Rothenberg to Concede Wise ZOA Presidency in Return for Reforms
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Rothenberg to Concede Wise ZOA Presidency in Return for Reforms

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In an atmosphere charged with tension arising from a factional struggle for control, the Zionist Organization of America this afternoon opened its thirty-ninth annual convention at the Hotel Biltmore with 325 delegates and more than one thousand guests in attendance.

Sweeping administrative reform of the Zionist Organization, it became clear from preliminary caucuses of the contending factions, was the issue around which the fight would resolve itself.

This formed the basis on which Morris Rothenberg, president, and his followers indicated they would consent to the presidency of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, whose candidacy had been announced prior to his sailing for Europe.

The terms, formulated by a “peace committee” of six prominent Zionist leaders and accepted “in principle” by both a Wise caucus, under the chairmanship of Louis Lipsky, and the Rothenberg caucus were:

1-Creation of a new post, that of chairman of the administrative committee, to be occupied by Mr. Rothenberg. At present, the president of the organization acts in the role of that body’s chairman. This committee is to be invested with real powers. Its personnel must be agreeable to Mr. Rothenberg. The chairman would also be a member of the executive committee comprising all important officers of the organization.

2-Presidential term to be fixed at two years by constitutional limitation, the purpose of the limitation being to bring new blood into organizational control, and, in the words of Mr. Rothenberg, “To end the ugliness that exists in the Z.O.A. — that after a man has served the movement and given his life blood to it, men then come to besmirch him so that he can’t be of any use to the movement again.”

3- Divorce of the “civil service” of the Z.O.A. from the administration; banning paid staff members of the Z.O.A. or any of its affiliate bodies from membership on any administrative board.

4-The organization’s secretary to be appointed by and subject to control of the administrative committee, rather than elected by the convention, in order to remove the office from politics.

Although both sides have agreed to accept these reforms “in principle” there was no certainty that the battle for the presidency would not be carried on to the floor.

The Rothenberg adherents, incensed at talk that the convention was “in the bag” for the opposing group, apparently was prepared to carry the issue to the convention at large, where the struggle, which for the moment appeared to be overshadowing the deeper purposes of the convention, ultimately would resolve itself into a question of details.

Heading the list of these is the choice of administrative and executive committee personnel. That an open explosion would occur when the nominations committee presented its report tomorrow afternoon was being freely predicted.


The following message was read from President Roosevelt:

“My dear Mr. Rothenberg:

“I am glad of the opportunity to extend my greetings and good wishes to the thirty-ninth annual convention of the Zionist Organization of America. It is altogether fitting that the Zionist Organization should have chosen for its meeting place this year the city of Providence, whose history is bound to Roger Williams, one of the earliest and most active exponents of religious freedom in the world.

“I am confident that the inspiration which you will draw from that historical association will give you renewed strength and courage for the work that lies ahead of you. In that spirit I wish you a fruitful meeting and a successful and happy conclusion to your labors.”

An appeal cabled from London and signed by Dr. Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion and Dr. Stephen S. Wise was read. It urged a “united Zionist front with a view to winning over the entire American Jewry to Zionism.”

A message from the Jerusalem Zionist Executive urged greater cohesion and unity of purpose among all sections of the Zionist movement in view of the momentous economic and political tasks.

In his presidential message today Mr. Rothenberg pledged the support of American Zionists to the Jewish Agency for Palestine in seeking to influence Great Britain to adopt “a more positive policy” in relation to establishment of a Jewish national home.

Declaring it was high time the Mandatory Power realized “the error and futility of a policy to pacify Arab leaders at the expense of Jewish interests,” he urged a course “calculated to bring an end to Arab hostility, which is aimed at the Mandatory Power as much as at the Jews.” This course would include an increase in Jewish immigration and facilitation of close settlement of Jews on the land.

It would also include furtherance of intensive cultivation, release of unallocated Government lands for Jewish settlement, reclamation of marsh lands and utilization of water resources. Such a course, he held, would be “better aimed to bring about a balanced economic structure in Palestine that will inevitably lead to normal cooperation between Arabs and Jews.”

Referring to recent disorders, Mr. Rothenberg said that while the Government appeared to have the situation in hand, the position was still far from reassuring and “measures for public security still appear to be inadequate to the emergency.

Paying tribute to the courage and restraint of the Palestine pioneers, he expressed fears that the disorders might be followed by political concessions to the Arabs. He voiced hope that “there will be no deviation from the expressed intention of the Mandatory Power in no manner to yield to terror and violence.”

Economically, Mr. Rothenberg declared, the year preceding the outbreak was marked by steady economic progress. At the end of 1935 conditions were some what disturbed as a result of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict, he stated, but since the beginning of this year conditions have shown improvement.

He reported the Palestine Jewish community “deeply disturbed” over the proposed legislative council, contemplated restrictions on land sale and curtailment of admission of Palestinians’ relatives.

Turning to the work of the Z.O.A., he urged the Zionist Executive to allot a more substantial number of immigration certificates to the United States “if American chalutzim are not to be discouraged.”

Reviewing the Z.O.A.’s activities such as the Palestine Department, publications and fund-raising he reported a membership of 16,432 as of June 13 and a deficit of $56,000. In reference to fund-raising, he recalled the union of Zionist funds as the United Palestine Appeal and said coordination of the Laborite Gewerkschaften campaign with the U.P.A. was expected.

Youth activity, he said, had experienced a “decided upsurge” during the year.

In connection with the World Jewish Congress, he observed that “considerable difference of opinion exists within Zionist ranks and in the American Jewish community as to the advisability of convening a World Jewish Congress at this time.

The remainder of the session was devoted to a memorial for the late Dr. Nahum Sokolow, World Zionist leader. Among those who eulogized him were Prof. Salo W. Baron of Columbia University, Menahem Ribalow and Abraham Goldberg.


This morning the delegates participated in the exercises of the Rhode Island Tercentenary Celebration. Governor Theodore F. Green had proclaimed today as “Jewish Day.” The proclamation of the Governor follows:

“It is with a sense of appreciation for their contributions to the history of our state that I designate July 5th, 1936, as Jewish Day. The laudable desire of the Jewish citizenry of Rhode Island to devote this day to a celebration of four centuries of progress is quite understandable merely as an expression of civic pride. It achieves greater brilliance of meaning when one considers the appropriateness of an especial celebration because of the relation between the founding of the State and the history of the Jews here.

“In 1684 within forty-eight years of its settlement, the General Assembly of the colony in a remarkable and notable display of political democracy officially welcomed the settlement of Jews within its borders.

“The decision of the Zionist Organization of America to hold its Annual Convention in Providence in conjunction with the Jewish Day celebration is a distinct tribute to the importance of the undertaking and assures both ventures of success. To the delegates of this Convention and to the Jewish people, on pilgrimage to our shores, I extend a hearty welcome to this land of ours which was conceived and has been maintained uninterruptedly in religious freedom.”

The delegates celebrated Jewish Day by attending in a body a special service at the Judah Touro Synagogue at Newport, R.I., one of the most historic synagogues of America. Professor Louis Finkelstein of the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York spoke on the struggle of Roger Williams for religious liberty. Following the service, the delegates were tendered a luncheon by the Rhode Island Tercentenary Committee.


Last night, Mr. Rothenberg likened “the struggle for the establishment of a haven of freedom for the Jewish people in Palestine” to that of the American struggle for freedom in 1776 in an address.

Terming Zionism “an application of the principles of the Declaration of Independence to the harassed Jewish people,” he declared that out of the Palestine disturbances the Jews would grow stronger–as the American pioneers emerged stronger from conflicts with royalists and aborigines.

Lauding the Palestine Jews! courage and self-control, he called on the American Zionists to redouble their energies so that Palestine’s development might be speeded up. He stressed the need for greater Jewish population in the Holy Land.

“It is only when our numbers shall have reached a parity with the Arab population,” he said, “that the instigators of trouble will recognize the futility of their destructive efforts and a stable peace between both elements of the population will be assured. It is the smallness of our numbers that invited the recent occurrences.”


Last night’s caucuses were so prolonged that the meeting of the Council of the Z.O.A. did not get under way until midnight. The council finally decided to name a committee of ten to select a praesidium and the members of the committee on committees.

The ten members included three each from the Rothenberg and Wise factions, three from the “peace committee” and Dr. A.J. Rongy, chairman of the council. The other members are Dr. Israel Goldstein, Elihu D. Stone and Abraham Goldberg, for the “peace committee,” Samuel Markewich, Abraham Spicehandler and L. Guzick for Mr. Rothenberg, and Rabbi Irving Miller, Charles Ress and Abraham Goldstein for Dr. Wise.

The praesidium includes Mr. Stone, Judge William Lewis of Philadelphia, Mr. Lipsky, Mr. Rothenberg, Mr. Goldberg, Max Schulman of Chicago and Dr. Goldstein. The secretaries for the convention are: English, B.Z. Richards; Hebrew, Menachem Ribalow; Yiddish, B. Shelvin.

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