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Dr. Aba Ahimeir: The man who turned the tide

Dr. Aba Ahimeir (Hebrew acronym of Aba Shaul ben Isaac Gaisinovich), writer, journalist, and historian was one of the outstanding  ideologues of Jabotinsky‘s Revisionist Zionist movement, the founder of the first anti-British underground in Eretz Yisrael , ‘Brit Habiryonim’, and the first to term British mandatory rule “the foreign occupation”.

He and his friends were the first to take action against the British and the first to be sent to prison in Eretz Yisrael after the arrest of Jabotinsky and his comrades in 1920. They thus served as a role model for underground movements such as the Lehi and Etzel, which were established in this same spirit.

Dr. Ahimeir was born in 1897 in the village of  Dolgi, located near the city of Bobruisk in Belarus. A Zionist from early youth, he asked his parents at the age of fifteen to send him to Eretz Yisrael  where he attended the Herzliya Gymnasium in Tel-Aviv from 1912-1914.  Soon after he returned to his parents’ home in Bobruisk for summer vacation in 1914, World War I broke out, and he was forced to complete his studies in Russia. In 1917 Aba Ahimeir participated in the Russian Zionist Conference in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) and underwent agricultural training in Batum, Caucasia to prepare him for the life of a halutz (pioneer) in the Land of Israel.

In 1919 he attended the University of Kiev and a year later left Communist Russia because of the atrocities he had witnessed there. In memory of his beloved brother Meir, who had fallen in battle that year fighting the Poles, he changed his name from Gaisinovich to Ahimeir (in Hebrew: Meir’s brother).

 He continued his academic studies at Liege University in Belgium and at the University of Vienna where he was awarded a doctoral degree in philosophy in 1924. He wrote his dissertation on Spengler’s ‘The  Decline of the West’.
That same year he returned to Eretz Yisrael.

For the first four years he was a member of Hapoel Hatza’ir, librarian for the cultural committee of the General Workers Organization in Zichron Yaakov, and a teacher in Nahalal and Geva. He published articles in Ha’aretz, Davar, Kuntras, and Hapoel Hatza’ir where he first revealed his propensity for profound criticism – later to become his hallmark – of the situation in the country and of Zionism, as well as of the workers’ movement to which he still belonged.


Establishing underground movement

 He brought about a final political and ideological shift in early 1928 when, together with Uri Zvi Greenberg and Yehoshua Yeivin, Ahimeir was one of the founders of the Revisionist Labor Bloc and he joined the movement led by Jabotinsky.  He quickly became one of the leaders and guiding lights of the Revisionist movement, the head of its Maximalist wing and one of its most important intellectuals.  At that time his articles were being published in the movement’s official journal Doar Hayom, among them, a series of eight articles entitled “From the Notebook of a Fascist”- before fascism evolved into what it was to become later in the 1930s.

In 1930 he established the underground movement ‘Brit Habiryonim’ (The Union of Zionist Rebels) named for the defenders of Jerusalem the capital [bira] during the Second Temple Period, and he initiated a series of protest activities against the British. The first of these took place on October 9, 1930 and was directed against the British Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, Drummond Shiels, when he was on a visit to Tel-Aviv. This was the first sign of rebellion in the Yishuv (the organized Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael) against the British and the first time that Ahimeir was arrested in the country.

Following the demonstration against Shiels, the Biryonim members organized several more protest activities, coming out against the population census. Ahimeir was arrested several times and served time in prison in Jaffa, Acre, and Jerusalem.

Together with Yeivin, Ahimeir founded and edited the Maximalist journal of the Revisionist movement – Hazit Ha’am (The People’s Front) which sharply attacked foreign rule and the official Socialist leadership of the Yishuv, in a attempt to motivate the public, particularly the youth, to take more activist measures in protesting British rule. In those years Ahimeir also designed some of the Biryonim’s most trenchant posters against the Hebron government [British mandatory rule that allowed the 1929 pogrom] and against the complacency of the Jewish populace. In his article “On Adventurism”, written in the wake of demonstrations led by Ahimeir and his comrades at the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus against the proposal to establish a “chair for international peace”, Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote:

There is a unique young man in Eretz Yisrael by the name of Aba Ahimeir. He is an educated young man, fluent in many languages, a talented publicist and profound thinker. He will yet play a role in our affairs, an important role, because he belongs to that rare category of men who think it is not useful to ‘protest’ evil – evil must be interfered with. It must be interfered with actively, or at least an attempt must be made to interfere, without making too many calculations of your strength, if you are already strong enough or if you are still weak. That is because he believes that only by acting does one’s strength grow; that only through action do people become strong.

Aba Ahimeir was one  of the young people in Tel-Aviv who staged a demonstration against Mister Shiels on his friendly visit to Tel Aviv right after the pogrom in 1929. Aba Ahimeir was the one the police arrested and beat on Allenby Street after the demonstration protested against conducting a population census; Aba Ahimeir is again sitting in prison because he took part in the adventure in honor of Mister Norman Bentwich. Greetings to you from afar, Aba Ahimeir, our teacher and mentor!

Ahimeir’s Brit Habiryonim was also the first to take action against the German Nazis when in May 1933 its members took down the swastikas from the flagpoles of the German consulates in Jerusalem and Jaffa and organized a boycott of German goods.

 
Blood libel against Revisionists

When Zionist-Socialist leader Chaym Arlosoroff was murdered on the Tel-Aviv beach in June 1933, the Left instigated a  blood libel against the Revisionist movement in general, and particularly against Brit Habiryonim. Ahimeir was sent to prison along with Avraham Stavsky and Zvi Rosenblatt and became the third defendant, charged with inciting to murder.

He was cleared of the charge before the trial even began but remained in prison and began a hunger strike that continued for four days. This was ended through the influence of  Chief Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook who even published a special greeting to the “dear writer Aba Ahimeir” that dealt with the acknowledgement of his innocence.

Ahimeir‘s trial opened in June 1934 when he was accused of belonging to an illegal organization. He was sentenced to 21 months in jail which he served in cell 19 of the Jerusalem Central  Prison, until August 1935. His imprisonment put an end to the Brit Habiryonim movement but the fire of rebellion had been ignited. Under the inspiration of  Ahimeir and Brit Habiryonim, two underground movements arose, Etzel and Lehi.

Upon release from prison, Ahimeir married a relative, Sonia nee Astrachan and devoted himself to writing and scholarship. His articles in the newspaper Hayarden led to his re-arrest at the end of 1937 together with members of the Etzel and other prominent Revisionist activists, and he was sent to Acre Prison,  spending three months there.

Aba Ahimeir published thousands of political articles on political issues and current events, literary, philosophical, and historical subjects, under dozens of pen names, mostly in the Revisionist publications (from 1938 in Hamashkif) and the Herut Movement (from 1948 – Herut). In many of them, especially in the columns called ‘Antima’, ‘Rakav B’Yaakov’ [Jacob’s Corruption] and Ahvat Amim [Brotherhood of Nations] he scathingly attacked, in his unique and characteristic style, socialism and communism, the world, and the Jews. His honed, witty style and his sharply unequivocal positions won him popularity among the readership, even in the opposing political camp. 

After the establishment  of the State, Ahimeir became a member of the editorial board of  the Herut daily in Tel-Aviv, as well as a member of the editorial board of the Hebrew Encyclopedia  in Jerusalem where he published (under the initials A. AH.) scores of  important academic articles, mostly in the fields of history and Russian literature.  Among the entries that he wrote for the encyclopedia were: Hitler, Dostoyevsky, History of Russia, The Lowlands, and … Kibutz Deganyah.


His death and streets on his name 

Dr. Aba Ahimeir died at the age of 65 of a sudden heart attack on the eve of Shavuout 5722 (June 6, 1962), at the home of his daughter Ze’eva in Ramat Aviv while playing with his granddaughter Ada.

His funeral, which left from Beit Jabotinsky in Tel-Aviv to the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery was attended by thousands of people, among them his friend from Bobruisk, Kaddish Luz, Speaker of the Knesset. The eulogy at the gravesite was given by the Rabbi of the Prisoners, Rabbi Aryeh Levin.

In addition to the thousands of articles he wrote, three books were published in his lifetime: “Reportage by a Yeshiva Student” (his prison diary) which was published in 1946, and again in another edition printed by the Defense Ministry in 1986 (and in Russian, in 1996), as well as two volumes of his essays ‘Im Kriat Hagever’ (1957) [ As the Cock Crows] and ‘Judaica’ (1960).

After his death a committee was established for the publication of Ahimeir’s works; to date, six volumes of his writings have been published in Hebrew: Revolutionary Zionism; The Trial; Brit Habiryonim; The Death of Yosef Katznelson (and) After Love, After Hate’, and ‘Atlantida, Olam she’shak’a’ [Atlantis,  a World Gone Under]; and ‘Ein Hakoreh’ [The Reader’s Eye].

 In addition, three books have been published about him: ‘Hashnayim, Kovetz Ma’amarim Actualiyim’ [The Two of Them (Ahimeir & Margolin):  An Anthology of Articles on Current Affairs]  (1981); ‘Ahimeir and Beitar’ (1982) edited by Yosef Kister, and ‘Ha’ish she’hita et hazerem’ [The Man Who Turned the Tide] (1987, edited by Yosef Nedava).

 
Streets in twelve Israeli cities have been named for Aba Ahimeir: Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Ramat Gan, Bnei Brak, Hadera, Netanya, Ramla, Lod, Rishon Lezion, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Beersheba.

A postage stamp bearing his portrait was issued in November 2002, as part of a series of stamps commemorating eminent publicists such as Moshe Beilinson, R. Binyamin, and Dr. Yisrael Eldad.

Beit Aba, the archive of Aba Ahimeir, his family, and the Brit Habiryonim - the anti-Britis underground - was completed in June 2008. It is located in the city of Ramat Gan, in the apartment where he spent the last ten years of his life.

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