Anglo-Jewish foreign policy in crisis—Lucien Wolf, the Conjoint Committee and the War, 1914-18

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'The lights are going out all over Europe. They will not be lit again in our lifetime.' Sir Edward Grey's lament on the collapse of European diplomacy as the Continent plunged into the Great War has become a hackneyed commonplace. But worse than that, as 1914 recedes into the almost distant past, we take increasingly for granted the enormity of the political, economic and psycho? logical effects of the war on the fabric of the old order. We know for instance that by 1916 the strain had led not simply to the collapse in Britain of the Asquith government and its replacement by that of Lloyd George, but also to an entirely different approach to the war, which in itself heralded the arrival of a different set of values and concepts of how society ought to be run in peacetime. War, it seemed, had knocked the stuffing out of the old patrician order, and with it a lot of its implicit trust in, and ideological subservience to, the rights of the individual, laissez-faire, the idea of lineal progress, and other elements assumed to comprise liberalism.

It is tempting therefore to see the problem which beset Anglo-Jewry at this period as a microcosm of the wider British scene. One could, in the same way, construct a comparative model in which the two chief British spokesmen on the Jewish question, the liberal Lucien Wolf, and the Zionist, Chaim Weizmann, are to be seen as equivalents of Asquith and Lloyd George respectively.

Such a construction is all the more tempting when we look at the principles for which the two Jews stood, and how these fared in the face of war. Lucien Wolf, 'the adviser for the millennium of assimilation',((As dubbed by S.B. Rubenstein in a letter to the Jewish Chronicle, I January 1909.)) saw his world disintegrate around him. Listen to him for instance at the outbreak of war: 'The whole thing is so stupendous that it fairly staggers me. It is not only the carnage that will be frightful but the economic exhaustion and the starvation which will be infinitely worse, and then when peace comes, the desolation and certain revolution everywhere... there will be no choice between the military dictator and the socialist.'((Mowschowitch Collection (YIVO ar? chives New York) MWS 3440 Wolf to Sir Henry Primrose, 7 August 1914.)) Moreover, Jewish history books((The obvious example is Isaiah Friedman, The Question of Palestine 1914-1918 (London 1973)? especially the chapter 'The Conjoint Foreign Committee and the Zionists', 227-43, but see also Leonard Stein, The Balfour Declara? tion (London 1961) on the dissolution of the committee, 442-6.)) tell us that Wolfs wartime quest for a liberal solution to the Jewish question collapsed with the demise in the summer of 1917 of the Conjoint Foreign Committee of British Jews, the official foreign-policy body of Anglo-Jewry, of which he was director.

By contrast, Chaim Weizmann does not seem to have had any illusions about, or indeed to have lost sleep over, the situation of European Jewry. Starting out

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