Brandeis -  The Human Resource

May 27 1923

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Louis Brandeis - Palestine has Developed Jewish Character


Louis Dembitz Brandeis was a prominent American lawyer and later associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, who became associated with the Zionist cause in 1910. 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." It is not clear, in many cases, whether he provided the titles of these speeches when published.

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. Brandeis was active in organizing Zionism in the United States during the war, though he removed himself from official positions in 1916, following is appointment as associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was instrumental in getting United States support for the Balfour Declaration, issued by Great Britain on November 2, 1917.

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 and Great Britain.

Though Brandeis and his followers had been unseated from the Zionist organization, he did not sulk or abandon the Zionist project, despite his busy life and many obligations as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He and his group formed several organizations to collect the money needed to settle Palestine. These worked in parallel with the mainstream Zionist funding organizations. The Palestine Land Development Council and its associated Leagues were the first such organizations, followed by the Palestine Economic Corporation, which also assumed the Palestine activities of Joint Distribution Committee as well, and promoted actual investment in Palestine rather than simple charity.

In the summer of 1929, Arabs had rioted in Jerusalem and Hebron, producing a considerable pogrom. (see Arab Riots and Massacres of 1929 ). The British had been unhelpful and would presently seek to limit immigration. Confidence in the Jewish national home was nearing rock bottom, and by November, the stock market crash had signaled the start of the world depression. 

An emergency conference of the Palestine Economic Corporation was called in Washington DC, and Brandeis gave the address below on  November 24, 1929.

Ami Isseroff

June 20, 2009   


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


Palestine Has Developed Jewish Character

The road to a Jewish Palestine is economic, and the opportunity is open. I reached this conviction ten years ago when I became acquainted on my visit there with the country and the people, both Arabs and Jews. Since that time I have watched with deep interest the development of the Homeland. The happenings during each of those ten years, including the present, I have served to deepen my conviction.

Those of you who have been to Palestine know that in character and climate it resembles southern California. It is a miniature of southern California. Like California it has available water, water that has to be secured, as in California, by pumping and irrigation. But there is plenty of it there for all ordinary purposes if it is conserved and utilized. It was a surprise to me to learn that the rainfall in Jerusalem was a little larger than the average rainfall in London. But until recent attempts to conserve water most of it was wasted.

So you have a country which in climate resembles what we have come to regard as the garden of America. But it differs from California in one extraordinary particular and differs very much. Whereas everything in California which nature in its bounty has given, was until a few years ago preserved for man untouched, 1,500 years and more of abuse have done all that could possibly have been done to prevent Palestine from being fruitful. The trees were cut down ruthlessly, although the old Jewish law at every point taught the value of the tree. That old code prohibited the destruction of trees even in war, for the tree is man's friend. In those 1,500 years of abuse the soil was washed away and malaria overwhelmed the desiccated wastes. That is the difference, or was the difference, up to a short time ago, between Palestine and southern California. Fortunately the neglect of the centuries had only ruined Palestine's surface. The Jewish pioneers demonstrated that it was still possible to make Palestine into a land flowing with milk and honey and with much besides. Touched by intelligent effort supplemented by science, it began to bloom almost as a miracle. When I saw what had happened I felt convinced that all that was needed was men, means and wise and arduous toil. Palestine has affected me deeply, though I have lived most of my life largely apart from the Jewish people. I realized what it means to those who have been close to Jewish life. I said to myself then: While 1,500 years had been devastating the country, 2,000 years have developed the greatest of natural resources.

Palestine has developed Jewish character. The sufferings to which Jews have been subjected during all those centuries has bred a people who could easily regain all that Palestine has lost. Jewish suffering not only taught Jews to think; it gave them the will, courage, pertinacity to succeed under all circumstances and amidst all difficulties.

I acquired on my visit to Palestine the faith which the experience of the years has deepened. To make Palestine Jewish is only a question of our will, intelligently directed. Step by step the pioneers were surmounting all obstacles. In an incredibly short time and at more than incredibly small expense they eliminated the scourge of malaria, the greatest hindrance to the progress of the country. I lived as a small boy in a malarial region, and I have some idea how this disease can hamper and frustrate the efforts of farmers. But our pioneers have done valiantly. There were times when I thought that the moneys we were sending to the country might lessen ambition and habituate the settlers to depend on outside help. But I found in Palestine a self-dependent, self-reliant community. There was no trace of pauperization, idleness or loafing, but rather a lively sense of responsibility, a religious passion for work.

So marched the years. Now came the riots, the massacre of helpless old people and peaceful religious students. This too has shown the mettle of the people whom we have been aiding to develop Palestine. They have possessed the manhood and courage to look out for themselves, which is all that we could wish and all that any people on earth could wish for their pioneers in a new and difficult situation. Jewish intelligence, Jewish courage, Jewish persistence, have all been manifested, and I know of nothing, certainly in recent history, finer than the temper shown by these men and women, and I would almost include the children, under the perils which confronted them in Palestine. The massacres occurred only where there were the old, the infirm, and the helpless.

I repeat what I have often said, that our greatest asset in this effort is the character trained by 2,000 years of suffering. Therefore, I have no fear of the Arab or of any other question. I have no fear because I know in my heart, as my reason tells me from all that I have observed, in a life that is now beginning to seem long, that Jewish qualities are qualities that tell.

Our representatives in Palestine have been tested; and they stood the test superbly well. It gives me infinitely more courage, infinitely more desire to help them than I ever had before.

I was strongly in favor, and still am, of the Balfour Declaration, because I realized that it was as much to the interest of Great Britain as to our interest that Palestine should be developed by Jews. I reached that conclusion after very close relations with British statesmen who were here during the war. I believed in the feasibility of the Balfour Declaration because it was not only in accord with British interests, but consistent with the interests of all the European powers, their allies the world over. I learned in Palestine, and I believe it is still true, recent occurrences to the contrary notwithstanding, that the danger of the Arabs is grossly exaggerated.

Even ten years ago our people were able to protect themselves against the Arabs and consequently won their respect. They soon realized that the Shomer, the mounted Jewish police that guarded the colonies, was not to be trifled with. In Palestine I already heard of legends current among Arabs about the skill of the Shomer as a sharp shooter. Nothing gave me greater assurance of the ability of our people to take care of themselves.

But all this increases our obligations to those who are already there. They have proved themselves worthy of our tradition. We must prove ourselves worthy of them. We must not stint. We must provide them every opportunity for further development. What is equally our obligation is to other the hundreds of thousands who are ready to go to Palestine, the opportunity to do so. In my opinion a steady flow of Jewish immigration to the country and the growth of the Jewish community there will make Palestine perhaps, all things considered, the safest place in the world. There will of course be Jewish sorrow as well as Jewish joy. I found in the colonies far more of joy than of sorrow. They reminded me of our pioneers of the West and those who developed the East some two centuries earlier.

So I came to tell what I believe and what I think we are to do. Palestine needs money. It is as necessary to our projects there as water is to its soil. But remember, the Jew has used money only as an instrument. His chief commodity has been brains and character and will and strength of every kind. And our representatives seem to possess them all to a high degree.

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