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The immaculate conception of Louis Brandeis

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The most important American Zionist ever was the progressive lawyer and Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis. His conversion to the cause 103 years ago had two big consequences: 1, Brandeis helped craft Britain’s Balfour Declaration of 1917, and got the US government to sign on, thereby committing western powers to the project of establishing the Jewish state. 2, He promoted the view that it was patriotic for Jews to advocate for a Jewish state– “to be good Americans, we must be better Jews, and to be better Jews, we must become Zionists”—a claim that allowed the American Zionist movement to grow by immunizing it against the dual loyalty charge.

Yet a shadow hangs over Brandeis’s Zionism, if only among academics: the strong evidence that Brandeis converted to Zionism after a life utterly removed from matters Jewish because it was his only path to get on to the Supreme Court.

The story is simple. In 1913, President-elect Woodrow Wilson rejected Brandeis, then 56, for his Cabinet because Brandeis was so assimilated many Jews didn’t even know he was Jewish, and Wilson wanted a “representative Jew” in order to woo the masses of eastern European immigrants then entering east coast cities. Within days of the disappointment, Brandeis publicly declared his Zionism, and began appearing at Zionist events, giving Zionist speeches, and taking on offices of Zionist leadership. Before long, his “picture was reverently hung in many Roumanian Jewish homes,” one Zionist wrote.

In 1916 Wilson appointed Brandeis to the Supreme Court as the first Jewish justice, and he was confirmed by the Senate after a lengthy battle marked by anti-Semitism. (There have been seven Jewish justices since.)

The suspicion about Brandeis’s calculations is not idle, but based on compelling archival evidence. Six well-placed contemporaries  made observations about Brandeis’s need to be a representative Jew in letters: former president William Howard Taft; the financier Jacob Schiff, who was the most powerful Jew of his era; Isaac Ullman, treasurer of the American Jewish Committee; Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts; Harvard law professor Arthur D. Hill, and Henry Moskowitz, a co-founder of the NAACP.

Taft’s account is the most vivid. He wrote to a Jewish journalist friend that he had spoken to Isaac Ullman, who told him that Brandeis was “no Jew until he was rejected by Wilson as Attorney General, because the leading Jews of the country told Wilson that Brandeis was not a representative Jew.” Taft continued:

Since that time, Brandeis has adopted Zionism, favors the New Jerusalem, and has metaphorically been circumcised. He has gone all over the country making speeches, arousing the Jewish spirit, even wearing a hat in the Synagogue while making a speech in order to attract those rabbis… If it were necessary, I’m sure he would have grown a beard to convince them that he was a Jew of Jews. All this has made it politically difficult for not only the Jews but for anybody looking for office where there are Jews in the constituency, to hesitate about opposing Brandeis. The humor of the situation I cannot, even in the sorrow of the appointment, escape.

William Howard Taft (1857-1930), president of the U.S., 1909-1913, and Supreme Court Justice, 1921-1930

This story was suppressed or ignored by Brandeis’s many adoring biographers until 1971, when it was advanced by a leading Israeli sociologist, Yonathan Shapiro, in an academic volume published by the University of Illinois. Brandeis’s “push” to become a Zionist was his “rebuff on the national scene,” Shapiro said.

His argument met with vehement denial by a succession of historians, for whom Brandeis’s conversion to Zionism is a high point in an idealized history of their movement. Melvin Urofsky, the dean of Brandeis biographers, went so far as to say that Shapiro was prejudiced: “Shapiro displayed the then almost universal Israeli scholarly antagonism toward American Zionism.”

This denial of Brandeis’s calculation is stoutly maintained in the latest Brandeis biography. “What were the ‘public and professional’ experiences that transformed Brandeis’s outlook from indifference about Judaism to crusading Zionism?” Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, asks in Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet, published last August by Yale University Press (and excerpted by the pro-Israel site, Tablet). Rosen’s answer is that Brandeis’s Zionism originated in: his newfound respect for Jewish intelligence and values gained by mediating a garment workers strike in 1910, his discovery that Athenian principles of democracy were embodied by Jewish civilization, his sudden appreciation of his unassimilated Jewish uncle, and his recognition of Jewish agricultural achievements in Palestine that made the desert bloom, etc.

Jeffrey D. Rosen, president of the Constitution Center and author of the biography, Louis D. Brandeis, American Prophet

There is not a word about the view held by a former president, by the AJC treasurer, by the most powerful Jew of the era, by Brandeis’s friend who co-founded the NAACP, and by Hill, a progressive lawyer who would represent Sacco and Vanzetti. No: God and Yale Books bless Brandeis; his Zionism stays visionary and idealistic.

Rosen’s coverup is dishonest scholarship, and a proof of the force that he seems embarrassed about in his hero: the power of Israel supporters in our political culture.

Just why Louis Brandeis became a Zionist is ultimately impossible to say. He was famously opaque about his own feelings and desires; he left few clues in the record about his calculations in 1913-1916. There can be no doubt that Zionist leadership and organizing were fulfilling to him; Brandeis gave many ardent Zionist speeches and referred to Zionism in his letters in a proud manner.

But I believe the facts point in one direction: Louis Brandeis converted to Zionism in order to get higher office; and it is dishonest for the head of the Constitution Center and a pack of reverent Zionists to leave out any evidence of that idea to readers today. As if presidential appointments are not laden with ethnic politics.


Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) was brilliant, principled, and ambitious. The son of wealthy assimilated Jews who had immigrated from Prague, he grew up in Louisville and Germany and graduated from Harvard Law School before building his career in Boston as the “people’s lawyer.” By his 40s he was already a progressive hero, taking difficult cases on behalf of workers and the poor against exploitive employers and monopoly businesses.

Brandeis developed ideas that give us freedom to this day: the right to privacy, the curse of bigness, and sunlight being the best disinfectant. “He understood that corporate capitalism, left to its own devices, would widen the gaps between rich and poor and threaten liberty, and after 1910 or so devoted his life to doing something about it,” John Judis has written.

Brandeis called himself a “radical,” and so did his enemies; but he was a reformer, not a revolutionary, and he could be an operator. He “was viewed as a man who could pull the required political strings,” says one biographer, while another says he kept up in “cold roast” Boston society, and a third says Brandeis never even mentioned anti-Semitism in his letters till he was nearly 60. “Cultivate the society of men—particularly men of affairs,” he told an associate.

By his early 50s, Brandeis began wading into national politics. He supported Republican Taft’s successful campaign for the presidency in 1908. But he became disillusioned by the corruption of the Pinchot-Ballinger affair, in which he played a role as a litigator; and in 1912 he backed his friend Robert La Follette, the Wisconsin progressive senator, then when La Follette’s campaign fizzled, reached out to Woodrow Wilson, and took a night boat to see the Democratic candidate in New Jersey. The men formed an immediate affinity. Brandeis gave Wilson a substantial donation for the time ($500) and became a confidante.

Woodrow Wilson

After Wilson won, he endeavored to appoint Brandeis to his cabinet, as attorney general or commerce secretary; and Brandeis and friends lobbied for an appointment. The Jewish issue cut both ways. Anti-semites opposed Brandeis and painted him as a scheming socialist; but Wilson wanted a Jew in his Cabinet to help him with Jewish voters. It was a time when there was a “Catholic seat” on the Supreme Court and Jews were beginning to obtain high national positions. Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, had put Oscar Straus in his cabinet a few years before; while Taft had considered Louis Marshall, a founder of the American Jewish Committee, for the Supreme Court. Wilson’s chief of staff was anti-Semitic, but Brandeis met with him, and he acknowledged the need “to have a representative Jew in the administration” (according to Shapiro’s account of Edward House’s diary).

The key word here is representative. Imagine if Clarence Thomas had been the first black man appointed to the Supreme Court, not Thurgood Marshall. Black people would have been turned off. That was Brandeis’s problem. Biographer Philippa Strum says, “No one in the Jewish community would have considered him ‘involved.’” Brandeis’s mother had resolutely raised her children with no religion. Brandeis and his wife celebrated Christmas “as a secular holiday for the children, complete with trees and toys,” Strum says, and did not belong to a synagogue. Important Jewish events like the founding of the American Jewish Committee and the relief efforts for the Russian pogroms did not engage him. He gave no money to Jewish charities, quoted the gospels in his letters and kept his horse at the Dedham Polo Club. It can hardly be surprising that a Jewish publication asked him if he was a Christian.

Wilson polled prominent Jews about Brandeis’s Jewishness. The central figure was the banker Jacob Schiff of Kuhn, Loeb. Schiff was a financier with global influence and proudly associated with Jewish causes. He had met with Presidents Cleveland, Roosevelt and Taft, to use his influence to help free Russian Jews.

Jacob Schiff of Kuhn, Loeb

Schiff’s reply to Wilson’s go-between in February 1913 is a perfect example of the coded rejection:

“I have been asked from time to time recently whether Mr. Brandeis may be considered a representative Jew and to this I was able to give a qualified reply only, but he is without a doubt, a representative American.”

Louis Marshall, another Jewish leader, also helped to put the kibosh on Brandeis, Shapiro reports. While a leading rabbi of the time, E.B.M. (nicknamed Alphabet) Browne, told the White House that Brandeis was guilty of “religious delinquency.”

Henry Moskowitz, a founder of the NAACP

The word was out. At the height of the consideration battle, Henry Moskowitz, a New York social worker who went on to co-found the NAACP and who worked with Brandeis, reported to another Brandeis friend, the progressive journalist Norman Hapgood, that “a very concerted effort is being made” by “Jewish bankers and Jewish corporate interests” to eliminate Brandeis from cabinet consideration on the ground that he is “not a representative Jew” (according to Brandeis biographer Alpheus Thomas Mason). Moskowitz believed that the objection to Brandeis’s Jewishness was a cover: “a transparent pretext concealing the non-sectarian fear of all the reactionary interests, Jewish and non-Jewish, of Mr. Brandeis.”

Be that as it may, Jewish representativeness was a real issue. Leading Jews, Shapiro writes, “were only interested in promoting into positions of power Jews who were positively identified with the Jewish community.”

Shapiro concedes that it is impossible to know for sure why Wilson did not name Brandeis, but concludes that the “attitude of these Jewish leaders greatly influenced the President-elect.” There was no reason for Wilson to spend political capital getting Brandeis past opposition from anti-Semites and business interests if he did not reap any political advantage from the appointment.

There can be little question that someone as astute as Brandeis knew about this reservation. Schiff and Wilson were friends (and Schiff even supplied Brandeis a copy of his own “representative American” letter two years later). Henry Moskowitz and Norman Hapgood were close political allies; Hapgood considered Brandeis “the ablest lawyer I knew of.”

Within days of his rejection, Brandeis openly declared his Zionism.

”Brandeis’s association with the Zionist Organization,” Shapiro writes, “so closely followed his political defeat that it can only be understood as a reaction to these events. It is likely that his friends in the administration, possibly the President himself, had advised him on this move… He acted swiftly. A few days after Wilson’s inauguration on March 4, he made his first public appearance on a Zionist platform.”

A few days after that, Brandeis enrolled in the Boston Zion Association. His first Zionist speeches included a confession:

“I have been to a great extent separated from Jews. I am very ignorant in things Jewish.”

A year later he became the national leader of the whole American movement, the Federation of American Zionists. “It was this active leadership and his success in attracting influential Jews to the Zionist Organization and in building a powerful Jewish organization to rival the AJC which established him as a representative Jew,” Shapiro writes.

The most startling change was in Brandeis’s philosophy of identity. Seven years before his conversion to Zionism, the 49-year-old Brandeis had forthrightly stated an assimilationist creed:

“There is no place for what President Roosevelt has called hyphenated Americans. There is room here for many of any race, of any creed, of any condition in life, but not for Protestant-Americans, or Catholic-Americans, nor Jewish-Americans, not for German-Americans, Irish-Americans, or Russian-Americans.”

Brandeis doubled down on this declaration when he was 53, in 1910, saying it was “disloyal” to distinguish oneself from other Americans on a religious basis:

“This country demands that its sons and daughters whatever their race—however intense or diverse their religious connections—be politically merely American citizens. Habits of living, of thought which tend to keep alive difference of origin or to classify men according to their religious beliefs are inconsistent with the American idea of brotherhood and are disloyal.”

Following his rejection by Wilson, Brandeis utterly reversed this reservation of disloyalty, in the speech that has played such a dominant role in the discussion of dual loyalty ever since.

Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with Patriotism. Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent. A man is a better citizen of the United States for being also a loyal citizen of his state, and of his city; or for being loyal to his college. Every Irish American who contributed towards advancing home rule was a better man and a better American for the sacrifice he made. Every American Jew who aids in advancing the Jewish settlement in Palestine, though he feels that neither he nor his descendants will ever live there, will likewise be a better man and a better American for doing so. There is no inconsistency between loyalty to America and loyalty to Jewry.

The Zionist somersaults had an effect. When Wilson nominated Brandeis to the Supreme Court in 1916, there was furious opposition from business interests; and the confirmation process took weeks. But no one could doubt now that Brandeis was a representative Jew. The appointment was celebrated by the Jewish Daily Forward and by Jews on the Lower East Side of New York; Brandeis had made himself “popular with the Jewish masses,” Shapiro writes.

The support of Jacob Schiff was most crucial. The banker did an about-face, writing to Wilson’s attorney general:

“It is particularly gratifying to the people from whom, like myself, Mr. Brandeis has sprung, and who now form so considerable a percentage of the population of our country, that the president has nominated one of our most eminent co-religionists to the United States Supreme Court.”

Henry Cabot Lodge, Massachusetts Senator 100 years ago

Republicans who opposed Brandeis said privately that Brandeis’s Zionism was key to his appointment. I have already quoted Taft — who regarded Brandeis as a dangerous socialist, and who would later join Brandeis on the court. Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a blueblood and anti-Semite, wrote to Arthur Hill, a leading Boston progressive, that the nomination was made “with a view to attracting to the President a group of voters on racial grounds.” Hill (who publicly advocated for Brandeis’s appointment) responded: “The Jews, especially since his taking up Zionism, take great pride in his leadership.”

Arthur D. Hill, Harvard Law professor and progressive who would one day defend Sacco and Vanzetti. 1916 photo by John Garo

There is evidence of Brandeis’s calculation in his own letters. Even as he was proselytizing Zionism to poor Jews as the answer to “the Jewish problem”, he was hedging the answer for himself. In a letter to a progressive non Jewish friend, Brandeis said, “No treatment of the Russian Jewish question is adequate without a study of Zionism, and the hope that presents.” I.e., This isn’t for me.

The strongest argument against the idea that Brandeis converted to get on to the Supreme Court is the assertion that Brandeis’s conversion could not have stood him in good stead with important Jews. Peter Grose, a dispassionate historian, rejects Shapiro’s theory in Israel in the Mind of America, saying the cause of Zionism had “no standing, was even considered repugnant” by leading Jews. Brandeis idolator Philippa Strum, of the Wilson Center, says that Zionism was anathema to the politically important German Jews. “They viewed Zionism with horror.” Historian Stewart Geller asks, “if Brandeis was seeking a broad Jewish base for political attention, why did he choose the Zionist group when it was not only tiny but unpopular?”

The problem with this criticism is that Zionism gave Brandeis something he did not have, and needed, a Jewish lane: an actual base in the Jewish community. Brandeis was never going to get rich Jews behind him because he was a radical. Zionism was actually hugely popular with Russian Jews, who were filling the east coast cities. One biographer says that Brandeis became as celebrated to poor Jews as Einstein. It would not be long before Schiff himself reversed course and endorsed Zionism, in part because he cared deeply about the fate of Russian Jews.

Another point against Shapiro is that Brandeis first made Zionist noises in 1910, was a Zionist for the rest of his life, and derived evident satisfaction from leading the movement. All true. Yet the 1910 statement is flimsy: an expression of respect for Zionism communicated to journalist Jacob de Haas, an English Zionist drummer dispatched to the US by Theodor Herzl. And though Brandeis seemed to love Zionist organizing, almost all his ardent speeches on Zionism came between 1913 and 1915– later collected in a book that Jeffrey Rosen repeatedly cites in explaining Brandeis’s thinking.

Rosen and other Zionist biographers don’t just dismiss political calculation on their hero’s part: they read deep springs of Jewish affinity into Brandeis’s biography. Strum, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center on whom Rosen relies, cites claims that Brandeis’s mediation of the 1910 garment workers’ strike gave him both the realization that “he himself was a Jew” and “faith in the Jewish masses.” Brandeis was the “Jewish Jefferson!” Rosen enthuses; the jurist saw his “Periclean” and “Jeffersonian” ideals apotheosized in Palestine, where he could envision the “perfect citizen in the perfect state.” Brandeis imagined Palestine as the vessel of a “unique Hebraic culture that could enrich both America and the world,” Rosen asserts, before expanding: When Brandeis met the agronomist Aaron Aaronsohn, who specialized in wild wheat, Aaronsohn “kindled” Brandeis’s “sense of the Jews as a uniquely ethical people.”

Even as he leaves out the political playboard of Brandeis’s life, Rosen imagines a rich Jewish life for his hero. Brandeis’s conversion involved newfound appreciation for his unassimilated uncle Naftali Dembitz, whose last name he had taken as his own middle name. A “passing comment” from Jacob de Haas that Dembitz had been a “noble Jew” “helped to persuade Brandeis… to assume the leadership of the American Zionist movement,” Rosen says. Then there was “the strenuous vision of morality and ethics from his beloved mother,” that allowed someone who had “not previously embraced his Jewish identity” to go Zionist.

In a related claim, late Jewish historian Ben Halpern says that with Zionism Brandeis “had come home.” Conversion to Zionism “signified no conversion to new beliefs,” Halpern wrote. Rather it signified a “shift in social attachments and emotional ties to a sharper sense of the American-Jewish terrain and his own place in it and a fatefully deepened personal commitment.”

These scholars are telling themselves a story to ennoble Zionism. There is simply no evidence of Brandeis’s identity conflict or spiritual fulfilment by converting to Zionism. Brandeis was never a religious person, and as for the deep well of alleged Jewishness, as I discovered with dismay 10 years ago when I bought the complete set of Brandeis’s letters hoping they would be as juicy and entertaining as Herzl’s private writings– Brandeis’s personal writings are dry to the point of being soulless.

Rosen imbues Brandeis with lofty thoughts: Brandeis changed “after meeting another Zionist” – Aaronsohn—“and reading several life-changing books… With [Greek historian Alfred] Zimmern’s guidance, Brandeis came to view Palestine as a society that could achieve the kind of small-scale Jeffersonian agrarian democracy that had reached its fullest expression in fifth-century Athens….”

Here Rosen is reading Brandeis’s political speeches as sincere expressions of personal belief. But these speeches don’t reflect any intellectual or spiritual commitment. Brandeis was not a political philosopher. He was a hardheaded and practical man whose intellectual interests were economics and civil rights and whose skills were as an organizer and leader. While there is no question that he threw himself into Zionism, and stayed true to the cause for the next three decades of his life, there are no signs of any ordeal attending his conversion– apart from the political one!

Brandeis’s thoughts about Zionism were practical. His famous formulation about why to be a Zionist was to be a better American was cribbed from the ideas of the philosopher Horace Kallen. And while his speeches are frank about his Jewish pride– Brandeis said that Jewish civilization and persecution had formed Jewish intelligence and education and achievements– these ideas cannot explain his abandonment of his ideals of assimilation. Suddenly the Christmas tree Jew was declaring “Assimilation is national suicide” to Jewish audiences!

Reading his speeches, one could more readily argue that Brandeis urged Zionism on poor Russian Jews because this member of the Dedham Polo Club was embarrassed by his Jewish brethren. He often lamented Jewish crime in America, he said (ingenuously) there was no Jewish crime in Palestine; and he wanted Russian Jews to have “noblesse oblige” as he put it and pride in their tradition.

Shapiro, a renowned Israeli sociologist now deceased, had a firmer grasp on Brandeis’s character than all the hagiographers when he wrote: “Brandeis never immersed himself in Jewish culture, nor ever really comprehended it. In both his writings and his actions, he manifested total commitment to the American cultural tradition and more concretely to the ideals of the American progressives.”

So much so that Brandeis reversed himself on “all the tenets of Zionism” he endorsed in a 1914 organizing letter a few years later, Shapiro said. Just as Brandeis had earlier reversed himself by renouncing his own philosophy of assimilation.

Why would a serious person in his 50s, who didn’t go to synagogue or give to Jewish charities and in the mind of the Jewish community had no involvement, change his mind on such an important point? The political answer, framed by leading political minds of the age– Lodge, Taft, Moskowitz and Schiff– is the only one that makes sense. Brandeis wanted an important job. Political people tack and wiggle when they need to.

Jeffrey Rosen’s Periclean whitewash is particularly dishonest because even the scholars who disagree with Shapiro concede that he raised a real issue. “This charge, that Brandeis manipulated American Jewry in hopes of gaining a presidential appointment, continues to follow Brandeis’s memory,” biographer Leonard Baker writes. “The reasons why Louis Brandeis became a Zionist remain a matter for debate,” Melvin Urofsky allows. In Israel in the Mind of America, former New York Times reporter Grose says that “long after his death historians began reviving the innuendoes, particularly historians in the state of Israel,” Brandeis’s defenders rushed to absolve him, and “the controversy among scholars has simmered ever since.”

You would have no idea about this substantive controversy from the Yale Books biography written by the head of the Constitution Center.

Rosen’s motive for misrepresenting this history is plain. His biography is shot through with Zionist idealism: Brandeis would surely have approved of Israel’s economic miracle as a “start-up nation,” Rosen says. Brandeis was thrilled that the scale and barrenness of the land would allow the Jewish people to display to the world their capacity to “create something out of nothing.” Brandeis regarded Jewish settlers as the “equivalent of the New England puritans.” And though Europeans derided Brandeis’s demand for eradication of malaria in Palestine, “he funneled his own money through Hadassah—which remained loyal to him and to his ideas—and in fact did drain the swamps, eradicate malaria, and create a habitable Palestine.” So Brandeis even drained the swamps!

Rosen goes further when he endorses Brandeis’s claim that “Palestine’s early economic success did indeed attract Arab migration.” Between 1922 to 1948, the Arab population of Palestine doubled from 600,000 to 1.2 million, due to inmigration from Transjordan and Iraq, Rosen says, and offers a Zionist propaganda citation for that assertion. But as Norman Finkelstein documents in Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, the authoritative data show “no evidence of any significant Arab immigration into Palestine during the Ottoman or Mandatory periods.” Rosen also forgives Israel of expansionism and occupation and renews Brandeis’s argument that American Jews are patriotic when they support Israel:

“But regardless of Israel’s successes and failures, Brandeis’s argument for the integrity of the Zionist commitment remains powerful. Israel’s claim upon the support of American Jewry is based on not only the latter’s Jewish identity but also its American identity…. [H]is vision of cultural pluralism is more urgent than ever in a globalized age. It provides a balanced alternative to the separatist tendencies of multiculturalism, which exalts group identity without insisting on universal values…”

I would simply note that the organization Brandeis created, the Zionist Organization of America, is today one of the most intolerant extremist groups in Jewish life, and has rolled out the red carpet to Donald Trump.


The mystery of Brandeis’s conversion will never be fully resolved. The man was too much of a closed book for anyone to say for sure what was in his heart. But concluding that political calculation had nothing to do with his embrace of Zionism is preposterous. It is the same claim that modern Zionists make about the Israel lobby: we must not consider the role of pressure groups in determining US policy because the relationship between the countries is based on affinity– our countries share values, interests, and Athenian ideals of democracy.

These Zionist idealists are taking the politics out of politics, and ambition out of great American lives. Describing Brandeis’s conversion as idealistic is like saying there was an immaculate conception. It is a myth aimed at lifting a hero over other people.

There is good reason for Brandeis-worshipers to try to do so. By preserving the myth of Brandeis’s soulful conversion they preserve Israel as an ideal, and preserve American Jewish commitment to Israel as idealistic. They protect not just their hero but themselves from the truth: When it came to Palestine, Brandeis had bad judgment.

Postscript. I twice asked Rosen, via twitter, to explain his decision to leave out the “representative Jew” discussion of Brandeis in 1913. He never responded. This piece is based on published sources, including Brandeis’s collected letters and letters to family, biographies of Brandeis by Ben Halpern, Philippa Strum, Melvin Urofsky, Alpheus Thomas Mason, A. L. Todd and Leonard Baker, Jacob de Haas’s memoir of the judge, several histories of the period, and Yonathan Shapiro’s landmark book, Leadership of the American Zionist Organization, 1897-1930. Every quotation here is in the record; I can provide sources on request. If any reader has a photograph of Shapiro, I would appreciate getting a copy, and updating this piece with it.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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81 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson on January 16, 2017, 5:10 pm

    RE: Brandeis called himself a “radical,” . . . ~ Weiss

    MY COMMENT: Horrors! Today this would be the death knell.

    BOOK: “Other people’s money: and how the bankers use it”
    by Brandeis, Louis Dembitz, 1856-1941

  2. Xpat on January 16, 2017, 6:15 pm

    Why would Brandeis choose Zionism out of the Jewish hat as his bona fide ? Could it be that Zionism was the least objectionable choice for the anti-Semites who might have derailed his judicial ambitions? Zionism deflected Jewish immigration from America’s shores to Palestine and Zionism agrees with anti-Semites reinforces that Jews are different.

    As Tom Suarez showed last week, Zionism has a checkered past as the twin of anti-Semitism. The current silence of major Zionist organizations in the face of the recent neo-Nazi attacks points to these shared interest. For instance, the rabbi Donald Trump got to bless his inauguration runs an organization supposedly dedicated to protecting Jews and fighting racism. But the Wiesenthal Center famously trampled on Palestinian sensibilities by planning a so-called Museum of Tolerance on top of a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. The Wiesenthal Center also attacks President Obama as the world’s #1 anti-Semite, way ahead of real Jew-haters such as the Zionist supporter and White Supremacist Richard Spencer.
    Why do Zionists care so little about anti-Semitism?

    • jfm5959 on January 17, 2017, 10:06 am

      Brandeis, along with powerful bankers of his day, put a lot of pressure on Wilson to enter WW I ostensibly to prevent the annihilation of 6 million Jews and to protect investments in Europe. (The number 6 million is figurative and used many times when Jews were thought to be imperiled even during the WWI.) He also was a supporter of a national home for Jews in Palestine and wanted nothing less than the defeat of the Ottomans.

      I think this is why his sudden turn to Zionism took place.

      • Mooser on January 17, 2017, 12:55 pm
    • Danaa on January 18, 2017, 1:47 pm

      Good point about the flip side of zionism’s promoters. However, I must continue to object to the use of the word “anti-semitism” as if it was something totally obvious and written in stone. What I mean, as always, is this: there was no doubt that there was some (emphasis on “some”) anti-jewish sentiment in parts of America but that sentiment was no different than simmering resentment of any other group of migrants to these shores who may be rising a bit faster than the natives feel comfortable with.

      My thesis is simple – what anti-Jewish sentiment there was, and is, is in no way different than the Anti-Asian sentiment we see often enough. Be it anti-Chinese or anti-Indian, there is considerable resentment to be found in quarters of the American populace of “upstart” immigrant (or migrant) groups. What I object to is the deliberate singling out of anti-Jewish sentiment as something unique and other to the much more conventional resentment seen far and wide in a country that prided itself on attracting immigrants/migrants, especially the more successful ones, yet found itself concerned when that very success they laud is so obvious that it makes the “natives” seem somewhat lackadaisical by comparison.

      Anti-semitism is a word that has been weaponized so effectively that we can’t possibly use that word without recognition that there is a battle being waged.

      • Mooser on January 18, 2017, 7:36 pm

        “what anti-Jewish sentiment there was, and is, is in no way different than the Anti-Asian sentiment we see often enough”

        Danaa, I take your point, but we shouldn’t forget that Asians were discriminated against by law, they were legislated against for a long time in the US. The Chinese Exclusion Act, (not repealed until 1943)restrictions on citizenship, and local or state segregation laws are a few examples.
        Jews were citizens of the US from the day it was made, and were specifically assured of this soon after by Washington.

  3. Nevada Ned on January 16, 2017, 11:14 pm

    Congratulations Phil for a truly great piece!

  4. Jackdaw on January 17, 2017, 12:40 am

    Wow. I’ll never think of Louis Brandeis quite he same way.
    Thanks Phil.

    • Mooser on January 17, 2017, 12:59 pm

      “Brandeis came to view Palestine as a society that could achieve the kind of small-scale Jeffersonian agrarian democracy that had reached its fullest expression in fifth-century Athens….

      Neither will I. I didn’t know Brandeis was a Hellenizer.

      • Danaa on January 18, 2017, 1:57 pm

        as you know Mooser – or should – one of the great jewish achievements was the ability to claim iconic cultural/political thought as its own. Especially of the ground-breaking variety.

        The truth is – for millenia, covering the time from the 400-500BC period when the old testament was written down by Babilonian promulgators of zionism (the biblical variety) – true democratic though was almost entirely absent from Jewish teachings (give or take a couple of radicals). That is until the enlightenment taught them just what a winner democracy could be, at which point they promptly claimed the democracy concept as their own. Easy to forget history of those – eh, not so enlightened – medieval rabbis who ran rough-shod over their venerating subjects. Never happened.

  5. Jackdaw on January 17, 2017, 1:18 am

    “no evidence of any significant Arab immigration into Palestine during the Ottoman or Mandatory periods.”

    No evidence of any significant LEGAL Arab immigration in Palestine.

    Thousands of Arabs and Jews illegally entered Palestine during the Mandate. You have only to examine the police records of that time.

    • Misterioso on January 17, 2017, 10:31 am


      It seems like many others, you have been duped (directly or indirectly) by Joan Peters’ long since debunked mountain of mendacity, “From Time Immemorial…”

      To wit:

      Dr. Porath, one of Israel’s leading demographic historians, called Peters’ book a “forgery… [that] was almost universally dismissed [in Israel] as sheer rubbish except maybe as a propaganda weapon.” (New York Times, Nov.28, 1985)

      Rabbi Arthur Herzberg, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, agreed: “I think that she’s cooked the statistics…. The scholarship is phony and tendentious. I do not believe that she has read the Arabic sources that she quotes.” (ibid)

      To again quote Professor Porath: “The precise demographic history of modern Palestine cannot be summed up briefly, but its main features are clear enough and they are very different from the fanciful description Mrs. Peters gives…. [S]he has apparently searched through documents for any statement to the effect that Arabs entered Palestine. But even if we put together all the cases she cites, one cannot escape the conclusion that most of the growth of the Palestinian Arab community resulted from a process of natural increase.” (“Mrs. Peters’ Palestine” New York Review of Books, 16 January 1986.)

      For the record, the total Arab immigration into Palestine between 1922 (when the League of Nations British Mandate began) and 1945 amounted to only 40,500 people. (Edward Hagopian and A.B. Zahlan, “Palestine’s Arab Population: the Demography of the Palestinians”)

      • Jackdaw on January 17, 2017, 3:35 pm

        I know that Peters cooked the books in a few chapters. What’s your point?

      • annie on January 17, 2017, 4:40 pm

        in a few chapters? what chapter didn’t she cook? because it’s my understanding she cooked all of them. i have a copy here if you can think of an honest chapter. i have not opened it yet but i’ll make an exception just for you.

    • Jackdaw on January 18, 2017, 1:56 am


      I guess that neither you or Misterioso read the article I linked, so I’ll just quote it.

      “There has been unrecorded illegal immigration of both Jews and Arabs in the period since the census of 1931, but it is clear that, since it cannot be recorded, no estimate of its volume is possible.”

      The 1935 British report to the League of Nations noted that:

      “One thousand five hundred and fifty-seven persons (including 565 Jews) who, having made their way into the country surreptitiously, were later detected, were sentenced to imprisonment for their offence and recommended for deportation.”

      So if 1000 Arabs were caught after entering Palestine illegally, we can safely assume that many thousand more entered Palestine and were not caught. This reasonable assumption completely undermines Finkelstein’s statement that, ““no evidence of any significant Arab immigration into Palestine during the Ottoman or Mandatory periods.”

      Attempted Joan Peters distraction notwithstanding, can I be anymore clear?

      • annie on January 18, 2017, 2:49 am

        so that would be a “no” eh? you have no reference to a chapter she didn’t cook.

      • wondering jew on January 18, 2017, 3:35 am

        I recall an approximation that about 7% of the Palestinians of 1947 palestine were immigrants attracted to the economy of Palestine particularly after 1933.

      • RoHa on January 18, 2017, 6:02 am

        “So if 1000 Arabs were caught after entering Palestine illegally, we can safely assume that many thousand more entered Palestine and were not caught.”

        No, we cannot make that assumption. We have no way of estimating the proportion of caught to uncaught for that place and time.

      • Jackdaw on January 18, 2017, 7:43 am


        noun: distraction; plural noun: distractions

        a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else.

        I’m not playing your game. Good night.

      • Mooser on January 18, 2017, 1:11 pm

        “I’m not playing your game. Good night.”

        And the little bird flies away.

      • jon s on January 18, 2017, 3:39 pm

        According to a Palestinian source, “Palestine and the Palestinians” by Farsoun and Zacharia (Westview Press, 1997), p.78 ,the Arab population of Palestine increased from 300,000 in 1880 to 1,300,000 in 1947. The population more than quadrupled in less than 70 years, so it certainly makes sense that some other factor , aside from the birth rate , was at play ,immigration.
        And it also makes sense that the development and modernization of the country opened up employment opportunities, thereby attracting immigrants from the neighboring countries.
        Also note some Palestinian family names like Masri, Hourani, Hijazi, etc.

      • Mooser on January 18, 2017, 5:46 pm

        “the Arab population of Palestine increased from 300,000 in 1880 to 1,300,000 in 1947”

        And then, what happened in 1948? Too many “Arabs” came for “the development and modernization of the country opened up employment opportunities, thereby attracting immigrants from the neighboring countries” and the Zionists had to get rid of them.?

      • Sibiriak on January 18, 2017, 6:39 pm

        Jon s: According to a Palestinian source, “Palestine and the Palestinians” by Farsoun and Zacharia (Westview Press, 1997), p.78 ,the Arab population of Palestine increased from 300,000 in 1880 to 1,300,000 in 1947.

        Yes, table 3.1 in that book (p.67,, second edition, 2006) contains those figures. The original source is given as Facts and Figures about the Palestinians, Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, Washington, D.C., 1992.

        This analysis accompanies that table:

        In-Migration and Demographic Transformation

        Palestine in 1882 had a small, native migrant religious Jewish community (or yishuv, as Israeli and Western Jewish historians call it) of roughly 24,000 among a population of nearly 500,000 Palestinians.26 The size of the Jewish settler community in Palestine increased, over the period after 1882, through several major waves (called aliyahs by Israeli and Jewish historians) of in-migration. The first wave, between 1882 and 1903, totaled about 25,000 Jews, most of Russian origin, and the second, between 1904 and 1914, brought in around 35,000 Jews, most of them eastern Europeans. In the 1922 census conducted by the mandate government, the country had a population of 757,182 (perhaps an undercount, as many observers servers note), with 89 percent Palestinian Arab and 11 percent Jewish. Most Jews lived in the urban areas of new western Jerusalem and the exclusively Jewish Tel Aviv suburb of Jaffa.27 (See Table 3.1.)

        The number of Jewish settlers increased with the third and subsequent sporadic waves. The third wave, between 1919 and 1923, brought in 35,000 (again, most of them Russian), and the fourth, between 1924 and 1931, added another 85,000 immigrants (most of middle-class Polish28 background). ground). The fifth wave of Jewish immigration, between 1932 and 1938, may have numbered close to 200,000. Indeed because of the rise of Nazism, 174,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine between 1932 and 1936, suddenly raising the Jewish population to an estimated 370,000 in 1936, that is, 28 percent of the total population of Palestine, a dramatic increase from the 16 percent reported in the 1931 census.

        It was therefore not surprising that the Arab population should have become alarmed at the rapid rate at which the demographic composition of their country was being altered, without their consent and against their will…. This radical change, occurring in the brief span of only five years, must certainly be recognized as an important cause of the [Palestinian] Arab rebellion of 1936.”29

        [Table 3.1]

        Map 3.2 shows the distribution of population by subdistricts, with percentages of Jews and Palestinians. By the end of 1947, Palestine mandate government estimates indicate that of a total population of 1.9 million, Jews made up only 31 percent of the population and the rest was Arab (except for the small numbers of British and other Europeans).30

        Thus only a year before “the state of Israel was unilaterally declared and its effective control expanded by force to most of the area contained in the former country of Palestine, the Jewish population still constituted a minority of less than one-third.”31 Eighty-five percent of the Jewish population remained centered in three major urban centers and their surrounding areas: Jaffa-Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa. [emphasis added]

        Samih K. Farsoun; Naseer Aruri. Palestine and the Palestinians: A Social and Political History (pp. 65-67).

      • Sibiriak on January 18, 2017, 6:55 pm


        From “Palestine and the Palestinians“:

        The Economic Transformation of the Palestine Mandate

        Palestine was unique compared to other British colonial possessions. As discussed above, this uniqueness lay in the British encouragement of Jewish settler colonialism and in facilitating a modern, industrial economic enclave even at the expense of the economic (but not strategic) interests of the British Empire. Accordingly, the Jewish settlers created in Palestine an enclave society with a European organization and standard of living and a demand for European goods and services.

        These socioeconomic developments vastly escalated the pace of change and reoriented the structure of the Palestinian economy and society. To begin with, the population increased rapidly. As two British censuses (in 1922 and 1931) and subsequent governmental estimates suggest, Palestine’s population more than doubled between 1922 and 1946, from 750,000 to 1.8 million (see Table 3.1). The change resulted principally from a natural increase crease among the Palestinians and from the waves of migration of Jews into the country. The rate of increase of the migrant Jewish population, however, ever, was higher than that of the natural increment among Palestinian Arabs, and therefore the Jewish ratio to the total population grew larger: from roughly 11 percent to 31 percent in twenty-four years. While the Palestinian Arab population doubled in size, the Jewish population nearly tripled. Nevertheless, the Palestinian Arab population was still greater by a ratio of two to one.

        * * *

        […]Owen asserted that although Palestinians tinians outnumbered Jews two to one, both labor forces were roughly the same size as a result of the age distribution (50 percent were below the age of fifteen) and low female participation in wage labor among the Arab Palestinians and because most Jewish migrant-settlers were of the productive tive age (fifteen to twenty-nine years old).

        Furthermore, well over 90 percent of the Jews were literate, in contrast to 30 percent of the Arab Palestinians.60 And the two-tier wage system instituted by the British provided Jewish workers with a wage rate up to three times higher than that of the Arab Palestinians. Accordingly, the per capita income of Jews was also nearly three times as high as that of Arab Palestinians.

        [emphasis added]

        Samih K. Farsoun; Naseer Aruri. Palestine and the Palestinians: A Social and Political History (pp. 77-78).

      • Sibiriak on January 18, 2017, 7:17 pm

        jon s: The population more than quadrupled in less than 70 years, so it certainly makes sense that some other factor , aside from the birth rate , was at play ,immigration.

        Why does that “make sense”?

        Compare these later Arab-Palestinian growth figures within Israel:

        Palestinian Arab minority that remained in Israel not only did not decline in number but actually increased dramatically in both absolute numbers and percentages after 1948, from 12.2 percent of the total population of Israel in 1950 to 18.6 percent in 1998 to nearly 20 percent now.

        Palestinian Arab population growth was entirely due to a high natural increase, contrasted with the Jewish rate of increase, which, as noted above, was largely due to immigration. Nevertheless, the Jewish rate of population growth has been declining since the 1980s, even including immigrants (except in the 1990s because of the massive Russian influx).

        The Palestinian rate of population growth, on the other hand, has remained high. As a result, the Palestinian Arab population in Israel increased from roughly 175,000 in 1950 to about 1,105,400 in 1998… [emphasis added]

        Samih K. Farsoun; Naseer Aruri. Palestine and the Palestinians: A Social and Political History (p. 146).


        175,000 to 1,105,400 in 48 years– that’s more than a six fold increase, virtually none of it due to immigration.

      • Talkback on January 18, 2017, 7:21 pm

        Jackdaw: “So if 1000 Arabs were caught after entering Palestine illegally, we can safely assume that many thousand more entered Palestine and were not caught.”

        No. We can safely assume that there’s no evidence that more have entered illegally. And we can also safely assume that the author of the article you are using is as dishonest as Joan Peters, because the same report he relies upon says in the following sentence that 835 of them didn’t even stay, but were deported. That’s exactly the same way Joan Peters cooked her numbers hoping that nobody would check the sources.

        Jackdaw: “,the Arab population of Palestine increased from 300,000 in 1880 to 1,300,000 in 1947. The population more than quadrupled in less than 70 years, so it certainly makes sense that some other factor , aside from the birth rate , was at play ,immigration.”

        Nope. A decline in mortality rate. But please endulge us by proving that even an AVERAGE annual population growth of 2% (based on your numbers and timeframe) must have something to do with immigration.

      • eljay on January 18, 2017, 7:44 pm

        The establishment of a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine would not have been any less unjust or immoral had fewer Arabs (illegally) immigrated to Palestine.

      • gamal on January 18, 2017, 8:08 pm

        “Also note some Palestinian family names like Masri, Hourani, Hijazi, etc”

        Masri like Moses?

        Hourani like Job?

        Hijazi are you suggesting that the Khalidis, who could be Hijazi if Ibni Walid hadn’t been such a superstar, are not Palestinian?

        over to you Ameriki

      • Mooser on January 18, 2017, 8:11 pm

        This discussion is I think, predicated on a false equivalence. The Zionists weren’t “immigrants”, they came as colonists and conquerors and political usurpers.

      • Sibiriak on January 18, 2017, 9:50 pm

        Mooser: This discussion is I think, predicated on a false equivalence. The Zionists weren’t “immigrants”, they came as colonists and conquerors and political usurpers.

        Yes, that a key point!

        The “Arab immigration” argument is thus false factually, employs a false equivalence (Mooser), and is, in any case, entirely irrelevant in terms of law and morality (eljay).

      • Mooser on January 18, 2017, 10:34 pm

        “The “Arab immigration” argument is thus false”

        But reading as you schooled our “Israeli history teacher” out of his own book was both improving and fun. Thanks.

      • jon s on January 19, 2017, 4:11 pm

        I’m not implying that the Arab immigrants and their descendants are not part of the Palestinian people.
        As to the family names:
        el-Masri =”the Egyptian”
        Hourani = from the Houran
        Hijazi = from the Hijaz

  6. Ronald Johnson on January 17, 2017, 10:02 am

    We should note the freezing out of Alison Weir among the various groups, relative to the one-state, two state debate, putatively for justice for the Palestinians. Her book, “Against Our Better Judgement…” exposes the Brandeis/Frankfurter/Chaim Weizmann cabal that pushed the US into World War One, at the cost of 118,000 American soldiers dead plus the traumatized and wounded, and millions more of Europeans. Weizmann later took full credit for that in a letter to Winston Churchill in September 1941, while trying to get Britain to arm the Jews of Palestine.

    It is tricky to deal with the Zionist history so as not to uncover inconvenient facts.

    • echinococcus on January 17, 2017, 1:10 pm

      Weiss contributes a detail to the opening sentence of Alison Weir’s authoritative book, “In 1912 prominent Jewish American attorney Louis Brandeis, who was to go on to become a Supreme Court Justice, became a Zionist.” The footnote to that sentence mentions the role of De Haan and refers to the Grose article in “Moment”, also mentioning the origins of that publication.

      I suppose a mention of Weir’s work and the general importance of “Against our Better Judgment” would have been relevant –after all, the huge damage inflicted worldwide by the US Zionist cabal is the main point, while the sincerity or not of fake tribal belonging feelings among the conspirators remains rather academical.

    • genesto on January 17, 2017, 1:11 pm

      Not to mention Alison’s chronicling of Brandeis’ leadership of the secret Parushim society and the impact it had on developing Zionist leadership.

      Thanks for this post, Ronald. It’s high time to stop marginalizing all of the great work Alison has done for the movement, particularly when she’s on the same page here as far as exposing Brandeis as a Zionist acting against the better interests of his own country, apparently to advance his own political objectives.

      • dudu440 on January 17, 2017, 2:50 pm

        Thanks, Phil, for a fascinating glimpse at a slice of history. I get that your (and Shapira’s) theorem about the reasons for Brandeis’ Zionist conversion remain debatable (thanks also to Hophmi for his rebuttal). But one thing should be made clear: Both sides in this debate demonstrate that Brandeis’ Zionism, once established, was open and public, not conspiratorial and a secret driver for his efforts to push Wilson into entering WWI, as Weir alleges. To those who quote Weir’s description of his “secret Parushim society,” I urge you to read the sources of information about it that she herself cites. They paint a very different picture about the society’s nature, more social than political, and its influence, which was clearly quite marginal.

        Through our lens of 2017, Brandeis’ progressivism and his Zionism appear contradictory and irreconciliable. But 100 years earlier, he was hardly the only true domestic progressive who failed to appreciate the rights of indigenous peoples outside of Europe and North America, and to understand the crimes of colonialism, including, I assume, the North American version of settler colonialism that was still rampant in its murderous ways even during Brandeis’ lifetime. It’s easy now to dismiss and denounce those failures, but the historically tragic view of at least some “left Zionists” of that day exhibited reflected sincerely held beliefs about the “emptiness” of the land (yes, they should have known better if they had paid attention) and the “benefits” that Zionist colonialism would bring to the appreciative natives. In hindsight we can see how wrong-headed they were, but their views — and, I would guess, Brandeis’, on the subject, though I have not researched them — need to be seen through the lens of their times. So whether his Zionist conversion was opportunistic, as Phil and Shapira maintain, more solidly based in core beliefs — or, as I suspect, a combination — his behavior was understandable and shouldn’t mar his praiseworthy contributions to progressive politics in the era.

        Finally, of course, we must note that the modern-day “PEEPs” (progressive on everything except Palestine) have no such excuse. Their willing blindness about Israel casts suspicion on the authenticity of their progressivism, which often appears to be as opportunistic in the reverse as Brandeis’ might have been, according to the Weiss/Shapira hypothesis.

      • hophmi on January 17, 2017, 9:34 pm

        Clearly, no one seems to notice that Ronald’s post is from Holocaust denier David Irving’s website. It’s also overtly anti-Semitic white supremacist nonsense.

      • echinococcus on January 18, 2017, 6:25 am


        To those who quote Weir’s description of his “secret Parushim society,” I urge you to read the sources of information about it that she herself cites. They paint a very different picture about the society’s nature, more social than political, and its influence, which was clearly quite marginal.

        Now one can really wonder if you ever bothered to read the referenced sources.
        I did and came with an extremely strong impression of a tribal/racist secret society that controlled the most strategic nodes of US policy making, executive and judiciary power at an extremely critical moment in our history.

        Keep minimizing.

        PS: Why you expect everyone to fall to their knees in front of “progressivism” is beyond comprehension. On this site, the only thing that would be common is an interest in justice for Palestinians, by no means a uniformly “progressist” thing. Nothing in it to justify giving a pass to a very major Zionist criminal because he was good for this or that domestic policy.

      • Sibiriak on January 18, 2017, 9:42 pm

        dudu440: Both sides in this debate demonstrate that Brandeis’ Zionism, once established, was open and public, not conspiratorial and a secret driver for his efforts to push Wilson into entering WWI, as Weir alleges. To those who quote Weir’s description of his “secret Parushim society,” I urge you to read the sources of information about it that she herself cites. They paint a very different picture about the society’s nature, more social than political, and its influence, which was clearly quite marginal. .


        That’s true. And I also urge readers to go to the sources Weir cites. I studied Weir’s book very thoroughly, checking every reference I could (it took months), and I found she engaged in a phenomenal amount of distortion, omission and misleading selectivity– something I was NOT expecting at all.

        I also largely agree with the rest of your points on the “progressivism” of Brandeis’s time and of our own. Very insightful and well-stated.

  7. hophmi on January 17, 2017, 12:31 pm

    Rosen probably left it out because, frankly, it’s not really very important, and because there’s about as much debate over this topic among historians as there is about climate change between scientists. Shapiro’s view is an outlier that no one seems to endorse. Shapiro acknowledged that the evidence for the view was weak.

    In any case, Shapiro first made this claim in 1965 in the American Jewish Historical Quarterly; he turned the article into a book in 1971. It was pretty much debunked in 1973 by Stuart M. Geller in the same publication. You can find both articles on JSTOR.

    The claim was presented as an inference, and Shapiro seems to remain almost alone among historians in making it; there’s a scholarly debate that’s about as one-sided as the scholarly debate over whether climate change is real. Shapiro also quoted selectively from Brandeis’s 1910 interview with de Haas; he quoted the portion of the interview where Brandeis rejected hyphenated identities, without including the portion of the same interview in which Brandeis expresses sympathy for the Zionist cause.

    Contrary to your nonsensical assumption here that those who disagree with Shapiro (which is virtually everyone), is motivated by pro-Zionist views, Shapiro himself cited Brandeis’s biographer Alpheus Mason’s view that Brandeis’s involvement in the Zionist movement grew out his mediation of a garment worker strike in 1910. He calls Mason a competent biographer.

    As Shapiro’s article concedes, Brandeis had many contacts with Jews and Judaism before 1913, including the garment workers, and those Jewish leaders he met when he campaigned with La Follette in 1912. Shapiro writes that antisemitism from business interests and from prominent Bostonians, and not opposition from Jewish business leaders like Jacob Schiff, was the main reason that Brandeis was denied a cabinet appointment. Though Brandeis generally did not discuss antisemitism in his letter, he was clearly the victim of it as a lawyer and as a confidante of Wilson’s. Shapiro’s contention is that the antisemitism that mitigated against Brandeis’s appointment made the opinion of prominent Jews like Schiff more important.

    But contrary to your claim that strong evidence exists to support your viewpoint, Shapiro himself makes clear that it is “impossible from the available evidence to determine how effective the refusal of these Jewish leaders to stand by Brandeis on Wilson’s final decision” not to include Brandeis in his list of Cabinet appointees. Shapiro merely infers that this was the case from Wilson’s apparent desire to appoint someone Jewish who would be satisfactory to Schiff and his associates, and the fact that Brandeis began his association with Zionist a few days after he was denied a Cabinet appointment.

    The hypothesis doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Brandeis was well-known as a progressive lawyer and leader. He had support Robert La Follette during the 1912 election. Wilson’s attempt to appoint him to be either Attorney General or Secretary of Commerce would have been met with overwhelming opposition by business leaders, and that is the most likely reason for his rejection for both positions, rather than Jacob Schiff’s opinion that he was an unrepresentative Jew. Brandeis was also opposed by virtually the entire leadership of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts.

    Indeed, the isolated quote from the Schiff letter to Max Mitchell, which seems to be as much a remark to convey Schiff’s annoyance with the assumption that Brandeis needed to be a representative Jew in order to merit a cabinet appointment, is the only written evidence that exists of any campaign on the part of rich German Jews to oppose Brandeis’s nomination, and it’s very weak evidence indeed; as Geller points out, there is no evidence of such a campaign in Wilson’s papers or in the papers of Felix Warburg, who worked with Schiff.

    As Geller also points out, Wilson biographers place no great emphasis on Brandeis’s Jewishness as the reason for his appointment to the Supreme Court; rather, they believe it was Brandeis’s radicalism, and its contrast with the strict constructivism of James McReynolds, Wilson’s 1914 appointment, that represented the reason. Brandeis’s appointment, which occurred in the midst of the 1916 election season, was an example of Wilson’s outreach to those progressives.

    As far as Taft, there were many reasons for Taft to hate Wilson and Brandeis; both men were Taft’s political antagonists, and of course, Taft wanted the Supreme Court appointment that Brandeis got. Geller includes much more of Taft’s letter in his piece, and it is clear that Shapiro’s quoting was very selective. Taft hated Brandeis’s progressivism much, much more than he detested Brandeis’s alleged newfound love for Judaism.

    Shapiro’s own article undermines his case. Besides telling De Haas of his sympathy for Zionism in 1910, in 1914, soon after he became active in the American Zionist movement, Brandeis told Louis Lipsky, the head of the Federation of American Zionists, that he regretted not being able to do so earlier for lack of time. That would be a much more obvious explanation than scheming on Brandeis’s part to achieve an appointment, given Brandeis’s demonstrated support for Zionism as early as 1910. Jacob Schiff did strongly support his appointment in 1916, but so did many progressives who were being courted by Wilson, and there is no reason to believe that Schiff’s support made the difference then, or in 1912-13.

    I can see why you (and the antisemitic website jewworldorder, which republished this piece of yours), would be attracted to a theory that attributes to Jacob Schiff the power to decide who can and cannot be appointed to the Supreme Court. Theories attributing outsized power to rich Jews seem attractive to you, and to your commentators, like Ronald Johnson, who quotes from Holocaust denier David Irving’s website to make an overt Der Sturmer-type antisemitic claim about Jews pushing the United States into World War I.

    This is also the latest example where you’ve adopted some outlier belief, and have rejected all contrary to that belief as “disingenuous,” “dishonest,” etc, any opinion contrary to yours is “preposterous,” even if it comes from multiple scholars who have far more credibility on the topic than you do; you’ve adopted a minority scholarly view that accords with your presumptions.

    • jon s on January 17, 2017, 4:51 pm

      Hophmi, Thanks for the illuminating critique.
      A professor here at BGU, Prof.Allon Gal (it was my pleasure and honor to learn from him) wrote a biography of Brandeis:

      As to Phil’s request for a photo of the late Prof.Shapira, see here:
      He’s the 6th from the top.

      • jon s on January 18, 2017, 3:57 pm

        There’s an interesting similarity between Brandeis and another prominent American Jew, Henry Morgenthau, Jr.
        Morgenthau , who had never been involved in Jewish affairs, served as FDR’s Treasury Secretary during WW2. In 1944, shocked by the Holocaust, he was instrumental in creating the War Refugee Board. As the war ended, he resigned from the cabinet and spent the rest of his life working for Jewish causes, supporting the UJA and Israel.

    • Mooser on January 17, 2017, 7:45 pm

      Wow, looks like Phil got cured!

      For the first time, “Hophmi” doesn’t make a finding that the “sad disease” of Jewish “self-hate” played a major part in the writing Phil’s article!

      Mazel Tov on your improved health, Phil.

    • genesto on January 18, 2017, 1:21 pm

      Hey, hophmi, shouldn’t we be focusing on the MESSAGE instead of the MESSENGER?? ENOUGH about a point of interest being ignored simply because it shows up on some white supremacist’s web site! After all, we read and report what racist Zionists have to say all the time, don’t we??

    • Danaa on January 18, 2017, 2:07 pm

      Wow, hophmi really came out of the woods for this one. Right along with jon s. Not to worry though – still the same zionism-is-a-smash cheering section. Of the American variety. Bearing the consent-manufacturing gifts that never stop giving, especially to the self-gifting. But hey, it’s an exceptionally gifted section…….

  8. abbasolomon on January 17, 2017, 1:26 pm

    Yasher koach, Phil Weiss!

    • annie on January 17, 2017, 2:19 pm

      wow, i’m always learning new phrases. ;)

    • Mooser on January 18, 2017, 11:11 am

      In case anybody else is as lazy as I am, too lazy too look it up, “Yasher Koach” is not what a tipsy linebacker tells the defensive co-ordinater.

      It roughly means “More power to ya'”

      or, “May what you just did be a source of strength”. Which, I take it, is a nice thing to say.

  9. James North on January 17, 2017, 3:08 pm

    Phil Weiss is convincing. But let’s not forget that Louis Brandeis was an American giant, first as a human rights lawyer, then on the Supreme Court, and our country is a better place thanks to his contributions. He would stride across the American political landscape today like a colossus.

    • Mooser on January 17, 2017, 3:45 pm

      Yeah Brandeis was one of them colossi. He had plenty contributions for America, and plenty left over for Zionism too.

      • irishmoses on January 18, 2017, 3:37 pm

        Brandeis is one of my heroes for his contributions to the law in this country. Unfortunately, his contributions to Zionism and the Israel project have harmed US interests in the long run. A lot of the things he did which proved so harmful to the Palestinian cause, seem out of character to me. This discussion would be worthy of its own thread.

    • gamal on January 17, 2017, 3:50 pm

      “He would stride across the American political landscape today like a colossus”

      while possibly true I think it says more about the “American political landscape” than much else,

      from the excert below “This land, treeless a generation ago, supposed to be sterile and hopelessly arid, has been shown to have been treeless and sterile because of man’s misrule.”

      “of man’s misrule.” who they?

      sure sounds like a Yankee colossus

      “Zionism seeks to establish in Palestine, for such Jews as choose to go and remain there, and for their descendants, a legally secured home, where they may live together and lead a Jewish life, where they may expect ultimately to constitute a majority of the population, and may look forward to what we should call home rule.”

      “they expect ultimately to constitute a majority” anodyne words utterly devoid of any redeeming quality.

      From the Jewish Problem and How to Solve it.

      “Nature and man presented obstacles in Palestine which appeared almost insuperable; and the colonists were in fact ill-equipped for their task, save in their spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice. The land, harassed by centuries of misrule, was treeless and apparently sterile; and it was infested with malaria. The Government offered them no security, either as to life or property. The colonists themselves were not only unfamiliar with the character of the country, but were ignorant of the farmer’s life which they proposed to lead; for the Jews of Russia and Roumania had been generally denied the opportunity of owning or working land. Furthermore, these colonists were not inured to the physical hardships to which the life of a pioneer is necessarily subjected. To these hardships and to malaria many succumbed. Those who survived were long confronted with failure. But at last success came. Within a generation these Jewish Pilgrim Fathers, and those who followed them, have succeeded in establishing these two fundamental propositions:

      First: That Palestine is fit for the modern Jew.

      Second: That the modern Jew is fit for Palestine.

      Over forty self-governing Jewish colonies attest to this remarkable achievement.

      This land, treeless a generation ago, supposed to be sterile and hopelessly arid, has been shown to have been treeless and sterile because of man’s misrule. It has been shown to be capable of becoming again a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Oranges and grapes, olives and almonds, wheat and other cereals are now growing there in profusion.”

      • Mooser on January 17, 2017, 5:46 pm

        “gamal” this time Phil Weiss has gone too far! Just like all the other times.

      • gamal on January 17, 2017, 7:06 pm

        ““gamal” this time Phil Weiss has gone too far”

        yes didn’t mean to be rude i just thought North’s “pretty fly for a white guy” accolade to Brandies was funny well he does have three parentheses to feed and as an Arab i’m probably moderately prejudiced at the very least, i could go radical any second and what is it with Weiss and failing to fall away, the guy has stamina.

      • Mooser on January 18, 2017, 11:13 am

        “well he does have three parentheses to feed”

        As for me, I just feel better knowing James North stands in loco parentheses.

    • hophmi on January 18, 2017, 12:13 pm

      How is Phil convincing? In what way? This theory is not well-supported, either by Shapiro or by the scholarly community. It involves doing what Phil always does – attributing a ridiculous amount of power to rich Jews out of all proportion with facts or reality.

      • Mooser on January 18, 2017, 3:08 pm

        “Hophmi” all Phil is saying is that Zionists respond to ordinary political pressures and advantages.
        Does Phil, even once accuse Brandeis of asking whether Zionism is “good for the Jews, or bad for the Jews” instead of “is Zionism good for Brandeis?”

    • Danaa on January 18, 2017, 2:16 pm

      But don’t you see JN? the zionism controversy is a giant cutter-to-size! Not that I disagree about Brandeis’ American giantness. It’s just that “they” want to make it all about something jewish, thereby knocking the most progressive American ideals down to size. The “they” BTW are the apologists of the zionism extohlling variety cited by Phil in his excellent piece, herein supported by a more modern variety (see certain commenters above). Thusly are great achievements by Americans, who happen to be of jewish roots, corrupted, especially in retrospect. Because that’s what zionism does. I concede that zionism may have been conceived as something ideal back in the day (as in, way back, before colonialism became a very very dirty word, as has “manifest destiny”), but ended up eating the soul of its own history. Like that snake symbol that eats its own tail (picture anyone?).

    • irishmoses on January 18, 2017, 3:26 pm

      I think The Brandeis/Frankfurter connection: The secret political activities of two Supreme Court justices, 1983, Anchor Books by Bruce Allen Murphy illuminates Brandeis’s Zionist connection plus it’s a great read on the political contributions and machinations of two of our great justices. (both committed Zionists). As I recall, it provides the source of at least some of Alison Weir’s Brandeis material.

      My impression is that Brandeis’s connection to Zionism was gradual but genuine. Per the author, he saw it as a form of Jewish progressivism. His contributions to the growth of American Zionism were monumental. He also saved the Zionist enterprise in Palestine at least three times by his personal interventions with President Wilson and others, from Balfour through the early 1930s. All his efforts and zeal for Zionism make it difficult for me to believe he became a convert for self-serving reasons.

      I wish I had time to lay out the case better. Unfortunately, there’s no electronic version of the book allowing me to cut and paste apt quotes. Weir’s book, which is available in Kindle version, may have some on this. Alison Weir’s book, Against our Better Judgment, is more of a compilation of historians than a history. Her long footnotes make for fascinating reading and provide a good guide for further research. More than half of her book is footnotes. She definitely has an anti-Zionist point of view but I don’t think it’s fair to label her as an antisemite. In any case, this thread is about Brandeis not Weir.

      • Mooser on January 18, 2017, 8:19 pm

        “His contributions to the growth of American Zionism were monumental. He also saved the Zionist enterprise in Palestine at least three times by his personal interventions with President Wilson and others, from Balfour through the early 1930s”

        Oh, he did? Whoopee. Good for him.

      • Sibiriak on January 18, 2017, 9:20 pm

        irishmoses: My impression is that Brandeis’s connection to Zionism was gradual but genuine

        That’s my impression as well –from having read many of the sources Philip Weiss cites, and others.

        [irishmoses:]Alison Weir’s book, Against our Better Judgment, is more of a compilation of historians than a history.

        True. Her book is, to put it a little less kindly, a compilation of cherry-picked quotes and paraphrases used to construct a fundamentally fallacious conspiratorial anti-Zionist narrative.

        In her discussion of Brandeis, Weir does not present any material from primary sources, and if you go to the historical works she cites-which I have– you find that in most cases she radically distorts the authors’ views .

        That’s not to say, though, that in various parts of the book, some of her anti-Zionist talking points are not true. More than a few are. The distortion and falsity come primarily through massive omission of detail and context rather than outright false assertions. The result, in any case, is highly dubious polemics, not historical scholarship. (Whether such polemics end up helping or hindering the Palestinian cause is a reasonable subject for debate.)

        Given those facts, it makes perfect sense that Philip Weiss would rely on the original historical works and skip over Weir.

        [irishmoses:]I don’t think it’s fair to label her as an antisemite

        That would be absolutely unfair. She’s a fierce anti-Zionist warrior– but not once does she ever conflate “Jews” with “Zionists”. Not once does she make essentializing claims about “the Jews”. She always takes great care to distinguish Jews in general from “the Zionists” who are the object of her attacks. And on multiple occasions she highlights Jewish opposition to Zionism.

      • irishmoses on January 19, 2017, 2:11 pm

        Per Siberiak: “Her [Alison Weir’s]book is, to put it a little less kindly, a compilation of cherry-picked quotes and paraphrases used to construct a fundamentally fallacious conspiratorial anti-Zionist narrative.”

        I generally agree with your points here and admire your thorough review of Alison Weir’s sources, but your above comment by itself, even though you qualify it later, is too strong to stand without supporting evidence. To be fair to Weir, you really need to provide half a dozen or so examples of the deficiences you found.

      • irishmoses on January 19, 2017, 5:07 pm

        Siberiak and anyone else interested in Alison Weir’s If America Only Knew book, particularly as it pertains to Brandeis, here’s a lengthy, well-written review of it by a true historian, Stephen Sniegoski, who wrote one of the best histories of the Neocons and the Iraq War, The Transparent Cabal (

        Sniegoski’s book was largely ignored and marginalized (surprise, surprise) and he personally seems to have been Finkelsteined, career-wise. Only Walt and Mearsheimer, who already had outstanding academic and I-R credentials, could survive writing a book like his (and theirs, and Norman’s). Maybe I should replace Finkelsteined with Weired or Weirded).

      • Sibiriak on January 19, 2017, 9:09 pm


        Thanks for the Sniegoski link. Interesting, but it was not at all a probing, meticulous review of Weir’s book. Rather, it was basically a presentation of Sniegoski’s own historical analyses using some of Weir’s topics as jumping off points.

      • genesto on January 20, 2017, 2:47 pm

        Sibiriak, are you an historian? I, too, would like to see at least 3-4 examples of Weir’s so-called distortions in her book. Meanwhile, I’ll put my trust in a REAL historian’s views, like those of Mr Sniegoski (see below).

      • Sibiriak on January 21, 2017, 6:26 am

        genesto: I, too, would like to see at least 3-4 examples of Weir’s so-called distortions in her book.


        Coming soon. Takes some time, so many distortions, omissions, exaggerations, etc. If it was only 3-4, it wouldn’t be a big deal. It’s going to take multiple pages to even scratch the surface of the her intellectual malfeasance.

        Meanwhile, I’ll put my trust in a REAL historian’s views

        I don’t trust, I verify.

      • irishmoses on January 21, 2017, 12:03 pm

        Siberiak: “Coming soon.”

        Glad to hear it. I see her more as an untrained amateur historian with a definite agenda. I look forward to your analysis. A couple of examples would suffice unless you’re planning on a full review of Weir’s book.

        I really enjoy your postings on MW and I suspect your comment about Weir, (“a compilation of cherry-picked quotes and paraphrases used to construct a fundamentally fallacious conspiratorial anti-Zionist narrative.”) was a momentary over-the-top lapse something I’m certainly guilty of. Your other, more balanced comments about her (in the same posting) show your more typical approach, in sharp contrast.

        In any case, I apologize for nit-picking half of one sentence among a number of your excellent posts on the Brandeis issue.

  10. JoeSmack on January 17, 2017, 9:38 pm

    Good piece, but I too noticed the conspicuous absence of any mention of Alison Weir. Given that she’s pretty much the only person who has written in great depth about Brandeis’ involvement in Zionism I think that is an odd slip. But perhaps I’m reading into it too much.

    • Danaa on January 18, 2017, 2:27 pm

      Probably you are reading over not into. The absence of Allison Weir mention is as it must be, I’d assume, given that the mere mention of her name is likely to bring out the brigades, at which point the discussion becomes about Weir not Brandeis. That’s how smears work – in the end a name becomes unfit to mention in “polite’ society, especially if one wants to keep it “polite”. The PTB are these days trying the same tactic with the “Fake news” meme – branding works by making certain citations problematic. Just try citing anything that appeared in RT, even if it’s just an article about birds or bears.

    • irishmoses on January 18, 2017, 3:30 pm

      That’s simply not true. See my cite to the Brandeis/Frankfurter book in this thread. I do agree that it should be more prominent in the discussions of Zionist history.

      • irishmoses on January 18, 2017, 5:55 pm

        I’m responding above to Joe, not Danaa.

  11. Sibiriak on January 18, 2017, 11:01 pm

    Philip Weiss: Melvin Urofsky, the dean of Brandeis biographers, went so far as to say that Shapiro was prejudiced: “Shapiro displayed the then almost universal Israeli scholarly antagonism toward American Zionism.”

    That raises a critical point which I believe needs much more emphasis: Brandeis’s newly minted American Zionism was radically different than Eastern European-rooted Zionism / Israeli Zionism. So, it’s not so much a question of the Israeli Zionist historians’ “prejudice” but rather a question of their ideological agenda.

    Peter Grose raises this issue in his 1983 article Louis Brandeis, Arthur Balfour and a Declaration that Made History:


    Brandeis’s long and distinguished career in the Supreme Court was not troubled by the charge of political opportunism, but long after his death historians began reviving the innuendos, particularly historians in the State of Israel. American defenders of his memory rushed to his defense, and the controversy among scholars has simmered ever since.

    * * * * *
    […]if Brandeis had consciously set out to obtain proper Jewish credentials after his rejection for the Wilson Cabinet, he would hardly have espoused a cause which had virtually no standing, was even considered repugnant, among the influential Jews of the country. Being a Zionist in 1913 was no positive recommendation among men of influence. And even when the popular mood had changed y 1916, largely because of Brandeis’s own efforts, conservatives at the AJC held to their cynical anti-Brandeis opinions.

    From his position of Olympian gentility, Taft can perhaps be forgiven for failing to grasp these internally Jewish concerns. But modern Israeli scholars understand full well the family quarrels that cluttered the path to the Jewish State. There must be some other reason why an analysis that diminishes the stature of Brandeis, even in small measure, finds a sympathetic response.

    Perhaps it is this: Brandeis was a stranger to the European Zionist mainstream, the doctrinal tradition that culminated in the establishment of Israel. He was a brusque and authoritarian newcomer with ideas of his own. When, belatedly, he embraced Zionism, he redefined it to his own liking. Instead of accepting the style and outlook of the Russian Pale, the root source of Zionist strength, he attempted to impose the values of American progressives. The grafting did not take, and today, looking back,Israelis view Brandeis’s Americanized Zionism with bemusement; his shortlived movement is regarded as an unsympathetic and alien dead end, and his place in the Zionist pantheon is, at best, a modest one. [emphasis added]

    • MHughes976 on January 19, 2017, 8:44 am

      Thanks for the reference to Grose’s article, which seems sensible enough. I would think that if Brandeis considered that he had been, for all his success, a victim of anti-Semitism in high places and wanted, in response, to celebrate his Jewishness, that would have been an honourable thing, even if he was also thinking about advancing his career. We can’t expect idealistic people to be completely detached from self-interest.

      • MHughes976 on January 19, 2017, 2:49 pm

        Meant to add that to find a conspicuous public figure working through a secret society, even if it was a very nice secret society, is remarkably disturbing. Also that Zionism presented in humanist and progressive terms, as in Altneuland and even Daniel Deronda, was not unusual. Brandeis may not have sounded like someone from Russia but he did, according to M Macmillan’s peacemakers, argue that self-determination in Palestine meant treating Jewish people worldwide as Palestinian ‘voters’ – that is to say he was an early exponent, and an exponent taken seriously, of the Burthright ideology in all its preposterousness. At the level of basic belief, which drives everything else, Brandeis and the man from Eastern Europe were at one.

      • Mooser on January 19, 2017, 5:41 pm

        “We can’t expect idealistic people to be completely detached from self-interest.”

        Yes, but it would have been better if Brandeis based his conclusions on Zionism and American Jews on the reality of Zionism, not his own misconceptions about it

      • irishmoses on January 19, 2017, 7:39 pm

        But who knew in 1910?

    • irishmoses on January 19, 2017, 5:26 pm

      This quote was cited in the Brandeis/Frankfurter book I referenced up-thread and was why I said I thought Brandeis was attracted to Zionism because he saw it as compatible or similar to American progressivism, although his later actions aimed at preventing Palestinian self-determination were anything but progressive.

      Brandeis died I believe in 1940. I wonder, were he alive today, what he would have thought about what he wrought. He was the father of PEPism (Progresssive except for Palestine).

      • Mooser on January 20, 2017, 11:16 am

        “He was the father of PEPism (Progresssive except for Palestine).”

        Now, sir, you go too far!

    • Mooser on January 19, 2017, 5:38 pm

      Thanks, “Sib”.

  12. Sibiriak on January 21, 2017, 6:51 am

    Philip Weiss: Brandeis helped craft Britain’s Balfour Declaration of 1917, and got the US government to sign on, thereby committing western powers to the project of establishing the Jewish state.


    Actually, the Balfour Declaration called for the establisment of a “national home for the Jewish people”, not a state.

    That’s not an unimportant distinction, as Hostage and others have compelling argued in these pages.


    Philip Weiss: He promoted the view that it was patriotic for Jews to advocate for a Jewish state– “to be good Americans, we must be better Jews, and to be better Jews, we must become Zionists”

    That statement conflates Brandeis’ Zionism with advocacy for a Jewish state.

    In fact, the Zionist Pittsburgh Programme of 1918 endorsed by Brandeis (developed by Kallen, Brandeis and members of the “Parushim”) called on the British to aid in establishing a Jewish national home (not a state) in Palestine and develop it into “an autonomous commonwealth dedicated to the advancement of social justice.”

    Clearly a utopian idea, completely ignorant of Palestinian reality and the rights of the indigenous people there, but reflective of Brandeis’ progressive ideals.

    Cf. Horace Kallen, ” Zionism and World Politics”

    • MHughes976 on January 21, 2017, 3:58 pm

      A token of his progressive language, certainly, but the talk about national homes never made sense logically and in practice was just flimflam and perhaps self-deception.

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