Case Studies in Scientific Statecraft: Aaron Aaronsohn: 1909-1914: Science, Subversion and the Birth of Israel

97 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2013 Last revised: 10 Mar 2014

See all articles by Barbara Pfeffer Billauer

Barbara Pfeffer Billauer

Institute of World Politics; International Program in Bioethics, U. of Porto; Foundation for Law and Science Centers, Inc.

Date Written: December 5, 2013


Aaron Aaronsohn was killed in 1919 at the age of 44. By that time he had achieved international fame as an agronomist, drawn the boundary map for the newly conquered Palestine, been decorated by the British government, knew every water source in the land of Palestine, lectured in no less than two dozen American cities, was a representative of the International Dry Farmers, co-founded the NILI spy-ring, was offered (and refused) the Presidency of Berkley, advised the US government after the Midwest floods of 1914, the Ottoman government in eradicating the locust epidemic of 1915, the British government on the military strategy for the conquest of Jerusalem in 1917 and was an advisor to the representatives at the Paris Peace Treaty in 1919. He spoke seven languages and had a personal library in the thousands. He walked with presidents and generals, and the Arab workers he hired to work at the Agricultural Research Station he founded. His personal magnetism was said to be tremendous, but each of his accomplishments rested on the platform of his signature scientific discovery – the finding and identification of the long sought-after strain of ‘wild wheat.’

Very much like Benjamin Franklin, who had the intellectual stature and personal charisma to influence foreign heads of state in the service of his country, so did Aaronsohn. Of all those Aaronsohn influenced, however, perhaps the most crucial to the existence of the State of Israel was Justice Louis Brandeis.

The sudden conversion of Brandeis from a secular, assimilationist Jew into an ardent Zionist – have defied logical explanation. Various theories have been advanced to explain this sea-change in outlook. To the knowledge of this author, none have been supported by doctrinal evidence. This article proposes to identify that decisive force as Aaronsohn, detailing the circumstances that enabled Aaronsohn to transformed Brandeis into an ardent and passionate Zionist – at the age of 56.

Aaronsohn’s impact no doubt derived from his larger-than-life persona. However, it was his stature as an internationally acclaimed scientist that opened the doors to Brandeis, allowing Aaronsohn to serve as an ambassador for Science in service of Country, extraordinaire.

Keywords: Aaron Aaronsohn, Louis Brandeis, Balfour Declaration, Woodrow Wilson, Israel, Palestine, Emmer Wheat, scientific statecraft, agronomist, David Fairchild

JEL Classification: B33, C93, D71, D78, D83, N42, N44, N45, N52, N55, O32, O31, Q15, Q17, Q18, Q10, R14

Suggested Citation

Billauer, Barbara P., Case Studies in Scientific Statecraft: Aaron Aaronsohn: 1909-1914: Science, Subversion and the Birth of Israel (December 5, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Barbara P. Billauer (Contact Author)

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