Shmuel    Katz
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Lessons for today

Underground leader, member of the first Knesset, publisher, historian, biographer, essayist, Shmuel Katz, born Samuel Katz (December 9, 1914 - May 9, 2008), was above all the most trenchant political thinker modern Israel has produced. His career was marked by a selfless political integrity. Indifferent to personal advantage, Katz sought only to promote the welfare of Israel and the Jewish people.

Katz was a disciple of the great Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky. At age 16, still in his native South Africa, Katz translated Jabotinsky's The Story of the Jewish Legion from Yiddish to English. The book had a major impact on him and he became active in the Revisionist movement which Jabotinsky led.

In 1936, at age 22, Katz reached Palestine. In 1940, at the request of Jabotinsky, he went to London to start and edit a Zionist weekly. After the war he returned to Palestine where he rejoined the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi, becoming a member of its high command under Menachem Begin. With Israel's independence, Katz became a Knesset member for Begin's Herut Party, but left after a single term, unhappy with Begin's failure, as he saw it, to reach out beyond his narrow constituency. Katz abandoned party politics to run a publishing house for many years.

In 1977, when Begin finally upset the Labor Party's long monopoly on power, Katz returned briefly to public life, initially as Begin's personal representative to the United States. When Begin disavowed his commitment to put Katz in charge of Israeli information abroad (Katz had seized on the opportunity to transform Israel's miserable efforts in this area) and threw aside his ideological principles to achieve a paper peace with Anwar Sadat, Katz resigned. To the astonishment of Begin, who tried to buy him off with an offer he was convinced could not be refused - the high prestige post of UN ambassador - Katz refused.

Katz was best known as a writer. Jabotinsky said of his articles: "I must very earnestly congratulate you on the perfect clarity, the forcible simplicity, the sachlichkeit [matter of fact, to the point] with which you present the most complicated situations." Evidential truth was the hallmark of all his writings. Nothing before or since his classic Battleground: Fact & Fantasy in Palestine has come near matching the effectiveness of his assault on "the fog of fantasy and dissimulation" surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict - not least the hoax of forced Arab displacement in 1948 at the hands of the fledgling Jewish state.

Almost all his books are landmarks in their own way. Days of Fire: The Secret Story of the Making of Israel remains the best book on the Irgun. It was also the first book to expose the Allies' failure to bomb the Auschwitz death camp. Katz recounted how Jewish Agency leaders were rebuffed by British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden in July 1944 when they requested an Allied air attack on Auschwitz and its rail lines. "It was fifty-seven days, September 1, before the British Foreign Office sent its reply, a period during which the majority of the Jews of Hungary were exterminated," Katz wrote.

Less well known but equally trenchant, The Hollow Peace is a devastating account of how Begin, beginning with his unaccountable decision to install Labor leader Moshe Dayan (whose failures in 1973 had discredited him with the Israeli public) as his Foreign Minister, squandered the opportunity to implement Jabotinsky's vision.

Shmuel's two-volume work on Jabotinsky's life, Lone Wolf, is a masterpiece of biography and an invaluable contribution to the history of Zionism. On a smaller scale, so too is Shmuel's The Aaronsohn Saga, the biography of Aharon Aaronsohn. It was the last of Shmuel's books, the full set of which are a monument to Zionist inspiration, energy and idealism.

Unlike some historians, Shmuel Katz never cushioned the truth, even when the truth hurt. For all his devotion to his leader and mentor Ze'ev Jabotinsky, there is not a hagiographic note intruding on the 1,800 pages of Lone Wolf, his definitive account of the life and times of Zionism's towering visionary.

Following the Six Day War, Katz saw the opportunities opened by Israel's victory. He became a leader of the Land of Israel Movement which recognized that Israel could be a geopolitical factor in the region, with the historic heartland of Judea and Samaria restored to the Jewish people, strategic depth and oil from the Sinai, and the high ground on the Golan Heights a deterrent to Syria. He also inspired the founding of Americans for A Safe Israel, an American offshoot of the Land of Israel Movement.

Shmuel was a rock. He was principled and reliable. His convictions were deeply rooted in his immense learning and he upheld them fiercely. As befits a prophet, there was nothing soft, apologetic or trendy about Shmuel. His reputation will rest on the decades-long tenacity with which he demonstrated that the Diaspora strategy of accommodation had taken its deadliest form in Zion itself, in the Chelm-like policy of yielding contiguous territory to enemies dedicated to Israel's destruction--in the vain hope of placating them.

Those who knew him personally will remember Shmuel's charm. Among his attributes were his generosity, his capacity for love and friendship, and his modesty. One example suffices. In all of the many photos in the two-volume Lone Wolf, Shmuel included only one of himself, and that with his back to the camera.

Shmuel had a boisterous sense of humor. He commanded a vast store of funny Jewish stories. (The old Jew, newly arrived in Palestine, walks in a gorgeous grove and comes upon Rothschild's impressive tomb. "That's living!" he proclaims.) He deployed them aptly and laughed at them himself with infectious heartiness.

When occasionally speaking about money, which Shmuel really did not care about, his favorite line was: "There is no shame in being poor. Of course, it is no great honor either." Unlike other Israeli "eminentoes," Shmuel never did claim special privileges as a former Knesset member.

Like prophets generally, Katz has been ignored, sidelined, heard by many, hearkened to by few. History will pay tribute to his prescience. We, his disciples, are proud to pay tribute to him now.

Contributing to this text were Edward Alexander, Douglas Feith, Yisrael Medad, William Mehlman, William Van Cleave, and Herbert Zweibon.