On March 30, 1941, more than 4,000 delegates gathered at the first luncheon of B’nai B’rith’s 16th Annual National Convention in Chicago to hear Dr. Chaim Weizmann, a long-time B’nai B’rith member, predict a two-state solution in the Middle East.
At the time, Weizmann was president of the Zionist Organization, and would be elected Israel’s first president in 1949 (and serve until his death in 1952).
The effect of his speech went further than headlines, inspiring a commitment of $100,000 from the B’nai B’rith delegates to create a second B’nai B’rith colony in what is now Israel.
The new colony was subsequently named for then B’nai B’rith President Henry Monsky and adjoined the first B’nai B’rith colony established in 1936. The colony was intended for former members of B’nai B’rith, their children and victims of the Nazi persecution.
Jacobson, a long-time business partner and friend of President Harry Truman, arranged a secret meeting between Weizmann and Truman that is said to have turned the president’s opinion in favor of the partition plan and recognize the state of Israel.
Read coverage of his 1941 speech via the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s archive:
B’nai B’rith’s triennial national convention today heard Dr. Chaim Weizmann predict a Palestine Jewish commonwealth side by side with an Arab federation after the war and Vice-President Henry A. Wallace stress the importance of equality for all races and religions in the Western Hemisphere.
Addressing a luncheon session at the Drake Hotel, Dr. Weizmann asserted that “the floating and homeless five millions of Jews” could not survive without Palestine. “We have before us the greatest problem of salvaging the lives of Jews in the entire history of Jewish dispersion,” he said.
Speaking of the “difficult Arab problem,” the world Zionist leader asserted: “A solution to that problem must be found in order to achieve our objective. The Jews and the Arabs must live side by side as neighbors and cousins.
“After the victory of the democracies there must come a federation of the great Arab countries. This confederation will extend from the Euphrates to Libya. The democracies too, will realize the historic connection between the Jews and Palestine and that we are entitled to develop an autonomous Palestine, free from shackles, where we can bring these millions of our suffering people so that they can build a country that can fructify and revitalize the whole Middle East. It is possible to have a Jewish commonwealth side by side with this Arab federation.”
“The 500,000 Jews in Palestine who are ready to lay down their lives represent a great arsenal of human freedom as we stand sentinel at the entrance to the Suez Canal,” he declared. “Every man, woman and child in Palestine would rather die than to yield that frontier which is one of the most strategic approaches to the Western Hemisphere.”
Stressing the necessity of “unity of purpose as we prepare against the time when we shall have a word to say in the settlement of our destiny,” Dr. Weizmann urged that Jews be united “on two great purposes–on the restoration of the Jewish rights of which we are brutally deprived outside of Palestine and on the affirmation of a right to build our homeland, unshackled and unfettered, in Palestine.” Dr. Weizmann was introduced by Dr. Solomon Goldman.
Vice-President Wallace addressed 4,000 delegates and guests of the convention at the “inspirational session” at the Civic Opera House this evening. His speech was broadcast over a CBS network and rebroadcast in Spanish to Latin American countries. The subject was “Democracy and the Dignity of Man.”
“The cost of Nazi terrorism in terms of suffering to Europe is great beyond measurement,” he asserted, “but we in the New World owe a great debt of gratitude to the Nazis for forcing us to make clear our thinking about the meaning of democracy and the part which racial and religious groups must contribute if democracy is to be worthy of its name.
“B’nai B’rith, I know, has caught this vision and will work for it whole heartedly in all of the hemisphere. The New World is a chosen land, not for the Jew or the German or the Anglo-Saxon of the Spaniard or any other one people. The New World is a chosen land in which all of us, tolerantly living together, can allow the dignity of man to be expressed, free from the compulsions of the Old World, but with that sense of duty which is necessary to preserve that which is precious beyond life itself–an efficient yet tolerant constitutional democracy, free from the Gestapo and a greedy ruling class.”
A message was read from President Roosevelt, who praised B’nai B’rith’s splendid work in the fields of charity and philanthropy” and said “its activities in advancing education and promoting true Americanism are likewise widely known and appreciated.”