World Jewish Associations

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This article is confined to organizations that encompass Jews and Jewish activities cutting across the borders of various countries. Associations of this nature have existed for more than a century. Among the histories of dispersed communities of ethnic, religious, or any other character, nowhere can one find the same wealth of organizational experience in the political, social, and cultural spheres as among the Jews. Three interrelated features characterize these organizations: (1) all their activities are international, as Jews throughout the world constitute a single entity; (2) through its organizations Jewry relates itself to international bodies and their laws; (3) organization is the quality that all Jewish communities must have in common and is what unites them. A nation without president, government, or distinct framework of services, it nevertheless has representatives – "negotiorum gestores" in Herzl's terminology – and leaders of sectional organizations who engage in deliberations on lines of policy, "administrative" activities, and independent political action in both the foreign and social arenas. The community, scattered as it is, has its common needs and services, its financial structure, and its patterns of loyalty.

Nevertheless, all of its services are decentralized, and since they must be geared to practical demands they are in constant flux. They include organs of protection and are based on principles of protection. In these efforts, Jewry has to rely on international law and its institutions, and it can only do so through organization. However, there can be no comprehensive organization – whether for protection, welfare, education, fund-raising, or emigration – unless there is a non-governmental organization (ngo) arrangement for it.

Since World War ii, the special status of ngos has been consolidated, mainly in the form of "consultation" with the main intergovernmental organizations (igos), primarily the United Nations. As a social phenomenon, however, the ngo is far older, as are its functions and achievements in the history of Jewry. Jews, on their part, played an important role in developing the awareness, within the organized international community, of the need to recognize the status of ngos and their public services. Jewish world organizations became a pioneering force in the field of international group activity and group protection. The history of this policy, often pursued under the greatest sacrifices and against the heaviest odds, is a vital part of Jewish history. Organization proved to be the main precondition for self-assertion and protection. The whole organizational preparation of Israel's statehood developed within strict ngo patterns, and the same holds true for minority protection in the interwar period and the negotiation of restitution after the Holocaust.

Early Conditions and Organized Charity (19th Century)

With the possible exception of the struggle for Greek independence (and the political activities of Irish emigrants to the United States) international organization developed within Jewry earlier than within any other dispersed community. It was a response to dire need, preceding any clear definition or practicable anticipation of its future. This transition from the generally amorphous condition of Jewry as late as the 18th century occurred with the French Revolution (the Emancipation Act of 1791) and Napoleon's *Sanhedrin, which, whatever the purposes it was meant to serve, or the objections to it, established an organ representing several branches of the Jewish world community. In addition to the French participation, there were 18 representatives from Piedmont, 16 from Regno, and several rabbis from Germany. Joseph David *Sinzheim, the rabbi of Strasbourg, presided. His summary of the session was issued in a proclamation in French and Hebrew, an indication that it was also addressed to Jews abroad. In one of the early Jewish papers in French, L'Univers Israélite (1851), Jules Carvallo proposed the establishment of an international Jewish congress, mainly with a view to protecting Jews in the Middle East.

After the Napoleonic era certain developments took place at the intergovernmental political level, and already at the Congress of Vienna (1815) a number of Jewish problems was discussed. The rise in status of some wealthy Jews on the one hand, and new concepts of law invoked by outstanding Jewish lawyers and politicians on the other, initiated a new kind of activity, as symbolized in the joint journey to Cairo of Moses *Montefiore from London and Adolphe *Crémieux from Paris to appeal against the judgment in the Damascus blood libel. In a sense, the establishment of the *Alliance Israélite Universelle (1860), the first Jewish ngo and one of the first international ngos in general, was a formal expression of the change in organized Jewish activities. Sister organizations in London (*Anglo-Jewish Association) and Vienna (*Israelitische Allianz zu Wien) followed soon after. At the same time, certain wealthy Jews had been carrying out widespread international charity work, serving in effect as substitutes for entire welfare organizations, with knowledgeable secretaries at headquarters and agile agents abroad. These included such renowned figures as Sir Moses *Montefiore, Baron Maurice de *Hirsch, Baron Edmond de *Rothschild, Baron Horace *Guenzburg, Jacob H. *Schiff, and Julius *Rosenwald. Later, the work initiated by them was carried on either by foundations which they established (*Jewish Colonization Association, *pica) or formal organizations like *ort and the American Jewish *Joint Distribution Committee (jdc).

Organization for Welfare and Protection

The foreign interests of the Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Anglo-Jewish Association soon shifted from the Middle East to Russia and Eastern Europe. A series of conferences, missions, and welfare organizations characterized the next half century. "The public demonstration, the conference, the international gathering for Jewish purposes, now a phenomenon of everyday life in Jewry, owe their origin to the [Anglo-Jewish] Association and to the Alliance" (Nahum Sokolow). Matters took a similar course in the United States, though still focusing on local welfare and the settlement of Jewish immigrants, mainly from Russia. A vast network of organizations was created: *B'nai B'rith, founded in 1843, became an international order in 1882; hias (see *United Hias Service) developed during the 1880s; the *American Jewish Committee was founded in 1906, and the American Joint Distribution Committee in 1914. The three latter organizations, though American only, developed worldwide services for Jews in many countries – the Jewish response to World War i and the postwar disaster in Russia and the Succession States.

With the rise of Emancipation, European Jewry experienced several severe shocks: in the 1880s pogroms and persecution in Russia and Romania and a ritual murder trial in Austria-Hungary (*Tiszaeszlar), and in 1890s the Dreyfus affair in France. Jewry began to react, both out of great and urgent need and as a result of the consolidation of the economic and professional power of individual Jews. Up to World War i, the main organizational effort was concentrated in areas of distress. It found its expression in a proliferation of welfare organizations (including the *Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden, founded in 1901) and in the emergence of organizations for "self-emancipation" and other activities, such as the *Ḥibbat Zion, the socialist *Bund (established in 1897), and the Zionist Organization (founded in the same year, see *Zionism).

Jewish Political Activity: Zionist "Negotiorum Gestio"

Radical reforms were proposed by Theodor Herzl. He rejected both the affirmation of Diaspora life and belief in assimilation or socialism or a retreat into a secluded religious community as enduring solutions of the Jewish problem. He emphatically denied that welfare and charity should be envisaged as long-term methods. Only the establishment of a Jewish state was comprehensive enough a foundation upon which to build a permanent edifice. Herzl quickly arrived at the conclusion that here was need for a world Jewish organization which would take account of all principal factors involved: exodus, settlement, and protection. Organizations should not only be an instrument for foreign policy, but also a body as democratic as possible under the specific conditions of a dispersed nation, designed to incorporate the political will of Jewry; to represent it, to elect its leaders, and to plan its policy. Before providing the nation with territory on which to settle, Herzl wanted to provide it with those organs necessary for its full identity, political activity and functioning. In Herzl's vision, Jewish national self-determination, as an organizational and political proposition, would have to crystallize according to two legal postulates: first, that the Zionist movement be recognized as the negotiorum gestor for Jewry as a whole; and second, that Jewry's return to Ereẓ Israel would give rise to a "national home for the Jewish people secured under public law." Herzl did not succeed in obtaining the charter for the "national home," but he succeeded in organizing the Zionist movement, first of all by convening a Zionist Congress "as our first national institution," with several functional subsidiaries.

The First Test: World War i and Its Aftermath

The great test came under the conditions that brought about the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, the victory of the principle of national self-determination, and the establishment of the League of Nations as guarantor of the mandates and minorities regimes. In this context, the Zionist vision became politically relevant. Herzl's yearning for a "charter" now proved to have opened a door toward internationalization of the Jewish problem in regard to both method and settlement. The League of Nations' Mandate for Palestine was based on the idea of a Jewish National Home. Thus, at the end of World War i, Palestine was drawn into the orbit of supra-governmental as well as Jewish non-governmental organization. Article 4 of the League of Nations' Mandate called for the establishment of a Jewish Agency, by implication a Jewish body broader than the Zionist Organization, which was nonetheless recognized as such per interim. At the Annual Zionist Conference of 1922, the Zionist Organization formally assumed the rights and duties of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. It also expressed the wish that "the Jewish Agency shall represent the whole Jewish people. "The Zionist General Council also passed a resolution (in February 1923) providing that "the controlling organ of the Jewish Agency shall be responsible to a body representative of the Jewish People." Consent was also given to negotiate with leading non-Zionists and various Jewish associations for their participation in an "Agency" to be active in Palestine. An agreement for the establishment of this Jewish Agency was signed in Zurich on Aug. 14, 1929.

Simultaneously with the establishment of the mandate system, the League of Nations created the Permanent Mandates Commission, a supervisory organ for mandate administration, thus creating the formal prerequisites for the protection of group rights, through which representatives of the group organized as an ngo had ex lege access to the leading intergovernmental organizations and the possibility of appeal against the mandatory. The procedure was by way of petition and reviews ("observations") or mandatory reports. The Jewish Agency for Palestine came to be regarded by Jews and many non-Jews as the "Jewish State in statu nascendi" (ha-medinah be-derekh). It assumed a vital function: to represent effectively the interests of Jewry at large in matters pertaining to its National Home. Great Britain, as the mandatory power, was thus faced by an organization representing not only the Jews of Palestine but world Jewry in its relation to Palestine. This role was revived after World War ii, when it prevented Great Britain from disposing of Palestine in a deal with the Arabs. Thus, during the interwar period, when Jewry had just acquired a certain minority consciousness (see below), the Zionist movement pressed it in the direction of a community consciousness, or, properly speaking, a definite nationalist consciousness.

Minority Rights and Organization for Reconstruction and Protection

With the Peace Conference of 1919, a stage was reached whereby an organized Jewish world effort for minority rights and self-protection could have developed, having for the first time a definite organization with which to apply at first to the Peace Conference itself and later to the resulting League of Nations. Nevertheless, this development was uneven and fortuitous. From the end of 1918, several Jewish delegations began to converge toward Paris, mainly from the vast belt of political chaos that spread from the Baltic to the Black Sea. New states were emerging and claiming recognition, and the question was whether the international community should not insist on prior guarantees for the rights of minorities and of those groups (being the most outstanding) which would have no state of their own to protect their rights and interests. Anxious to establish a united Jewish front, these Jewish delegations associated themselves with the initiative of the representatives of the *American Jewish Congress, to set up (on March 25, 1919) a coordinating Comité, des Délégations Juives auprès de la Conférence de Paix, presided over by the president of the American Jewish Congress, Julian *Mack, with Louis *Marshall of the American Jewish Committee and Nahum *Sokolow of the Zionist Organization as vice president and Leo *Motzkin as general secretary. Most regional bodies were represented on the Comité as was the B'nai B'rith. However, the Alliance Israélite and the British Joint Foreign Committee refused to participate, although they too intervened politically. Formally, the Jewish delegations had only the status of petitioners. They spoke in the name of elected "congresses," "councils," or federated Jewish communities, and the Comité des Délégations Juives claimed to be the spokesman for more than 10,000,000 Jews. The main approach in 1919 was based on the idea that a minority had rights that an organized representative organization could invoke before an authoritative diplomatic forum acting in the name of international law. In words more appropriate to current procedural concepts, a situation developed in which the protection of beneficiary rights arising out of minority treaties was confined to non-governmental entities operating in constant "consultation" with the igo.

Nevertheless, the impetus of 1919 soon slackened. In 1927 the Comité des Délégations Juives was reorganized, and a Council for Jewish Minority Rights was established at Geneva to underscore its permanent role. In truth, the real struggle still lay ahead when the Council reentered the arena. In May 1933 it had to plead before the League Council (and in October 1933 before the General Assembly) for the Bernheim petition, to the effect that certain measures of the newly established Hitler regime in Germany were "null and void for Upper Silesia." The petition was successful and showed that individual complaints, if based on international law, could be processed with the aid of an interceding non-governmental body of international standing.

An additional form of consultative function for nongovernmental bodies was created in October 1933, when an autonomous Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (Jewish and other) coming from Germany was established by the General Assembly of the League of Nations. The Office had a governing body consisting of government representatives and an advisory council made up of representatives of "private organizations."

Organizations for relief operated alongside political ones. About a dozen new Jewish organizations had sprung up or had been reorganized since the end of World War i, most of them of welfare type. The enormous devastation resulting from World War i, the new regime in Soviet Russia and the famine there, and the establishment of other regimes gave rise to activities which generally confirmed the existence of Jewish solidarity throughout the world. An immense organization had emerged in the United States for fund-raising (mainly the jdc) and in Europe and other parts of the world for on-the-spot relief, reconstruction, and emigration.

The World Jewish Congress

Hitler's successes on the domestic front made it apparent that Jewry had to prepare for a fight on an international scale against Nazism, its agents – the German settlements throughout the world – and their local antisemitic allies. Leo Motzkin was one of the first to assert that the Council for Jewish Minority Rights must become a fighting political organization in the name of Jewry as a whole. Stephen *Wise, Louis *Lipsky, and other leaders of the American Jewish Congress associated themselves with his initiative, as had Nahum *Goldmann and others in Europe. A reorganization of such scope proved necessary, since it became clear that the postwar period of protection of minority rights under League of Nations patronage was drawing to an end.

In 1932 the first world Jewish conference was convened in Geneva: 17 countries were represented, but the American Jewish Committee, the B'nai B'rith, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and the Central-Verein Deutscher Staatsbuerger juedischen Glaubens in Germany still refused to participate. Four years later, in August 1936, the *World Jewish Congress (wjc) was formally Founded by 280 delegates from 33 countries assembled at Geneva. Their aim was to create "a permanent address for the Jewish people." The wjc became a voluntary, cooperative association of federations of local Jewish organizations. It did not interfere with the internal life of any federation or community, but it also maintained that no single community or organization, however important and influential, should be entitled to act unilaterally on behalf of the community or any branch of it without being empowered to do so; nor should any community, however small, be excluded from joint action. The wjc declared that it "does not seek to be regarded as [the] 'Government' of the Jewish people outside Palestine." At the international level, it had to assume the function of the Comité des Délégations Juives. It directed a few diplomatic campaigns against Germany, Poland, Romania, and Nazi-occupied Austria. In 1938, at the International Refugee Conference at Evian, the wjc had to fight for the very right of the Jew to be considered a refugee and thus claim the rights of first asylum and transit migration in the countries bordering on Germany.

World War ii

Jewry entered World War ii as its first victim rather than an ally; it lacked even the limited status and facilities of the various governments-in-exile. The possibility of non-governmental action was considerably reduced, being limited to a few humanitarian efforts in extremis. The paradox was that at a time when community consciousness was at its peak, operational capacity was at its lowest. Nevertheless, two problems kept organized efforts alive: the welfare problem of the remnants of European Jewry and the political problem of Jewry in Palestine. It is a tribute to their organizational capacity that the postwar Jewish organizations succeeded in realizing three major aims:

(1) to ensure favorable developments in regard to Palestine;

(2) to secure reparations from West Germany and thus a modicum of relief for more than a million survivors; and

(3) to maintain consultations and later consultative status with the newly established igos, particularly the United Nations, unesco, and the Council of Europe.

In San Francisco, where the United Nations was established in 1945, it was again the Jewish Agency for Palestine that acted as the representative of the Jewish people vis-à-vis Palestine as well as the nascent Jewish State, particularly when the "first round" was fought in uncio for what became Article 80 of the Charter. After the War, when the Anglo-American Commission arrived in Palestine in 1946, it reported that the Jewish case was "presented at full length and with voluminous written evidence, in three series of public hearings: in Washington by the American Zionists, in London by the British Zionists, and finally, and most massively, by the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. The basic policy advocated was always the same – the so-called Biltmore Program of 1942." The same can be said about the discussions with *unscop in Palestine as well as at un headquarters on the basis of the unscop report. In this struggle, the Jewish case, as presented by the Jewish Agency, was supported by all the major Jewish organizations. As earlier, the mere fact of having been organized in a democratically structured world organization – the Zionist Organization – had allowed Jewry to respond to events through organized representations, which had been the case from 1917 on, when the Balfour Declaration had been published, up to July 7, 1948, when for the first time a representative of the State of Israel was invited to attend a meeting, the 330th, of the Security Council of the United Nations.

Another aim during the postwar years was to provide for the preservation of human rights in at least three of the five peace treaties with former Nazi satellites – Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. By coincidence, these countries were the only ones still to have Jewish minorities, to have turned communist, and to have been obligated by post-World War i arrangements. However, the effort was unsuccessful: no trace remained of the minority rights established in Eastern Europe after World War i. The situation was different in the West. The experience leading to Jewish world community consciousness, which had become rooted in 1933 with the ascension of Hitler to power, did not cease after the War. The War ended with valuable property remaining without owners but traceable to public or private Jewish ownership. It was pointed out that survivors within a given group had the most valid right to advance the thesis of collective restitution. After the Paris Reparations Conference of December 1945, the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the jdc were appointed as "field organizations" for the implementation of a part of the program established by the Conference, and a new era commenced for Jewish ngos. A major achievement was the establishment in 1951 of the World *Conference of Jewish Material Claims against Germany, the most representative body established thus far, and of a parallel committee for Austria in 1952. These organizations, as well as the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (jrso) and the Jewish Trust Corporation for Germany (jtc), established the principle that ngos can be partners in international legal negotiations and agreements with sovereign or other entities, the outstanding case being the Wassenaar Protocol of Sept. 10, 1952, between the Claims Conference and the government of the Federal Republic of Germany. Moreover, jrso, together with the jtc for Germany, Ltd., London, and the Branche Française de la jtc, entered into agreements with Bonn (1956) on the payment of compensation in lieu of restitution. Among all the Western states, only in the case of Austria have these efforts met with frustration during all these years.

Jewry's transition from World War ii into a greatly changed Europe must be viewed against the background of the Holocaust. The Claims Conference, powerful enough to guarantee annual allocations of $10,000,000 for public use over 12 years, began to plan reconstruction. Roughly 75% of this sum went for basic programs of relief, economic rehabilitation, emigration and resettlement, and 10–15% was allocated for cultural and educational reconstruction. The balance was divided more or less equally between legal aid and historical research into the Holocaust. In 1960 a Standing Conference on European Jewish Social and Welfare Services was established to make formal the de facto cooperation existing among local communities and voluntary agencies, such as jdc, ort, hias, etc. Its greatest achievement was the resettlement of refugees from Algeria in France and Israel. Upon winding up its activities, the Claims Conference used its last allocation of over $10,000,000 to establish the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.


If within a decade or so after the end of World War ii, the most urgent needs for Jewish survival were fulfilled – the establishment of the State of Israel, the resettlement of *Displaced Persons, survivors, and refugees, and the repossession of ownerless Jewish property – the continued existence of Jewish ngos nevertheless became necessary. There were many reasons for this. The need for protection of Jewish minorities became progressively acute in Communist and Arab countries. The B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League (active in the United States, Canada, and Mexico) also found a vital field of activity. The fight against racial and religious prejudice and intolerance and several other issues concerning human rights became one of the central themes within leading igos (the United Nations, unesco, ilo, the Council of Europe). Finally, there has been a tendency for education to replace welfare as the major Jewish concern.

The American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, which, together with similar bodies in Israel and Europe, sponsored the World Conference of Jewish Communities on Soviet Jewry (Brussels, 1971), became a potent factor in the struggle for the rights of the Jews in the Soviet Union. Despite the looseness of its organization, or perhaps because of it, participation and representation on a very wide scale was made possible. The same also holds true for the Comité International pour la Déliverance des Juifs au Moyen Orient established in Paris (1970) to act on behalf of the remaining Jews in distress in Arab countries.

Since 1945 there has been a tendency to establish new organizations and seek consultative status for them with the United Nations or their agencies. Up to 1961 there were no less than 22 new or regrouped Jewish ngos. Thus, out of 20 Jewish ngos in the group of principal organizations (international or national with several areas of operation: see chart), six are postwar creations or adaptations, nine have direct and five indirect consultative status with the un Economic and Social Council (ecosoc), and several an analogous status with other igos. Moreover, six national organizations indirectly enjoy such consultative status (see also *United Nations, Specialized Agencies and Other Bodies).

The proliferation of organizations added impetus to a phenomenon long observed in Jewish organization: their coalition or federalist nature. Thus, the Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency have been governed for decades by carefully balanced coalitions, under conditions of continually renewed attempts at broadening partnership. They became the operational vehicle for world Jewry's participation in Israel's activities and development as the National Home of Jewry. (According to the Jerusalem Program of 1968, the main aim of Zionism is the unity of the Jewish people and the centrality of Israel in Jewish life.) In this sense it should be compared to earlier organizations. The Comité des Délélegations Juives was formed in response to external circumstances. Its membership was heterogeneous in many respects, but they united in what they viewed as a common purpose. Later, the World Jewish Congress was established as a federation of "national" Jewish associations. If these were "roof organizations" with functions of coordination, some less formal solutions were adopted wherein coordination required no permanent executive apparatus, such as the *World Conference of Jewish Organizations (cojo, founded 1958) and the U.S. Conference of Major Jewish Organizations (generally known as the Presidents' Conference). The main Jewish organizations are represented in all, or most, of these coordinating bodies: the jdc, the Jewish Agency, B'nai B'rith, and the World Jewish Congress. On the other hand, in some of them the absence of the American Jewish Committee is conspicuous. In many of them there is little contact between the organization and the Jewish population at large, and the situation is still similar to what it was at the time of Baron de Hirsch and his welfare secretariats. Jewry is still to a large degree governed by self-perpetuating oligarchic establishments, and the process of full democratization, as envisaged by Herzl, remains a vision of the future.

Jewish world organizations have until now contributed little that is new toward maintaining the consciousness of a common faith, culture, and destiny in Jewish communities. It is still the position that while many organizations engage in educational activities on a local and national scale, only the Zionist Organization is at present important, though still an inadequate, educational agency on a world scale. (Attempts to establish a World Council for Jewish Education have failed so far; a well-attended World Conference on this subject had met in Jerusalem in August 1962). The main problem of contemporary Jewish world organization is whether its current political activity is sufficient to create a meaningful pattern of activity on behalf of the dispersed Jewish community as a whole – that is, a pattern in which both the Israel-centered part of Jewish identity and heritage and the contribution of Diaspora Jewry to the world's pluralist societies will be recognized as representing an independent entity. Both are confronted with obstacles – the main ones being old-fashioned antisemitism and the latter-day New Left. Nor has much changed in local intergroup relations, the various guest-nations still finding it easier to accommodate the different shades of local acculturation and compromise of Diaspora Jewry than an Israel-oriented Jewry. On the other hand, considering matters in the light of Jewish experience. it would seem that there is hardly any more support, or room, for a Dubnovian affirmation of a Diaspora Jewish culture, notwithstanding the need of the various Jewish ngos to derive authority for their fight for the consolidation of human rights in general, and Jewish rights in particular, as representatives of a definite cultural identity and interest within a structuralized open society.

Nota Bene

While it is quite clear that the sole purpose of Jewish associations has been the maintenance of the Jewish community, particularly in its dispersal across the often fortuitous boundaries of non-Jewish nations, there have been malicious allegations that it was the intention of Jewry "to rule the world," even if this involved the destruction, or at least corruption, of the non-Jewish nations (see *Elders of Zion, Protocols of the Learned). While it is difficult to eradicate such aberrations, a study of the activities of the organizations previously described reveals nothing more than a desire to be left in peace to develop freely and autonomously.


J. Lador-Lederer, International Non-Governmental Organizations (1963), 126–57; H.M. Sachar, The Course of Modern Jewish History (1958); I. Cohen, Contemporary Jewry (1950); I. Elbogen, A Century of Jewish Life (1953); M.I. Soloff, How the Jewish People Lives Today (1952); A. Tartakower, Am ve-Olamo (1963) (for further bibliography see articles on the various organizations mentioned in the article).

[Josef J. Lador-Lederer]

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World Jewish Associations

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World Jewish Associations