Jabotinsky was an old-fashioned nineteenth-century national liberal and a committed democrat, but it is still a matter of debate whether the same can be said of his supporters. The Zionist writer described his early worldview as ‘liberal anarchy’ in which ‘every individual is [worth as much as] a king’. The free market, freedom of the press, equality for women and respect for minority rights were fundamental tenets of his thinking. But there is good reason why there is an intense historiographical debate concerning Jabotinsky’s views.
The anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews demonstrating in New York are therefore not necessarily a curiosity. They are representatives of an old and historically legitimate school of thought, albeit completely marginalized and despised in their own religious milieu as well. Their presence simply demonstrates that Judaism is diverse, that there are all kinds of trends within it, and that it is not possible to treat this community as a single monolith.
The extreme judgements about Begin have often been motivated by political ambitions and therefore do not help historical clarity. 110 years after his birth it is time to appreciate his values while not turning a blind eye to his flaws either.
Reuven Hecht was a right-wing Zionist who worked with the revisionist movement’s founding father, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and after the founding of the state, became an Israeli entrepreneur and right-wing politician. Today, a museum and park in the Jewish state bear his name. After trying to help the Horthy family obtain a Swiss visa, he remained in correspondence with them until his death in 1993.
‘Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Christians thrive in every aspect of life and enjoy equal rights. If you look at other Muslim countries in the Middle East or Africa, it can be seen how Christians are persecuted and massacred on a monthly basis. I’m always shocked that the Christian leadership around the world and the mainstream media are so silent about the sufferings of persecuted Christians, but when it comes to Palestinians blaming Israel for Christian persecution, the whole world is screaming.’
‘Perhaps the Hungarians are the only nation in Europe able to feel and understand what we in Israel go through when we are exposed to unceasing criticism, while upholding Middle East’s only liberal democracy.’
‘After Israel left Gaza, I was hoping that they would take what we left there, and turn that area into a paradise. It could have been the Singapore of the Middle East with beautiful beaches. We left many hothouses and other buildings, and they destroyed it all. They took the pipes left from the irrigation, turned them into rockets, and launched them back at us.’
Perhaps few in Hungary know why a Hungarian Jew who helped Jews in Budapest during the Holocaust and was later executed by the British is so revered in Israel today.
The “Jewish world conspiracy” behind the Jewish swindler from Baltavár sounds like a bad joke, even though Istóczy was not joking: he became the most decisive and perhaps the only truly famous antisemitic politician of Dualist Hungary.
During this period, both sides tried to quote the writings of the Budapest-born founder of political Zionism, Theodore Herzl, and both sides seemed to find their own version of Herzl that fit their arguments.
‘I can only say that if I were a Jew, I would be a Zionist. . . And you see, I am considered antisemitic.’