Commentary Magazine


Some Notes on Jewish Affairs

Nazi, Foreign

Editorial opinion on the Eichmann case was generally understanding but mildly disapproving of the way the Israelis captured him and of their intention to try him in Israel. The Washington Post and a number of Southern newspapers were severe about the means the Israelis used to get him. The New York Times and New York Post kept urging the Israeli government to hand him over for trial to an international tribunal (Times) or to Germany (Post), though these are the most popular newspapers among American Jews and though for both, especially the Post, that popularity is very important.

(Erich Fromm had an appalling, reckless letter in the Times, comparing the Israelis with Nazis [“Israel has failed to conquer the Nazi spirit”], with Trujillo, and with Stalin. Yet Fromm is an expert on psychic disorders, and a Jew, and from Germany.)

How most Jews felt was pretty clear. The Yiddish and English-language Jewish newspapers, reports of sermons, conversations with friends, introspection—in general these showed enthusiasm and a readiness to support Israel. Even some strong anti-Zionists felt, almost for the first time, that Israel is good for the Jews. On the other hand, Nahum Goldmann, publicly, and other leaders of Jewish organizations, privately, tried to persuade Israel either to include non-Israelis among the judges who will try Eichmann or to transfer him to an international jurisdiction. Their argument was twofold: (1) as an old maxim has it, justice must not only be done, it must manifestly be seen to be done; an Israeli court, though it would be as fair and judicious as the court of any other country, would be open to the suspicion of bias, and (2) it is necessary to avoid creating or strengthening the impression that there was a private fight between Jews and Nazis and to emphasize what we have emphasized from the beginning, that Nazism was a crime against all humanity.

It is my impression that most Jews do not really much care what court will try Eichmann, though they would prefer an Israeli court. The exemplary and cautionary power of Eichmann’s fate lies in who caught him and how they caught him more than in who will try him. But it is also my impression that there is a certain impatience with the public-relations stress on humanity rather than on Jews. Eichmann’s job was to kill Jews specifically, not human beings generally.

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Nazi, Domestic

George Lincoln Rockwell, commander of the American Nazi party and so much an admirer of Eichmann that he sent his followers to picket the White House when Israel announced the capture, has published sheets saying things like these:

  1. “. . . the ONLY cure for ‘Jewitis’ is old Doctor Adolf’s GAS CURE!!”
  2. “. . . we will spread over the U. S., until we have FOUGHT OUR WAY INTO THE WHITE HOUSE in the elections of 1972—and then, and only then can we exterminate the swarms of Jewish traitors in our gas-chambers.” (The elections and the 1972 are cunning; they eliminate the “clear and present danger.”)

Rockwell has asked the American Civil Liberties Union to appeal Mayor Wagner’s refusal to allow him to speak in New York City. (The Times and the Post criticized Wagner for it.) Since the appeal in one form or another may still be in the courts when this issue appears, I shall not comment on the New York City matter. But a Washington case earlier this year, in which one of Rockwell’s lieutenants figured, is no longer sub judice. The lieutenant was distributing Rockwell literature, a Jew attempted to snatch it away from him, he tried to retrieve it, the two scuffled, and they were arrested. Rockwell appealed to ACLU, and it sent two Jewish lawyers to defend his man. Later the charges were dropped. One thing puzzles me: what moral or professional obligation led Jewish lawyers to volunteer?

Everybody appeals to the law, when it suits him. The Southern newspapers call the way Israel caught Eichmann illegal, they are against the illegality of the Negro sit-ins, but they are for school segregation, though a unanimous Supreme Court has ruled against it. Americans for Democratic Action in Greenwich Village, protesting Mayor Wagner’s refusal to grant a permit to Rockwell, were indignant about the unlawful behavior of Rockwell’s opponents, who included survivors of Auschwitz and Belsen. They likened them to the Little Rock mobs. (Does that imply that Rockwell is like the Negro students?) The same people—certified liberals, not a few of whom are Jews—approve of the sit-ins, and most of them would probably continue to approve even if the sit-ins were to lose some of their nonviolent character.

ACLU has explained its action in the Washington matter by saying that it stands on the Supreme Court’s 1949 Terminiello decision. That is disingenuous. In 1949 the legal experts carefully explained to laymen like me that the ruling in that case, which reversed a Chicago court that had fined a henchman bf Gerald Smith for breach of the peace, was rather technical. What is more, the division was by a bare 5 to 4. There was a scorching dissent by the late Justice Jackson, who as a prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials had come to know what Nazism was, insisting that the constitutional protection of free speech did not extend to the kind of language Terminiello used. Rockwell’s language makes Terminiello’s look mild. In any event, civil libertarians have been known to prefer dissenting opinions even when the minority was smaller than four and when the majority ruling was substantive rather than technical. There is room for doubt whether the Terminiello decision applies to the Washington case.

I have heard this argument advanced: we know what Rockwell has written and said in the past, but not what he will say in the future. Wait until he says something illegal and then arrest him, but do not violate his civil liberties by preventing him from speaking. Justice Holmes said that freedom of speech does not embrace the right to cry fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire, but that does not mean that if you fear a man will cry fire you may keep him from entering a theater. Yet would not a fire marshal be justified in applying for an injunction to bar from the theaters a man with a long record of crying fire, or actually setting fires?

Another interpretation has been offered by an eminent lawyer (who also happens to be a Jew). Rockwell, says this lawyer, is not actually advocating murder—he is peacefully appealing for help to add to the Constitution of the United States an amendment authorizing or requiring the government to send Jews to the gas chambers. No one has the legal or moral right to prevent him from working for such an amendment.

Justice Jackson ended his Terminiello dissent with a warning that doctrinaire logic might convert the Bill of Rights into a suicide pact. He had learned about the Nazis; he quoted Goebbels on the use the Nazis made of civil liberties and civil libertarians while not even feigning respect for them. Rockwell is a close student of the German Nazis, and his appeal to ACLU is something he learned from his masters, just as his forecast of twelve years to power is taken from Hitler’s career. What I find hard to understand is how a Jew can discuss these matters as though we were in 1920, with crematories in the unimagined future. Jackson warned civil libertarians against suicide, and the warning is all the more appropriate for Jewish civil libertarians.

Neither reason nor justice keeps us from judging future probability by past performance, or from acting on the knowledge that an appeal for murder is an appeal for murder, not for a change in the Constitution. It will not happen here, almost certainly; but the possibility of its happening is increased if the only impulse a Rockwell arouses in us is to defend his dubious rights and help him emulate Hitler and Goebbels.

For myself, I am disturbed by the unreal, detached—or hostile?—stance of so many Jewish liberals in the Eichmann and especially the Rockwell matters. Is it a simple failure of the imagination that is responsible? Is it repression, or distortion, or diversion of affect? Probably something more complex and obscure; and troubling.

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UJA and Jewish Agency

The Luce magazines have more than once said mat the United Jewish Appeal is “the No. 1 phenomenon of U. S. philanthropy.” A few years ago the Department of Commerce reported that cash remittances abroad by Jewish organizations (mostly UJA) came to $95 million that year, against a Protestant total of $73 million and a Catholic total of $11 million.

The two constituent agencies and the major beneficiaries of UJA are the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the United Israel Appeal (UIA), which divide the lion’s share of UJA receipts according to a formula that has for a long time now given UIA rather more than JDC. The ultimate recipient of UIA funds, in turn, has been the Jewish Agency for Israel.

It is not only through the UIA-Jewish Agency channel that American Jewish philanthropic money goes to Israel, but also through JDC itself, Hadassah, the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, and other organizations. Three things, however, distinguished the UIA-Jewish Agency system: (1) American contributors played no part in making policy, in supervision, or in actual operation; (2) consequently UIA, unlike other Jewish overseas agencies, did not belong to the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid; and (3) while most of the Jewish Agency’s income from UIA was used to settle immigrants in Israel, a small part went for purposes either not philanthropic at all or not clearly philanthropic—the so-called constructive enterprises of some Israeli political parties, cultural work, and Zionist organization and propaganda. (Under another aspect the Agency is the World Zionist Organization.) The great mass of American contributors were not bothered by the absence of an American share in policy, supervision, and execution. On the contrary, if they knew about this at all they probably regarded it as a positive advantage. They want to give, and they also want Israel to use their money as she wishes.

Nevertheless, some Jewish organizations—including the federations, through the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds—tried for a long time to effect a change. When a change did come, it was mostly because of Internal Revenue Service pressure and was just large enough to satisfy the Service (but not the federations, really). In the future, American contributors will be more actively represented in the planning and conduct of the Jewish Agency’s philanthropic activities. The constructive enterprises of the political parties will no longer receive subsidies—instead they will raise funds independently in the United States, to avoid which UJA agreed to the subsidies in the first place—and UJA money will not be used for cultural work and Zionist organization and propaganda.

Some of the cultural work has been of a high order, but it is a valid argument that culture should be supported on its own, and not in the back-door fashion of the past. A contributor to a hospital may agree that music is important, but when he gives to the hospital he does not expect the philharmonic society to benefit.

In this country the American Zionist Council will assume the responsibility for certain cultural activities formerly supported, indirectly, by UJA—for example, the Theodor Herzl Institute, which has done some good things. Some people have interpreted the UIA-Jewish Agency changes as inflicting further damage on Zionism. Actually, the changes may help to arrest the progressive decline of American Zionism, though that was not the intent. For putting life into an organization there is nothing like making it raise its own funds. The American Zionist movement now has, at last, a tangible cause around which to organize the energy and devotion of Zionists.

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American Jewish Congress

Those who think they know what the American Jewish Congress is would agree with what Professor Robert M. MacIver once wrote: “Congress was originally established by a group mat . . . was Zionist and ‘nationalist.’ . . . Congress is anti-assimilationist, in the sense that it insists on the maintenance of the ‘group-personality’ of the Jewish people.” That is so, but not altogether so. For some years the American Jewish Congress has been debating whether it is a Jewish organization with a civil-rights program or a civil-rights organization whose members are Jews. Its biennial meeting in May was inconclusive.

The debate came out into the open in 1958. Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who was about to be elected president, argued that if the Congress was serious about its “survival of the Jewish people” plank, it would support Jewish day schools. Justine Wise Polier—daughter of the late Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, a prominent member of the American Jewish Congress leadership, and wife of the director of the Congress’s Commission on Law and Social Action—objected to day schools as inimical to the public-school system and leading to an undesirable Jewish self-isolation. That has been symbolic of the division ever since, and in the early months of this year it seemed that a split was in the making. The executive director, a Prinz supporter, resigned after a fight with Mr. Polier. Mrs. Polier circulated a statement that she would resign from the executive committee if Dr. Prinz were re-elected. Several declining affiliated organizations sided with Prinz.

At the convention peace was declared. Dr. Prinz was re-elected unanimously, Mrs. Polier remained in the leadership, and there was a ringing affirmation of the civil-rights and the Jewish programs of the American Jewish Congress. (Dr. Prinz took part in picketing a Woolworth store in New York to protest Woolworth’s Southern lunch-counter segregation, but Mrs. Polier did not join the board of a day school.) A Commission on Jewish Living was created—or re-created, since one was established years ago and still publishes the quarterly Judaism. Financially the Commission on Law and Social Action, which is the civil-rights department, will continue to be heavily favored.

Most members of the Congress probably do not know of the conflict and would be perplexed if they knew. They are good members of the Jewish community, and they are for Jewish survival and for civil rights, for Dr. Prinz and for Mrs. Polier. But in and near the large cities I think there is also a good-sized element that would support Mrs. Polier. They have strong proud-to-be-a-Jew feelings, but the feelings are without content and in fact are more attached to civil-rights rhetoric than to Jewish religion, education, or culture—rhetoric, because in the lives they lead they are not different from the rest of the Jewish middle class.

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