SOUTH AFRICAN FRONT
FOREIGN AID FOR THE IRGUN SLACKENS:
As 1948 approached the scene altogether was gloomy and the outlook forbidding.
In frustrating contrast to the magnitude of our task and to the desperate inadequacy of our resources came the news from some of our friends abroad of a slackening of support, of a relaxation of effort for the Irgun.
The reasons, gorged out of the context of events were strangely logical.
The United Nations had decided on a Jewish State.
Already it was under fierce attack.
The Jewish Agency had made clear it would fight to defend it.
The large Haganah was being mobilized and set into action.
What need was there for the Irgun to continue its separate existence, what need therefore for separate support?
These were the questions asked by many of our supporters.
IN THE FERVOR OF THEIR ENTHUSIASM AT THE SEEMINGLY CERTAIN PROSPECT OF STATEHOOD AND OF THEIR ANXIETY TO HELP WAGE THE WAR IN ITS DEFENSE THEY HAD NOT YET DIGESTED THE MORE THREATENING IMPLICATIONS OF THE REALITIES PRESENTED BOTH BY THE FIERCE AND BUOYANT BRITISH CAMPAIGN AGAINST US AND BY THE UNCERTAINTIES OF AGENCY BEHAVIOR.
They certainly did not sense the potential importance of an untrammeled Irgun force ranging beyond the partition frontiers.
Many of them answered their own questions with pragmatic decision: they would transfer their support to the funds now being mobilized by the Jewish Agency and by special emissaries of the Haganah.
The mood was soon to pass.
At that moment it caused us great concern and did considerable damage.
It was particularly manifest in South Africa, whence so much of our earlier support from overseas had come.
When two or three gloomy reports arrived from Raphael Kotlowitz, the head of the Irgun branch there, we decided to send a member of the High Command to South Africa.
(I went at once to Johannesburg.)
I made heavy weather in my mission.
Throughout the underground struggle the substantial material support we had received from South Africa had come mainly through the well-organized Revisionist Party machine.
Now the leaders of the party had declared against giving us separate support.
This was the result not only of a wishful misreading of the complexities and dangers with which we were faced.
It was motivated also by an intense desire to avoid a breach of their own with the Zionist Organization, of which they had again become a part and which in the name of “unity and discipline” insisted on their undivided support for the official funds.
Indeed in the first flush of emotion after 29 November, they had acquiesced in … decision of the Zionist Federation.
The chairman of the party, Joseph Daleski, had fifteen years earlier followed Grossman out of the Party on the principle of the supremacy of Zionist discipline.
He was not now prepared to face excommunication for denying it.
The President of the Party was Louis Rabinowitz. He was the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community. A sparkling and ebullient figure he had braved the wrath of the communal leaders three years earlier by openly and eloquently espousing the cause of resistance in Palestine.
Pleas and appeals and threats had not deflected him from what he regarded as his duty as a spiritual guide.
Now he too, assuming that the emergency which had justified his rebelliousness was over, embraced the invitation to resumed conformity.
THE REVISIONIST DECISION HAD SOWN CONSIDERABLE CONFUSION AMONG THE MEMBERS OF THE PARTY, TO MANY OF WHOM IT APPEARED AS A WEAK-KNEED BETRAYAL OF THE IRGUN AT A MOMENT OF CRISIS.
Moreover the Irgun itself existed in South Africa in substantial strength.
Throughout 1947, under the vigorous direction of Raphael Kotlowitz, it had been shaped into a compact, efficient organization, of devoted young men and women.
As long as the Revisionist Party identified itself with the Irgun they had been, too, the most active element in the Party.
They were now ready if necessary to launch a campaign for funds on their own.
Neither they nor I were interested in a break with the party.
While they made preparations for separate action I held long conversations with Daleski and Rabinowitz.
Their dilemma was real.
They were both sincerely devoted to the Irgun.
They both longed for unity in the Zionist camp.
THE AGENCY HAD PREVARICATED FREELY ABOUT OUR NEGOTIATIONS IN TEL AVIV: AGREEMENT WITH THE IRGUN, THEY SAID, WAS ROUND THE CORNER; AGREEMENT MEANT FUSION; AND FUSION MEANT A COMMON AND EXCLUSIVE – THAT IN AGENCY – TREASURY.
We reached an understanding.
Rabinowitz would go to Palestine and there investigate the state of relations between us and the Haganah.
On the basis of his report the Party would consider anew its relations with the Irgun.
They would not meantime obstruct the collection of funds by the Irgun.
On this basis they agreed to call together the National Council of the Party.
I would address them in the name of the Irgun.
Rabinowitz would support my appeal.
The meeting had its effect.
With a broad disregard of formality Kotlowitz proceeded with a countrywide campaign, albeit without publicity, among the supporters of the Party and the Irgun.
The Party’s ban was not invoked.
In Palestine we arranged for Rabinowitz to attend one of the sessions of our negotiations with the Jewish Agency.
There he learnt the precise state of relations.
On his return to South Africa he gave active aid to the Irgun campaign.
IN THE MONTHS THAT FOLLOWED ITS AID WAS INDEED INVALUABLE.