How the JC helped shape the debate

The JC's role with the Balfour Declaration


On 12 December 1906, Leopold Greenberg, the owner of a successful advertising agency and publisher of the Jewish Year Book, wrote excitedly to his Dutch friend and fellow Zionist, the banker Jacobus Kann: “I heard yesterday that the Jewish Chronicle is in the market for sale, and I today saw the proprietor and asked him if he would be willing to sell it to me.”

Greenberg was a leading English Zionist and a member of the Inner Actions Committee of the World Zionist Organisation, as was Kann. “I have an idea”, he continued, “that it would be the most excellent thing if our Movement could have the paper, assuming the price asked is not exorbitant and will show a fair return on the outlay…There is no necessity for me to point out to you the extreme value to Zionism in having such an organ, not only in so far as England is concerned, but because I believe that the future of our Movement is largely dependent upon this Country, and the JC has an influence outside the community.” On 21 December 1906, Greenberg telegraphed Kann to let him know that the transfer was completed.

Yet, although Greenberg certainly did put the Jewish Chronicle to the service of Zionism, it remained quite independent of the Zionist Organisation or any constituent faction. And by 1914 Greenberg no longer held office in any communal body and could not be accused of institutional allegiance.

During 1913–14, the WZO became bogged down in a wasteful dispute over whether the official language of Zionist enterprises in Palestine should be Hebrew or German. When Sir Francis Montefiore, one of the few Anglo-Jewish notables who identified with the Zionist movement, resigned from the English Zionist Federation in protest against the pro-German attitude of the Zionist Central Bureau in Cologne, Greenberg begged him not to publicise his action. At a time when anti-German feeling in England was running high, such news could have seriously damaged Zionism in public opinion. Greenberg told Kann that more than once he had kept sensitive news out of the paper.

The First World War reshaped the landscape in which Zionism operated. In October 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered the war as Germany’s ally and two days later Britain began hostilities against Turkey. To Herbert Samuel, a member of Asquith’s Cabinet, this foredoomed the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and opened the way to the revival of the Jewish nation in Palestine. He discussed the idea with senior Cabinet colleagues and had private consultations with Moses Gaster and, through Gaster, with Weizmann.

Alongside these informal and secret contacts the Conjoint Foreign Committee of the Board of Deputies, acting through Lucien Wolf and the Anglo-Jewish Association, presented its ideas for Jewish prospects in Palestine to the Foreign Office.

Greenberg knew little of these developments but he had an acute sense of both opportunity and peril. His editorials in November 1914 warned that Turkey’s entry into the war endangered the Jewish settlements in Palestine, which depended on succour from Jews in the belligerent countries.

During December 1914 and January 1915 he contacted the Foreign Office to help to arrange for relief supplies to get through to Palestinian Jews. He also understood that British foreign policy might now work to the advantage of Zionism and welcomed Asquith’s speech in November 1914 declared that the days of the Ottoman Empire were numbered.

Through its excellent network of correspondents, the Jewish Chronicle kept an eye on German diplomatic activity. It noted ominously that Germany was considering a pro-Jewish declaration and urged the Allies to offer as much.

Ironically, Weizmann was annoyed by these promptings. In a letter to Moses Gaster in December 1914, he referred to Greenberg and his fellow JC writer Joseph Cowen as “the enemies in our camp” and complained that Greenberg “has neither any ideas nor any plans how to set about our work”.

Soon after Greenberg speculated that the British might occupy Palestine, Weizmann moaned: “The JC kept writing and keeps writing on this subject and does harm.” Weizmann personally cautioned Greenberg that such open proclamations of pro-British sympathy would place in jeopardy the settlements in Palestine which he was so eager to safeguard. This warning seems to have had the desired effect; no further leading articles appeared on this theme for many months.

Instead, Greenberg turned his attention to the Conjoint Foreign Committee (CFC) . English Zionists expected that the Board of Deputies would play a crucial role in representing Jewish interests at any future peace conference. Yet the CFC comprised representatives of both the Board and the Anglo-Jewish Association, a non-elected body which was dominated by two trenchant critics of Zionism — its president, Claude Montefiore and its secretary, Lucien Wolf.

So as to dilute their influence, from November 1914 the Jewish Chronicle launched a campaign to broaden the CFC by including the representatives of other Anglo-Jewish organisations. The attack on the unelected CFC spilled over into criticism of the undemocratic basis and conduct of the Board itself. Throughout the spring of 1915 and spring 1916, the paper loudly and insistently supported calls for the Board’s democratisation.

At the same time, it pressed for the CFC to adopt a position on Palestine and urged it to cooperate with the Zionist Federation and representatives of the WZO in formulating policy. Despite extensive negotiations, the two sides came no closer to co-operation and the Board remained without official policy on Palestine or Zionism. Nevertheless, Sokolow and Weizmann continued to develop their contacts with the Foreign Office. During 1916–17 they made significant advances towards securing recognition of their objectives.

Greenberg played a small but not insignificant part in the intensive negotiations that led to the Balfour Declaration. In January 1917, he acted as an intermediary in arranging a meeting between Weizmann, Mark Sykes of the Foreign Office and James Malcolm, a member of the Armenian National Delegation who was pursuing Armenian interests.

Malcolm was probably acting on behalf of Sykes, who wanted to meet leaders of the Zionist movement other than Gaster. Unable to make a direct approach, he exploited Malcolm’s acquaintance with Greenberg. Malcolm went to the Jewish Chronicle office and explained that Sykes wanted to meet the leading Zionist activists. Greenberg provided the necessary information. The meeting was crucial in introducing Sykes to Weizmann, who was thereafter to supersede Gaster as the chief representative of the Zionists.

Greenberg naturally concealed what he knew, although it must have chafed against his instinct as a journalist. The Jewish Chronicle did not comment on the Palestine campaign until 6 April 1917, when a leading note remarked that it was an “open secret” that the Allies were considering Jewish claims to nationhood.

Greenberg preferred to concentrate on that element of the Zionist strategy that he could best assist with the resources at his disposal: the battle for public opinion. On 20 April 1917, a leading article entitled “Say ‘Palestine’” explained the propaganda effect that advocates of a pro-Zionist declaration hoped it would have on Jewish opinion in war-weary Russia.

The battle for opinion was also being fought closer to home. In November 1916, the Fortnightly Review published an anonymous attack on Zionism accusing it of being a form of dual loyalty. The article was so potent that Greenberg devoted four consecutive articles to a rebuttal.

Sensing the trend of events at the start of 1917, Wolf redoubled his efforts on behalf of the CFC to torpedo any pro-Zionist Government statement. When it became evident that the tepid Palestine policy of the CFC would satisfy neither the Zionists nor the Government, Wolf, Montefiore and Alexander abandoned thoughts of a compromise and resolved on a powerful public statement against Zionism.

On Thursday 24 May 1917, an anti-Zionist manifesto claiming to represent the views of Anglo-Jewry appeared in The Times under the names of David Alexander, the president of the Board of Deputies, and Claude Montefiore, the president of the Anglo-Jewish Association. Although no copy was forwarded to the Jewish Chronicle, Greenberg managed to hold the paper long enough to devote a massive leading article to a reply.

Entitled “A Grave Betrayal”, it accused the CFC of being “hopelessly estranged from the general body of Anglo-Jewry”. Avoiding the controversial issue of Zionism per se, he trained his fire on the manner in which the manifesto had been issued. There had been no mention of any such intention at the meeting of the Board just four days earlier, or the last gathering of the CFC: “It is the chicanery, the double-dealing, the hypocrisy, the trickery of those responsible for this action and their contempt for public amenities that concerns us infinitely more than the contents of the manifesto itself.” He concluded with a rousing summons to the Board’s membership to assert itself.

Over the next four weeks, the Jewish Chronicle was inundated with correspondence, most of it furious with the communal leadership. Incensed by their high-handed behaviour, scores of Jewish communities and organisations around the country held protest meetings. The paper printed news of each disgruntled gathering and used the reports to buttress the editorial demand for change in communal governance.

When the Board met on 17 June 1917, a resolution censuring the action of Alexander and Montefiore was passed by a narrow majority. Alexander resigned his office, and the CFC was dissolved.

Though the result was less about Zionism than the frustration of middle-class Jews, especially outside London, with the autocratic manner of the Board’s leadership, it was a victory for Jewish public opinion. The Jewish Chronicle had played a profound role in voicing the ire of Jews excluded from the magic circle of communal leadership.

The Zionists were now in constant touch with the government and preparing the way for the long-awaited Declaration.

External and internal factors delayed this until 2 November 1917.

The government held up the publication of the Declaration so that it could be made known to the world first of all in the Jewish Chronicle. Thus on 9 November 1917, under the headline “A Jewish Triumph”, Greenberg wrote a blazing editorial that linked the emancipation of Russian Jews as a result of the revolution with the promise of a Jewish national home in Palestine. He used the fact that support for Jewish nationalism was now government policy to turn the argument of dual allegiance against his old foes and gleefully accused the anti-Zionists of disloyalty.

Subsequently, the British government made liberal use of the Jewish Chronicle in its propaganda around the world and it was hoped that the Declaration would win over Jewish opinion in America to the Allied cause as well as persuade Jews in Russia to help keep their country in the war.

The pro-Zionist and, just as important, pro-British statements in the paper, as well as its reports of speeches by communal leaders approving the Declaration, were widely circulated in Foreign Office material sent abroad in various languages.

However, shortly after the announcement, leading figures in Anglo-Jewry combined to form a League of British Jews dedicated to the principle that the Jews were a denomination rather than nation. Although it supported the right of Jews to settle in Palestine, it did so only on the basis that they should be equal with other citizens: a Jewish state was unnecessary and dangerous. The Jewish Chronicle inveighed against the League, deeming it unpatriotic 
and divisive.

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