Betar: Wikis

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The Betar Movement (בית"ר, also spelled Beitar) is a Revisionist Zionist youth movement founded in 1923 in Riga, Latvia, by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Betar members played important roles in the fight against the British during the Mandate, and in the creation of Israel. It has been traditionally linked to the original Herut and then Likud Israeli political parties. Most of Betar's ideology is summarized in the poem Shir Betar, The Betar Song, that Jabotinsky wrote in Paris in 1932.

Contents

History

The name Betar בית"ר stands for "Brit Yosef Trumpeldor" ( ברית יוסף תרומפלדור ). Joseph Trumpeldor was a Jewish fighter who fell defending Tel Hai from an armed band of Arab marauders. Mortally wounded, he coined the phrase: "Never mind, it is good to die for our [own] country" (Hebrew: "אין דבר ,טוב למות בעד ארצנו"). (The name is also an allusion to the last Jewish fortress to fall during the Bar-Kochba rebellion, Betar.)

In 1923, Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky (poet, author, journalist, translator, soldier, Zionist leader) was invited to a meeting of Jewish youth in Riga, Latvia, arranged by Aaron Propes. Jabotinsky related the heroism of the one-armed Trumpeldor and of the defence, by the newly-formed Haganah, of Jews attacked by Arabs (tacitly supported by the British mandate authorities) in the Jerusalem Pogrom of 1920. Challenged by this Riga group to provide a blueprint for the future, Jabotinsky proposed a Zionist youth movement modelled on the ideas of courage, self-respect, military training, defence of Jewish life and property against a tide of anti-Semitism, and settlement in Israel towards the recreation the Jewish state, as epitomised by the life of Trumpeldor.

Jabotinsky also wanted to connect the name of the first proudly Jewish fighter after 2000 years to the name of the last fort of Jewish uprising against the Roman Empire in the Bar Kokhba's revolt, Betar, showing that Betar was intent to create a new generation of Jewish warriors. In order to produce the needed acronym, the normal spelling of Trumpeldor's name in Hebrew was changed - תרומפלדור instead of טרומפלדור.

Betar members in Berlin, 1936

Unlike other Zionist movements, Betar focused its ideas into a single overwhelming ideal—to create that type of Jew best suited to building the state of Israel. Such a Jew needed to be "proud, generous, and fierce"—a world away from the supposed "ghetto" mentality of the vast majority of Jews of the time.

Against a background of notable opposition from many quarters within the Jewish communities of Europe and the land of Israel (left-wing Zionists, anti-Zionist Bundists, assimilationists, pacifists, and many who saw Jewish militarism as either unnecessary or undesirable), Betar nevertheless quickly gained a large following in Palestine, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany and elsewhere, but particularly in Poland, the largest centre of Jewish population in the world.

In 1934, Betar membership in Poland numbered over 40,000, out of a worldwide membership of 70,000.[1] Betar organised self-defence groups in Poland to defend against attacks by the anti-Semitic ONR.[2] Routine activities in Warsaw included quasi-military drilling and instruction in Hebrew and encouraging the learning of English; the group was notable for its favourable attitude toward Mussolini for his perceived encouragement of ancient virtues among Italians and for his anti-Communism, going at one point so far as to adopt the Fascist black shirt as an unofficial uniform, but this attitude was generally reversed after the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, which was seen as cowardly.[3]

During the 1930s and early 40s, amid steadily increasing anti-Semitism in Europe and through the start of the Holocaust, with the ports of the British mandate of Palestine closed to all but a trickle of Jewish immigration, Betar organised "illegal" immigration to the land of Israel, secretly rescuing thousands of Jews by shipping them to Palestine and running the British blockade in barely seaworthy boats. In total, over 40,000 were saved from the Holocaust by Betar ships.[4]

During World War II, Betar members, including former Polish Army officers, founded Żydowski Związek Walki (Jewish Fighting Union) which fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It should also be noted that Mordechai Anilewicz, the head of the other Jewish fighters in Warsaw, the Jewish Combat Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ŻOB), appears to have gained his military training in Betar, and was secretary of the massive Betar Warsaw organisation in 1938, before leaving it to join, and quickly take leadership of, the left-wing Zionist Hashomer Hatzair group in Warsaw. In Lithuania, unlike many areas of Europe where the local anti-Nazi partisans ignored or even slaughtered local Jews, Jewish fighters under the leadership of Yosef Glazman, head of Betar Lithuania, battled the Nazis alongside the Lithuanian partisans in the forests of Vilnius. The famous "Song Of The Partisans", sung as an anthem by many Holocaust survivors on Yom HaShoah, was written in memory of him and dedicated to him.

From 1938 until his death in a failed British sabotage mission against German interests in Iraq during the early part of World War II, the head of Betar Palestine, David Raziel, was also the head of the Irgun Zvai Leumi or "Etzel" (National Military Organisation), whose anthem was the third verse of the Betar song, declaring that no obstacle was too great in the ultimate battle for Jewish nationhood.

The Etzel instituted a retribution approach in response to Arab terrorism against Jews in Palestine, bombing Arab civilians immediately after Jewish civilians had been massacred. While unpalatable to many Jews in Palestine and abroad, this dramatically curtailed attacks by Arabs against Jews in the "Arab Rebellion" of 1937-39. The Irgun worked closely with Betar in Palestine and worldwide, particularly with respect to illegal immigration into Palestine, but they remained organisationally and structurally separate. With British rule becoming ever more anti-Jewish, Betar and the Irgun began a military campaign against the British.

With the outbreak of World War II, Raziel, with the agreement of Jabotinsky, declared an unconditional ceasefire against the British, as the Etzel and Britain had a common enemy in Germany. His 2nd-in-command, Abraham "Yair" Stern, broke away and formed the LEHI (Lohamei Herut Yisrael or Freedom Fighters For Israel) which continued to attack British targets. Radical elements of Betar joined LEHI but most stayed with the Irgun.

When, toward the end of the War, Menachem Begin, head of Poland's huge pre-WW2 Betar organisation, escaped Europe and arrived in Palestine, he took immediate control of Betar Israel and of the Irgun, and began in earnest the battle against the British to create the state of Israel, as described in his autobiographical book "The Revolt". Betar members were the central core of this revitalised Irgun. Likewise, Betar members remained at the helm of LEHI. In stark contrast, the defence organisation of the official Jewish Agency, the Haganah and its military wing, the Palmach, had practically no Betar members. In the fight against the British for a Jewish state, almost every Jewish fighter who was hanged by the British, was a member of Betar. Many went to the gallows in their Betar uniforms, singing Hatikvah or the Betar Song.

Members of Betar were also instrumental in setting up Israel's navy. The first "Jewish" plane was flown into Palestine by Ari Jabotinsky (Jabotinsky's son), at the time a member of the Betar World Executive.

Many of Israel's most prominent public figures on the Right have been "graduates" of Betar, including former Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, and Ehud Olmert, as well as current leader of Kadima Tzipi Livni, and former Defence Minister Moshe Arens. Current Kadima Member of Knesset Yoel Hasson is a former national head of Betar in Israel.

Today, the Betar Movement is primarily involved in Jewish and Zionist activism. Tagar, Betar's young adult movement, was active on many university campuses throughout North America during the 1980s as part of the Revisionist Zionist Association. Betar played a major part in raising awareness of Soviet oppression of Jews and fighting for the right of Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel. Although Betar has suffered a drastic decline in membership and activities since the 1970s, the movement continues to boast a few strong branches. The most notable of these are the Betar chapters of Australia and Cleveland, Ohio.

Regional Activities

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Israel

Once a vibrant movement tied to the opposition Herut Party, Betar's following in Israel has declined since the 1970s as a result of a changing political situation. One important change was the rise of the religious right-wing in the 1970s. Though Betar had many of the same political goals as the rapidly growing Gush Emunim (Believers' Bloc) and Bnei Akiva youth movements (tied to the National Religious Party), they remained a secular movement and never took the initiative that their counterparts did in settling the West Bank and Gaza. During the 1980s as a result of the Camp David Accords negotiated by Menachem Begin (the leader of Herut and its successor movement, Likud), a similar effect began with the Secular Right, as more extreme movements appeared there and drew away youth.

As the Likud party, under Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership, moved away from the traditional values of Revisionist Zionism, Betar drew criticism from many on the political right. Old-time Herut supporters, viewing themselves as ideological purists, have claimed that Betar had turned into a breeding grounds for youth seeking political careers. In the late 1990s, Benny Begin broke away from Likud to form Herut – The National Movement. This trend has continued in many countries around the world, and can be seen on Betar's central website.

Betar's chief disadvantage was the predominance of other youth groups. Belonging to the left wing and the Kibbutz movement, Hashomer Hatzair ("Young Guard" - Socialist Zionist), HaNoar haOved vehaLomed ("the Working and Learning Youth" - Labor Zionist), and Habonim Dror (Freedom Builders - Socialist/Labor Zionist), had taken most Israeli youth in throughout the 1950s-70s. Alongside them were the Tzofim (Scouts) and Bnei Akiva. Today Betar remains a marginal youth movement in both Israel and the Diaspora, and has remained far from the power that its parent movement, the Likud, had on the country. Many Betar members, however, have become important political figures in both the Likud and Kadima parties.

Betar sponsors sports clubs, the most notable is the popular Beitar Jerusalem (or sometimes spelt Betar Jerusalem) football (soccer) club.

Canada

Betar has had a Shaliach in Toronto.

Betar in Toronto opposes the propagation of the use of an Israeli apartheid analogy by pro-Palestinian organizations in Canada. In February 2006, Tagar at the University of Toronto produced "Know Radical Islam Week" featuring civil rights activist Nonie Darwish, former Sudanese slave Simon Deng, a Muslim activist speaking on gay rights in the Middle East, Dr. Salim Mansur and presentations by Honest Reporting and Palestinian Media Watch.[5] [6] [7] and was also co-sponsored by groups like the Toronto Secular Alliance. Betar in Toronto and Montreal have also worked with such off-campus organizations as the Canadian Coalition for Democracies to promote the importance of secular, participatory politics in Canada. In March 2007, Betar-Tagar at the University of Toronto changed its name to Zionists at U of T.

Betar-Tagar was active in Montreal and Toronto during the 1980s Lebanon-Israel conflict. A revival of Betar occurred in Montreal on November 9, 2006. Entitled "Taking Liberties: Terrorism in the West," the event featured keynote speaker Dr. Salim Mansur and was the first film screening of Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West at McGill University. It was co-organized with Conservative McGill students.[8][9] Again at McGill University in March 2007, Betar Montreal held "Radical Islam Awareness Week," a three day conference featuring former Sudanese slave Simon Deng, Canadian lawyer and security specialist David B. Harris and John Thompson of the Mackenzie Institute. Concurrent with the 2007 Montreal program, Betar in Toronto held "Freedom and Democracy Week" at the University of Toronto. Speakers included co-founder of the Western Standard newspaper Ezra Levant and Jonah Goldberg of the National Review.[10]

United States

Betar has had a Shaliach in New York City and Cleveland, Ohio. The Cleveland chapter offers a fall and spring camp that is open to all cities. Betar offers summer and winter tours of Israel. It is one of the few movements that offer students a change to visit the West Bank. Both programs allow students to spend time at Kedumin, Itamar, Alon Moreh, Sderot, East Jerusalem and Hebron. They have officially adopted Kedumin as a sister city and spend an extensive time volunteering in that city. The winter tour is for college age students and runs in late December.

During the period of the early to mid-90s, Ronn Torossian served as National President and had hundreds of people involved. Previous leadership in the U.S. included Glenn Mones, Barry Liben and Fred Pierce (early to mid 70s), and Benny Rosen (60s).

In addition to its programs for younger students it also has an affiliated program for college age students called Tagar. Betar strongly promotes the idea of Aliya, Jewish immigration to Israel.[11][12][13]

Previous Shaliachs to the U.S. have included Sallai Meridor, current Israel Ambassador to the U.S. (late 1980s), Eli Cohen, former Israel Ambassador to Japan (early 1990s), Tova Vagimi, Sharon Tzur and others.

United Kingdom

Betar UK is an active youth, student and young professional movement with the main branch being located in London with over 100 members and 1000+ supporters. It is involved in pro-Israel activism including self defense classes for youths, government lobbying, countering perceived UK media bias against Israel and has held regular weekly demonstrations on Thursday evenings for the past 5 years outside Marks and Spencers in Oxford Street to counter the weekly anti-Israel demonstrations and pickets boycotting Israeli goods and distributing anti-Israel literature.

Australia

Betar Australia is an active movement which has branches in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Each of these branches conducts activities and functions and holds camps for Jewish youth in each state.

Betar Australia was first established in Sydney in 1924, soon after its establishment in Latvia, but it appears to have floundered at some time in the 1920s or 1930s, possibly as a result of all its leadership moving to Israel. With a significant influx of European Jewish refugees after the Holocaust, Betar members, originally from Europe, many of whom had managed to escape to Harbin China, started Betar in 1948 in Melbourne. Betar later expanded to Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane. The Queensland branch celebrated its 50th Reunion in 2006.

The largest Betar Australia snif (local organization) can be found in Sydney, on Australia's East Coast. Betar Sydney's maon (home) had been located in Beit Herzl on Old South Head Road in the Eastern Suburbs since the early 1980s, but has recently moved to a Jewish cultural centre in Bondi Junction. The Sydney movement has experienced periods of increase and decline, but probably reached its zenith in the early 1990s. During that time, winter camps regularly attracted over 220 chanichim (campers). Summer camps were also large, often held in conjunction with the rest of Betar Australia. Several federal camps were held during that time, including Jamboree in Toowoomba, Queensland.
Betar also holds annual seminars for senior members as well as educational and training conventions for the senior leaders.

Betar has always been at the forefront of activism in the Australian Jewish communities. From its first protests against the pro-Nazi German pianist Walter Gieseking in Melbourne in 1952 (by releasing pigeons and stink bombs during one of his concerts) through the battling of neo-Nazi groups in the 1960s to spearheading the Sydney Jewish community to protests on behalf of Soviet Jewry in the 1970s and 80s. Betar Sydney was closely involved in the annual protest outside the Soviet Consulate in Trelawney St., Woollahra, each Pesach, as well as mass protests outside the Bolshoi Ballet, the Moscow Circus on Ice (at the Sydney Entertainment Centre) and during the visit to Canberra and Sydney of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. In the 1970s, with the extreme left-wing politicisation of the Australian Union of Students, Betar members demonstrated against a visit by the General Union of Palestine Students, a front for PLO terrorists. Met by thugs wielding iron bars, the resulting injuries highlighted the direction that the A.U.S. was headed, and triggered a series of events which culminated in the democratisation of the A.U.S. and the abandonment of its pro-terrorist anti-Israel policies. In later years, Betar took the initiative to organise community protests outside the Iraqi Embassy in Canberra during the First Gulf War and the Iranian Embassy to protest Iranian state sponsorship of terrorism. Betar also marched in front of the German Consulate in Sydney to protest rising anti-Semitism in the then newly-reunified Germany. In 2004 Betar Sydney was active in protesting Dr. Hanan Ashrawi's receiving of the then Sydney Premier's peace prize.

Betar Australia has a long history of members going to Israel to live (aliya), and is represented in cities, towns and settlements all over Israel. In addition, Betar Australia sends several members each year to educational and leadership programs in Israel.

Protests

Russia

Dr. Michael Shtern was imprisoned by the Russian Communists because his sons were openly Zionists. In an effort to free Shtern due to his sickened condition, a group of seven people from Betar's NYC branch, led by Fred Pierce and including Elie Yossef and Gilad Freund, offered to exchange themselves and serve out his sentence instead of Shtern. The Russian government later deported all of the peaceful protesters.

See also

References

External links


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