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Cooperation and Struggle: Rethinking the Impact of the American Zionist Leadership on the Twenty-Second Zionist Congress.

On December 9, 1946, the twenty-second World Zionist Congress, the first since the outbreak of World War II, opened in Basel, Switzerland. This Congress, whose deliberations took place in the shadow of the Holocaust, was crucial for the future of the Zionist movement. Previous scholarship has underscored the growing rift between David Ben-Gurion, the chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive Committee, and Chaim Weizmann, the president of the Zionist Organization, during the 1940s, describing at length how the former's political stature grew while Weizmann's position deteriorated, leading to his de facto deposition at the Zionist Congress in 1946. Despite Weizmann's dwindling power in the 1940s, it was only in 1946 that Ben-Gurion was able to marginalize him totally. (1)

In this article, I rethink the effect that American Zionist leaders had on the twenty-second Zionist Congress in general and on Weizmann's ouster in particular. I will show that Weizmann's waning prestige, along with the growing power of Zionism in the United States, in general, and of its leader, Abba Hillel Silver, in particular, require a different assessment of the political realities at the Congress. Many of Weizmann's supporters concluded that it would be futile to persist in their efforts to secure his reelection as president of the Zionist Organization; Weizmann's unwillingness to cut ties with Great Britain made him politically unpopular with delegates to the Congress. As a result, several of Weizmann's erstwhile supporters who opposed Ben-Gurion decided to cooperate with Silver. In spite of Silver's efforts to depose Weizmann, the two men shared a similar ideology of liberal, General Zionism, in opposition to Ben-Gurion's labor Zionism on the left and Vladimir Jabotinsky's Revisionist Zionism on the right. This broad ideological congruence made it easier for some of Weizmann's former supporters to choose Silver as their champion. The result was a political bloc that, at least potentially, posed a challenge to Ben-Gurion's dominance within the Zionist movement, the Yishuv, and the state in the making.

The significance of Weizmann's political decline should be understood in the light of his extraordinary importance in the Zionist movement. As one of the chief architects of the Balfour Declaration, Weizmann's authority to lead the movement was widely recognized. Indeed, Weizmann was the president of the Zionist movement for most of its existence from 1921 till 1946. (2)

Weizmann believed that the best way for the Zionist movement to further its goals was to cooperate with world leaders. In particular, Weizmann was disturbed by Ben-Gurion's strategy of getting the United States to pressure Britain to agree to the establishment of a Jewish state. He was certain that this would lead nowhere and implored Justice Felix Frankfurter to impress upon Ben-Gurion and the other Zionist leaders that the idea was doomed to failure. (3) Weizmann's criticism of the Zionist strategy in the United States was not confined to the debate over the nature of political activity there and extended to the damage sustained by Britain as a result of the pro-Zionist activity in Washington, an issue that continued even after the war. (4)

Most Zionists disagreed with Weizmann's stance, and so, while rank-and-file members of the movement still venerated him, a majority of Zionist Congress delegates found Weizmann's perspective unacceptable, and came to view Silver, who advocated for more pressure on Britain and a more aggressive push for a Jewish state, as a reasonable alternative. The machinations of the twenty-second Congress reflected these shifting political calculations.

Weizmann and American Zionists Before 1946

American Zionists played a major role in the dramatic events that occurred in the Yishuv and the arena of international Zionist politics during the 1930s and 1940s. Their growing weight within the Zionist movement was in part a consequence of the deteriorating situation of European Jewry, as well as a reflection of their country's enhanced stature and increasing involvement in the international sphere. But it also reflected a new economic reality: the bulk of the international Zionist movement's budget during that period came from the United States.

Starting in the early 1930s, Jewish philanthropic organizations and Zionist fundraising appeals collected ever-larger sums of money; Hadassah and other Zionist groups experienced a surge in membership; and Zionist events drew large attendance. Events in Europe--the worsening situation of German Jewry, the rising tide of fascism, and the emerging rift between Great Britain and the Zionist movement--simultaneously stoked fears of antisemitism and nurtured a sense of Jewish solidarity. In America this was reflected in a willingness to take public action as an ethnic group in the political arena. (5) The importance of American Jewry and American Zionists became even clearer after the world descended into vortex of war. The US's political importance in the context of World War II and its growing involvement in the Middle East meant that American Jewry could be used as a political and diplomatic tool to influence American policy. (6)

American Zionists' singular role during this decade is evident in the special attention they received from the Zionist leadership. Intent on influencing the policy and methods of the American Zionist movement, the heads of the Jewish Agency and the Zionist Organization made long visits to the United States. In the first stage, they hoped to switch President Franklin D. Roosevelt's opposition to establishing a Jewish state within the international agreements to follow World War II. In the second stage, they hoped to create external leverage as a result of American pressure on Britain that would affect and change British policy in Palestine. Issues related to American Zionists were high on the agenda at meetings of the various Zionist institutions and figured prominently in the letters and diaries of Zionist leaders.

Weizmann himself spent twenty-one months in the United States during World War II, during which he focused on issues relating to the American sphere in general and to American Zionists in particular. He viewed the United States as the global center of Zionist activity and appointed Meir Weisgal, a journalist, longtime Zionist activist, and the future president of the Weizmann Institute, as his personal representative in the United States. (7) Ben-Gurion, who was chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, also made lengthy visits to the United States, including a fourteen-month stay between October 1940 and October 1942. (8)

The American arena was highly significant in many of Weizmann's political achievements, as American Jewry and American Zionists played a central role in his Zionist activity. This includes the founding of the Hebrew University, the efforts to establish the Keren Hayesod following World War I and the process of shaping a broader Jewish Agency. His failure to win reelection as president of the Zionist Organization at the twenty-second Zionist Congress was also influenced by the American arena. (9)

The leadership of the Zionist movement in the United States changed during the decade that preceded the founding of Israel. Stephen Wise, a Reform rabbi and Democratic Party activist from New York City, was gradually supplanted by Abba Hillel Silver, also a Reform rabbi, whose base was in Cleveland. (10) Silver was the foremost Zionist leader in the United States from 1944 on. His accession to this role reflected the dramatic changes in American Zionism as a result of World War II and the Holocaust, and especially the new willingness to engage in a militant political struggle for Zionist goals in the United States as an ethnic minority group. Indifferent from Wise, Silver was the first to understand and ready to use the readiness of American Jewry to act as an ethnic group with a political agenda in the American arena. (11)

At first, Weizmann supported Silver in his rise within the movement. This support in part reflected a long acquaintance, which can be traced back several decades. In 1942, during Weizmann's second wartime visit to the United States, he promoted Silver's candidacy to head the Emergency Committee on Zionist Affairs. As a result of Weizmann's intervention, Stephen Wise, who headed the Emergency Committee and was Silver's political rival, agreed to accept Silver as his co-chair. (12) The Emergency Committee was formed on September 19 by the Zionist Congress in response to the fear that the various Zionist centers would lose contact with one another and the desire to concentrate political activity in the United States. In effect, it functioned primarily as a political pressure group with a view to prompting the Roosevelt administration to further Zionist objectives. The warm relationship between the two was further cemented during Silver's successful visit to Britain in March 1942, during which he impressed Weizmann with his speeches at public events and his ability to achieve a rapport with British politicians. (13) Weizmann believed that he had done much to enable Silver to broaden his activism and political reach beyond Cleveland. (14) When Silver was elected co-chair of the revamped American Zionist Emergency Council in 1943, Weizmann sent him a congratulatory telegram in which he stated that Silver's elevation was an event of major importance for the Zionist movement. (15)

Moreover, Weizmann and Silver shared both a broad ideological outlook and positions on certain vital issues. Neither was affiliated with labor Zionism, and they most likely held similar views on the economic and social development of the Yishuv. Both also favored cooperation between Jews and Arabs in Palestine and in the Middle East, as manifested in their support for the Lowdermilk plan. The plan, which envisioned a mechanism of regional cooperation to permit efficient use of water and land resources in the region, was opposed by many in the Yishuv establishment. Even during 1944, Weizmann regarded Silver as a trusted ally in the rejection of what he termed Jewish terrorism in Palestine. He believed that this violence was causing untold damage to the Zionist movement, and expressed the hope that Silver would lead a public campaign against it among American Jews. (16)

During 1944, however, Weizmann's attitude towards Silver flipped from warm support to animosity and opposition. This transformation reflected a political parting of the ways as Silver and Ben-Gurion joined forces to push the Zionist movement toward a fiercely anti-British line and agitated against the Roosevelt administration's policy on the Palestine question. Not only were these strategies offensive to Weizmann, the political and personal stakes were high because the United States had become the major arena of Zionist political activity. Weizmann's unwillingness to come out frontally against the British spurred his rivals to greater efforts to oust him from his leadership position, and led his supporters to reconsider their allegiance to him. (17) Abba Hillel Silver himself helped to stoke the opposition to Weizmann in the United States, and he and his supporters cooperated with Ben-Gurion to sideline Weizmann, even as Silver and Ben-Gurion eyed each other warily as rivals.

Indeed, despite their common opposition to Weizmann and his stance on the immediate question of relations with the British during the war, Silver and Ben-Gurion continued to represent different visions of the Zionist enterprise. While Ben-Gurion and Silver cooperated in their conspiracy against Weizmann, and in the Zionist Executive that arose from the Congress, the two leaders' relationship was otherwise characterized by rivalry. Unlike Ben-Gurion, Silver wanted to maintain the power of the international Zionist movement after statehood and hoped to play an influential role in the new country. Silver's outlook regarding the future of the Middle East and the Jewish state was in tune with his views about the postwar world order and the future Jewish state's place in it. He endeavored to have the Jewish state established under the auspices of the United Nations and through international agreements. Silver proposed a broad economic initiative that would benefit Jews and Arabs alike. The very existence of such a plan would assure a vital Jewish state as part of the Middle East. Silver's view of the Jewish state in world affairs and the Middle East ran counter to that of Ben-Gurion, who opposed United Nations intervention in the Middle East, wanted to involve the Jewish state in the conflict between East and West, and did not support a policy of compromise and moderation regarding the conflict with the Arabs. Despite their cooperation, then, the two leaders had very different ideas about Zionist strategy in the near future. (18)

With Weizmann now out of step with the majority of the movement, and in failing health, many senior centrist Zionists--in the United States, Palestine, and the rest of the world--came to believe that Silver was the only political figure that could contest Ben-Gurion's leadership. Many of Weizmann's supporters in the United States now turned to their countryman as the only alternative to Ben-Gurion. (19) They felt that Silver should and must take Weizmann's place at the center of movement. This desideratum was made all the more urgent by Ben-Gurion's dominance in the Yishuv; only by uniting American Zionists could Silver hope to counter the latter's influence. Rose Jacobs, former president of Hadassah and member of the Jewish Agency Executive, explained in her diary the tactical nature of the turn away from Weizmann. Hadassah delegates to the twenty-second Congress continued to support Weizmann's views, she wrote, and their decision to vote against him stemmed from their belief that he could no longer effectively lead the movement. (20)

The Political Upheaval of 1946

When the twenty-second Zionist Congress opened, the deliberations had two major foci. The first involved the future course of Zionism. It is customary to depict this debate as a conflict between activists and moderates over the key issues on the Zionist agenda: the degree of cooperation or confrontation with the British and the political solution for Palestine. The second sphere of debate, linked to the first, involved the composition of the Zionist Executive and election of the organization's president. Both contemporaries and later historians have maintained that the issue of Weizmann's continuation as president of the Zionist Organization was the major issue before the delegates. (21)

The papers of American Zionist leaders make clear that the debates at the twenty-second Congress reflected the culmination of rise of American Zionists within the Zionist movement, and of the political machinations of Abba Hillel Silver. (22) Fully aware of the public admiration for Weizmann and that his popularity could be used to rally Jews and others to the cause, Silver and Ben-Gurion concealed their maneuvering before the Congress started. Their goal was to depose Weizmann from an active leadership role, and name him to the purely ceremonial position of honorary president of the Zionist Organization. American Zionist delegates denied at the time, and later, that they had participated in these political maneuvers. In his memoirs, for example, Emanuel Neumann, a future chairman of the ZOA and Silver's political ally, claimed that the plan to oust Weizmann had not been devised before the Congress. Writing about the Americans' preparations for the Congress, he noted "our thoughts at that time did not extend to the intention to depose Weizmann from his position as President of the World Zionist Organization." (23)

There is evidence, however, that belies these protestations of innocence. For example, a visit to the United States by Moshe Sneh, a member of the Jewish Agency Executive and former commander of the Haganah, in October 1946, appears to have been motivated by these backdoor political plans. Sneh came to consult with the American Zionist leadership in his capacity as the architect of the evolving alliance between Ben-Gurion and Silver. (24)

Sneh's activity in the United States was the result of a prior agreement between Silver and Ben-Gurion to force out Weizmann, as shown by a letter that Ben-Gurion wrote to Silver two months before the twenty-second Congress. (25) Although Ben-Gurion rejected Silver's demand to be granted overall responsibility for political activity in the United States, he nonetheless stressed their shared understanding about how to deal with the British and of a need to coordinate their positions and cooperate before the Congress in order to produce a change in Zionist policy. This would require removing Weizmann from the presidency. (26)

The plan to relegate Weizmann to the position of honorary president of the Zionist Organization was hatched during Sneh's visit to the United States. The solution was designed to remove Weizmann, who enjoyed broad support in the international Zionist movement and the Yishuv, from the center of political activity, while continuing to exploit his global stature and minimizing public criticism of his ouster. The plan to depose Weizmann was presented to the leaders of American Zionism in the United States as Ben-Gurion and Silver's project, with the two men to become the joint leaders of the movement.

Neumann emphasized that most of the American Zionist leadership supported the idea. (27) Perhaps the most important supporter was Louis Lipsky, former chairman of the ZOA and one of Weizmann's closest confidants in America. As Neumann wrote to Silver: "He [Sneh] advanced the idea of Dr. Weizmann's retiring to the position of Honorary President and the election of a Presidium to include yourself [Silver], Ben-Gurion and probably a third. Lipsky was all for it and strongly so." (28) Moreover, Lipsky did not just tacitly support the plan, but engaged in a heated debate with Stephen Wise, who opposed any attempt to depose Weizmann. (29) Wise's political and personal rivalry with Silver made him the only American Zionist leader to object to Weizmann's demotion. Lipsky's decision to debate Wise indicates that he believed that Weizmann was no longer able to head the movement, and many other American leaders felt the same way.

The Silver-Ben-Gurion coalition was thus the outcome of anti-Weizmann activity conducted in the United States. Ben-Gurion, Silver, and their political allies had devised a plan to depose Weizmann and cooperated to implement it. But they concealed their plot from the rank and file. If knowledge of the plan to remove Weizmann were to leak out, it might jeopardize its implementation, because of public pressure not to humiliate the veteran leader who was most strongly identified with the Zionist movement. To avoid the appearance of a conspiracy against Weizmann and to retain the element of surprise, the two rivals for the crown concealed their agreement to depose Weizmann. (30)

Cooperation and Rivalry: Silver and Ben-Gurion

Internal Mapai (Mifleget Po'ale Eretz Israel, Worker's Party of the Land of Israel, a socialist Zionist party) documents reveal that even as they cooperated with Silver to oust Weizmann, Ben-Gurion and his associates distrusted their new ally, and regarded the Cleveland rabbi as a potential threat to their hegemony over the Zionist movement. The party secretariat convened in late 1945 to begin the preparations for the forthcoming Congress. Ben-Gurion spoke first, laying out the guidelines for the debate, which was to focus on issues related to the internal Zionist sphere rather than on external topics. (31) He underscored the importance of the Congress and the challenges it posed for Mapai, in that it had the potential to transform the nature of the Zionist movement and endanger the labor movement's status therein. This, he explained, was a result of the demographic upheaval in the Jewish people and the increased weight of the American Jewish community:
   The first matter requires no explanation. The Jewish people has
   changed. It is now a different people. The only large Jewish
   community now is America. This collective has considerable
   political weight within Zionism and a decisive financial weight
   within Zionism. Both these facts present a grave danger that for
   many years hung over Zionism in its Revisionist version. But what
   the outright Revisionists failed to achieve may be achieved by
   those who have rid themselves of the accusation of Revisionism.
   There is a danger that the Zionist movement will become an American
   Joint (Joint Distribution Committee [JDC]) with American stalwarts
   who will take control of the movement and of the Zionist
   enterprise. (32)

Ben-Gurion warned that the danger inherent in American Zionists' growing power was exacerbated by Silver's assumption of the leadership reins: "The Zionist movement in America is dominated by Silver. Silver is not necessarily a phenomenon of fascism. This is a phenomenon more characteristic of America. This is the phenomenon of a 'boss,' of 'bossism.' But one should not ignore the possibility of Revisionist-fascist tendencies." (33) Ben-Gurion went on to describe the process whereby Silver would attempt to seize control of the Zionist movement. Silver was turning the American Zionist Organization into a strong and well-organized body and would gain full control of it by the time of the twenty-second Congress. Silver's electoral strength translated into control over the money of the Zionist institutions in the United States, which financed most of the movement's budget. With this power base, Ben-Gurion said, Silver was the only person who could threaten the Labor movement's control of the Zionist Organization:
   Thus far, the right wing in Palestine has not had a Zionist leader.
   They have a local leader, Rokach [Israel Rokach, mayor of Tel
   Aviv], but they have not had a Zionist figure. The right wing in
   Palestine has now found its leader. Silver will certainly not be so
   foolish as to appear as a leader of the right. But he has links
   with the right. He has links with the Revisionists. It is not
   impossible that he will control the coming Congress. This is not a
   Jabotinsky. To be sure, he lacks some of Jabotinsky's brilliant
   talents, but on the other hand he also lacks some of Jabotinsky's
   drawbacks. He has no record of fighting the workers. He will send
   his functionaries to London and Jerusalem. This is a system of rule
   by functionaries. (34)

In light of their differences, both Silver's General Zionist supporters and Ben-Gurion's labor Zionist comrades maneuvered for a better position at the upcoming Congress. The debate in Mapai's Political Committee thus also focused on developing political measured to counter Silver in the United States and on building a coalition before the Congress to deal with the threat he posed. Ben-Gurion argued that the most important issue confronting Mapai was "how to place Silver in a minority within Zionism." He was well aware of how difficult it was to fight against Silver in the United States and noted that "in order to isolate [him], we have to arrive there along with a Zionist group, and that would be very difficult." (35)

The competition between Ben-Gurion and Silver was reflected in an election brochure issued by the Zionist Organization of America in advance of the twenty-second Congress, which called on voters to support the ZOA in order to secure the status of American Zionists at the Congress. It stressed that American Jews constituted the largest Jewish community in the world and therefore had every right to appropriate representation in the Zionist leadership. The brochure defended the American Zionists' status in response to the allegation, emanating from Palestine, that the American Zionists were planning to seize control of the international movement. In another section of the document, the ZOA was portrayed as an apolitical body of all American Zionists, whatever their party allegiances. This clearly alluded to the rivalry between Ben-Gurion and Silver. By presenting the ZOA as nonpartisan, the authors repudiated Ben-Gurion's hope of splitting American Zionists along party lines in order to weaken Silver and reduce the number of American delegates who supported him. The brochure underscored the ZOA's support for the labor movement in Palestine--almost certainly in order to counteract the portrayal of Silver as an enemy of labor. (36)

Ben-Gurion's decision to cooperate with Silver to dethrone Weizmann reflected his appreciation of the latter's political power, not only in the American sphere but also among many of the delegates to the Zionist Congress. Ben-Gurion was also aware of Silver's ability to use his numerical strength at the head of the largest bloc of delegates to prevent his exclusion from the leadership. (37) So Ben-Gurion and Sneh's maneuvers against Weizmann led to Silver's inclusion in the Jewish Agency Executive and acceptance of his demand to be granted sole responsibility for Zionist political activity in the United States.

But Ben-Gurion's and Silver's collaboration to depose Weizmann did nothing to mitigate their rivalry at the Congress and in fact exacerbated it. Ben-Gurion sought to curb Silver's political gains with a view to reducing his negotiating power. It is against this backdrop that one can understand Ben-Gurion's acerbic criticism of Silver in his speeches as well as his vote against Silver's motion that the Zionists boycott the British government's London Conference on the status of Palestine, which had met with only Arab participation in September-October, 1946, and was scheduled to resume in January 1947. (38) This vote, which ran counter to all Ben-Gurion's public positions, could have been interpreted as an expression of support for Weizmann; it was Weizmann who was the firmest advocate of Zionist participation in the Conference. (39) The paradox is resolved if we assume that Ben-Gurion's vote was not a demonstration of confidence in Weizmann but a test of Silver's political power. From this perspective, Ben-Gurion's overriding motivation was his desire to diminish Silver's support among the delegates; given Weizmann's declining reputation among Zionist delegates, Ben-Gurion was not particularly concerned about the slim possibility that Weizmann would be reelected. The vote against Silver's motion to boycott the London Conference worked in Ben-Gurion's favor at another level as well. His apparent alignment with Weizmann's supporters led people to believe that Silver was the prime mover in Weizmann's deposal; this had an adverse effect on Silver's standing in Zionist public opinion. (40)

At the same time, Ben-Gurion's representatives in the United States impressed on Silver's loyalists that his election to the presidency of the Zionist Organization would paralyze it. The assessment in the Silver camp was that even if Silver could recruit a majority among the delegates to the twenty-second Congress, the stature of Ben-Gurion and Mapai in the latter half of the 1940s made such a step unwise and might lead to a split in the Zionist movement. (41) Against Ben-Gurion's objection, Silver was given the reins of all Zionist political activity in the United States. At the same time, Silver and his supporters realized that an attempt by Silver to win the presidency of the Zionist Organization would generate such a negative reaction by Mapai that the movement would cease to function. Ben-Gurion thus recognized the power of American Zionists within the larger Zionist movement, but that power was not unlimited: Silver and his American supporters could not govern the Zionist movement on their own.

Weizmann's Ouster

The cooperation between Ben-Gurion and Silver to depose Weizmann continued at the meeting of the Zionist General Council that began four days after the Congress adjourned. According to the Zionist constitution if the Congress do not decide who would be the next president the decision should be made by the Zionist General Council immediately after the Congress. As reported by the Palestine Telegraphic Agency: "When the meeting commenced Silver declared that the General Zionists would not serve on an Executive under Weizmann's presidency. At this point Ben-Gurion rose and surprised everyone by declaring that without the General Zionists there would be no coalition and it would be impossible to instate a new Executive. The meeting was adjourned, and the factions engaged in urgent consultations to discuss the situation that had arisen. During the consultations Eliezer Kaplan, Treasurer of the Jewish Agency [and later the first minister of finance of Israel], vehemently opposed Ben-Gurion's stance and accused him of making important pronouncements without consulting the entire faction." (42)

The statements by Silver and Ben-Gurion at the Council were coordinated in advance, as was Sneh's motion that the Zionist General Council not elect a new president for the Zionist Organization. Sneh's motion carried, foiling Weizmann's re-election. Given that Ben-Gurion had made it clear that the new Zionist Executive must include Silver and the General Zionists, all that remained was to announce the formation of a coalition comprising the General Zionists, Mapai, and Mizrachi, which left Weizmann, after three decades at the center of Zionist political activity, on the sidelines. (43)

More evidence that Silver and Ben-Gurion cooperated to oust Weizmann is found in the address delivered by Golda Meyerson (subsequently Meir, the fourth prime minister of Israel) to the Mapai Central Committee after the Congress. (44) Meyerson was a rising star in the Zionist movement and one of the most active politicians at the Congress, where she was Ben-Gurion's close assistant and factotum. (45) After asking the members of the Central Committee not to divulge the content of the discussion, Meyerson devoted the bulk of her speech to the issue of Weizmann's ouster by the Congress. She asserted that Weizmann had had no chance of winning re-election. Analyzing the voting patterns at the Congress, she maintained that a large majority favored his deposition. (46)

Because Meyerson was well aware, however, that Weizmann enjoyed considerable sympathy among members of the Mapai Central Committee, she felt that she had to make a case for Weizmann's ouster. By analyzing both of Weizmann's speeches at the Congress and noting the significant differences between them, Meyerson highlighted Weizmann's positive attitude towards Britain, charging that support made him unfit to lead the Zionist movement. The first speech, she said, was a prepared statement that had been vetted, edited, and approved by the members of the Jewish Agency Executive. "Every word and comma of it was measured and there were no slip-ups." (47) This speech, which criticized British policy in Palestine did not reflect Weizmann's true outlook and contained nothing to justify his ouster.

But the second speech was spontaneous, and showed why Weizmann could not continue in his post, according to Meyerson. Among other things, Weizmann had said, "It is true that after the business of the bridges in Palestine there came this 'great Shabbat' [a reference to "Black Saturday"] and good Zionists stood up and exclaimed: have you heard what the English are doing?! They are placing our leaders and our people in prison! I unfortunately then blurted out the reply: would you expect the English to offer you a cake and say, 'you are right, you did right'? Those who attack the government must be prepared that the government will attack them too, and if we say that its blows are heavier and hurt us more--we should have known that as well." (48)

Meyerson admired the rhetorical skill that Weizmann demonstrated in this speech, but believed it posed a danger for the Zionist movement:
   When the president of the Zionist Organization, Weizmann, who is
   obliged to remember and cannot forget, and is not entitled to
   forget that every word he utters, the entire world press publishes
   it--so when he gets up at the [Zionist] Congress before the world
   press and observers from various countries and, when he comes to
   the matter of June 29, all he has to say about it is that when
   agitated people came to him and asked him what would happen, his
   only reply to them was this: what do you expect--you blow up
   bridges and therefore the government acts like this. And he didn't
   say a word against the [British] government, even though he was in
   the country at the time ... And despite this he didn't utter one
   pertinent sentence, as he well knows how to, against the
   government, he didn't say one word on this matter against it, this
   shows, it seems to me, that this speech served as evidence that he
   can no longer head the Zionist Organization. (49)

Meyerson's speech conveys the circumstances that led many among the Zionist movement's leadership to support Weizmann's removal from the center of Zionist political activity. Contemporaries confirmed that it was Weizmann's unwillingness to escalate the political struggle against Britain and sever relations between Britain and the Zionist movement that made it impossible for him to continue to head the movement. (50)


The political maneuvering in advance of the Congress, the events during the Congress itself, and the reflections on the Congress delivered at Mapai forums afterward underscore the pivotal role that American Zionists played in Weizmann's ouster. The American delegates to the Zionist Congress constituted an opposition bloc that left Weizmann little hope of re-election as president of the Zionist Organization, and thereby facilitated the change in the movement's leadership at the end of 1946. (51) Weizmann's disagreement with Ben-Gurion and Silver about the strategy to be employed in the United States left the two with no choice but to get rid of him.

It is true that the gulf between Weizmann and the Yishuv leadership on the subject of protest activity against the British narrowed somewhat in the years immediately after the war. As a result of the events of the summer of 1946--Black Saturday at the end of June, the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in July, and the meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive in Paris in early August--the Zionist Executive ceased its protest activity against the British. At the same time, as we have seen, the gap between Weizmann's positions and those of his American opponents had earlier widened considerably, ultimately leading to Silver and Ben-Gurion's cooperation in Weizmann's ouster in 1946.

The story of the twenty-second Congress indicates the importance of incorporating the American Jewish historical perspective into overall Zionist history in Palestine and Israel. Archival material from both the United States and Israel demonstrates that it is impossible to fully understand the events at the twenty-second Zionist Congress without considering developments in the United States in general and among American Zionists in particular. The period when American Zionists were deeply involved in the Zionist movement and in Palestine was relatively short, but occurred during the most critical decade in the annals of the Jewish people in modern times, at a time when the fundamental components of Jewish nationalism were being formed. This lends exceptional importance to American Zionist activity and positions it at the core of the Zionist enterprise. The singular nature of the endeavors of American Zionists during the 1940s enables us to re-evaluate fundamental issues of Zionist history from a unique viewpoint that facilitates a better understanding of what actually happened. An episode that might seem to pertain exclusively to the annals of American Jewry is seen to have ramifications for Zionist history in general.

(1.) See Yosef Gorny, Shutafut u-ma'avaq, Chaim Weizmann u-tenu'at ha-po'alim beerets yisra'el [Partnership and Struggle, Chaim "Weizmann and the Workers' Movement in Palestine] (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1976), 160-210; Norman Rose, Chaim Weizmann, a Biography (New York: Viking Penguin, 1986), 418, 421; and Joseph Heller, The Birth of Israel 1945-1949: Ben-Gurion and His Critics (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000), 147-160. The Zionist Congress was first convened in 1897 as a sort of parliament of the Zionist movement. Every two years, dues-paying registered members throughout the world elected hundreds of delegates to the congress, which convened for a two-week session in one of the major cities in Europe. Elections to the congress were based on a proportional basis, with every state defined as a voting area. The Zionist constitution required elections to be direct and secret. Every Congress elected a Zionist Executive Committee and an actions committee, which functioned as a legislating body between Congresses. In the first Congress, there were fifteen members in the committee. In the twenty-second Congress their ranks increased to seventy-seven.

(2.) He served from 1921 to 1931 and 1935 to 1946. Isaiah Berlin, Chaim Weizmann as Leader (Jerusalem: The Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University, 1970) 22-24.

(3.) Weizmann to Frankfurter (marked "private"), January 7, 1947, Weizmann Papers, vol. 22, 213-214. Weizmann believed that escalating the conflict between the Zionist movement and Britain would lead to bloodshed, see Weizmann to Mark Jarblum in Paris, January 17, 1947, Weizmann Papers, vol. 22, 226-227. He thought that Britain would relinquish its hold on Palestine owing to its economic plight and that there was thus no point in continuing the struggle against it. On the contrary, it was important to maintain cooperation with Britain, which would prove vital to the survival of the Jewish state. In 1947, he felt that the Zionist leadership was creating a deep rift between the Zionist movement and Britain in particular, as well as the other powers. This would cause irreparable damage to the Zionist movement, particularly in light of the American unwillingness to become seriously involved in the Middle East region. See Weizmann to Albert Epstein, February 21, 1947, Weizmann Papers, vol. 22, 248-250. Writing to Eliezer Kaplan, Weizmann stressed that the only political path that the Zionist movement could follow was to re-establish a relationship of mutual trust with the British government and people. See Weizmann to Eliezer Kaplan, March 27, 1947, Weizmann Papers, vol. 22, 291-294. Unlike Silver, who wanted to use the Jewish vote to exert intense political pressure on President Truman, Weizmann expressed great appreciation of Truman's policy on the Zionist issue. See Weizmann's speech at the first session of the twenty-second Congress, December 9, 1946, Twenty-second Congress, Stenographic Report, 11. In his second Congress speech, Weizmann termed the strategy of putting pressure on Britain through the United States "a grave mistake." "But if you imagine that the United States and England will begin to argue on our account--in my opinion you are mistaken, and this is a grave mistake. No argument between the United States and England will develop because of us." See Weizmann at the twenty-second Congress,

session 17, December 16, 1946, Twenty-second Congress, Stenographic Report, 342.

(4.) On the significance of the Zionists' anti-British activity in the United States, see Wise to Lady Reading, July 10, 1946, A-234/12, Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, Israel (henceforth CZA). On the importance of the loan to Britain, see Roy Forbes Harrod, The Life of John Maynard Keynes (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1951), 586-623. The press portrayed the argument over the anti-British strategy as one of the major issues dividing Weizmann and his opponents at the twenty-second Congress. See, for example, The New York Herald Tribune, December 11, 1946.

(5.) Hadassah had 24,000 members in 1933 and 66,000 by 1939. That year the American Zionist Organization had 43,000 members, up from 9,000 in 1933. See Samuel Halperin, The Political World of American Zionism, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1961), 20-28, 189-217, 327. On the dramatic increase in the volume of donations collected in the United States, see the table in Halperin's book, 325.

(6.) An extensive literature addresses the activity of American Jewry and especially American Zionists during the 1940s. See Henry L. Feingold, A Time For Searching: Entering the Mainstream 1920-194; (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992) and David H. Shapiro, From Philanthropy to Activism, The Political Transformation of American Zionism in the Holocaust Years, 1933-1945 (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1994). For the perspective of the Zionist establishment in Palestine on American Zionists, see Allon Gal, David Ben-Gurion and the American Alignment For a Jewish State (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991). For a comprehensive discussion of American Zionism up to 1948, see Naomi W. Cohen, The Americanization of Zionism, 1897-1948 (Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 2003).

(7.) Weizmann to Wise, April 22, 1942, 3-2387, Weizmann Archives, Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. The central role of American Zionism was clearly manifested in the adoption of the Biltmore Program in May 1942. See David H. Shapiro, "The Political Background of the 1942 Biltmore Resolution," Herzl Year Book 8 (1978): 166-175.

(8.) Ben-Gurion visited the United States for nineteen days in 1939. This was a prelude to a far longer stay there, from October 1940 to January 1941. Then, after an absence of ten months, he returned to the United States for another extended visit, from November 1941 to mid-September 1942.. In addition to these lengthy visits, Ben-Gurion lived in the United States during World War I, one of the more important periods in his life and political development. For an extensive discussion of the place that the United States occupied in Ben-Gurion's plans and policy, see Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion: The Burning Ground, 1886-1948 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 672-694.

(9.) Norman Rose, "Weizmann, Ben-Gurion, and the 1946 Crisis in the Zionist Movement," Studies in Zionism 11, no. 1 (1990): 30-31; Jehuda Reinharz, Chaim Weizmann: The Making of a Statesman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 320-365. Keren Hayesod, United Israel Appeal, was established on 1920 to provide the Zionist movement with resources needed to implement the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

(10.) On Wise, see Melvin I. Urofsky, A Voice that Spoke for Justice: The Life and Times of Stephen Wise (New York: State University of New York Press, 1981) and Robert D. Shapiro, A Reform Rabbi in the Progressive Era: The Early Career of Stephen S. Wise (New York: Garland Publishing, 1988).

(11.) Plentiful information on Silver is to be found in Ofer Shiff, The Downfall of Abba Hillel Silver and the Foundation of Israel (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2014) and Marc Lee Raphael, Abba Hillel Silver (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1989). For a detailed discussion of Silver's contribution to the American Zionist movement and the difference between Wise and Silver's leadership, see Zohar Segev, "Universalism, Ethnic Identity and Divided Nationality: Abba Hiliel Silver's Role in American Zionism," Journal of Jewish Studies 63, no. 1 (2012): 105-126; idem, "Myth and Reality, Denial and Concealment: American Zionist Leadership and the Jewish Vote in the 1940s "Israel Affairs 20, no. 3 (2014): 347-396.

(12.) Silver to Wise, July 29, 1943, A-123/103, CZA.

(13.) Neumann, undated memorandum, A-123/206, CZA.

(14.) Weizmann to Silver, September 28, 1944, 6-2522, Weizmann Archives.

(15.) Weizmann also expressed his satisfaction in a letter to Weisgal, in which he noted how pleased he was that Silver hacLled the Emergency Council in 1943. Telegram, Weizmann to Silver, September 8, 1943, 12.3/316, CZA. On their long acquaintance see Weizmann to Silver about Keren Hayesod, February 20, 1924, 59/898, Weizmann Archives. See also Weizmann's letter of thanks for Silver and his family's warm and cordial hospitality in Cleveland. Letter, Weizmann to Silver, January 30, 1940, 151/297, Weizmann Archives. Weizmann to Weisgal, Weizmann Papers, vol. 21, 87.

(16.) Neumann submitted an extensive report to the members of the Emergency Council on Weizmann's deep engagement with the Lowdermilk plan and his express instructions to press for its inclusion in the Zionist agenda. See minutes of the Emergency Council, September 20, 1943, 85/1; Abba Hillel Silver Archive in Cleveland, Ohio (henceforth Silver Archives). Silver stressed that he supported Weizmann's version of Zionist nationalism, which opposed building up Jewish nationalism at the expense of other peoples. See Silver's lecture in honor of Weizmann's birthday in New York (the precise location is not noted), June 10, 1942, 4-2382, Weizmann Archives. On the issue of the campaign against Jewish terrorism in Palestine, see Weizmann to Silver, October 18, 1944, 17-2525, Weizmann Archives; Weizmann to Silver, November 8, 1944, 10-2530, Weizmann Archives. On Neumann's demand that the Zionist establishment support the Lowdermilk Plan and help finance it, and his complaints about the delays, see Neumann to Eliezer Kaplan, treasurer of the Jewish Agency, May 14, 1945, A-123/112, CZA.

(17.) For an extensive discussion of this issue, see Zohar Segev, "Zionist Activity in the Political Arena in the United States in the Mid-Forties in View of the Proposed Pro-Zionist Resolutions in the Congress in 1944: A Zionist Issue as an America Affair," Iyyunim Bitkumat Yisrael 11 (2001): 162-195 (Hebrew).

(18.) There is extensive material on the conflict that pitted Silver and Neumann against Ben-Gurion with regard to the status of the American Zionist movement and the American Zionists as related to the founding of Israel. See, for example, Neumann's public criticism of Ben-Gurion's attitude towards American Zionists and the American Zionist movement, June 16, 1951, A-123/517, CZA. Despite their cooperation to depose Weizmann, Silver and Ben-Gurion had fundamental disagreements. See Zohar Segev, "The Jewish State in Abba Hillel Silver's Overall World View," American Jewish Archives Journal 56 (2004): 94-12.7.

(19.) In her recollections many years later, Rose Halprin of Hadassah mentioned that his poor health had prevented Weizmann from attending the meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive. When she visited him shortly thereafter, she was struck by his generally poor health and especially his failing eyesight--he had not been able to make out what she was wearing. Halprin, oral testimony, April 4, 1977, Ben-Gurion Archives, Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism, Beer-Shiva, Israel.

(20.) Rose Jacobs, Draft Memoirs, undated, A-375/97, CZA.

(21.) For a standard view of these events, see Heller, The Birth of Israel, 155-157 and Jehuda Reinharz, "Nahum Goldmann and Chaim Weizmann: An Ambivalent Relationship," in Nahum Goldmann, Statesman Without a State, ed., Mark A. Raider (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009), 133-134.

(22.) On the General Zionists, most of whom were Americans, and constituted the largest party at the Congress, see Dobkin's telegram to Ben-Gurion in Meir Avizohar, Liqrat qets ha-mandat, zikhronot min ha-izavon [Toward the End of the Mandate] (Jerusalem: Ben Gurion University Press, 1993), 23. See, for example, the struggle between Silver and Golda Meyerson (Meir) in the Congress, Minutes of the Political Committee, Twenty-second Congress, file 11/471, Section LK, CZA. Regarding the reasons why Silver and Ben Gurion were anxious to depose Weizmann, see below.

(23.) Emanuel Neumann, Be-zirat ha-ma'avaq ha-tsioni [In the Arena of the Zionist Struggle] (Jerusalem, Zionist Library, 1978), 243. Hereafter, Neumann, Ha-ma'avaq hatsioni.

(24.) Eli Shaltiel, Tatnid be-meri, Moshe Sneh, biografia: 1909-1948 [Always the Rebel, Moshe Sneh, a Biography: 1909-1948] (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2000), 1: 330-338. Neumann, Ha-ma'avaq ha-tsioni, 242-243. Further support for the premise that Silver's clique cooperated closely with Sneh to engineer Weizmann's ouster is the fact that Silver and Neumann were instrumental in obtaining an American visa for Sneh, who warmly thanked them for their efforts. Telegram, Sneh to Neumann, September 25, 1946, 1/1871, Silver Archives; telegram, Sneh to Silver, October 6, 1946, 1/1871, Silver Archives. Silver and Neumann failed to obtain a visa for Sneh in time for the opening of the American Zionist Organization conference. Sneh sent his speech to the conference delegates. See Sneh's statement, November 1, 1946, A-123/201, CZA.

(25.) Ben-Gurion to Silver, October 1, 1946, Ben-Gurion's diary, Ben-Gurion Archives, Sede Boqer.

(26.) Ibid. Emphasis in original.

(27.) Neumann to Silver, November 4 1946, A-123/313, CZA. Trumann and his advisers had the same assumption regarding Silver's political power. Letter of Bartley Crum, a lawyer in Truman's inner circle, a member of the Anglo-American investigation Committee to Nahum Goldmann August 27, 1946, Z-6/24, CZA.

(28.) Ibid.

(29.) Clear example of Wise's support for Weizmann see, Wise letter to Meyer Weisgal, January 1, 1947, A-243/43, CZA. Regarding Wise's rivalry with Silver see, Wise letter to Flix Frankfurter October 28, 1944, A-243/137, CZA.

(30.) Silver and Neumann's wish to avoid an open rift with Weizmann is manifested in their reaction to information that reached Neumann about Wise's remark to students at the Jewish Institute of Religion, to the effect that he had received a letter from Weizmann expressing regret for his support of Silver. Silver told Neumann that this information was embarrassing and asked him to try to obtain a copy of the letter in question. See their correspondence: Neumann to Silver, February 12, 1945, 1/133, Silver Archives; Silver to Neumann, February 13, 1945, 1/133, Silver Archives.

(31.) Ben-Gurion at the meeting of the Mapai secretariat, December 17, 1945, Labor Party Archives, Beit Berl, Israel (henceforth LPA).

(32.) Ibid. Note that Ben-Gurion uses "Joint" metaphorically here. In the argument over whether to establish a United Zionist Appeal or to cooperate with the Joint, Ben-Gurion portrayed Silver as the only American Zionist leader resisting the offensive conditions that the Joint presented to the Zionists. Ben-Gurion stressed that had it not been for Silver's obdurate resistance, the Joint would have prevailed. See Ben-Gurion's address to the Mapai Central Committee, February 14, 1941, LPA. A faction within the Zionist movement, Revisionism represented the non-religious political right wing. The party was the chief ideological competitor of the dominant socialist labor Zionism.

(33.) Ben-Gurion at the meeting of Mapai secretariat, December 17, 1945, LPA. For a similar assessment of Silver, see Dov Yosef at the meeting of the Mapai Political Council, February 12, 1945, LPA.

(34.) Ben-Gurion at the meeting of the Mapai secretariat, December 17, 1945, LPA. Silver's portrayal as an enemy of the labor movement was incompatible with Silver the public figure, who throughout his public career was associated with the labor movement and with liberal elements of American society. An example of this is his campaign to prevent the dismissal of unionized workers in Cleveland and his close links with union leaders at both local and national levels. See, for example, the letter from the manager of a textile company in Cleveland to Silver, October 10, 1933, 9/1, Silver Archives. Ze'ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940) was a Russian Jewish Revisionist Zionist leader, author, poet, orator, and founder of the Jewish self-defense organization in Odessa. With Joseph Trumpeldor, he co-founded the Jewish legion of the British army in WWI. Later established several Jewish organizations in Palestine, including Beitar, HaTzohar, and the Irgun.

(35.) Ben-Gurion at the meeting of the Mapai Political Committee, February 22, 1946, LPA.

(36.) Announcement by the American Zionist Organization, 1946, 1/1880, Silver Archives.

(37.) For an assessment of Silver's ability to muster a majority that would have elected him president of the Zionist Organization of America, including a precise delegate count, see the document written by Yosef Baratz about the subject, November 6, 1946, 2/1886, Silver Archives. The General Zionist faction was the largest at the Congress, with 123 delegates. See The Twenty-second Zionist Congress, December 9-24, 1946, Stenographic Report (Jerusalem, n.d.), 17-19.

(38.) About Ben Gurion speeches, see, Michael Bar--Zohar, Ben Gurion, A biography (Tel Aviv: Zmora--Bitan, 1987) 561-558. The London Conference opened on January 27, 1947. Only British and Arab delegations attended, because the Zionist Congress had forbade the Jewish Agency Executive to take part. Jewish Agency representatives did, however, maintain informal contacts with representatives of the British government. The failure of the London Conference signified the failure of Britain's final attempt to resolve the Palestine problem. See Avizohar, Qets ha-mandat, 48-57.

(39.) A bout Weizmann support of Zionist participation in the London Conference see, Weizmann to Judah L. Fishman, September 17, 1946, Weizmann Papers, vol. 22, 195.

(40.) Ben-Gurion's at the Twenty-second Congress, session 17, December 16, 1946, Twenty-second. Congress, Stenographic Report, 331-338. For an account of preparations by Silver's camp for the struggle with Ben-Gurion, see Neumann to Daniel Frish, November 25, 1946, A-123/136, CZA.

(41.) See Neumann to Silver, November 4, 1946, 2/1886, Silver Archives. See also the account of the meeting between Arnold Yizraeli, an associate of Silver's, and David Wertheim, national secretary of the Po'alei Zion party in the United States, Yizraeli to Silver, April 3, 1946, 1/177, Silver Archives.

(42.) A report by the Palestine Telegraphic Agency. See Avizohar, Qets ha-mandat, 296, and the headline in Ha'aretz, December 29, 1946.

(43.) Gorny, Shutafut u-ma'avaq, 195-197; Shaltiel, Sneh, 356-361. Three hundred and eighty five delegates participated in the 22nd Congress. The largest delegation was the American, numbering 120 and composed mostly of delegates from the ZOA and Hadassah, both groups committed to the General Zionist movement.

(44.) Golda Meyerson at the meeting of the Mapai Central Committee, January 9, 1947, Labor Party Archives, Beit Berl. For further statements in the same vein, see Dov Yosef at the meeting of the Mapai Political Committee, February 12, 1945, LPA; Ben-Gurion at the meeting of the Mapai Secretariat, December 17, 1945, LPA; Beba Idelson at the meeting of the Mapai Central Committee, January 1, 1946, LPA; Ben-Gurion at the meeting of the Mapai Political Committee, regarding the preparations for the twenty-second Zionist Congress, February 22, 1946, LPA, Beit Berl; Yosef Sprinzak, February 22, 1946, LPA; Ze'ev Feinstein at a meeting of the Mapai secretariat, January 1, 1947, LPA.

(45.) Meron Medzini, Golda, biografia politit [Golda, A Political Biography) (Tel Aviv: Idanim, 2008), 149-150. After the Congress, Meyerson was named deputy head of the Jewish Agency's Political Department. Her boss, Moshe Shertok (subsequently Sharett, the second prime minister of Israel), traveled to the United States to engage in Zionist political activity there and represent the Agency at the United Nations.

(46.) Golda Meyerson at the meeting of the Mapai Central Committee, January 9, 1947, LPA.

(47.) Golda Meyerson at the meeting of the Mapai Central Committee, January 9, 1947, LPA.

(48.) Weizmann's second speech at the twenty-second Zionist Congress, session 17, December 16, 1946, Twenty-second Congress, Stenographic Report, 343. Saturday June 29, 1946 has been given the title "Black Saturday," because on that day the British began an extensive operation against the Yishuv named "Operation Agatha."

(49.) Golda Meyerson at the meeting of the Mapai Central Committee, January 9, 1947, LPA. In his memoirs, Weizmann referred to the issue of his attitude toward Britain at the twenty-second Congress as follows: "My stand on these matters [fighting the British] was well known; I made it clear once more at the Congress. I stated my belief that our justified protest against our frustrations, against the injustices we had suffered, could have been made with dignity and force, yet without truckling to the demoralizing forces in the movement. I became, therefore, as in the past, the scapegoat for the sins of the British Government; and knowing that their 'assault' on the British Government was ineffective, the 'activists,' or whatever they would call themselves, turned their shafts on me. About half of the American delegation, led by Rabbi Silver, and part of the Palestinian, led by Mr. Ben-Gurion, had made up their minds that I was to go," Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949), 442. For Weizmann's first speech at the Congress, see First Session, December 9, 1946, 7-16, Twenty-second Congress, Stenographic Report, 7-16.

(50.) On Weizmann's view that it was essential to maintain amicable relations with Britain in order to guarantee the future security of the Jewish national home, see Leonard Stein, Weizmann and England (London: W. H. Allen, 1964), 23-24.

(51.) Ben-Gurion made a hurried visit to the United States, arriving on October z, 1946. Part of this visit was devoted to meetings with Administration officials, but there is ample evidence that he engaged in Zionist activity as well. On Ben-Gurion's political involvement in Zionist matters in the United States, see Peretz Bernstein (editor of the daily Haboqer, member of the Jewish Agency Executive, and future Knesset member and government minister), to Emanuel Neumann, October 7, 1946, A-123/367, CZA.
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Date:Jan 1, 2019
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