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Abstract

This paper investigates the historical origins of American Zionism through the lens ofone of its most influential founders, the progressive “people’s lawyer” Louis Brandeis.Historical studies of Zionism have often focused on its European underpinnings, with aparticular emphasis on the role of Holocaust in fomenting Zionist zeal for many Jews.Here I attempt to shed more light on the roots of American Zionism that, due to itsorigin in a more assimilated multinational context, differed from the brands of Europeannationalism that influenced other Zionists. By contextualizing Brandeis’s Zionist careerwithin the changing character of American Jewry, we can begin to understand how,facing ethnic, religious, and ideological conflicts, it ultimately coalesced around a typeof synthetic Jewish identity. Pejoratively referred to as “armchair Zionism” by some ofits critics (most notably Golda Meir), the Brandeisian synthesis transformed AmericanJewish identity into a cohesive form of proto-Zionism.

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