The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia

By Maurine H. Beasley; Holly C. Shulman et al. | Go to book overview

Z

ZIONISM. Eleanor Roosevelt’s view of Zionism, the modern political movement to reestablish a Jewish nation in Palestine, evolved over the years. Initially an anti-Zionist, she eventually became a steadfast supporter of the state of Israel.* With her death in 1962, Israel lost one of its most important American allies.

During her husband’s presidency, ER’s interest in Zionism was a direct outgrowth of her concern for Jewish refugees* fleeing Nazi persecution. In 1940 she became honorary chairwoman of Youth Aliya, which encouraged settlement of Jewish children in Palestine. Originally founded in Germany, it was in the United States a part of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. But ER considered Zionism itself an unfortunate example of Jewish particularism. She did not embrace the concept of a Jewish state. She believed that Jews* could maintain their separate religious identity and still be “natives of the land in which they live” (Lash, 109).

In World War II,* ER was exposed to widely divergent Jewish positions on Zionism through personal meetings with international Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann of Britain and anti-Zionist American Rabbi Morris Lazaron. ER, however, was most influenced by one of her husband’s advisers, Isaiah Bowman, who was president of Johns Hopkins University and a State Department expert on the Middle East. Bowman asserted not only that Palestine would be unable to absorb a large influx of Jews but that Anglo-American forces would be required to protect the newcomers from an overwhelmingly hostile Arab world. He believed such military protection for Jews thousands of miles away would increase anti-Semitism in the United States. ER, after meeting with Bowman in 1944, agreed with him that Palestine could not be the national

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