Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 17, 1984, Page 10

Book Review

The Iron Wall: Zionist Revisionism from Jabotinsky to Shamir

By Lenni Brenner. London: Zed Books Ltd., 1984. 221 pp. $14.95 (paperback)

Reviewed by Robert G. Hazo

Over the years Israel has moved relentlessly towards the political right, towards an interpretation of Zionism known as Revisionism. As a result, Israel has become more overtly expansionist, more willing to rely on force as its principal policy towards the Arabs (as the unprovoked, brutal invasion of Lebanon clearly showed), more willing to oppress Arabs living under Israeli rule and more willing to become "theocratic"—at least in social legislation. Because these trends show every sign of increasing, one cannot dismiss as aberrational Rabbi Meir Kahane's contention that what he represents is the wave of Zionism's future. lie may, in fact, be Zionism's logical heir.

Lenni Brenner's new book, The Iron Wall, is an account of how Revisionism has become the mainstream dogma within Israel. It is a very long and complicated story. Given the apparently endless sequence of relevant events taking place on four continents during a period of over three quarters of a century, Brenner took on a formidable task. He discharges it with confidence and in the process displays remarkable erudition, considering the vast and varied literature on the subject (including his own earlier work, Zionism in the Age of Dictators).

An Impressive Narrative

This narrative is truly impressive for the amount of information it presents, the range of sources on which it draws and the remarkable level of detail it encompasses, among other things. No one interested in the subject can fail to learn something by reading it.

Brenner has chosen to present this mass of information in a surprisingly brief format rather than to produce a definitive or comprehensive work. He gets a lot into fifteen chapters divided into short thematic sub-sections, but, inevitably, a lot more is given short shrift. Indeed, to profit fully from what Brenner has written, the reader must have some familiarity with the history of Zionism as a whole.

One reason that The Iron Wall, falls short is that Brenner has chosen to present his historical monograph as biography, as his sub-title, "Zionist Revisionism from Jabotinsky to Shamir," suggests. Attention is essentially devoted to the development, character and actions of two personalities: Vladimir Jabotinsky, leader of the Revisionists, and former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Yitzhak Shamir also was accorded a short chapter simply because he inherited the leadership of the Likud party and became Israel's Prime Ministerafter Begin retired. This approach does illuminate these two personalities in special ways, but the biographical focus is so sharp that the circumstantial penumbra that would provide the necessary perspective and historical dimension is sorely neglected.

Despite this deficiency, the portraits of Jabotinsky (clearly the more interesting of the two) and Begin—and the character of Revisionist Zionism as reflected by them—come across as both clear and damning. So palpable was their lifelong extremism that even David Ben Gurion, one of Israel's founding fathers and its first prime minister, did not hesitate to liken them both to Hitler.

They were, however, quite different. Jabotinsky, the linguist, cosmopolitan and litterateur, converted to Zionism, was a manipulator, an opportunist, a natural leader and a grand strategist par excellence. Begin, the pedantic lawyer, born to Zionism, amounts to little more than a Jabotinsky devotee, a rigid idealogue and relentless tactician. After his election in 1977, he himself admitted that he never expected that he would or could have become Israel's Prime Minister. Jabotinsky's failure and Begin's success, then, is most accurately attributed to timing, to Begin's presence at the time of the historical maturation of Zionism rather than to a disparity in their political abilities.

Differing Degrees of Zionism

The most important conclusion that emerges from The Iron Wall, (which Brenner himself never quite succinctly draws) is that, except for its anti-Socialist, anti-union economic policy, Zionist Revisionism and Zionism proper have differed largely in degree rather than kind. Jabotinsky had a more audacious vision and was more candid than other Zionist leaders. He founded the Haganah because he believed that the use of Jewish force would be necessary not only to establish a national home in Palestine, but also to sustain it by subjugating the local population. In fact, the title of Brenner's book is derived from Jabotinsky's metaphor for invincible force—the iron wall. Despite his strategic mistakes, Jabotinsky saw that Israel needed a major power sponsor indefinitely. (He thought it would be Imperial Britain with Israel "a loyal Jewish Ulster" rather than America with Israel as "the bastion of democracy in the Middle East.") He knew that Israel as a colonial movement in an unfriendly environment would fall back on Jewish solidarity, exclusivity, or "racism", if you wish, and said so.

By the 1930s, when Zionism became a movement of some magnitude, most Zionist leaders also knew these things, though they were not willing to admit them. Arabophilism was never a major thrust among Zionists, just as "Peace Now" is not now a major force in Israel. Brenner's book makes clear how and why Zionism has taken the unfortunate direction in which it is now heading. 

Robert G. Haze is chairman of the Middle East Policy Association.

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