The American Israel Public Affairs Committee: History, Mandate, and Organizational Structure
The development of a united national American Zionist movement was slow and sporadic. This was partly a function of disputes inherent to all Jewish communities over level of religious adherence and the legitimate role of political Zionism as a vehicle for Jewish national regeneration and survival ( Hertzberg 1979; Weizmann 1949). It was also attributable to certain factors distinct to American Jewry. Among these were: the Jew's long tenure in America, dating back to 1654; the different inclinations toward Zionism carried to the United States by various waves of Jewish immigrants throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ( Dawidowicz 1982; Elazar 1980, 38-42; Cohen 1975; Halperin 1961; Urofsky 1975, 1978); the sheer physical size and geographic distribution of American Jewry; and the elaborate network of national organizations and local federations that arose to service both the general and the specific interests of the community ( Elazar 1980). A final factor contributing to the delayed evolution of American Zionism was the tendency on the part of many American Jews to view Zionism more as a philanthropic exercise than a personal pioneering endeavor ( Cohen 1975, 11).
It was only with the course of historical events, most notably the European Holocaust and the post-World War Two international debate over the future of the Palestine Mandate and the struggle for Israel's creation, that American Zionism developed into an all-encompassing national Jewish cause. Zionism, which began as an ambiguous, quasi-spiritual philosophy of little relevance to the majority of American Jews, evolved into a series of decentralized groups "bedeviled by internal factionalism and public apathy" ( Halperin 1961, 25).