Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Holds Hearing on Jewish Agency


Chairman J.W. Fulbright of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at an open Committee hearing today sought to establish that pro-Israel organizations and individuals supported by the Jewish Agency came under the provisions of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The witness at today’s hearing was Isadore Hamlin, executive director of the Jewish Agency — American Section, of New York.

The main thrust of Sen. Fulbright’s detailed line of questioning pertained to interlocking relationships of various groups with the Jewish Agency, and whether the Agency sought to accomplish covertly through others what it did not register as openly performed in its statements to the Department of Justice. He alleged that others received payments indirectly through the Agency, which is registered as a foreign agent, and claimed that they were, in effect, also foreign agents.

In opening today’s hearing, Sen. Fulbright stressed that "this committee’s interest in the Agency’s activities in Israel are not at issue. There can be little but respect for an organization which over the last 15 years has resettled 1, 150, 000 refugees in Israel — indeed, American Jews have shown their support for the Agency through contributions of over one billion dollars, and the United States Government has over the past 15 years supplied another $878, 000, 000 in grants and loans to Israel for similar purposes."

Sen. Fulbright said that he was interested, however, in the activities of the Jewish Agency’s agent, acting in the United States "not because of the nature of its foreign principal, nor because of the cause or nation it espoused, but rather because of the methods and techniques it has employed in the United States and their relationship to the workings of the Foreign Agents Registration Act."

He pointed out that, while the representative of the Jewish Agency had been registered with the Department of Justice for almost 20 years, it was within the last year "when this committee called attention to the matter" that the registrant was required to itemize two large items of expenditures within the United States — "grants and subventions" and "payments to affiliates."


Sen. Fulbright drew attention to the fact that from January 1, 1955 through December 31, 1962, the Jewish Agency made payments totaling $5, 100, 001. 02 to the American Zionist Council. He recalled testimony that the Jewish Agency had provided about 80 per cent of the American Zionist Council’s funds and "at the same time used the Council as a conduit for Agency funds destined for other groups, organizations or individuals."

The Senator charged that "through its failure to require itemization, the Department of Justice and therefore the public was unaware of the public relations activities in the interests of Israel carried on within the United States by the Agency. And the Jewish Agency supported organizations and individuals without itemization of such financial support publicly in its Justice Department reports."

Sen. Fulbright was sharply challenged at one point by Maurice M. Boukstein, who appeared as counsel for the witness, when the Arkansas democrat referred to the Jewish Agency as an agent of the Israel Government. Mr. Boukstein described the Jewish Agency as "a completely independent body composed of representatives of Zionist organizations from all over the free world." The status of the Jewish Agency came up at another point, when Sen. Fulbright read into the record a letter from Victor Rabinowitz of New York, head of the Rabinowitz Foundation, in which he said Mr. Boukstein had told him that the Jewish Agency was "a representative of the Israeli Government." Mr. Boukstein denied both the contention and the assertion that he had made the statement. "It Just isn’t so," he asserted.

The main target area of the Fulbright attack appeared to be the issue of why the Jewish Agency acted through the American Zionist Council instead of directly. Sen. Fulbright emphasized that his interest pertained to only those activities conducted in the United States. He stressed that he was more concerned with finding what was, in effect, the actual relationship of various groups to the Jewish Agency than to a "rigamarole" involving "narrow, technical legal distinctions."

It was Sen. Fulbright’s allegation that the Jewish Agency did this circuitously through interlocking relationships with others, and thus avoided making a full statement of its activities to the Department of Justice. He repeatedly made a point that the Jewish Agency had failed to be specific in its filed statement. But Mr. Hamlin replied that the Agency had complied with everything asked by the Justice Department and received no complaint from that Department, When the Department asked for more details, Mr. Hamlin said, the method of reporting was changed.


Throughout his questioning, Sen. Fulbright repeatedly asked why the Agency failed to make payments direct to the ultimate recipient, specifically citing I. L. Kenen, editor of the Near East Report, and a Russian research project into current Soviet anti-Semitism carried on by Dr. Moshe Dector. He also cited grants to a number of universities through the Hebrew Cultural Foundation out of funds allocated to the Foundation by the Jewish Agency. He wanted to know if the benefiting universities were aware that the money came from a foreign agent. A letter from Columbia University to the Jewish Agency acknowledging financial assistance was offered by the witness, and indicated that the university knew the source of the funds.

The Senator posed a question of a payment to the Synagogue Council of America for educational work, and sought to link that with the Council’s testimony before Congress favoring economic assistance to Israel. He inquired into the Presidents’ Conference, an ad hoc consultative body made up of presidents of 19 major American Jewish organizations. He wanted to know how many of these organizations the Jewish Agency supports financially. The Agency responded that it provided 50 per cent of the cost of the Conference administrative expenses. The Senator asked if such payments to the Conference expenses were itemized in the Jewish Agency statement to the Justice Department.

The Senator charged that the reports to the Justice Department avoided disclosure of what was actually done with the money expended in the United States and held that the Agency was merely a "conduit." He thought that a drastic change in the law was required to tighten up regulations. He reverted briefly to the relationship of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In response to questions, Mr. Hamlin said the JTA was no longer receiving funds from the Jewish Agency, and that arrangements were being completed for the transfer of ownership of JTA.

Intense interest was exhibited by Sen. Fulbright in the role of Mr. Kenen, who emerged as a main subject of the investigation. The Senator charged that Mr. Kenen was not an independent enterpreneur, but in effect an employee of the American Zionist Council, financed either directly or through purchase of Mr. Kenen’s personal publication, "The Near East Report."

Noting that Mr. Kenen was a registered lobbyist under the domestic lobbying law, Sen. Fulbright asked why he should not be required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. In the view of Sen. Fulbright, Mr. Kenen was perhaps in closer contact with attempts to influence Congress than the Jewish Agency itself, and therefore should be registered as a foreign agent. The Senator made it apparent that he was dissatisfied with Mr. Kenen’s failure to register and would further pursue the matter.


Mr. Hamlin, appearing at the open hearing today, told the Senate committee that "recent developments in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world, and quota restrictions in many countries, forecast a continuation of mass migration into Israel." He said that the Jews of the world "have reacted magnificently and responsibly to the needs for help and will continue to do so."

The executive director of the Jewish Agency-American Section said that the world had recognized the "unique achievements" of the Jewish Agency in helping to settle 1, 200, 000 Jews in Israel since World War II, and stressed that these "free, productive citizens" could "attest to the effectiveness of the work of the Jewish Agency."

Mr. Hamlin’s appearance before the Committee today followed an executive hearing on May 23, at which Gottleib Hammer, former executive director of the Jewish Agency in New York, and now executive vice-chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Inc., which is controlled by American citizens, and Mr. Hamlin, were exhaustively questioned by Senator Fulbright on the work and activities of the Jewish Agency and its relationships with a number of other organizations and agencies. The witnesses cooperated fully with the Senate Committee and sought to portray the full and complex role of the Jewish Agency units and the activities supported in this country. Their testimonies were made public today by the Senate Committee.

In the course of his statement today, Mr. Hamlin described the origin of the Jewish Agency, with special status accorded it by the League of Nations as the agency to assist the Mandatory Government in the establishment of the Jewish National Homeland in Palestine, and outlined its major role in organizing immigration and resettlement and development of the country. The Agency’s political role, he pointed out, ended in 1948 with the proclamation of the State of Israel. In the 14 years since then, he reported, the Jewish Agency in Israel has spent $1, 500, 000, 000 on rescue and resettlement work, of which about forty per cent represented American charitable donations through the United Jewish Appeal.

To clarify the organizational picture into which Senator Fulbright delved deeply in executive hearing, Mr. Hamlin described the Jewish Agency — American Section as the representative in the United States of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which he described in turn as the executive arm of the World Zionist Organization, He pointed out that the American Section of the Jewish Agency was registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and regularly filed periodical reports with the Department of Justice.

The major functions of the Jewish Agency, he said, outside Israel, were caring for Jewish refugees seeking a haven in Israel, preparing them for immigration, and transporting them. Within Israel, he outlined a comprehensive program carried on by the agency to receive the newcomers, and integrate them into the life of the country.

The American Section, he said, had as its major functions to help provide incentives for the realization of the second objective of the Zionist heritage — to preserve and extend the Jewish cultural heritage and to keep the American public informed of the work done in Israel, and to assist the fund-raising agencies to obtain imperative financial support for the continuation of this work.

(See page 4 for story on relationship between Jewish Agency and J. T. A., as explained to Sen. Fulbright).

Recommended from JTA