cover image Jabotinsky’s Children: Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism

Jabotinsky’s Children: Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism

Daniel Kupfert Heller. Princeton Univ., $35 (344p) ISBN 978-0-691-17475-4

Heller, assistant professor of Jewish studies at McGill University, looks closely at the nature and evolution of Betar, the youth organization of the right-wing revisionist Zionist movement headed by Vladimir Jabotinsky in Poland during the interwar years. He shows how Jabotinsky occasionally put a damper on the militancy of his young followers and sometimes used it for political leverage against his more cautious older adversaries in the Revisionist executive committee. Heller superbly documents how some “Betarniks” were drawn to fascism and other authoritarian movements that emphasized physical strength, the will to power, and militarism. Given the often antagonistic relations between Poland’s Catholics and Jews, it is surprising to learn the extent to which Betar’s leaders also used “the iconography and choreography of Polish patriotic culture,” both at their own gatherings and when joining Polish ones. Another of Heller’s revelations is that into the mid-1930s, almost half of Betar’s members were women, although much of the male leadership sought to limit their participation (Jabotinsky himself supported women’s political rights). Heller also reveals how Israeli prime ministers Menachem Begin and Benjamin Netanyahu appropriated Jabotinsky’s views for their own political and polemical purposes. This is a most provocative, solid scholarly work on a heretofore little-explored topic in 20th-century Polish-Jewish and Zionist history. Illus. (Aug.)