Public Activity

Beginnings of Jabotinsky's Public and Zionist Activity

In the summer of 1901, Jabotinsky left Italy and his studies, before completing his university degree. On his return to Odessa he discovered that he had earned a reputation as a respected writer and began writing a daily column, "At A Glance", in 'Odesskije Novosti' newspaper.

That same year, his first, pacifist, play was staged in the Odessa Municipal Theater, "Blood", about the Boer War in South Africa. At the start of 1902 Jabotinsky was arrested by the Russian Czarist Police for seven weeks together with Socialist revolutionaries, falsely accused of underground activity against the regime. He was known to say that this experience was "one of the most pleasant and precious among my memories".

After witnessing several anti-Semitic incidents in Odessa, Jabotinsky joined the Organization for Jewish Self-Defense, established to defend the Jews against anti-Semitic actions. He committed himself fully to raising funds for the organization, purchasing weapons, and writing informational material.

Following the Kishinev Pogrom in 1903, that shocked and terrified Jewry throughout the world, Jabotinsky travelled to the city to investigate the event. There he met several leaders of the Russian Zionist Movement and met Bialik for the first time. In 1904 Jabotinsky translated Bialik's poem "A Tale of Nemirov" ("In the City of Slaughter,") to Russian.

Influenced by the pogrom, Jabotinsky swore that, from that moment on, he would devote himself solely to Zionism. Upon his return to Odessa, he joined the Zionist Organization. During this period he read numerous Zionist writings, for example "Auto-Emancipation" by Pinsker, "The Jewish State" by Herzl and writings of Lilienblum and Ahad Haam. At age 22 he participated in the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel – the first in which he participated and the last in which Herzl was in attendance – as a delegate from Odessa. There he met Chaim Weizmann.

At this Congress the question of establishing a Jewish state in Uganda arose, as a solution to the Jewish people's distress in Europe. Jabotinsky was counted among the opponents of the proposal despite that he was impressed by Herzl's ideas, as he wrote, "Herzl made a huge impression on me – the word is not an exaggeration, no other description would suit: huge."

Upon his return to Russia, he dedicated the bulk of his time to Zionism. Along with other Zionists, he founded a publishing house called 'Kadima', which published tens of Zionist books and pamphlets in Russian.

Jabotinsky moved from Odessa to Saint Petersburg, where he joined the editorial board of 'Yevreiskaya Zhizn' newspaper (Jewish Life), and 'Rassviet' weekly publication (The Dawn), edited by Avraham Idelson. Simultaneously, he wrote articles in 'Nasha Zhizn' (Our Life) and 'Russ' (Russia). He travelled throughout Russia and spoke before countless Jewish communities about his Zionist views. He was arrested in the course of this lecture tour and in 1905 even aided in establishing the "League to Achieve Legal Rights for the Jewish People in Russia".

A conference of Russian Zionists was held from December 17 – 23, 1906, in Helsingfors (Helsinki, capitol of Finland), in which Zionist Movement emissaries gathered from all over Russia. At this conference, which Jabotinsky called "the summit of my Zionist youth", the program he had formulated was accepted, on the topic of national minorities in Russia and the establishment of an autonomous Jewish national framework on its land, as part of a plan to grant rights to all national minorities in the Russian empire.

In that same year, Jabotinsky initiated his fight for the Hebrew language and for the establishment of a Jewish university in Eretz Israel. He found the problems of national minorities particularly interesting – a topic on which he wrote his academic thesis "Autonomy of a National Minority", which qualified him for a Law degree.

On October 27, 1907, Jabotinsky married Joanna (Anya) Galprin, whom he first met when he was 15 years old and she just 10 years old. Their only son, Eri, born in 1910, spoke with his father exclusively in Hebrew.

Jabotinsky travelled to Turkey as a journalist, reporting on the revolution of the Young Turks. The Zionist leadership, hoped that revolutionary forces in the Turkish government, within the current liberal, democratic climate, would now demonstrate greater sympathy for Zionist aspirations in Eretz Israel. Influenced by Jabotinsky, a network of newspapers was founded in Turkey, sponsored by the Zionist Organization, among them the popular newspaper 'La Jeune Turk' (The Young Turk).

In 1909, he made his very first visit to Eretz Israel, during which he became aware of the tension between the Jewish and Arab inhabitants. But more than anything, Jabotinsky was impressed by the Jewish youth, which was developing free of fears and ghetto complexes. During a meeting of Zionist leaders, it was decided to establish an ambitious information campaign in Turkey, which Jabotinsky was chosen to head. Thus he began to devote much time and energy to lectures and speeches before the Jewish public.

In August 1913 Jabotinsky attended the Eleventh Zionist Congress in Vienna. He sensed, during the discussions, that a chasm had opened between his approach to the basic problems in the Diaspora, and that of his colleagues in the Zionist Organization. At this Congress, it was decided to establish a Hebrew university in Jerusalem; Jabotinsky was chosen as a member of its founding committee.