Brandeis -  Efficiency in Public Service

July 14, 1920

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Louis Brandeis - Efficiency in Public Service

Introduction

Louis Dembitz Brandeis was a prominent American lawyer and later associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The outbreak of World War I made it impossible for the Zionist movement to continue its activities from Europe, that were centered in the German capital of Berlin, and cut off British Zionists from their associates in Berlin and Palestine.

Brandeis's speeches and articles on Zionism were edited and published by the Zionist Organization of America in 1942, following his death, in a volume entitled "Brandeis on Zionism," by Solomon Goldman. These are not pristine primary sources and may not include materials that were considered "inconvenient." For some of these speeches, titles may have been created by Goldman or other editors.  

A Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs was formed in the United States, and Louis Dembitz Brandeis was elected as chairman of the committee in August 30, 1914. As chairman, Brandeis was able to bridge the chasm between the impoverished Eastern European Jewish constituency of Manhattan's Lower East Side and the affluent college educated Jews of the older generations of immigrants, who included many of Brandeis's friends and associates. In this way, Brandeis helped make Zionism fashionable and respectable among leaders of Jewish society. What he said or wrote in a speech or article was less important than the fact that he said it, which was sensational enough, and which ensured support for Zionism by "the right" people. 

Later, an idea was put forward to provide a united body that would represent Jews in war efforts, charity and reconstruction. Brandeis was made Chairman of the organization committee of the American Jewish Committee which included both Zionists and non-Zionists. Thus, Brandeis stood at the head of both Zionist and non-Zionist efforts in the American Jewish community. In 1916, despite opposition from conservatives, Woodrow Wilson appointed Brandeis as an associate justice of the United States Supreme court. Non-Zionist enemies criticized his continued activities on behalf of Zionism, and therefore he removed himself from all official Zionist connections with the Zionist movement, nonetheless remaining an important and effective spokesman for the cause. He gave this speech on the occasion of his 60th birthday, when he was honored by a testimonial signed by 10,000 Zionists. He had been a Supreme Court justice for about two months.

Brandeis had not become involved in Zionist work until 1910, influenced after meeting Aaron Aaronsohn. Jacob de Haas, a collaborator of Herzl and British Zionist, was his mentor. He had worked closely with the American Zionist movement.

The Zionist organization was unable to meet during the war, as its headquarters in Berlin was isolated from Jewish populations in neutral and allied countries. A first  "Small Congress," an international conference of the Greater Actions Committee held in off-Congress years, took place in London on July 7-22,  1920. Zionists all understood that the realization of the Jewish national home promised by  the Balfour Declaration required a tremendous effort of fund raising and organization that was beyond the capabilities of the Zionist organization as constituted. The need was indeed urgent, because the world was looking to the Zionists to see whether or not they could really bring about the feat of turning desert Palestine into a national home.

Most of the funding could not come from the impoverished Jews of Eastern Europe, who might supply the immigrants. The largest Jewish community in Europe, however, the Jews of Russia, were cut off by the communist regime there, and the Zionist organizations in Russia found it increasingly difficult to operate. The money would have to come primarily from the Jews of the United States, Canada and Great Britain. As Brandeis notes in this speech:

So far as money goes, America, including of course Canada, has in the last two and one-half years contributed the money with which Palestine has been kept going. But we have not done anything else. All that we have done practically in this time is to pay the living expenses of the administration. And we have done it with very great difficulty. Except as through the Medical Unit we have made life a little more possible, we have not advanced a step towards developing the Homeland. And yet it is in the series of steps beyond keeping Palestine as it has been that our problem lies.

Thus, Brandeis had a key role. He had a difference of opinion with the European Zionists. In this address, given only to the American delegation to the congress on July 14, these differences are evident, though not in the polemical style that was too often characteristic of Zionist conferences.  Brandeis mistakenly thought that the political work of Zionism was over with the Balfour Declaration. He was quite right that settlement and development of the national home would be important, but he did not foresee that Great Britain would try to renege on its promise, and didn't seem to understand that raising money involved convincing Jews not of the practicality of Zionism, but of its correctness. A majority of Jews were more or less indifferent to Zionism, or were not willing to put their contributions where their professed sentiments lay. He said: 

There has been a tremendous amount of talk in the past, and properly, of the political question, of political Zionism. The political question will be important hereafter, but to my mind practically the whole of politics lies in proceeding efficiently in the building up of Palestine. That is the only political act which can effectively produce the result and make of our opportunity success instead of failure. Politics as such may now be banished; certainly politics may go into suspense. There is nothing that can be accomplished from this time on by ingenious political action, however great our diplomats and however wise the individual may be in manipulating this portion of the population or that, or this official or that.

The practical suggestion arising from his remarks was to disband the Zionist committee in Palestine.

Moreover, as the title of the speech implies, Brandeis wanted the work to be run with what he conceived of as "American efficiency." That is, Brandeis wanted to remove veteran Zionist leaders like Ze'ev (Valdimir) Jabotinsky and Menachem Ussishkin, who were ideologues, propagandists and romantics, as well as others who got jobs in repayment of patronage debts, and replace them with fund raisers, economists and planners. He said:

The only proper test that can be applied in respect to the filling of these offices is fitness and efficiency. The man who is best fitted to perform a particular task must be selected. To my mind it is an insult to a devoted Zionist to appoint him to office only because of services which he has performed in the past It is an insult to the intelligence, to the high-mindedness of the Jew, the Zionist Jew, to consider, in filling an office, whether a proposed incumbent needs or wants the compensation which comes from it. If there are men in Palestine or elsewhere who have served us well in the past and do absolutely need for their living certain means which they are not able to get by their own effort, the question properly arises whether we should create, either through private effort or through the Organization directly, a Pension Fund just as Governments and public bodies do.

That is all very well in theory, but it was not obvious that Brandeis and his team had the expertise to evaluate who should be pensioned off, and the office holders and their patrons formed a rather large lobby. Many of the office holders who did little work for the common Zionist cause may have used their salaries to fund political work as well, or they may have been given jobs in order to include representation of a particular faction.  From a practical, organizational standpoint, what Brandeis proposed could not be implemented. 

Perhaps he didn't realize the danger of threatening the entrenched leadership, or the need for leaders to inspire and provide an example, or the need for the Zionist organization to represent the opinions of its constituents. It was probably this demand, along with his ideas about the nature of the settlements to be formed and the nature of contributions to be made that led to the removal of his faction from leadership of the Zionist organization in 1921. Brandeis seemed to have wanted to provide investment opportunities in Palestine, but the land was too poor to promise a return on investment, as he was to learn subsequently.

Brandeis and his following formed separate colonization and fundraising organizations, The Palestine Land Council and the local Palestine Land Leagues associated with it. that did not function better than those of the mainstream Zionist movement, and then merged them into the Palestine Economic Corporation. In 1930, the Brandeis group was returned to the Zionist organization and their projects and settlement organizations were merged with the Zionist Palestine Economic Corporation.  

Ami Isseroff

June 20, 2009   

Copyright

The introduction above is copyright 2009 by Ami Isseroff. The document below is in the public domain.


 

Efficiency in Public Service

The opportunity for which we have been struggling has come. We have the opportunity of developing a Homeland, but nothing more than an opportunity. It is urgent that we enter upon the work, urgent because Great Britain and the other Governments expect it and require it, in order that we may establish our position in the Homeland. And the Jews, particularly the hundreds of thousands who are looking forward to relieving their present misery by going to Palestine, demand it. We must therefore act and act quickly. And yet everyone of you knows perfectly well that we are not adequately equipped in men, money or machinery to undertake that task.

So far as money goes, America, including of course Canada, has in the last two and one-half years contributed the money with which Palestine has been kept going. But we have not done anything else. All that we have done practically in this time is to pay the living expenses of the administration. And we have done it with very great difficulty. Except as through the Medical Unit we have made life a little more possible, we have not advanced a step towards developing the Homeland. And yet it is in the series of steps beyond keeping Palestine as it has been that our problem lies.

There has been a tremendous amount of talk in the past, and properly, of the political question, of political Zionism. The political question will be important hereafter, but to my mind practically the whole of politics lies in proceeding efficiently in the building up of Palestine. That is the only political act which can effectively produce the result and make of our opportunity success instead of failure. Politics as such may now be banished; certainly politics may go into suspense. There is nothing that can be accomplished from this time on by ingenious political action, however great our diplomats and however wise the individual may be in manipulating this portion of the population or that, or this official or that.

We have come to the time when there are no politics that are valuable except the politics of action. We must be in a position to act in Palestine, and we have to be strong outside of Palestine. And it is not the strength which will come through any individual or his wisdom or his position. The strength must tome through the strength of Jews organized together in large part in the Zionist Organization. Now, therefore, when we consider how we are going to make an efficient organization and accomplish our results, we have to see what the work is that is to be done. To my mind the work in the different countries of the Diaspora is no less important than the work in Palestine. Without that which will be done in the Federations of the several countries, our task is impossible of accomplishment.

Moneys must be given in several forms. A great deal will come by way of investment, and by way of quasi-investment. But it is absolutely necessary that a large part of the money which is going to develop Palestine is to come in the form of gifts from Jews throughout the world. There is no such thing as investment, in a proper sense of that term, unless there is either security or the prospect of a large return, which is the alternative in the investor's mind for security, you may run a risk if you have the prospect of a large return. That is good business, and it is not gambling. But if you have no prospect of a large return, you must have security or the approximation of security. On account of the nature and condition of the country there cannot be security in Palestine unless there is a margin created by the gifts of Jews throughout the world. And that is true for several reasons.

The first is that, unlike the land in other countries requiring development, the land in Palestine is not free. On the contrary, it is very expensive. The present price of the land in Palestine is, considered on a basis of producing power, far more than land of the same character in the world market anywhere else. And the land is in one way largely exhausted. Its trees had been cut off, and so there was produced the condition of swamps and consequent malaria. There must therefore be expended upon the land a very large amount of money before it can become properly productive. In other words we have to expend money to convert the raw material of land into real productive land. We also have to build up the men who are going to use that land, because they are ignorant of agriculture and of the ways of the country, and they have to be educated.

Those are expenses that have to be borne in the first instance. In my opinion those expenses can ultimately become remunerative. The land can pay a return upon what we spend on it, and the country can pay a fair return in the sense of giving a living to those who go there. But there is no short cut in Palestine to earning a living. It is difficult to earn a living there. It is more difficult in my opinion to earn a living in Palestine than it is in a large part of the world which is open to Jews. Therefore no investors can expect either security or a large return on a fairly conducted business unless there are done by us certain things which a state might do if it were ready, if it had great resources. This the state, Palestine, is not ready to do. It has not the resources. And it has an appreciable debt resting upon it which the land must return. Therefore, to do the things we want done, we have to raise a very considerable amount. And we have to raise men to go with the money; men who will administer the moneys that we send there. That can be done only by an immense development of the work in the several countries of the Diaspora, America of course included.

Insufficient as our work in America may have been, I think we can say that there are other countries in which it has been worse. And I think that attention cannot be too much directed to the fact that we cannot succeed in our attempt unless we have cooperation from all of these countries, notably Great Britain, where the prospects of successful work are even better than in America. British Jewry is a part of the mandatory, and it will feel, in a way what Americans do not feel, an obligation and pride, and a sense of loyalty to England as well as of loyalty to the Jew, in working for Palestine.

I believe that any organization that we are to create now must recognize that the World Organization is in one way at least no more important than the Great Hinterland. The Hinterland is to be the great reservoir of money and of men, and must therefore be developed in every part. That, I think is the first proposition. We Americans must develop our organization and strength at home, and we must govern our action with that constantly in view. At the same time we must insist that all other countries, beginning with Great Britain and the British Dominions, must; to the very utmost of their ability, develop their possibilities, possibilities which I consider even more favorable, numbers and position considered, than our own in America....[Ellipses in the original text]

The only consideration which we are at liberty to regard is efficiency in that public service (to be rendered in Palestine), and not to pick men because of what they may have done in the past. The only proper test that can be applied in respect to the filling of these offices is fitness and efficiency. The man who is best fitted to perform a particular task must be selected. To my mind it is an insult to a devoted Zionist to appoint him to office only because of services which he has performed in the past It is an insult to the intelligence, to the high-mindedness of the Jew, the Zionist Jew, to consider, in filling an office, whether a proposed incumbent needs or wants the compensation which comes from it. If there are men in Palestine or elsewhere who have served us well in the past and do absolutely need for their living certain means which they are not able to get by their own effort, the question properly arises whether we should create, either through private effort or through the Organization directly, a Pension Fund just as Governments and public bodies do. But I consider it no less than treason to our Cause knowingly to appoint any man to office for any other reason than that he can with the greatest fitness fill that office. We have no right, and it would be folly, to appoint any man to any office in Palestine or elsewhere, just as it would be, with the enemy at our gates in the most terrible of war times, to appoint a man general or colonel or captain, because he was popular or because he was poor or because we love him. We have a problem so difficult, that unless we set that standard for ourselves there is, to my mind, no possibility of our solving it. And, of course, not only must we get the fittest men, but we must do with the least possible number. We must abolish every unnecessary office. We must make every man do every bit of work that it is possible for him to do. We must make men understand that every penny which they waste in any way, either by an unnecessary office or by a salary of more than is necessary, that just to that extent they are obstructing the work which lies before us. What we can do in Palestine depends wholly upon the amount of money we can raise and what men we can get to administer it.

Waste of money raised will not only deprive us of the amount wasted. It will cost us ten and twenty and one hundredfold the amount wasted through its deterrent effect on possible contributions and investments. Men are willing to give men can be made willing to give, when they know what they give, that whatever sacrifices they make, will result in some further approach to the end we have in mind. But every person who wastes a cent, whether it be in a cable, in a salary or in an unnecessary letter, is postponing directly or indirectly to perhaps a hundred times that extent, the achievement of our aim. More Jews ought to understand this. We Jews have the intelligence to understand this. We must have character and high spirit enough to see that we may not allow our hearts and our love and our individual fancies or favors to guide us in the selection of the men who are to serve our organization.

When you consider the inter-relation of the work to be done in the Federations in the various countries, and the specific character of the work to be done in Palestine, you will see how essential it is to have an entire rearrangement of activities. To my mind, a large part of the men who have in the past occupied themselves in international activities can best serve the cause by going to their homes, with the knowledge which they have acquired from international action and experience, and particularly acknowledge of the necessities of the Cause and the character of those necessities, by going to their own people and making them understand that, unless that work is done in the Hinterland, success in Palestine is impossible. Make them understand the difficulties as well as the possibilities. Our undertaking is not a light thing. The time is past when jubilations are in order. There is a thing very different from jubilation before us now. Great sorrow will follow the jubilation unless our people, in the different countries as well as in Palestine, are made to understand the real situation; unless they are made to understand the difference between the unreal and the ideal. Zionism has given a new significance to the traditional Jewish duties of truth and knowledge as the basis of faith and practice.

As for the work in Palestine and the large number of people engaged in administrative work there. I am not of course criticizing their motives in any respect. They performed very important things in the past which it is no longer necessary to perform. Unless our people recognize that the greatest public service they can perform in Palestine is to earn there an honest living and not be dependent upon the Organization, we shall not accomplish our work. The highest work that can be done for Palestine is to earn a living in Palestine; to put the Jewish mind and Jewish determination and Zionist idealism and enthusiasm into the problem of earning a living in Palestine; thus setting an example for others to earn a living. That is real patriotism. A young woman who was in Palestine some time ago said that to make a good soup in Palestine was a contribution to the cause. I agree with her. But it is not a contribution to have someone else make a soup for you. It is not a contribution to get paid for making plans for a good soup. What we have to do is to make it possible for men to earn a living in Palestine. That is a very difficult thing. It cannot be done by subsidizing people. It can be done only by the individual efforts of men actuated by the proper motives, guided in the proper ways.

Our organization can accomplish a few things to this end. In the first place, we can make it possible for people to work hard in Palestine. That is, we can overcome malaria. We cannot properly judge any body's performance until we shall have done that. We cannot form an idea as to whether it is possible to develop any of our colonies or plantations unless we put people under conditions where they will work in health, that is, be as healthy as they are in other countries. The task is wholly one of eliminating malaria. Aside from malaria, the ordinary conditions in the country are conducive to the greatest physical wellbeing. We can, without pauperizing people, give them health it they are willing to live according to the rules essential to health.

We can also give to those who have not yet accustomed themselves to the peculiarities of the country, a certain amount of education in agriculture. We can let them have land practically free without exacting interest or returns for a considerable period, during the time of apprenticeship, while they are accommodating themselves to the new situation.

Our task is to bring into Palestine, as rapidly as we can, as many persons as we can. That really comprises the whole work before us. Of course we want to do it in a way and under conditions that will allow the men and women we bring there to become self-supporting and self-respecting and enjoy proper social position. We, of course, take this matter for granted and it requires no reiteration.

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