Kook, Hillel

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KOOK, HILLEL (1915–2001), political activist in World War ii. As a teenager in British Mandatory Palestine in the 1930s, Kook became active in the *Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi, the Jewish underground militia associated with Revisionist Zionist leader Vladimir Ze'ev *Jabotinsky. The Irgun sent Kook to Poland in 1937 to help organize Jewish immigration to Palestine. In 1940, Jabotinsky dispatched Kook and other Irgun emissaries to the United States for fundraising and political activity.

After Jabotinsky's death that year, Kook – using the pseudonym Peter Bergson – and several colleagues created the Committee for a Jewish Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews, which campaigned for the establishment of a Jewish armed force to fight the Nazis. Their rallies and newspaper advertisements attracted the support of celebrities, intellectuals, and many representatives of Congress. This public pressure, supplemented by the quiet lobbying efforts of major Jewish organizations, ultimately persuaded the British to create the Jewish Brigade.

When news of the Nazi genocide was confirmed by the Allies in late 1942, Bergson shifted his focus and established a new group, the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe. It lobbied Congress, sponsored more than 200 newspaper advertisements, and organized public rallies, including a march of 400 rabbis in Washington. Bergson's campaign culminated in the introduction of a Congressional resolution urging creation of a government agency to rescue Jewish refugees. The Congressional hearings on the resolution, combined with pressure from Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., convinced President Roosevelt to establish the *War Refugee Board. The Board played a major role in the rescue of more than 200,000 Jews from Hitler.

In 1943–44, Bergson established the American League for Free Palestine, to rally American public support for Jewish statehood, and the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation, to serve as a government-in-exile for the future Jewish state. Through newspaper ads, Congressional lobbying, and theatrical productions, they sought to increase the pressure on the British to withdraw from Palestine.

Bergson's efforts were opposed by some mainstream Jewish leaders, who feared his unorthodox tactics would provoke antisemitism or usurp their positions of leadership in the community. The clashes between the Bergson group and Jewish leaders undermined both sides' political effectiveness.

Reassuming his real name, Kook moved to the newly established State of Israel in 1948, and served a term in the Knesset as a representative of Menaḥem Begin's *Ḥerut Party.


R. Medoff, Militant Zionism in America: The Rise and Impact of the Jabotinsky Movement in the United States (2002); D.S. Wyman and R. Medoff, A Race Against Death (2002); P. Bergson, America and the Holocaust (2002).

[Rafael Medoff (2nd ed.)]

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