Sir Moses Montefiore, Zionism and the Board of Deputies of British Jews

One of the organisations that has chosen to join in the smearing of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour as anti-Semites is the Board of Deputies of British. Its former president, Jonathan Arkush, organized a mass rally a few months ago against Corbyn with the aid of the Jewish Leadership Council and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. And a week or so ago, its new president, Marie Van Der Zyle, not shown below, also issued what in effect was a demand that Corbyn should accede to their wishes and adopt the whole of the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism.

Okay, this is Dr. Who’s old adversary, Sil, not Van Der Zyle. But he’s more interesting, and is far more likely to offer you a marsh minnow if you’re peckish.

The claims that Corbyn and his supporters are anti-Semites and self-hating Jews is utterly without foundation. As is the Board’s claim that it, and the other organisations attacking Corbyn and his supporters are just defending Jews from anti-Semitism. This is just a pose. They really aren’t interested in defending Jews from real anti-Semitism, defined as the hatred of Jews as Jews. Real anti-Semitism is overwhelmingly found on the Far Right. But organisations like the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism have little to say about real Fascism, preferring to concentrate instead on the Labour party.

Some of this is because these Jewish establishment organisations are composed of Tories. Arkush was a good friend of Cameron, and spent the evening before Tweezer’s election with her and her husband. And Van Der Zyle is even further right.

But it’s also about suppressing criticism of Israel, which the Board and the other libelers conflate with Judaism, just as Netanyahu deliberately confused the two when he declared that all Jews, everywhere, were citizens of Israel. Except those, who weren’t ‘the right kind of Jews’, which means Jews concerned about the plight of the Palestinians. They’re refused entry to Israel, or else get picked up by the Shin Bet and interrogated.

Jewish supporters of Corbyn have pointed out that the Board of Deputies is unrepresentative of the British Jewish community as a whole. It’s synagogue based, and so excludes secular Jews, and also the Orthodox. It really represents the United Synagogue.

The entry on the United Synagogue in the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, edited by John Bowker (Oxford: OUP 1997),, p. 1005 says

Association of Ashkenazi Jewish congregations in Britain. The organization was established by Act of Parliament in 1870. It supports the British Chief Rabbinate, the London Bet Din, and all the synagogues that accept the authority of the Chief Rabbi.

Which suggests that they also don’t represent Sephardic Jews, who settled in Spain before they were expelled along with Muslims by Ferdinand and Isabella in the 15th century.

They are also unrepresentative of British Jewry as a whole in that Zionism and support for Israel are written into the Board’s constitution as one of its fundamental values. Which means that Jews, who don’t support Israel need not apply for a job as a deputy.

I wondered how far back the Board’s Zionism went, and I think it goes back at least to the mid-19th century. One of the great leaders of the British Jewish community was Sir Moses Montefiore. The entry for him in the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, p. 654, gives his dates, 1784-1885 and states

Anglo-Jewish leader. Montefiore was sheriff of London in 1837-8 and was knighted by Queen Victoria. He received a baronetcy in 1846 for humanitarian efforts for the Jewish community, taking as his motto, ‘Think and thank.’ He was president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, 1835-74, and was active in his support of Jewish projects in Israel and on behalf of oppressed Jews abroad. He said strongly, and as early as 1885, ‘Palestine must belong to the Jews, and Jerusalem is destined to become the seat of a Jewish commonwealth.’

Montefiore is clearly an admirable man for his efforts to improve the lot of his people in 19th century Britain and abroad, and his career shows the increasing religious tolerance in 19th century Britain. Now his stated belief that Palestine should become a Jewish state, with Jerusalem as its capital, was made eleven years after his term as president of the Board of Deputies. But it, and his support of Jewish projects in Israel show that a desire for a Jewish state in Palestine was held by some of those involved in the Board twelve years before Theodor Herzl held the first Zionist world congress in 1897.

In fact Zionism was a minority position amongst Jews across the world, including Britain. Most wanted to remain in their traditional homelands and be accepted as equal citizens, in peace and fellowship with their non-Jewish countrymen. And Samuel Montagu, the only Jewish member of Lloyd George’s cabinet, objected to the Balfour Declaration because he was afraid it would increase anti-Semitism by making them suspected of having a great loyalty to the new Jewish state than Britain.

If the Board’s Zionism does go back to the 19th century, then this might explain some of the venom with which the Board and other parts of the British Jewish establishment attack those Jews, which are critical of Israel. Not only are they the ‘wrong kind of Jews’ for being concerned with issues like social justice and combating racism against all minorities in place of the Tory values of the establishment, but they’re also a direct challenge to centuries of what the Board believes to be its history and heritage. A history and heritage which the Board and the rest of the Jewish establishment falsely claim to be that of the whole British Jewish community.

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