Russian persecution also precipitated a wave of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe to America in the first decade of the century, [1] but attempts to organise Zionist societies across the United States failed to ignite early enthusiasms. With two or three exceptions, the wealthy Jews in America would have nothing to do with Zionism in any shape or form. [2] The settled and prosperous upper-class, mostly German Jews, believed in assimilation. Their wealth and social position proved to them that the melting pot analogy was working. Above all, they did not want anyone to question their loyalty to America or embrace an ideology that might rock their well-provisioned boat by advocating the creation of a foreign country specifically for Jews. [3] That might prove an uncomfortable transformation, especially if the argument focussed on the theft of an already Arab country or a the need for Jews to go and live there.

Lower East Side New York, a haven for Jewish immigrants in the first decade of the twentieth century.

On the other hand it appeared that some poorer immigrants, were becoming more vocal in their support, though it was not backed by an evident desire to move from the ‘Land of the Free’ to the sands of Palestine. The Jewish leaders in America, Jacob Schiff and Rabbi I.M. Wise claimed that ‘America is our Zion’. [4] The Jewish community in America was at best divided. There was no groundswell in the Zionists’ favour and the State Department dismissed them as a minority political group without money, influence or social standing. [5] They were not listening. Slowly a generation of new Zionists began to assert itself amongst the aspiring middle-classes of teachers, lawyers, businessmen and professors. They required a leader to champion their cause.

The Harvard Law Review article which made Brandeis famous.

The flag-bearer for Zionism in the United States, Louis Brandeis, was a Boston lawyer hailed as a champion of the people. As early as 1890 he had created a legal storm with an article in the Harvard Law Review, a Citizens Right to Privacy. [6] In 1905 he successfully challenged the J.P. Morgan banking and financial conglomerate over a proposed railroad merger, raged against the abuses of monopolies and championed women’s working rights in a high-profile court case against the State of Oregon. [7] Brandeis was widely considered dangerous by his opponents because he couldn’t be bought. Outrageous anti-Jewish rants were vented against him by magazines and journals owned or part-financed by the New Haven Railroad Company when he spoke out against their abuses. [8] Unbowed and unbroken Brandeis fought them and won.

Louis Brandeis was attracted to Zionism fairly late in his life. He first came into contact with Eastern European Jews amongst the New York garment workers whom he supported in the great strike of 1910. Burgeoning anti-Semitism in Boston and his own encounters with prejudice influenced his attraction to the Zionist cause and in an interview with the Jewish Advocate in 1910 he openly acknowledged his sympathy for Zionism. [9] Within two years it had become his life’s purpose.

On 30 August, 1914, barely a month into the war, an extraordinary conference of American Zionists took place in New York at which Louis Brandeis, the Boston Lawyer, was unanimously elected leader of the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs. His reputation electrified the Jewish community. Here was a leader of national standing with the reputation of a fearless champion of the people. [10] He brought respect and authority to this post and under his direction a stream of other leaders in American Jewish life were attracted to the Zionist movement. He believed in a cultural pluralism in which ethnic groups retained their unique identity as did Americans of Scottish, Irish, German or any other nationality. His message was that there was no inconsistency between loyalty to America and loyalty to Jewry. Although some European Zionists viewed this as an anaemic adaptation of their own passion, [11] Brandeis’s approach to Zionism succeeded in encouraging far greater support in America for a ‘homeland’ in Palestine. That did not, however, infer their intention to go and live there. [12] Ever.

Boston newspaper greets Brandeis's eventual confirmation.

Brandeis’s magnetism in Jewish circles was further enhanced by President Wilson’s surprise decision to appoint him to the vacant position on the Supreme Court on 28 January, 1916. [13] His many detractors gave vent to their anti-Jewish bile in a firestorm of protest. Newspapers called Louis Brandeis a red-hot radical; the Sun declared that it was the Senate’s duty to ‘protect the Supreme Court from such an utterly and ridiculously unfit appointment’. According to The Press President Wilson had never made a worse mistake than his nomination of Brandeis. It added, ‘if he fails to withdraw it, the United States Senate should throw it out.’ [14] The Zionist leader had to endure six months of unrelenting abuse from opponents before winning Senate approval in June 1916.

The transformation of Mr Brandeis into Justice Brandeis should have reduced his active involvement in the Zionist movement. Not so. Louis Brandeis’s influence and power increased a hundred-fold. Clearly his official involvement in overt Jewish matters should have been reduced to a minimum, but he held on to all the reins of influence. [15] He remained in daily communication by telephone, telegraph and conference with all the other leaders of the movement, and little escaped his attention. Brandeis was in the business of recruitment. He clearly understood the power that ordinary Jewish voters could wield at the ballot-box. But the struggle within American Jewry for control of their own community between the exceptionally wealthy few and the masses, descended into bitter accusation and counter-accusation.

Jacob Schiff, the New York financier, head of the great Kuhn Loeb banking firm was the foremost Jewish financier in the United States. His philanthropy towards Jewish causes was legendary. Nevertheless, in June 1916 he was shocked by the personal attacks levelled against him. He had originally held himself aloof from Theodore Herzl and overtly political Zionism and in a speech at the Central Jewish Institute, he was reported to have said that Jews in Russia had brought many of their troubles upon themselves because they ‘kept apart as a separate people’. [16]

Jacob Schiff in his earlier years.

Schiff always claimed that he had been misrepresented by the pro-Zionist Jewish press; that he had been unfairly and improperly maligned. He told the New York Times that he had been warned that his opposition to the Jewish Congress movement would result in such an attack. Schiff revealed that the Zionists were determined to undermine Jewish confidence in him in a well orchestrated plan; that whatever he said, they would attack him. He was gravely hurt by the allegations and swore that Zionism, Jewish nationalism, the Congress Movement and Jewish politics in any form was thereafter a closed book. [17] Schiff’s anger subsided later and he was persuaded to help the Jews in Palestine, provided the project could be presented to him as unrelated to Zionism.

The message was clear. Zionism was not to be crossed, even by the richest of its own co-religionists. There was an unsubtle message in this character assassination. No matter how rich, how influential, how generous, no-one would be allowed to criticise the Zionist agenda. No-one. Many others have suffered similar fates since.

Louis Brandeis grew in stature. He had the President’s ear. Precisely why remains a matter of conjecture. Allegations have been voiced that Wilson was blackmailed into making the appointment by a lawyer, Samuel Untermeyer. This has never been proved.  [18] Formerly, as an adviser to Woodrow Wilson, Brandeis helped to broker the compromise that led to the adoption of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 without which U S bankers could not have financed the world war. [19]Louis Brandeis ... the perfect leader for Zionist aspirations in America.

Viewed from that angle one might question the purity of his anti-trust reputation. Though he should have kept his responsibilities as a Supreme Court Judge separate from the workings of the Department of State, which had responsibility for all international dealings, Brandeis made his views on Palestine clear. He approached Woodrow Wilson directly on the issue of Palestine and ‘obtained verbal assurances’ on his and the allied policy in Palestine. In an article in the New Statesman and Nation in November 1914, he argued that Palestine should become a British protectorate. [20] Consider that date. In November 1914, the idea that Palestine should become a British Protectorate was planted by an American Zionist three years ahead of the more general Balfour Declaration. In what depth of fertile soil did it germinate?

For very many Jews who had suffered directly from Russian brutality, supporting the Allies was emotionally difficult. Many could not understand how the British in particular could fight side by side with the hated Romanovs. Brandeis saw beyond that hatred. Above all, he knew that America had to be involved in any international congress which would be empowered to settle the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. He looked to Chaim Weizmann, his fellow Zionist leader across the Atlantic to help find a form of commitment which would deliver Palestine to the Jews. [21]

1. Sampter, A Guide to Zionism, p. 71.
2. Ibid, p. 73.
3. Donald Neff, Fallen Pillars, Chapter 1,
4. Ibid.
6. Warren and Brandeis, Harvard Law Review, Vol. IV    December 15, 1890 No. 5, The Right To Privacy.
7. Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908).
8. George R. Conroy, editor of the ironically titled magazine, Truth, penned a much quoted and often re-quoted allegation against Brandeis that linked him to the Jewish banker Jacob Schiff. It was one of many wild allegations made against Louis Brandeis to discredit him.
9. Jonathan D. Sarna, Louis D Brandeis: Zionist Leader, Brandeis Review, winter 1992.
10. Sampter, A Guide to Zionism, p. 81.
11. Neff, Fallen Pillars, Chapter 1,
12. Donald Lloyd Neff was an American historian and journalist. Originally from Pennsylvania, he spent 16 years working for Time, and was a former Time bureau chief in Israel. He also worked for the Washington Star. It is said that his work was erased from history for reporting on Palestine.
13. New York Times, 29 January 1916. p.1.
14. Ibid. p. 3.
15. Alphas Thomas Mason, Brandeis – A Free Man’s Life, p. 451.
16. New York Times 5 June 1916.
17. Ibid.
18. A number of magazines and internet blogs have carried this story. No proof has been produced.
19. Gerry Docherty and Jim Macgregor, Hidden History, The Secret Origins of the First World War, pp. 220-21.
20. Mason, Brandeis – A Free Man’s Life, p. 452.
21. Ibid., pp. 451-2.