The Truth About FDR and the Jews

FDR - for cover copy

Seventy years ago last week, President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill sat down for lunch at the White House. As they ate, they reviewed the war effort and exchanged thoughts on their plans for the postwar era. At one point the conversation touched upon the nettlesome question of the Jews. 

The mass murder of Europe’s Jews was underway–the Allies had already publicly confirmed that–and refugee advocates were pressing for the Allies to do something about it. Meanwhile, the British had shut off Jewish immigration to Palestine, and Zionist groups were becoming increasingly vocal in their protests. What should be done with the homeless Jewish survivors after the war? What would be the future status of Palestine? FDR, it turned out, had a specific plan for what he called “the best way to settle the Jewish question.” 

Vice President Henry Wallace, who recorded the conversation in his diary, said Roosevelt spoke approvingly of a plan (recommended by geographer and Johns Hopkins University president Isaiah Bowman) “to spread the Jews thin all over the world.” The Wallace diary entry adds: “The president said he had tried this out in [Meriwether] County, Georgia [where Roosevelt lived in the 1920s] and at Hyde Park on the basis of adding four or five Jewish families at each place. He claimed that the local population would have no objection if there were no more than that.”

President Roosevelt’s “best way” remark was condescending and distasteful at best.  And if anyone else had used such language, it probably would be widely regarded as crossing the line into antisemitism. But more than that, FDR’s support for “spreading the Jews thin”  may hold the key to understanding, a subject that has been at the center of controversy for decades: the American government’s tepid response to the Holocaust.

Here’s the paradox. The U.S. immigration system severely limited the number of German Jews admitted during the Nazi years to about 26,000 annually–but even that quota was less than 25% filled during most of the Hitler era, because the Roosevelt administration piled on so many extra requirements for would-be immigrants. For example, as of 1941, merely having a close relative in Europe was enough disqualify an applicant–because of the Roosevelt administration’s absurd belief that the immigrant would become a spy for Hitler so that his relative in Europe would not be harmed by the Nazis. 


Franklin Roosevelt, Founder of Israel ?

FDR and Ibn Saud

Move over, Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, and Menachem Begin: it turns out that the man most responsible for the founding of Israel was, in fact, Franklin D. Roosevelt. This astonishing claim is being circulated by FDR partisans in a new effort to rescue their hero’s reputation in the Jewish world.

The depiction of Roosevelt as a Zionist hero, first presented in the 2006 book Saving the Jews, by divorce lawyer Robert Rosen, has recently been resurrected by Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman in their new book, FDR and the Jews. Both works emphasize the president’s rhetoric rather than his policies. Boilerplate pro-Zionist messages sent by Roosevelt to Jewish organizational events serve their narratives better then his actual policies regarding Palestine and Zionism.

The case made by Breitman and Lichtman also relies heavily on bit of curious reasoning: since a German conquest of Palestine would have resulted in the destruction of the Jewish community there, and since U.S. military equipment played a significant role in the Allied defeat of the Nazis in North Africa, thus stopping the Germans from reaching Palestine, therefore FDR’s approval of the transfer of that equipment means that if not for Roosevelt, there would have been “no Jewish state, no Israel,” as they put it.

At about the same time the Breitman-Lichtman book came out earlier this year, I happened to be doing some research at the Central Zionist Archives, in Jerusalem. There I came across new documents that illustrate the contrast between FDR’s public expressions of sympathy for Zionism and his behind-the-scenes coldness on the subject.


Welcome Rafael Medoff

The Brandeis Center Blog is pleased to welcome Dr. Rafael Medoff as our next guest blogger.  Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which focuses on America’s response to the Holocaust.  A prolific author, Medoff has written numerous books  and articles. His most recent book is FDR and…


Sweden’s Reckoning

The UK and U.S. Embassy have cautioned their nationals about visiting Stockholm and environs because of a of week of riots in ostensibly enlightened Sweden by predominantly Muslim immigrants and their children, attributed alternatively to “police brutality” or bad social conditions. In 2010, the Simon Wiesenthal Center issued its own “travel advisory” cautioning Jewish travelers…


Should a Pro-Israel Student Organization Be Required to Admit People Who Oppose the Existence of the State of Israel? According to a Troubling Campus Trend, They Should

For the final post of my oddly 21-day “week” of guest posting for the Brandeis Center blog, I want to focus on a troubling trend on college campuses which prevents belief-based organizations from excluding people hostile to their core beliefs. I talk about this trend in detail and at length in my book, and for now, the threat mostly concerns evangelical Christian groups on college campuses. For my nearly 12 year career, I have watched universities come up with different rationales for kicking evangelical Christian students off campus, primarily because of evangelicals views on sexual morality and topics like gay rights and marriage equality. I admit to have been surprised by how common this was on campus before I started at FIRE in 2001, but fighting these attempts on campus has become a regular part of my job. You can see a long list of creative approaches to punish religious groups on the religious liberty section of FIRE’s website.


Brandeis Center Resolves Concerns With UC Davis

The Brandeis Center is delighted to announce that it has successfully resolved campus anti-Semitism concerns that it had raised with the University of California at Davis.  In a press release to be issued later this morning, the Center will laud UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi for her leadership in responding to a November 2012 incident on…


Brandeis Center Welcomes First Intern Class

Today, the Brandeis Center announced its first intern class as it continues the ongoing expansion of its campaign against campus anti-Semitism. LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus welcomed the Brandeis Center’s first Civil Rights Law Clerk Nicole Galletta and its first Development Intern, Christina Gathman. A second Development Intern, Andrew Loeb, will join the Center next week. Galletta and…


Brandeis Center and SPME Defend Tammi Rossman-Benjamin Against Attacks

The Brandeis Center and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) have just issued the following statement:

WASHINGTON, DC — The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East today issued a Joint Statement in defense of University of California at Santa Cruz lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin. Rossman-Benjamin, an activist known for her opposition to campus anti-Semitism, has recently been the target of a public campaign of character assassination because of her advocacy for the civil rights of Jewish college students. LDB and SPME joined together today to defend Rossman-Benjamin against these smears and to denounce efforts to suppress advocacy for the civil rights of university students.

Rossman-Benjamin is a co-founder of the AMCHA Initiative, an organization that combats anti-Semitism on American college and university campuses. She is also a member of the Brandeis Center’s Academic Advisory Board and a former member of SPME’s Board of Directors. Rossman-Benjamin has famously accused her university, UC Santa Cruz, of harboring a hostile environment for Jewish students. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation into Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint, which is now pending.

On June 20, 2012, Ms. Rossman-Benjamin delivered a speech at the Ahavath Torah Congregation in Stoughton, Massachusetts. During the course of that speech, Ms. Rossman-Benjamin described anti-Semitic incidents at the University of California. Ms. Rossman-Benjamin attributed some responsibility for contemporary campus anti-Semitism to two organizations, Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Students Association. Rossman-Benjamin also stated that some members of these organizations have had connections with terrorist organizations. In response to that synagogue presentation, student activists at the University of California have launched a campaign to condemn Rossman-Benjamin. As a result of this campaign, in March 2013, Associated Students at the University of California (ASUC) at Berkeley adopted a resolution that called on outgoing UC President Mark Yudof to condemn Rossman-Benjamin’s remarks.

LDB and SPME jointly announced: “We find the accusations against Rossman-Benjamin to be false, scurrilous, and unjustifiable. Over the years, Rossman-Benjamin has tirelessly campaigned against anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli harassment. Perversely, Rossman-Benjamin is now being branded a purveyor of hate speech and Islamophobia precisely because she attempted to expose hate speech which her accusers would prefer to shield from scrutiny.”

LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus commented, “I have worked with Tammi Rossman-Benjamin over the years, and I consider her to be a bold and courageous fighter for the civil rights of Jewish college students. It is reprehensible that some people are targeting her for abuse because of her fight against campus anti-Semitism.”


Turkey’s “Darwinian” Islamization: Implications for Israelis and Jews

As Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan returns home from his visit to his biggest western fan, President Barack Obama, only to prepare for a controversial pilgrimage to Hamas-controlled Gaza, Turkey’s educational system is being mocked internationally. A spoof in “The Scientific American” focuses on revelations that Istanbul textbooks have pictured Charles Darwin as “a hook-nosed Jew” who consorted with monkeys. Writer Steve Mirsky offers the counter-revelation that Darwin’s “On the Origins of Species” (1859) was really first titled: “L’Chaim: The Whole Megillah!”

Perhaps Turkey’s increasingly “religious” public schools should have taught instead that Darwin was “the first Islamist.” Certainly Prime Minister’s Erdoğan’s stealth evolutionary blueprint for transforming Turkey from a secular republic into a Muslim state suggests that—in Turkey at least—Islamism may be the “survival of the fittest.” For a detailed analysis see my report, “From Ally to Nemesis: How Erdoğan’s Islamists Hijacked Atatürk’s Nation and Put It on A Collision Course with Israel and the U.S.” (Simon Wiesenthal Center, October, 2011).

In North America and Western Europe, the public knows little about what’s happening in Turkey except it’s avoided the worst of post-2008 global economic turmoil, and is a good place to vacation—unless you are an Israeli, given rocky Turkish-Israeli diplomatic relations since the Turkish “Mavi Marmara,” the flag ship of the so-called “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” was understandably interdicted in 2010 by Israeli commandos. Attempts by Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu to repair relations by belatedly apologizing to Ankara have proved unproductive so far.

Today, Turkey’s economy does not look quite as good, and Turkey’s Syrian border looks horrible, compared to a few years ago when Erdoğan visiting Egypt was greeted like a Neo-Ottoman Sultan. Even so, it is important to understand what Erdoğan has accomplished in just over a decade and its implications for the global situation of Jews as well as Israelis.


Norway’s New Generation Quislings

NorwegianBecause it “gives support to old conspiracy theories about Jews controlling media,” the Oslo Newspaper, “Dagsavisen,” recently took down from its site pro-Palestinian activist Siri Lill Thowsen’s article: “Is There Jewish Dominance over International and Norwegian Media?”

Though the anti-Israel Lobby is howling in protest that the removal demonstrates Thowsen’s thesis, nothing could be further from the truth.

Afloat on North Sea oil, Norway is also awash in movements to rehabilitate its Nazi collaborationist past as well as align with Israel’s mortal enemies in the present.

Not too long ago, “Adresseavisen” published a satiric cartoon—”Antisemitism Is Advancing Disturbingly in Europe”—that depicted Palestinian president Abu Mazen kneeling before a skull-capped Israeli prime minister Netanyahu sitting at a desk with the sign: “The new Jerusalem is Being Built Here.” A construction zone was shown featuring the sign that hung over the entrance to Auschwitz: Arbeit Macht Frei (“Work Liberates”).


Anti-Semitism Without Many—if Any—Jews

Japan.Jews.2The phenomenon of anti-Semitism without many—if any—Jews has again been placed in the spotlight by a survey of Polish middle school students about Jews in relation to the seventieth anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The finding that the children’s knowledge about the Uprising was “extremely weak” has been disputed by Magdalena H. Gross in “The Tablet” (“Do Polish Kids Hate Jews?,” May 7, 2013). She also questions the other findings that were played up in Don Snyder’s story in “The Forward” (“Half of Polish Students Don’t Want Jewish Neighbor,” April 22, 2013):

60.7% would be unhappy if their girl friend/boy friend turned out to be a Jew. 44.1% would be unhappy if a Jewish family moved into his/her neighborhood. 45% would be unhappy if it was found there was a person of Jewish origin in his/her family.

Why is Gross skeptical? Because “the personal preferences of high-school students about Jewish neighbors or sexual partners [do not] seem to be all that relevant, in a country that is overwhelmingly Catholic and where Jews are largely an abstraction.”


AAUP: Israel Boycott Violates Academic Freedom

In a stinging rebuke to the Asian-American Studies Association, the American Association of University Professors has just strongly reaffirmed its opposition to academic boycotts.  The new AAUP statement responds to both Stephen Hawking’s recent controversial decision to boycott Israel as well as the AASA decision to endorse the anti-Israel boycott.  The AAUP acknowledges that individual…


Is Art Criticizing Suicide Bombers “Hate Speech”?

My second of three posts for the Brandeis Center examines the use of “hate speech” policies on college and university campuses. Specifically, I want to focus on several cases in which these policies have been used to censor or punish students and faculty for expressing speech even mildly critical of Islam. These cases demonstrate that “hate speech” policies, even if well-intentioned, are selectively applied in favor of Islam.

I’ll begin with a largely forgotten case that revolves around the story told in the video below, Portraits of Terror. The video tells the story of the artist, Joshua Stulman, whose exhibit of the same name was censored at Penn State University in 2006 by the university at the behest of two professors who claimed that the art violated Penn State’s policy against “hate speech.”


Is BDS Anti-Semitic? Join the FB Conversation

Do you think that the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) is anti-Semitic?  Does it matter whether BDS is aimed at Israel’s activities in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria, or whether it is aimed at the entire country?  Is this a meaningful distinction?  A lively discussion is proceeding on the Brandeis Center’s popular Facebook…


Free Speech on Campus and the Spirit of Louis Brandeis


I was pleased earlier this year when Ken Marcus, President of the Brandeis Center, asked me to guest blog for the Brandeis Center regarding my recent book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, and my work as President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

The First Amendment and free speech has been a lifelong passion for me and the reason why I attended law school in the first place. During my time at Stanford Law School, I took every class I could on First Amendment law and completed six additional credits on the origins of the legal concept of “prior restraint” in Tudor England. In my experience, Oliver Wendell Holmes gets a lot of attention, but I believe that Louis Brandeis was the first truly great hero of freedom of speech in Supreme Court history.


Berkeley Student Senate Guts Anti-Israel Divestment Resolution

The University of California’s long, ugly battle over anti-Israel divestment has just gotten even messier.  Brandeis readers will recall that Berkeley’s student senate passed a resolution on April 18 urging divestment from companies that do business with Israel.  Berkeley’s Chancellor Robert Birgeneau immediately repudiated the measure and announced that it would have no impact on university policy.  Nevertheless, the whole situation was bad enough to draw additional legal challenges from the lawyers who had previously filed a federal anti-Semitism complaint against the Berkeley campus.  Now, the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) faces another blow as Berkeley student senators have revised the resolution to remove most of its operative provisions.  Moreover, as details of the resolution come to light, some commentators now argue that the resolution harms the BDS movement itself more than it does the State of  Israel and its supporters.

As the Daily Californian reports, student senators have removed the clauses that dealt with the student senate’s own investments and appropriations, which are the only funds that they control.  The senate has removed these operative provisions in order to settle charges that the divestment resolution violated the institution’s constitution because it was not passed by a two thirds majority.  Some insiders argue that this move neuters the anti-Israel resolution.

 “I think SB 160 has lost a lot of weight through this settlement,” said Noah Ickowitz, SQUELCH! party chair and a former columnist for The Daily Californian. “The bill that passed is now a completely different bill once these clauses are stricken. It loses almost all its authority. I hope the public understands that this is no longer ASUC divestment.”

Others insist that the amendment did not substantially change the resolution, since it never amounted to anything but symbolism anyhow.

Student Action Senator George Kadifa, who authored the bill, disagreed that the settlement watered down the bill in any way, emphasizing that the purpose of the bill has been largely symbolic since its inception.

To the extent that the Berkley resolution was merely symbolic, its meaning will be difficult to ascertain. In fact, some commentators have argued that the boycott resolution was never as much a victory for the BDS movement as most people believed.  Indeed, Berkeley Professor Ron Hassner has argued  that UC Berkeley “killed BDS” by passing a resolution which includes language which is critical not only of Israel but also of the BDS movement.  Hassner argues that the Berkeley boycott resolution was unique in that anti-Israel student leaders distanced themselves from the BDS movement and its international leader, Omar Barguoti.  In his Times of Israel blog, Hassner explained this difference:


LDB Academic Advisor Alvin Rosenfeld Honored

Professor Alvin Rosenfeld, a distinguished scholar and member of the Louis D. Brandeis Center’s Academic Advisory Board, has just received a major award from his home institution, Indiana University. The Brandeis Center congratulates Dr. Rosenfeld for this distinction and commends IU Provost Lauren Robel for bestowing the honor.

WASHINGTON, DC, May 5, 2013 — The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law today lauded LDB Academic Advisor Alvin Rosenfeld  on the occasion of his receipt of the Provosts Medal from Indiana University. Indiana University Bloomington Provost Lauren Robel presented the Provost’s Medal to Professor Rosenfeld, an internationally recognized scholar of contemporary anti-Semitism, Holocaust literature, and Jewish studies who established and has led Indiana University’s Jewish Studies program as well as its Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism.

Rosenfeld is IU’s Irving M. Glazer Chair of Jewish Studies, a professor of English and Jewish studies, and a member of the Louis D. Brandeis Center’s Academic Advisory Board. Although he is best known for his work in Holocaust literature, Rosenfeld is also a leading expert in the study of contemporary campus anti-Semitism. The Brandeis Center, which was established to combat campus anti-Semitism, has been privileged to have Dr. Rosenfeld on its board and to work with The Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism. In addition, this blog recently described the success of Rosenfeld’s newest book, The End of the Holocaust


Free Speech Expert Greg Lukianoff to Appear on Brandeis Center Blog

We’re pleased to announce that Foundation for Individual Rights in Education President Greg Lukianoff will appear as a guest on our blog next week.

WASHINGTON, DC, May 3, 2013 — The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, an independent civil rights organization established to fight campus anti-Semitism, announced today that civil libertarian Greg Lukianoff will appear as a guest on its popular blog  next week. Lukianoff is the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and author of Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.

Lukianoff is known for his vigorous defense of free speech on college and university campuses.  The Louis D. Brandeis Center, named for one of the leading champions of the freedom of speech in American legal history, advocates strong civil and human rights protections against campus anti-Semitism consistent with the First Amendment and doctrine of academic freedom.

LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus commented, “The Brandeis Center salutes Greg Lukianoff and FIRE for their steadfast commitment to constitutional rights on college and university campuses. As an organization named for Justice Louis Brandeis, we believe strongly in the importance of free speech and civil liberties, just as we strongly oppose anti-Semitism and violation of civil rights.  We are excited that Greg Lukianoff will contribute to the Louis D. Brandeis Center Blog’s continuing dialogue on these issues.”