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American
Zionism and
the Biltmore
Conference
Colleen Brady
Readings on the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Prof. Repps Hudson
December 21, 2010
Brady, Page |2
American Zionism and the Biltmore Conference
1942 marked a significant turning point in the history of American Zionism. It was the
year Hitler’s Final Solution became known to the world; the first full year of the American
involvement in World War II; and the first year in which all American Zionists groups convened
to address these various issues. The happenings of the Biltmore Conference and the key points
of the subsequent Biltmore Program evidence how American Zionists engaged with Zionist
leaders and with their contemporary political environment. Biltmore demonstrated American
Zionists’ turn to an action-oriented approach in their demands for a Jewish state as they
attempted to grapple with the ongoing war and crisis in Europe.
Before embarking on a political and historical analysis of the Biltmore Conference and the
Biltmore Program, one must first comprehend the basic factors that contributed to the
conference. Heralded as the first “all-Zionist” meeting in which every American Zionist group sat
down together, the Biltmore Conference was a monumental event, hosting more than five
hundred delegates from across America as well as sixty-seven foreign visitors, including Chaim
Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion.1 From May 9th-11th of 1942, these delegates debated the
future of American Zionism in the “art deco dining halls”2 of New York’s famous Biltmore Hotel.
A decade later, this hotel would be popularized in American culture as a haunt of Holden
Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Originally, however, the hotel ascended to
fame in 1942 as the meeting place of the ‘Extraordinary Zionist Conference’ better known simply
as the Biltmore Conference.
1
Michael Brown, The Israeli-American Connection: its Roots in the Yishuv, 1914-1945 (Detroit: Wayne State
University Press, 1996), 237.
2
Michael Oren, Power, Faith & Fantasy (New York: WW Norton & Compnay, 2007), 444.
Brady, Page |3
The historical context of the Biltmore Conference is necessary to understanding its
proceedings and its product. Just earlier that year, Hitler’s Final Solution truly became known to
the world at large.3 The conference therefore had to address the persecution of European Jews;
the conferees questioned how they could best aid the Jewish community across the Atlantic in
the short and the long term. Simultaneously, Biltmore’s proceedings were greatly defined by the
ongoing war. The twenty-second Zionist Congress was prevented by the outbreak of World War
II, which resulted in the creation of the Biltmore Conference in its place.4 Not only did the war
impact the conference’s timing, but it fundamentally altered its focus. As the post-war landscape
would be determined by the victors, the future of any Zionist state was inextricably wed to the
outcome of the war. As a result, American Zionists had to demonstrate support for the Allied war
effort while illustrating how a Jewish state would not negatively affect the Allied powers. This
balance between pursuing their own aims and supporting the Allies would become a defining
feature of the Biltmore discussions and the subsequent program.
Equally important to the Biltmore Program were the leaders that shaped its design. As
mentioned earlier, over five hundred Americans and sixty-seven foreign delegates attended the
conference. Among them, the presidium consisted of Leon Gellman, Louis E. Levinthal, Louis
Lipsky, Tamar de Sola Pool, Robert Szold, David Wertheim and Stephen Wise. Notable
speakers included Gedalia Bublick, Z’ev Gold, Israel Goldstein, Hayith Greenberg, Meir
Grossman, Jacob Hoffman, Emmanuel Neumann and Abba Hillel Silver.5 Additionally, the four
major American Zionist organizations—the Zionist Organization of America, Hadassah, Mizrahi,
and Po’ale Zion—were all in attendance.6 While these groups and individuals all held
fundamentally similar goals, their approaches were, at times, vastly different. For this reason,
3
Allis Radosh and Ronald Radosh, A Safe Haven: Harry S Truman and the Founding of Israel (New York: Harper
Collins Publishers, 2009), 9.
4
Zionism-Israel Center, “Zionism and Israel Encyclopedic Dictionary: Biltmore Conference by Ami Isseroff,”
retrieved 25 October 2010, http://www.zionism israel.com/dic/Biltmore_Conference.htm.
5
Ralphael Patai, ed., Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, vol. 1 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971), 139.
6
Ibid.
Brady, Page |4
observing the interactions between the various groups and leaders of the Biltmore Conference
is instructive to understanding the end product.
At its most basic level, the Biltmore Conference was meant to convene all American
Zionist groups. Louise E. Levinthal, then-president of the Zionist Organization of America,
spearheaded this movement.7 Prior to Biltmore, the ZOA had served as the “principal leader of
the ‘Emergency Committee for Zionist Affairs’,” which was meant to mimic American Zionists’
Provisional Executive Committee of World War One.8 Biltmore, like the ZOA’s Emergency
Committee before it, became a means of engaging with and contributing to the war effort. The
ZOA’s leadership role among the U.S. Zionist groups could perhaps be attributed to its overall
approach to the Zionist mission: it “characterized itself from the beginning as a general Zionist
group open to all who embraced the Zionist principles regardless of social and religious
ideologies.”9 The organization’s general, universalist nature permitted it to rally the support of
many other groups, which is precisely what occurred at Biltmore.
Another major Zionist group present at Biltmore was Hadassah, the woman’s Zionist
organization of America. At the time, Hadassah was the largest Zionist organization in the world
and focused primarily on philanthropic efforts, particularly on establishing hospitals in
Palestine.10 Hadassah’s president at the time, Tamar de Sola Pool, also served on the Biltmore
Conference’s presidium. Before Biltmore commenced, many other Zionist organizations were
unsure if Hadassah “would support a consciously political program for their members in addition
to their ordinary philanthropic and humanitarian projects in Palestine.”11 These critiques and
worries were laid to rest when Hadassah not only supported the Biltmore Program at the
conference, but later went on to testify at the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry as well as
7
Ralphael Patai, Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, vol. 2, 1278.
Ibid.
9
Ibid, 1272.
10
Ralphael Patai, Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, vol. 1, 440.
11
Samuel Halperin, The Political World of American Zionism (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1961), 221.
8
Brady, Page |5
the UN Special Committee on Palestine in support of the establishment of a Jewish state.12
Hadassah support thus proved instrumental in the success of the Biltmore Program.
Other major American Zionist groups present at Biltmore consisted of Mizrahi and Po’Ale
Zion of America. At its foundation in 1904, Mizrahi defined itself as a “national Zionist
organization based on the Basle Program, striving for the national rebirth of the people of
Israel.”13 A strictly political, rather than cultural or philanthropic, group, Mizrahi continued this
mission through World War II, when they focused their efforts on the consolidation and
strengthening of the Yishuv.14 Meanwhile, Po’Ale Zion in America acted as a branch of the
Po’Ale Zion World Movement. This movement, begun in 1905, was an “amalgamation of several
groups, including a moderate social democratic group and another that served as the
predecessor to the Israel Labor Party.”15 This worldwide movement attracted several key Zionist
leaders; for example, Ben-Gurion joined the movement’s Polish branch while studying in
Warsaw. Po’Ale Zion and Mizrahi’s international scopes added to the legitimacy of the Biltmore
Conference. Their presence transformed Biltmore from a gathering of American Zionists to an
assemblage of the world’s Zionist leaders.
The support of Mizrahi, Po’Ale Zion of America, and Hadassah, as well as the leadership
of the Zionist Organization of America under Levinthal, combined to foster an overarching sense
of unity at the Biltmore Conference. While several American Jewish organizations certainly
dissented, the support of these four major groups gave Biltmore a sense of legitimacy as the
official Zionist program of American Jews. And yet these organizations could only contribute so
much to the conference’s proceedings; moreso, it was the emergence of certain vocal
personalities that greatly defined the conference as well as the subsequent declaration.
12
Ralphael Patai, Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, vol. 1, 441.
Ralphael Patai, Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, vol. 2, 792.
14
Ibid, 794.
15
Ibid, 893.
13
Brady, Page |6
International guests Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion offered much in the way of
conference leadership. Their presence and their contributions fostered a sense of legitimacy
and internationalism around the Biltmore Conference. According to the historian Samuel
Halperin:
With Chaim Weizmann, President of the Jewish Agency, David Ben-Gurion, Chairman of
the Jewish Agency Executive, and Nahum Goldmann, a member of the Agency
Executive, in attendance, the Biltmore gathering took on the character of a World Zionist
Congress and lent added importance to this first joint meeting of all major American
Zionist parties since World War One.16
Ben-Gurion and Weizmann’s opposing approaches to the establishment of a Jewish homeland
anchored the conference’s central debate. In their respective visions of the path to statehood,
Ben-Gurion proposed a direct, militant approach while Weizmann supported more diplomatic,
gradual methods.17 Weizmann and Ben-Gurion’s varied approaches are significant, for they
indicate the leaders’ personal backgrounds as well as the political context of the time.
Throughout his lifetime, David Ben-Gurion was an ardent activist for Jewish nationalism.
Born in Plonsk, Poland in 1886, he later studied engineering in Warsaw. As a student, BenGurion joined the local Po’ale Zion group and participated in an assemblage of “young
revolutionary Zionists that extorted funds for Palestine from wealthy Jews.”18 Moving to
Palestine to farm in 1906, and later to Constantinople, New York, and back to Tel Aviv, BenGurion acquired an international reputation for political activism throughout his career. At the
time of Biltmore, he led the left-wing Jewish-Palestinian labor party, Mapai. It is notable that
throughout his life, Ben-Gurion “rejected the Diaspora…and sometimes scorned the American
Jewish community,” and yet he nevertheless regarded the Biltmore Conference as one of his
most important undertakings of the early 1940s.19 His leftist and activist history was certainly
16
Samuel Halperin, The Political World of American Zionism, 222.
th
Ian Bickerton and Carla Klausner, A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 6 ed. (New York: Prentice Hall, 2010), 72.
18
Michael Brown, The Israeli-American Connection, 198.
19
Ibid, 197 and 236.
17
Brady, Page |7
evidenced by his Biltmore speech. Through this speech, Ben-Gurion built on the Ohioan Rabbi
Abba Hillel Silver’s presentation from the 1941 National Conference on Palestine. Ben-Gurion
added to Silver’s call for “large-scale postwar immigration and Jewish independence” by
providing concrete arguments for the right to establish a Jewish state.20 As Ben-Gurion’s oratory
at the Biltmore Conference was instrumental in crafting the finalized Biltmore Declaration, we
shall examine it in further detail.
On the morning of Sunday, May 10, 1942, Ben-Gurion presented the assembled
delegates of the Extraordinary Zionist Conference his address titled “Palestine as the Solution of
the Jewish Problem.” Staunchly pro-Jewish state, this speech addressed many lingering
concerns held by American Zionists about the nature of settlement in Palestine. In his opening
statements, Ben-Gurion explained the nature of Palestine under the Turkish Empire: “It was
practically an unclaimed country except in the eyes of the Jewish people who never, for all
these many centuries, ceased to regard it as its rightful national home, to which it remained
bound with uninterrupted and indissoluble ties.”21 This notion of Palestine as an uninhabited,
uncultivated land ready for the taking reappears throughout Ben-Gurion’s address. He
presented Palestine as a space that could only benefit from Jewish immigration. He stated that
“the immigration and settlement of Jews in Palestine is not being done at Arab expense” and
asserted that “there is no Arab industry.”22 According to Ben-Gurion, Jewish immigrant’s more
advanced agricultural tactics only enhanced Palestine’s economy and the lives of the Arab
inhabitants. For many American Zionists, Ben-Gurion’s claims reassured them that immigration
into Palestine was indeed a wholly beneficial act for all parties involved.
20
Michael Brown, The Israeli-American Connection, 236.
David Ben-Gurion. “Palestine as the Solution of the Jewish Problem,” in A Jewish Commonwealth, 19421944, ed. Aaron S. Klieman, vol. 9 of American Zionism: a documentary history (New York: Garland Publishing,
1991), 7. Author’s emphasis.
22
Ibid, 9.
21
Brady, Page |8
Ben-Gurion also posed Palestinian settlement as a solution to Nazi persecution of Jews
in Europe. He underlined the necessity for Zionist success during this dire time, and implied that
Zionist aims must succeed in the post-war moment or they would miss their opportunity and fail
forever. In the early moments of his address, Ben-Gurion asserted:
Either Zionism will provide a complete and speedy solution of the burning need of large
numbers of uprooted Jews and through the mass immigration and colonization will lay
the sure foundation of a free self-governing Jewish Palestine, or it will become
meaningless.23
Dominating this excerpt are feelings of urgency and insistence on a Jewish state as the only
feasible option to save European Jews, sentiments which are emphasized by phrases such as
“speedy solution” and “burning need.” Furthermore, the reference to the “large numbers of
uprooted Jews” refers directly to the crisis in Europe. When Americans learned of Hitler’s “Final
Solution” in 1942, the American Zionist community publicized and raised awareness of the issue
through demonstrations, fundraisers, and journal publications. Thus, Ben-Gurion’s proposal
would have been favorable to the American Zionist population, as it offered a concrete and
realistic solution to the crisis in Europe. Ben-Gurion’s concluding statements further emphasized
his engagement with the war effort and with rescuing European Jews. In his final remarks, BenGurion discussed the aims of the Yishuv: first, he listed the defense of the country and the
fostering of a “distinctly Jewish war effort”; subsequently, the “utmost exertion in saving Jewish
victims of the war”; finally, “preparation and bold efforts for post-war construction.”24 These
preoccupations of the Yishuv described by Ben-Gurion demonstrate the community’s
engagement with issues that remained poignant for Americans, as well. By demonstrating that
his ideas and Zionist’s aims were concurrent with the war effort and the situation in Europe,
Ben-Gurion’s proposal was received as a relevant and workable option by his American Zionist
audience.
23
24
David Ben-Gurion,“Palestine as the Solution of the Jewish Problem,” 7.
Ibid, 12.
Brady, Page |9
Also notable in Ben-Gurion’s address was his focus on more revolutionary political
solutions. As a leader, Ben-Gurion was not particularly preoccupied with diplomacy. Rather, he
favored direct and immediate action that would force world powers such as the United States
and Britain to accommodate the Zionist agenda. In his address, he argued for an “Unequivocal
reaffirmation of the original intention of the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate to re-establish
Palestine as a Jewish Commonwealth,” as well as for the “immediate granting of authority to the
Jewish Agency to control Jewish immigration and the upbuilding of the country.”25 In his
concluding remarks, Ben-Gurion again spoke of the necessity “to build the Jewish
Commonwealth, the only lasting and complete solution of one of the most baffling and tragic of
the world’s problems.”26 Ben-Gurion’s action-oriented approach to the acquisition of a Jewish
state would force the Allied powers to immediately address the issue in the postwar world.
These key elements of his address would be repeated in the conference’s final product, the
Biltmore Program.
Ben-Gurion’s militant and direct prose contrasted greatly with Chaim Weizmann’s more
diplomatic, gradualist approach. Within the Zionist community, Weizmann was perceived as an
aged and wise leader of the movement. Weizmann was born in Belarus in 1874. One of fifteen
children, he later studied chemistry and eventually worked as a university professor in
Switzerland and Britain.27 Weizmann was widely known as an Anglophile, and indeed his
proposed program of acquiring a Jewish state through diplomacy with Britain and working within
the framework of the mandate demonstrated his affinity for the British state. Nearly seventy
years old at the time of the Biltmore Conference, Weizmann was perhaps viewed as too dated
in his approaches to establishing a Jewish state. The historians Allis and Ronald Radosh assert
25
David Ben-Gurion,“Palestine as the Solution of the Jewish Problem,”12.
Ibid, 13.
27
“Chaim Weizmann,” last modified 8 December 2010, http://www.jewishagency.org/JewishAgency/English/
Jewish+Education/Compelling+Content/Eye+on+Israel/Gallery+of+People+%28Biographies%29/Weizmann+Chaim.
htm.
26
B r a d y , P a g e | 10
that pressing political conditions also dissuaded American Zionists from following Weizmann’s
plan:
Hitler’s escalating war against Europe’s Jewish population, however, led many American
Jews to take a more militant stance. They were frustrated with the Jewish
establishment’s inability to make FDR intervene. Instead of relying on the personal
diplomacy of men such as Weizmann and Wise, many Zionists were attracted to leaders
with a more activist program…28
As a result, the “militant cadences of Ben Gurion, ” as opposed to the diplomatic suggestions of
Weizmann, “caught the prevailing mood” at the Biltmore Conference.29 The ideological contrasts
between Ben-Gurion and Weizmann comprised a large part of the Biltmore Conference debate.
Their arguments formed two different poles concerning the creation of a Jewish state in
Palestine. In the end, Ben-Gurion’s approach won out with his American Zionist audience at the
Biltmore Hotel. American Zionists embraced Ben-Gurion’s arguments on the necessity to swiftly
establish a Jewish Commonwealth and employed these ideas in the final version of the Biltmore
Program.
While conference leadership clearly played a significant role in the crafting of the
Biltmore Program, it was also greatly impacted by the social and political environment in which
the conference was held. Specifically, the context of war-time America greatly affected the
program’s content. This proves significant for several key reasons. First, dramatic war-time
events fostered a sense of urgency around the conference, resulting in a more action-oriented
final product than would have likely occurred in times of peace. Secondly, the Biltmore Program
demonstrated the American Zionist movement’s adherence to what Samuel Halperin terms the
“democratic mold.” Thirdly, the war-time atmosphere put loyalty into question: American Zionists
had to show their support for a Jewish state did not contradict their support for the American war
effort. Finally, and in a similar vein, the war indicated that the United States would soon emerge
28
Allis Radosh and Ronald Radosh, A Safe Haven, 8.
Monty Noam Penkower, “American Jewry and the Holocaust: From Biltmore to the American Jewish
Conference,” Jewish Social Studies vol.47 no. 2 (Spring 1985), 96.
29
B r a d y , P a g e | 11
as a great power; therefore, the American Zionists looked to the U.S. as the architect of the
postwar world. These factors coalesced to foster a document highly reflective of the war-time
era in which it was written.
World War II created a sense of urgency that permeated the discussions of the Biltmore
Conference. News of Hitler’s Final Solution and the ongoing Allied war effort inculcated within
American Zionists the desire to take a strong stance. The time had come for Jews in the United
States to definitively speak out, and at Biltmore in particular, “The American Zionist
establishment agreed that the cataclysmic times necessitated an unambiguous articulation
along such lines.”30 The central role of the United States in the war as well as the important
position held by American Zionists in the worldwide community resulted in Biltmore delegates
feeling “obliged…to confront key questions that would arise with the war’s end, and, most
importantly, the place of the future Jewish state in its geographical region.”31 Although they were
removed from immediate danger from Hitler, American Zionists nevertheless felt pressed to
address these issues abroad and to create a Zionist plan that would be universally accepted
and recognized.
The Biltmore Program also adhered to what Samuel Halperin terms the “democratic
mold.” This states that “Every organized interest must conform to the prevailing expectations
and normative standards of the total society in which it operates.”32 Consequently, democracy
became the rule in the endeavors of American Zionists. In order to succeed, they would have to
adhere to democratic principles and appeal to the democratic nature of American society.
Simply put, American Zionists had to frame all of their discussions, programs, and plans in
democratic terms. Jewish-American historian Naomi Cohen asserts that the Jewish community
30
Monty Noam Penkower, “American Jewry and the Holocaust,” 95.
Zohar Segev, “Struggle for Cooperation and Integration: American Zionists and Arab Oil, 1940s,” Middle
Eastern Studies, vol. 42 no. 5 (Sept. 2006): 819. Retrieved 25 October 2010, doi: 10.1080/00263200600828089.
32
Samuel Halperin, The Political World of American Zionism, 219.
31
B r a d y , P a g e | 12
at the time was poised to do just that. She states, “The Zionist stand on leadership stood to gain
popularity in democratic America just because it was harnessed to the democratic idea…The
sentiment was in keeping with the teachings of Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, who
called for a democratic movement.”33 Thus, while Zionism had been democratic from the
beginning, this trait became incredibly significant in the context of America at war. For a nation
that was fighting to restore democracy throughout the world, the Biltmore Program’s
endorsement of democratic principles was of paramount importance. On the whole, the program
was written to reflect the democratic society in which it originated.
Tangential to the need to highlight their adherence to democratic principles, American
Zionists also needed to demonstrate their commitment and loyalty to the American government.
Throughout the world, centuries of anti-Semitism had built up the claim that Jews would always
have a “divided loyalty” between faith and nation. Particularly in the war-time climate, American
Zionists felt the need to dispel this claim. They did so by basing the Biltmore Program on
democratic principles and by asserting the workable relationship between supporting a Jewish
state abroad and the American government at home. The final program thus highlighted a
“militant, American-oriented policy” that would accord with the war-time climate in the United
States.34 Historian Naomi Cohen adeptly summarizes how American Zionists integrated their
goals within the United States’ wartime environment:
Even the new breed of Zionist leaders never suggested that their followers mount the
barricades. Despite the brave talk and despite the moral injunctions unleashed by the
Holocaust, Zionists never forgot that they were Americans first, and that the cause of
America at war transcended all others. They couldn’t very well do without the approval of
Washington and London, especially if those governments based their opposition on
strategic and military wartime needs….They understood, therefore, that appeals to the
public for support had to be based not on Zionist ideology but on American patriotism.
Despite Hitler’s death camps and the urgent need of Palestine as a haven if not a state,
33
34
Naomi Cohen, The Americanization of Zionism, 1897-1948 (Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 2003), 168.
Micahel Brown, The Israeli-American Connection, 238.
B r a d y , P a g e | 13
they Americanized their objectives and depicted the Jewish nationalist cause as a
wartime aim.35
Cohen demonstrates how American Jews not only supported the Allied war effort, but also
appealed to this national sentiment through the “Americanization” of their endeavors. By
working within the war-time system, Zionists created a program that was not only acceptable but
indeed appealing to a great number of Americans. Through the removal of doubts about their
loyalty, American Zionists were able to ardently pursue their aims for Jewish statehood.
Framing the Biltmore Program in Americanized, democratic terms also heralded the rise
of the United States as a world power. Attendees of the Biltmore Conference indisputably
recognized the importance the United States would hold as one of the primary architects of the
post-war world. This future was virtually beyond doubt, insofar as the U.S. was “the dominant
Allied power” as well as the “determining factor in the war.”36 Therefore, “the U.S. constituted
the new Zionist ‘battleground’,” a movement away from Britain and towards the new great power
of the age.37 Within and outside of the Biltmore Program, Zionists adamantly promoted the
creation of a Jewish state to their American audience. One major issue at the time, which had
only been aggravated by the war, was access to oil. Thus, “the Zionist line had to stress that the
overall American interests in the Mediterranean would not suffer from the establishment of a
Jewish state,” and Zionist leaders did everything in their power to convince the American public
and government of this fact.38 Additionally, Zionists attempted to appeal to then-president
Franklin Delano Roosevelt on behalf of the Biltmore Program and of Jewish statehood.
Nevertheless, despite the overwhelming majority that passed the Biltmore Program,
“Roosevelt… remained unresponsive, if not indifferent.”39 The president neither supported nor
repudiated the program, choosing to maintain neutrality during the war so as not to divide the
35
Naomi Cohen, The Americanization of Zionism, 1897-1948, 169.
Michael Oren, Power, Faith & Fantasy, 443.
37
Ibid, 444.
38
Zohar Segev, “Struggle for Cooperation and Integration,” 820.
39
Michael Oren, Power, Faith & Fantasy, 444.
36
B r a d y , P a g e | 14
nation. Despite FDR’s aloofness, the Biltmore Program and the American Zionist agenda in
general demonstrated the rise of the United States to great-power status.
The war-time climate in which the Biltmore Conference was held made a great impact on
the program itself. Delegates conformed to the “democratic mold” in order to create a
democratic, “Americanized” program that would appeal to the larger American community as a
whole. They demonstrated their loyalty and support for the American war effort and framed their
argument in the context of America at war. These traits gave the Biltmore Program an air of
political viability that permitted it to be a successful call for the establishment of a Jewish state.
The various factors, from opposing political agendas to the wartime environment and the
crisis in Europe, converged in the creation of the Biltmore Program. The document, short and to
the point, conveyed several key Zionist prerogatives through its seven points. The program was
a significant step, as it was the “first official American Zionist pronouncement using the phrase
‘Jewish Commonwealth’” that “explicitly advocated the establishment of an independent Jewish
state in Palestine.”40 Additionally, an “overwhelming majority” of American Zionists as well as
Palestinian Zionists voted in favor of the program, giving it international acclaim and
legitimacy.41 While the program addressed many issues, its main point was that only through
the establishment of a Jewish Commonwealth could “the age-old wrong to the Jewish people be
righted.”42 The text reflects many of the aforementioned political and historical details: BenGurion’s leadership, the wartime environment, Hitler’s Final Solution, and America’s rise in
importance. These central topics combine to create a concise and resolute demand for the
creation of a Jewish state.
40
Raphael Patai, Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, vol. 1, 138.
Michael Oren, Power, Faith & Fantasy, 444.
42
th
“Declaration Adopted by the Extraordinary Zionist Conference,” in A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 6 ed.,
by Ian Bickerton and Carla Klausner (New York: Prentice Hall, 2010), 90.
41
B r a d y , P a g e | 15
The Biltmore Program has marked similarities with Ben-Gurion’s “Palestine as the
Solution of the Jewish Problem” speech. One of the central parts of the program, Article 6,
assumes Ben-Gurion’s militant tone in its demand for a “Jewish military force fighting under its
own flag.”43 The firm demand for the creation of a distinctly Jewish Commonwealth is also
reminiscent of Ben-Gurion’s speech. Additionally, Articles 3 and 4 seem to be taken directly
from the leader’s oratory. They speak to Jewish Palestinians’ ability to “make the desert
blossom” and to improve the land. Article 4 also attests to the beneficial relationship between
Arabs and Jews in Palestine. On the whole, Ben-Gurion’s speech seemed to have served as a
template for the final draft of the Biltmore Program, as the two shared many key points.
The text also exhibits awareness of and engagement with the concurrent war, as well as
anticipation for the postwar order yet to come. The very first article of the Biltmore Program
states that the delegates “reaffirm their unequivocal devotion to the cause of democratic
freedom and international justice to which the people of the United States…have dedicated
themselves, and give expression to their faith in the ultimate victory of humanity and justice over
lawlessness and brute force.”44 Article 1 demonstrates the premier importance of the war effort
to American Zionists. Additionally, as mentioned above, the delegates also propose Jewish
participation in the war effort through the creation of a Jewish military force. In addition to the
war effort, the Biltmore Program addresses the prospects of the postwar world. The text is
riddled with references to the “new democratic world” and the “new world order” that would
commence with the victory of the Allies. By demonstrating an engagement with the war effort
and the postwar future, the Biltmore Program demonstrated the political viability of a Jewish
State while supporting the Allied cause.
43
44
“Declaration Adopted by the Extraordinary Zionist Conference,” 90.
Ibid, 89.
B r a d y , P a g e | 16
An equally pertinent issue addressed in the final Biltmore Program was the crisis in
Europe resulting from Hitler’s Final Solution. In Article 2, the delegates “offer a message of hope
and encouragement to their fellow Jews in the Ghettos and concentration camps of Hitlerdominated Europe.”45 The early placement of this article in the overall program indicates the
importance placed on the issue. It also raised awareness of the dire situation in Europe by
highlighting this fact to readers of the Biltmore Program. The Program later makes additional
references to Hitler’s atrocities, “of which Jews were the earliest victims.”46 Through these
references to the crisis in Europe, the Biltmore Program proposed the establishment of a Jewish
Commonwealth as the solution to Hitler’s Final Solution.
Finally, the Biltmore Program demonstrated the United States rise to great-power status
and the Zionist shift from seeking aid from Britain to seeking aid from the U.S. In the Article 1
discussion of the war, the writers point out the efforts of “the people of the United States, allied
with other United Nations.”47 Naming the United States individually of course testifies to the fact
that this was an American Zionist conference, but it also highlights the premier role that the
United States played in the war effort and in world politics at the time. Additionally, Article 5
shows signs of Zionists’ drift away from Great Britain and towards the U.S. in their pursuit of
support for their cause. Article 5 contains two sections: the first discusses how the mandate
“was to afford them the opportunity, as stated by President Wilson, to found there a Jewish
Commonwealth”; the second “affirms its unalterable rejection of the White Paper of May 1939
and denies its moral or legal validity.”48 The juxtaposition of these two clauses, the first
discussing an American president and the Jewish state, the second rejecting a British
government document, demonstrates Zionists’ shift away from Britain. Instead, they focused
45
“Declaration Adopted by the Extraordinary Zionist Conference,” 89.
Ibid, 90.
47
Ibid, 89.
48
Ibid, 90.
46
B r a d y , P a g e | 17
their efforts on the United States, which seemed more supportive in the establishment of a
Jewish Commonwealth.
Evidently, delegates’ integration of the contemporary political environment into the
Biltmore Program demonstrated an engagement with the war effort and a concern for the plight
of European Jews. The finalized Biltmore Program heralded a new era of American Zionism
with its explicit demand for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The document
utilized key arguments made by leaders such as Ben-Gurion to advocate for an action-oriented
path to Jewish statehood.
Post-1942, the Biltmore Conference left a mixed legacy among Zionists and the Jewish
community. Positive results were certainly evident: Henry Monsky built on Biltmore’s momentum
by organizing another Zionist conference in Pittsburgh the following year; Abba Hillel Silver
continued to promote Biltmore’s aims at the American Jewish Congress of 1943; and
Palestinian Jews adopted the Biltmore Program as their own.49 And yet Biltmore created a rift
between its two most notable foreign leaders, Ben-Gurion and Weizmann. Weizmann went on
to remark that Biltmore was “just a resolution like the hundred and one resolutions usually
passed at great meetings,” which diminished the importance of the conference as well as BenGurion’s ego.50 There was also the accusation that American Jews ignored the Holocaust in
their preoccupation with Jewish statehood. In his Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism, the
historian Aaron Berman states that “American Zionists failed to cope with the Holocaust,”
focusing on statehood “instead of devoting their energies to rescue.”51 Contrarily, one could
argue that Biltmore’s focus on a Jewish state as “an immediate haven and a post-war solution”
49
Naomi Cohen, The Americanization of Zionism, 1897-1948, 167.
Michael Brown, The Israeli-American Connection, 237.
51
Allon Gal, “Review: Berman, “Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism 1933-1948,” The Jewish
Quarterly Review vol. 84 no.4 (Apr. 1994): 504. Retrieved 25 October 2010, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1455090.
50
B r a d y , P a g e | 18
addressed both the crisis in Europe as well as the prospect for a new state. 52 In sum, the
Biltmore Program certainly was a positive step forward for statehood, but perhaps a step
backwards for the international Jewish community due to its divisive nature.
The Biltmore Conference and subsequent Biltmore Program served as physical
manifestations of the mindset of American Zionists in 1942. It was truly a product of its moment,
with its frequent references to the ongoing war, events in Europe, and America’s role among the
Allied powers. Biltmore also reflected contemporary Zionist leadership, and the conference
acted both as a meeting point for American Zionist parties and a parting point for Zionist leaders
Ben-Gurion and Weizmann. Though it left a mixed legacy, Biltmore remains historically
significant as the first moment that all American Zionist parties coalesced to demand the
creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Five years later, the central object of the Biltmore
Program—the creation of a Jewish Commonwealth—was realized with Ben-Gurion’s declaration
of the state of Israel.
52
Allon Gal, “Review: Berman, “Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism 1933-1948,” 505.
B r a d y , P a g e | 19
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