The History of US-Israel Relations (1) How the “Special Relationship” was Created

Alison Weir is Executive Director If Americans Knew and President of the Council for the National Interest. She is available to give presentations on this topic and can be reached at contact@ or inform@

Part Two of this article will be published in the coming months.

Alison Weir

September 2011

While many people are led to believe that US support for Israel is driven by the American establishment and U.S. national interests (an analysis that benefits Israel and is particularly promoted by Israel partisans and former partisans), the facts don’t support this theory. The reality is that for decades U.S. experts opposed Israel and its founding movement. They were simply outmaneuvered and eventually replaced.

Like many American policies, U.S. Middle East policies are driven by a special interest lobby. However, the Israel Lobby, as it is called today in the U.S.[1], consists of vastly more than what most people envision by the word “lobby.”

It is considerably more powerful, far more pervasive, and consistently more deceptive than any other. And even though the movement for Israel has been operating in the U.S. for over a hundred years, most Americans are completely unaware of this movement and its attendant ideology – a measure of its unique power over public knowledge.

The success of this movement to achieve its goals, partly due to the hidden nature of much of its activity, has been staggering. It has also been at almost unimaginable cost.

It has led to massive tragedy in the Middle East: a hundred year war of violence and loss; sacred land soaked in sorrow.

What is less widely known is how profoundly damaging this movement has been to the United States itself.

It has targeted every sector of American society for manipulation; worked to involve Americans in tragic, unnecessary, and almost catastrophically costly wars; dominated Congress for decades; determined which candidates may be contenders for the U.S. presidency; promoted bigotry toward an entire population, religion and culture; caused Americans to be exposed to escalating risk; and then exaggerated this danger (while disguising its cause) to foment irrational fears that are enabling the dismemberment of some of our nation’s most fundamental freedoms and cherished principles.

All this for a nation that today has reached a peak population of a little over seven million people; smaller than New Jersey.[2]

The beginnings

The Israel Lobby is just the tip of an older and far larger iceberg known as “political Zionism,” an international movement that began in the late 1800s with the goal of creating a Jewish state somewhere in the world. In 1897 this movement, led by a European journalist named Theodore Herzl[3], coalesced in the First Zionist World Congress, held in Basle, Switzerland, which established the World Zionist Organization, representing approximately 120 groups the first year; 900 the next.[4]

While Zionists considered such places as Argentina, Uganda, and Texas,[5] they eventually settled on Palestine for the location of their proposed Jewish State, even though Palestine was already inhabited by a population that was 95 percent Muslim and Christian, who owned 99 percent of the land.[6] As numerous Zionist diary entries, letters, and other documents show, these non-Jews were simply going to be pushed out – financially, if possible; by the sword if necessary.[7]

The Board of Deputies of American Israelites

In the U.S. Zionism largely began in the 1880s, although an earlier project with both a domestic and international focus called “The Board of Delegates of American Israelites” was organized in 1861, which coalesced to block an effort by the Union during the Civil War to prepare a constitutional amendment declaring America a Christian nation.[8]

In 1870 the group organized protest rallies around the country and lobbied Congress to take action against reported Romanian pogroms that had killed “thousands” of Jews. The chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee suggested that such reports might be exaggerated, but under pressure from “Israeliete” board, the Senate ordered the committee to take up the matter with the State Department. Eventually, it turned out the total killed had been zero.[9]

In the 1880s groups advocating the setting up of a Jewish state began popping up around the country. Emma Lazarus, the poet whose words would adorn the Statue of Liberty, promoted Zionism throughout this decade.[10] What was to become the Israeli flag was created in Boston in 1891.[11]

Reports from the Zionist World Congress in Basle, which four Americans had attended, gave this movement a major stimulus, galvanizing Zionist activities in almost every American city with a large Jewish population.[12]

By the early 1890s organizations promoting Zionism existed in New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia, and Cleveland.[13] Between December 1897 and the summer of 1898 numerous Zionist societies were founded in the East and the Midwest. In 1898 the first annual conference of American Zionists convened in New York on, ironically, the 4th of July, where they formed the Federation of American Zionists (FAZ).[14]

Turkey ambassadorship: “quasi-Jewish domain”

In 1887 President Grover Cleveland appointed a Jewish ambassador to Turkey, establishing a precedent that every president, both Republican and Democrat, followed for the next 30 years. Jewish historian David G. Dalin reports that presidents recognized the importance of the Turkish embassy for Jewish Americans:

“…especially for the growing number of Zionists within the American Jewish electorate, since the Jewish homeland of Palestine remained under the direct control of the Turkish government. During this era, the ambassadorship to Turkey came to be considered a quasi-Jewish domain.”[15]

By 1910 the number of Zionists in the U.S. approached 20,000 and included lawyers, professors, and businessmen. Even in its infancy, when it was still considered relatively weak, Zionism was becoming a movement to which Congressmen, particularly in the eastern cities, began to listen.[16]

It continued to expand, and by 1914 several additional Zionist groups had cropped up. The religious Mizrachi faction was formed in 1903, the Labor party in 1905 and Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization, in 1912. And this was just the beginning.[17]

A Zionist official writing in 1912 proudly proclaimed “the zealous and incessant propaganda which is carried on by countless societies.”[18]

The State Department Objects

The State Department – not dependent on votes and campaign donations, and charged with recommending and implementing policies beneficial to all Americans, not just one tiny sliver working on behalf of a foreign entity – were less enamored with Zionists, who they felt were trying to use the American government for a project damaging to the United States. In memo after memo, year after year, U.S. diplomatic and military experts pointed out that Zionism was counter to both U.S. interests and principles.[19]

Secretary of State Philander Knox was perhaps the first in the pattern of State Department officials rejecting Zionist advances. In 1912, when the Zionist Literary Society approached President Taft for an endorsement, Knox turned them down flat, noting that “problems of Zionism involve certain matters primarily related to the interests of countries other than our own.”[20]

While Zionists suffered one small setback in 1912, they garnered a far more significant victory in the same year; one that was to have enormous consequences both internationally and in the United States and that was part of a pattern of influence that continues through today.

Louis Brandeis, Zionism, and the “Parushim”

In 1912 prominent Jewish American attorney Louis Brandeis, who was to go on to become a Supreme Court Justice, became a Zionist. Within two years he became head of the international Zionist Central Office, which had moved to America from Germany a little while before.[21]

While Brandeis is an unusually well-known Supreme Court Justice, very few Americans are aware of his significant and clandestine role in World War I, of his connection to Palestine, and of his actions that provide a kernel of factual basis for claims made decades later by antiwar activists called “anti-Semitic” for suggesting them.

Brandeis recruited ambitious young men, often from Harvard, to work on the Zionist cause – and further their careers in the process. Author Peter Grose writes:

“Brandeis created an elitist secret society called the Parushim, the Hebrew word for ‘Pharisees’ and ‘separate,’ which grew out of Harvard’s Menorah Society. As the Harvard men spread out across the land in their professional pursuits, their interests in Zionism were kept alive by secretive exchanges and the trappings of a fraternal order. Each invited initiate underwent a solemn ceremony, swearing the oath ‘to guard and to obey and to keep secret the laws and the labor of the fellowship, its existence and its aims.’”[22]

At the secret initiation ceremony, the new member was told:

“You are about to take a step which will bind you to a single cause for all your life. You will for one year be subject to an absolute duty whose call you will be impelled to heed at any time, in any place, and at any cost. And ever after, until our purpose shall be accomplished, you will be fellow of a brotherhood whose bond you will regard as greater than any other in your life–dearer than that of family, of school, of nation.”[23]

‘We must work silently, through education and infection’

An early recruiter explained: “An organization which has the aims we have must be anonymous, must work silently, and through education and infection rather than through force and noise.” He wrote that to work openly would be “suicidal” for their objective.

Grose reports their methodology:

“The members set about meeting people of influence here and there, casually, on a friendly basis. They planted suggestions for action to further the Zionist cause long before official government planners had come up with anything. For example, as early as November 1915, a leader of the Parushim went around suggesting that the British might gain some benefit from a former declaration in support of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.”[24]

Brandeis was a close personal friend of President Woodrow Wilson and used this position to advocate for the Zionist cause, at times serving as a conduit between British Zionists and the president.

In 1916 President Wilson named Brandeis to the Supreme Court. Although Brandeis officially resigned from all his private clubs and affiliations, including his leadership of Zionism, behind the scenes he continued this Zionist work, receiving daily reports in his Supreme Court chambers and issuing orders to his loyal lieutenants.[25]

When the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) was reorganized in 1918, Brandeis was listed as its “honorary president.” However, he was more than just “honorary.”

To be continued next week


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Categories: Public Sentiment


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