The Political World of American Zionism

By Samuel Halperin | Go to book overview

5
zionism and jewish defense organizations

American Jewish life has been dominated for many years not by the synagog and the temple but rather by the diverse policies and actions of numerous secular Jewish organizations; consequently, Jewish affiliations in the United States cannot be measured entirely in terms of religious group membership and synagog participation. For many Jews, membership in one of these secular organizations was a substitute for religion and virtually their only contact with American Jewish life; for others, it was an important supplement to their religious affiliation.

Among the most influential secular Jewish groups are the national "defense organizations." The term refers to those associations dedicated primarily to the fight against anti-Semitism, infractions of Jewish rights, and discriminatory treatment of Jews, both in the United States and abroad. Though for the most part these organizations also had positive programs based on fraternalism or the promotion of Jewish integration into the American scene, the concern with Jewish "defense," "protection," or "anti-defamation" may be singled out as their dominant and common feature.

The internecine struggles and institutional rivalries of these groups, on the one hand, and their heterogeneous composition and leadership, on the other, gave tone and temper to both the American Jewish community and the American Zionist movement in the two decades prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. In this chapter and in the one to follow we shall trace the influence of Zionism on several major national Jewish defense organizations.

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