But there was another motive, too. Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College (in part founded by Wise), explained it in a September, 2008, talk:
“In the 1930s, it was Wise who led the rallies against Hitler, so why did he fail so horribly in the 1940s?” Ellenson asked at a Holocaust conference organized by the Washington-based David S. Wyman Institute …
He said part of the explanation lies in Wise’s “absolute and complete love” for president Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as his antipathy toward the Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and toward the Bergson Group, whose leaders were followers of Jabotinsky, something that “helped blind him” to the need for more activism.
Ellenson said concerns of provoking an anti-Semitic backlash should not have thwarted the American Jewish leadership from actively working to prevent the extermination of six million Jews. “Jewish leaders have an obligation to be sufficiently flexible and imaginative to deal with unprecedented situations,” he said. He said he hoped that today’s leaders would respond more effectively to contemporary dangers facing the Jewish people, such as the Iranian nuclear threat.
“Stephen Wise spent too much time trying to protect FDR from criticism, and not enough time focusing on how to convince Roosevelt to help rescue Jews from Europe,” said Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff. “Rabbi David Ellenson is to be commended for acknowledging the mistakes of his predecessor and trying to ensure that the failures of the 1940s will not be repeated.”
It seems to me that this is almost exactly what is happening today, with the liberal Jewish establishment in America cleaving to its President, Barack Obama, while the latter pursues policies inimical to Jewish survival. It is ironic that Rabbi Ellenson criticized Rabbi Wise in this way, and then three years later viciously attacked opponents of the nomination of J Street and New Israel Fund activist Rabbi Richard Jacobs as head of the Union for Reform Judaism!
Kook and Merlin, by the way, both sailed to Israel in 1948 on the ill-fated Irgun arms ship Altalena, which was fired on by IDF forces on the orders of David Ben-Gurion (Merlin was wounded, as the Times article notes). Interestingly, later in life, Ben-Gurion said that he regretted the decision, which he would not have made had he known Irgun leader Menachem Begin as well as he had since come to know him.
I don’t know if Wise regretted his actions in regard to Kook, although he apparently understood that he had failed in his responsibility toward the Jews of Europe. Toward the end of his life, he wrote,
I have seen and shared deep and terrible sorrow. The tale might be less tragic if the help of men had been less scant and fitful.
Today’s establishment still has time to choose the right path.
Visit Fresno Zionism. / Vic Rosenthal