President Warren Harding is perhaps best known for the Teapot Dome Scandal, in which his secretary of the interior was sent to prison for having accepted bribes. He also appeared largely indifferent or even hostile to American Jewish interests; for example, he spearheaded the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which sharply limited the number of Jewish immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Yet, as Saul Jay Singer explains, “his enthusiastic support for the Balfour Declaration . . . established an important precedent for American Zionism and played an important role in the birth of Israel.”
Soon after he succeeded Woodrow Wilson as president, [Harding] made it clear that he would unreservedly support Zionism and its lofty aims; in a July 1, 1921, correspondence, he wrote to the chairman of the Reception Committee of the Zionist Organization of America: “I want to add an expression of my most friendly interest in and for the Zionist movement. It is impossible for one who has studied at all the services of the Hebrew people to avoid the faith that they will one day be restored to their historical national home and then enter on a new and yet greater phase of their contribution to the advance of humanity.”
During an hour-long meeting with Harding at the White House on January 13, 1922, Nahum Sokolow, then the president of the executive committee of the World Zionist Congress, briefed the president on the persecution of East European Jews and updated him on settlement progress in Eretz Yisrael. The president reiterated his sympathy for Zionism and promised the further support of the United States government.
That summer, Harding won the hearts of many American Jews with a Rosh Hashana greeting that read:
The commemoration this year of Rosh Hashanah, the New Year [sic] day of the Jewish people, will mark the end of a year peculiarly notable in Jewish annals. It has seemed the definite assurance to the Jewish people that their long aspiration for re-establishment of Jewish nationality in the homeland of this great people is to be definitely realized. This is an event of notable significance, not only to the Jewish people but to their friends and well-wishers everywhere, among whom the American nation has always been proud to be numbered.