Just as Israel was beginning to mark its 60th anniversary, word arrived that one of its greatest journalists, Shmuel Katz, has died, at age 93, in the country he'd done so much to build and protect. He was a friend and inspiriter of this newspaper, and at a time when journalists are doing all sorts of soul-searching over what newspapering is all about, his life offers much on which to reflect.
Katz was born in South Africa, and when he was a young man, he attended a speech by the leader of revisionist Zionism, Vladimir Jabotinsky, whose view was that the establishment of the Jewish state was the only salvation for the Jews and that such a state could be secured only by the force of arms. Katz never looked back. Eventually Jabotinsky summoned him to London, where Katz established a newspaper, the Jewish Standard, to help raise a Jewish army.
When, in 1946, Katz returned to Mandatory Palestine, he was to emerge in the leadership of the underground army known as the Irgun and, in the years since, as one of the most eloquent and credible chroniclers of the revolt against the British. We first met him in 1982, when we were looking for out-of-print books by Jabotinsky and called on Katz in his flat in Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv, only to be handed a rare copy of Jabotinsky's long-out-of-print volume "The Story of the Jewish Legion."
Katz himself wrote a number of important books, including "Days of Fire" and "Battleground," as well as a two-volume biography of Jabotinsky called "Lone Wolf." Katz served in the First Knesset; was, for a while, part of Begin's delegation to the Camp David peace talks; and, here in New York, helped found Americans for a Safe Israel. Last year, when Judith Miller was preparing to make a trip to Israel, she asked whether there was anything she could do for us there. We asked her to stop in and see Katz and send a dispatch on how he was faring. It turned out to be, insofar as we can tell, the last major interview he gave. He was not happy with the current situation. "I have never felt so downhearted about Israel as I do now," Katz told her.
Katz had spent his last seasons finishing what would be his last book — a history of the Jewish spy ring known as Nili, which operated against the Turks in World War I, a brilliant telling of the heroism of Aaron Arohnson and his martyred sister, Sarah (whose portrait hangs in the editorial rooms of the Sun). The English-language edition of the book was brought out but a few weeks ago. It is how, it seems, one of our greatest journalists dealt with his discouragement — moving to inspire new generations by telling of the heroism of an earlier one at a time even more imperiled than our own.