Vladimir Zhabotinskij Writer and Zionist

Brian Horowitz, University of Nebraska

In this paper I treat the creative writings of Vladimir Zhabotinskij in the context of Russian Zionism. Although Zhabotinskij was one of the most cultured and cosmopolitan of Russia's Zionists, nevertheless his creative writings can and should be regarded within the sub-genre of Zionist literature. In opposition to what people usually think, Zionist creative writers were not merely apologists or propagandists. Rather, while trying to retain artistic honesty, they created new images of Jews and relations with non-Jews that reflect a Zionist perspective. Zhabotinskij did this in his novel, Samson the Nazarite. Using the biblical story of Samson as a base, in the novel we can observe Zhabotinskij's conception of physical power as the central aim of the individual. This perspective invites us to view other phenomena, woman, nature, and neighbors, as rivals and even self-consciousness as a weakness.

From this viewpoint, I will analyze other works by Zionist writers. Whereas such writers as Ben Ami and Lev Jaffe endeavored to portray a physically powerful Jew, they refused to repudiate "European" values of art, consciousness, and love. In this way, Zhabotinskij's revisionism is unique and radical in comparison to other Zionist writers. At this point I will compare Zhabotinskij's literary writings to his life and show the ramifications of his ideas in reality. During World War I Zhabotinskij struggled to organize the Jewish Legion which fought on the side of Britain. Later he tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with Nazi officials to win the release of German Jews, who would be permitted to leave for Palestine. After World War II, he came into conflict with Chaim Weizmann over his idea of how to remove the British and create a state. In all his dealings, he chose the route of pure power over compromise and accommodation. Because of his attitude toward physical strength, Zhabotinskij ultimately was removed from the central leadership of the Zionist movement and considered a revisionist. His literature and his life reflect a set of values that were actually not typically Zionist, but were exclusively Zhabotinskyian Zionist.