December 9, 1914
Shmuel Katz, a leader of Revisionist Zionism and a founder of the Herut Party in Israel is born in Johannesburg, South Africa. As a young man in South Africa, Katz attended a speech by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the leader of Revisionist Zionism and was greatly moved by Jabotinsky’s views on the need for a Jewish homeland to save the Jewish people and for Jewish self-defense. He joined the Betar youth movement and became a leader of many Zionist groups in South Africa. At the age of 16, he translated Jabotinsky’s book, The Story of the Jewish Legion, into English.
Known as “Mookie,” Katz made aliyah in 1936 and in 1937 joined Ha-Irgun HaTzevai HaLe’umi B’Eretz Yisrael (“National Military Organization” known as the Irgun or Etzel). In 1939, he was sent by Jabotinsky to London where he represented the Revisionist Movement and founded and edited The Jewish Standard, a weekly Revisionist magazine. During his years in Britain, Katz would give speeches and hold events to raise funds and urge Jews to help procure arms for the struggle against the British in Palestine.
He returned to the Land of Israel in 1946, resuming his Irgun activities and becoming a member of the High Command. Katz served as a de-facto foreign minister for the Irgun and commander of its Jerusalem operations. In 1948, after most of the Irgun had disbanded, Katz was in Paris trying to procure arms from the French for use by the Irgun in the battles in Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem had not yet come under Israeli control, each of the different pre-state military groups were all engaged in the fighting in Jerusalem, despite the fact that a unified Israeli Defense Force had been created on May 31. In June, Katz was finally able to arrange for the arms to be sent to Israel and the Altalena left from Marseilles carrying weapons and immigrants. The ship became a flashpoint for the young state. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered the ship to be sunk making it clear that no “dissident” armed force would be tolerated.
Katz returned to Israel and was elected to the first Knesset as a member of the Herut Party, which he helped create together with Menachem Begin. He would leave the Knesset in 1951 and opened a publishing house. Following the Six-Day War in June 1967, he became active in the Land of Israel Movement, which advocated for the annexation of territories conquered in the war and Jewish settlement there. When Menachem Begin became Prime Minister in 1977, Katz served as an adviser to him before resigning over his disagreement with the peace process with Egypt and the return of the Sinai. He wrote five books and numerous articles before passing away in May 2008.
Photo Credit: Shmuel Katz