bad effect on public feeling.” Several months later, Chancellor added this observation regarding the nature of Jabotinsky’s political activities: “I dare say Jabotinsky does not deliberately intend to foment trouble in the country; but he cannot avoid the temptation to indulge in public speaking; he is, I am informed, eloquent and his eloquence carries him away so that his speeches are frequently violent and inflammatory.” The RU instantly denounced the decision and described it, with an allusion to Jabotinsky’s wartime services, as “an act of cynical ingratitude.” A whole flood of appeals followed and the subject of Jabotinsky’s reentry to Palestine was repeatedly raised with the CO on several occasions and by various parties, specifically in the years 1930-31, 1935 and 1939.
It should be noted that Jabotinsky’s cause acquired some backing within British political circles. The issue even came up (1930) in the confines of the House of Commons. MPs Amery and Wedgwood, both of whom had been long sympathetic to Zionist aspirations, were among its most prominent and unrelenting supporters. Amery emphasized his wartime merits. Jabotinsky, to use Amery’s terms, had “served most gallantly in the war, and worked like a Trojan to raise the Jewish regiment.” In spite of the otherwise tense relations, the official Zionist leadership also intervened on Jabotinsky’s behalf. According to CO sources, the Jewish Agency was “very unhappy” about the decision, not because of “any personal tenderness for Mr Jabotinsky … but because they felt it was an anomaly that so prominent a Zionist should be barred from entering the Jewish National Home.” Even more puzzling, however, was the RU’s response. In Jabotinsky’s opinion, it was not the British political circles but the Zionist leadership that should have been blamed for the affair. In a letter of July 1, 1930, he strictly rejected any offer of intervention on his behalf from the official bodies. He continued: “The prejudice against Revisionism and against me personally which has been so deeply instilled in official British circles … is largely due to many utterances and omissions for which the Zionist Executive is unfortunately responsible.” Simultaneously, he accused the ZE of having spread false allegations as early as 1927, making Revisionists appear anti-Arab and playing down their “traditional loyalty to England.”
Be that as it may, the RU leaders found themselves in a sort of dead end at the beginning of the 1930s. Jabotinsky was at odds with official Zionism, and was soon to provoke a clash over the issue of secession from the ZO within his own ranks. The Revisionist supporters, both in Eastern Europe and Palestine, were becoming restless and had no time for the “Anglophile” quibbling that the leadership engaged in. Relations with the British followed their own dynamics, mostly against the logic of shared common interests.
From the White Paper of 1930 to the Petition Movement of the Mid-1930s
The Passfield White Paper of October 1930, highlighting the notions of land shortage and the dual obligation towards both Jews and Arabs, did not augur well for the Zionists. Since the early 1930s, the Palestine Administration’s determination to ameliorate the economic conditions of the fellahin (Arab peasants) had gained in intensity. The Zionists were not apathetic and obtained a modification: According to an interpretation provided by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald in a letter to Weizmann of February 13, 1931, the British government would continue to facilitate immigration and support the territorial concentration of the Jews. The RU interpreted the challenge of the times in its own ways. In response to the White Paper, the party found itself in the position of open political confrontation with British government circles. Interestingly, the concrete form of this confrontation was never defined in exact terms. Among the RU leaders, the voices calling for an end to the British Mandate were relatively few and isolated. Both “heavyweights” of the party in that time, i.e. Jabotinsky and Grossman, remained cautious, sometimes even evasive, when faced with demands for a complete cessation of “pro-British orientation.” Jabotinsky tried to tone down the anti-British resentment more than any other founder, much at odds with his image as a radical. Overall, the RU’s message became more confused and self-contradictory than before.
Within a range of public proclamations, the White Paper was castigated as a “planned attack on all the bases upon which the Jewish effort and achievement have hitherto rested.” Unlike other Zionist factions, the Revisionists did not just criticize the White Paper, but also the Paper’s emendation in the form of MacDonald’s letter. At a press conference, organized on February 18, 1931 in London, they declared the following: “The Prime Minister’s letter … is regarded by us as disappointing and highly prejudicial to the future of Zionism … It leaves the political situation unaltered, but tends to mislead the Jewish public and arouse unjustified optimism.”
Within the circle of founders, the views were not so uniform. The banner promoting the parting of the ways with the British was raised by Schechtman in early November 1930. Schechtman’s main argument was simple: Britain had lost the right to stay in Palestine and the “last experimentation period” was over. “The White Paper of the Labor government deprives Great Britain of the moral and formal right to remain in Palestine as the Mandatory Power … There is no place for England in Palestine,” was Schechtman’s assessment of the contemporary situation. This view had support at the grassroots level. As a matter of fact, the idea of transferring the Mandate to a different and more pro-Zionist power appeared in the Polish-Jewish press immediately after the 1929 riots. The traditional powers, such as Britain and France, had been, from this perspective, far too dependent on the Muslim nations they ruled, while Poland, as a hypothetical caretaker, was not.
However, other party leaders, though using quite poignant vocabulary, failed to adopt Schechtman’s conclusions. Brutzkus overtly accused the CO bureaucracy of deceit. The arguments employed by Drummond Shiels, then parliamentary under-secretary at the CO, with regard to the real meaning of the national home (i.e. a stress on dual obligation) resembled, in his view, the logic used by the Cheka (Soviet secret police). Grossman, on the pages of Yiddish press, described Lord Passfield as a “cynic” who gave the Jews the cold shoulder. Simultaneously, he emphasized that the ZE had likewise failed to elaborate a lucid opinion on colonization during the previous twelve years. Jabotinsky himself continued to stick to the former guidelines of RU policy: the prime culprit was the Zionist leadership, and the British, in spite of innumerable faults, were the best allies the Jews could find. He stated that he would not oppose the struggle against the British government, but only once the Zionist leadership had been removed.
In a similar vein, Jabotinsky’s discussions on the apparent shortcomings of the British were full of good-natured sarcasm and irony, vague and elusive in relation to any dire political consequences. Jabotinsky went as far as to minimize the White Paper. Unlike the Germans or the French, the English did not much care for planning, with certain frivolity being part of their nature, opined the RU leader in late 1930. While his fellow critics continued to rain fire and brimstone down on the CO officials, Jabotinsky notified his readership in February 1931 that even the MacDonald letter, though he was critical of it, contained several auspicious items for the Zionists, concerning absorptive capacity and land reserves. An editorial published in May 1931 in the RU’s Yiddish mouthpiece, Der Nayer Weg (The New Path), displayed in full the depth of ambivalence with regard to the pro-British orientation. On the one hand, it stated: “The Revisionists have always asserted … that the interests of the British Empire in the East are identical with the interests of the Jewish people in Palestine. The establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine can be considered … a joint work of both nations.” At the same time, it warned that cooperation with the British government would cease unless the latter accepted “a set of clearly worded demands.”
Be that as it may, the leaders could test their opinions vis-à-vis their followers at the Fifth All-Polish Revisionist Conference (Warsaw, December 27-29, 1931). As Jews from Poland made for one third of party’s members, events at this venue counted far more in significance than any confrontation with the few hotheads residing in Palestine. At the conference, Jabotinsky did not hesitate to reiterate his essentially pro-British credo. Grossman was more reserved, stressing the struggle against the British policies. Overall, Jabotinsky’s speech did not differ substantially from his earlier line of argument, as recorded previously in this paper. A cessation of any differentiation between the Administration and the (contemporary) British government was one of the few novelties. “Relations between the Zionists and Britain are, objectively speaking, unchanged … England’s imperial interests still demand that Palestine should be converted into a land with a Jewish majority,” proclaimed the RU leader, among other things. Britain faced “objective obstacles” due to its economic and psychological decline: “the impulse to [build the] Empire has … died away or fallen into slumber,” asserted the RU leader, further reemphasizing the joint culpability of the Zionist leadership. The terms Grossman used were harsher, indiscriminately accusing the British of hampering the development of the Palestine settlement. Grossman described the current concessions as being “less than could have been obtained even from the Arabs.”
Whatever one may think of the above utterances, the conference was to enter the annals of history through association with a different statement. Jabotinsky was reported by the Times (December 30 of that year) as saying that 15 million desperate Jews constituted “dynamite which might blow up the British Empire.” The RU immediately denounced the misinterpretation and provided its own English translation of the speech. Jabotinsky, they claimed, had instead said: “England acts as though she wished to set ablaze fifteen million torches of despair scattered in every corner of the world.” Whether true or false, it would not have been the first case where statements of the RU leaders were imprecisely reported. In a similar vein, a Warsaw daily Nasz Przegląd (Our Review) reported in 1930 that the RU would demand the withdrawal of the Palestine Mandate from Great Britain at the next Zionist Congress, though nothing of that kind was envisioned by the leaders on the floor of the Fourth World Conference. In the context of this discussion, it is noteworthy that at that time, the association of Revisionism with an anti-British stance was taken for granted by most observers, regardless of the genealogy of the RU’s position.
The reason why this occurred may be quite simple. The “didactic work” vis-à-vis the public had been, as we have seen, undertaken with such rashness that it was impossible not to identify the RU with Zionist radicalism. Furthermore, the very utterances of the RU leaders, though likely to be deliberately misinterpreted by their (mainly Jewish/Zionist) political foes, could at best be seen as mixed. Moreover, junior RU leaders continued to press for the adoption of a harder line against the British. The possibility of a break-up hovered, in effect, over the ECRU, something that was hard to conceal, at least from the Zionist public.
At a meeting of the ECRU held on February 6-7, 1932, in Paris, Zinovy Tiomkin, then a member of the executive, openly clashed with the view that one should differentiate between the British people and the British political elites. In his view, Great Britain had, during the previous twelve years, convincingly demonstrated that it was a “chimera,” and it was foolish to place any hopes in it. Eventually, a political storm followed the approval of a particular statement with regard to the situation in Palestine, and Tiomkin resigned from the executive. The Revisionist Bulletin quoted Tiomkin as condemning the “policy relating to England” as “not being radical enough.” On the pages of the press, Tiomkin was more outspoken: the Revisionist executive should have ended the orientation towards Britain several years earlier. Tiomkin’s resignation was soon followed by the departure of Schechtman, who left in support of Tiomkin’s views. According to Schechtman’s published views, Britain needed to radically alter her attitude, or leave Palestine altogether. Those supporters who believed in a set of common interests between Zionism and Britain found themselves increasingly challenged from all corners of the diverse Revisionist spectrum. In early 1932, Recanati, a long-time critic, accused Jabotinsky of continuing “to nourish the same idyllic love … for the perfidious Albion,” regardless of the altered circumstances. The RU’s official statements warned that: “confidence in Great Britain’s word, almost an article of faith, with every Jew for many generations, is rapidly being replaced by distrust, threatening to drive our world-scattered masses … along the roads of despair dangerous both to our people and to society in general.”
No matter whether they were sincere or not, Jabotinsky’s attempts to calm the situation were neither successful nor entirely convincing. The situation demanded more than witty journalism and sarcasm, both of which arts he had mastered perfectly. To provide one example, the lengthy article “Public School Boys,” divided into three parts and published at the turn of June and July 1932, excelled in its attempt to ridicule the colonial bureaucracy, but omitted the core problems that existed in Zionist-British relations. The list of “compliments” concerning imperial officialdom can be condensed into his description of them as representing a remnant of a bygone era at a time when the Empire was experiencing a difficult situation. It cultivated, in Jabotinsky’s view, a “national and class haughtiness,” based on a conviction of constituting the “highest caste,” i.e. a frame of mind that no longer worked. Furthermore, the English had never succeeded in ruling over small nations in a “normal fashion.” “Hatred of the Czechs towards the Germans was nothing in comparison to the hatred of the Irish towards the English,” mused Jabotinsky. British military power was equally categorized as being a thing of the past. Still, no precise conclusions were offered. Jabotinsky confessed that he did not know what the future would hold. Britain might change, advance economically and regain her “Imperial appetite” or it might not, concluded the RU’s president.
Interestingly, the comments about the shortcomings of British bureaucrats did not remain unnoticed in London. The British legation in Kaunas (Lithuania) reported from one of the meetings presided over by the RU president that “Mr Jabotinski [sic!] stressed the point that the staff of the Colonial Office as well as the Palestine Administration represented, in fact, the type of English public-school-man, lacking in universal education and qualification essential to the comprehension of a policy of colonization.” Without achieving any particular objective in relation to the RU ranks, Jabotinsky succeeded in adding to his reputation as a mob instigator. The official Revisionist statements (of which Grossman was nominally in charge) were equally prone to contradictions on the subject. For example, according to the résumé of The Revisionist Bulletin of March 1932, Jabotinsky, at a meeting in Paris, was to describe the English presence in Palestine as “harmful.” In a similar vein, Jabotinsky did not hesitate to ponder the alternative of deserting the pro-British orientation altogether, as exemplified in his article of May 1932, “On the relation with England.” For would-be political partners, the RU’s pledges with regard to the Zionist-British alliance remained doubtful. Revisionism was slowly being devoured by its own trump card—the appeal to the masses. Two years later, the British Embassy in Warsaw made a cold assessment of its impressions: “There is a section of Zionist opinion here which tends to express itself in communications to us when anything not to its liking takes place in Palestine. We hope, however, that no one will try and smash our windows this time, as they did last November.”
As was the case with many other political issues, the Fifth World Conference (Vienna, August 28—September 3, 1932) provided the RU with the ultimate public venue for discussions on Zionist-British relations. However, the outcome was inconclusive. The leadership was apparently on the defensive and was forced to justify its record in front of disenchanted delegates. The speeches of Jabotinsky and Grossman exposed not only the widening gap between the views of the RU’s leaders and followers, but also many of the inherent inconsistencies in their own personal visions. From the perspective of our topic, the conference had only one tangible result: the official launch of the so-called Petition Movement.
Grossman’s tone concerning relations with the British was, as it previously had been in 1930 and 1931, firmer than Jabotinsky’s. Yet its substance and objectives were similar: to cool the hot tempers represented in Revisionism and promote prudence. In his opening address, Grossman attempted to distance the party from any suggestion that it had, in the past, operated from an unconditional pro-British position. The RU had never had anything to do with the actual British government, asserted Grossman, further stressing the fact that the party had never openly identified with British policy along the lines of Weizmann and the General Zionists. In terms of an alternative course, Grossman remained elusive. The conference was to provide the forum for “certain conclusions” to be reached and “certain steps of a political nature” to be planned for the future, while the framing of “certain resolutions” would have to take into consideration both world opinion and Britain’s position. Ultimately, he stressed that, in his view, it was understandable that a “holy unrest controlled the population of Palestine.” Yet, warned the RU leader, in the current political circumstances “a single shot … is [tantamount] to a great cannonade and every small reverse is [equal] to a catastrophe.”
Jabotinsky’s assessment of the issue seems even more puzzling if we take into account that he had proclaimed the “last experimentation period” only two years earlier. Jabotinsky again decided to delay any final decision and backed away from any sort of firm commitment. The RU president warned against exaggerating the potential for opposing the British in Palestine, suggesting a careful analysis of the available methods of political struggle instead. The value of arguments concerning taxes and investment were not to be underestimated, he said, and also emphasized that it was necessary to continue issuing protests, exploiting all legal options, and employing “methods of bullying” against the Administration at every step. The development of a particular political atmosphere could, in his view, bring results in two or three years.
Jabotinsky and Grossman’s approach received the backing of Lichtheim, who expressed himself accordingly in a letter sent to the conference. To use his words, the Revisionists would continue in their struggle, regardless of whether “Passfield or any other Haman” stood in their way. Britain was, nevertheless, to stay at the centre of their political initiatives. Other RU leaders, who, as we have noted, were often more radical, did not express themselves on the issue (at least not in public). We may well assume that verbal declarations would not have been sufficient to reassure the common delegates: from the preserved documents, it is obvious that the executive was commonly accused of staging a retreat. Grossman, in an apologetic tone, repeatedly rejected such accusations, further emphasizing that the CO was “buried” under the weight of protest letters from Revisionist followers that had been channeled through various consulates.
The notion of a “Petition Movement” was hence something of a refuge for the RU leadership. Without being able to predict unambiguously which way Revisionism was heading, the leadership positioned itself at the helm of the process. The approach clearly followed the political lines that had been established in the mid-1920s: a public protest in the name of the Jewish masses. The strategy aimed to channel the widespread dissatisfaction without severing relations with the British. Although it was not accepted universally, the Petition embodied something of a common platform for the RU leadership with regard to Zionist-British relations at that time: the emphasis on the use of political means, combined with the unreserved criticism of the situation in Palestine. The idea had been maturing for some time—since 1929—while the actual initiative was to come to fruition in 1934.
As we might have expected, the debates were long and inconclusive. In June 1932, Schechtman, who was charged with organizing the petition, noted that opinions on the document’s ultimate aims diverged. “Some” inside the leadership preferred an appeal “against England,” i.e. to apply to the League of Nations or the states which had entrusted the mandate to Britain. Brutzkus concurred that it made sense to appeal to the League of Nations, but added that it would be wrong to demand a termination of the Mandate ahead of time. At the Fifth World Conference, the Petition acquired concrete definition and content, becoming the hallmark of the RU policy towards the British for the rest of mid-1930s. The idea was presented by Schechtman. In his view, orientation would be redirected away from British political circles towards the English population: “the Petition is the highest trump which we can play against England,” mused Schechtman to that effect. The text that was eventually adopted can be seen as a compromise. It was to be addressed to the British monarch and speak, among other things, of the “immeasurable growth of Jewish distress and the intolerable situation in Palestine,” and aim to bring the “attention of the civilized world to the injustice committed against the Jewish people.” Any allusion to a demand for an end of the British Mandate was dropped.
The reception of the project among the Revisionists at the conference was mixed. Jabotinsky, for his part, lauded the Petition: “the Petition Movement is no shallow piece of paper… I understand [the initiative] as a movement by which we could lead the Jewish masses.” Schechtman acknowledged that no unity of opinion existed. The malcontents were not satisfied. Joseph Katznelson, a delegate from Palestine, castigated the project as an “illusion” and a “fiction.”
Outside observers, and the British authorities in particular, seemed to be even less impressed. In April 1934, Foreign Office (FO) officials complained that Buckingham Palace was being “inundated with petitions from the Jewish people” with “as many as four hundred … received in a single day … sent in identical way” and arriving “in similar envelopes.” The CO officials, for their part, did not hide the fact that they were plainly tired and irritated: “It is possible that we may get many thousands of these petitions, and the mere registration of them will be an unnecessary piece of toil.” Overall, the impact was far different from what had been anticipated, and the initiative contributed to the anti-British image of Revisionism, much in contradiction with the logic of the original objectives with which the RU had launched its political offensive a decade earlier. In March 1934, at the peak of the campaign, a communication between CO and FO officials stated the following: “There is an extremist body known as the Zionist Revisionists who have announced their intention of ventilating their dissatisfaction with the policy of H. M. G. in regard to Palestine in various ways, including petitions … it has been decided to ignore them as being in the nature of political manifestos rather than genuine petitions on the grievances of individuals.”
The contrast with the confession provided by Jabotinsky in a letter to the then Colonial Secretary, Philip Cunliffe-Lister, could hardly be more striking. “In my own propaganda against the Palestine regime, I always insisted: trust English honestly, appeal to the English conscience … The British nation has perhaps no truer friends within Zionism, perhaps throughout the whole world either, than we Revisionists who want England to fulfil God’s prophecy, to vindicate her word up to the limits of accomplishment … to create an eternal outpost of pro-British devotion in the East.”
The demise of the RU in March 1933 and the establishment of the New Zionist Organization (NZO) in September 1935 may well appear to have finally terminated the endless balancing process and inconclusive debates that had been the hallmark of the Revisionist founders. Although the primary conceptual motivation for the creation of a new body was the split with the ZO, it is probably no mean feat that the few RU founders who accompanied Jabotinsky on the road to his new adventure, namely Schechtman and Zinovy Tiomkin, had expressed more radical views with regard to the British. In spite of that, even the NZO incorporated a measure of pro-British creed into its resolutions, most likely due to Jabotinsky’s influence. NZO statutes declared, among other things, their gratitude towards Great Britain for having issued the Balfour Declaration, as well as a continued belief in the support of the British public. As a matter of fact, Jabotinsky continued—though in a more wavering fashion than before—to accentuate the need to appeal to the “conscience of the civilized world,” much against the opinion of his followers. As Heller has documented, the leaders of the Irgun were amazed at Jabotinsky’s “obsession” with both the British and the system of international relations when meeting their revered mentor at the time of the Arab Revolt in 1937. Three days after the outbreak of World War II, Jabotinsky rushed to offer his skills and contacts to the British once again. In a letter to Neville Chamberlain, he proposed the raising of a Jewish army, with the intent of “loyally seconding” the British war effort. As we might have expected, the proposal was not selfless. At a meeting with the Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, Jabotinsky enquired whether the CO would be prepared to make a gesture of good will in return, such as “shutting eyes” with regard to illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine.
The British bureaucracy viewed the situation from a different angle. By the mid-1930s, Jabotinsky was characterized by the CO officials as an “explosive person” and a leader of a party which “makes no pretence of accepting H.M.G.’s interpretation of the Mandate.” By 1939, his reputation had been downgraded even further, to the position of “founder and head of a movement which … has a secret para-military organisation and organises bomb outrages against the Arabs.” His letter to the Prime Minister was flatly disregarded as a “highly rhetorical document.”
Taking the RU’s arguments concerning Zionist-British relations at face value would be naïve. The premise of Zionism as a strategic asset for the British Empire had a number of apparent limitations. The Jewish investment in Palestine benefited the Treasury and helped to finance some of Britain’s objectives in the country, such as the deep-water port in Haifa. Still, particularly in the second half of the 1930s, the notion of a Jewish national home did not definitely add value to Britain’s stock in the region; in fact, it provided fuel for Axis propaganda among the Arabs. The RU (and Zionism at large) was backed mainly by East European Jews, most of whom could not have afforded the cost of emigration to Palestine even if we assume they had wanted to go. The accusation against the ZO that it remained idle and intimidated was thoroughly flawed. Backstage diplomacy was actually quite effective. Among other things, the Mandates Commission of the League of Nations was converted to a pro-Zionist stance after the mid-1920s, which added a level of discomfort for the colonial bureaucracy at the time of White Papers of 1930 and 1939 in particular. Last but not least, the British administration in Palestine, whatever one may think of its record, faced a considerable conundrum when seeking to address the demands of the contending parties. The authorities were not entirely inaccurate when asserting they had “received little assistance from either side in healing the breach.” Indeed, many of the RU’s assertions lacked substance.
Yet, at the same time, the “extremism” had certain limitations if we consider its immediate Zionist context. As a matter of fact, the “moderate” Weizmann expressed himself in terms which went beyond the scope of Revisionist demands when meeting British Cabinet members in December 1930. Among other things, he stated that the exclusion of the Jews from Transjordan was “illegal” and “inadmissible” while the use of “trans-migration” of the Arabs might, in his view, have led to the solving of the “congestion of Cis-Jordan.” The attitude of some prominent Labor leaders (Tabenkin) towards the Empire was openly hostile. Within the right-wing spectrum, the positions were commonly sterner. Abba Ahimeir, for instance, had neither any trust in the British nor any need to court non-Jewish public opinion. Unlike the paramilitary groups (i.e. the nucleus of the Israeli right), RU founders insisted that the Zionist project would be unachievable without the acquisition of sound international political backing. Their aim was not to end British rule, but to transform it. Instead of instigating trouble, the RU’s presidium tried, in many cases, to calm tempers. The lack of cohesiveness and efficiency in doing so was a chronic problem faced by the RU structure.
Both the accomplishments and the longevity of the RU’s strategy proved limited. The leaders achieved none of their objectives regarding the British. Their own image became tarnished. The appeal of a call combining combative rhetoric with operative restraint did not survive the interwar era. Indeed, the RU founders were professional journalists, not (conventional) politicians, let alone diplomats. The utterances against the British were, as we have seen, often irksome, but paled when compared with those expressed by RU leaders in relation to Zionist officialdom. To illustrate this point better, Jabotinsky once characterized the ZO as: “a crowd of spiritual bastards … a crowd I coldly and very indefinitely despite [sic].” Jacob de Haas, an American Revisionist leader, had the following to say in October 1929: “The present crisis in Zionism is the result of the misleadership, the disingenuousness and the bluffing of Dr. Weizmann and his associates in Europe … these leaders are hopeless in their stupidities … which determines them to hold on to office whether the cause sinks or swims.”