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  • GIL S. RUBIN (a1)


Drawing on new archival findings, this article argues that shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder and leader of the right-wing Revisionist Zionist movement, had begun to advocate for the transfer of the Arab population from Palestine – an aspect of his thought previously unknown. Jabotinsky's support for population transfers runs counter to his lifelong political thought. Prior to the war, Jabotinsky was a staunch advocate of minority rights for Jews in Europe and for extensive autonomy for the Arab population in Palestine. This article argues that Jabotinsky's shift was a product of the war. Jabotinsky believed that millions of Jewish refugees would be prevented from returning to their pre-war homes in eastern Europe and would immigrate en masse to Palestine; to resettle these refugees, the Arab population, he argued, ‘would have to make room’. Attentively following debates on population transfers in Europe, Jabotinsky concluded that the era of minority rights had come to an end and envisioned an increasingly ethno-national Jewish state. By highlighting the eastern Europe context in Jabotinsky's thought, this article emphasizes the importance of studying the history of Zionism alongside the transformation of the nation-state in eastern Europe in the 1940s.


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Center for Jewish Studies, Harvard University, 6 Divinity Avenua, Cambridge, MA 02138,


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1 Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘Population exchanges – notes in Jabotinsky's handwriting, in English’, 11 Nov. 1939, Jabotinsky Institute, Jabotinsky papers, Alef 1 2/12. For Simpson's study, see Sir Simpson, John Hope, The refugee problem: report of a survey (London, 1939), p. 22.

2 Stanislawski, Michael, Zionism and the fin de siècle: cosmopolitanism and nationalism from Nordau to Jabotinsky (Berkeley, CA, 2001), p. 119.

3 Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘Bi-national Palestine’, 1 Jan. 1930, Jabotinsky papers, Alef 1 83/7.

4 Jabotinsky's writings on autonomism have been recently translated again from the Russian and published in Hebrew; see Naor, Arye, ed., Zeev Jabotinsky: ideological writings, i: Liberal nationalism (Tel-Aviv, 2013), pp. 140242 [in Hebrew].

5 Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘The minorities dream’, Haynt, 10 Apr. 1928 [in Yiddish].

6 Jabotinsky expressed this vision in his most well-known essays, ‘The Iron Wall’ and ‘On the morality of the Iron Wall’, which remain foundational texts of right-wing Zionism. In these essays, Jabotinsky rejected the idea that Jews and Arabs could reach an agreement for the future of Palestine. Like all indigenous populations, Jabotinsky argued, the Arabs in Palestine will oppose Jewish immigration and settlement so long as there would remain a sliver of hope that Jews might give up on their designs for Palestine in the face of resistance. In place of an agreement, Jabotinsky advocated for the creation of an ‘Iron Wall’ in Palestine – a metaphor that meant establishing a Jewish majority by force if necessary despite Arab opposition. Once Jews constitute a majority, Jabotinsky believed, the conflict would inevitably subside. The Arab population would come to terms with the reality of Jewish dominance and friendly relations between the sides would ensue. In Jabotinsky's view, extensive autonomy and minority rights were thus to be granted to the Arabs in Palestine not as part of a political settlement, but as a generous expression of the goodwill of the future Jewish majority toward the future Arab minority. Both essays were originally published in Russian in the paper Razsviet in 1923. For an English translation, see

7 The draft constitution was republished in Jabotinsky, Vladimir, The Jewish war front (London, 1940), pp. 186–9. For a detailed discussion of Jabotinsky's proposal, see Gorny, Yosef, From binational society to Jewish state: federal concepts in Zionist political thought, 1920–1990 (Leiden, 2006) pp. 97103, as well as pp. 20–30. See also Naor, Arye, ‘Jabotinsky's constitutional guidelines for Israel’, in Bareli, Avi and Ginossar, Pinhas, eds., In the eye of the storm: essays on Ze'ev Jabotinsky (Be'er Sheba, 2004), pp. 4992.

8 Gorny, From binational society to Jewish state, p. 105. See also Schumsky, Dimitri, ‘Brit Shalom's uniqueness reconsidered: Hans Kohn and autonomist Zionism’, Jewish History, 25 (2011), p. 342; Schumsky, Dimitri, ‘Zionism and the nation-state: a reconsideration’, Zion, 77 (2012), pp. 223–54; Naor, ‘Jabotinsky's constitutional guidelines’; Schindler, Colin, The rise of the Israeli right: from Odessa to Hebron (New York, NY, 2015), pp. 127–48.

9 For more on Weizmann's and Ben-Gurion's federalist visions for Palestine, see primarily Gorny, From binational society to Jewish state; Schumsky, ‘Zionism and the nation-state’; as well as Porath, Yehoshua, In search of Arab unity, 1930–1945 (London, 1986), ch. 2.

10 In recent years, scholars recovered and emphasized the rich history of Jewish nationalism outside Palestine and the struggle for Jewish national rights in Europe and in the United States. Moreover, scholars of Zionism in Palestine have emphasized the various autonomist and federalist visions that prominent Zionist leaders embraced in the interwar years. See, for example, Rabinovitch, Simon, Jewish rights, national rites: nationalism and autonomy in late imperial and revolutionary Russia (Stanford, CA, 2014); Rabinovitch, Simon, Jews and diaspora nationalism: writings on Jewish peoplehood in Europe and the United States (Waltham, MA, 2012); Myers, David N., Between Jew and Arab: the lost voice of Simon Rawidowicz (Waltham, MA, 2008); Pianko, Noam, Zionism and the roads not taken: Rawidowicz, Kaplan, Kohn (Bloomington, IN, 2010); Loeffler, James, ‘Between Zionism and liberalism: Oscar Janowsky and diaspora nationalism in America’, AJS Review, 34 (2010), pp. 289308; Loeffler, James, ‘Nationalism without a nation? On the invisibility of American Jewish politics’, Jewish Quarterly Review, 105 (2015), pp. 367–98; Shanes, Joshua, Diaspora nationalism and Jewish identity in Habsburg Galicia (Cambridge, 2012); Karlip, Joshua, The tragedy of a generation: the rise and fall of Jewish nationalism in eastern Europe (Boston, MA, 2013); Dubnov, Arie, ‘Zionism on the diasporic front’, Journal of Israeli History, 30 (2011), pp. 211–24; Schumsky, Dimitry, Between Prague and Jerusalem: Prague Zionism and the idea of binational Palestine (Jerusalem, 2010) [in Hebrew]; Schumsky, ‘Zionism and the nation-state’; Gorny, From binational society to Jewish state, p. 105.

11 The literature on population transfers during and after the Second World War is voluminous. For recent literature that emphasizes the link between expulsions of minorities from eastern Europe and support among the Allies for population transfers, see, for example, Reinisch, Jessica and White, Elisabeth, eds., The disentanglement of populations: migration, expulsion and displacement in postwar Europe, 1944–1949 (New York, NY, 2011); Frank, Matthew, Expelling the Germans: British opinion and post-1945 population transfers in context (Oxford, 2007); Douglas, R. M., Orderly and humane: the expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War (New Haven, CT, 2013); Frommer, Benjamin, National cleansing: retribution against Nazi collaborators in postwar Czechoslovakia (Cambridge, 2005); Solonari, Vladimir, Purifying the nation: population exchanges and ethnic cleansing in Nazi-allied Romania (Baltimore, MD, 2009); Service, Hugo, Germans to Poles: communism, nationalism and ethnic cleansing after the Second World War (New York, NY, 2013); Weitz, Eric, ‘From the Vienna to the Paris system: international politics and the entangled histories of human rights, forced deportations and civilizing missions’, American Historical Review, 113 (2008), pp. 1313–43; Zahra, Tara, ‘The “minority question” and national classification in the French and Czechoslovak borderlands’, Contemporary European History, 17 (2008), pp. 137–65; Mazower, Mark, ‘The strange triumph of human rights, 1933–1950’, Historical Journal, 47 (2004), pp. 379–98.

12 Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘Zangwill's mistake’, Der Morgen Zshurnal, 20 Aug. 1926, pp. 8–10 [in Yiddish].

13 Ibid., p. 9.

14 Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘To the editor of “The World”’, 29 Dec. 1926, Jabotinsky papers, Alef 1 16/2 [in Hebrew].

15 Jabotinsky, ‘The minorities dream’.

16 Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘How a state colonizes’, Haynt, 6 and 13 May 1927 (two instalments) [in Yiddish].

18 For more on Jabotinsky's evacuation plan, see Weinbaum, Laurence, A marriage of convenience: the new Zionist organization and the Polish government, 1936–1939 (Boulder, CO, 1993); Daniel Baltman, ‘The dispute in Poland in 1936 over Jabotinsky's evacuation plan’, in Bareli and Ginossar, eds., In the eye of the storm, pp. 371–88 [in Hebrew]; Eli Tzur, ‘A dangerous liaison: Jabotinsky and Poland's ministry of foreign affairs’, in Bareli and Ginossar, eds., In the eye of the storm, pp. 371–88; Goldstein, Amir, Zionism and antisemitism in the thought and action of Ze'ev Jabotinsky (Be'er Sheba, 2015), pp. 352–75 [in Hebrew].

19 In a September 1936 meeting between Jabotinsky and Polish prime minister Felicjan Slawoj-Skladkowski, Jabotinsky demanded that the Polish government issue a declaration ‘which would, more or less, sound as follows: We remain faithful to our motto “four your freedom and for ours”. Our freedom we have attained, now we want to help you attain your national freedom. But in Poland irrespective of the development of conditions, you will always enjoy equal civil rights.’ Weinbaum notes that Jabotinsky's failure to induce the Polish government to issue such a declaration ‘seriously undermined his ability to defend himself against his critics who charged that he was playing into the hands of an anti-Jewish government.’ Cited in Weinbaum, A marriage of convenience, pp. 62–3.

20 Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘Lecture in Warsaw's doctors and engineers club’, Unzer Velt, 30 Sept. 1936, pp. 4–5, 8 [in Yiddish].

21 Jabotinsky promoted such a view in the 1930s and offered a thorough explanation of his views on antisemitism in his wartime book The Jewish war front. On Jabotinsky's views on antisemitism, see Baltman, ‘Dispute in Poland’, pp. 376–7; Ya'acov Shavit and Liat Shyater-Livni, ‘Who cried wolf? How did Ze'ev Jabotinsky understand the nature and intentions of Nazi Germany?’, in Bareli and Ginossar, eds., In the eye of the storm, pp. 345–70.

22 Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘Jabotinsky on partition’, Hayarden, 13 Aug. 1937, pp. 8–9 [in Hebrew]. See also Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘The proposed partition of Palestine – Jewish opponents of the scheme – letter to the editor’, Manchester Guardian, 15 Dec. 1937.

23 Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘A conversation with Zangwill’, Hamashkif, 21 July 1939, p. 3 [in Hebrew].

24 On Jabotinsky's belief that there would be no war in Europe, see Shavit and Livni, ‘Who cried wolf?’.

27 The information about the meeting between Jabotinsky and Netanyahu is cited in Teveth, Shabati, The evolution of ‘transfer’ in Zionist thinking (Tel-Aviv, 1989), p. 17.

28 Netanyahu, Ben-Zion, ed., Israel Zangwill: the road to independence (Tel-Aviv, 1938), pp. xxxviii–xliv.

29 Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘The fate of Jewry – lecture at the Manhattan center’, 19 Mar. 1940, Jabotinsky papers, Alef 1 59/8. Jabotinsky already called for the immigration of a million Jews within a year to Palestine after the failure of the 1938 Evian Conference, convened by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to find a solution to the worsening German-Jewish Refugee problem. It was only after the outbreak of war, however, that Jabotinsky first connected this plan to a global movement of population shifts and envisioned a much larger scale of future Jewish immigration; see Goldstein, Zionism and antisemitism, p. 403.

30 Jabotinsky, Jewish war front, p. 221.

32 Vladimiar Jabotinsky, ‘Jews after the war (An outline of a book)’, 1 Jan. 1940, Jabotinsky papers, Alef 1 7/240.

33 Roosevelt's support for population transfers is explored in Benjamin Akzin, ‘The Jewish question after the war’, Harper's Magazine (Sept. 1941), p. 435. During the war, Roosevelt tasked adviser and geographer Isaiah Bowman with setting up a secret M-project dedicated to studying possible resettlement schemes of post-war refugees. On Roosevelt and Bowman, see Smith, Neil, American Empire: Roosevelt's geographer and the prelude to globalization (Berkeley, CA, 2004).

34 Gorges Montadon, ‘La Pologne future’, Mercure de France (Nov. 1940), pp. 305–20.

35 Michel Pierrac, ‘Les transferts des populations’, Voix de Peuples, 15 Oct. 1940, pp. 463–70.

36 Cited in Douglas, Orderly and humane, p. 28.

37 Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘Shall we try?’, Hamedina, 5 Apr. 1940 [in Hebrew].

38 Akzin, Benjamin, From Riga to Jerusalem: a memoir (Jerusalem, 1989), pp. 264–5 [in Hebrew].

39 ‘Dr. Akzin goes to Washington’, Hamashkif, 22 May 1939, p. 2, and ‘Dr. Akzin's diplomatic work in Washington’, Hamashkif, 5 Jan. 1941, p. 2. On Akzin's work for the Revisionist Zionist movement, see Akzin's, From Riga to Jerusalem. On his wartime activities, see Medoff, Rafael, Militant Zionism in America: the rise and impact of the Jabotinsky movement in the United States, 1926–1948 (Tuscaloosa, AL, 2002), pp. 4572.

40 Akzin to the presidency, 7 May 1940, Jabotinsky papers, Gimel 5/4/1.

41 Minutes of the Revisionist Zionist executive meeting, 12 Apr. 1941, Jabotinsky papers, Gimel 5 1/3.

42 ‘The last hours and the funeral of the leader’, Hamashkif, 19 Sept. 1940, p. 2 [in Hebrew]. See also the moving description of the scene of Jabotinsky's heart attack in Akzin's memoir, Akzin, From Riga to Jerusalem, pp. 316–17.

43 Akzin, ‘The Jewish question after the war’,

44 Ibid., p. 431.

45 Medoff, Rafael, Zionism and the Arabs: an American Jewish dilemma, 1898–1948 (Westport, CT, 1997), p. 117.

46 Ben-Horin, Eliyahu, The Middle East: crossroads of history (New York, NY, 1943). The plan was republished in a 1944 essay Eliyahu Ben-Horin, ‘The future of the Middle East’, Harper's Magazine (Dec. 1944), pp. 82–90. For more on Ben-Horin and his plan, see Masalha, Nur, Imperial Israel and the Palestinians: the politics of expansion (London, 2000), pp. 60–2; and Masalha, Nur, ‘From propaganda to scholarship: Dr. Joseph Schechtman and the origins of Israeli polemics on Palestinian refugees’, Journal of Holy Land and Palestine Studies, 2 (2004), p. 191.

47 Ben-Horin, The Middle East, pp. 230–1.

48 Ibid., p. 234.

49 Ben-Horin, ‘The future of the Middle East’, p. 87.

50 Medoff, Militant Zionism, p. 95.

51 For a discussion and critique of this ad and proposal in the Jewish press at the time, see Greenberg, Hayim, ‘The irresponsible revisionists’, Jewish Frontier, 10 (1943), pp. 68. See also Medoff, Zionism and the Arabs, p. 139.

52 Joseph Schechtman, Selbstevakuation Der Diaspora, 1 Jan. 1937, Jabotinsky papers, Pey 227 – 1/6.

53 Schechtman, Joseph B., European population transfers, 1939–1945 (New York, NY, 1946).

54 For more on Schechtman and Kulischer, see Ferrara, Antonio, ‘Eugene Kulischer, Joseph Schechtman and the historiography of European forced migrations’, Journal of Contemporary History, 46 (2011), pp. 715–40.

55 Schechtman, Joseph B., ‘The Jewish minority in Iraq’, in YIVO Bleter (New York, NY, 1945), pp. 218–35.

56 As Masalha points out, the Israeli government funded this research. In 1949, Schechtman republished this study in a book on population transfers in Asia. See Masalha, ‘From propaganda to scholarship’, p. 191; and Schechtman, Joseph B., Population transfers in Asia (New York, NY, 1949), pp. 84141. For more on the transfer committee, see Morris, Benny, ‘Yosef Weitz and the transfer committees, 1948–1949’, Middle Eastern Studies, 22 (1986), pp. 522–61; Oren, Elhanan, ‘From the transfer proposal of 1937–1938 to “transfer de facto” of 1947–1948’, Iyunim beTkumat Israe l, 7 (1997) pp. 7585 [in Hebrew].

57 Schechtman, Population transfers in Asia, p. 131.

58 Ibid., p. 133.

59 Ben-Horin, Eliyahu, ‘Looking back at Jabotinsky’, Zionews, 14 (1942), p. 15.

60 Schechtman, Joseph B., ‘Our mentor – the gentile’, Zionews, 4 (1942), p. 25.

61 Schechtman, Joseph B., The life and times of Vladimir Jabotinsky, ii: Fighter and prophet: the last years (New York, NY, 1961).

62 Ibid., pp. 324–6.

63 Schechtman, ‘Our mentor’, p. 25.

64 Schecthman's argument had little impact on the historiography except for being discussed by Shabtai Teveth. Teveth responds to Schechtman and asserts that though there are indications that Jabotinsky had become more fond of the idea of population transfers in his last years, ‘based on Jabotinsky's writings’ there are no indications he conceived of a plan to transfer the Arab population from Palestine. Still, Teveth concludes that had Jabotinsky experienced the Holocaust, ‘which ended any hope of bringing eight million Jews to Palestine’, he would have supported the transfer of Arabs from Palestine as the only means possible to establish a Jewish majority. Tevet, The evolution of ‘transfer’, pp. 15 and 21.

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