In contrast to his usual audience consisting primarily of Jews, here Jabotinsky spoke before a group of British officials. In this case one need not perceive Jabotinsky’s politeness as an attempt to ingratiate with the powerful. To be sure, his demeanor reflected his desire to win over his audience, but it was also intended to display Hadar, the Revisionist principle of good behavior. Jabotinsky’s hoped to show that Zionist Revisionists embodied Western culture rather than violence or barbarism, which is how their opponents portrayed them.
Although he spoke to non-Jews, his speech repeated several themes that had preoccupied him of late. From the start, he invoked the “humanitarian aspect” of his appeal, his plea to “save the Jews of Europe.” Although every Zionist who appeared before the Commission drew attention to the plight of Europe’s Jews, nonetheless some bold aspects particular to Jabotinsky appear. For example, he challenged British officials to create a Jewish majority in Palestine or to return the Mandate to the League of Nations and let another country have a try.
The key theme in the speech is morality. In preparing his speech, Jabotinsky clearly considered the dilemma facing the Commission’s members: how to adjudicate the demands of the Jews with those of the Arabs. Only a higher moral imperative would sway their vote. Jabotinsky gave himself the task of explaining why Zionism was a moral project and as a moral project had to be defended by good people everywhere, including Britain’s government.
“Whenever I hear the Zionist, most often my own party, accused of asking for too much, Gentlemen, I really cannot understand it. Yes. We do want a State; every nation on earth, every normal nation, beginning with the smallest and the humblest, who do not claim any merit, any role in humanity’s development, they all have States of their own. That is the normal condition for a people; yet when we, the most abnormal of peoples and therefore the most unfortunate, ask only for the same conditions as the Albanians enjoy, to say nothing of the French and the English, then it is called too much. I should understand it if the answer were, “It is impossible,” but when the answer is “It is too much” I cannot understand it. I would remind you (excuse me for quoting an example known to every one of you) of the commotion which was produced in that famous institution when Oliver Twist came and asked for “more.” He said “More” because he did not know how to express it; what Oliver Twist really meant was this: “Will you just give me that normal portion which is necessary for a boy of my age to be able to live.” I assure you that you face here to-day, in the Jewish people with its demands, an Oliver Twist who has, unfortunately, no concessions to make. What can be the concessions? We have got to save millions, many millions. I do not know whether it is a question of re-housing one-third of the Jewish race, half of the Jewish race, or a quarter of the Jewish race; I do not know, but it is a question of millions.”
Dr. Brian Horowitz
Brian Horowitz is the Sizeler Family Chair Professor of Jewish Studies at Tulane University in New Orleans. He is an award-winning and noted scholar of Zionism and Russian literature and the author of many books, including Vladimir Jabotinsky: The Russian Years (2020) and Russian-Jewish Tradition: Intellectuals, Historians, Revolutionaries (2017).