Saturday, February 4, 2012

From Odessa to Tel Aviv, From Jabotinsky to Begin

From a lecture by JOACHIM SCHLÖR: ‘ ‘ON THE THIRD HAND…’ - News from a Rediscovered Civilisation in Memories of Odessa:

...Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the journalist and newspaper essayist, was later to become the founder of the revisionist movement within Zionism. The contribution made by the Revisionists – who wanted to ‘return’ to the principles of the Basle Programme and the creation of a home for the Jews in the whole of Palestine, and were prepared to fight for that state – to the founding not only of Tel-Aviv but also of the state of Israel as a whole is a little-researched, unpopular topic: people are nowadays too quick to denounce Jabotinsky as the spiritual father of the ‘terrorists’ surrounding Menachem Begin, and so to consign him to oblivion. But the “brilliant journalist and lecturer,” whose portrait Arthur Koestler has drawn, was an early advocate of an unsentimental view of urban development, an approach shorn of mythology and oriented towards the Western liberal model. “He was brought up,” Koestler writes, “in the enlightened atmosphere of cosmopolitan Odessa, a stranger to Jewish tradition,” and on the basis of that
experience he opposed all those who wanted to build Tel-Aviv “as a kind of glorified ghetto, without the restrictions but with the traditions and atmosphere of the ghetto – and even the architecture of the ghetto, which the first colonists piously imitated.”3

Jabotinsky tried to transfer the liberal spirit of Odessa to Tel-Aviv. On the occasion of the 1929 Levant Fair he wrote that the organisers of the event,
“the group of young men who cluster around the Moshar v-Tassi,” had, at an early stage, already believed in the possibility of industrial development in the Land. It was this belief that the fairs symbolised – in the design of their pavilions and kiosks, in their aggressive, outward-directed activity, in their high regard for trade because it alone could forge the necessary links and contacts to enable the country to take its place in the international network of commercial forces:

The army of Jewish merchants scattered all over the world are our natural comrades, it is they who hold in their hands the fate of Palestine’s industry. We must not shut our eyes to the essential importance of this task. We have been influenced a little too much by the ringing rhetoric of what our friends in Germany call ‘Umschichtung’ [restructuring], a dream of creating a nation which should consist only of farmers and labourers without a single merchant among them. We took up cheap catchwords such as the merchant is only a ‘superfluous intermediary’, a sort of barrier between producer and consumer […]. Trade is the basis of all economic progress, of all communal, national and social development. And up till now the world has invented no better instrument able to assume this stupendous task […] than the individual merchant.

...The threads which once held together the cities of Europe have been cut. A road junction: here, in a dilapidated house barely supported by long wooden poles, Jabotinsky lived. At 17 he was already writing for Odessa Novosti; in 1903 he reported on the pogroms in Kishinev. Across the road lived Dizengoff, the future mayor of Tel-Aviv. Both were among the organizers of a Jewish self-defence group which in 1905 was able to prevent the pogroms from spreading to the district of Moldavanka in Odessa. Both men
were changed by the terrible news of the pogroms, and for both of them the founding of the Jewish self-defence organization was the first step of a journey that was to take them away from here, to somewhere new. In a small street: “Here modern Israel was born.” The two women look at Mr Merkulenko very dubiously. But here, at number 12, lived Leon Pinsker,
author of the pamphlet published in Berlin, and in German, entitled Auto-Emancipation. Pinsker, a doctor, joined the Hovevei Zion [Lovers of Zion],
held meetings here, and from here, in 1882, sent the first group ofg Biluim on their way to Palestine – the pioneers of the future state.4

3 Arthur Koestler, Arrow in the Blue. An Autobiography (London, Glasgow, 1952), pp.
4 ‘The Manufacturer and the Merchant’. Speech by Mr V. Jabotinsky at the Manufacturers’
Conference, Palestine and Near East Economic Magazine. The IVth Palestine and Near East
Exhibition and Fair. Festivities in Celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Founding of Tel-Aviv (Tel-Aviv, Palestine, 7th–30th April, 1929), pp. 183–5.

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