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The Blaustein–Ben-Gurion Agreement: A Milestone in Israel-Diaspora Relations Part 3

Posted on April 19th, 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 III: Visions of Zion

Missed the beginning? Start here.

The Israelis’ image of Zionism differed from that of most American and British Zionists. To Ben-Gurion and many other Israelis, the mission of Zionism included not only the creation of a Jewish nation but also the ingathering of Jews from what he and they viewed as galut or exile.[1] Only with aliyah to Israel could one find fulfillment as a Jew. Moreover, from the galut perspective of history regardless of how secure or accepted Jews might feel elsewhere, alienation and persecution appeared inevitable. As a second but corollary issue, the Israeli government rejected compromising its sovereignty by taking direction from those voluntarily living in exile. Ben-Gurion called for the massive immigration of Jews to Israel.

Address by Jacob Blaustein, president of the American Jewish Committee, entitled “Israel Through American Eyes.” It reports the progress and problems of the “newest democracy in the Middle East,” May 4, 1949. JMM 2000.155.6

Few American or British Jews, whether Zionist or not, had any intention of emigrating. They were loyal to and happy in their own countries and rejected the notion of exile and its connotation of secondary status. But it was the desire of influential Zionist leaders such as Abba Hillel Silver and Emanuel Neumann for involvement in Israeli decisions, emanating from their pre-state direction of the Yishuv, that posed the greatest conundrum between them and the new Israeli government. Silver and Neumann wanted to shape the social, economic, and political culture of Israel on the American model and nurture a political party in opposition to Ben-Gurion’s Mapai to further those aims. They perceived the fate of American and Israeli Jews as bound together and sought an Israeli politic that would reflect well on American Jews.[2] On the other hand, non- and anti-Zionists had long fought charges of dual loyalty and they, as well as most Zionists, had no desire to influence Israeli policies so long as those did not negatively impact them.

Regardless of these differences, the Israeli government wanted and needed the financial support and access to American government officials available especially through members of the American Jewish Committee. Moreover, Jacob Blaustein, as leader of the AJComm, took a pragmatic stand that fit will with Ben-Gurion’s desire to limit diaspora Zionist influence on his government. The non- and anti-Zionists whom Blaustein represented – even as most moved toward Zionism as time progressed – did not wish to direct the policies and affairs of Israel. As Melvin I. Urofsky observes, reaching an agreement through AJComm would also undermine the major fears and positions of the anti-Zionist American Council of Judaism thus de-legitimizing and isolating that organization. Blaustein also epitomized exactly the type of assistance Ben-Gurion and Israel most required. He enjoyed access to five presidents beginning with Franklin Roosevelt. He received presidential appointments to advisory councils because of his expertise in the petroleum industry. His unmatched work ethic and diplomatic acumen, as well as his extensive activities to assist Holocaust survivors and to promote human rights, provided him entrée to world leaders and the highest echelons of the United Nations. Blaustein and his cohort at the AJComm could lobby effectively in Israel’s behalf and raise money for its development and defenses.[3]

Continue to Part IV: Reaching an Accord

[1] On the concept see Arnold M. Eisen, Galut: Modern Jewish Reflections on Homelessness and Homecoming (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986).

[2] For an excellent summary of the literature and insights into the conflict between Silver, Neumann, and Ben-Gurion see Zohar Segev, “American Zionists’ Place in Israel after Statehood: From Involved Partners to Outside Supports,” American Jewish History 93 (September 2007): 277-302. However, Segev fails to note the Ben-Gurion/Blaustein exchange and how it facilitated the prime minister’s break with American Zionist Leadership.

[3] Urofsky, We Are One, 194-195; Sanua, Let Us Prove Strong, 56-58.

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The Blaustein–Ben-Gurion Agreement: A Milestone in Israel-Diaspora Relations Part 2

Posted on April 12th, 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 II: A Formal Declaration of Statehood

Missed the beginning? Start here.

The formal declaration of statehood in May 1948 and Israel’s success in securing its borders in the war that ensued transformed and intensified, rather than ended, ongoing debates over Israel’s relationship with diaspora Jewry – and, in particular, American Jewry. Fundamental difficulties over the role of diaspora Jews in forming the new nation and ultimately their relationship to it and its relationship to them can be traced to the pre-state era. For decades American Jewry had been divided as well as energized by the dream of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. From the late nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries, Zionists, non-Zionists, and anti-Zionists supported varied philosophies and rallied behind specific organizations, fighting for power and influence. Zionists, although divided over theories (as examples, the nature of the new country and the relationship between Jews and Arabs within it) and tactics, were largely united in their desire for a Jewish state. Through the American and World Zionist Organization they strove for that aim while helping run the Yishuv.[1]

For their part, Jewish non-Zionists and anti-Zionists had long aided Jews in Europe and Palestine for humanitarian reasons and as part of their opposition to international antisemitism. Nonetheless anti-Zionists opposed the creation of a Jewish state. They believed that Jews had found welcome in many of their present countries and that creation of such a state would foment dreaded charges of dual loyalty that fostered antisemitism. Non-Zionists believed that they held a middle ground. Although withholding support for political Zionism, they refrained from actively opposing it.[2]

Jacob Blaustein boarding a TWA plane bound for Israel, February 11, 1952.

Non-Zionists and anti-Zionists had dominated the AJComm since its inception. Leaders like attorney Louis Marshall comprised an American elite raised in Classical Reform congregations that defined Judaism as a universalistic religion of social justice. They opposed antisemitism at home and abroad as part of the fight for human rights and to secure their positions without jeopardizing them.[3] Paradoxically, their financial aid and advocacy for Jews at home and abroad reflected a sense of ethnic identity that extended the definition of Judaism beyond religion.

With the establishment of Israel in 1948, attitudes toward the new state that derived from these former stances became problematic, as all sides adjusted to a new reality. Now an elected government ran an independent nation. The creation of Israel fulfilled the Zionists’ fundamental mission. They re-directed their efforts toward assisting in the defense and prosperity of the fledgling country and also toward influencing its nature and policies. With the Holocaust and establishment of Israel, non- and anti-Zionists grappled with the existence of a Jewish state. Except for recalcitrant members of the American Council for Judaism, they accepted the new nation but, like the Zionists, needed to negotiate their relationship to it. Jacob Blaustein had to unite the different factions within the AJComm even as he sought to secure its place in the pantheon of American Jewish organizations. He simultaneously mediated with other Jewish organizations, with the American government and public opinion, and with Israeli and other world leaders.

Continue to Part III: Visions of Zion

[1] See for example, Urofsky, We Are One; Ganin, An Uneasy Relationship.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cohen, Not Free to Desist

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The Blaustein–Ben-Gurion Agreement: A Milestone in Israel-Diaspora Relations Part 1

Posted on April 5th, 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.

“I am confident that this statement…will strengthen our two communities and will lay the foundation for even closer cooperation.” – Jacob Blaustein, Blaustein–Ben-Gurion Agreement

Signatures on the Agreement

On August 23, 1950, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion attended a luncheon in his honor in Jerusalem, where he exchanged remarks with Baltimore businessman and community leader Jacob Blaustein. This was no mere conversation: the Israeli cabinet was present and Ben-Gurion’s comments had President Chaim Weizmann’s prior approval. Developed over many months and during a series of meetings, the historic exchange attempted to establish a framework for Israel-diaspora relations, employable for the foreseeable future.[1]

During the conversation, Ben-Gurion and Blaustein praised the accomplishments of each other’s Jewish community, although Blaustein pointedly commented about some statements of Israeli officials that implied that all Jews should return to Israel from exile in the diaspora since life for Jews outside the Jewish homeland was tenuous and incomplete. These statements, said Blaustein, undercut the security and moral of American Jews. Both men then agreed that American Jews would lobby, donate to, and raise money for the new nation without meddling in Israeli policies and politics. Israel, for its part, recognized the allegiance of American Jews to the United States. It, too, would not meddle in the internal affairs of diaspora Jewry. Individuals who chose to make aliyah were needed and would be warmly welcomed, but those remaining in America would not be disparaged as “exiles.” Neither American nor Israeli Jews would speak in behalf of the other.[2]

The Blaustein–Ben-Gurion agreement defining the post-statehood relationship between Israel and American Jewry was perhaps Blaustein’s best-known achievement in an extraordinary career as a citizen-diplomat. The joint statement signed by the two men seems straightforward, but its back story involved a complex mixture of politics and history related not only to the founding of Israel, but to American Jewish communal identity, longstanding debates over Zionism, and the relationship between diaspora Jews and the Yishuv, the Jewish settler community of pre-state Israel.

Jacob Blaustein was perhaps the most logical figure in American Jewry to navigate through the complicated past to reach such an accord. A wealthy oil tycoon and businessman, he had already won national and international recognition as a negotiator and diplomat on several fronts, from the establishment of the United Nations to reparations for Holocaust survivors to American and international energy policy. In addition to his reputation and skills as a diplomat, his leadership of the American Jewish Committee (AJComm) – a group with historically strong reservations about Zionism – paradoxically put him in the perfect position to sit down with Israel’s leader.

Jacob Blaustein shaking hands with Judge Joseph Proskauer upon the occasion of Mr. Blaustein’s election as president of the American Jewish Committee, January 23, 1949. JMM 1988.209.21e

The AJComm had been established in 1906 by wealthy and influential Jews largely of German descent. It did not broaden its membership until the presidency of Judge Joseph Proskeur (1943–1949). Although of East European origin, Jacob Blaustein’s stature and political connections opened his path into this elite group. He served as chair of the executive board during Proskeur’s presidency, president immediately after (1949–1954) and finally as an extremely active honorary president (1954–1970).[3] Blaustein’s positions within the AJComm symbolized the expansion of the organization to include the rising and now acceptable upper class of East European origin. It also illustrated Baltimore leadership beyond the New York/Philadelphia nexus of power and the impact of Baltimore Jewry on national, international, and particularly America/Israeli affairs.

As a transitional leader, Blaustein’s advocacy for the creation and recognition of the Jewish state emanated from the Zionism of his East European heritage and coincided with the gradual acceptance of Zionism by many AJComm leaders.[4] His activities in behalf of Israel were extensive. During the 1940s, he lobbied Presidents Roosevelt and Truman as a key representative of the AJComm for the partition of Palestine through the United Nations and then for American recognition of the new state as well as for Israel’s admission into the U.N.[5] Later, he promoted the 1950 Middle East arms control agreement between the United States, France, and Britain, and championed import-export loans and subsequent grants and arms sales from the U.S. to Israel, among other diplomatic efforts.[6]

Continue to Part 2: A Formal Declaration of Statehood

[1] “David Ben-Gurion and Jacob Blaustein Agree that American Jewry’s Prime Loyalty Is to the United States, August 23, 1950,” in The Jew in the American World: A Sourcebook, ed. Jacob R. Marcus (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996), 489-494. The agreement was reported in the New York Times, August 24, 1950. For a full account of this and subsequent agreements, negotiations, difficulties, and the critical role of Blaustein as lobbyist/diplomat, see Zvi Ganin, An Uneasy Relationship: American Jewish Leadership and Israel, 1948-1957 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Naomi W. Cohen, Not Free to Desist: The American Jewish Committee, 1906-1966 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1972).

[4] Proskauer, for example, gradually moved from advocacy for a U.N. trusteeship to support for the partition of Palestine, from non-Zionism to promotion of a Jewish state, because of British intransigence especially relating to Jewish refugee immigration to Palestine. See Louis Hacker and Mark D. Hirsch, Proskauer: His Life and Times (University: University of Alabama Press, 1978), 142-151. Melvin I. Urofsky indicates that Nathum Goldman brought the final change to Proskauer’s position on Jewish statehood for Israel. See Urofsky, We Are One: American Jewry and Israel (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1978), 133. Hacker and Hirsch (154-155) essentially give Proskauer credit for the Ben-Gurion/Blaustein agreement. In fact the exchange of statements largely replicated positions of former AJComm executive director Morris D. Waldman and other AJComm statements, although internal factionalism also marked the AJComm during World War II. In 1943 the AJComm had issued the Cos Cob Formula, a declaration in favor of a temporary international trusteeship over Palestine until a political solution could ultimately be worked. See Morris D. Waldman to Blaustein, 6 February 1949, Jacob R. Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (hereafter AJA), MC 23/1/1; Cohen, Not Free to Desist, 250-56, 295-309. Cohen describes the political maneuvering between the AJComm, Zionist, and other organizations, the gradual shift of AJComm’s positions, and divisions within AJComm. She also explains the development of the AJComm position in regard to the Ben-Gurion/Blaustein agreement and problems of adherence (309-319). See also Marianne R. Sanua, Let Us Prove Strong: The American Jewish Committee, 1945-2006 (Waltham, Mass.: Brandeis University Press, 2006), 20-24, on the Cos Cob agreement, Proskaeur’s dissent from it, and gradual move to Zionism.

[5] Blaustein informed President Harry Truman how essential American recognition of Israel was since Israel had been denied admission to the U. N. Truman assured Blaustein that the United States would recognized Israel immediately following Israel’s January elections. Blaustein to Morris D. Waldman, 3 January 1949, AJA, MC 23/1/1.

[6] “Jacob Blaustein,” American Jewish Committee Biographical Sketch (hereafter cited as Bio Sketch), original at AJA, copy in  “Jacob Blaustein” Vertical File, Jewish Museum of Maryland (hereafter JMM). Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore houses 700 cubic feet of Blaustein’s papers, the largest assemblage of Blaustein materials. Sanua, Let Us Prove Strong, provides a brief biographical sketch of Blaustein, 30-31, and extensive coverage of his activities with the AJComm throughout.

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