We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East. (From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

Monday, 18 October 2010

“We Who Have Urged Patience on the Jews ... Have No Right To Do So Any Longer, Least of All For What the Gangster Terrorist May Think Or Say”: Remembering the English MP who recommended rebellion against Britain to the Jews of Palestine

The deteriorating situation in Palestine since the Arab Riots of 1936, and the British Government’s appeasement of the Arabs by its dilution of its commitment to the Balfour Declaration, led the president and office-bearers of an organisation calling itself the Jewish Former Army Officers’ Association of Tel Aviv to write on 10 May 1938 to a non-Jewish British MP celebrated for his dedication to the Jewish cause.

Colonel Josiah Wedgwood (1872-1943), came from the famous Staffordshire pottery family, and was a naval architect by training. From 1906-19 he sat as a Liberal MP, and from 1919-42, when he received a barony, as a Labour MP. In contrast to, say, nineteenth-century prime minister W. E. Gladstone, who once described himself as “anti-anti-semitism”, Wedgwood was a genuine philosemite, who wrote: "The Anglo-Saxon, more than any other race, wants to sympathise with the Jews. . . no doubt we understand the Jew better than can those to whom the Old Testament is not familiar from infancy. To the foreigner the word Jew is a hissing in the street; to us the word suggests Solomon and Moses, and a thousand cradle stories. So often have we used their names for our own children that they seem now to be our fathers, especially our Puritan forefathers. . . Towards such a people one has a feeling almost of awe. . ."

While serving in a military capacity in South Africa during the Boer War he had befriended a Jewish storekeeper whose premises were destroyed. He lent the man money to rebuild, and discussed Jewish issues with him. In Parliament he first evinced his sympathy with Jews in a speech in 1909. During the First World War, in Gallipoli, he came into contact with members of the Zion Mule Corps and became one of the strongest exponents of the Zionist cause in Parliament. He helped to influence the British government’s issuance of the Balfour Declaration, and visited Palestine in 1926 and 1934. He published a collection of his speeches supporting Zionism as Palestine: The Fight for Jewish Freedom and Honour (1926). In his book The Seventh Dominion (1928) he advocated an independent Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan as an integral part of the British Commonwealth. And he came to admire Jabotinsky.


His reply to the Jewish army officers, written from the House of Commons on 30 May 1938, was a rousing, subversive, noteworthy document:
“Your letter of May 10th has given me much thought. I know all that you say is correct. But how to improve the situation troubles me. I am afraid that merely asking for justice, or asking my help, is useless. In my experience, especially in times of difficulty, Governments give way only to actions. Demands backed by nothing but a sense of justice play little part in modern history. The Czechs would be under Nazi rule today if they had not decided to fight and die. So would the Spaniards. The Arabs or those who are troublesome get their way in Palestine because they act instead of petition. I do not think reprisals in the form of murdering innocent Arabs is morally justifiable. When ordinary law breaks down, lynch law generally takes its place. That is better than murdering innocent people; but I cannot advocate that, nor can I judge of its necessity.
But I think you are morally entitled to arm yourselves and your outlying colonies, and to erect such defences as possible. This, I have no doubt, you have done. There remains some such passive resistance as Gandhi put into practice in South Africa and India. Such action needs solidarity and the will to suffer by going to prison. I think it needs also the social boycott and the giving up of normal relations with the Government. You cannot dine and denounce.”
Then came his recommendations for their response to British policy in Palestine – civil disobedience in the form of passive resistance, and facilitating illegal immigration:
“Passive resistance takes several forms: 1. The occupation of land and refusal to leave except by the forms of law going to prison. 2. Refusal to pay taxes, breaking the law –  going to prison. 3. Refusal to plead in the Courts, and to recognise their jurisdiction –  going to prison. 4. Attending demonstrations which have been declared illegal. 5. Distribution of illegal literature. 6. Assisting of illegal immigration. 7. Picketing and boycotting the disloyal. [NB: The text of the letter reproduced in the London Jewish Chronicle on 27 July 1938 includes Point Six as given here, whereas The Times version, which carried it a fortnight earlier, omits it and has Point 7 here as the 6th and final point.]
Last year, some Jewish illegal immigrants were marched in chains to Acre gaol. I think that if you had freed them on that march, even by violence, British public opinion would have supported you and it would never have occurred again.
Now Jews are sent to concentration camps or gaol without trial or charge, and no protest or demonstration is made by the 450,000 in Palestine. You expect me to protest in Parlament. I am not going to do so any more. It is for the Jews in Palestine to stop that sort of thing. The same applies to Jews arrested for carrying arms. The Bastille was pulled down for less than this.
You do not even "sit-down" strike outside the gaol gates when they hunger-strike. Naturally they think they can do anything to Jews, or to some Jews. If there is no solidarity among the Jews;  if some Jews go to the Government and apologise for other Jews; in that case you will get nowhere. The Trades Union of the Hisdatruth set you a powerful example. They strike and get their way against the Tel-Aviv Council or against the orange-growers. Why should government be sacrosanct? United you stand, divided you will always fall. You must have a willingness to suffer as well as a united willingness to help the sufferers.
If I were a British official in Palestine, I, too, should get “fed up” with your complaints, and should respect you much more if you curse “them” behind their backs; try cursing them to their faces, not you only but the Press also. If you dare not, then you are not worthy of your country. If you do, and not till then, they will think you worthy of arms to use in defence of the Empire and Democracy.
Like you, I want to see a free, manly people like the Maccabees in Palestine again. I want to see an army of 40,000 Jews fit to defend all that you and I hold dear. With reluctance I have come to the conclusion that only by the hard road laid down above can we arrive.
You have my free permission to show this letter to the High Commissioner [Sir Harold MacMichael], to General [Robert] Haining [the Commander-in-Chief], and to Mr Shertock [sic; i.e. Moshe Shertok], the head of the New Zionist Organization. All those will agree, but none of them will dare to say so. I know my countrymen, and a good deal better than you do. You ask me to imagine myself in your place with my own kith and kin attacked and my hands “tied”. I can imagine nothing of the sort. And Englishmen’s hands would not remain tied; and you are only tied by unworthy fear.
I cannot possibly give you any clear idea of what to do anywhere at any time. I can only suggest that when anything unpleasant occurs consider what action British colonists would take under the circumstances, and if you do about the half, you will not ever need to again."
Predictably, the Mandate Government forbade reproduction throughout Palestine of the MP’s letter, in whole or in part, in any language. But its recipients were soon circulating it in the form of a pamphlet entitled Colonel Wedgwood calls Jewish Youth to Revolt. The pamphlet ended: “Jewish Youth, we present here a letter from Colonel Wedgwood, the friend of Zionism and an MP, will you awake after all and read in this letter the pathway to revolution and success? (Signed) Young Zealots.”

Wedgwood’s letter was reported in The Times (16 July 1938), and a prompt denunciation by Sir Laurie Hammond [who had been on the Peel Commission] was immediately forthcoming; it appeared in the paper’s correspondence columns on 19 July. Wedgwood was unrepentant –  and scathing. In a letter written from the House of Commons that same day, printed on 21 July, he replied:
“Sir Laurie Hammond advocates patience for the Jews in Palestine. It is two years since the murder of Jews and the destruction of their property have gone unpunished under British rule....
The violence and anarchy today is worse than ever, because the policy of conciliation is still continued, and untrustworthy Arab supernumerary police are armed for no reason save to balance the arming of Jewish supernumeraries. The Administration continues strictly impartial between murderers and murdered. What we can urge is that passive resistance and active protest are more effective and more moral than retaliating on the wrong people and so dividing the Jewish people into two hostile camps. I do not believe any Jew has thrown any bombs. The other side have the bombs, and have shown as little reluctance to kill Arabs as to kill Jews or Englishmen. But impartiality which arrests both gangsters and victims is more calculated to exasperate than to pacify the victims’ friends and relations.”
Referring to Britain’s treatment of “illegal” arrivals in Palestine, Colonel Wedgwood (who during the late 1940s had a Jewish immigrant vessel named in his honour) inveighed:
 “Let those who have seen the film Ben Hur see also these men and women led chained through Nazareth, not because they are dangerous but to exhibit to the Arabs the “impartiality” of the British Administration. Then let them translate the scene of action from Palestine to Kenya and imagine English men and women exhibited in chains to the Arabs of Mombasa. Some faint idea of how Jews feel towards the impartial Administration in Palestine may then be appreciated, and I shall not receive so much impertinent criticism from retired civil servants [a dig at Hammond] and sympathizers with the Nazi concept of Jews. Jews are not conceived yet, here at least, as devoid both of human rights and of human feelings.”
Wedgwood died in 1943, when wartime paper shortages meant that even well-known Jewish communal figures received truncated obituaries in the London Jewish Chronicle, or were denied obituaries altogether. Not so Baron Wedgwood (as he had become). Despite the paper shortage, the Jewish Chronicle (30 July 1943) carried a suitably fulsome tribute to that “staunch and steadfast” friend of “the Jewish cause in its widest sense”. 

Not for nothing did his niece, the distinguished historian Dame [Cicely] Veronica Wedgwood, call her biography of him The Last of the Radicals.  But he was by no means the last - nor the first - of noteworthy British champions of the Jewish people and of Israel's cause.  I wish more contemporaries would bear that in mind, instead of describing Britain as an inherently antisemitic country, which –  as a student of philosemitism –  I know is simply untrue.

14 comments:

  1. Amazing story. While looking through a great deal of material everyday, I always find myself double-checking your site, on the chance that you may have posted yet another. My efforts have been rewarded.

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  2. Thank you! I try to take a dip into the archives from time to time. Colonel Wedgwood's daughter Camilla was an academic at Sydney University, and was involved in efforts to bring refugees (mainly "non-Aryan Christians") to Australia under Quaker auspices.

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  3. Excellent! As you know, I have his nephew's biography of him. Wedgwood Street is just down from where I work, in the German Colony, Jlm.

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  4. Thanks!
    He was certainly remarkable.

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  5. Thank you for presenting us with this. A lot of Israelis hate the British and there are good historical reasons why. But there's Orde Wingate and Col Wedgwood whom I hadn't know about (so hurrah!) and as you correctly say a lot of friends now. Many in the armed forces too since for decades they have faced similar enemies.

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  6. Thanks, Ariadne. The outstanding one now would appear to be Colonel Richard Kemp - a very brave man.

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  7. The name Wedgwood used to be used by a Anthony Wedwood Benn he rebranded himself Tony Benn. I am sure he must be a relative as he was a member of the Wedgwood pottery dynesty. Two relatives poles apart when it comes to Israel and I'm sorry to say Jews.

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  8. The key to many philosemites, like Orde Wingate, Col. Wedgwood and more recently David Hallam lies in this paragraph from the passage you quote -

    "The Anglo-Saxon, more than any other race, wants to sympathise with the Jews. . . no doubt we understand the Jew better than can those to whom the Old Testament is not familiar from infancy. To the foreigner the word Jew is a hissing in the street; to us the word suggests Solomon and Moses, and a thousand cradle stories. So often have we used their names for our own children that they seem now to be our fathers, especially our Puritan forefathers. . . Towards such a people one has a feeling almost of awe. . ."

    Quite simply, a proper knowledge of both the Tenach/Old Testament and the New Testament fosters a love of Israel and the Jews.

    As St Paul wrote in Romans 9:4ff "1 I am telling the truth because I belong to the Messiah—I am not lying, and my conscience confirms it by means of the Holy Spirit. 2 I have deep sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart, 3 for I could wish that I myself were condemned and cut off from the Messiah for the sake of my brothers, my own people 4 who are Israelites. To them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To the Israelites belong the patriarchs, and from them, the Messiah descended who is God over all, the one who is forever blessed. Amen.

    I realise that we may not agree on this, but as far as this Christian is concerned (and I am not alone) the debt owed by the Church to Israel is incalculable. That some have not only refused to accept this and have even denied this is to our shame. Israel's shame lies elsewhere, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

    Whatever gifts God has given the nations, the gifts He gave Israel are the most precious of all. Through Abraham all the nations can be blessed. By the grace of God, I share in that. Paul taught us that the Church is a Branch grafted into the Tree that is Israel and the Messiah. I for one am not about to saw off the Branch upon which I sit.

    At its most base level, when I stand before the Judgement thone of the Messiah, I do not want to have to explain to a Yid why this Goy bought into anti-semitism. It doesn't strike me as sensible.

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  9. Josiah Wedgwood's family have some notable relatives, Steve - Charles Darwin and Ralph Vaughan Williams among them.
    I've just googled Darwin Wedgwood and brought up a family tree - you're right: Benn is related, though mercifully distantly. His views on Israel are certainly odious.

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  10. Very many thanks for your comment, Ian.
    I am very interested in Christian philosemitism, and hope to do a general blog on it some day.

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  11. Britain always had play double standard game
    In one way in 1917 the Belford declaration to show their satisfaction to Haim Wiseman and in other way the Britain have encouraged the faissal all Saud to refuse to accepted the rights of Jews to that land and in other way also the Britain have brought another king from Arab peninsula to other part of Jewish land and have created new nation which is Jordan, For better understanding the British double standard game please read the Churchill and promises

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  12. Thanks for your comment, EM. British policy in the 1930s was certainly a "balancing act"!

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  13. Re Mr. Daphne Anson
    I have no doubt that the British in M.E still playing double standard game,
    Tanks for your respond

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  14. We have a word (two words) for the British Foreign Office Arabists, EM - we call them the Camel Corps.
    I dare say many of us have other words, but at least Camel Corps is fit to print!

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