Chassidic Story #235

story #234 (s5762-31 / 5 Iyar 5762)
Vladimir Jabotinsky, Rav Kook and the Jews of Jerusalem

Dedicated to Jonathan Pollard. by Paul Eidelberg - Special to IMRA News - May 3, 2001 Received from "Justice For Jonathan Pollard"


Let me take you back to Jewish leaders of another era.

In 1920, an event took place in Palestine that redounds to the honor and courage of many Jews, secular and religious. Indeed, since these Jews were then subject to British rule, their noble conduct shines all the more brilliantly when contrasted to the base and paltry behavior of today's Jewish leaders. The event is recorded in Joseph Shechtman's biography of Benyamin-Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky.

At the end of 1919, Jabotinsky formed the Jewish Defense Corp (Haganah) in reaction to Arab violence. On April 4, an Arab mob, inflamed by anti-Jewish speeches, began attacking Jews in Jerusalem. "Soon Jewish blood was shed and the mob rushed into the Jewish quarter to kill and to pillage… Instead of assisting the victims, Arab police either adopted a passive attitude or joined the attackers. The pogrom lasted two days and resulted in five Jews and four Arabs killed, 211 Jews and 21 Arabs wounded; two Jewish girls were raped."

"Hardly was the pogrom over when the British administration started reprisals against the Jewish defenders of Jerusalem." Twenty Haganah members were arrested, including Jabotinsky. The men were brought into an interrogation room, where they were surrounded by Arab guards with Turkish lashes in their hands.

On the order of the judge (an Australian captain), an Arab secretary started the investigation by addressing Jabotinsky in Arabic: "What is your name?" There was no answer. The question was repeated in French: "Votre nom, Monsieur?" No answer. Finally in English: "Will you please tell me your name?" No answer.

The judge lost patience, banged on the table and angrily shouted: "Why don't you answer?"

Turning to the judge, Jabotinsky said quietly but firmly: "Your honor! I shall not answer a court secretary who belongs to the tribe of the murderers whose attacks upon innocent people, coupled with pillage and raping, are still going on beyond these walls. Furthermore, I shall answer no questions unless they are asked in Hebrew, my language, the language of the Land of Israel and the language of my nineteen comrades."

"There are no nationalities in the Court; there are only officials," the judge sternly admonished him.

"If this is the case, I shall not reply to this official," was the composed answer.

"Take him out of the room," ordered the judge.

This was quickly done. But the remaining prisoners firmly clung to Jabotinsky's policy. The Court adjourned.

Two hours later they were summoned again; a Jewish sergeant, speaking English and Hebrew, was in the secretary's chair and his opening question was in Hebrew: "Mah Shem'cha?" (What's your name?). Nor is this all.

We read in the sequel: "The Jews of Jerusalem learned that Jabotinsky and his comrades ... were committed for trial, on Sabbath, April 10th. The same day, 380 members of the Defense Corp who had not been arrested, signed a petition to the Court declaring themselves at one with the twenty arrested men and asking to be tried together with them.

"Simultaneously, in all synagogues signatures were collected under a petition expressing full solidarity with Jabotinsky and stating that, although the signatories had not been in a position to participate in the Self-Defense Corp, they would have done so, had it been possible. The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, was the first to sign the petition and authorized its signing on the Sabbath by others!

"2,500 Jews signed, among them 300 women who stated they had been urging their husbands, brothers, sons to join the self-defense. The petition was submitted to the Military Court, but was disregarded."

Jabotinsky and his comrades were tried, found guilty, and sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude--this, for defending Jewish life and Jewish honor against murderous and rapacious Arabs! Indignation seized the Jews in Jerusalem and all the suburbs. Ha'aretz reported on April 20: "All the schools, institutions, shops, etc. are closed. Nobody on the streets; no trading, no newspapers, nothing. A total strike." The Rabbinate proclaimed the 26th of April a day of general strike, fast, and mourning, with the sounding of the Shofars in synagogues throughout the country.

When news about the vindictive sentence reached London, a storm of public indignation was aroused. Members the House of Commons were embarrassed, for Jabotinsky had served as an officer in the British army during World War I, indeed, had organized the Jewish Legion that fought on the side of the allies.

On July 8th, the High Commissioner of Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, issued an amnesty for all those imprisoned in connection with the Jerusalem riots, including two Arab rapists! Instead of being exonerated as he had insisted, Jabotinsky and his comrades were placed on the same level as Arab rapists and pogromists! He bitterly protested, but in vain.

A bright episode in Jewish history was thus dimmed by what we now call "moral equivalence." But the Jewish pride and courage displayed by Jabotinsky, his comrades, and his 2,500 supporters--let us again mention Rav Kook--should serve to inspire all Jews today.

Paul Eidelberg is the co-founder and president of the Jerusalem-based Foundation for Constitutional Democracy and a member of the Advisory Council of the ACPR. Professor Eidelberg has written a number of books on Israel and Jewish Philosophy and a trilogy on American statesmanship.

Editor's note:
For purposes of this story column, I deleted most of the political commentary. One point Professor Eidelberg desired to emphasize was, "What would happen in Israel today if such a strike were called by all the country's rabbis on behalf of Jonathan Pollard?" Another was to rebuke the Israeli government for failing to do enough to defend its citizens against the onslaught of "bloodthirsty Arabs," and to the aid of Jonathan Pollard.


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