The politics of immigration, 1881-1905

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Migration has been a continuous feature of Jewish history. In modern times, it reappeared after the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648-9 when numbers of Jews fled westwards from Poland and Russia. Britain’s place in Jewish migration is an exceptional and generally honourable one. Its role is admittedly much less import- ant than that of the United States of America, although it is worth noting that in 1914 more Eastern European immigrants were living in London than in any other city except New York and Chicago.1 Britain’s prime importance in this connection was as a land of transmigration, since many Jews landed at an English port on the eastern coastline only to re-embark on a transatlantic ship on the other side of the country. There had been no immigration control in Britain since 1836, when restrictions imposed in 1793 were abolished. A Jewish population which in 18 58 had numbered 36,000, rose to 60,000 by 1881.2 Of these, a high proportion were native born.3

The significant numbers of Eastern European Jews that began to arrive in Britain in 1871 were either fleeing persecution in Romania, or had been expelled from Russian border regions. The Russo-Turkish war of 1875-6, and conscrip- tion into a virulently anti-Semitic army, quickened the pace of emigration. The assassination of Czar Alexander II in March 1881 and the promulgation of the 1882 ‘Temporary Orders concerning the Jews’ (the so-called ‘May Laws’) led to savage persecution which continued virtually unabated until the 1917 Revolution, resulting in emigration on a scale hitherto unknown in Jewish history. Within a single generation, some 2,750,000 Jews sought shelter overseas.

Initially, British public opinion took little notice of the increasingJewish popula- tion. With Irish Home Rule the major issue in British politics, it was the Jewish community itself that was most concerned about the arrival of aliens unaccus- tomed to British society. The grandees - such as the Rothschilds, Montefiores and Mocattas - took the View that while the gates should be open to all, immig- rants should be discouraged. If possible, they should be shipped off to the United States or sent back to the Continent, if they could be persuaded to do so. British politicians, to their credit, were especially concerned at the treatment of Jews and condemned in strong terms those responsible for the pogroms. In 1880, for example, the Government was asked to insist that, before Romanian independence would be recognized, the Treaty of Berlin should be adhered to so that Jews could be accorded full civil rights in the Russian Empire.4 A year later, Lord Randolph Churchill was expressing concern about pogroms in Odessa and in another town ‘the name of which I cannot pronounce’.5

For many years, responsible non-Jews expressed strong opinions about the persecution of Jews. In January 1882, articles in The Times on Russian pog‘roms6 prompted a Mansion House meeting sponsored by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Manning, Charles Darwin, Matthew Arnold and Lord Shaftesbury.7 Afterwards a sum of almost J£109,000 was collected, as part of a conjoint effort

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