From Philanthropy to Activism: The Political Transformation of American Zionism in the Holocaust Years, 1933-1945 (review)
- Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
- Purdue University Press
- Volume 14, Number 2, Winter 1996
- pp. 146-148
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- Additional Information
146 SHOFAR Winter 1996 Vol. 14, No.2 and those from the "annexed territories" discriminated against Jews, nonetheless achieved a new level ofcommitmenttoward displaced persons by the American government. As it turned out, loose administration of the law allowed many more Jews to enter than the bill's authors intended. Genizi has written neither a dramatic nor a broadly conceived account, but one that contributes findings useful to the restructuring of our whole approach to the question of the role of antisemitism in immigration restriction before, during, and after the war. His findings concerning the crucial role voluntary agencies played in all periods suggest that they had far more to do with American refugee policy than previous views have allowed. Robert H. Abzug Department of History University of Texas From Philanthropy to Activism: The Political Transformation of American Zionism in the Holocaust Years, 1933-1945, by David H. Shpiro. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1994. 208 pp. $79.00 (£49.50). Zionism has become a cornerstone of American Jewish life. Every major Jewish organization supports the state of Israel's right to exist. A summer in Israel has become the standard reward for completing one's high school Jewish education, while increasing numbers ofJewish college students choose to spend their junior year studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv University. Pro-Israel political action groups lobby the U.s. Congress in Washington, and thousands ofAmerican Jews board El AI jets every year as participants in a variety of missions to Israel. Even the once non-Zionist Reform movement boasts its own Zionist wing, the American Reform Zionist Association (ARZA). In From Philanthropy to Activism, David H. Shpiro reminds us that this was not always the case. He takes us back to a time when an American Jewish embrace of Zionism wrought profound fears of dual loyalty. While some American Jews, most notably Louis Brandeis, offered an ideological justification for American Zionism in the years before 1933, few of organized Jewry's major power brokers risked anything more than a philanthropic relationship to the Zionist movement in Europe and Palestine. America remained their promised land: any embrace of political Zionism compromised the good civic standing of American Jewry. Book Reviews 147 By 1945, though, all of that had changed. Jewish leaders from across the ideological spectrum called for the creation of an independent Jewish commonwealth in Palestine. A once splintered and hopelessly divided Jewish community forged important new bonds and, after years of infighting, launched a more unified campaign for Jewish national independence. "American Zionism," according to Shpiro, "had been converted from an apolitical, philanthropic entity into a powerful, wellorganized political influence group" (p. xi). Shpiro's book traces this transformation. Shpiro divides his book into seven chapters, arranged chronologically. After an introduction summarizingAmerican Zionism in the early twentieth century, Shpiro documents the internal feuding, strategic differences, and fear of overseas entanglement which paralyzed the movement from 1933 until at least 1942. The Jewish community faced an impossible predicament in these years: ideological disagreements split American Jewry from within, while any outward criticism of the British mandate in Palestine risked offending a powerful nation at war with the Jews' most brutal enemy. On the domestic scene, Jewish leaders feared that their calls for a Zionist state would fuel isolationist claims of American Jewish warmongering . little could be done in these years to bolster the Zionist cause. This bleak outlook improved in 1942 when American Zionists, gathered together at the Biltmore Conference, overcame many of their internal differences to forge a common political goal, "that Palestine be established as a Jewish Commonwealth integrated in the structure of the neW democratic world" (p. 101). The conference, which Shpiro identifies as a "watershed in the history of the Zionist movement in that it set forth, for the first time, a clear political goal for the movement," signaled two major changes in American Jewish life: sobering news accounts of Nazi atrocities reminded American Jews that they carried the lion's share of responsibility for their overseas brethren, and u.s. entry into the war freed the Zionist leadership to speak out more aggressively against Hitler (p. 71). In the final chapters, Shpiro focuses on...