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December 27, 2002 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-12-27

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Zeke Leikin And The Rise Of Militant Zionism

tioned by the U.S. Army in
New York City
Egypt, where he dispatched
he Detroit Jewish communi-
ty recently mourned the pass- truckloads of weapons and sup-
plies to Allied bases in the
ing of veteran Zionist activist
Middle East.
Ezekiel "Zeke" Leikin.
That gave him the opportu-
To local friends and colleagues, Zeke
nity to work covertly with both
was known as a pillar of the Zionist
of the rival Palestine Jewish
movement in the Midwest. But from a
militias, the Labor Zionists'
historian's perspective, Zeke was even
Haganah, and the Revisionists'
more than that: his unique career path
Irgun Zvai Leumi, helping
symbolized the dramatic transforma-
tion that American Zionism underwent them smuggle weapons from
Egypt under crates of Coca
during the 1940s.
Cola. Zeke's ability to tran-
Zeke was able to work first for the
scend party lines foreshadowed the later
militant Revisionist Zionists, and then
path of his Zionist career.
for the mainstream Zionist establish-
Returning to the United States in
ment, not because he changed his
Zeke was immediately offered a
views, but because the Holocaust con-
job by the Revisionists' executive direc-
vinced most American Zionists to
tor in New York, Benzion Netanyahu
adopt a more activist posture, one that
the father of future
strongly resembled that
Entebbe hero Yonatan
of the Revisionists.
Netanyahu and future
As a youngster in
Prime Minister
Lithuania, Zeke was
Binyamin Netanyahu.
active in the Betar
Zeke's job was to
Zionist youth move-
help organize
ment, and after arriving
Revisionist chapters
in the United States in
around the country.
1931, he joined its par-
But after just a few
ent organization, the
the Revisionists
American wing of the
on funds and
Revisionist Zionists.
had to let him go.
Led by the dynamic
Netanyahu's loss was
Russian Zionist orator
the American Zionist
Vladimir Ze'ev
establishment's gain:
Jabotinsky, the
days, Zeke was
Revisionists advocated
a similar full-
the immediate, mass
time position with the
immigration of
largest mainstream Zionist group, the
European Jews to the Holy Land and
Zionist Organization of America
the establishment of a Jewish state on
(ZOA), headed by Abba Hillel Silver.
both sides of the Jordan.
The Revisionists were openly critical
of the pro-Arab shift in British policy
Changing Thinking
in Palestine during the interwar years.
Silver's recruitment of Zeke Leikin and
Jabotinsky's approach contrasted
other prominent Revisionists to his
sharply with the views of other Zionist
staff was indicative of the revolution
parties, such as the Labor Zionists, who
that had taken place within the
were optimistic that the British would
American Zionist movement during
not abandon Zionism. They advocated
the mid-1940s.
gradual immigration and settlement
News of the Nazi massacres of
activity, and refrained from openly call-
European Jewry had fueled American
ing for a sovereign Jewish state.
Jewish anger at the British for blocking
Jewish immigration to Palestine. While
Covert Service
Zionist leaders such as Rabbi Stephen
opposed criticizing the British
During World War II, Zeke was sta-
during wartime, a more militant faction
Dr. Rafael Medoff is visiting scholar in
headed by Silver advocated public
the Jewish Studies Program at the State
protests to pressure the Roosevelt
University of New York-Purchase College administration to demand changes in
and author of 'Militant Zionism in
England's Palestine policy.
Silver believed the key to influencing
America: The Rise and Impact of the
was to lobby Washington;
Jabotinsky Movement in the United
Wise, a Roosevelt loyalist, urged Jews
States, 1926-1948," published this year
to trust the president.
by the University of Alabama Press. E-
By early 1945, Wise had been effec-
mail: Rafaelmedoff@aoLcorn

tively ousted from the
American Zionist leadership
and replaced by Silver.
Silver was not a Revisionist.
But he was privately sympa-
thetic to the Irgun's armed
revolt against the British, and
the protest tactics Silver uti-
lized in the U.S. were similar
to those used by the
Revisionists — such as full-
page newspaper ads, public ral-
lies, mobilizing public opinion,
and lobbying on Capitol Hill.
Zeke Leikin crisscrossed the
Midwest, organizing ZOA chapters and
mobilizing them to take part in the
Silver-led activist campaign to win
American support for Jewish statehood.
Mainstream American Zionist litera-
ture during the late 1940s abounded
with examples of the movement's new,
more militant posture under Silver.
British soldiers in Palestine were
denounced as "gangsters," and the
British administration there was openly
compared to Nazi Germany.
One newspaper ad sponsored by the
ZOA was headlined, "Who Are the
Real Terrorists?" and answered that the
British, not the Irgun, were the real ter-
Britain's "illegal military measures
and deportation of Jewish refugees to
concentration camps" had "provoked
acts of desperation by Jewish men and
women." This was a Zionist establish-
ment in which someone like Zeke
Leikin could feel entirely comfortable.
When I interviewed Zeke in 1996,
he told me that Silver was well aware of
his sympathy for the Irgun — includ-
ing the articles Zeke wrote praising the
Irgun fighters and his covert fund-rais-
ing for them, even while serving as a
ZOA staff member. Yet Silver never
Times had changed. The European
tragedy compelled Revisionists and
mainstream Zionists to set aside their
old rivalries. Zionists from right to left
united to meet the challenge of the
hour: pressuring the British to leave
Palestine so a Jewish state could be cre-
This new unity strengthened the
Zionist movement's ability to influence
Washington and London.
Zeke Leikin's smooth transition from
Revisionist outsider to ZOA insider
mirrored the changes that American
Zionism underwent during those
tumultuous years leading up to the cre-
ation of Israel.
His work both symbolized the trans-
formation — and helped make it hap-
pen. ❑


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