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For the sake of Zion I will not be silent,

and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not be still,


till her righteousness goes forth as radiance,
and her salvation,
like a burning torch. Yesha’yahu 62:1

05. The pre-State Period

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Ferment of ideas
1. Just as Jewish religious life in pre-WWII Europe was dominated by great intellects, so too (l’havdil) was
the world of secular Jews. Within the Zionist movement intellectuals offered differing programs and
ideologies that attracted fanatical supporters and adamant opponents. Many of these controversies,
vivid as they were at the time, have left little imprint on contemporary life in Israel and can be ignored
by anyone other than the student of history.
2. Names like Ahad Ha’am, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Nathan Birnbaum and Max Nordau are now known
chiefly from street signs in Israeli cities. We will not be studying their thoughts in this course. We will
focus on several individuals and movements that had lasting impact on today’s Israel. The other
battles of ideology, hard fought as they were at the time, will be left – for now – on the shelf.

Labor Zionism
1. The first Zionist Congress had set as its goal “… to establish a home
for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law”. Herzl’s
lobbying of great powers was the paradigm of this approach that
came to be called Political Zionism.
2. In contrast, Socialists and Communistsi who became attracted by the
arguments of Zionism brought with them the assumptions of
Socialism;
a. that relations between people were fundamentally economic
b. that the working class was the producer of all wealth
c. that the interests of the working class were at odds with
those who owned capital
d. that societies had to evolve into a perfect state in which the
working class would rule
David Ben Gurion e. that religion was the “opiate of the masses” and was
1886-1973 generally opposed.
Labor Zionist leader
and 1st Prime Minister 3. Labor Zionists placed much more emphasis on settling the land
of Israel (“creating facts”) than on diplomatic lobbying. This approach would
come to be known as Practical Zionism.
4. The Labor Zionists formed a number of different parties with various shades of communist, socialist
and social-democratic policies. The parties went through a series of splits, mergers and re-alignments
from the 1910s through the 1990s.
5. Jews – particularly those from Russia where Labor Zionism developed – were overwhelmingly
bourgeois (middle-class). Labor Zionists therefore sought to put Jews on what they saw as the right
side of history by transforming them into industrial laborers and peasants. To this end they developed
three institutions that would have a significant influence on the development of the pre-state Yishuv
and early Israel.
a. The Kibbutz: a form of agricultural settlement in which all property was communally owned
and all work was for the community as a whole. Although couples lived in their own modest
homes, children were generally reared in nurseries and meals taken in communal dinning
halls. Founded by immigrants (mainly from Russia) their sabra children became the first
native born leaders of the state.
b. The Moshav: was a cooperative form of settlement in which private farmers pooled resources
to purchase equipment and market their products.

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c. The Histadrut (General Federation of Labor): was simultaneously the largest employer and labor
union in the early State and the pre-state yishuv. It built industries such as construction and
centralized marketing through companies like Solel Boneh and Tnuva.
6. The Labor Zionists gradually established an overwhelming dominance in both the economy and the
internal politics of the Yishuv and the World Zionist Organizations that would remain virtually
unchallenged into the 1970s.
7. The early settlers needed forms of communal defense against Arab brigandage and (later) political
violence. The Labor Zionists’ efforts in this direction culminated in two institutions that would have a
major impact on the future Israeli army:
a. The Haganah: Developing from local kibbutz defense units the Haganah eventually (by 1936)
grew to a militia of over 10,000 full time fighters and 40,000 reservists.
b. The Palmach: Originally conceived as an elite, commando like unit their members became the
nucleus of the officer corps of the infant IDF.

Revisionists
1. The major opposition to the Labor Zionists outside Eretz
Yisrael were the Revisionists, who saw their approach as a
"revision" of the practical Zionism of the Labor movements.
As nationalists, they saw their overriding goal as the political
objective of a Jewish State. As such, they saw themselves as
the legitimate heirs of Herzl. The leader of the Revisionists
was the charismatic Ze'ev Jabotinsky.
2. Revisionist ideology, as manifested in the Beitar youth
organizationii, focused on creating a “new” kind of Jew;
“proud, generous, and fierce” suited to the creation and
defense of a Jewish State.
3. The Revisionists initially advocated closer cooperation with
the British to speedily transform the whole of the Palestine
Mandate into an independent Jewish state as part of the
British Commonwealth.
4. Already a prominent Zionist leader, Jabotinsky founded the
Revisionists and their youth group Betar in 1925 as a vehicle
Ze'ev Jabotinsky
to organize according to his ideology.
1880-1940
5. Although the revisionists led the largest group in the Zionist Revisionist Zionist leader
Organization, there support lay mainly in the Diaspora. In Author, orator, soldier
Eretz Yisrael the Labor Zionist dominated and used their
control of Jewish institutions to exclude other groups from access to power and resources.
6. Support for Revisionism came mainly from the middle classes, and Jabotinsky formulated political and
economic policies to appeal to them. Its platform was anti-communist and non-socialist, but not as
free market as even the American Democratic Party. Its position lay within the spectrum of European
liberal nationalism.
7. Although the major ideological influence on the Revisionists was European romantic nationalism of
the type that had inspired Giuseppe Garibaldi to struggle for Italian unification and independence,
there were elements within the Revisionist movement that identified with Fascism. These elements
admired its dynamism, romanticism and spirit of national unity. Such admiration was not unusual in
pre-WWII Europe and America. One prominent Revisionist (Abba Ahimeir) latter in his life
bemoaned his flirtation with Facism.

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8. However, the most significant issues for the Revisionists were never political or economic, but the
struggle for a Jewish state. The most effective method of attaining this goal was the central issue that
they debated. The splits in ideology manifested themselves in the creation of several armed
underground groups. Having made the transition from Jewish self defense to Jewish liberation, they
rejected British rule as illegitimate in principle.
a. The Irgun (Irgun Tsvai Leumi, “National
Military Organization”) grew out of
the Eretz Yisrael branch of Beitar, but
asserted its own autonomy under the
leadership of David Raziel and later
Menachem Begin. In contrast to
Jabotinsky’s anglophilia it fought
against both British and Arab forces in
the 1930s and 1940s, and took a
decisive role in the closing events of
the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After 1948,
members of the Irgun were variously
demobilized, or incorporated directly
into the nascent Israeli Defense
Original borders of the Palestine Mandate. Forces; and on the political front,
“Eretz Yisrael is a land with a river running Irgunist ideology
through the middle of it, not down one side” found a new
vehicle of
expression in the Herut (or “Freedom”) Party.
b. The Lehi (Lohamei Herut Israel, “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”)
under its leaders Avraham “Yair” Stern and Yitzak Shamir was even
more militant in its attitude towards the British. Whereas the Irgun had
suspended actions against the British during WWII, the Lehi did not.
They even proposed a tactical alliance with Nazi Germany to throw off
British rule and evacuate European Jews to Eretz Yisrael.
9. Although Revisionist leaders made the transition to constitutional
democracy, leadership of the various incarnations of the Revisionist parties
in the early years of the State were drawn overwhelmingly from the
leadership of the armed underground groups. The next generation of leaders
of the Israeli right are still split between pragmatism and principle.

The British Mandate


1. Often ignored is the influence of the British Mandate on modern Israel.
2. Much of Israel's legal system is based on British, Common Law principles as
is the Parliamentary system of government, the system of ranks and Post box in Tel Aviv
organization in the army and many areas of the administrative system.
3. 3. .3
i Moses Hess’ book, Rome and Jerusalem. The Last National Question (1862) had already

argued for a specifically socialist state in Eretz Yisoel. Dov Ber Borochov helped found the
Poale Zion party in 1901. Throughout the 1910s Aaron David Gordon preached a semi-
mystical call for “redemption through [manual] labor”.
ii Founded in 1925 in Riga, Latvia, Beitar had, by 1934, 70,000 members worldwide. It's

40,000 members in Poland organized self defence groups against Polish antisemites and
military training was always part of Beitar activities.

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