Samuel Montagu and Zionism*

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Zionism as a modern political movement in Britain made great strides after the English Zionist Federation was founded in 1899 as the British wing of the Inter- national Zionist Organization, itself set up in Basel in 1897; but interest inJewish settlement in Palestine had been significant long before this. Sir Moses Montefiore led efforts to promote colonization of the land, and some well- respected Anglo-Jewish figures were active in the English branch of the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) movement which sought to encourage Jews to colonize Palestine. Then Theodor Herzl's second visit to London in 1896 changed the whole outlook for Zionism in Britain so that, within 2 I years, even the British Government appeared to have been won over to the cause. Herzl's appearance in London's East End produced scenes of great enthusiasm for the new Moses who, it was hoped, would lead the Jews back to the Promised Land; but most Jewish leaders in Britain were hostile to the idea ofJewish settlement in Palestine. These leaders, who made up the Jewish establishment, were amdous to anglicize the increasingly large numbers of poor immigrant Jews who came into Britain after 1881, so that they would become _Englishmen of the Jewish persuasion'. Zionism was abhorrent to mostJewish leaders in Britain for many years following the establishment of Herzl's organization. Sir Francis Montefiore, one of the few upper-classJews in favour of Zionism, pertinently remarked to Herzl that a Zionist victory would make Jews feel free, so the rich ones would no longer be _able to dictate . . . as they now like to do in return for the money which they . . . give to ...charities'.I

immigrants, especially those who settled in London, was Samuel Montagu. Mon- tagu was Member of Parliament for Whitechapel from 1885 to 1900, and is an important figure in British Jewish history. A man with a deep conscience, he was concerned at the plight of the mainly pennilessJews who came into Britain during the period of mass immigration between 1881 and I9o5, and spent much of his time and money working on their behalf. Montagu was involved in almost all aspects of Jewish communal life, religious, social and cultural: the Board of Guardians, the Shechita Board, the Poor Jews' Temporary Shelter, the Russo- Jewish Committee, the Jewish Religious Education Board, the Jewish Working Men's Club and many others. The Federation of Synagogues, which he estab- lished to improve the religious organization of the immigrants, is a living monu- ment to his work.

It might have been expected that Montagu would have been in favour of Zion- ism: it certainly would have helped provide a solution to the Eastern European Jewish problem. Many of the books which refer to or deal specifically with Mon- tagu's role in the history of British Jewry either ignore the subject altogether or give the impression that he had Zionist sympathies. The Social Histo of theJems in England I850I950 by V. D. Lipman, and Three Centuries of Anglo-Jemish Histol:y edited by

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