Saturday, 25 March 2017

Source: New York Times, April 5, 1909 (link)

Here we see an early example of Jewish immigration advocacy in 20th century America. Edward Lauterbach was a Jewish lawyer and president of the National Liberal Immigration League, an organisation founded by Jews to resist restrictions on immigration. Speaking to an audience of young Hebrews, some things he said are especially worthy of note.

"a hegira was a great burden to Jewish charity." 

This is fascinating. He describes the mass immigration of Jews from the territories of the Russian empire as a "hegira". This is the same word used by Muslims to describe the migration of Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Medina in 622 to create the first "Islamic State". The Muslim calendar dates from 622 for this reason.

"We must see to it that the door is kept wide open...We must stand by to resent unjust aspersions against our people." 

Addressing the question of whether immigrants Jews would assimilate to the American people, he declared:

"It has never been true of any country in which the Jews has been...One Jewish writer has called this country the melting pot. It is not true of the Jews. America will never be able to melt the Jews with the others. This country has been a blessed crucible, to borrow the expression, and excrescences may be burned off, but never will the essential purity of the Jew be fused."

In early 20th century America, Jewish organisations took the lead role in resisting immigration restriction.


The Immigration Protective League, founded in 1898 by Americans of German and Irish descent and renamed the New Immigrants Protective League in 1906, led the campaign against restriction around the turn of the century. During the first decade of the twentieth century, however, the leadership of the movement against restriction gradually shifted to the National Liberal Immigration League (NLIL) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC), both founded in 1906. The former, though organized by Jews, was a nonsectarian organization that included German, Irish, and Italian members as well as native-born Americans. The AJC was founded by German-Jewish leaders to defend the rights of Jews throughout the world. 

These two organizations were behind the demand that Congress establish an Immigration Commission to investigate all aspects of the immigration problem, a compromise proposal designed to counteract the growing pressure for a literacy test. They led the campaign against restriction between 1906 and 1917, advocating continuation of the traditional American policy of free entry and refuting the ethnic-cultural and socioeconomic arguments invoked in favor of restriction. They were opposed to any new immigration legislation, called for the fair administration of laws already on the books, and took a staunch stand in support of the right of asylum.'

The National Liberal Immigration League was formally organized in July 1906, following the successful mass meetings held in New York and Boston in June 1906 to protest the bill introduced by Senator Gardner of Massachusetts aimed at restricting immigration.'" The idea of establishing the League originated in Alliance Israklite Universelle (AIU) circles in Boston and New York. The AIU was a Jewish organization founded in France in 1860 by French-Jewish leaders in order to help Jews throughout the world, under the motto "All Jews are responsible for one another." The purpose of the organization was "to secure for the Jews of the entire world civil and political rights."

The AIU worked to achieve these objectives through political lobbying and a network of schools designed to help Jews assimilate into the mainstream of their country of residence. In 1901, Nissim Behar was sent to New York by AIU headquarters in Paris to establish a national branch in the United States." Soon after his arrival, Behar founded AIU local societies in New York and Boston, and established close contacts with Jewish leaders throughout the country through the Federation of Jewish Organizations of New York.

On February 27, 1905 Philip Rubinstein, a Boston lawyer and secretary of the Boston AIU, suggested to Behar that he form "a federation of the different branches of the AIU in the various cities in this country, which federation would be in a better position to consider such large questions as anti-immigration laws and passport difficulty." The immigration committees of the Boston AIU and the Federation of Jewish Organizations of Massachusetts (FJOM) met on April 28, 1906 to discuss the anti-immigration laws pending before Congress. This resulted in the drafting of a resolution against immigration restriction, a copy of which was sent to the congressmen and senators from Massachusetts in Washington. David A. Ellis, president of the Boston AIU and chairman of the immigration committee of the FJOM, and its secretary, P. Rubenstein, urged Behar to suggest to all the other AIU societies in the country that they adopt similar resolutions and send copies and personal letters to members of Congress."

The second activity against restriction sponsored by the AIU and the Federations of Jewish Organizations of New York and Massachusetts was the organization of mass meetings in New York City and Boston, to which representatives of other nationalities were also invited. Thus, Italians participated in the Boston mass meeting held at Faneuil Hall on June 6, 1906, and Irish participated in the New York mass meeting held at Cooper Union on June 4, 1906. This pattern was repeated in other cities with large immigrant populations. At the mass meetings resolutions were adopted against immigration restriction and delegations were appointed to present the resolutions to President Roosevelt, Speaker Cannon, and members of Congress.'

Source: LissakRivka ShpakThe National Liberal Immigration League and immigration restriction, 1906-1917. American Jewish Archives 46,2 (1994) 197-246. (link)


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