16. Zionist Activities in the 1930s

Anti-Semitism and Jewish Propaganda

The 1930s was a period in which the activities of the Zionists in Manchester, as elsewhere, were focussed by increasing Jewish disquiet at developments both at home and abroad. Anti-Jewish riots in Palestine (1929), the worsening of anti-Semiticism in German (1932-33), and frustration with the British policy of limiting Jewish immigration into Palestine had the effect of increasing Zionist allegiance.

A consensus of sorts appeared among the various Zionist bodies that a pro-Jewish information campaign was needed. In 1933, under the chairmanship of N Engelsberg, the Zionist Central Council (ZCC) Propaganda Committee was set up, and took over most of the work of the MZA. It organised speakers to address both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences, and formed a Pro-Palestine Committee, whose members included many distinguished local politicians and Christian clergymen. From 1938-39, for example, Lucien Harris, the Manchester correspondent for the Jewish Chronicle gave over 30 talks in Lancashire and Cheshire on ‘Jews in the Modern World’, ‘The Jewish People and Palestine’, ‘The Jews of Britain’, and so on. In 1938, a petition securing the signatures of thousands of British (non-Jewish) citizens was collected in support of Zionist claims in Palestine. On many occasions (four of which were led by the venerable Nathan Laski), Jewish delegations from Manchester spoke with MPs at the House of Commons regarding ‘the Jewish Question’.

As the news from Germany worsened, the Manchester Jewish community arranged emergency rescue programmes to bring Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. In particular, Lewis Namier, the historian and close friend of Weizmann, created a Manchester Academic Society whose prime aim was to place German academic refugees in British universities.

In the period just prior to the War, Manchester Jewry increasingly experienced anti-Semitic incidents for themselves. As Lucien Harris recalled,

"It began to be unpleasant for Jewish housewives to walk down Cheetham Hill Road to do their shopping because there was an active BUF [British Union of Fascists] branch located only a few yards from Crumpsall Public Library."

A disused Jewish cemetery in East Manchester was also vandalised, with swastikas and the acronym "PJ" (that is, "Perish Judah") scrawled over the tombstones.

There were undoubtedly feelings of communal insecurity, which were expressed in different ways. Neville Laski, President of the Council of Manchester and Salford Jews, publicly criticised the publication of such troubles in the Jewish Chronicle, fearing it would only encourage the anti-Semites. On the other hand, it galvanised Zionist activity. In response to Macdonald’s White Paper (1939), which severely limited Jewish immigration to Palestine, Manchester Zionists were very active in sending telegrams of protest and deputations to their MPs, organising protest meetings, and writing to the Press.

Jewish Chronicle report on evacuations, 22 Sept 1939

Previous | Index | Next



IMAGE AND DOCUMENT CREDITS: Lucien and Marie Harris (L Harris, From Manchester to Jerusalem) Full reference: Sources.