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Forgot your username? Enter your email address below and we will send you your username. On 27 October, the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann spoke at a public meeting attended by over 4, people condemning the government, and there was a real fear that, despite a majority of over 7,, the seat might be lost. To ensure that the seat was not lost, the TGWU general secretary, Ernest Bevin, declared against the White Paper and made clear that he would instruct all Labour MPs sponsored by the union to oppose it.
He was at this time and for some years afterwards regarded as a close ally by the Zionists. Despite this the Labour majority was still reduced to just over 1, In the face of this onslaught the government retreated.
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Once again this was reinforced by Zionist-sponsored visits. In Herbert Morrison, who was very much on the right of the party, a staunch Zionist and imperialist, was particularly impressed. Even more impressed was Susan Lawrence, who came from the left of the party. She had been a Poplar councillor, imprisoned along with George Lansbury in , she went on to become a Labour MP, and although she lost her seat in , was still on the National Executive Committee.
She never did, of course.
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The Jewish labour only policy left these tourists unmoved. Instead they enthusiastically embraced what they believed to be a progressive settler colonialism, swallowing whole Zionist propaganda that their settlement was actually benefiting the Palestinians and that Palestinian opposition was the work of a clique of reactionary landlords misleading an ignorant peasantry. This enthusiasm was given official standing when on 14 November , in the run up to the general election, the Labour leader, Clement Attlee, issued a statement endorsing Zionism:.
The British Labour Party recalls with pride that in the dark days of the Great War they associated themselves with the ideal of a National Home in Palestine for the Jewish People, and that ever since, the annual Conferences of the Party have repeatedly reaffirmed their enthusiastic support of the effort towards its realisation. They have never faltered, and will never falter, in their active and sympathetic co-operation with the work of the political and economic reconstruction now going forward in Palestine.
While Labour renewed its commitment to Zionism, the Tory-dominated National Government found itself having to grapple with the problems that Zionism was causing for the British Empire. The rise of anti-Semitism in Germany and Eastern Europe in the s revitalised the Zionist movement. What drove these numbers up was not just the Nazi policy of driving German Jews out of the country, but also the anti-Semitic exclusionary policies followed by Britain and the United States with the intention of keeping Jewish refugees out. For the Palestinians, the rise in Jewish immigration created a crisis whereby an eventual Zionist takeover of the whole country began to look increasingly likely if nothing was done.
Confronted with this situation, the National Government decided that concessions had to be made to the Palestinians if an explosion was to be avoided. Proposals for a Legislative Assembly were revived, and were once again regarded as a potential disaster by the Zionists: the Palestinians would never voluntarily agree to the takeover of their country and so had to be denied effective representation until there was a Zionist majority. What is remarkable is that the opposition to establishing representative institutions in a British colony was led by the Labour Party.
Understandably, the episode is pretty much written out of Labour Party history. Weizmann hoped to defeat the move by back-room pressure, but the Labour opposition, very much against his wishes, raised it in parliament. On 26 February , the Labour leader in the Lords, Lord Snell, proposed a motion opposing any measure of self-government for Palestine, a motion that was supported by every speaker except the government spokesman.
He enlisted the support of a number of senior Conservatives, Winston Churchill, Leo Amery and Austen Chamberlain, and the government was once again comprehensively humiliated. The proposals for a Legislative Assembly were dropped.
This is not the place for a history of the revolt. The use of torture and summary execution was widespread, collective punishment of Palestinian towns and villages was routine, with houses wrecked or demolished altogether leaving thousands homeless and destitute, and thousands of Palestinians were interned without trial in appalling conditions.
The RAF bombed and machine-gunned defenceless Palestinian villages. The Revisionists actually launched a terrorist campaign against the Palestinians in , exploding bombs in crowded markets without any warning and causing dozens of fatalities. How did the Labour Party respond to this brutal colonial war? At a time when Labour MPs loudly condemned fascist aerial bombing of civilian targets in Spain, they were completely silent about British bombing of civilian targets in Palestine. Indeed, far from opposing or even criticising the repression, Labour urged the government on.
This would have a wholly beneficial effect throughout the Middle East:. The awful fate of Jaffa will be advertised throughout the East by thousands of refugees; the chain-gangs will advertise it in Palestine. Respect for the angry Englishmen would restore our prestige; Baghdad, Alexandria and Beyrout would fear a like fate; and Palestine would coo like a sucking dove. In a world which respects only Hitlers, we must show that we too can if necessary behave in the same way.
The British Labour Movement and Zionism, 1917-1948 / Edition 1
There were hardly any voices raised on behalf of the Palestinians within the Labour Party. There was no investigation of his allegations and no evidence that he even received a reply. With the danger of European war approaching, the government felt the need to make concessions to the Palestinians.
The troops garrisoning the country might soon be needed elsewhere so in May the Neville Chamberlain government issued a White Paper that effectively repudiated the Balfour Declaration.
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For the next five years Jewish immigration was limited to 75, and thereafter would only be resumed with Palestinian agreement. Once again the strategic needs of the Empire prevailed. This turn was bitterly opposed by the Labour Party. This stance continued into the war.
British society was permeated by anti-Semitic prejudice between the World Wars. While never as virulent as anti-black racism, it was nevertheless widespread, infecting sections of the left as well as the Conservative right. In the s, for example, George Orwell sometimes made use of vicious anti-Semitic stereotypes in his writing, a practice that he only abandoned with the rise of Nazism. While Keynes never abandoned his anti-Semitic prejudices, the realities of Nazi rule saw him become a champion of the cause of Jewish refugees. Moreover, when Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists made their attempt to build a mass fascist movement founded on a violent exclusionary anti-Semitism in Britain, it was the left that opposed him and defeated him.
Without any doubt, thousands of rank and file Labour Party members and supporters took an active part in opposing and defeating the BUF, but this was expressly against the wishes of the Party leadership. When the BUF held a rally in Hyde Park on 9 September , the 3, fascists were confronted by a counter-demonstration , strong. The Labour leadership had urged people to stay away. Perhaps as many as , people took to the streets to stop the march, putting up barricades and fighting the police, many of whom made no secret of their fascist sympathies.
This was a great working class victory. The Labour Party conference was meeting at the same time as the Battle of Cable Street was taking place. Herbert Morrison, speaking on behalf of the leadership, condemned the violence which he blamed equally on the Communists and the BUF and called for new public order legislation to strengthen police powers.
When the National Government introduced its Public Order Act Labour supported it, even though many people warned it would be used against the left; indeed the first prosecutions resulted in the imprisonment of Durham miners fighting for union recognition. It initiated steps to close down those party organisations that had actively participated in the fight against the BUF.
THE BRITISH-LABOR MOVEMENT AND ZIONISM - GORNY,J - WRAP: Warwick Research Archive Portal
Labour was a party to one of the most shameful wartime episodes: the refusal of the British government to attempt any rescue of European Jews. This is not to argue that a majority of European Jews could have been rescued, indeed, given the ferocity of the Nazis this is quite unlikely. But rather that the British government set its face against any rescue attempt, involving even small numbers.
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