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Book Review: Militant Zionism in America
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Book Review

Militant Zionism in America:
provides good background for today,  June 14, 2005

Militant Zionism in America by Rafael Medoff; University of Alabama Press; 290 pages; no price listed.

Reviewed by Norman Manson

In our fast-moving world, events of the 1930s and '40s may seem almost like ancient history, but this account of the maximalist - some might say extremist - Zionist movement in those tumultuous, tragic years bears considerable relevance to today's conflict over the future of the state of Israel.
For those who participated in "the Jabotinsky movement," as named in the book's subtitle may well be regarded  as the spiritual ancestors of those struggling to prevent any Israeli withdrawals from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. How the current situation will be resolved is anyone's guess, of course, but those who battled valiantly to save Jews and forge an independent Jewish state were certainly at least partly responsible for Israel coming into being when it did.
Ze'ev Jabotinsky was the leader, the inspirational figure of the Revisionist, or maximalist, wing of Zionism. He lived in what was then Palestine, but also spent time in Europe and occasionally visited the U.S. He died of a massive heart attack in 1940, while on one of his U.S. visits.

While he was the key figure in the movement, the book focuses mainly on how his followers split from mainstream Zionism, which basically advocated a low-key approach to achieving Zionism goals, to form groups - they were by no means always united - that pushed for militant action, confronting the British rulers of Palestine, as well as trying to rescue Jews from nazi-occupied Europe, and attempting to form a Jewish brigade to fight in World War II. Generally more
conservative than the mainstream labor-oriented faction of Zionism, they were more attractive to Orthodox Jews as well as to those of a more capitalist bent. On the other hand, to those on the liberal side of the ideological spectrum, their tactics smacked of fascism and even nazism.

But as things progressively worsened, especially for Europe's Jews, there was a noticeable shift from mainstream, peace-oriented Zionism to the more militant variety. And Rafael Medoff, a Jewish studies scholar, graphically depicts this change in attitude, exemplified by growing support from celebrities in various fields - Jews and non-Jews alike - by large-scale newspaper advertising, and by well-attended protest rallies in New York and other large American cities.

And this constant pressure did bring results, even if some were too little and too late. FDR did appoint a War Refugee Board, which saved a few Jews; a Jewish Brigade did fight in Italy in the closing months of World War II (and, in so doing, laid the groundwork for aiding Holocaust survivors in their difficult journeys to Palestine) and, finally, they probably were instrumental in getting Britain to give up its mandate, which led to the establishment of Israel.

While most of the book is easy to follow, especially for a relatively scholarly study, the multiplicity of "alphabet soup" organizations that Medoff follows can be just a little confusing. Also, there are a few minor factual errors - he calls Dean Acheson the secretary of state in 1946, but Acheson did not gain that position until 1949. And he may have slightly overstated the role of the Revisionists.
Still, this is a subject pretty much neglected by historians until now, so the detailed treatment Medoff gives it is well-deserved. And its relevance to current events further enhances its value.