Brandeis - The Human Resource
Louis Brandeis - Palestine has
Developed Jewish Character
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
Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs was
formed in the United States, and
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.
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
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
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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