Betar, meaning fortress, is an acronym for The Joseph Trumpeldor Union; it was founded in 1923 in Riga, Latvia by Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky and was the Revisionist Zionist youth movement. Joseph Trumpledor, together with Jabotinsky, founded the Zion Mule Corps to work with the British against a common enemy. Trumpeldor died in 1920 while defending the Jewish community of Tel Hai. Its founding members thought of themselves as an integral fabric of the Jewish Legion that was to be established in Eretz Yisrael.
Betar’s first official world conference occurred in Danzig (now called Gdansk located in Poland) in 1931, where they formally announced Jabotinsky the leader of the movement. The Betar organization engaged in learning about military actions and nationalistic aspirations. Considered the youth movement of the Irgun, it was instrumental in preparing young people to make Aliyah, and was prevalent throughout the world. In Palestine, though they clashed with the Socialist Zionist youth movement, Betar continued to grow and train for paramilitary work while maintaining a deep connection to the land.
In the 1930’s, Betar actively participated in operations rescuing the “illegal” Jewish immigrants to Palestine. The movement’s widespread reach and military ingenuity for the time should not be underestimated. It was Jabotinsky’s own son, Eri, who built the first airplane glider in Israel. Flight instruction was then introduced and by 1939, Irgun had its first pilots. Through Beitar, naval instruction for Jewish forces first began in Tel Aviv, but the group also had naval training outposts both in Italy and Latvia. The sailors who came out of these units eventually formed the first Naval unit of the IDF after the liberation of Israel.
The Betar movement became quite prominent in Palestine and established their own communities, many of which were located among border towns. Several influential politicians today were greatly influenced by their time in the youth movement, including former President Reuven Rivlin and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.