Focusing on the lives of five key activists, this volume explores the Jewish contributions to the emergence of international human rights standards, culminating in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Rooted Cosmopolitans provides a tutorial on how the best intentions may simply not find a willing audience. Repeatedly these men are seen flashing their diplomatic skills, trying to persuade nations to make difficult choices on behalf of a unified humanity. Being Jewish may have inspired their humanistic initiatives, but they were not parochial Zionists, although they were accused of this very thing ... Zionism always has been a quest for self-determination and human rights ... Yet the very idea of Jewish nationhood has perpetually infuriated the human rights community ... Loeffler’s book might leave readers to wonder whether nationalism and human rights are somehow identical yet irreconcilable objectives ... This superb book is a homage to visionary cosmopolitans dedicated to the creation of human rights in a world too often lacking in humanity.
Human rights' has...become a collection of attitudes and sociological signifiers, a vague term to be dismissed by realists and swooned over by idealists. James Loeffler’s book Rooted Cosmopolitans is a bracing and nuanced attempt to correct this—to restore a grave, complex, powerful idea by tracing it to the people, most of them Jews, who argued it into existence ... Mr. Loeffler puts himself not on one side or the other of the divide. What he puts himself against is elision. The question of what rights humans should have based on their humanity is a question of philosophy, of the way people are and how we describe them, and so it should never be not contested. When we stop debating and arguing, we lose the language to account for visceral human realities and needs. That’s a dangerous place to be in, and we may already be there.
Loeffler weaves together in vivid detail and captivating narrative the biographies of five figures whose careers traversed the trajectories of Zionist politics and internationalist commitment ... But...Loeffler simply does not tell the main story about what transpired in the relationship between Zionism and Jewish internationalism in the postwar period. His biographical focus leads him to tell a story of overwhelming continuity, in which Zionist activism for minority rights and mandatory Palestine is seamlessly replaced by advocacy for human rights and the nation-state of Israel. But what is missing from this narrative is an account of the growing separation of Zionism from Jewish internationalism: between the wars Loeffler’s protagonists represented a mainstream vision of Zionist politics, but after the war their political program was pushed to the margins ... The legacy of 1948 is, then, perhaps not, as Loeffler argues, that a Jewish state and human rights emerged as complementary programs for the global defense of Jews, but rather that the vast majority of Zionists and many Jews concluded that the only way to gain the rights they sought was through membership in a state of their own.