The Americanization of Zionism, 1897-1948

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UPNE, 2003 - Religion - 261 pages
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Although much has been written about philosophical and political Zionism, Zionism in the United States prior to 1948 requires separate treatment. The early development of American Zionism not only mirrors the paradoxes and challenges that faced first and second-generation Jews adjusting to life in the United States, it also has ramifications for contemporary attitudes of American Jews toward Israel. According to Naomi Cohen, American Zionism was shaped originally by three factors: the needs of Jews in the United States and Europe, the stance of the American government, and the demands of non-Jewish public opinion. Within these broad parameters, the development of Zionism in the United States was linked to specifically Jewish American forces--acculturation, the struggle over communal leadership, and the impact of American antisemitism. Cohen demonstrates the uniqueness of American Zionism through chapters that offer a fifty-year historical overview of the Jewish community in the United States and its relationship to its own government, to European events, and to political developments in the yishuv. Focusing on Jewish leadership and democracy, Cohen analyzes the contradictions inherent in balancing political Zionism with Jewish participation in American public policy. She examines theological arguments raised by early-twentieth-century American reform Jews against Zionism, and she explores the meaning of public debates on Zionism following the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the Arab riots of 1929. Later chapters concern aspects of the immigration question from the 1920s to the 1940s and offer an account of diplomatic negotiations between an American non-Zionist and a British official on Jewish immigration and settlement. The volume concludes with an analysis of the founding of Israel debates of the 1940s, employing the responses of the American Jewish Conference and the Jewish Theological Seminary to illuminate contemporary American Zionist attitudes. Although Cohen recounts different aspects of American Zionist history, all emphasizes how American Zionists, singly, in groups, or through institutions, reconciled their Zionist beliefs and activities with American principles and tastes. Indeed, American standards and concerns underlie the harsh criticism of Zionism by both Jews and non-Jews, a subject also treated in these essays. Using a range of never-before-seen primary sources, Cohen strongly makes her case that without the Americanization of its ideology and politics, Zionism in the United States would have made little headway. Although Herzl's teachings, tailored to conform to American beliefs and public behavior, were in part watered down to suit American Jewish sensibilities, they nonetheless had a powerful effect on American Jewry.

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About the author (2003)

Winner of several American Jewish book awards, NAOMI W. COHEN's books include Jews in Christian America (1992) and The Year After the Riots (1988). She lives in Jerusalem.

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