Brandeis and the American Zionist Movement

“A nonpracticing Jew who did not believe in religion, he became head of the American Zionist movement in his sixth decade and transformed it from a moribund sideshow into a powerful component of American Jewish life.” (1)

Brandeis met with Woodrow Wilson for the very first time on August 28, 1912, at Sea Girt, New Jersey, to discuss Brandeis’ reform ideas. meaning Brandeis met both Wilson and de Haas in the same month just prior to Wilson’s election to president. Seemingly coordinated, both the rise of Wilson to the White House and Brandeis to the head of the Zionist Organization of America. DeHaas proves to be a very able director and executive secretary for Brandeis interests moving forward.

Brandeis’ sudden interest in Zionism, according to the mainstream, was sparked by his first meeting with Jacob DeHaas August 13, 1912. DeHaas was personal secretary to the man mainstream will tell you is the father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl. DeHaas moving to America on Herzl’s suggestion, eventually settling in Boston near Brandeis around 1902.

And while it is true that De Haas, the editor of the Boston Jewish Advocate and the Boston Jewish Chronicle newspapers, did inspire Brandeis with heroing tales of both Louis’ Zionist uncle (Lewis Naphtali Dembitz) and Theodore Herzl, Brandeis had long before been introduced to the Jewish problem. As early as November 28th 1905, five years before his meeting with DeHaas, we see Brandeis expressing sympathy for Zionism in a speech he made at the New Century Club in Boston commemorating the 250th anniversary of Jewish settlement entitled What Loyalty Demands. (2)  

Brandeis had also publicly announced his sympathy for Zionism at least two years prior to his train station conversation with deHaas, in an interview with The American Hebrew on December 2, 1910, and a similar one on December 9 in DeHaas’ the Jewish Chronicle, and when asked whether he had interest in those working for a Jewish revival in Palestine, Brandeis replied, “I have a great deal of sympathy with the Zionists. The movement is an exceedingly deserving one. These so-called dreamers are entitled to the respect and appreciation of the entire Jewish people.” (3)

Brandeis joined the Federation of American Zionism and it’s also here during this time, while he was nearing his sixties, that Brandeis changes his middle name, in honour of his Zionist uncle, from David to Dembitz.

 

Jacob DeHaas

Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise

On July 18, 1913 Brandeis joined the executive committee August 30, 1914, Brandeis was elected chairman of the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs, once again finding himself, as if by divine intervention, the face of yet another movement, this time American Zionism. 1914 also the year Brandeis leads the Zionist Organization of America. In March of 1915, Brandeis, along with Stephen Wise and Julian Mack would establish the Jewish Congress Organization Committee and in 1917, two months after America enters the First World War, Brandeis was elected honourary chair of the National Executive Committee that was the precursor to the American Jewish Congress.

Brandeis and his lieutenants willingly involved themselves in many other lesser known, but no less important Jewish organizations like the Jewish Agricultural Experiment Station. Brandeis, along with Mack, Marshall, Schiff, and Wise were all members of the Advisory Board of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society. To raise funding for the creation of Israel, Brandeis, Bernard Flexner and Robert Szold helped bring together the Palestine Cooperative Company Inc., with the Reconstruction Committee of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to form the Palestine Economic Corporation.

July 10, 1918 meeting of the Joint Distribution Committee and the executives of the American Jewish Relief Committee at 52 William Street, New York. First is the actual photograph, the second a painting commemorating the moment with the key addition of Louis Marshall (behind Warburg) and a globe for some reason now prominently displayed in the immediate foreground. Along with several other alterations. Brandeis resigned from both of these committees by personal letter to Warburg once confirmed as Supreme Court associate justice.

From left to right: Felix M. Warburg, Chairman; Aaron Teitelbaum; Albert Lucas, Secretary; F. Friedman, official stenographer; Boris D. Bogen, Executive Director; Leon J. Sanders; Harry Fischel; Scholem Asch; Alexander Kahn; Jacob Milch; Harriet B. Lowenstein, controller, Moses Schoenberg; M.S. Margolies; Israel Friedlander; Paul Baerwald, Associate Treasurer; Julius Levy; Peter Wiernik; Meyer Gillis; Harry Cutler; Cyrus Adler; Arthur Lehman, Treasurer; Jacob H. Schiff. Standing: A. Zucker; Isidore Hershfield; Meyer Berlin; Stanley Berow; Lewis Topkis; Morris Engelman.

“The JDC distributed tens of millions to the early construction efforts in Palestine through the war time donations of three distinct communities to “supply capital and credit, assuming a credit structure where none had existed before. Its first prospectus stated that the company ‘recognized that the extension of credit facilities was a first vital necessity in Palestine and of the utmost consequence in its economic up building.'”(4)

The American Jewish Committee targeted for funds already settled American Jews while the Central Relief Committee looked to the new Jewish immigrant and the Union of Jewish Orthodox Congregations for funding, and the People’s Relief Committee solicited Jewish Labour and Socialist groups like the Amalgamated Clothing Workers or the Federation of Jewish Farmers etc. (5)

Brandeis created the Palestine Economic Corporation with Bernard Flexner, Julius Simon, Robert Szold, Jacob Schiff, Felix M. Warburg and other wealthy New York German Jews. Within that corporation were formed the necessary institutions and utilities to begin establishing the necessary infrastructure for a working Jewish community in Palestine: the Central Bank of Cooperative Institutions in Palestine Ltd.; the Economic Board for Palestine of London; the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association; and Palestine Mortgage and Credit Bank Ltd. The PEC working in conjunction with both Baron de Rothschild’s PICA and the Jewish Agency constructed modern methods of agriculture at a time when industry was largely non-existent in the area. The PEC grew their “pioneering country, in such fields as credit for agricultural and industrial enterprise, housing provision, town planning, and water supply.” (6)

Through their various subsidiaries the PEC facilitated growth through credit programs, “loans for low-cost housing in rural and urban areas”, the PEC was “deeply involved in questions regarding the country’s water supply” making significant contributions to the supply problem by implementing “improved technical methods, and the establishment of centralized and systematic irrigation plants.” (7)

“The colony had been carefully planned by PICA in cooperation with the Palestine Economic Corporation (PEC) and the Jewish Agency”. pg. 284, Two Rothschilds and the Land of Palestine, Simon Shama

“the historiography of American Zionism until 1930 may well be called ‘Brandeiscentric.’ Brandeis – the man his ideas, and his achievements – are presented as the pinnacle of American Zionist realization during the first part of its history. It is generally accepted that there was no organized Zionism in the United States until Brandeis assumed leadership in 1914 and that his hold on the movement continued at least until the beginning of 1921.” (8)

After being nominated to the US Supreme Court in 1916, Brandeis wrote to Felix Warburg at the New York offices of the American Jewish Relief Committee, “I regret that I feel compelled to resign from the Executive Committee of the American Jewish Relief Committee, and of course also from the Joint Distribution Committee”, to avoid negative public perception yet Brandeis still very much wielded authority from ‘behind-the-scenes’, with an ‘invisible leadership’. (9)

“Through his closest lieutenants, Julian W. Mack, Stephen S. Wise, Bernard Flexner, Jacob de Haas, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Szold, hereinafter referred to as ‘the Brandeis Group’, this inner ‘hard core’ group were all, “American-educated, a majority being also American-born. All were university educated, most were lawyers, and most of the lawyers had attended Harvard. A majority also became Zionists after 1914.” (10):

Brandeis “stepped down from all of his positions in Zionist and Jewish organizations to avoid embarrassing the Supreme Court, of which he had just become a member. He continued however, to serve in an honorary capacity and henceforward exercised overall authority from behind-the-scenes.” (11)

“As head of the American Zionist movement, Brandeis did not and could not act alone, especially after his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1916, when for technical reasons as well as matters of principle his personal participation in the movement was limited.” (12)

“The Brandeis group led the American Zionist movement and made the major decisions, always in contact with Brandeis.” (13)

Arthur Balfour

“Through his associates, Brandeis held the Zionist organization in a tight grip.” (14)

“From Louis Brandeis around World War I to Abba Hillel Silver after World War II, Zionism has been defined as a form of American liberalism.”(15)

Balfour met with Brandeis on at least two occasions during his Washington visit (May 7th and 11th), and a large stack of contemporary scholarship concurs, as substantiated above by Ben Halpern, professor of Near East Studies at Brandeis University, that these meetings between Brandeis and Balfour were critical, and served as a major coming together of Anglo-American relations. Brandeis and Balfour were careful not to debate first rights to self-determination between the Jew and Arab on numerical grounds, as the Hebrew then, as now, grossly outnumbered in the region by his fellow Arab Semite. This centuries old tradition of calling anyone critical of Israel or Zionism anti-Semitic a tired misnomer in that there are over 70 languages associated on the Semitic branch, the largest spoken language Arabic, Amharic, Tigrinya, and then Hebrew. 

Brandeis also one of the earliest to actively promote dual loyalty between Israel and the United States through a shared nationalism. and was very influential on Balfour, wielding all the authority vested within him Brandeis an essential figure in the conception, promotion, and especially the consummation of the document most responsible for securing a final homeland for the Jew, the Balfour Declaration.

By the time Brandeis was confirmed US Supreme Court Justice spring of 1916, he had been the leader of the American Zionist movement for two years and a longtime intimate adviser to US president Woodrow Wilson. As you would expect Brandeis’ words carried much weight in many circles, Brandeis inside a three circle Venn diagram uniquely positioned to press for a Jewish homeland.

“It is social justice which Zionism represents, and every bit of that is the American ideals of the twentieth century.” Louis Brandeis, (16)

Immediately following Wilson’s declaration of war on April 6, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour led a diplomatic mission to Washington, landing on April 22, 1917.

Officially the Balfour Mission was to ‘promote wartime cooperation’, but Balfour’s visit was primarily financial. The true intentions of Balfour and the rest of his entourage, including the governor of the Bank of England, Walter Cunliffe, was to bring the Americans up-to-speed on the lucrative past of British imperialism. With the United States now a committed belligerent in the Great War, previous treaties and agreements made by the French and British in Italy, Africa, the Near East, and other areas around the world, had to be laid on the table. And it is in this light we see the depth to Brandeis’ influence.

Chaim Weizmann

Brandeis the eminent insider while Chaim Weizmann was very much considered the outsider to Wilson’s circle. Where Weizmann struggled to get access (even by repeated cable), Brandeis arrived as an invited and eminent guest. Where Weizmann, because of his personality hit serious diplomatic roadblocks, “the peoples attorney” smoothed political and personal tensions.

Clearly, it is because of Brandeis’ influence on the American Zionist movement and American Jewry in general, groups whos blessings Weizmann desperately needed, that Brandeis became an integral figure, “the sage adviser to all”, even more so than Weizmann, in the final drafting of the Declaration.

“Brandeis’s personal influence was doubly important, for he combined the roles of a Jewish leader and a close adviser of President Wilson. When Balfour came to the United States to consult his new allies shortly after America entered the war, the new British Foreign Minister made a point of meeting Brandeis. All contemporaries agree in regarding these meetings as being critical in opening up the last phase of the negotiations for a British pro-Zionist policy declaration.” pg. 71, Brandeis and the Origins of the Balfour Declaration, Ben Halpern.

“Dr. Weizmann gladly assented to the Brandeis project. He expressed his gratitude by impulsively kissing Brandeis’ hand.” Pg. 133, Brandeis: A Biographical Sketch, DeHaas.

“Weizmann launched a series of urgent pleas to his American contacts, and to Brandeis in particular, for their aid in a situation in which the future prospects of Zionism were critically involved … Weizmann pinned his hopes on Louis Brandeis as the person most capable of influencing President Wilson.” (17)

“When Balfour came to the United States to consult his new allies shortly after America entered the war, the new British Foreign Minister made a point of meeting Brandeis. All contemporaries agree in regarding these meetings as being critical in opening up the last phase of the negotiations for a British pro-Zionist policy declaration.” (18) 

Balfour met with Brandeis on at least two occasions during his Washington visit (May 7th and 11th), and a large stack of contemporary scholarship concurs, as substantiated above by Ben Halpern, professor of Near East Studies at Brandeis University, that these meetings between Brandeis and Balfour were critical, and served as a major coming together of Anglo-American relations. 

Brandeis and Balfour were careful not to debate first rights to self-determination between the Jew and Arab, especially on numerical grounds, as the Hebrew then as now grossly outnumbered by his fellow Arab Semite. Brandeis, one of the first to actively promote dual loyalty between the US and a Jewish homeland was very influential on Balfour, wielding all the authority vested within him Brandeis an essential figure in the conception, promotion, and especially the consummation of the document most responsible for securing a final homeland for the Jew:

“Balfour and Louis Brandeis, a Supreme Court justice and the leading American Zionist, came up with an ingenious solution. It was wrong to use mere ‘numerical self-determination’: a great many potential inhabitants of the Jewish home in Palestine still lived outside its borders. ‘And Zionism,’ said Balfour, ‘be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.’” (19)

The many drafts of the Balfour Declaration were made in London and passed back and forth between the British and American War office channels and Brandeis was central to its final drafting.

The draft cabled from government to government, was handed to the Brandeis regime for its approval. After a most necessary revision, President Wilson, acting through Colonel House who was in full sympathy with the Zionist aims, authorized cabling to the British government the version that was published, and to which all the allied governments in turn gave their approval.” (20) 

Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919- 1939. A documented conversation between Brandeis and Balfour that took place with Eustace Percy and Felix Frankfurter. Three of the four men involved in this historic conversation were House of Truth residents.

The night before Brandeis’ election to the chair of the Provisional Executive Committee on General Zionist affairs, he travels by boat with Horace W. Kallen who introduces Brandeis to the idea of ‘dual loyalty’. Brandeis previously wrote disparagingly of “hyphenated Americans” who chose not to assimilate completely to American life, but now, realizing their usefulness in supporting a Jewish homeland in Israel, he completely flipped his viewpoint.

Brandeis immediately began writing about how every American Jew must become a Zionist:

“Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with Patriotism.” – Brandeis.

“there is no inconsistency between loyalty to America and loyalty to Jewry.” – Brandeis.

Horace W. Kallen the one who came up with the idea of cultural plurality in the first place. Kallen and Brandeis together establish the Parushim and Menorah Societies at Harvard. Brandeis here prominent in the creation of two Zionist secret societies on the university campus(!) A US Supreme Court justice? As odd as it sounds, its true. In Kallen, we see one of the main influencers of Brandeis. Kallen the one who introduced Brandeis to cultural plurality, or, dual loyalty the night before Brandeis was elected chairman of the Executive Provisional Committee on General Zionist Affairs.  

We conclude here that Louis D. Brandeis is the most influential historical figure in the creation of the country of Israel. His influence in both drafting the Balfour Declaration and founding the Palestine Economic Corporation, show Brandeis as the hub around which everyone else orbited. Brandeis, “the sage advisor to all”. 

Brandeis’ ability to establish the necessary official documentation while also applying the real, tangible infrastructure for the creation of Israel, and his use of the ZOA to gather massive support, while being the US presidents most trusted advisor places Brandeis’ influence even beyond that of the House of Rothschild. His use of dual loyalty as a persuasion tactic still exists today and in our follow-up article, Brandeis Part 4: Christian Dispensationalism and the Social Gospel, we introduce you to the real ‘father of Zionism’ and tell the story of how Brandeis influenced American Christians to support the Zionist cause of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Footnotes:

1. xi, Brandeis: A Life, Urofsky.

2. In Search of a New Zion: New Light on Brandeis’ Road to Zionism, Allon Gal. Gal Professor Emeritus, Ben-Gurion Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Sede Boquer Campus.

3. pg. 443, Brandeis: A Free Mans Life.4. New York Public Library Archives and Manuscripts, Palestine Economic Corporation records 1921-1944, https://archives.nypl.org/mss/2326#:~:text=The%20records%20of%20the%20Palestine,and%20resettlement%20of%20Jewish%20Palestine5. New York Public Library Archives and Manuscripts, Palestine Economic Corporation records 1921-1944, https://archives.nypl.org/mss/2326#:~:text=The%20records%20of%20the%20Palestine,and%20resettlement%20of%20Jewish%20Palestine6. Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel.

7. Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel.

8. pg. 34 American Jewish History Volume 69 No. 1 September 1979, pg. 34-59 Johns Hopkins University Press; Brandeis’ Role in American Zionism, Historically Reconsidered, Evyatar Friesel. Friesel professor Emeritus of Modern Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He’s previously held academic positions at Ben Gurion University Department of Jewish History and Department of History, Friedrich Schiller University Jena Germany.

9. Brandeis personal letter to Felix Warburg Esq., Treasurer, American Jewish Relief Committee, July 21, 1916.

10. pg. 46,47 Brandeis’ Role in Zionism Reconsidered.

11. pg. 23, Louis D Brandeis Zionist Leader, Jonathan D. Sarna.

12. pg. 46, Brandeis’ Role in Zionism Reconsidered.

13. Ibid pg. 46.

14. Ibid pg. 46, 47.

15. pg. 35 The Crisis of Zionism, Peter Beinart.

16. Ibid pg. 34.

17. pg. 471, The Journal of Modern History, Volume 64. No 3, September 1992, pg. 455-499, The Balfour Declaration and Its Maker: A Reassessment, Jehuda Reinharz, Brandeis University.

18. Studies in Zionism, No. 7, 1983, Ben Halpern, Brandeis and the Origins of the Balfour Declaration; Ben Halpern was a professor of Near Eastern studies at Brandeis University, retiring in 1981 and a member of the Jewish Agency Executive from 1968 to 1972. His numerous publications, many of which were published in Jewish Frontier and Midstream magazines, deal chiefly with problems of Zionism, Israeli society, and the role of the Jews in U.S. society. Halpern’s publications include The Idea of the Jewish State(1969) and a Clash of Heroes: Brandeis, Weizmann, and American Zionism (1987).

19. pg. 422, Paris 1919, Six Months That Changed the World, Margaret McMillan.

20. pg. 92, Louis D. Brandeis, A Biographical Sketch, Jacob DeHaas; see also, pg. 1276, Documents on British Foreign Policy, First Series, Volume 4, 1919. Edited by E.L. Woodward.

Appendix, Additional, Supplementary Content: