Proskauer, Joseph Meyer

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PROSKAUER, JOSEPH MEYER (1877–1971), U.S. lawyer and community leader. Proskauer, who was born in Mobile, Alabama, was a partner in the law firm Elkus, Gleason, and Proskauer from 1903 to 1923, then served as judge in the Appellate Division of the First Department of the Supreme Court of New York (1923–30). A close associate of Alfred E. Smith, whom he first met through his political activities for the Citizens Union in New York, Proskauer served with Belle *Moskowitz and Robert *Moses on the non-Tammany faction of the "War Board" which helped Smith plan his gubernatorial campaigns, and later worked closely with Smith in his 1928 presidential campaign. In 1935 Proskauer served on the New York City Charter Revision Commission.

Early in the Nazi regime, he joined the *American Jewish Committee. He became its president in 1943 on the platform "Statement of Views with Respect to the Present Situation in Jewish Life," prepared by him, Irving *Lehman, Samuel I. *Rosenman, and George Z. *Medalie, which proposed free Jewish immigration into Palestine and an international trusteeship status but opposed a Jewish state. From October 1947, however, the committee publicly supported creation of a Jewish state in the form proposed by the un Special Commission on Palestine. Proskauer led it in the thrust for a Jewish state. Elected essentially as an anti-Zionist, his 1948 presidential address, "Our Duty as Americans – Our Responsibility as Jews," marked his complete commitment to political Zionism. The desire to find a common Jewish front on settlement of the Palestine question and the need for continued support from the U.S. Jewish community for the committee's primary interest in Jewish defense probably contributed to Proskauer's change of direction. In his Segment of My Times (1950), he describes his pre-1943 anti-Zionist stand as based on instinctive opposition to a state identified with a religion; once he began to study the problem as committee president, he found that the U.S. form of national allegiance he was committed to could not apply in Eastern Europe, where Jews were accorded only partial rights. He thus came to believe that a state in which they could be free was essential. Proskauer remained committee president until 1949. He had served as consultant to the U.S. delegation to the 1945 un Conference in San Francisco. Proskauer returned to private law practice as senior member of Proskauer, Rose, Goetz, and Mendelsohn. He was chairman of the New York State Crime Commission in 1951–53 and also served as director of the National Refugee Service.


S. Halperin, Political World of American Zionism (1961), index.