What the Failed Attempt to Raise a Jewish Army to Fight Hitler Exposes about American Jewry and Israel

Jonathan Silver
June 21 2018
About Jonathan

Jonathan Silver is the senior director of Tikvah Ideas, where he is also the Warren R. Stern Senior Fellow of Jewish Civilization. The editor of Mosaic, he is also the host of the Tikvah Podcast on which he has hosted hundreds of writers, rabbis, educators, military officers, artists, and political figures, including members of Israel’s Knesset, the U.S. Senate, and the prime minister of Israel.

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.

Read more at Commentary

More about: American Jewry, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism, World War II, Ze'ev Jabotinsky

Strengthening the Abraham Accords at Sea

In an age of jet planes, high-speed trains, electric cars, and instant communication, it’s easy to forget that maritime trade is, according to Yuval Eylon, more important than ever. As a result, maritime security is also more important than ever. Eylon examines the threats, and opportunities, these realities present to Israel:

Freedom of navigation in the Middle East is challenged by Iran and its proxies, which operate in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf, and recently in the Mediterranean Sea as well. . . . A bill submitted to the U.S. Congress calls for the formulation of a naval strategy that includes an alliance to combat naval terrorism in the Middle East. This proposal suggests the formation of a regional alliance in the Middle East in which the member states will support the realization of U.S. interests—even while the United States focuses its attention on other regions of the world, mainly the Far East.

Israel could play a significant role in the execution of this strategy. The Abraham Accords, along with the transition of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation from the European Command (EUCOM) to Central Command (CENTCOM), position Israel to be a key player in the establishment of a naval alliance, led by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain.

Collaborative maritime diplomacy and coalition building will convey a message of unity among the members of the alliance, while strengthening state commitments. The advantage of naval operations is that they enable collaboration without actually threatening the territory of any sovereign state, but rather using international waters, enhancing trust among all members.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Abraham Accords, Iran, Israeli Security, Naval strategy, U.S. Foreign policy