Brandeis -  The Human Resource

May 27 1923

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Louis Brandeis - The Human Resource


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.

Undeniably, the work in Palestine proceeded slowly. The war had devastated Palestine and there was a deep economic recession as the country was flooded with immigrants. Despite all the good efforts of Brandeis and others, Jews were reluctant to donate money to a project that seemed impossible in a remote part of the world. This was especially true following the Arab riots of 1920 and 1921.

Brandeis, however, was not discouraged. He had visited Palestine at its nadir, following World War I. He could not have seen much to encourage him, because there wasn't much there. Yet he somehow understood the key to what would become the success of the Zionist enterprise, and ultimately the key to Israeli economic success: The human resource - the educated and dedicated people who were slowly coming to Palestine and changing it from the discouraging wilderness derided as an impossible place for a national home by Lord Curzon into a livable country. This emphasis on brain power rather than brawn went against the grain of mainstream Zionist thinking at the time, which focused on agricultural development. The radio age had barely begun, and the information age was far in the future. Knowledge was exportable only in the form of industrial products, and Palestine was not a great place for industry, but Brandeis had a glimpse, perhaps of the future possibilities. This little statement appears to be an extract from a larger speech, or remarks following an address by Louisville Zionist Ferdinand Julius Fohs, who is mentioned. The remarks were made at the second Annual Conference of the Palestine Land Development Council on May 27-28, 1923.

Considering the climate, political situation and resources of Palestine, Brandeis's concluding words were a masterpiece of optimism:

Jewish persistence, Jewish ingenuity and Jewish capital, when employed in a country which is congenial, in a climate which is admirable and in surroundings which will call out the best that is in men.

Ami Isseroff

June 20, 2009   


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


The Human Resource

Let me call attention to a fact which modesty has prevented Julius Fohs [evidently Ferdinand Julius Fohs - a Louisville Zionist] from mentioning. The greatest of all Palestinian resources is the human resource; I mean this not only spiritually, but economically. If you inquire into the history of the really great businesses which stand as examples of signal successes in America, you will find that ill most cases the success is to be attributed mainly to the character, the ingenuity and the-persistence of the man who established the business rather than to favorable external or local conditions. Again and again I have asked in some American city: "Why in the world should this great industry have been established in this particular place seeing that it was remote from both the sources of its raw materials and from the markets for its products. And the answer has come back, "An extraordinary man happened to live here." A man of brains and of will determined that an industry should be established. Creation followed the will; and a century or less of wise persistence developed the small shop into one of the controlling industries of the nation. Such successes, almost without limit, we may look for in Palestine. The Jew, who has so often made bricks without straw, will find a way to take up in Palestine those industries in which brains and the work of man are the chief elements in making the product. Remember that even in the massive locomotive, the metal used represents hardly one-twentieth of the cost. It is the skilled labor, invention, management and capital which represent the main elements of cost. What may we not expect from the Jewish mind, Jewish persistence, Jewish ingenuity and Jewish capital, when employed in a country which is congenial, in a climate which is admirable and in surroundings which will call out the best that is in men.

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