Vladimir Jabotinsky, “No Apologies,” 1911. Translated by Conor Daly
Taking a long, hard look at the current penchant for accusations of ritual, one is left with a most oppressive feeling – a feeling which any impressionable individual will find hard to bear. Just think about it: these things are being said about us – about me, about you, about your mother! So whenever we speak with a Gentile, we must remain aware, every one of us, that our interlocutor may at that very moment be cowering inside and thinking: “How do I know that you too haven’t been tippling from the glass of ritual murder?” Just try and get your head around all that! I mean, when it comes down to it, it is even worse than everything else we have to put up with in this prison of a country.
I can imagine that an impressionable person, reflecting on this accusation and considering all its ramifications, may be driven mad with resentment and despair. At the very least he will need to wail and tear his hair out. A person who is not so faint-hearted, but still naïve, will need to run outside and grab passers-by by their coattails or buttons and try to prove, until his throat is hoarse, that this is slander and that we are not guilty of anything of the sort.
But in the end someone who has been blind from birth (and we have very many people like that) will take a different course of action. He will console himself with the usual soothing phrases: that no-one really believes in such absurdities; that even the people who make these accusations do not believe them; that it is merely a political tactic; that the entire sensible segment of the Christian community (which naturally constitutes its majority) will not even listen to such slander, and is even scandalized by it; in a word, that everything is just fine, and that [in the words of General Fyodor Radetsky after having overcome a Turkish onslaught in 1877] “all is calm on Shipka Pass.”
I am not one of those impressionable people who cry out in amazement, nor am I one of those naïve people who make excuses, nor one of those blind-from-birth folks who cannot see what is happening right under their noses. I must disassociate myself most emphatically from the last category. It is all very fine and convenient to imagine that all your enemies are merely charlatans and deliberate fraudsters; but in the long run this kind of oversimplified explanation of the enemy’s psychology always results in the heaviest defeats. Because as an explanation it is incorrect and unfair. By no means all of our enemies are dimwits and by no means all of them are deliberate liars. I strongly advise my coreligionists not to delude ourselves on that score.
The right-wing includes some people who are wholly sincere. These people believe with complete sincerity that Jews really do use the blood of Christian children in food; or at least that there is a sect of Jews who does this. These people may also believe with complete sincerity that this makes the murder of [Andrei] Yushchinsky suspicious and in need of the most meticulous investigation, lest rich Jews grease the palms of Russia’s august judiciary and the whole matter ends in a cover-up. So it will not be as easy or as straightforward to rid ourselves of these people as many of us think it will. As a matter of fact the whole thing is far more complicated.
It is particularly complex because a belief in ritual murder is widespread not only among the right-wingers. Within the neutral, non-partisan rank and file – even within the intelligentsia – suspicions are far from having been eradicated. It is absurd and stupid to sweep this fact under the carpet. Hasn’t any one of us who has ever had the occasion to meet Christians heard even the nicest of them openly admitting to harboring such doubts?
To be sure, nice people do not express these doubts in such a crude manner. They usually say something like “Of course, we’re sure this isn’t something that you or your relatives would know about, but… maybe your rabbis do? Aren’t there many ancient religions whose most elevated secrets are known only to the initiated few?”
Others, even nicer and making even greater allowances, ask the question thus: “Is it perhaps some particular sect? Can you guarantee that you know each and every sect in the bosom of Jewry and all the secrets of each? For example we too have our own zealots – the Khlysty [flagellants] and Skoptsy [castrati]. Can we be held responsible for them? So why get so worked up, issuing sweeping denials of something which really might be happening?”
Many of our very nicest neighbors talk just like that! And incidentally I am not being in any way ironic when I call them nice; I am quite serious. There are some totally respectable, utterly well-meaning people who actually do express themselves just so.
If you tell me that there are no such people, I will simply reply that you are not telling the truth. They exist and every one of us has had the opportunity to see them and hear them. And how many others are there who won’t say these things out loud but are thinking the same or even worse?
And another thing: where is the guarantee that this suspicion only persists so tenaciously within neutral, non-partisan social groups? Can a person only join the [liberal] Kadets if he first eradicates all his prejudices, even those prejudices which have become ingrained over centuries? Is there no place among the ranks of the [center-left] Trudoviks for someone who subscribes to the party’s whole program but who nevertheless cannot put his hand on his heart and swear that the Talmud – a text which he is under no obligation to know – does not contain a paragraph on ritual murder? I don’t wish to pursue this line of reasoning any further leftward on the political spectrum, I will only remind you that Russian left-wing parties are made up primarily of peasants or factory workers of recent peasant origin – at least they should be. Our blind-from-birth folks are making a grievous mistake [in denying the presence of anti-Semites among the socialists], one they are bound to regret bitterly later on.
Mistaken too are the naïve people – I mean those people who at the drop of a hat will adopt a theatrical stance and launch into a speech for the defense. Their arguments are just as predictable as the charges made by their adversaries: it is the same thing over and over, ad infinitum. First, evidence is produced that the Jewish religion forbids the use of blood; then comes the argument that the most high-profile ritual trials have always resulted in the triumph of truth, the vindication of the innocent and the opprobrium of slanderers.
The masses do not listen to these arguments and pay them no attention. Their reaction to the long list of “not guilty” verdicts is that the Jews have suborned the courts. Their reaction to the long list of texts which forbid the use of blood is that there must be one additional text which permits it – and that’s the one you’ve refused to cite. The whole train of argumentation disappears into the void, like water from a leaky bucket.
I have no objection in principle to a defense based on documentation, but it is useful only at the right time and in the right place. It has its place in court. It has its place in a real parliament, but only in a real one, where serious examination of serious questions is actually taking place. When, instead of a parliament, we have a ‘meeting’ (to use a flattering term for it) where swear-words, insults and calls to “beat [the Jews]” ring from the podium, where no-one listens to reason and no-one is interested in documents – then fine oratory in support of the plaintiffs has absolutely no value and makes no sense whatsoever.
Two hundred rabbis have sworn in print (for the umpteenth time) that Jews do not drink the blood of infants and, though no-one has noticed, we haven’t even heard the proper snarl from the [Russian nationalist, anti-Semitic] Black-Hundred press: it has just passed the story by, without a second glance. Speeches past and future on the topic of Jewish deputies to the Duma have left – and will leave – the same impression. Documentary evidence and testimony will be considered in those situations where people come together to investigate matters calmly and impartially. But in an atmosphere of rabble-rousing, of frenzy, and of “beat them with whatever you can lay your hands on,” all fine words of justification are out of place.
They may even do harm. For several years now Jews in Russia have all too frequently found themselves sitting on the defendants’ bench. That is not their fault. But what definitely is their fault is this: they have been behaving like people on trial for a crime. We are continually justifying ourselves at the top of our voices. We swear that we are in no way revolutionaries, we do not shirk our soldierly obligations and we haven’t sold Russia to the Japanese.
Out jumps [the Jewish socialist terrorist Evno] Azef and we start swearing that we are not guilty, that we are not at all like him. Out jumps [the Jewish anarchist assassin Dmitry] Bogrov and once again we are being hauled into the dock by the scruff of our necks, and once again we take on the role which has been imposed on us and we start justifying ourselves.
Instead of turning our backs on our accusers, because we have nothing to apologize for and no-one to apologize to, we swear again that we are here for no reason, and to drive the point home we start enthusiastically denouncing Bogrov, even though, at the hour of his magnificent end, that unfortunate young man – whatever kind of a fellow he was – had already suffered enough abuse without us at the hands of those ten blackguards from the cesspit of Kiev’s Black Hundred [who gathered to cheer his hanging].
Now they have raised a rumpus over ritual murder, and once again we have taken on the role of prisoners on trial: we press our hands to our hearts, with quivering fingers we leaf through old stacks of supporting documents that no-one is interested in, and we swear right and left that we do not consume this drink, that never ever has a drop of it passed our lips, may the Lord smite me on the spot …
How long more will this go on? Tell me, my friends, are you not tired by now of this rigmarole? Isn’t it high time, in response to all these accusations, rebukes, suspicions, smears, and denunciations – both present and future – to fold our arms over our chests and loudly, clearly, coldly and calmly put forward the only argument which this public is capable of understanding: why don’t you all go to hell?
What kind of people are we that we have to justify ourselves before them? And who are they to demand it of us? What is the point of this whole comedy of putting an entire people on trial when the verdict is known in advance? How does it benefit us to participate voluntarily in this comedy, to brighten up these villainous and humiliating proceedings with our speeches for the defense?
Our defense is useless and hopeless, our enemies will not believe it, and apathetic people will pay no attention to it. The time for apologias is over.
Our habit of constantly and earnestly justifying ourselves before every kind of ne’er-do-well has already brought us huge harm, and will bring us still greater harm. The public has become accustomed to it; people have got used to hearing from our lips the plaintive tone of the prisoner in the dock. The situation which has arisen as a result serves as a tragic confirmation of the familiar adage qui s’excuse s’accuse [whoever excuses himself, accuses himself]. It is we who have gotten our neighbors used to thinking that for every Jew caught with his hand in the till, a whole ancient people may be dragged to account – a people that was already passing laws when its neighbors hadn’t even come up with the idea of the bast shoe.
Each accusation generates such a furor in our community that people naturally think: “Look how afraid they are of everything! Clearly they have a guilty conscience.” And it is precisely because we are always ready to put our arms down straight by our sides and swear the oath of allegiance that the population has come to hold the ingrained view that we are some kind of peculiarly furtive tribe. We think that our continual readiness to subject ourselves without a murmur to searches, to turn out our pockets, will finally convince humanity that we are honorable people: “You can see what kind of gentlemen we are – we have nothing to hide!”
But that is a terrible error. Real gentlemen will never allow anyone to search their apartments, their pockets, or their souls, for any reason whatsoever. Only people under surveillance are prepared to be searched at any time of day or night. And that is precisely the position we are putting ourselves in, ignoring the most terrible danger of all: suppose we are framed for theft?
Until now the accusations of ritual murder have almost always come our way in the clumsiest and crudest manner. But it is quite possible, I think, that modern technical advances may come into play in this area too. A virtuoso may emerge, someone who can develop such a careful and systematic plan, anticipating and dealing with all unexpected elements, as to achieve an absolutely dazzling result. There is nothing improbable about such a scenario. Anti-Semites now count some very cultured people among their ranks, and, what is more, some very rich and powerful individuals, who have access to the most reliable methods of forgery and distortion.
It is not so difficult either now to find a Jewish false witness: a commodity in no short supply in earlier times but particularly plentiful now. Which means a drama of ritual murder could be acted out in our midst that appears so plausible that the most honorable and unbiased judge will be in two minds about it. What will we say then – we who have been basing nearly all our defense on the fact that most judges have been finding in our favor until now?
But I think that another scenario, far more terrifying, is possible and even very likely. Jewry has become highly overstrung; as a people, we seem to have one of the highest rates of mental illness. In the atmosphere of persecution created by this fairy-tale of ritual killing, maniacs could emerge in our midst who are obsessed by this very same fairy-tale.
If I am not mistaken, there was a case just like that in 16th-century Padua when a Jew named David Morpurgo went mad and started shouting out that he wanted the three-year-old daughter of a Catholic neighbor brought to him so that he could cut her throat and sprinkle matzah with her blood. The rabbis tied him up and handed him over to the authorities. Fortunately it was obvious that the man was mad, so the affair did not end in a pogrom. But over the last four hundred years our nerves have become seriously frayed, and it would be no surprise if some more sophisticated manic were to emerge now who wouldn’t just start shouting about such a deed but would actually go and do it. I think we are strangely lucky that this hasn’t happened up to now. Don’t forget the nightmare we are living under, or the atmosphere of horror in which our young people are being brought up.
We have seen people previously becoming obsessed by revolution, terror, and expropriation. The current epidemic of suicides contains an undoubted undercurrent of mental disturbance. And the recent outbreak of venereal diseases also threw up a noticeable contingent of downright maniacs.
So if a misfortune of the kind I have described does occur, what will we say? What theories will we pull out of our back pockets? We will be relying on the courts and experts for vindication of our people’s good name: if they determine that the perpetrator was mad then our honor has been saved; but if a maniac like Jack the Ripper comes along – someone who is moderate and well-balanced in every respect save that of his own psychopathology – and if the experts declare him to be of sound mind, will we be tacitly admitting our eternal dishonor? For that will be the incontrovertible inference to be drawn from our uncontrolled tendency to react to every reproach, to accept responsibility on behalf of our whole nation for each transgression perpetrated by an individual Jew, to justify ourselves before every Tom, Dick, and Harry, including the most disreputable among them.
I regard this system as fraudulent to its very core. The reason that we are not liked is not because all kinds of accusations are levelled against us: no, they level accusations against us because they do not like us.
That is why there are so many of these accusations; that is why they are so diverse and so contradictory. One day people are shouting that we exploit the poor, the next day that we are sowing socialism and leading the poor in revolt against their exploiters. One Polish newspaper claimed the other day that it was the Jews who partitioned Poland and handed it over to the Russians, while a hundred Russian newspapers claim that the Jews want to partition Russia and reconstitute Poland. The Italians are saying that the Jews are behind all the attacks on them in the European press, and the Turkish opposition is saying that it was the Jews who put Italy up to capturing Tripoli1.
Should we react, then, to all this shrieking and barking with sworn statements, reassurances and pledges? No, there is no point and it should be unthinkable to behave thus. As soon as we rebut one argument, another is born. There are no limits to human spite and stupidity.
Justificatory statements are only worth making at those rare, exceptionally important junctures when there is full certainty that a given court of justice really does have equitable intentions and appropriate competence. But to make the apologia into a strategy for everyday life, to use it at public meetings (even if one happens to be called a parliament), or on the volatile columns of the newspapers – that means humiliating ourselves and bringing ourselves down to the level of barking dogs.
We have nothing to apologize for. We are a people, just like all peoples; we have no pretensions to be any better. One of the first conditions of equal rights is that we claim for ourselves the right to have our own blackguards, just as other peoples have theirs. Yes, we have subversives, human traffickers, draft dodgers. We do have them; but what is truly odd is that we have so few of them under present circumstances. Other peoples also have an abundance of this kind of human asset, as well as embezzlers, pogromists, and torturers. But so what? They live side by side as neighbors and have no scruples about it.
At the end of the day, whether they like us or not should make no difference to us whatsoever. We do not practice ritual murder, and we never did; but if they absolutely must believe “there is this one sect,” well, let them go ahead and believe whatever their imaginations come up with. What business is it of ours and why should it worry us? Do our neighbors blush because Christians in Kishinev hammered nails into the eyes of Jewish infants [during the pogrom of 1903]? Not at all. They walk along with their heads held high – and quite rightly, because the persona of a people is sovereign, is accountable to no-one, and is not obliged to explain itself, even when something happens which requires explanation.
Why should we be happy to be thrust into the dock – we who have been hearing these same slanders for centuries, before today’s cultured nations even existed. We know what these slanders add up to, for ourselves and for them. We are not obliged to give account to anyone, we are not sitting for an exam, and no-one is entitled to demand an answer from us for any charge he wishes to direct our way. We were here before them all, and we will be leaving after them. We are fine just the way we are. We will not be any different, nor do we want to be.
- In Italy’s 1911 invasion of Ottoman Libya. ↩