Conservatives airbrush their history on Israel and Jews
Conservative MP Arthur Balfour, one of the wealthiest men in Britain. He became Foreign Secretary in the wartime government of Liberal MP Lloyd George. He is not credited with having strong views of his own on Palestine or Jews.
By James Vaughan, The Conversation
March 20, 2014
Addressing the Israeli Knesset recently, David Cameron proclaimed himself “a British prime minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable, and whose commitment to Israel’s security will always be rock solid”. He was at pains to refer to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, and to “the proud and vital role” that Britain had played in “helping to secure Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people.”
Six decades earlier, in May 1953, Winston Churchill wrote: “Ever since the Balfour Declaration, I have been a faithful supporter of the Zionist cause.”
Churchill in 1943 – always a Zionist
He expressed the hope that “the great Zionist conception of a home for this historic people, where they live on the land of their ancestors, may eventually receive its full fruition”. But Conservative Party attitudes towards Israel in the 61 years between Churchill and Cameron were by no means as untroubled as their apparent unanimity implies.
In the inter-war years, Churchill and his small group of Conservative Zionists (including Victor Cazalet, Leo Amery and Robert Boothby) represented anything but the mainstream party opinion. In 1920, Colonel Claude Lowther, MP for Lonsdale and a leading member of the Anti-Socialist Union, gave voice to a view common on the right of the party when he rose in the House of Commons to enquire, in a tone tinged with anti-Semitic disdain, “Since when has Palestine become a new home for the Jews, and is not this a great blow to Brighton?”* Some 20 years later, as party leader and prime minister, Churchill would still struggle to impose his views upon a party that remained disconnected at best from the Zionist cause.
One-time Tory Prime Ministers, from L, Anthony Eden, Harold MacMillan, Edward Heath
From Eden to Thatcher
Anthony Eden, even more than Churchill, is a fascinating figure in the history of the post-war Conservative Party’s relations with Israel. His transformation from archetypal foreign office “Arabist” to the first patron of the Conservative Friends of Israel group was no doubt influenced by his clash with Nasser and Arab radicalism. As prime minister, however, and despite the underhand Anglo-Israeli alliance at Suez in 1956, he did little to foster Anglo-Israeli relations. Harold Macmillan made some progress in that direction, but one senior diplomat’s assessment that his strategy meant “sucking up to the Israelis now when we need them and dropping them as soon as the need is over” is not inaccurate.
That tendency re-emerged in the diplomacy of Edward Heath and Alec Douglas-Home in the 1970s. Douglas-Home’s 1970 “Harrogate speech” was a significant policy statement in its own right, not least for its statement that Britain could no longer “ignore the political aspirations of the Palestinian Arabs”. While Heath’s refusal to deliver arms to Israel during the 1973 war was clearly motivated by the fear of an Arab oil embargo, it was also indicative of a British policy that was decidedly unwelcome among Israeli diplomats, who fretted about Britain associating itself with the EEC’s pro-Palestine statements.
Such issues continued to complicate Anglo-Israeli relations under Margaret Thatcher. The prominence of pro-Arab diplomats like Carrington and Gilmour raised Israeli hackles during Thatcher’s first term. So did the EEC’s 1980 Venice Declaration, which sought to involve the PLO in peace negotiations and denounced Israeli settlements as an “obstacle to peace” and “illegal under international law”. Thatcher also struggled to empathise with Israeli leaders such as Menachem Begin, whose intransigence and insistence she dismissed as “illogical”.
Margaret Thatcher with her first Foreign secretary, Lord Carrington (L) and Chancellor of the Exchequer Geoffrey Howe, R, 1981.
Nevertheless, Thatcher was clearly the chief architect of the party’s friendship with Israel. Her sympathies developed partly as a result of her admiration for what she perceived to be “Jewish” values that placed an emphasis on self-help and personal responsibility, and partly as a political reaction against the Labour left’s strident anti-Zionism in the 1970s. Her support for Israel was couched in a Cold War calculation that if the Western position in the Gulf deteriorated, Israeli would be the only state in the region which would fight the extension of Communist influence.
Thatcher was too shrewd a protector of British interests to sacrifice business in the Gulf on the altar of Israeli-Palestinian politics. And if her pro-Israel instincts did not always prevail over the Foreign Office, her approach to Israel laid the foundations for the improved Anglo-Israeli relations of the 1990s and 2000s. It was those foundations, and the political and commercial interests built upon them, that David Cameron was able to draw upon in Jerusalem last week.
James Vaughan is Lecturer in International History at Aberystwyth University
The Conversation is funded by the following universities: Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, City, Durham, Glasgow Caledonian, Goldsmiths, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham, The Open University, Queen’s University Belfast, Salford, Sheffield, Surrey, UCL and Warwick.
Notes and links
The Colonel – Claude Lowther, Conservative MP and leading light of the Anti-Socialist Union – in context:
PALESTINE, ZIONIST MOVEMENT.
HC Debate 02 December 1920
Hansard vol 135 cc1438-9 1438
Sir F. HALL asked the Lord Privy Seal if the High Commissioner for Palestine has been asked to submit a Report upon the conditions obtaining in Palestine before any steps are taken to determine the administration of the country or to provide for the systematic settlement of Jews there; if so, will he state when it is expected that such Report will be available; and whether the policy of the Government as regards the Zionisation of Palestine is affected by the reported decision of the leaders of American Zionism to dissociate them selves from the project in consequence of hundreds of young well-educated Jews having left Palestine for America owing to want of employment in the Holy Land?
The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Cecil Harmsworth) The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative; the second part does not, therefore, arise. With regard to the third part, I am not aware of any such decision on the part of the leaders of American Zionists. In any case, the policy of His Majesty’s Government in Palestine remains un changed. I am not prepared to accept 1439 the word “Zionisation,” coined by the hon. and gallant Member, as a correct description of that policy.
Sir F. HALL Does not the hon. Gentleman think that, in such an important matter as this, a Report should be issued before any great steps are taken with regard to finding a supposed permanent home for the Jews in Palestine? Is he aware that they are not desirous of going there, and does he think, considering that a large number of these young Jews have gone from Palestine to America, that it is probable that employment will be found for the Jews that go from this country?
Mr. HARMSWORTH Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend has not seen the Report sent to this country by Sir Herbert Samuel, which I issued with the Votes some few weeks ago.
Sir F. HALL Is my hon. Friend aware that an enormous amount of money has been expended in this direction for which we are not getting any return?
Colonel C. LOWTHER Since when has Palestine become a new home for the Jews, and is not this a great blow to Brighton?*
* this curious complaint presumably applies to Brighton UK, perhaps for this reason:
By Marcus Roberts, from National Anglo-Jewish Heritage Trail
Another aspect of Jewish life in Brighton, which is of note, is the prevalence of Jewish boarding houses and hotels in the resort, certainly from the 19th century onwards. Jewish boarding houses and hotels often catered specifically for a Jewish holiday clientele and their dietary needs. In Halpern’s ‘Commercial Directory of the Jews of Great Britain’, in 1894, he lists 13 Jewish boarding houses and Hotels, including the Aquarium Hotel in Manchester Street. Other hotels and proprietors include Alfred Cohen who ran a private Hotel for Jews, at 12-15 Sellwood Place, in the late 19th century.
In the 20th century there were a number of very well-known Jewish hotels. The Kings Hotel was a Hotel regarded as a Jewish and kosher hotel, which had a succession of Jewish owners. Recollections provided to JTrails, name a married couple by the name of Barnett, as the owners for some years, followed by Malcolm Green, and then for a short period, Ruth and Jack Goodman. In the early 1950s the Hotel became the venue for the beginnings of the Hillel movement, which seeks to provide kosher food and accommodation for Jewish student….
‘I think one of our best achievements was the buying and running of Hillel House, when the new University of Sussex was built. Herzl felt that an effort had to be made for Jewish students to get together even if it was once a week. He organised with the King’s Hotel, which was then Jewish owned and kosher, and with some financial help from the Kashrus committee of the town, that a Friday evening meal for the students was held during term time – the price 2/6 – this proved a success. A year or so later, Herzl was able to get Dr Cohen, who owned the Queensmead Hotel, in the Old Steine, to make it into a residential hostel for Jewish students. Thus the first Hillel House was born. The Men’s and Women’s Lodges of Bnai Brith, were most helpful in buying new ware both for kitchen and students. The Friday evening meals continued both for residents and outsiders.’
Unless the Colonel was concerned about the US:
from The Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative
Brighton Beach was first developed in the late 1870s by German-American railroad magnate William Engemann, who hoped to cater to a middle class, explicitly non-Jewish vacation crowd. Engemann built a sea-side resort including a pier, a bathhouse, and The Brighton Beach Hotel, in hopes of providing a “respectable family-oriented counterpart” to what he saw as the vulgar working class attractions of the neighboring Coney Island – sites which tended to attract young Jewish immigrants. Engemann excluded Jews from his hotel, but the neighborhood soon supported boardinghouses and “bungalow colonies” that drew Jewish immigrant families from across New York . When Engemann built the Brighton Rapid Transit elevated train line – which brought travelers to Brighton for only a nickel – it further enabled the area’s development as a Jewish community, as working families were able to summer at the sea while fathers and other workers commuted daily to garment shops in Williamsburg and Lower Manhattan.
Brighton’s development as an entertainment district took off in the early twentieth century. A horse racing track, Reisenweber’s restaurant and dance hall, and the Yiddish Repertory Summer Theater, the nation’s first Yiddish summer stock company, were constructed. A three-mile long wooden boardwalk built by local hoteliers brought residents from overheated inner city neighborhoods to Brighton’s shores. On the site of the old Brighton Beach Hotel, developer Joseph P. Day opened the Brighton Beach Baths in 1907. Historian and former Brighton resident, Professor Annelise Orleck describes the baths as “[Day’s] attempt at an urban Jewish equivalent to the country club” .
…Brighton Beach Avenue, the primary seafront strip, held small tailors’ shops, kosher butchers and bakers, glaziers, shoemakers, and “home cooking” stands . Though its population was heavily Jewish, Brighton had no official synagogue. …[A] long-time Brighton residentrecollects that until 1923, “adults would pray and the children study in tents in a muddy, puddly lot. For much of the rest of the 1920s, a shack heated by a wood stove served as the neighborhood’s only synagogue” (90). Through selling baked goods and clothes, immigrant women – most from southwestern Russia – raised money for the region’s first synagogue, the Hebrew Alliance of Brighton by the Sea Inc., to be completed in 1928.
The 1920s: A leap towards modernity
In the 1920s the migration of upwardly mobile Jews to Brighton sparked a real estate boom that transformed the face of the neighborhood. Jewish migrants fleeing the increasing hostility of Europe, and even more of those fleeing the unsanitary and overcrowded conditions of the Lower East Side, Brownsville, and Williamsburg, came to Brighton in droves.