In 1940, three of the great Zionist leaders of the day—Chaim Weizmann, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and David Ben-Gurion—traveled separately to the U.S. to raise funds, recruit volunteers, and seek support in Washington for a Jewish army that would fight against Nazi Germany. These efforts, all of which came to naught, are the subject of Rick Richman’s Racing against History. (An excerpt can be read here.) Jonathan Silver writes in his review:
In mid-June [of this year], the American Jewish Committee published a study documenting just how differently American Jews and Israelis think about the Jewish condition. On Israeli security, the American president, religious pluralism, and other issues of real consequence, the gap between Israeli and American Jews is very wide.
The historical sources of this divide are illuminated in Rick Richman’s eye-opening Racing Against History: The 1940 Campaign for a Jewish Army to Fight Hitler. . . . [T]he reasons for the failure [to raise such an army] show us that disagreements between American Jews and Israel are not new, and they are not the result of Prime Minister Netanyahu or any American president. . . .
Richman . . . demonstrates that [Chaim] Weizmann’s reflections on 1940 are consistent with assessments of the American Diaspora he had been making for decades. As early as 1916, Weizmann had written that assimilation was “the natural progress of emancipated Jews” outside of the land of Israel. In America, he found that assimilationist pressure had led Jews to adopt the same isolationist views as their non-Jewish neighbors. American Jews believed that they were already in the promised land, and they would not let European strangers or Middle Eastern dreamers endanger their standing. . . .
Richman’s book reveals how three singular Zionist leaders came to America, each with his distinct habits of mind and ways of negotiating the country, its politics, and its people. Despite their apparent disagreements, they all stood for Jewish particularity and Jewish strength as the keys to the Jewish future. But in America, the Jewish future would not be decided by Jewish strength or understood in the name of Jewish particularity. The differences between Jewish Americans and Zionists predate Israel’s founding. They predate World War II. Richman’s remarkable account of a telling moment in history shows how the differences between American Jews and the [ideological] descendants of Weizmann, Jabotinsky, and Ben-Gurion grow straight from the roots of Zionism itself.