Building an Israeli counter-elite from the ground up

By David Isaac, Shmuel Katz Blog

In our last two blogs, we looked at the failure of Israel’s information efforts – a topic Shmuel devoted much time to – and the possibility that the root cause of this failure lies with Israel’s elites, who hold to a politically correct view of the conflict, dominate Israel’s media, academic and legal institutions, and force their positions even on those elected officials who don’t share their worldview.

It would explain why nationalist Israeli leaders, elected by the majority of Israelis, end up implementing leftwing policies. One could compare modern-day Israel’s predicament to that of the Pharisees and Sadducees, which struggled for dominance during the Hasmonean period. Then too, a majority was ruled by a minority elite which controlled the levers of power. The minority, the Sadducees, vanished from history. Let’s hope the same will be said of Israel’s leftwing elites.

The way to defeating them, as Dr. Martin Sherman writes in “Comprehending the Incomprehensible” (The Jerusalem Post, Jan. 13, 2012), is to create a counter-elite. The question is: where to start? A look back at Israel’s pre-state period, particularly the life of Revisionist leader Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky, offers insight into where Israel’s nationalists should focus their efforts, namely, the youth.

In “The Jabotinsky Story: Fighter and Prophet,” (A.S. Barnes & Co., 1961), Joseph Schechtman writes, “By 1923-24, though only in his early forties, Jabotinsky was already an almost legendary world-wide Jewish figure and ‘steeped in triumphs.’ Yet he felt frustrated: somehow every triumph ended in defeat; there was no solid foundation on which his achievements could be added, like bricks, to one another and made to last; he felt that he was building on sand.”

The Zionist movement at that point was in dire straits. It had adopted other “isms,” melding together political ‘enthusiasms,’ (like pacifism and socialism) with Zionism in the hope of attracting Jewish youth. The result was a weird mix of ideals that ended up diluting Zionism. Socialism had no place in a country that had yet to be built and needed the cooperation of Jewish capital. Neither did pacifism, when Arabs were determined to destroy Jewish development.

This combination, Jabotinsky’s realization that he needed a foundation on which to build, coupled with Zionism’s decline into a muddle of “isms,” led him in 1923 to create Brit Yosef Trumpeldor, or Betar, a worldwide Jewish youth movement. It was named after Captain Joseph Trumpeldor, a Zionist pioneering hero whom Jabotinsky knew from the days of the Jewish Legion, and who had died in 1920 at the hands of Arabs in the Galilee.

There were other Jewish youth movements at that time. In “Lone Wolf: A Biography of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky,” Shmuel writes:

    What was the difference, Jabotinsky asked, between Betar and other youth movements? The first was that Betar aimed at raising youth in a Herzlian mold. “It is already universally acknowledged that Zionism has been diluted. … Brit Trumpeldor teaches the youth to believe in the great concepts of Herzl and Nordau: a state, mass immigration, a solution to the Jewish problem in its political, material and spiritual senses.” …

The second difference lay in the Betar aim of teaching the youth self-defense. This had to be learned as a craft like any other craft, not for inculcating the courage to die, but the skills for keeping alive, and for helping others to keep alive.

The most important difference, however was the third: “Betar does not recognize a mixture of ideologies.” To encapsulate this concept, Jabotinsky adopted a felicitous prohibition from the Bible: “Thou shalt not wear a mixture of wool and linen.”

Jabotinsky had been involved in matters of Jewish education before, in particular his efforts to establish schools where the language of instruction would be Hebrew. But Betar went much further. As Shmuel writes in “Lone Wolf”:

    Betar then was, first of all, a code of personal behavior. Jabotinsky gave it a name: Hadar. In its original sense, it conveys a sense of splendor, of glory; in the context of Jabotinsky’s code, it is almost untranslatable. The closest rendering of its meaning would probably be “overall impeccability.” … Jabotinsky’s own statement of the virtues inherent in Hadar included all the trivia that make up our daily lives – external sightliness, cleanliness, tidiness, punctuality, courtesy, chivalrous and considerate behavior towards women, the old and the very young. … Hadar, which he considered should be a universal code, was especially important to the masses of Jews. In the cramped and degraded living conditions of their lives, many of these qualities were simply unknown.

The youth of Betar adored Jabotinsky. He was known to them simply as Rosh Betar, head of Betar. He was enormously successful in imbuing them with his ideas. Just how successful can be seen in the story of Shlomo Ben-Yosef, a Betar member from Poland who immigrated to Palestine. In 1938, after a series of brutal murders by the Arabs, Ben-Yosef, together with two others, took action into their own hands. They attacked an Arab bus. No one was injured but the three were caught and Ben-Yosef, partly because he was the only one over 18, was sentenced to hang. In “Lone Wolf,” Shmuel writes:

    It was Ben-Yosef’s bearing and behavior when he knew he was facing death that etched itself on the consciousness and the memory of his generation. In the five days after the death sentence was confirmed, he had been permitted visitors, and scores came to the jail. All came away stunned by the fact that the words of consolation had come from him to them; he had told all of them that he was facing death with equanimity. …

    [One reporter], on leaving the prison, encountered a friendly British officer, who said to him: “There is no hope. This is the bravest man I have ever seen.” … Early in the morning of the twenty-ninth, after a few hours of sleep, Ben-Yosef washed his face and hands, brushed his teeth, drank a cup of tea and waited to be called. When eight o’clock came, he walked upright and in his strong voice sang the Betar hymn to the end. … Taking then his final step before the abyss of the gallows, he called out his last words: “Long live Jabotinsky!”

Shmuel describes Ben-Yosef as Jabotinsky’s “apotheosis – a personified realization of the dream he had begun to dream” even before the Kishinev pogrom, where the Jewish men hid shamefully as their town was ransacked. Ben-Yosef, who behaved with dignity in the face of death, became the embodiment of Jabotinsky’s “lifelong campaign for the transformation of the bent back of the ghetto to the upright stance of a proud and dignified national community.”

In “Fighter and Prophet,” Schechtman writes that Jabotinsky “affectionately referred to the Betar as his ‘Benjamin.’ Jabotinsky said, “I love the Hatzohar, I love the Brit Hachayal, and the young Brit Yeshurun … but above all I love Betar. … Betar is the roots from which the entire tree receives its nourishment.”

We no longer have Jabotinsky but those who are determined to break the stranglehold of the Left on Israel’s national institutions should look to his example. There are youth movements in Israel. Bnei Akiva is a youth group of the Religious Zionist movement. Tzofim is a larger organization of some 90,000 but it is apolitical, similar to the Boy and Girl Scouts in the U.S. Betar still exists, though it is a shadow of its former self. None of these are enough.

What would be needed is a youth movement with a broad appeal to both religious and secular youth with an unapologetically Zionist nationalist core. That would be a proper training ground for a new Israeli elite.

May 6, 2012 | 5 Comments »

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5 Comments / 5 Comments

  1. We need to act so the progressive leftist can vanish like the Saducees int toe toilet of history.

  2. My sentiments exactly. I hope those comments above are from young people. I am seventy-four myself, and can only offer encouragement. And what better than: “Be strong and courageous; do not tremble or be dismayed. For the Lord G=d is with you, wherever you go.” And the line just before that: “Every place on which your foot shall tread, I have given it to you. No man shall be able to stand before you; I will be with you.”

    But there’s one other not so little thing our people need first: – a repentant heart. “If MY people will turn from their wicked ways………THEN I will heal their land….” Remember, and if you’re reading Joshua and Judges you’ll see, success on the battlefield depended on repentance and obedience to the Lord. Tough, but they aren’t my words, they’re HIS.


  4. The Hebrew for ‘Chief’ came out as ???? is transliterated as ‘alu?ph from ‘one associated with, to learn from’ which seems to fit 100% with a new group on the lines discussed. The Torah would be a good foundation, with the books of Joshua and Judges as a guide.

  5. Go for it – You know where to begin to search for those youth for the next leaders, as it is written,
    And the governors (chiefs, friends, ????) of Judah shall say in their heart, The inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be my strength in the LORD of hosts their God. In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf; and they shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left: and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem. (Zec 12:5-6)