We know that “history is written by the victors,” and until recently much of Israel’s history was written by the Left. Begin, Jabotinsky and others were treated as marginal, extremist figures, sometimes even vilified by the socialist establishment.
Israel underwent a political revolution in 1977 with the election of its first right-wing government, led by Menachem Begin, although vestiges of the old leftist establishment hung on in the arts, academia and media. Maybe for that reason the historical record is still unfair to Begin — whom some believe to have been the greatest of Israel’s Prime Ministers — and to Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky, a remarkably prescient thinker and philosopher of Zionism.
Jabotinsky thought that Israel is not only physically located in the Middle East, but must live in the Middle East in order to survive. He understood the importance of ideology, of holding on to one’s convictions, of symbols and of honor — quite the opposite of some of today’s ‘pragmatic’ politicians.
In 1911, Jabotinsky wrote an essay called “Instead of Excessive Apology” (thanks to Dan Friedman for reminding me). One hundred and two years ago, he explained why it is craven and in any case pointless to apologize to Jew-haters the way PM Netanyahu did to Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan.
In searching for a translation of Jabotinsky’s piece, I found one by Boris Shusteff, an Israeli of Russian origin. Shusteff had a few words about apologies also, even when there is something to apologize for (which of course there was not in the case of Turkey).
Here is Shusteff’s translation of the main points of Jabotinsky’s essay. Of course the ‘we’ refers to the then-stateless Jewish people, but it applies equally to the Jewish state. It could have been written yesterday, couldn’t it?
Instead of Excessive Apology
by Zev Jabotinsky, 1911
Translated from Russian by Boris Shusteff
We constantly and very loudly apologize… Instead of turning our backs to the accusers, as there is nothing to apologize for, and nobody to apologize to, we swear again and again that it is not our fault… Isn’t it long overdue to respond to all these and all future accusations, reproaches, suspicions, slanders and denunciations by simply folding our arms and loudly, clearly, coldly and calmly answer with the only argument that is understandable and accessible to this public: ‘Go to Hell!’?
Who are we, to make excuses to them; who are they to interrogate us? What is the purpose of this mock trial over the entire people where the sentence is known in advance? Our habit of constantly and zealously answering to any rabble has already done us a lot of harm and will do much more. … The situation that has been created as a result, tragically confirms a well known saying: “Qui s’excuse s’accuse.” [“one that apologizes for oneself accuses oneself” — ed.]
We ourselves have acquainted our neighbors with the thought that for every embezzling Jew it is possible to drag the entire ancient people to answer, a people that was already legislating at the time when the neighbors had not even invented a bast shoe. Every accusation causes among us such a commotion that people unwittingly think, ‘why are they so afraid of everything?’ Apparently their conscience is not clear.’
Exactly because we are ready at every minute to stand at attention, there develops among the people an inescapable view about us, as of some specific thievish tribe. We think that our constant readiness to undergo a search without hesitation and to turn out our pockets, will eventually convince mankind of our nobility; look what gentlemen we are–we do not have anything to hide! This is a terrible mistake. The real gentlemen are the people that will not allow anyone for any reason to search their apartment, their pockets or their soul. Only a person under surveillance is ready for a search at every moment…. This is the only one inevitable conclusion from our maniac reaction to every reproach–to accept responsibility as a people for every action of a Jew, and to make excuses in front of everybody including hell knows who. I consider this system to be false to its very root. We are hated not because we are blamed for everything, but we are blamed for everything because we are not loved…
We may apologize only in rare, unique and extremely important moments when we are completely confident that the Areopagus [the ancient Athenian high court — ed.] in front of us really has just intentions and proper competence. We do not have to apologize for anything. We are a people as all other peoples; we do not have any intentions to be better than the rest. As one of the first conditions for equality we demand the right to have our own villains, exactly as other people have them. Yes, we do have provocateurs and draft dodgers, and it is even strange that we have so few of them under current conditions. Other people have also these kind of “good,” and, in addition, they have embezzlers, and pogrom-makers, and torturers — so what — the neighbors live and are not ashamed…. Do our neighbors blush for the Christians in Kishinyov who hammered nails into Jewish babies’ eyes?” Not in the least,– they walk with head raised high and look everybody in the face; they are absolutely right, and this is how it must be, as the persona of a people is royal, and not responsible and is not obliged to apologize…
We do not have to account to anybody, we are not to sit for anybody’s examination and nobody is old enough to call on us to answer. We came before them and will leave after them. We are what we are, we are good for ourselves, we will not change and we do not want to.