Brits against Zion

Divided Against Zion by Rory Miller. London, Frank Cass. 275 pages. £20.00

Anyone here in London who reads the liberal/Left press these days despairs about their fundamental ignorance – not only about Israeli history and Zionism – but also about Palestinian-Arab politics.

That’s why it is refreshing to read Dr. Rory Miller’s book about the opposition to a Jewish State in Britain between 1945 and 1948 and to learn that today’s distortions are all part of a continuum.

Using primary sources, Miller studies the relationship between three anti-Zionist bodies – the Jewish Fellowship, the Arab Office and the Committee for Arab Affairs.

The Fellowship was founded in 1942 and was composed of Anglo-Jewish grandees including Basil Henriques, Viscount Bearstead, Lord Swaythling, and a clutch of Jewish Conservative MPs. Its membership boasted Rabbi Israel Mattuck, head of the Liberal Synagogue, Sir Leonard Lionel Cohen, the first Jewish Lord Justice and Sir Robert Waley Cohen, president of the United Synagogue, the flagship of the traditional mainstream.

Meanwhile, the Anglo-Jewish Association preferred to sit precariously on the non-Zionist fence while Agudat Yisrael decided that its aversion to Liberal Judaism was stronger than its anti-Zionism and also stayed away.

The Fellowship sprang to life in reaction to Lord Moyne’s murder in November 1944. Their opposition to a Jewish state was based on the understanding of Jewish identity and Judaism in the wake of the Holocaust. The very idea of a renascent Israel was problematic and confusing for semi-assimilated and Anglicized Jews. Moreover, despite the continuing reports of the extermination of European Jewry, anti-Semitism in Britain during the war had not decreased. This was psychologically threatening in terms of their aspirations to being Jewish Britons as opposed to British Jews. Moreover, Zionism carried with it the latent accusation of dual loyalty.

Thus, Sir Jack Brunel Cohen and Colonel Robert Henriques wrote to the Times expressing their opposition to the formation of a Jewish Brigade. MP Daniel Lipson made reactionary attacks on Zionism in the House of Commons. Colonel Louis Gluckstein, a Conservative MP, testified to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on behalf of the Fellowship.

The Zionist movement after 1945 was thus in no mood to ignore the Fellowship as they indulged their ideological passions. One of the Zionist movement’s tactics was to paint the Fellowship in Liberal Judaism’s colors due to the prominence of several adherents in the leadership. The idea that the Fellowship was an unrepresentative front scared off and effectively isolated the Fellowship from the rest of Anglo-Jewry.

The Liberals had problems with Zionism because they disagreed with the equating of Zionism with Judaism. Max Nordau had remarked at the Second Zionist Congress in 1898 that the “Zionists are not a party, they are Jewry itself.” Such a view did not cut any ice with Rabbi Mattuck who, in a sermon at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in June 1945, pointed out that “the adjective Jewish belongs to whatever shows a distinctive spiritual quality related to the Jewish religious outlook.”

The Fellowship’s cause was an ideological and indeed sociological one within Anglo-Jewry, which in the 1940s they had little hope of winning.

There was little contact and virtually no cooperation with other anti-Zionist bodies such as the Arab Office since the latter’s essential task was to promote Arab causes in Britain. They were not overtly concerned with the vagaries and trauma of Jewish identity.

The Committee for Arab Affairs (CAA) was established in 1945 by Sir Edward Spears, yet another former Conservative MP, and was the vehicle through which non- Jewish Arabists and anti-Zionists promoted their cause. Their deliberations were financed by the Arab Legations in London and often laundered via the Arab Club’s account. The organization was active in parliament, influencing as many as 40 MPs at its height of activity.

A prominent leader of the CAA was Sir Ronald Storrs, the former military governor of Jerusalem following the Balfour Declaration. Storrs was perceived as an expert on the region and was much in demand as a reviewer. Yet, as he wrote in his memoirs, Orientations, in 1937 with regard to the Zionist-Arab conflict, “I am not wholly for either, but for both.”

Zionists in general – and particularly the Revisionists – did not see it that way. Miller traces back Storrs’ transition from studied neutrality to active anti- Zionism to 1943-4.

Several articles written by Storrs in the Sunday Times about the Histadrut and Solel Boneh resulted in legal action by the latter. Storrs had claimed that the Histadrut had promoted strikes in order to force independent companies out of business so they could be taken over. Storrs and the Sunday Times issued a joint apology which was published in full by most of the Jewish press. Miller argues that Storrs was miffed by the determination to portray him as an anti-Zionist and by the triumphalism of the Jewish press.

CAA chief Spears became “the defining personality in the anti-Zionist camp” on his return to London from his position as minister plenipotentiary in the Levant at the end of 1944.

The Jewish Chronicle regarded him as “the Pickwickian fatboy” enslaved to the Arab cause. The newspaper also accused him of “Jew hatred” – an accusation that it later withdrew. Spears, however was prone to come out with outlandish comments, such as comparing Zionism to Nazism or that the Yishuv supported the Allies during the war because of the profit motive. Spears had changed his name in 1918 from Spiers and Miller argues that he spent much of his career denying that he was Jewish – this may well have been the truth. But both the Nazis and his political enemies labelled him as a Jew. Richard Crossman, a Labor MP, also believed him to be a Jew, but Spears – significantly – never joined the Jewish Fellowship.

Whereas many anti-Zionists decided to hang up their boots after the establishment of the state, Spears continued his delegitimization of Israel until his death in the 1970s.

Until Miller’s account, very little had been written about the campaign of British anti-Zionists. It reclaims an interesting episode in Jewish history.

Jerusalem Post 20 July 2001

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.