The Blaustein–Ben-Gurion Agreement: A Milestone in Israel-Diaspora Relations Part 6

Posted on May 10, 2018 by

Written by Mark K. Bauman. Originally published in Generations 2007-2008: Maryland and Israel. To order a print copy of the magazine, see details here.

Sidebar: The Remarkable Life and Career of Jacob Blaustein, Part II

Missed the beginning? Start here.

American Jewish Committee, Baltimore Chapter, poster advertising a Public Meeting featuring Jacob Blaustein, c. 1950. JMM 1994.45.5

Blaustein became deeply involved with the creation of the United Nations and virtually every endeavor to bring that organization to the forefront of human rights advocacy. In 1945 he and fellow AJComm leader Joseph Proskauer obtained White House authority to consult the American delegation to the 1945 San Francisco conference which established the U.N. In this capacity the two successfully pressed for the incorporation of a declaration of human rights in the U.N. charter.[1]

In 1955 President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Blaustein to the U.S. delegation to the U.N., where he successfully fought the Soviet Union’s attempt to force refugees who had fled Iron Curtain countries to return. As co-chair of the Consultative Council of Jewish Organizations (CCJO), which enjoyed consultative status to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, Blaustein became actively involved in projects concerning the U.N. Conventions on Genocide and the Declaration of Human Rights. Always the pragmatist, Blaustein expressed concern for the implementation of the Declaration. In the early 1960s he proposed the creation of the position of High Commissioner for Human Rights. Placed on the General Assembly’s agenda, it failed to be approved in the face of Soviet and Third World opposition until finally being created in 1993.[2]

In 1945 Blaustein toured displaced persons’ camps in Europe at the invitation of the commanding general of the European Theater, Joseph T. McNarney, and conferred with the general and his staff. He brought this direct knowledge to his position as senior vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material War Claims. Through his work with the conference, Blaustein helped obtain billions of dollars in restitution for victims of Nazin persecution, money earmarked toward rebuilding forty Jewish communities in Europe.[3]

Blaustein couched his numerous activities to oppose antisemitism and aid Holocaust survivors in human rights terms, an approach in line with the AJComm’s universalist modus operandi. He headed an AJComm delegation to the Paris Peace Conference of 1946 that lobbied to strengthen human rights clauses in treaties with Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, and Rumania. In cooperation with other Jewish organizations, the objective was to insure Jews in those countries equal rights.[4]

Five presidents – from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Lyndon B. Johnson – called on Blaustein for service related to his business expertise and humanitarian efforts. Although a Democrat (a party affiliation unusual for wealthy Jews of the era), his expertise, contacts, patience, and hard work (sixteen hours per day) made him an ideal diplomat, indispensable event for Republican presidents.[5] Although Blaustein gained influence as the representative of the AJComm, his personal stature enabled him to go far beyond this role – while also enhancing the influence of the organization. As he moved from the head of the executive board, to the presidency, and then to emeritus status, his zeal and the nature of his activities formed a seamless whole. His leadership positions with so many other organizations flowed naturally from his activities in behalf of the AJComm. Jacob Blaustein rightly belongs in the highest pantheon of Baltimore, American, and international Jewry.

~END~

[1] Both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Truman authorized Blaustein’s diplomatic efforts with the United Nations. For Blaustein’s and Proskauer’s activities at the San Francisco Conference with an emphasis on Proskauer’s role see Hacker and Hirsch, Proskauer, 134-140. This volume (138) cites Jerold S. Auerbach, “Human Rights in San Francisco,” American Jewish Archives (April 1964) for its summary of weaknesses in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

[2] Blaustein presented his ideas for a U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights in his December 1963 Dag Hammerskjold Lecture at Columbia University. Blaustein was a strong supporter and close friend of the U. N. Secretary General. Morris D. Abram to Blaustein, 29 June 1965, AJA, SC1066. See also Cohen, Not Free to Desist, 269-275; Jacob Blaustein, “Testimony of the American Jewish Committee in favor of the Ratification of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide before the Subcommittee of the Genocide Convention of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” 23 January 1950, AJComm Archives.

Blaustein’s U.N. and human rights activities often brought him into conflict with Soviet officials and policies. He was also highly aware of anti-Semitic charges of Jewish support for communism during the Cold War. Thus, as president of the AJComm, Blaustein declined when the Rosenberg Committee asked him to support clemency for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He, along with the leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, believed that the issue of antisemitism should not be raised in their defense. Yet Blaustein wondered whether Irving R. Kaufman, the trial judge, might have been particularly harsh in giving the death penalty in an effort to show that Jews like himself could be dispassionate and anticommunist. See Stuart Svonkin, Jews Against Prejudice: American Jews and the Fight for Civil Liberties (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 156-60, 282-83, n. 109. Svonkin (159, 285-86, n. 131) describes the position of mainstream Jewish defense organizations as part of their move toward “liberal anticommunism” that incorporated opposition to discrimination, advocacy in behalf of civil liberties, and support for the Korean War. He discusses the contradictions and problems of what became an anticommunist crusade by Jewish organizations dedicated to civil liberties (161-163), Blaustein’s and the AJComm’s position against American communists may have also been influenced by their protests against Soviet antisemitism. See Cohen, Not Free to Desist, 354-356, 493-494, 504-505.

For an example of Blaustein’s and the AJComm’s support for the U.N. and intervention in Korea, and opposition to the Soviet Union, see AJComm press release, “Jacob Blaustein urges American Jewish Committee members in 500 cities to encourage confidence in the United Nations,” 20 August 1950, AJComm Archives.

[3] Blaustein also served on the executive committee of the Committee for Jewish Claims for Austria which obtained $21 million in negotiation with the Austrian government to assist Austrian refugees. See Bio Sketch; Cohen, Not Free to Desist, 275-281, 285-292.

[4] Cohen, Not Free to Desist, 272. Cohen also points out Blaustein’s role in inducing the Shah of Iran to delay the expulsion of Jews from that country in 1949 (326). For the expansion of Blaustein’s efforts into South America see Cohen, Not Free to Desist, 364, 542.

[5] See Bio Sketch; Slawson, “Jacob Blaustein;” Frank Henry, “Life and Times of Jacob Blaustein;” Some Biographical Data: Jacob Blaustein,” nine-page typescript, 16 May 1987 (copy), “Jacob Blaustein” Vertical File, JMM.

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