The Balance Sheet In the summer of 1945, history was closing old chapters with explosive finality and opening new ones…
The Balance Sheet
In the summer of 1945, history was closing old chapters with explosive finality and opening new ones with a flourish.
Benito Mussolini was lynched, Adolf Hitler disappeared, Hirohito gave up: the greatest war in history came to an end.
The most solemn effort to build a lasting peace began:
The form of an international organization was put on paper.
For the first time, in a major and highly industrialized nation, socialists won a clear majority and took full power peacefully.
The simple Einsteinian concept—energy equals the mass times the square of the velocity of light—emerged from formula to the most revolutionary physical fact of all time.
But the road to the new world was deeply rutted: The international organization masked a big power alliance. The socialists with the majority were a minority in their Empire. And the potentialities, both for construction and destruction, of e=mc2 made the terms in which current issues were discussed unreal; they even outmoded Utopias.
Below the global level, most of the problems men faced before the summer of great events, remained. The workers who helped to free the atom’s energy had been segregated on the basis of the color of their skins. The common man, standing on the threshold of his century, was in some places quite sure of a job and in others pretty sure of his freedom; nowhere was he really sure of both. Where the common man was a Jew he was likely to be especially unsure.
The Curtain Lifts
What was left of the Jews in Europe?
It could be put arithmetically. In 1939 there had been six million Jews outside the Soviet Union. By the summer of 1945, 4,750,000 of them were dead.
By examining the condition of the 1,250,000 survivors, it was possible to give human content to the arithmetic.
There were survivors in the Mauthausen camp in Austria, where Nazi scientists used inmates as guinea pigs in poison-gas experiments. Mauthausen’s survivors were so crated by fear, they were afraid of freedom and wanted to remain in the familiar terror of the camp.
There were also survivors in Dachau. Some of them were children of fifteen who had spent one-third of their lives in Dachau. They had tuberculosis in their lungs; it was not readily apparent what they had in their minds and hearts.
The war at its most furious had swept back and forth over that area of the world containing the largest concentration of Jews. It was the largest concentration because the Czars had once designated most of it as a restricted place of settlement for the Jews. This fact had made it more convenient to kill the Jews; it was not why they killed. They were killed because they were Jews.
The survivors found themselves alive in a Europe in which no nation would officially support barbaric anti-Semitic persecution. This fact restored faith in the possibility of a civilized existence. But it was also a Europe in which the unofficial and devious type of anti-Semitism was no less—some thought it worse—than it had ever been.
The Europe in which the survivors found themselves had been divided between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies, and between the two sections there was very little communication. The face of the Continent was boiling with people on the move—soldiers, ex-soldiers, widows, sick children, wild children. Not all of them were victims of the war. Millions were victims of the peace. For, to the millions who had been uprooted by the Nazis, were added millions of Germans uprooted by the Poles, Russians and Czechs. Everywhere men were being forced to go where they didn’t want to go or prevented from going where they did want to go. Everywhere men had good reason for searing hatreds. Everywhere men, women and children were starving.
In Europe’s places of power, laws and decrees were being abrogated and promulgated to ensure legal justice to the surviving Jews. It was comparatively painless to restore a Jew’s citizenship and civil rights. It was not easy to return his property. Some non-Jews had acquired stolen Jewish property without knowing it. Others who were holding Jewish property in trust were reluctant to make a major economic readjustment. In the midst of the economic chaos and easily aroused anti-Semitism of postwar Europe, property restitution to the Jews was a highly inflammatory procedure.
Those responsible for administering immediate relief from starvation and disease had anticipated the difficulties that would be presented by Europe’s physical chaos. They had not foreseen the problems created by the boon of equality. The equality to which Europe’s Jews were restored included the right to be treated without discrimination by official relief agencies. As a result, though the Jews were usually the most destitute of the destitute, nothing special was done for them by these agencies. In Vienna, Austrian Jews who had suffered under the Nazis because they were Jews, were now suffering under the Russians because they were—without discrimination—Austrians. In Soviet-occupied Germany only Jews sent to concentration camps for political reasons were given the special rations set aside for “victims of fascism.”
Most of the 100,000 Jews found in the western zones of occupied Germany were displaced. Five months after the Nazi capitulation, these displaced Jews were still living behind the barbed wire of the same concentration camps in which they had been imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis. The problem was not easy. In camps containing both Jews and non-Jews of a particular nation, special relief measures just for the Jews would have aroused anti-Semitic feeling. Indeed, in some mixed Polish camps the question was not special measures for Jews; it was still getting equal treatment for Jews.
The policy of the military administration was to treat all Jews, regardless of origin, as displaced persons; but the policy was widely disregarded in the actual administration of the camps. UNRRA, over the objections of the Soviet Union, Poland, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, decided to continue to help displaced persons in Germany who did not want to return to their former homes. Emigration was discouraged by all officials—especially British. But all observers agreed that most displaced Jews were quite clear on where they wanted to go: practically anywhere outside Europe.
To supplement the military and UNRRA, the Joint Distribution Committee sent supplies, relief workers and money into all corners of Europe. The European director of JDC was allowed to enter Poland. In Western Germany, six JDC teams, each consisting of 34 specialists, tried to meet the worst problems ever thrust at a social worker.
How many Jews in a particular locality survived was more than a statistical question. Virtually every Jew in Europe had been displaced. The number of Jews actually found in some city did not necessarily bear any relation to the number of Jews originally from that city who were still alive. Of the one-quarter of Europe’s Jews who survived, a higher proportion were residents of Western Europe. But until every Jew was returned home and all non-repatriables were accounted for, the fate of specific Jewish communities could not be determined.
That all European Jews who wanted to leave should be able to obtain exit visas and transportation to Palestine was a measure on which practically all Jewish groups in the world—Zionist, non-Zionist and anti-Zionist—were agreed. But unanimity on this immediate humanitarian move emphasized the dilemma of the European Jew. Should all hope of any type of communal Jewish life in Europe—political, religious or cultural—be abandoned? Should every Jew in Europe leave or lose himself completely in his surroundings? Or were there still possibilities of rebuilding the Jewish communities of Europe? These were perhaps questions that events outside Jewish control would answer. In any case they were the central questions facing the Jews. (See “The Spiritual Reconstruction of European Jewry” by Salo Baron, page 6.)
The Soviet Sphere
The Soviet Union now controlled the fate of most of Europe’s Jews. Within its own borders there were two and one-half to three million Jews, including refugees. In addition, about 750,000 Jews lived in the nations within the Soviet sphere of influence—Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet-occupied sections of Germany and Austria.
During the summer of 1945, the attitude of the Kremlin could only be judged from fragments. Within the Soviet Union, Zionism was still outlawed. Apparently there was to be no change in this policy since it was promptly applied in Carpatho-Ukraine, the section of Czechoslovakia acquired by the Soviet Union. No emigration permits were available anywhere in Russia. In July the Moscow radio provoked a controversy about the “mistreatment” of some Soviet nationals in Palestine.
On the other hand, the Communist parties in Britain and the U. S., Jewish Communist delegates from Soviet-dominated nations attending a conference of the World Jewish Congress, and Jewish Communist peripheral organizations supported the building of a “homeland”—though not a “state”—in Palestine. And the Central Committee of the Soviet Trade Unions in Moscow sent a message to Histadruth (Palestine Labor Federation) on July 12. The message was only a polite declination of Histadruth’s invitation to send a delegation to Palestine, but it was the first time the Soviet unions had made direct contact with Jewish Palestine and therefore a sign of the times.
The most tantalizing fragment was a press dispatch from Tel Aviv reporting a speech by M. Kleinbaum, leader of the Polish Jews in Palestine, in which he revealed that Dr. Emil Sommerstein, leader of the Polish Jews in Poland, had asked Joseph Stalin during a reception in the Kremlin whether he would be interested in an international solution of the Jewish problem and Stalin had replied, “Certainly and seriously!” and given him permission to make this reply public. At least three international organizations would be available to Stalin: the World Zionist Organization, the United Nations Organization and a reconstituted Comintern.
Outside the Soviet Union, but within the Soviet power sphere, the fragments made a definite pattern. For nearly all Jews in Central and Eastern Europe the perspective on paper was: restoration of civil rights, elimination of their status as political minorities, assimilation into the nation, or—with reluctant approval—emigration to Palestine.
Premier Kimon Gheorghieff, in a formal statement on July 5, said: “In principle we have nothing against the aspirations of the Jewish people to ensure themselves a free national home. . . . We do have certain reservations regarding the emigration of Jews who are Bulgarian citizens, such as the young and able-bodied. These reservations are imposed by considerations of general state policy.”
Alone among the countries of Europe, Rumania provided citizenship for stateless persons. By a decree issued August 8, persons who had not declared themselves of any nationality since 1930 and whose documents showed that they were stateless were automatically to be considered Rumanians.
The decree contained other far-reaching provisions: It imposed penalties for enquiring into the ethnic origin of any citizen and for incitement to racial hatred. It forbade use of the term “ethnic origin” in public documents, and guaranteed the right to profess freely creed and mother tongue.
In spite of this boon, the Rumanian Jewish community was going through a bitter struggle between the old Union of Rumanian Jews, led by Dr. William Filderman, and the new Jewish Democratic Committee, a group formed to support the aims of the Soviet-dominated cabinet and to protect the Jews from “diversionist” efforts. The first meeting of the Jewish Democratic Committee was attended by representatives of the Jewish Labor Party, the Hashomer Hatzair, and the Jewish Communist Party. The Jewish Social Democratic Party was not represented.
After the victory of the British Labor Party, Titel Petrescu, president of the Rumanian Social Democratic Party, appealed to the new British government to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. “At the same time,” he added, “we recognize the right of the Jews remaining in Rumania to choose their nationality and consider themselves a national minority.”
Because the Nazis did not reach Hungary until March 1944, the process of extermination was incomplete. Budapest, with 120,000 Jews, was probably the largest Jewish city in Europe.
Czechoslovakia, a nation concocted of the minorities in the heart of Europe, was through with minorities. It did not want its Germans; it wanted its Magyars to go to Hungary and be Hungarians. Russia had already taken the Ruthenes; Slovakia had become virtually independent from Bohemia-Moravia. And the Jews were invited to go to Palestine or become Czechoslovaks.
President Eduard Benes, in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on August 10, said:
I have always been a friend of Zionism. The establishment of a Jewish Home in Palestine is a necessity for all nations because anti-Semitism is a regrettable but practically inevitable social phenomenon. It will not vanish till the creation of a Jewish country granting citizenship to all Jewry. It would be difficult to repatriate all Jews there, but it could be done soon at least for the European Jews. Those who do not leave for Palestine ought to be assimilated completely to the people of the country they want to live in, or live there as citizens of a foreign state.
The members of minorities, Dr. Benes explained in a subsequent interview, should be treated as they are in the United States.
Meantime, the anti-Semites in Czechoslovakia found the confusion of nationalities to their liking. In Prague, German Jewish refugees were denounced as Germans. In Kosice, anti-Hungarian demonstrations were combined with anti-Semitic demonstrations. Slovakia was perhaps the worst spot in Europe for the Jews, outside of Poland. Practically nothing had been done toward the restoration of property. Returning Jews were completely destitute in a hostile atmosphere. Early in August, five Jews were killed in what appeared to be a pogrom in Presov.
Dr. Benes frankly recognized and suggested the reason for anti-Semitism in Slovakia. “The chief reason for it,” he said on Sept. 3, “is that over a long period Jews have been identified with the Hungarian and German exploiting classes and have not assimilated with the Slovak population.”
The Vice Minister of Finance promised a representative of the Joint Distribution Committee on August 26 that persons who failed to return stolen Jewish property would be prosecuted. The JDC estimated that there were only 8,500 of Greece’s prewar 85,000 Jews left to receive their property. The government announced that property left by murdered Jews for which no heirs were found would go into a special fund for the relief of the Greek Jewish community.
By midsummer of 1945, almost 150 Jews had been massacred in Nazirein Poland. Jews who had survived the Oswiecim and Dachau concentration camps and returned to their homes in Lodz preferred to go back again to Germany and live in American military camps.
The newly recognized Polish government blamed the widespread anti-Semitic violence on supporters of the discarded Polish government-in-exile. But some observers felt that the Warsaw authorities were capable of more vigorous action. They pointed out that only in this respect had the Warsaw regime failed to maintain order and that this failure, if not due to an inability to control the country, must be due to lack of enthusiasm for corrective measures.
Since simple survival was still the most urgent problem in Poland, the restitution of less elementary rights was secondary. Little had been done toward restoring property.
Apparently Zionism was being allowed a free hand. Dr. Emil Sommerstein, president of the Central Provisional Committee of Polish Jews, was permitted to attend the World Zionist Conference in London. He and the other delegates participated actively. Before returning to Poland they issued a manifesto calling for Zionist unity in behalf of a Jewish state, and recognizing Histadruth as the sole Zionist labor organization in Palestine.
From the standpoint of physical survival, the Jews of Germany seemed to have fared better than those in any of the Nazi-occupied countries. An official report of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, made public on July 23, estimated that two-thirds of the 650,000 full Jews in pre-Hitler Germany escaped extermination. From Hitler’s accession to power in 1933 until 1941, German Jews poured out of the Reich into the United States, Palestine, Latin America, the British Dominions and Western Europe. When Jewish emigration was halted in 1941, between 150,000 and 200,000 Jews were trapped in Germany. About ten per cent of them survived.
By a compounding of irony, Germany’s part-Jews did worse than the full Jews. Too many part-Jews delayed escape until it was too late. The report estimated that only half of them survived.
For the Jews who wanted to live in the geographical area once known as Germany, the conquering powers provided verbal guarantees. They decreed at Potsdam that: “All Nazi laws which provided the basis of the Hitler regime or established discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, or political opinion shall be abolished.” The judicial system, they decided, “will be reorganized in accordance with the principles of democracy, of justice under law, and of equal rights for all citizens without distinction of race, nationality or religion.”
Vienna, with starvation particularly acute and its area cut into four parts administered separately by the four major “Allies,” was a center of confusion. Immediately after the Red Army’s entry into the city, many Jews, with the assistance of minor officials, had been able to reclaim their old apartments and places of business. But soon a central bureau was established to handle such matters and this authority refused to legalize the transfers, leaving the new-old owners uncertain. The problem was further complicated by the establishment of a class of Nazis—those who joined after 1938 and never held high position—who were being allowed to retain their positions and dwellings.
Jews reclaiming their apartments in Paris during May and June had to have police protection. France’s few but apparently well-financed native anti-Semitic groups, aided by the anti-Semitic heritage of the Nazis, became a dangerous factor when their activities were linked with the legitimate grievances of returning prisoners of war.
Though the Jews, not having a state, did not have a separate seat at the United Nations Conference on International Organization and though the Conference, called only to set up machinery for an international organization, could not discuss Palestine policy, organized Jewry in all its manifestations was present and extremely active in San Francisco.
An effort to evolve a unified program for American Jewish organizations had been unsuccessful. But two major demands were common to all programs: 1) the promulgation of an international bill of rights, 2) nothing should be done to impair existing Jewish rights in Palestine under the Mandate. Both points were won.
The Jewish Agency for Palestine, supported by the American Jewish Conference, the World Jewish Congress and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, asked for prompt establishment of Palestine as a free Jewish commonwealth, a matter which UNCIO could not consider.
The fight for formal international recognition and protection of human rights was a particular project of the American Jewish Committee. It had phrased its suggestion as follows:
To comply with the Dumbarton Oaks proposals to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, a permanent commission should be set up at the earliest possible time by the United Nations conference to formulate an International Bill of Rights embodying the principles of human rights, fundamental freedoms, religious liberty and racial equality, and a course of procedure for the implementation and enforcement of the Bill.
The substance of this demand got into the United Nations charter only through the alert action of Judge Joseph M. Proskauer, President of the American Jewish Committee and its consultant at UNCIO. The U. S. consultants were informed on the morning of May 2 that they would probably have to be satisfied with the brief Dumbarton Oaks reference to human rights. The consultants were scheduled to see Secretary Stettinius the same afternoon. With the aid of other consultants, Judge Proskauer drew up a petition which he and others presented to the head of the American delegation with such eloquence that Stettinius promised immediate action.
The completed charter contained many references to human rights—in the preamble, the chapters on purposes and the assembly. The chapter on the Economic and Social Council provided that the Council “shall” set up a commission “for the promotion of human rights.” The commission is not specifically enjoined to formulate an International Bill of Rights nor does it have any enforcement powers, but Stettinius later stated that the commission “should promptly undertake” to prepare such a bill “which can be accepted by all the member nations as an integral part of their own systems of law.” And President Truman, speaking before the final plenary session of UNCIO, said “we have good reason to expect the framing” of such a bill.
Some regarded the incorporation of provisions for human rights in the United Nations Charter as a turning point in history; others regarded it as pious obfuscation.
Whatever became of these provisions, they were something new and positive for a world conference. In the matter of the Palestine Mandate, the Jews at UNCIO were barely able to hold their own against the five Arab states which hoped their newly-organized Arab League would eventually achieve status as a regional agency similar to that given the Inter-American system. Such recognition would have meant liquidation of the Jewish position in the Middle East. Yet this challenge had to be met without weakening the trusteeship system which was intended to be the instrument for the liberation of dependent peoples. It was met by adding the phrase “or any peoples” to an article protecting the existing rights “of any state” under the proposed trusteeship system.
For two weeks at the beginning of August, the first World Zionist Conference since the outbreak of war met in London. Among the 85 delegates were Jews from liberated Europe whose stories aroused the Conference to heights of passionate determination. Delegates lashed out against a world that smiled at them but denied them their heart’s desire.
But the deeper the passionate determination, the deeper seemed to be the realization that Zionism was still helplessly trapped in the whirlpool of world politics—in spite of British Labor’s overwhelming victory. The Labor landslide put the Palestine Mandate in the hands of the most friendly of all possible governments. Yet Clement Attlee’s Labor cabinet was also trapped—though not helplessly—in the compulsions of Empire. The Labor Party’s devotion-by-resolution to the Jewish homeland, Zionists realized, would always be secondary to the Labor government’s inherited imperial commitments.
Like all persons caught in major frustrations, the Zionists denounced each other with unwonted vigor. The fault was not so much the world situation, the militants held, as it was the timidity of Zionist leaders. The World Zionist Executive and Dr. Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization, were denounced for their patience with Britain. Most outspoken of the militants was David Ben-Gurion, chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, who urged passive and active resistance to the White Paper. Britain, he said, would be able to maintain the White Paper’s restrictions “only through a regime of bloody terror.”
All varieties of Zionists asserted themselves. The religious Zionists who urged intensification of religious education were answered by .Labor Zionists who insisted that only Socialism would secure the Jewish Commonwealth. “Refugeeism” was denounced and defended. Intensive cultivation of friendship with the Arabs was urgently set forth as the answer.
In the end, all the conference could do was to reassert old demands. It endorsed the demand of the Jewish Agency for an immediate decision on the establishment of Palestine as a Jewish state.
“No solution, except constituting Palestine as an undivided and undiminished Jewish State in accordance with the original purpose of the Balfour Declaration, and no delay or half-measures, can meet the tragedy and the increased sufferings of the Jews,” the Conference declared. Europe’s surviving Jews “cannot remain in graveyards.” Their “only salvation lies in a speedy settlement in Palestine.”
The Conference approved a resolution of the Zionist Smaller Actions Committee which set forth certain guarantees in a Jewish state: full equality for all inhabitants regardless of race or religion, cooperation with the Arabs of Palestine for the maximum development of the country in the interests of all, and an alliance of friendship with Arabs of neighboring countries.
The Conference adjourned after adopting four immediate demands:
- The Jewish Agency for Palestine be vested with authority to bring into Palestine as many Jews as possible and to develop the resources of the country to the maximum.
- The granting of an international loan to the Jewish Agency for the transfer of the first 1,000,000 Jews from Europe to Palestine.
- Reparations in kind be exacted from Germany for Jews for the rebuilding of Palestine; all German real estate in Palestine to be used for the settlement of European Jews.
- International facilities for the exit and transport of all Jews in European countries who may wish to emigrate to Palestine.
The Mandatory Power
“We have commitments in Southeast Europe, in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East.” On September 3, Prime Minister Clement R. Attlee offered this as one reason why British demobilization would be very slow. It was also as close as the new government came to indicating its attitude on Zionism.
The Palestine Mandate incorporating the Balfour Declaration was one of Britain’s commitments in the Middle East. But—even for a Labor government—so were the short route to India and the British investment in Middle East oil. These commitments made it certain that no British government would overlook the phrases in the Balfour Declaration guaranteeing protection of Arab rights.
Prime Minister Attlee, under specific questioning in Commons on August 21, would make no statement on Palestine. His appointment of George Henry Hall as Colonial Secretary denoted nothing. Like most other Laborites, Mr. Hall was “pro-Zionist” and had voted against the 1939 White Paper. But that much could also have been said of Winston Churchill.
Meantime, British opinion, conservative and liberal, seemed to be swinging toward the partition of Palestine into independent Jewish and Arab states, a solution first proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937 and later abandoned by the British government as “impracticable.”
The liberal and influential Manchester Guardian, on the eve of the meeting of the World Zionist Conference urged partition. Two weeks later The Times of London declared for partition. The Spectator, a liberal weekly, did not commit itself to any specific solution, but opposed an undivided Jewish state. Sir John Chancellor, High Commissioner for Palestine during the riots of 1929, insisted in a letter to The Times that the Peel Commission’s partition plan was the only practical course.
Meantime, the Economist, an influential independent weekly, plumped for Dr. Judah L. Magnes’ bi-national state. The London Herald, spokesman of the Labor Party, was silent.
President Harry S. Truman, in a press conference on August 16, discussed Palestine briefly. In accordance with custom, the President’s remarks could not be quoted directly. COMMENTARY has received from Charles G. Ross, Secretary to the President, a summary of Truman’s remarks which constituted in effect an official version:
The President was asked whether anything about the Jewish National State was taken up at Potsdam, and he said that he had discussed the matter with Mr. Churchill and Mr. Attlee and that they were still discussing it. He said he did not discuss it with Generalissimo Stalin as there was nothing Stalin could do about it. In response to another question as to the American view on Palestine, the President said we want to let as many Jews into Palestine as possible. He said the matter would have to be worked out diplomatically with the British and the Arabs so that if a state can be set up it may be set up on a peaceful basis. He added that he had no desire to send 500,000 American soldiers there to make peace in Palestine. There was nothing further on this question at the press conference.
Truman’s view brought heated denunciation from Arab spokesmen. “The Arabs have the complete right to object to President Truman’s statement,” declared Abdul Rahman Azzam Bey, secretary general of the Arab League. “They will never give up their opposition to Jewish immigration to Palestine.” President Roosevelt, he claimed, had promised King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia that he would not support the Jews in Palestine.
The Jewish Agency, in an official statement, was circumspect:
Jews everywhere appreciate the recognition by the American government of the justice of the Jewish desire to bring to Palestine as many Jews as possible and reestablish a national state.
The Agency must point out that the Palestine issue primarily concerns the Jewish people, the Arabs of Palestine and the great powers. Arabs of states neighboring Palestine have no other status in Palestine than all other members of the United Nations.
The question of Palestine is one of the many international problems whose solution must be conceived in justice and equity, and carried out with determination. The notion that large military forces would specially be required in case of Palestine, has, in the conviction of the Jewish Agency, no relation to the realities of the situation.
To the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism, the President’s position was “the most realistic statement to have issued from the White House and the most damaging to Zionist objectives.” Other observers saw it as, in effect, a reaffirmation of the White Paper with advance notice to the Arabs that any objections they might have to Jewish immigration would receive U. S. support.
Arthur Koestler, author of Darkness at Noon and The Yogi and the Commissar, revisited Palestine during the summer and departed highly enthusiastic about the Kibbutzim, the agricultural collectives. But he found that life had “degenerated” in Palestine’s cities. “It has produced its slums and millionaires, its bureaucracy, café life and jazz.” Without the Kibbutz, he said, life in Palestine “would be a great lie.”
Leon Blum, former Socialist premier of France, cabled American Labor Zionists: “Today, as before, I stand four-square with the aims and aspirations of the Jewish labor movement in its struggle for the preservation of freedom and in opposition to all limitations upon the continuation of its noble work for the upbuilding of the Jewish National Home in Palestine based upon justice and cooperation with the working classes of the Arab people and in close collaboration with the international labor movement.”
Dr. Julian Morgenstern, President of Hebrew Union College, once a strong anti-Zionist, told an interviewer for the Jewish Post of Indianapolis that he was now a non-Zionist with “a sympathetic understanding and appreciation of Zionism.” However, he was critical of American Zionists. “I am intensely opposed to centering everything in American Jewish life on nationalism.”
The United States
In the face of the events in Europe, the life of the Jews of the United States seemed relatively undisturbed. But by virtue of these events, a new role was being pressed on the American Jewish community. It now was the largest, the freest and the most influential group of Jews in the world. Jews in Europe and Asia turned to American Jews for every type of material assistance and also—for the first time—for spiritual guidance.
The European catastrophe seemed to have the effect of drawing Jews in America more closely together. This evinced itself in the growth of religious and educational activities and the intensification of philanthropic work.
The major American philanthropic undertaking for Jews abroad—the United Jewish Appeal—was reconstituted in June after its two major constituent groups, the Joint Distribution Committee and the United Palestine Appeal, had disagreed on the allotment of funds and terminated their cooperation at the end of 1944. Under a new two-year agreement, fifty-seven per cent of the funds collected will be allotted to the JDC and forty-three per cent to the UPA, after the United Jewish Appeal’s third constituent organization, the National Refugee Service, received its fixed allotment.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
The Month in History
Must-Reads from Magazine
Banality and evil.
A week ago, I wondered what was going on in Sunspot, New Mexico. The FBI had swept into this mountain-top solar observatory, complete with Black Hawk helicopters, evacuated everyone, and closed the place down with no explanation whatever. Local police were politely told to butt out. It was like the first scene in a 1950’s Hollywood sci-fi movie, probably starring Walter Pidgeon.
Well, now we know, at least according to the New York Post.
If you’re hoping for little green men saying, “Take me to your leader,” you’re in for a disappointment. It seems the observatory head had discovered a laptop with child pornography on it that belonged to the janitor. The janitor then made veiled threats and in came the Black Hawks.
In sum, an all-too-earthly explanation with a little law-enforcement overkill thrown in.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
The demands of the politicized life.
John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, has been the subject of withering criticism of late, but I’m grateful to him. Yes, he shouldn’t have refused to write a recommendation for a student merely because the semester abroad program she was applying to was in Israel. But at least he exposed what the boycott movement is about, aspects of which I suspect some of its blither endorsers are unaware.
We are routinely told, as we were by the American Studies Association, that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When the American Studies Association boycott of Israel was announced, over two hundred college presidents or provosts properly and publicly rejected it. But even they might not have imagined that the boycott was more than a symbolic gesture. Thanks to Professor Cheney-Lippold, they now know that it involves actions that disserve their students. Yes, Cheney-Lippold now says he was mistaken when he wrote that “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel.” But he is hardly a lone wolf in hyper-politicized disciplines like American Studies, Asian-American Studies, and Women’s Studies, whose professional associations have taken stands in favor of boycotting Israel. Administrators looking at bids to expand such programs should take note of their admirably open opposition to the exchange of ideas.
Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights, freedom and to prevent violations of international law.” Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney- Lippold could have found out by Googling. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces (NIF) in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent resistance but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.
That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an International Day with the “new generation of Palestinians” then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis–all civilians–dead.
The boycott movement, in other words, can sign on to a solidarity movement that includes the targeting of civilians for death, but cannot sign letters of recommendation for their own undergraduates if those undergraduates seek to learn in Israel. That tells us all we need to know about the boycott movement. It was nice of Cheney-Lippold to tell us.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Convenience, wrote Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, is a tyrant. It makes our lives easier and more enjoyable, but everything comes with a price tag. We may not recognize that which we are sacrificing in the pursuit of convenience, but we are sacrificing nonetheless.
The instant gratification associated with on-demand society has made America’s shared cultural moments a thing of the past. The explosion of online shopping has eliminated the time consumers wasted traveling from store to store, but physical retail is dying as a result. The modern public square and the daily human interactions that it encouraged will disappear along with it. Machine learning has the power to introduce a “more compassionate social contract” and reduce physical risk associated with workplace hazards or lifestyle choices. But risk is just another word for freedom and, in the pursuit of convenience, we risk sacrificing our independence along with our hardships.
“We’re really reinventing the traditional insurance model with our vitality program,” said Marianne Harrison, the CEO of one of North America’s largest life insurers, John Hancock, in a recent appearance on CNBC. The beaming insurance executive boasted of her firm’s effort to marry a “technology-based wellness program” with an “insurance product.” That’s a loaded way of saying that this American insurer is soon going to charge based on the real-time monitoring of your daily activities. Behavior-based insurance will track the health data of policyholders through wearable devices or smartphones and distribute rewards based on individual choices. You don’t have to wear a tracking device to participate in this program—at least, not yet. Harrison assured skeptics that they could also dole out rewards to policyholders who take simple steps like reading preapproved literature, the consumption of which they presumably track.
This innovation is optional today, but the savings it yields for both consumer and insurer guarantee that it will soon become a standard feature of the insurance landscape. Your freedom to eat poorly, use tobacco products, drink alcohol, or perform any number of physical activities that include varying levels of risk are not limited. You’ll just have to pay for them. And if Democratic policymakers succeed in nationalizing the private health insurance industry under the auspices of Medicare-for-all or single-payer or whatever other euphemisms they apply to the public confiscation of private property, these “tools” will only become more pervasive.
A similar rationale—the primacy of collective health—can be applied to any number of activities that invite unnecessary risk that technology can mitigate. Foremost among these is the terribly dangerous American habit of driving a car.
In 2017, there were over 40,000 automobile-related fatalities. This was the second consecutive year in which the roads were that deadly and, if observers who attribute this rate of fatal traffic accidents to an increase in smartphone ownership are correct, there will not be a decline anytime soon. A 2015 study purported to show that replacing manual vehicles with autonomous cars or vehicles with advanced driver-assistance systems could eliminate up to 90 percent of all fatal accidents and save as many as 300,000 American lives each decade. It is perhaps only a matter of time before the option to own a driverless vehicle becomes a mandate with a hefty financial penalty imposed on those who opt out.
“[T]he threat to individual freedom that the driverless car is set to pose is at this stage hard to comprehend,” wrote National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke. Presently, the car transports its diver to wherever they’d like to go, whether there are roads to facilitate the journey or not. In a driverless world, as Cooke noted, the driver becomes a mere occupant. They must essentially ask the car for permission to transit from point A to point B, and the whole process is monitored and logged by some unseen authorities. Furthermore, that transit could ostensibly be subject to the veto of state or federal authorities with the push of a button. That seems a steep price to pay for a little convenience and the promise of safety.
The pursuit of convenience, as Professor Wu explained, has resulted in remarkable social leveling. We enjoy more time today for “self-cultivation,” once only the province of the wealthy and aristocratic, than at any point in history. And yet, we cannot know true liberty without hardship. “The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity,” Wu concluded.
There is more to celebrate in the technological revolutions of the last quarter-century than there is to lament. But in the pursuit of convenience, we’ve begun to make spontaneity irrational. In life, the rewards associated with experience are commensurate with that which is ventured. In a future in which the world’s sharp edges are bubble-wrapped, your life may exceed today’s average statistical length. But can you really call it living?
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Podcast: Christine Rosen on Brett Kavanaugh.
The podcast welcomes COMMENTARY contributor and author Christine Rosen on the program to discuss the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Have his confirmation hearings have transformed into another chapter in the national cultural reckoning that is the #MeToo moment?