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

Posted on May 10th, 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.


[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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The Blaustein–Ben-Gurion Agreement: A Milestone in Israel-Diaspora Relations Part 5

Posted on May 3rd, 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 I

Missed the beginning? Start here.

Jacob Blaustein’s father Louis emigrated from Lithuania to the United States in 1883. He peddled the countryside of eastern Pennsylvania and then settled with his wife Henrietta in Baltimore where he opened a grocery store. He next worked for a small oil jobber in Maryland who was thrown out of business in competition with Standard Oil of New Jersey. Nevertheless, he became interested in the oil business. Jacob, born in Baltimore in 1892, attended Lehigh University as an engineering student but withdrew in 1910 so that he could drive the streets of Baltimore from a “one-room office-warehouse in a converted stable” on a horse and buggy, selling kerosene for his father’s new business, the American Oil Company. With a mixture of innovation and aggressive marketing, father and son turned Amoco into one of the nation’s most successful oil companies.[1]

An Amoco oil delivery truck, 1954. JMM 1997.4.3

The Blausteins opened what is considered the country’s first drive-in service station and pioneered the “visible gas pump,” a pump topped with a glass bowl that was calibrated and thus allowed drivers to see the amount of gasoline they would receive. They also developed “Amoco-Gas,” which they marketed as the “original, special anti-knock motor fuel.” This mixture of benzol and gasoline, derived from experiments made by the Blausteins and a chemist, far exceeded other fuels in running modern automotive, high-compression motors. Transatlantic plane pilots starting with Charles Lindbergh purposely used Amoco as did automobile racers who set speed records.[2]

Initially receiving gasoline from its much larger competitor, Standard Oil of New Jersey, in 1923 Amoco switched suppliers to Pan American Petroleum and Transport, a Mexican and American company that received fifty perfect of Amoco stock in return for a decade of favorable rates. The company and its advertising expanded exponentially. In 1925 Standard Oil of Indiana purchased a majority interest in Pan American. A decade later Standard Oil of New Jersey bought a major interest in Amoco. An ensuing court battle that dragged on for fifteen years ended with Amoco being purchased by Standard Oil of Indiana. Through the purchase, Jacob Blaustein became a major stockholder and member of the board of Standard Oil of Indiana. He also ran a series of family -owned businesses and a real estate empire stretching from Maryland to Texas and California. Blaustein owned majority stock in Baltimore’s Union Trust Company and served on the boards of several banks.[3]

The business success of Louis and Jacob Blaustein is a variation on the fabled story of Jewish immigrants and their children. Louis Blaustein, emigrating during the initial phase of mass migration from Eastern Europe, quickly rose economically to the point that he was accepted into Oheb Shalom, a congregation composed of Jews of German descent that nonetheless opened its doors to acculturating – and affluent – brethren. Oheb Shalom moved from Conservative to Reform under Rabbi William Rosenau. Like many Reform Jews, Jacob received confirmation as a teenager rather than participating in a traditional bar mitzvah ceremony, and he moved in Reform circles as an adult.[4]

Temple Oheb Shalom confirmation class 1906. Front row L to R: Jacob Blaustein (at age 16), Justine Kell, Rabbi William Rosenau, Rosalind Carroll, Walter Myer, Albert H. Samuel. Back row L to R: Miriam G. Klein, Estelle S. Stern, Hilda Katz, Florette Hamburger, Veronica Oppenheim, Theresa Cohen. JMM 1999.142.1

Jacob Blaustein’s fortune facilitated his emergence as a leader of local and national Jewry as well as his entrance into government and diplomacy. Recognized as an international authority on the petroleum industry, he received presidential appointments to numerous industrial commissions and government agencies that helped define American and international policies. He presided over Baltimore’s Associated Jewish Charities and served on the board of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. Such positions led to his rise to the leadership of the American Jewish Committee, and that, in turn, added to the entrée he used in behalf of the international causes he held dear.[5]

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

[1] The numerous sketches of Blaustein’s life sometimes contradict each other. On Blaustein’s business career see for example Amoco Oil Company Golden Anniversary Issue, :The American Story: In the Beginning – Three Men and a Horse, 1910-1960” (Baltimore 1960) in “Jacob Blaustein” Vertical File, JMM (quote); “Jacob Blaustein is Dead at 78; Founder of the American Oil Company,” New York Times, November 16, 1970; Bio Sketch.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid; John Slawson, “Jacob Blaustein: In Memoriam,” Jacob Blaustein Collection, AJComm Archives; Frank Henry, “Life and Times of Jacob Blaustein,” Baltimore Sun, February 26, 1961, reprinted in Congressional Record, March 9, 1961, with introductory remarks by Senator Jacob K. Javitz. On Rabbi Rosenau and Oheb Shalom, see Louis F. Cahn, The History of Oheb Shalom, 1853-1953 (Baltimore: Ohen Shalom Congregation, 1953), 43-50. A photo of young Jacob Blaustein as a member of the Oheb Shalom confirmation class of 1906 is in the Jewish Museum of Maryland archives, 1999.142.1.

[5] On Blaustein’s diplomacy and activities on behalf of Jewish causes see Bio Sketch; Slawson, “Jacob Blaustein;” Henry, “Life and Times of Jacob Blaustein.”


The intertwined nature of Blaustein’s expertise and interests greatly enhanced his influence. For example, President Truman appointed him to various posts related to his knowledge of the oil industry. In December 1948 he met with the President to discuss the relationship between government and industry. They then discussed Palestine where oil-rich Arab countries exerted pressure on America and especially Britain, and Blaustein pressed Truman on the recognition of Israel. Blaustein to Morris D. Waldman, 3 January 1949, AJA, MC 23/1/1. Blaustein actively supported Truman’s re-election bid (see Blaustein to Waldman, 5 November 1948, AJA, MC 23/1/1), and later the Korean War when he served Truman on various production boards. As a Lyndon B. Johnson appointee on the Commission on Marine Science, Engineering, and Resources, he and his international colleagues recommended that profits from ocean seabed resources be allocated for the assistance of developing countries, a policy ultimately codified in a United Nations resolution. Blaustein also recognized the importance of the press. He chaired the board of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and presided over the Overseas News Service (ONS). He organized the latter with correspondents in central Europe and Herbert Bayard Swope, executive editor of the New York World. As part of its mission, the ONS disseminated information on antisemitism and discrimination against other minorities as well as on Israel. See Henry, “Life and Times.”

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The Blaustein–Ben-Gurion Agreement: A Milestone in Israel-Diaspora Relations Part 4

Posted on April 26th, 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.

Part IV: Reaching an Accord

Missed the beginning? Start here.

The Blaustein-Ben-Gurion agreement, as reaffirmed in Jerusalem in April 1961. JMM Vertical Files.

For their part, Blaustein and the AJComm sought continuity and recognition as perhaps the major voice of the American Jewish community. Although some issues remained in conflict, the Blaustein–Ben-Gurion coalition offered benefits to Blaustein and the AJComm and to Ben-Gurion and Israel. Ironically, Ben-Gurion found more in common with Blaustein and the AJComm than he did with Abba Hillel Silver and Emanuel Neumann, stalwart Zionists.

Blaustein’s détente with Prime Minister Ben-Gurion largely reflected the non-Zionist position of much of the old AJComm crowd.[1] Nonetheless it also accepted the new Jewish state, a move firmly departing from the anti-Zionist position held by many AJComm leaders and the American Council for Judaism. Thus, Blaustein cemented his position as one of the old guard even as he altered the relationship between American Jews – even many Zionists – and the state of Israel. He forged a Brandeisian solution that allowed American Jews to be pro-Israel while remaining very much American.

The 1950 Blaustein and Ben-Gurion exchange defined a seemingly optimum relationship between Israel and American Jewish organizations. With the agreement, Blaustein affirmed the leadership role of the AJComm and Ben-Gurion weakened the old line American Zionists while securing he financial backing and political contacts of the AJComm group. Through the years Blaustein and his successors at the AJComm continued their interaction with Ben-Gurion and then with successive prime ministers, ensuring the World Zionist Organization would not be the acknowledged representative of American Jewry.[2]

From the 1940s until his death in 1970, Blaustein served as liaison between a critical segment of American Jewry and Israel, and between Israel, the United States, and foreign powers. He lobbied continuously and successfully for American acceptance of Israel as a Cold War ally. Seeking fair and reasonable Israeli policies for Palestinians, he also negotiated on Israel’s behalf with European and Middle Eastern leaders.[3] Other American Jews and Jewish organizations disagreed with the Blaustein–Ben-Gurion accord as well as other of Blaustein’s positions.[4] Yet his activities in the AJComm ultimately contributed to rapprochement and cooperation between it and other American Jewish organizations. As in so many endeavors Blaustein, simultaneously a visionary and pragmatist, ultimately brought together seemingly intractable adversaries in the contentious arena of American Jewish communal politics.[5]

Both the Israeli government and organized American Jewry frequently ignored the Ben-Gurion–Blaustein exchange. A decade later, for example, Ben-Gurion commented on the divergent definitions of “the essence and meaning of Judaism and Jewishness” between Jews in Israel and the diaspora, disparaging the position of many American Jews. This led to discussions in which the prime minister reaffirmed the agreement in a joint statement issued by the two men on April 23, 1961. For their part, American Jews and American Jewish organizations have applied pressure on the Israeli government to pursue specific policies.[6]

Regardless of the breaches, Blaustein and Ben-Gurion defined a relationship that Jews in both countries continued to look to for guidance. The framework was reiterated and affirmed by Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, Ben-Gurion’s successors, in 1963 and 1970, respectively, and it remains relevant today.[7] The accord between the two men greatly assisted Israel through hard times while also offering Jews in America a comfort zone for their multiple identities and complex allegiances.

Continue to Sidebar: The Remarkable Life and Career of Jacob Blaustein, Part I

[1] In a letter to Blaustein (2 June 1948, AJA, MC 23/1/1), Morris D. Waldman outlines what became the main features of the Blaustein/Ben-Gurion agreement as the normative position of the AJComm.

[2] Cohen, Not Free to Desist.

[3] Bio Sketch; Ganin, An Uneasy Relationship

[4] For problems with the agreement, see Charles S. Liebman, Pressure Without Sanctions: The Influence of World Jewry on Israeli Policy (Rutherford, N.J.: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1977).

[5] Nonetheless Blaustein always strove to maintain AJComm independence. In 1943 he, along with Proskauer and Fred Lazarus, urged the AJComm to withdraw from the American Jewish Conference when it became apparent that an umbrella organization strongly influenced by Zionists would attempt to tie AJComm hands. Again in 1952 when the National Community Relations Council attempted to bring all of the Jewish defense agencies under its control, Blaustein led the withdrawal of the AJComm. See Cohen, Not Free to Desist, 249-259; Blaustein to Members of the Executive Committee, 12 September 1952, AJA, MC 23/1/1. The conflicts and differences between the American Jewish Conference and the AJComm lessened as the Holocaust changed the anti-Zionist positions of Proskauer and other AJComm leaders. See Urofsky, We Are One, 98.

[6] Agreement signed by David Ben-Gurion and Jacob Blaustein, 23 April 1961, Jerusalem, original at the American Jewish Committee Archives, New York (hereafter AJComm Archives), copy in “Jacob Blaustein” Vertical File, JMM.

[7] Cohen, Not Free to Desist, 315; Liebman, Pressure Without Sanctions, 130. In We Are One (194-195), Urofsky argues, “In some ways, the Blaustein–Ben-Gurion agreement marked the final playing out of the Committee’s old fears of Jewish nationalism, its worries over dual allegiance.” He adds, “In the future, all of these issues would be raised, time and again, but by then American Jewry would be able to respond in a more secure manner.” Sanua contends that Blaustein remained adamantly opposed to any statements indicating that Israel was the Jewish homeland and that brought into question the legitimacy of living in the diaspora. Sanua, Let Us Prove Strong, 58-60, 106-107. See 56-66 got Sanua’s account of the 1950 and 1961 statements and their background.

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