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Criticism of the Council

Part VI

This anemic response to the plight of European Jewry elicited criticism. If the partners to this union were indeed bound by a “common destiny,” said Louis Lipsky, a prominent Zionist leader associated with the American Jewish Congress, cooperation between them had “clearly shown not to be enough.”

From its inception, only a “loose and functioning union under the aegis of the Council” existed, according to an editorial in the October 1939 edition of Opinion: A Journal of Jewish Life and Letters. Competition, duplication and overlapping continued to hamper their efforts.

The Council had become so ineffective The Jewish Morning Journal questioned what had happened to the organization. “This Council was supposed to come at all times, and especially in the present emergency, to the fore and take over the leadership into its hands. But where is the Council? We do not hear of it. We have not heard of it practically since it came into being and still less do we hear of it at the present tragic moment.”

What could possibly justify this non-activity, the Journal asked. “Does it lack courage? Does it lack the necessary understanding of the problems facing us? Does it lack the necessary unity in its ranks? We want to hope that the Council will find some way of asserting itself and of showing results. The Jewish tragedy will become greater than it is now, if this does not happen.”

Samuel Margoshes reminded American Jewry that the General Jewish Council had been created to establish Jewish unity, but that this unity had produced nothing but speeches and never resulted in “concerted action.” He warned that unless American Jews established a unified high command, they would not be able to “ward off the attacks which are leveled against” them “and prevent the destruction of European Jewry.”

“We always had our doubts about the Council,” declared The California Jewish Voice, a weekly published in Yiddish and English in San Francisco. “Despite it’s almost one and a half years of existence, [the Council] has expressed the greatest impotence possible.” Even “in these calamitous days, the tragic realities overwhelming Jewish life are not seen and understood by some people.” The paper had no doubt that the American Jewish Committee was largely responsible for the Council’s inactivity. Although the Council had been organized through the initiative of the AJC “this was not done for the purpose of stimulating activity, but rather with the aim of negativizing the activities of other groups which threatened to endanger the ‘prestige’ of the committee.”

Despite the criticism, the American Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith continued to believe the Council could succeed in its mission. Unfortunately, this optimism proved to be baseless. At an October 1, 1939 Council meeting, a heated debate ensued about “the methods and extent of coordination” between the four organizations, with B’nai B’rith and the American Jewish Congress on one side of the argument, and the Jewish Labor Committee and the American Jewish Committee on the opposite side. They could not even agree on a proposal to enlarge the Council, which appeared to have been a foregone conclusion,” according to reports in The American Hebrew, a weekly Jewish magazine that stood for “conservatism in Judaism,” and The National Jewish Monthly.

Samuel Margoshes warned that unless these organizations were willing to subordinate their own interests as organizations “to the higher interests of the Jewish masses in the US and abroad,” then they must be “ready to face the resentment of Jewish masses clamoring for leadership and concerted action.”

Response to Criticism of the Council

Despite these and other scathing attacks in the Jewish press, B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Labor Committee refused to be drawn into a public debate. According to the Council, it had made important advances toward greater cooperation. The American Jewish Committee claimed the Council had developed “a common strategy” in attacking anti-Semitism, “in eliminating duplication of effort, and in coordinating and making more effective many of the activities of the four constituent bodies.”

With regard to relief work, the AJC asserted that assisting European Jews is “the special province of the Joint (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee),” which was founded on November 27, 1914 to aid Jews of Eastern Europe and the Middle East during World War I.

As Nathan Schachner acknowledged in “The Price Of Liberty: A History of the American Jewish Committee,” the AJC had helped create the JDC and “within which it continued to cooperate.” Similarly, B’nai B’rith believed the JDC was “doing everything in its power to alleviate” the suffering of European Jewry, and were the best equipped organization to do so. The Jewish Labor Committee claimed that it quietly engaged in assisting underground labor movements in Europe and that it created “ORT for the purpose of aiding constructively the Jewish masses in Europe.”

By Alex Grobman, PhD


Alex Grobman, a Hebrew University-trained historian, has written three new books on Israel: “BDS: The Movement to Destroy Israel,” “Erosion: Undermining Israel Through Lies and Deception,” and “Cultivating Canaan: Who Owns the Holy Land?” He also wrote “Nations United: How the UN Undermines Israel and the West.” He is a consultant to the America-Israel Friendship League, a member of the Council of Scholars for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), and a member of the Academic Council of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

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