Dov S Zakheim. Round Table. Volume 88, Issue 350. April 1999.
Zionism—the campaign for a Jewish homeland in Palestine—split the Anglo-Jewish Community down the middle. The Jewish elite saw themselves as effectively integrated into English society and were unhappy at the implications of political Zionism as a threat to the rights and privileges that they had recently obtained. But the Jewish middle-classes embraced the idea, which won the support of the influential Jewish Chronicle. For nearly 50 years the Anglo-Jewish community sent mixed signals to successive British governments. The author reviews the impact of the divide on the steps towards the creation of the modern Israel and the iciness that persisted up to the election of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1979.
The story of Britain and Zionism actually consists of two stories. One concerns the very complex web of feelings that non-Jewish Englishmen had for their Jewish compatriots. The second deals with the equally complex feelings that Anglo-Jewry had about both Britain and its own sense of what it meant to be an English Jew in a world where the majority of Jews were still outsiders in the lands they called home.
By the mid-19th century, Anglo-Jewry was socially, economically and politically virtually at one with its English environment. In 1858, Baron Lionel de Rothschild took his seat in the House of Commons. His title, though of foreign origin, indicates the degree to which Jews had been accepted into the upper classes some time earlier, collecting along the way the estates and the baronetcies (though not the peerages—for those they had to wait another quarter-century) that marked out that class from the others. Rothschild had actually been elected several times before. The House of Lords had prevented him from taking his seat. And he was elected primarily because of his political activity, not, as is often the case in contemporary America, because he represented a constituency that shared his ethnic background.
Since their return to England under Oliver Cromwell, Jews had not suffered disabilities that were particularly different from those of other non-Jews who did not belong to the established church. When those disabilities were removed from other Protestant denominations, as well as from Catholics, in the late 1820s, it was only a matter of time—about 30 years—for Jews once again to reach virtual parity with all other Englishmen. Yet for many Jews, and many non-Jews, one issue could not be set aside. Were the Jews truly `of England’? Or, as the Earl of Derby had put it in the debate over seating Rothschild in the Commons, were they merely `among us?’ It was this issue, more than any other, that political Zionism, with its notion that Jews were a nation, not merely a religion ion, brought to the fore.
When Theodore Herzl, the father of political Zionism, first visited England in 1895 he received a cordial welcome from the Jewish community’s leadership, still dominated by about 200 aristocratic families. Herzl also found support in many strata of non-Jewish England, especially the evangelistic churches whose motives, like those of their pro-Israeli American counterparts today, were a mixture of philo-Semitism and missionary zeal. The British press, especially the mainstream press, was also generally favourable to Herzl’s views: the Russian pogroms, persecution in Romania and the Dreyfus affair had all received considerable, and, from the Jewish perspective, sympathetic coverage. Herzl’s prescriptions, a solution for the vast oppressed Jewish minority in eastern Europe, seemed both appropriate and timely.
Herzl had a quick and significant impact on British Jewry and British politics. In 1900 he successfully organized a Zionist Congress in London primarily as a public relations exercise to introduce Zionism to the English-speaking world. Within two years he was deemed a sufficiently significant personage by His Majesty’s Government (HMG) to testify before the Royal Commission on Aliens, which had been established to deal with the issue of mass immigration to Britain, and its consequences for British society.
Jews had not formally been identified as the Commission’s target. Nevertheless, they constituted about half of all immigrants to Britain. Any restrictions that were placed upon aliens in general would perforce affect Jews in particular. Not surprisingly, Herzl testified that the solution to the aliens issue, at least insofar as it affected the Jews, was to create a state to which they could emigrate in place of Britain.
Moreover, Herzl was not too fussy as to where that state might be. Joined by L. J. Greenberg, head of the fledgling Zionist Federation and also a witness before the Commission, Herzl was also negotiating with HMG regarding possible Jewish settlement in El-Arish, or alternately, East Africa. Herzl’s primary interlocutor, and the initiator of the East Africa idea, was Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary. Chamberlain, the noted imperialist, was worried that Britain’s East African territories were sparsely populated, and saw Jewish immigration as a way of developing a cadre of loyal British support. Chamberlain was also sympathetic to the plight of Europe’s Jews: he had joined a number of other prominent signatories protesting their fate in Romania. But he did not want the Jews coming to Britain. He was among the strongest proponents of a tough aliens Bill.
In the event, neither the East Africa scheme nor the aliens Bill came to much. After bitter debates at the 1903 Zionist Congress the British government withdrew its offer the following year. As for the aliens legislation, it ultimately emerged in 1905 in a mildly restrictive form that did not stop emigration to Britain. Leading for government on the bill was the Prime Minister, Arthur James Balfour. Leading for the opposition was the young Liberal member from the heavily Jewish Lancashire constituency of Oldham, Winston Churchill.
Herzl’s views were far from widely popular among British Jews, especially the Jewish elites. Many saw in Herzl’s proposals a threat to the very rights and privileges they had all too recently obtained. For Herzl, like Lord Derby, saw the Jews as `a nation apart’. In addition, as a secular Jew, he did not see the people’s future in any religious context either. Yet it was in terms of a religious denomination that the Anglo-Jewish leadership including the Orthodox Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler and Claude Montefiore, father of English Liberal Judaism and president of the powerful Anglo-Jewish Association (and nephew of the Sir Moses Montefiore) saw itself. The identity of views between Adler and Montefiore, whose religious beliefs he excoriated, sheds much light on the Anglo-Jewish mindset. Speaking in 1909, Adler argued:
since the destruction of the Temple and our dispersion we no longer constitute a nation; we are a religious communion. We are bound together with our brethren throughout the world primarily by ties of common faith. But in regard to all other matters we consider ourselves Englishmen.
Montefiore subscribed to these views, and indeed went further. For him Judaism was a special set of ethical values (which even incorporated some elements from the New Testament), which Jews had been chosen to share with the world. Zionism negated the Diaspora, and the mission that came with it. It thus undermined the very foundation upon which Liberal Judaism had been established.
The schism within the Jewish community over political Zionism survived Herzl’s death. Zionism captured the hearts of many English Jews, primarily among the middle classes who provided most of the leadership of the Zionist Federation. It also won the support of the influential Jewish Chronicle, which, with its wide Jewish, and even non-Jewish readership was then, as it is today, the `organ of British Jewry’.
Yet the sense that a separate nationhood for the people of Israel undermined Anglo-Jewry also persisted within the community. Indeed, in the eyes of Anglo-Jewish leaders like Lucien Wolf, who, in the tradition of Sir Moses Montefiore fought for Jewish rights in Russia and elsewhere, Zionism constituted a betrayal of these aspirations. To obtain those rights meant moving elsewhere: Palestine, East Africa, wherever. Even the hovevei zion movement, which provided material as well as moral support to the Jewish settlers of Palestine, clashed with political Zionism. Unlike Zionism, it too did not challenge the principle that those who did not want to settle in Palestine could remain loyal, happy citizens in the lands of their residence. Finally, the United Synagogue, over which the chief rabbi presided, became a bastion of anti- or at least non-Zionism, its leaders arguing that it was inappropriate to inject political matters such as Zionism into the synagogue orbit.
Anglo-Jewry was a community divided down the middle on the question of Zionism. Thus, for nearly five decades, even after the publication of the notorious White Paper of 1939, it sent mixed signals to successive British governments. Ironically, at various key junctures that preceded the birth of the State of Israel, those governments themselves included many leading British Jews with varying views regarding Zionist ideals.
The easy access that leading members of the Anglo-Jewish community had to the upper reaches of British Governments, especially Liberal governments, stemmed from the 1870s, when George Jessel became the first Jew to hold ministerial office (of course, a very few individuals, like Montefiore and the Rothschilds had obtained high-level political access much earlier). Political access was coupled with ever-increasing social access. Prince Edward, who after 1901 was Edward VII, surrounded himself with a coterie of Jews; he even followed Jewish customs in the homes of his more traditional friends. This degree of access meant that both pro-and anti-Zionist ideas percolated not only in Whitehall or Parliament, but also at the private dinners and Pall Mall clubs that were for decades (and are to some extent even today) the venues for British political thought and debate.
Yet Zionism came to the fore in a very different manner when Turkey joined the Central Powers in November 1914. During the preceding three decades, the foreign policy of HMG had not been entirely compatible with the views of mainstream Anglo-Jewry. Jews had wanted to maximize the pressure on the anti-Semitic Czarist regime. Liberal governments in particular—which drew overwhelming Jewish support—sought to accommodate St Petersburg to prevent its becoming allied with the rising German Empire. Moreover, Liberals, Gladstone in particular, had a deep antipathy towards the Turks for their persecution of Christian Armenians, towards which Jews, preoccupied by their own concerns, were less sensitive.
The onset of the Great War did not, of course, alter British attitudes towards their Russian allies. Nevertheless, Turkish entry on the German side meant that Palestine and Arabia, respectively gateways to Egypt and India, could be prized away from the Turkish Porte. That Palestine was a British target was evident before it was formalized in the May 1916 agreement that erroneously has been named after the ardent Zionist, Sir Mark Sykes and Georges Picot, who five months earlier had reached a tentative accord on its terms. Britain had no interest in giving the French, much less Russia, a foothold near the Suez Canal. As the eminent historian (and no friend of the Jews) A. J. P. Taylor put it, `Zionism was a way of keeping them out’. Britain could thus pose as a defender of Jewish interests in Palestine.
Anglo-Jewry was still bitterly divided over Herzl’s political legacy. The key communal leadership remained firmly negative—Montefiore and Lucien Wolf’s Anglo-Jewish Association, the United Synagogue, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews most notable among them. But these groups were outmanoeuvred by the Zionists, especially by a Russian-born chemist at the University of Manchester, who had only been resident in England for a mere ten years. Charles Weitzmann, better known today as Chaim, was able to secure private meetings beginning in the late fall of 1914 with the pro-Zionist Chan cellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, the first Lord of the Admiralty, Arthur James Balfour, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Sir Herbert Samuel. Though Weitzmann’s support was narrow at the top of the Anglo-Jewish pyramid, he was by no means alone. His backers included the second Lord Rothschild—who was later the recipient of Balfour’s famous declaration, the recently appointed Chief Rabbi, Joseph Herman Hertz, and the spiritual leader of the still influential Sephardi Jewish community, the haham, Dr Moses Gaster.
There were other pro-Zionist influences that were working on the British Government, Vladimir Jabotinsky, a brilliant assimilated Russian Jew who had converted to Zionism in 1903, held far more radical views of what a Jewish state should be like than did Weitzmann and other mainstream Zionists. Even as Weitzmann was pushing his own ideas in Whitehall, Jabotinsky, supported by a Russian army captain named Joseph Trumpeldor, began organizing a unit of 500 men to serve with the Allies on the Turkish front. The British Commander in Egypt, General Maxwell, was unprepared to see this battalion serve in a combat role, but he did agree that it could function as a support unit. The result was the Zion Mule Corps, organized in 1915, that saw action at Gallipoli.
The upper echelons of the British bureaucracy likewise included a number of Zionist sympathizers. Apart from Mark Sykes, advisor to the Foreign Office on Middle East Affairs, the Zionists numbered among their friends a former Egyptian-based official, Sir Ronald Graham, who in 1917 became Assistant Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, and Leopold Amery and Major William Ormsby-Gore, both assistant cabinet secretaries in 1917. The latter therefore interacted regularly with top ministers.
Thanks to the efforts of these men, the War Cabinet had before it Weitzmann’s paper on American Jewry and Zionism, an issue of signal importance to HMG, at the very time that the Government was formulating its policy on Palestine. It was a policy that Sir Herbert Samuel had instigated two years earlier.
Samuel has been the target of critics from the right wing of the Zionist movement (including Jabotinsky himself) who have long claimed that he was a late and opportunistic convert to Zionism. They argue that Samuel, like his Cabinet colleagues, saw the advantage of pursuing a Jewish national home in order to win American Jewish, and hence American, support for Britain’s war effort. To be sure, as the British Ambassador, Sir Cecil Rice, reported from Washington, American Jews were pro-German, or at least were not pro-British. Their leaders were of German extraction, and their masses despised Britain’s ally, Russia, for its persecution of the Jews. Moreover, it does appear that, as is the case in contemporary government circles of many world capitals, especially in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, there was a belief that Jews exerted inordinate influence over US government policy.
But these matters were hardly at the forefront in November 1914, when Britain was not yet worn down by trench warfare. Even then Samuel was finding time to meet with Weitzmann, while World Zionist Organization leaders like Nahum Sokolow could not secure appointments with low-level Foreign Office officials.
It is true that, as late as October 1917, with America already in the war, Colonel House, Woodrow Wilson’s confidant, related to the President that Lloyd George was prepared to have `Palestine given to the Zionists under Britain, or, if desired by us, under American control’. But House did not evince any enthusiasm for the notion of a Jewish home in Palestine. And America certainly did not want to manage that home.
HMG’s foreign policy objectives did not necessarily dictate a pro-Zionist position among its top Jewish ministers, either. Edwin Montagu, younger brother of Lord Swaythling, the president of the Federation of Synagogues (which had a slightly more Orthodox outlook than the United Synagogue) had no compunction about voicing his anti-Zionist feelings in bitter opposition to Samuel’s plan from his vantage point as Secretary of State for India. Montagu no doubt also reflected the India Office’s concerns about the subcontinent’s Muslim population. Far more importantly, however, he reflected the Jewish establishment’s view that a national home for Jews robbed Anglo-Jewry of its British nationality.
Montagu castigated Samuel’s plan in an August 1917 memorandum to his cabinet colleagues entitled, `The anti-Semitism of the present Government’. In it, he also bitterly complained about Jabotinsky’s latest project, the Jewish Brigade. The Brigade was meant to be the successor to the disbanded Zion Mule Corps. It was urged on the Government not only by Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionists but also by their non-Jewish ally, the Corps’ former commander, Colonel John Henry Patterson, and was strongly supported by Leo Amery. Montagu, however, acidly wrote: `I am waiting to learn that my brother, who has been wounded in the naval division, or my nephew, who is in the Grenadier Guards, will be forced … to become an officer in a regiment which will be mainly composed of people who will not understand the only language he speaks—English’.
Montagu’s memoranda opposing Samuel’s plan persisted until the Balfour Declaration was promulgated. Other leading Jews in the Government were at best lukewarm about the Declaration. As the Marquess of Reading, HMG’s newly appointed Ambassador to the United States, stated shortly after the Declaration was publicized: `I have no great personal sympathy with Zionism. Why should I have? Here I am Ambassador, Lord Chief Justice, Peer and I started from nothing. How can I help it if I do not feel strongly about a national home for the Jews?’
To argue that Samuel was an opportunist in the face of such vehement opposition by Montagu, a member of his own political, religious and social class, not to mention the opposition of other leading English Jews like Reading, as well as powerful non-Jews like Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Information, is to misread the man’s convictions. As noted, these had taken shape well before calculations of state led others in the Government to support his project.
Indeed, Samuel’s initial impulse, reflected in his January 1915 draft memorandum on Palestine, was to call for a Jewish state, not merely a Jewish `home’. But he modified that concept in subsequent drafts, in the belief that a state was premature, but that Palestine under British jurisdiction could be home to what ultimately would become a self-governing Jewish majority. The change was hardly a trivial one: Palestinians today are exceedingly sensitive to the US Government’s unwillingness to call for a state, as opposed to an `entity’.
Samuel’s modifications did not, as we have seen, reassure anti-Zionists like Montagu, who asserted that the leading Anglo-Jews opposed Samuel’s scheme. Accordingly, the Cabinet went through the motions of demonstrating that Samuel reflected the majority views of Anglo-Jewry. Nine leaders, a sort of `Presidents’ Conference’ without the support of an Executive Vice President that gives the American organization of that name its unifying force, were asked to submit their views to the Cabinet. Three came out in opposition to the scheme: Sir Philip Magnus, chairman of the Reform Synagogue and a Vice President of the Board of Deputies; Sir Lionel Abrahams, president of the Jewish Historical Society and Assistant Under Secretary of State at the India Office (and thus Montagu’s subordinate), and Claude Montefiore, Chairman of the Anglo-Jewish Association. But the others supported Samuel to a greater or lesser extent. Strong support was forthcoming from Chief Rabbi Hertz, who also wrote a key letter to The Times rebutting the anti-Zionist statements of two other Jewish leaders; Lord Rothschild, President of the Zionist Federation and, like Magnus, a Vice President of the Board of Deputies; and Nahum Sokolow of the World Zionist Organization. Two less enthusiastic supporters were Lionel Cohen, who headed the Jewish Board of Guardians, and Sir Stuart Samuel, Sir Herbert’s brother, who only a few months earlier assumed leadership of the Board of Deputies, and who favoured a national home `under proper safeguards’. The last vote in favour, from the last man appointed to the group, was that of Sir Herbert Samuel.
By late October, Balfour was becoming edgy as the War Cabinet dithered over the Palestine issue. Balfour feared that Germany would be the first to issue a pro-Zionist statement. The concern, and a more general desire primarily to influence Jews outside Britain rather than within it, finally led to Balfour’s note to Rothschild, the famous declaration promising a `Jewish national home in Palestine’.
To some extent, the Balfour Declaration took the edge off the debate over Zionism within the Anglo-Jewish community. Anti-Zionists became `nonZionists’. One could support a Jewish home both financially and politically, without supporting a Jewish state. In other words, one could be a lover of Zion, a hover zion, and, once Britain obtained the mandate, a strong supporter of HMG’s policies, without being a Zionist. On the other hand, for those Jews fiercely committed to Zionist objectives, the declaration was not an end but a beginning.
On 24 April 1920, the Supreme Council of the conference at San Remo, which settled relations between Turkey and the Allies, gave Britain the mandate over Palestine and incorporated the Balfour Declaration into the terms of the treaty. On 1 July 1920, the force behind the declaration, Sir Herbert Samuel, arrived in Palestine to begin his tour as Britain’s High Commissioner. He was the first Jew to rule over the country in 2000 years.
Yet when Samuel took over the administration of the mandate, he was confronted by Arab opposition not only to Jewish immigration, but even to the concept of a mandate. He also found that he had to deal with the pro-Arab sympathies of the British military establishment in the Middle East, which was headquartered in Egypt, as well as those of his own bureaucracy. Britain had already accumulated a sense of indebtedness to the Arabs, especially to Emir Faisal, whom T. E. Lawrence had glorified as leading the Arab revolt against Ottoman rule. Moreover, Faisal had been the recipient of vague British promises about Arab rule from a sometime British agent named Sir Henry MacMahon. As a consequence, despite the efforts of the World Zionist Organization, which had elected Weitzmann president and had moved its offices to London in 1920, Jewish aspirations almost immediately began to be hemmed in on all sides, literally as well as figuratively.
In 1921, Emir Faisal’s son Abdulla invited Trans-Jordan. Acting on the advice of Ronald Graham’s successor at the Foreign Office, Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh, and both recognizing the British sense of obligation to Faisal and the reality of Abdulla’s invasion, which Britain was loathe to repel by force, the Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill, recognized Trans-Jordan as Abdulla’s emirate. In one administrative action, Palestine, and the Jewish national home it was meant to furnish, was reduced to one-quarter its original size.
At the same time Samuel, facing implacable Arab hostility, but hoping that time would yield an accommodation with the Jewish community, took two critical steps to placate the Arabs. First, he appointed Haj Amin El-Husseini Mufti of Jerusalem. He thus conferred upon this virulently anti-Jewish Arab extremist titular leadership of the Arabs in Palestine. Second, Samuel recommended to Churchill that Jewish immigration to Palestine be managed on the basis of the mandate’s absorptive capacity—a vague measure that later served to justify the opposition of some British officials to any Jewish immigration at all.
Samuel’s recommendation on immigration formed the basis of Churchill’s 1922 White Paper, which right wing Zionists have ever since attacked as an act of appeasement. The Zionist mainstream reluctantly accepted the White Paper, however. Indeed, the paper also rejected strenuous Arab efforts to terminate the mandate, and with it the Zionist dream. The White Paper also strongly supported Jewish development of Palestine. Finally, in practice, the linkage between immigration to absorptive capacity was applied rather loosely throughout the 1920s, that is, during and well after Samuel’s tenure.
It was the Arab riots of 1929 that led to Britain’s applying a much more rigid and broad definition of `absorptive capacity’. Following upon official British inquiries into the riots, the Labour Government issued an October 1930 White Paper prepared by Lord Passfield (the economist Sidney Webb) who was not known as a friend of Zionism or of the Jews. The paper not only restricted immigration, it also placed Britain’s commitments to Jews and Arabs on an equal footing.
Jews were horrified. Weitzmann resigned the presidency of the Jewish Agency, which had been created in 1922, together with the formal granting of the mandate to Britain, specifically to facilitate Jewish interests in Palestine. It was Jewish electoral politics in Britain, however, that played a major role in reversing the White Paper.
Ordinarily, the `Jewish vote’ meant far less in Britain than it did in America, as is still the case today. But the Labour government, the first ever formed by that party, was extremely concerned about maintaining its parliamentary forces intact. Hard on the heels of the White Paper it faced a by-election in Whitechapel; then still very much a heavily Jewish constituency. Labour’s own candidate, John Hall, promised to seek repeal of the White Paper. But Hall’s opponent was a young Jewish Liberal named Barnett Janner, who made the White Paper his major campaign issue. Hall prevailed (Janner later switched to Labour, served many years in Parliament, earned a peerage and lived to see his son, Greville, inherit his parliamentary seat)—but only by just 1000 votes. He won in no small part because the Labour Zionists, poale zion, threw their weight behind him, and to that end worked closely with the pro-Zionist general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, Ernest Bevin. With the unequivocal message from Whitechapel, with heavy lobbying from the Zionist Federation, and with the support of the rising young Labour intellectual Harold Laski, who raised the matter in a private meeting with Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald, the government backed off. It appointed a special cabinet committee under Foreign Secretary Arthur Henderson to review the matter. Passfield was excluded. After consultation with Zionist representatives, the committee recommended revocation of the White Paper. On 13 February 1931, Churchill’s White Paper was reinstated as government policy.
The long-term results of the next major Arab riots, in 1936, were not as happy for the Zionist cause. In 1937, a Royal Commission under Lord Peel was established to report on the riots, on a six-week strike the same year, and on Arab attacks on British police and Jews. The Commission had one Jewish member, Sir Harold Morris, a former Liberal MP and a Zionist supporter.
The Commission took testimony from leading Zionists, notably Weitzmann and David Ben Gurion, chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive. But Peel refused to meet privately with Weitzmann. And, once again, Jews transmitted mixed signals to their interlocutors. Weitzmann stated that he favoured a state, but was prepared to compromise on immigration. Ben Gurion said the opposite: he favoured a mandate but would not compromise on immigration levels.
In the event, the government generally supported the Peel Commission recommendations, which called for a two state solution, as well as a Jerusalem-Jaffa corridor under British rule. Britain would also be responsible for the Holy Places. Not surprisingly, the scheme split the Zionists, and the Anglo-Jewish community generally. The Zionist Federation, the poale zion, Weitzmann and indeed David Ben Gurion favoured the plan. The left-wing shomer hatzair, the religious Zionists, and the right-wing Revisionists all opposed it: the Left because it negated a bi-national state (which Yasir Arafat formally supported until 1993), the Right because it negated a state on both sides of the Jordan (which was formal Revisionist/Herut policy until the 1997 Hebron agreement) and the religious Zionists because it prevented Jews from controlling the Holy Places (still the policy of the National Religious Party).
Outside the Zionist movement, Anglo-Jewry was no more coherent. Robert Waley Cohen, president of the United Synagogue and Neville Laski, President of the Board of Deputies and son-in-law of Zionist activist Haham Gaster, made representations to the Colonial Office against the creation of a Jewish state. They even tried to get Weitzmann to change his mind. On the other hand, despite the opposition of its leadership, the majority of the Board of Deputies supported partition.
The cacophony of Jewish voices did nothing to dissuade the Government, addicted to appeasement in Europe, from appeasing the Arabs who likewise were bitterly opposed to partition. In May 1939 Neville Chamberlain’s government caved in to Arab demands and issued a new White Paper that appeared to crush Zionist hopes. Based on the belief that partition was impossible, it looked to an independent Palestinian state by 1949 with a two-thirds Arab majority. Jewish immigration, despite Hitler’s persecution of German, Austrian and Czech Jews, would be limited to 75 000 for five years and thereafter to Arab consent. The document was, in effect, the original Palestinian National Charter.
The White Paper united the Jewish community of Britain. Even non-Zionists were appalled at the blatant revocation of the mandate’s intent. The community nevertheless had had enough of non-Zionist leadership. By 1940, its key organization, the Board of Deputies, was in Zionist hands. Unfortunately, change came too late. The White Paper remained in force during World War II, an indelible stain on Britain’s otherwise admirable wartime record: per capita, Britain absorbed as many, if not more, Jewish immigrants as the United States.
The Zionists had not expected matters to work out that way. The May 1940 government was led by many who in the past had proclaimed themselves friends of Zionism: Churchill, now Prime Minister; his deputy, the Labour leader Clement Attlee; Bevin, who headed the Labour Ministry; Herbert Morrison, also of Labour, who was Home Secretary. Indeed, there was a point, late in the war, when it appeared that Britain might after all preside over the creation of a Jewish state within the British Commonwealth, which was Weitzmann’s special dream. Plans for a partition to be implemented at war’s end were shelved in 1944, however, when members of the extremist Lehi group assassinated Lord Moyne, the British minister resident in Egypt, and a close friend of the Prime Minister’s. The Lehi gang had not targeted Moyne personally. Its enemy was Britain, even more than Nazi Germany. It certainly succeeded in creating enmity between Britain and the Jews. Even Churchill was affected. He continued to support the Zionist cause, but without the fervour of years past. Worse still, anti-Semitism was rampant in the country as the mandate wound down to its bitter end. Jewish soldiers in Palestine were especially vulnerable, being torn between their military duty and patriotism, and the blandishments of Palestinian Jews who bade them come over to cause.
Epilogue: Britain, Zionism, and the State of Israel
The British Colonial Service, like the military, made no bones about its support for the Arabs after Britain announced in 1947 that it was withdrawing from Palestine. That support was reinforced by Irgun attacks on British soldiers and installations that only further enflamed anti-Semitism back in England. Indeed, even Emmanuel Shinwell, Labour’s Minister of War in 1948, was kept in the dark about Palestine policy precisely because he was a Jew. And Bevin demonstrated that his erstwhile Zionist sympathies were not even skin deep: as Foreign Secretary he became the Zionists’ most bitter adversary. As he remarked to Harold Nicolson the month Israel declared its independence (which Bevin and his government did not recognize until the following January), `nobody is going to tell him that in principle it does not pay better to remain friends with 200 million Muslims than with 200 thousand Jews. “To say nothing of the oil.”‘
Despite fighting side by side, after a fashion, at Suez, the distrust between Britain and the Zionist state of Israel took decades to subside. To be sure, each of the parliamentary parties had their own `friends of Israel’, though somehow when any of these friends entered the Government they did little to change long-standing policies, such as the arms boycott of Israel after 1967.
It was only when the Member of Parliament of the heavily Jewish middle-class constituency of Finchley, a London suburb, became Prime Minister in 1979 that relations between Britain and Israel, including military relations, truly began to thaw. Whatever her faults, Margaret Thatcher was a woman of strong conviction, and her friendship with Jews was not superficial. Her political views had been influenced by the Tory intellectual maverick Sir Keith Joseph; at one time five of the 22 members of her cabinet were Jews.
Equally important was her sincere support for Israel. She visited the country three times before she was Prime Minister. Though she asserted, characteristically, that she would not pursue `an unqualified Zionist approach’, she also recognized that `the political and economic construction of Israel against huge odds and bitter adversaries is one of the heroic sagas of our age’. She visited Israel as Prime Minister in 1986, wondering, as she later wrote, `how people would react to seeing the Union Jack and the Star of David flying side by side’. But she added, `we need not have feared’.
Thatcher took Jewish ideas seriously, especially the values that Judaism and Zionism offered to British society at large. And thus it was that roughly a century after the first Jew was created a peer, that Britain’s first female Prime Minister closed the last gap between Anglo-Jewry and its surrounding policy. Out of respect for his religious values, his deeply held ethical beliefs, and his reasoned principled Zionism, Margaret Thatcher elevated the German-born Immanuel Jakobovits to the peerage, making him the first Chief Rabbi in history to take his seat in that august body of lords spiritual and temporal that is the House of Lords.