‘The Jews are heading to the polls in droves’

It turns out that one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s most notoriously divisive statements in recent years reflects, almost identically, an anti-Semitic election slogan exposed and decried by none other than the founding father of right-wing Zionism, Jabotinsky.

By Gilad Halpern

Benjamin Netanyahu gives a victory speech on election night, March 18, 2015. (Photo: +972 Magazine)
Benjamin Netanyahu gives a victory speech on election night, March 18, 2015. (Photo: +972 Magazine)

Ze’ev Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founding father of the Zionist right and forebear of Likud, has been said to turn in his grave so many times he could produce enough energy to electrify a few new settlements.

It is often said that Jabotinsky, a liberal nationalist who imbibed 19th century romanticism, would have had nothing but contempt for the lowbrow jingoism that has become so characteristic of his so-called disciples in Likud.

One particularly notorious example was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Election Day warning that “Arab voters are heading to the polling station in droves,” in a desperate attempt to prod his supporters to save his right-wing government. Which they did: Netanyahu’s divisive remark proved to be extremely effective, and it is credited with having clinched him a victory in what seemed until the very end to be a losing battle.

But as it emerged this week, when Netanyahu uttered his now-infamous remark, Jabotinsky must have completed a double somersault six feet under.

Zeev Jabotinsky
Zeev Jabotinsky

Prof. Yaacov Shavit, a historian of Judaism at Tel Aviv University, has dug up a century-old, obscure quote from one of Jabotinsky’s many volumes of writings.

It was written in 1911, when Jabotinsky, an extremely prolific journalist and essayist, covered the racially tense municipal elections in Warsaw, Poland.

In archaic Hebrew that has nonetheless survived the passage of time, he conveys to his readers the “pogrom atmosphere” that prevailed during the campaign. To prove his point, he quotes a few tracts handed out by Polish nationalists, including one that says: “Calling on our people: Look what is happening at the polling stations. The Jews are heading to them in droves, and the Poles are scattered… If you vote for the pseudo-progressive party, Warsaw will be represented by Jews. Poles, save your capital!”

He then concludes: “I rest my case.”

Did Netanyahu know about the uncanny similarity between the two? That’s very unlikely. The quote appears in a new book of Jabotinsky’s writings published just this week. But to put it in Mark Twain’s words, “History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

Gilad Halpern is a journalist and broadcaster, host of “The Tel Aviv Review – Ideas from Israel” podcast on TLV1 Radio.

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