I am not actively or officially associated with either the American Jewish Congress or the American Jewish Committee. I have friends in both groups. Furthermore, I have no axe to grind. I am perfectly content in my present position and am not seeking any other job. Perhaps, therefore, I may be given credit for a certain objective of approach impossible to violent partisans of both sides. I do not propose to discuss personalities but issues, methods, and ideas, for it is on that plane alone so momentous a question should be decided.
According to the report in the Jewish Daily Bulletin of October 8, the executive committee of the American Jewish Congress “decided to launch a campaign for the organization of national democratic elections throughout the United States on April 28, 1935, for an enlarged American Jewish Congress and delegates to the World Jewish Congress.” Thus the issue is clearly drawn and every Jewish community in the United States will be called upon to take a stand in favor of the World Jewish Congress at Geneva or against it.
It would be futile to bemoan the fact that the Congress has decided to go ahead with its plan or even to raise the issue that the Congress, when it joined the Joint Council in New York, pledged itself to take no separate action. Recrimination and charges will get nowhere. Do American Jews wish to enlarge the American Jewish Congress and support the World Jewish Congress idea or not? If they do, they will join heartily in the elections and enlarge the present Congress. If they do not, they will abstain from participation in the elections and if the Geneva Congress is held it will be a congress of individuals such as the last two Geneva conferences, it will not be a World Jewish Congress in any sense of the word. Leaders in our communities should begin to consider these issues now.
SUPPORT OF CLAIMS
The first question that naturally arises is this: what warrant has the American Jewish Congress to claim a larger measure of support from American Jews? What service has it rendered that justifies it in displacing the Committee or the B’nai B’rith or the Joint Council made up of representatives of the three organizations?
It is commonly asserted that the Congress is the only organization which has taken a forthright stand on the Nazi issue; that it roused American public opinion and directed it against the present Reich rulers; that it acted while others delayed; that it fought Israel’s enemies in Germany and in the United States.
It is unquestionably true that the Congress has been more vocal and more aggressive. It is still an open question as to whether these tactics, especially where the leadership was so obviously and publicly Jewish, did more harm than good to Jews in Germany and here. It is not true that other organizations did nothing; it is not true that the Congress and its methods were the only and most effective means to protect our German brethren or to defend American Jews against attack. In city after city the Congress was spreading its propaganda that it and it alone was taking up the battle for German Jewry and building up its membership among groups not familiar with the situation and who heard only Congress, while at the very same time the Committee and B’nai B’rith were doing quiet, effective contact work which by its very nature could not be given blasts of publicity.
THE COMMITTEE’S ERROR
I frankly admit that I myself accepted for a time this statement of the Congress that it alone was working in Jewry’s behalf till I took the trouble to investigate and find out what was being done. The Committee made the grievous error of not taking into its confidence a larger group of representative leaders throughout the nation who were entitled to know what was being done and on whose good judgment it could rely. I say at the very time the Congress was loudly denouncing other organizations for inactivity and building up a clientele in some quarters, with this argument, the Committee was active and effective with such methods as by their very nature could not be given widespread publicity. People heard the Congress; they did not hear the Committee. I do not, therefore, see what claim the Congress has to put itself before American Jewry as offering the most effective leadership at this time.
Again, such tactics, perfectly obvious to one whose eyes are open, do not make for confidence in the Congress leadership. And when other things are added, one is tempted to repudiate that leadership entirely. I mean this: a Joint Council was established representing the Congress, the B’nai B’rith and the Committee. It was agreed that no important action should be taken alone. The Congress agreed, as the other two organizations agreed, to this limitation on individual organization procedure. But is it not true that the American Jewish Congress violated this agreement? Did the Congress submit to the Joint Council their open letter to Hindenburg, asking him to depose Hitler? Did the Congress submit to the Joint Council their plan for the 1934 Madison Square Garden demonstration? Did the Congress submit to the Joint Council their endorsement of the Jewish boycott, the participation in the World Jewish Conference, the forthcoming trade fair, etc.?….
NOT A WORLD CONGRESS
It is not difficult to rouse excitement among the masses of the Jewish people on the Nazi issue or on the issue of anti-Semitism in America. It may be that the Congress will probably increase its membership. But even if it does, the group that meets in Geneva next summer will not be a world Jewish congress in any sense of the term. That has been brought out already. An interesting fact not hitherto mentioned however, is the fear with which Jews in Germany looked upon the Geneva gathering last summer.
I was in Berlin at the time. I did not meet one responsible Jewish leader who did not regard that Conference with dismay. That goes even for one of the outstanding Zionists in Berlin. And the Judische Rundschau found it necessary the week after the Geneva meeting to write an editorial explaining the situation. German Jews feared the effect on them of violent utterance.
A QUESTION OF METHOD
Fundamentally, the question is one of method. What are the best methods to employ in the situation which faces world Jewry and American Jewry? While giving every consideration of sincerity on the part of Congress leadership in its belief that its methods are most effective, it might be suggested that there are others who believe other strategy at this particular stage not only will be more statesmanlike but more effective. I hold that point of view. I hold it because of long study of the situation, because of the contacts made this summer not only with leading Jews of every group in Germany but with leading Christians, government officials and men in the field of diplomacy. This is not the time for speeches, no matter how eloquent, nor for denunciations and resolutions. We stand to lose far more than we shall gain. It is the time for statesmanlike methods, if you will, for intimate personal contacts, for building bridges. We need Jewish diplomats, not emotional dipsomaniacs.
We must not be swept off our feet by any spurious appeals, however sincere, for Jewish unity. Of course, we want Jewish unity. But we do not want unity at the expense of the elimination of sincere honest differences of opinion. We do not want gleichschaltung after the manner of the National Socialists.
After all, we cannot expect unity of opinion on the issues involved. Profound differences in philosophy of life, temperament, training background and all the rest enter into the question. But we have a right to expect concert of action and self-restraint and discipline from leading national Jewish organizations.
No one organization is great enough to disrupt even the semblance of harmony established by the Joint Council. No one organization is great enough or powerful enough to flout all others and demand its methods be adopted. The three great national Jewish organizations should play the game.
If a difference of opinion arises as to procedure, a majority vote in the Joint Council should determine action. Is it too late for the Congress to recall its decision and abide by the vote of the Joint Council? If it is, then let thoughtful American Jewish leaders inform themselves on the issue and exercise the judgment of wisdom. There is no necessity for heated discussion which will split communities wide open. Merely refrain from participation in the Congress elections. After all, the governments of the world know who are the responsible spokesmen for the Jews of the world.