2. Colonisation Period I

Chovovei Zion and the ‘Society for the Promotion of Colonisation in Palestine’

Zionism in Manchester first emerges in the shape of simple, politically unsophisticated organisations set up to help finance and gain support for the settlement of Jews in Palestine in the 1880s. A meeting to form the ‘Society for the Promotion of the Colonisation of Palestine’ was reported in the Jewish Chronicle in September 1885. While the initiative lay with immigrants from Eastern European like the Russian cap-maker Mark Doniger, for whom this was the first step into communal politics, they needed the financial and moral support of local Jewish leaders. Thus the meeting was well attended by members of the established Manchester Jewish elite, such as Barrow Belisha, and there were also representatives from the various synagogues, Sephardi, Orthodox and Reform. 

This Society, of which nothing more is known, was followed in 1890 by the announcement of a Manchester ‘tent’ or branch of Chovevei Zion (Hebrew "Lovers of Zion"). It was dominated by the old established elite who, in the intervening years, had manoeuvred themselves into control of the colonisation movement for their own purposes. Worried that the large numbers of poor immigrants arriving weekly would disturb the peaceful status quo and provoke anti-Semitism, Barrow Belisha explained,

"What was wanted was that their persecuted co-religionists in Russia, instead of having to come to over-crowded towns in this and other countries, should go back to Palestine."

By concentrating immigrant energies towards the colonisation of Palestine, essentially a religious vision, the old elite also aimed to stem the growth of socialist activities among the refugees from Russia. Colonisation was, as the Jewish Chronicle put it at the time, "a preferable alternative to the wild dreams of the socialists."


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IMAGE AND DOCUMENT CREDITS: Mark Doniger's cap-works (© Manchester Jewish Museum). Full reference: Sources.