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

June 21 2018
About Jonathan

Jonathan Silver is the editor of Mosaic and the Chief Programming Officer of Tikvah, where he is also the Warren R. Stern Senior Fellow of Jewish Civilization.

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


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict