The Centre for Jewish Studies
University of Manchester



CONFERENCE 21ST OCTOBER 1998:

ZIONISM AND MANCHESTER, THE COMMUNITY, THE UNIVERSITY AND THE STATE

A LECTURE BY RALPH DE GROOT

"THE UNITED NATIONS RESOLUTION 3379: ZIONISM EQUALS RACIALISM, DECEMBER 1975 ­ DECEMBER 1977: OUR RESPONSE"

 

History is made by people. Not simply the people in power, but equally by the people who do the work and fight the battles. It is therefore in keeping with the purposes of this gathering that I should mention, as I go along, the names of people who contributed to the intensive public relations campaign conducted by the Manchester Zionist Central Council between the end of 1975 and the end of 1977. This was in response to the U N Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism.

The first person I must mention is Joyce Marcus. Joyce was the Public Relations Officer of the Z.C.C. from 1974 until she retired earlier this year. During the period covered by this paper she bore an exceptionally heavy workload with devotion and efficiency. I am also indebted to her for her willing collaboration in preparing this paper. Without her help it would have been less than complete.

We start then with November 10th 1975 when the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Resolution 3379. This resolution had been preceded by months of activity by the enemies of Israel, who had succeeded in having various committees and conferences under the aegis of the U.N. adopt resolutions vilifying Israel. Using these as precedents, Resolution 3379 concluded with these words. "The General Assembly determines that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." The resolution was adopted by 72 for, 35 against, 32 abstentions and 2 absent. It was passionately denounced by Chaim Herzog, Israel's representative at the U.N. He concluded his speech by saying "This resolution is merely a piece of paper and we shall treat it as such." Whereon he tore the paper in his hands to shreds and cast them on the floor of the Assembly.

The passing of this resolution raised a storm of protest throughout World Jewry since it was aimed not only against Israel and Zionists, but was also in essence antisemitic. Ironically the 10th November is the anniversary of the Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938, when the Nazis gave us a warning of the horrors in store.

Here in Manchester we were conscious of our responsibilities and as chairman of the Political Committee of the Z.C.C., it fell to me to give a positive direction to our emotions. Let me explain that there was no separate political committee as such. I reported to the Executive of the Z.C.C. and the Executive took the policy decisions. I was responsible for their implementation.

We decided to work on two fronts: the wider non-Jewish field, and inside our own community.

In the wider field we extended our area of activity from the Manchester conurbation outwards. We approached organizations from the Lake District to the Potteries, and from the Peak District to North Wales. We offered speakers to over 350 organizations. They included Church Groups, Rotary Clubs, Townswomens Guilds, Inner Wheel, Historical and Literary Societies, Trades Unions, Business and Professional Lunch Clubs, and of course Political Parties.

We offered a wide variety of topics. We avoided, when possible, the scurrilous Resolution 3379. After all Britain had voted against it. We concentrated on the positive aspects of Israel, offering such subjects as "Israel Today", "Jerusalem The Holy City", "The Kibbutz Movement", "Women in Israel", "Land and Water Reclamation in Israel", "The Co-operative Movement in Israel", "Israel and Its Neighbours", "The Anglo-Jewish Attitude Towards Israel", "Jewish Festivals and Customs in Israel", "Soviet Jewry", and "Israel An Island of Democracy".

These invitations were sent out mostly under the heading of the Manchester Branch of the Anglo-Israel Friendship League founded in the early 1960's by Sir Sidney Hamburger. The Chairman was Ald. Bob Rodgers, a former Lord Mayor of Manchester and the Secretary was Edward Haines, the Town Clerk of Oldham. They both did yeoman service. Tom Normanton, M.P. for Cheadle, and Fred Silvester, M.P. for Withington, were also available when possible. None of these gentlemen were Jewish but were great supporters of Israel.

We sent speakers to about 200 organizations and groups in each year. We had to match the organization, the subject, the date, and the appropriate speaker. It was no easy task.

We were fortunate that at that time the Director of the Joint Palestine Appeal was also the General Secretary of the Z.C.C. He was Benjamin Gil who had a professional public relations background and he made sure that we had the office support we needed.

All this meant that we had to have a large panel of well qualified lecturers. We were able to assemble about 30 capable and willing volunteers, who often had to travel long distances at night and often in bad weather.

There were past Presidents of the Z.C.C.: Sidney Hamburger, Norman Feingold and myself. The current President at the time, Harold Gruber, was a tower of strength. From the ranks of Achdut we had Sydney Leighton, Ralph White, Basil Weisberg, Michael Sanig, Mark Marcus and Sam Forman.

From WIZO we had Eileen Platt, Elsie Harris, Corinne Weisberg, Marlene Cohen and Sue Cohen. From our existing panel we had Emil Schlesinger, Rochelle Veeder, Roni Forman, Sefton Wolfe, Glenda Wolfe, Aubrey Erstling and another future President of the Z.C.C., Steven Fruhman. From the Labour Zionist Movement we had Frank Adam and Aubrey Lewis.

A new group of experienced speakers came forward from South Manchester to offer their services. We made sure they were adequately briefed. They included Cecil Franks (a future M.P.), Michael Brunert, Joe Lehrer, and last but not least Joy Wolfe, who went on to become the longest serving President of the Z.C.C. I apologise to any whose names have been omitted.

How successful were we? The answer is to be found in the Israel Tourist evenings we held twice yearly at Mamlock House. We invited all the non-Jewish groups we had addressed. Films were provided by the Israel Tourist Office, and Israeli refreshments by Agrexco, the Israel Agricultural Export Organization. One of us would also add a few encouraging words.

It was a thrill on those evenings to see lines of coaches parked along Bury Old Road outside Mamlock House, where 300 or more people crowded into our hall. They came from such places as Warrington and Blackburn, Glossop and Macclesfield. Every evening was a triumph of goodwill for Israel. We addressed probably 12,000 people and over 1,200 came to Mamlock House.

We organised a number of central events in Manchester with distinguished speakers. They included the Israel Ambassador, Dr Gideon Raphael, Sir Michael Haddow (a former Ambassador to Israel), Air Vice-Marshall R. Jones, Terence Prittie, Lord Janner, General Ezer Weizman (now President of Israel), Bernard Dineen (Editor of the Yorkshire Post), General Uzi Narkiss ( who reunited Jerusalem in 1967), Eric Moonman M.P. (Chairman of the English Zionist Federation) and Zeev Sufott (Policital Counsellor at the Israel Embassy).

Either the A.I.F.L. or the Z.C.C. hosted each meeting according to the speaker and the subject. All these meetings, usually at the Midland Hotel, were very well attended.

One of the first things we did after the November Resolution was to convene a meeting of the leaders of our Community at Mamlock House. They nearly all came to hear our guest speaker, Professor Sam Finer, who held the Chair of International Studies at Manchester University. I had been in regular contact with him since 1967 and he was my personal "Guru".

This was followed by a series of monthly briefing meetings which I conducted. In order to strengthen my own knowledge, apart from the material supplied by the Israel Embassy, the E.Z.F. and the Centre for Policy Research (headed by Eric Moonman), I consulted the works of outstanding scholars. These included Professor Yehoshafat Harkavi of Tel Aviv University, Professor Walter Laqueur and Professor Eli Kedourie of London University, Dr John Laffin, the Military Historian whose book "The Arab Mind" opened new windows for me, Professor Bernard Lewis of Washington D.C. University, and from the other side of the Suez Canal, Professor P J Vatikiotis who held the Chair of Modern Egyptian History at Cairo University. All these provided me not only with knowledge but with valuable insights into Middle East history and culture.

The importance of our work was recognised when we hosted a North Regional Conference and Workshops on Public Relations attended by 200 workers in this field and addressed by media professionals from outside our ranks.

Under the guidance of the E.Z.F. we maintained a watch on the Press and had a panel of well briefed letter writers. The local general press, concerned mainly with parochial matters, seldom needed our attention, but the local Jewish press ­ the Jewish Telegraph and the Jewish Gazette ­ were most supportive and gave full coverage to all our activities.

To further strengthen our position in the Jewish Community we launched an initiative to try to create Israel Societies in each synagogue. Both Rabbi Eli Weisz and Issy Mintz (both future Presidents of the Z.C.C.) took leading roles, as did Reverend Avraham Hillman and Mrs Roni Forman, and we succeeded in establishing 6 such societies. Naturally we helped them with their programmes whenever required.

Well, that was the easy part; now we come to the hard part. On the University Campus the Arab students were more vociferous and aggressive than ever. Supported by anti-Zionist allies from the Far Left and anti-semitic allies from the Far Right, they sought first to restrict the activities of the Jewish Student Society to eliminate any reference to Israel, and then to have the U.J.S.S. debarred from the Students Union. Jewish freshers were ill equipped to face this barrage of hostility. For the most part they had neither the background of knowledge nor the dialectical training to deal with this situation. And then of course there is the perpetual problem of the annual turnover of the student population. The people who had taken time from their studies to take up our cause graduated and left year by year.

The political specialists from our Speakers Panel met regularly with our students at Hillel House to brief them and discuss tactics with them. Eventually in Manchester University the attempt to expel the U.J.S.S. failed, although the harrassment continued and still continues to some extent.

The situation in Salford University was much worse. There were few Jewish students there and the Arabs could count on the support of a substantial radical Left Wing element. It is not unusual in politics to win the argument and lose the vote. I can tell you this from personal experience at Salford University. At one stage the Jewish Society was barred from activities on the Campus. We appealed to the University authorities but they were reluctant to interfere in the affairs of the Students Union. However, after representations from the highest levels within and without the Jewish Community, locally and nationally, the authorities did eventually intervene and the status quo ante was restored.

We were fortunate to find in the ranks of the Jewish Student body, a young man who was articulate, keenly intelligent and well informed. He was of great help in exposing the sham of the P.L.O.'s claim that they would replace "The Zionist Entity" with a "Secular Democratic State". His name was Arnold Wagner. He was the leader of the Jewish students at Salford University and did an outstanding job in the most difficult circumstances.

In response to the needs of our students and youth bodies, with the encouragement of the Youth and Hechalutz Department of the Jewish Agency, the Jewish Printed Materials Project (J.P.M.P.) was established. The President of the Z.C.C., Harold Gruber, found premises in Leicester Road, Salford and Roni Forman, with the help of Issy Wallman, a professional librarian, assembled the library and files of pamphlets, updates and press releases together with films and other visual material, for ready availability whenever needed. The J.P.M.P. still functions today, although now centred in Altrincham.

So that our freshers arriving at University should be better prepared for what they would find, Harold Gruber and Sidney Hamburger took an initiative as a result of which we were invited to send speakers to talk to the Jewish Sixth Formers at Manchester Grammar and Bury Grammar Schools. This initiative was probably the forerunner of today's AJ6.

And so our campaign proceeded through 1976 and 1977. Our cause received a great boost in July 1976 with the famous rescue of the hostages at Entebbe. Israel's stock rose to heights not seen since 1967.

Moreover the charge of guilt by association could now be levelled against the P.L.O., who had engaged the help of the monstrous Idi Amin, the bloodthirsty tyrant of Uganda, in the highjack of the Air France plane at Athens.

Over the years, including the period covered by this paper, we had learned two things. First: the only prediction you can make about the Middle East is its unpredictability. Second: of politicians anywhere, but particularly in the Middle East, don't take too much notice of what they say ­ watch what they do!

These adages led me to conclude, by the autumn of 1977, that a shift had taken place in Egyptian policy. At a meeting of the Prestwich Synagogue Israel Society, addressed by Patrick Cosgrave, at that time a foreign policy advisor to Margaret Thatcher, I put forward the suggestion that peace might be on offer. Mr Cosgrave agreed that this might be possible, but such an offer could only come from Jordan or Egypt. I was more than gratified the next day when Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt, announced that he was prepared to go to Jerusalem in search of peace.

This was a great psychological breakthrough. It undermined all the assumptions supporting the idea that Zionism is a form of racialism. Sadat shook the hands of Zionist leaders, he prayed at the Al Aqsa Mosque, and then he went to Yad Vashem.

We were able to add a new title to our menu of subjects. "The Prospects for Peace in the Middle East".

In the euphoria which followed Sadat's address to the Knesset we felt it prudent to warn our audiences that a long hard road still lay ahead, and it might well take another 20 years for the next breakthrough to be achieved.

In fact it took until the 16th December 1991 for the General Assembly of the U.N. to revoke Resolution 3379. The voting this time was 118 in favour of the revocation, 26 against, and 13 abstaining.

We had to wait again until the 24th October 1994 for the signature of the Peace Treaty with Jordan. It goes without saying that a long hard road still lies ahead and we still have much work to do.

The world has changed since 1975. For 3 decades from 1945 to 1975 we struggled first to establish and then secure the existence of the State of Israel. Well, the State was established and its existence was secured.

Today, in the Jubilee Year, a question still has to be faced. What next? Who knows what will happen on and after the 9th of May 1999? How and when will the people in and around Israel learn to live with each other?

The Zionist Movement began and continues as a struggle for hearts and minds. But today, are the methods and techniques we used in 1975 still effective? We live in the age of the information revolution, whose effect - economically, socially and politically - will be as far reaching as the industrial revolution of the 19th century. How best can we continue the struggle for hearts and minds?

Well, the Zionist Central Council of Manchester and District has also had to change. Today it has a new leadership with new ideas to confront the profound challenges of the new millennium. I admire their vision and their courage and I wish them well.