Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

The ACJ at 70: Keeping the Prophetic Universal Jewish Tradition Alive

Allan C. Brownfeld
Winter 2013

For more than seventy years, the American Council for Judaism has advanced the philosophy of Judaism as a religion of universal values, not a nationality, and has maintained that Americans of Jewish faith are American by nationality and Jews by religion, just as other Americans are Protestants, Catholics or Muslims. It has challenged the Zionist philosophy which holds that Israel is the “homeland” of all Jews, and that Jews living outside of Israel are in “exile.” In doing so, it has believed that this philosophy represents the thinking of the majority of American Jews, a largely silent majority not represented by the organizations which presume to speak in their name.  
The Council’s philosophy is much older than the 70 years in which the organization has been in existence. In 1841, at the dedication ceremony of Temple Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina, Rabbi Gustav Poznanski declared: “This country is our Palestine, this city is our Jerusalem, this house of God our temple.”  
Prior to the mid-20th century, the overwhelming majority of all Jews rejected Zionism, or Jewish nationalism. In 1929, Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamarat wrote that the very notion of a sovereign Jewish state as a spiritual center was a “contradiction to Judaism’s ultimate purpose.” He wrote: “Judaism is not some religious concentration which can be localized or situated in a single territory. Neither is Judaism a ‘nationality’ in the sense of modern nationalism, fit to be woven into the three-foldedness of ‘homeland, army, and heroic songs.’ No, Judaism is Torah, ethics, and exaltation of spirit. If Judaism is truly Torah, then it cannot be reduced to the confines of any particular territory. For as Scripture said of Torah, ‘Its measure is greater than earth.’”  
Israel as Object of Worship  
In recent years, sadly, for some the state of Israel has replaced God as the object of worship, a form of idolatry, not unlike the Golden Calf. Israeli flags are to be seen on the pulpits of many synagogues. Young people are sent on “Birthright” trips to Israel, allegedly to strengthen their “Jewish” identity. Rabbinical groups regularly pass resolutions concerning U.S. Middle East policy, and have proclaimed that Israel, rather than God, is “central” to their Jewish identity. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly called upon American Jews to make a “mass Aliyah” — emigration — to Israel. No other foreign government argues that millions of Americans — because of their religion — are in “exile” in the United States and that their real “homeland” is that foreign country. American Jewish groups acquiesce in this interference in their internal affairs.  
Through the very fabric of their lives, the vast majority of American Jews reject the basic tenets of Jewish nationalism which has become the official position of the organizations which claim to represent them. The history of the American Council for Judaism shows us the prophetic vision of its founders. Current developments and trends indicate how their analysis has stood the test of time.  
On June 1, 1942, a group of rabbis met in Atlantic City, New Jersey for a two day conference. They were concerned about a resolution adopted in February 1942 by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the Reform rabbinical group, which reversed Reform Jewish philosophy by calling for “a Jewish army” in Palestine, a direct violation of its 1935 resolution calling for “neutrality” when it came to the question of Zionism and Palestine. This was viewed by those who maintained the traditional position of Reform Judaism as an endorsement of Zionism by the Reform movement, and a rejection of its own traditional philosophy.  
Pittsburgh Platform  
In November 1885, a group of Reform rabbis met in Pittsburgh and wrote an eight-point platform that one participant called “The most successful expression of the theology of the Reform movement that had ever been published in the world.” The platform emphasized that Reform Judaism rejected Jewish nationalism in any variety. It stated: “We recognize in the era of universal culture of heart and intellect, the approaching realization of Israel’s great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.”  
The overwhelming majority of faculty and students at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati believed that Zionism was antithetical to the beliefs of Reform Judaism. Professor Louis Grossman in 1899 expressed the dominant sentiment when he said that, “… A sober student of Jewish history and a genuine lover of his co-religionists sees that the Zionistic agitation contradicts everything that is typical of Jews and Judaism.” In Hebrew Union College’s opening exercises on October 14, 1916, President Kaufmann Kohler stated that “ignorance and irreligion are at the bottom of the whole movement of political Zionism.”  
In 1897, the CCAR adopted a resolution disapproving of any attempt to establish a Jewish state. The resolution stated: “Zion was a precious possession of the past … as such it is a holy memory, but it is not our hope of the future. America is our Zion.” In 1905, The American Israelite, edited by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the leader of Reform Judaism in the 19th century, noted, “There is not one solitary prominent native Jewish American who is an advocate of Zionism.”  
Atlantic City Meeting  
Discussing the June 1942 meeting of rabbis who opposed Zionism in Atlantic City, which led to a decision in November 1942 to establish a formal organization, whose name, the American Council for Judaism, was adopted at a December 7, 1942 meeting in New York, Professor Thomas Kolsky, in his book Jews Against Zionism, The American Council for Judaism, 1942-1948” (Temple University Press, 1990), writes:  
“Their protest against the rapid advances of Zionism in the U.S. and its encroachment upon Reform Judaism resulted in the formation of the American Council for Judaism … Optimistic about the future of Jews in the Diaspora — in the U.S. and throughout the world — it regarded the anti-Semitic atrocities committed during World War II as a temporary aberration and firmly believed that a free and democratic society would provide the best guarantee for the well-being of Jews wherever they lived … The ACJ rejected all forms of Jewish separatism and denied the right of any group to speak for all Jews … It denounced Zionist talk about Jewish homelessness, and opposed granting Jews special privileges. As a solution for the conflict between Jews and Arabs, the ACJ recommended a democratic state in Palestine wherein Arabs and Jews would share in the government and have equal rights and responsibilities. It rejected the creation of an exclusively Jewish state as undemocratic and as a retreat from the universal vision of Judaism.”  
In his keynote address to the June 1942 Atlantic City meeting, Rabbi David Philipson declared that Reform Judaism and Zionism were incompatible: “Reform Judaism is spiritual. Zionism is political. The outlook of Reform Judaism is the world. The outlook of Zionism is a corner of eastern Asia.”  
American Council for Judaism  
At a meeting in Philadelphia on November 23, 1942, the name “the Council for American Judaism” was adopted, and was changed to “the American Council for Judaism” at a New York meeting in December. The newly elected executive director was Rabbi Elmer Berger, who had organized an anti-Zionist group in his own temple in Flint, Michigan. Rabbi Louis Wolsey declared that the group opposed “a Jewish state, a Jewish flag, or a Jewish army” and represented “the views of the vast majority of Jews in the United States.” Lessing J. Rosenwald, who was Chairman of the Board of Sears, Roebuck and Co., succeeding his father in the post until he retired in 1939 at the age of 48, was named president of the Council. He was a widely known and respected philanthropist.  
Many prominent figures in American life were involved in the Council’s earliest days. It was Arthur Hays Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, who introduced the phrase “Americans of the Jewish faith” into the Council’s statement of principles. Rabbis who joined the Council led some of the nation’s leading congregations. Among them were Samuel H. Goldenson of New York, Irving Reichart of San Fransisco, Edward N. Calish of Richmond, David Marx of Atlanta, David Lefkowitz of Dallas, Henry Cohen of Galveston, Henry Barnston of Houston and Julian Feibelman of New Orleans.  
Among the early founders was Rabbi Morris Lazaron of Baltimore. He had been an early Zionist, captured by the romantic vision of the movement. After visiting Nazi Germany, and seeing the effects of its nationalism, Lazaron became convinced that nationalism, a force leading the world to destruction, could not serve as an instrument of Jewish salvation. For Lazaron, the mixture of religion and state spelled disaster.  
The Council also succeeded in recruiting many nationally prominent Jewish laypersons, among them: Judge Marcus C. Sloss, a former associate justice of the California Supreme Court; Florence P. Kahn, a former congresswoman from California; Monroe E. Deutsch, provost of the University of California; Lucius N. Littauer, a glove manufacturer and former congressman; Herbert and Stanley Marcus of the Neiman-Marcus Co. in Dallas; Alfred M. Cohen, former president of B’nai B’rith; Grover A. Magnin, president of I. Magnin and Co. in San Fransisco; James D. Zellerbach, president of the Crown Zellerbach Corp.; Rear Admiral Lewis L. Strauss; Sidney J. Weinberg, senior partner of Goldman Sachs and Co., and Judge Jerome N. Frank.  
Campaign against Zionism  
From 1943 to 1948, the Council launched its campaign against Zionism. According to Professor Kolsky, “It accused Zionism of promoting a philosophy of despair, sharing with anti-Semites many false notions about Jews and Judaism, undermining the status and security of Jewish communities throughout the world, seeking to ghettoize Jews by segregating them from their compatriots and turning them into aliens, and advocating an unjust solution for the problem of Palestine … The anti-Zionism of the ACJ represented an American Jewish tradition older than Zionism.”  
That tradition was a rich one. In a speech to the Menorah Society Dinner in New York City in December 1917, Chief Judge of the New York State Supreme Court Irving Lehman, brother of Governor Herbert Lehman of New York, stated: “I cannot recognize that the Jews as such constitute a nation in any sense in which the word is recognized in political science, or that a national basis is a possible concept for modern Judaism. We Jews in America, bound to the Jews of other lands by our common faith, constituting our common inheritance cannot as American citizens feel any bond to them as members of a nation, for nationally we are Americans and Americans only, and in political and civic matters we cannot recognize any other ties. We must therefore look for the maintenance of Judaism to those spiritual concepts which constitute Judaism.”  
In 1919, a petition was presented to President Woodrow Wilson entitled A Statement to the Peace Conference. It reflected the then dominant Reform position on Zionism and Palestine. The petition asserted that the opinions expressed therein represented those of the vast majority of American Jews. Those signing included Rep. Julius Kahn of California; Henry Morganthau, Sr., ex-ambassador to Turkey; Simon W. Rosendale, former Attorney General of New York; Mayor L.H. Kempner of Galveston, Texas; E.M. Baker, president of the New York Stock Exchange; R.H. Macy’s Jesse L. Straus; New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs; Judge M.C. Sloss of San Francisco, and Professors Edwin H. Seligman of Columbia University and Morris Jastrow of the University of Pennsylvania. President Wilson brought the petition with him to the peace conference.  
Segregating Jews  
The petition criticized Zionist efforts to segregate Jews “as a political unit … in Palestine or elsewhere” and underlined the principle of equal rights for all citizens of any state “irrespective of creed or ethnic descent.” It rejected Jewish nationalism as a general concept and held against the founding of any state upon the basis of religion and/or race. The petition asserted that the “overwhelming bulk of the Jews of America, England, France, Italy, Holland, Switzerland and the other lands of freedom have no thought whatever of surrendering their citizenship in those lands in order to resort to a ‘Jewish homeland in Palestine.’”  
The rejection of Jewish nationalism is reiterated in the petition. Point 5 makes clear: “We object to the political segregation of the Jews because it is an error to assume that the bond uniting them is of a national character. They are bound by two factors: First, the bond of common religious beliefs and aspirations and, secondly, the bonds of common traditions, customs and experiences largely, alas, of common trials and sufferings. Nothing in their status suggests that they form in any real sense a separate nationalistic unit.”  
The continuity of American Jewish opposition to Zionism can be seen in the fact that twenty of the original signers of the petition Julius Khan presented to President Wilson in 1919 were original members of the Council.  
The Council was incorporated on December 7, 1942 in a meeting at the Hotel New Yorker and Elmer Berger was named executive director. Judah Magnes, the respected Chancellor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote a letter endorsing the Council statement of principles: “It is true that Jewish nationalism tends to confuse people not because it is secular and not religious but because this nationalism is unhappily chauvinistic and narrow and terroristic in the best style of Eastern European nationalism.”  
Council Platform  
The Council released its platform on August 30, 1943, the full text of which was included in The New York Times the next day. It read, in part: “… the Prophets placed God and the moral law above land, race, nation, royal prerogatives and political engagements. Now, as then, we cherish the same religious values which emphasize the dignity of man and the obligations to deal justly with man no matter what his status. Palestine is part of Israel’s religious heritage, as it is part of the heritage of two other religions of the world. We look forward to the ultimate establishment of a democratic, autonomous government in Palestine, wherein Jews, Muslims and Christians shall be justly represented, every man enjoying equal rights and sharing equal responsibilities, a democratic government in which our fellow Jews shall be free Palestinians whose religion is Judaism, even as we are Americans whose religion is Judaism.”  
At its first annual conference in Philadelphia in January 1945, Council members heard an address by Elmer Berger entitled Emancipation — A Rediscovered Ideal. According to Berger, the program of Jewish nationalism had never expressed the real aspirations of Jews in America or elsewhere. “Spurious nationhood,” he argued, had been imposed on Jews by reactionary societies in the Middle Ages and this could not provide a solution to reactionary forces in the modern world. Jewish nationalists, he argued, wanted to maintain a medieval type of control over a so-called worldwide Jewish people and to prevent emancipation of individual Jews. This process, in his view, reached alarming proportions in 1897 at the first Zionist congress, where 197 men “arrogated to themselves the title ‘the Jewish nation.’” Proceeding to create a worldwide political movement, they proclaimed that the medieval collectivism of the “Jewish people” wanted to realize its political destiny “by creating a sovereign state in Palestine.”  
Berger noted that Jewish emancipation had frequently been attacked during the preceding century and a half by the “official Jews” who controlled the community while it was imprisoned behind ghetto walls. With the collapse of the ghetto, the leaders of the Jewish community were weakened. Threatened by the prospect of integration and emancipation, they condemned it as “assimilation” and did their best to impede it.  
Among the speakers at the 1945 conference was Hans Kohn, a one-time German Zionist associated with the University in Exile in New York who would remain a close friend of the Council. Kohn declared: “The Jewish nationalist philosophy has developed entirely under German influence, the German romantic nationalism with its emphasis on blood, race and descent as the most determining factor in human life, its historicizing attempt to connect with a legendary past 2,000 or so years ago, its emphasis on folk as a mystical body, the source of civilization.”  
Ease Immigration Laws  
In the years between 1943 and 1948, the Council sought to ease U.S. immigration laws to enter the country and vigorously opposed the politicization of American Jews as the Zionists urged “Jewish block” voting in behalf of their policy objectives. The Council vigorously opposed the Jewish Agency’s efforts to speak in the name of all of the Jews of the world in pursuing its political goals. The Council submitted an extensive memorandum to the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) emphasizing that the Jews of Palestine comprised only a small fraction of world Jewry and that Jews throughout the world must be clearly dissociated from the political structure developed in Palestine. The Memorandum’s central argument focused on the necessity to take international action to protect Jews in the countries in which they were living “against invasion of their status as free and equal citizens” by the ideology and policy of the Zionists.  
From 1943 to 1948, the Council, writes Professor Kolsky, “cooperated closely with the State Department. Based on common opposition to Zionist political objectives, this partnership was reinforced by the friendship of leading ACJ members with several prominent State Department officials, including Sumner Welles, Dean Acheson, Loy Henderson and Kermit Roosevelt.”  
On December 4, 1945, hours after the first meeting with Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann President Harry S. Truman received Council President Lessing Rosenwald in the Oval Office. Stressing that he could speak only for members of the ACJ, and that no one could speak for all American Jews, Rosenwald asked the president for the opportunity for members of the Council to testify before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry and called for the admission of both Jewish and non-Jewish displaced persons to Palestine. He urged that, “Palestine shall not be a Muslim, Christian or a Jewish state but a country in which people of all faiths can play their full and equal part,” and that the U.S. take the lead in coordinating with the U.N. a cooperative policy of many nations in absorbing Jewish refugees.  
Rosenwald Testimony  
Rosenwald testified before the Committee of Inquiry on January 10, 1946 and urged that large numbers of Jews be admitted into Palestine on the condition that “the claim that Jews possess unlimited national rights to the land, and that the country shall take the form of a racial or theocratic state, were renounced once and for all.”  
Elmer Berger sent a letter to Dean Acheson stating that a Jewish state would in fact be a violation of the Balfour Declaration, which expressly safeguarded “the rights and status enjoyed by Jews in any country other than Palestine,” as well as those of its non-Jewish inhabitants. The letter protested that the Jewish Agency had “no right to speak for Jews who are not supporters of the Jewish nationalist philosophy of Zionism.”  
Berger was able to outline his vision for the Council in the increasingly likely event of Jewish statehood. “Zionists will continue to seek control of the lives and institutions of Americans of Jewish faith,” he warned. “They will attempt to solidify support for their principle that Jews are members of that ‘nationality’ and that the homeland of members of that nationality is in their ‘Jewish state.’ Against this certain, continued drive of Jewish nationalism, in our opinion the work of the Council will be of even greater importance and necessity than in the past.”  
At the Council’s fourth annual conference in St. Louis in January 1947 — in the face of partition and the declaration of Jewish statehood — the group declared that it wished the new state well and adopted the following statement of principles which would define its purpose with the existence of a new Zionist state:  
“1. Nationality and religion are separate and distinct. Our nationality is American. Our religion is Judaism. Our homeland is the United States of America. We reject any concept that Jews are at home only in Palestine. 2. The U.N. Assembly has recommended partition of Palestine. We hope that it will bring peace to that long troubled land and that each of the proposed states will be a peace loving, democratic nation. The nationalism of the proposed Zionist state must be confined to the boundaries of that state. Its spokesmen, representatives, agencies and instrumentalities in no way represent us. 3. We are dedicated to extend the fullest philanthropic aid to our co-religionists and to suffering humanity everywhere. 4. No Jew or group of Jews can speak for, or represent, all the Jews of America.”  
Challenge to American Jews  
In a special edition of Council News (August 1947), Berger published an extended essay that outlined “the challenge to all Americans who are Jews by the religion presented by Zionist plans to foster an ‘Israeli centered’ Jewish life in the U.S.”. He wrote: “The creation of a sovereign state embodying the principles of Zionism, far from relieving American Jews of the urgency of making that choice, makes it more compelling.”  
In the early days of 1953, Elmer Berger, Lessing Rosenwald and George Levison represented the Council at a meeting with President Eisenhower at the White House. The president accepted their memorandum which discussed the “confusion of Judaism with the nationalism of Israel” as it impacted matters of international law, such as Israel’s “Law of Return” enacted in 1951, which could be interpreted as granting de facto Israeli citizenship to all of the world’s Jews. The new Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, took the memorandum with him on his first trip to the Middle East and echoed many of its points in a radio address at the end of the trip. Dulles urged that Israel “become part of the Near East community and cease to look upon itself as alien to that community” and warned that “the Arabs fear expansionist Zionism more than they do Communism.”  
The Council also became deeply involved in transmitting to young people its philosophy of universal prophetic Judaism. Clarence Coleman, Jr., later to become president of the Council, founded the first of what became known as “Schools for Judaism” in 1952 in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois. The following year there were two more schools in White Plains, New York and Milwaukee and by 1955 there were as many as ten schools across the country. The ACJ appointed a full-time director of religious and synagogue activities, Samuel Halevi Baron, a native of Austria ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1927.  
The Council published a series of textbooks. Among them were Samuel Baron’s Children’s Devotions. Abraham Cronbach’s Judaism for Today, a primer on the fundamentals of Jewish belief, Tell Me Why by Dorothy Bobrow, and Not by Power, by Allan Tarshish, who held the pulpit of the founding Reform congregation in America in Charleston, South Carolina. David Goldberg, the Council’s research director, wrote three books, Meet the Prophets, Stories About Judaism, and Holidays for American Judaism. For a number of years, the Council published a children’s magazine called Growing Up. The curriculum was designed by Leonard R. Sussman, who served for many years as the Council’s executive director and later distinguished himself as executive director of Freedom House.  
Philanthropic Fund  
The Council also established a philanthropic fund. One of its key goals was to assist Jewish refugees anywhere in the world in search for options other than Israel, to which they were often directed by established Jewish groups.  
Largely in response to the implications of the case of Adolph Eichmann, in which Israel justified its capture and trial of Eichmann in behalf of “the Jewish people,” the Council felt that it was necessary to seek a formal declaration from the U.S. government as to whether or not it accepted the claims made by Israel and for the U.S. to declare whether or not it recognized the existence of “the Jewish people” as a matter of international law. The Council enlisted Professor William Thomas Mallison, Jr., who held chairs at both George Washington University and the Naval War College, to review the question.  
In 1964, Mallison completed his brief that would be known as The Jewish People Study, and would be published in the George Washington University Law Review. In his biography of Elmer Berger, Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism (Potomac Books, 2011), Jack Ross writes that, “After a lengthy preliminary correspondence between Berger and Assistant Secretary of State Philips Talbot, a 41-page draft of Mallison’s article was sent to him … On April 20, 1964, Talbot formally replied in what Berger would … interpret as the victory he had been after for the last 20 years.”  
Talbot wrote: “The Department of State recognizes the State of Israel as a sovereign state and citizenship in the state of Israel. It recognizes no other sovereignty or citizenship in connection there with. It does not recognize a legal-political relationship based upon the religious identification of American citizens. It does not in any way discriminate among American citizens upon the basis of their religion. Accordingly, it should be clear that the Department of State does not regard the ‘Jewish people’ concept as a concept of international law.”  
In Ross’ view, “Berger’s collaboration with Mallison had not been merely an exercise in legal crankery. Israel had indeed claimed the force of law in the name of the ‘Jewish people’ in the Eichmann case, and with the Talbot letter the State Department would effectively draw the lines along which the Israel lobby could operate in the years ahead. In doing so, the State Department … would formally reject the premise of a legal Jewish ‘nationhood’ underlying both the Balfour Declaration and the 1947 partition.”  
Non-Jewish Support  
Many non-Jewish leaders found the Council’s arguments compelling, and worked closely with the organization. Among these were Barnard College President Virginia Gildersleeve, journalist Dorothy Thompson, the Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, and socialist leader Norman Thomas. Thomas praised the ACJ as early as 1949 in a syndicated column on the Arab refugee crisis, and spoke frequently at Council functions.  
The Zionist assault upon the Council was often brutal and the attempt to silence all opposition to their agenda within the Jewish community was conducted with great ferocity. “The Zionists,” writes Thomas Kolsky, “considered the ACJ a dangerous and vicious enemy. In their attacks … the Zionists not only persisted in accusing their opponents of treason and blasphemy but also diagnosed them as suffering from mental illness … According to the Zionists, anti-Zionists were anxious about their status and were insecure, frustrated and self-hating Jews. They needed good psychiatric treatment … They considered public anti-Zionism an illegitimate stance for Jews, signifying serious defects in personality … Zionist allegations … were largely emotional, unsubstantiated polemical overstatements. The ACJ indeed represented a different Jewish viewpoint, but its members did not deny their Jewishness. Many were active congregants in Reform temples. Several Council lay leaders, particularly I. Edward Tonkon and Bernard Gradwohl, were seriously committed to the revitalization of classical Reform Judaism. On the whole, most ACJ members felt comfortable about their Jewish religion, but they adamantly objected to its politicization by Zionism.”  
Professor Kolsky argues that, “… the Zionists almost never acknowledged the Council’s right to its dissenting viewpoint … The Council, on the other hand, despite fierce attacks on the Zionists, was usually more restrained in tone and style … the organization’s literature tended to be careful and dignified … Considering itself an organization concerned primarily with the U.S. and its Jews, the ACJ maintained that Zionists were subverting the status of American Jews by associating them with a foreign nationalism … Contrary to Zionist claims, the ACJ’s philosophy was firmly rooted in a long historical tradition. In fact, only fifty years prior to the Council’s formation, the ideals espoused reflected the thinking of a majority of American Jews.”  
“Vicious and Merciless Purge”  
Jack Ross declares that the assault upon the Council on the part of the Zionists “would undeniably be among the most vicious and merciless purges of heretics in the history of American religion, perhaps rivaled only by the suppression of Mormon polygamy.”  
Signatures were gathered from 757 rabbis for an open letter asserting that “anti-Zionism, not Zionism, is the departure from the Jewish religion.” The student body at Hebrew Union College endorsed this statement by a vote of 42-9. The American Jewish Conference passed a resolution denouncing the ACJ in what Ross describes as “shockingly totalitarian language” for “attempting to sabotage the collective Jewish will to achieve a united program.”  
The warnings about Zionism which the Council expressed during its early years have been prophetic. Professor Kolsky concludes that, “… many of the predictions about the consequences of the establishment of a Jewish state did come true. As the ACJ had foreseen, the birth of the state created numerous problems — problems the Zionists had minimized. For example, Israel became highly, if not unusually, dependent on support from American Jews. Moreover, the formation of the state directly contributed to undermining Jewish communities in Arab countries and to precipitating a protracted conflict between Israel and the Arabs. Indeed, as the Council had often warned and contrary to Zionist expectations, Israel did not become a truly normal state. Nor did it become a light to the nations. Ironically, created presumably to free Jews from anti-Semitism and ghetto-like existence as well as to provide them with abiding peace, Israel became, in effect, a garrison state, a nation resembling a large territorial ghetto besieged by hostile neighbors … The ominous predictions of the ACJ are still haunting the Zionists.”  
In an article about the Council in The New York Times (June 26, 2010), “On Religion” columnist Samuel G. Freedman points out that the Council’s philosophy “adheres to a consistent strain within Jewish debate … The effort to separate the Jewish state from Jewish identity has centuries-old roots … The intense criticism of Israel now growing among a number of American Jews” has made the Council look “prophetic.” He notes that, “The arguments that the Council has consistently leveled against Zionism and Israel have shot back into prominence over the last decade, with the collapse of the Oslo peace process, Israel’s wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and most recently the fatal attack on a flotilla seeking to breach the naval blockade of the Hamas regime. One need not agree with any of the Council’s positions to admit that, for a certain faction of American Jews, they have come back into style.”  
Rejection of Zion  
Freedman notes that, “The rejection of Zion … goes back to the Torah itself, with its accounts of the Hebrews’ rebelling against Moses on the journey toward the Promised Land and pleading to return to Egypt. Until Theodor Herzl created the modern Zionist movement in the 20th century, the biblical injunction to return to Israel was widely understood as a theological construct rather than a pragmatic instruction. Most Orthodox Jewish leaders before the Holocaust rejected Zionism, saying the exile was a divine punishment and Israel could be restored only in the messianic age. The Reform movement maintained that Judaism is a religion, not a nationality … What is numerically true, thus not open to debate, is that only a tiny proportion of American Jews have ever rejected exile here to emigrate to Israel.”  
In recent years, as the Council’s founders predicted, Judaism as a religion has become increasingly corrupted and politicized. Jewish religious bodies, ranging from Orthodox to Conservative to Reform, have embraced the notion that the state of Israel — not God — is somehow central to Judaism. In its 1999 Statement of Principles, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism) went so far as to declare that, “We affirm the unique qualities of living in the land of Israel and we encourage Aliyah (emigration to Israel).”  
Zionism was, from its very beginning, unaware of and indifferent to the experience of Judaism in the United States. The future of American Jews was carefully charted in Jerusalem during the 23rd World Zionist Congress of 1951. One resolution called upon the youth of the Jewish community, particularly those in the U.S., to immigrate to Israel. The head of the American section of the Jewish Agency, Dr. Nahum Goldmann, declared: “We accomplished a great job. American Jews have always been asked for money and came through beautifully. Now we shall ask them for children, and I am confident that they will come through, after much education and effort.”  
Ever since, Israel has spared no effort in attempting to stimulate the emigration of Jews, not only from the U.S. but from every place in the world where Jews may live. On a January 1996 visit to Germany, Israeli President Ezer Weizmann declared that he “cannot understand how 40,000 Jews (there are now well over 100,000) can live in Germany,” and asserted that, “The only place of Jews is in Israel. Only in Israel can Jews live full Jewish lives.” In July 2004, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon issued an appeal for all Jews in France to move to Israel “immediately.” He said: “Move to Israel as early as possible. That’s what I say to Jews all over the world.”  
“Mass Aliyah to Israel”  
In 1998, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called upon American Jews to make a “mass aliyah” to Israel. In 2000, Israeli President Moshe Katsev called upon Jews around the world to make aliyah and argued against “legitimizing” Jewish life in other countries. In a book published in 2000, Conversations with Yitzhak Shamir, the former Israeli prime minister declared: “The very essence of our being obliges every Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael.”  
The state of Israel is not content to be the state of its own citizens but persists in claiming to be the “homeland” of all Jews, whose responsibility, it argues, is to emigrate. Sadly, American Jewish organizations have been hesitant to criticize Israeli government programs which promote the idea that all Jews belong in Israel and that the United States, however comfortable, is “exile.” This concept, repugnant to the vast majority of Americans of Jewish faith, who consider themselves to be fully American and very much at home, is even now being promoted by American Jewish organizations themselves.  
The reality is that the vast majority of American Jews are not represented by the national organizations which speak in their name, The philosophy enunciated by the Council for more than 70 years — that Judaism is a religion of universal values, not a nationality, and that Americans of Jewish faith are very much at home in the United States, is the view which most American Jews embrace.  
Idolatry of the State of Israel  
In recent days, more and more Jewish voices have challenged the Zionist consensus which has emerged in organized American Jewish life. They have come to understand that the growing idolatry of the state of Israel has led to the distortion of a rich religious heritage. The founders of Reform Judaism rejected the notion of a God confined to a particular “holy” land and embraced, instead, a universal God, the Father of all men, and a religion of universal values as relevant in New York or London as in Jerusalem. Early in the 20th century, Hermann Cohen, one of the foremost Jewish philosophers of modern times, understood the danger that Zionism would re-ignite an intoxication with the land that would strangle Jewish morality.  
The American Council for Judaism has never abandoned its belief in a universal faith of ethical values for men and women of every race and nation which the Prophets preached and in which generations of Jews believed. The Council’s early leaders recognized how narrow nationalism would corrupt the humane Jewish religious tradition. For the past 70 years, the Council has kept that tradition alive. That more and more men and women are returning to that faith at the present time is an indication of their courage and prophetic vision. •  
Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and serves as Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues. The author of five books, he has served on the staff of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President.

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.