American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism: Part 2

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 by Ilana Rossoff, Reference Services Research Intern, Center for Jewish History

This post is part of the Jews and Social Justice Series. To view all posts in the series, click here.

Throughout its near 20-year history, the  American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism organization served as a channel for Berger’s writing, traveling, and testifying before Congress.

About twice a year, Berger (President) and his team of Mrs. Arthur Gutman (Vice President), Mrs. Isaac Witkin (Secretary) and Harry Lesser (Treasurer) produced a report to summarize important political events in the Middle East and the United States related to the “Israeli/Arab/Zionist conflict” and offer Berger’s and others’ commentary. Some of the recurring topics included U.S. media coverage of the conflict, American diplomatic and military aid to Israel, Palestinian organizational leadership, oil politics between the Middle East and Europe/the U.S., activities of American Zionist organizations, conflicts, peace negotiations, the debate around anti-Semitism, and arguments about Zionism’s role in the conflict.

Additionally, Elmer Berger, in the name of the organization, gave numerous talks around the U.S. and around the world. These talks were held in Australia, Ireland, Lebanon, England and various cities in the U.S. including Memphis, Cincinnati, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and others [4].

According to my email correspondence with author Jack Ross, Elmer Berger identified himself with AJAZ in a letter published in The New York Times in 1990 about Thomas Kolsky’s book; however, the last serious output of the organization was around 1988. It is safe to assume that the organization’s gradual decline occurred between those times [5].

The impact of the American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism is difficult to measure. In a 1986 review in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Andrea Barron writes of American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism that as the “the only Jewish anti-Zionist group which exists,” “its impact has been so miniscule that other Jewish groups do not even bother attacking it” [6]. As Ross explains, the AJAZ was never meant to be a membership-based organization [7]. However, most AJAZ reports list 13-15 people from all around the country under its Board of Directors (presumably comprised of its main financial supporters), which changed slightly over the years [8]. One of the organization’s long-time supporters was Moshe Menuhin, emigrant to pre-Israel Palestine and author of The Decadence of Judaism in our Time and Jewish Critics of Zionism.

AJAZ is listed in a 1990 list of U.S. organizations “involved in the struggle for Palestinian/Israeli peace” in a Middle East Report publication, but after the time it was most active and with a New York address [9]. Though the group did not engage in direct organizing or political work to create the conditions for Middle East peace, Berger’s speeches and writings received notable press coverage and the organization’s reports provided critical information and commentary for anti-Zionist understanding of the issues of the time.

Most of the organization’s reports, as well as accounts of Berger’s various speaking tours around the world and reprinted news coverage of Berger’s work, can be found in the American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism’s archival collection, which is held in the American Jewish Historical Society archives here at the Center for Jewish History.

Notes:

 [1] Jack Ross, Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism. Washington D.C.: Potomac Books, 2011.As quoted on page 147.

[2] Report #1, 1969, Page 3. Folder: Report #1-11. American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism archival collection, American Jewish Historical Society here at the Center. (Finding aid.)

[3] Report #2, undated. Folder: Report #1-11. American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism archival collection, American Jewish Historical Society here at the Center.

[4] Various publications and newspaper article reprints, 1969-1981. Folder: Berger, Elmer: Articles, essays, lectures, n.d., 1969-1981. American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism archival collection, American Jewish Historical Society here at the Center.

[5] Ilana Rossoff, email correspondence with Jack Ross, 24 May 2013

[6] Andrea Barron, “Winning American Jews to Zionism.” Review of The Political World of American Zionism by Samuel Halperin and All My Causes by I. L. Kenen. Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Autumn, 1986), Page 159. This article can be found in JSTOR and accessed here at the Center for Jewish History.

[7] Ross, Page 151

[8] Reports, Folders 4-14, American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism archival collection, American Jewish Historical Society. 

[9] Steve Niva, “US Organizations and the Intifada” Middle East Report, No. 164/165, Intifada Year Three (May – Aug., 1990), page 72. This article can be found in JSTOR and accessed here at the Center for Jewish History.

Further Reading: 

American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism archival collection, American Jewish Historical Society. (Finding aid.)

Elmer Berger, The Jewish Dilemma. New York : Devin-Adair, 1945.

Elmer Berger, Judaism or Jewish nationalism: the alternative to Zionism. New York : Bookman Associates, 1957.

Elmer Berger, 1908-1996. Who knows better must say so! New York: Bookmailer, 1956.

 Jack Ross, Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism. Washington D.C.: Potomac Books, 2011.

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