By 1947 or so, many Jews emphatically wanted a State of Israel, and for the British to end their control of then-Palestine.

How did this play out for the Jews of the United Kingdom? Did its United Synagogue have an official stance? Any notable sermons on the subject by its leaders then? It must have left them in a very awkward position.


First a bit of context...

In the years following WWII, the world was in a state of recovery. Although Britain and the USA had forged the Grand Alliance, thereby creating the ‘special relationship’, Britain was nevertheless relegated to the status of a junior partner. The financial strain of war, the failure of partition and the accumulation of refugees languishing in displaced-persons camps, caused the United States to take the lead over the Palestine issue. For the Zionists, the new President, Harry Truman, represented a statesman who could finally accomplish the Zionist dream. For this reason, in the final years of the Mandate, the Zionist camp in Britain increasingly looked to the Americans ahead of the new postwar Attlee government. However, whilst the Yishuv tolerated the British rule, it could not overthrow its grip of power and Jewish contempt became more outspoken and violent. The Jewish Chronicle (the leading British, Jewish pro-Zionist newspaper est. in 1841) recorded that by 1945, membership of the English Zionist Federation had escalated to 27,000 in number(!)1. Even though this was only about one-tenth of Anglo-Jewry it still represented a major increase in Zionist support.

What followed were a number of setbacks, namely the failure of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry,2 the growth of a more militant reactionary force in the Yishuv via the Stern Gang and the Irgun which the British tried to quell in Operation Agatha / Black Sabbath (1946) and then the tremendous wave of illegal immigration that were regularly intercepted, most famously the saga of the Exodus Ship in 1947.

So what happened was a relative shift in the mindset of British Jewry. Whereas previously, there were clear divisions between the Zionists and the Orthodox, there was a now an emerging sense of unity. On the one hand, the more outspoken Zionist camp had to adopt a more revisionist stance as they could not be seen to be supportive of the Irgun and Lehi activities, and those who were largely disinterested became more sympathetic to the cause. The overriding view was that the issue of Palestine was a Jewish concern ahead of Zionist aspirations. Indeed, Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Herzog defiantly asserted, “This act will be interpreted as an attempt to suffocate the historic movement for Zion’s restoration which aims at putting an end once and for all to Israel’s seemingly endless tragedy by removing the root cause – its homelessness.” 3

Following the SS Exodus debacle, even the Jewish Orthodox newspaper, the 'Jewish Weekly' wrote, “Seldom have Jews throughout the world been so united in their indignant feelings at the return from Palestine of the unfortunate 4,500 refugees."4

So on the eve of the declaration of the state, British Jewry had become more centralised, much a result of the postwar situation and the British government's inability to successfully control the region.

1 Refer to Jewish Chronicle, 2nd February 1945, ‘Zionist Conference’, p.6.

2 Whilst Winston Churchill (who was no longer in power) called the commission "a step in the right direction", Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Secretary announced to the House of Commons, “There is a great sense of response, except for one small section, among Jewry, and not all the Jews are Zionists.” - Hansard Cabinet Debates, 13th November 1945, vol. 415 cc1927-35

3 As reported in the Jewish Chronicle 5th July 1946,‘Chief Rabbi Herzog’s Plea: Call to British Honour’, p.6.

4 Jewish Weekly, 1st August 1947, ‘Exodus 1947’, p.1.

  • There's a lot more to say but I hope this suffices... – Dov Nov 24 '20 at 22:40
  • Wow, thanks. And they didn't fear being "un-British" to criticize their government like that? Or once it hit it critical mass it was safe to do so ... – Shalom Nov 25 '20 at 1:36
  • R' Herzog, of course, had previously told Westminster to go jump in a lake vis-a-vis controlling Ireland. – Shalom Nov 25 '20 at 1:36
  • @Shalom - Even the mainstream newspapers proved supportive. The Times, normally staunchly conservative, wrote 27th January 1947, ‘Policy for Palestine’, p.5 - "The position is unlikely to improve until the Government recognise that the Jewish community in Palestine are now integrated in fact if not in law into the structure of the state.." – Dov Nov 25 '20 at 8:32
  • "...Even those schools of Jewish thought most strongly opposed to the present secularist tendencies of Zionism hold that Jews who desire to enter Palestine must be allowed to do so and the United States has cast its powerful influence upon the same side.”" – Dov Nov 25 '20 at 8:32

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