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Western attitudes towards Jews and Jewishness became more complex n the nineteenth century, when European Jews experienced unprecedented social and economic change. Albert Lindemann writes, “The material comfort and social success of Jews, the emergence of a numerous Jewish bourgeoisie in western Europe and the United states by the late nineteenth century, were part of a remarkable ascendance of the Jews since the late eighteenth century.” 9 European Jews began to leave the ghettos that they had traditionally been confined to and assimilate into society. The upward social mobility of Jews caused a backlash in Europe and the United States and a reworking of anti-Semitic rhetoric. A new aspect of racial hatred was added to the traditionally religious hatred of Jews. Significantly, the term “anti-Semitic” was coined in 1870. 10 This backlash created a nationalist sentiment within Jewish communities, especially in central and eastern Europe. Not unlike the south Slavic or Irish nationalistic movements of the late nineteenth century, Jewish nationalists focused on the creation of an ideal Jewish identity based on Jewish history and Semitic roots. Just like the south Philip Hitti, The Near East in History (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1961), pp. 357-360.
Albert Lindemann, The Jew Accused (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1991), p.10.
Lindemann, p. 16.
Slavs and the Irish focused on Yugoslavia and Ireland, respectively, these nationalistic Jews emphasized the return to the land that their religious books, the Tanak, told was theirs: Zion, the Biblical land of Israel, nineteenth century Palestine. With Jewish emancipation and the resurgence of anti-Semitism, Zionism was born.
The British role in the Zionist narrative is paramount. In 1848, Lionel de Rothschild became the first Jew to be elected to Parliament. As debates over Jewish emancipation raged in Parliament, the fundamental question was, could British national identity embrace Jewishness? David Feldman writes, “It meant that they were not merely acquiring as individuals the same rights as other citizens, it also meant they were being allowed access to a positive community- the nation.” 11 By the 1870’s, British Jews enjoyed the ability to move throughout British society and wield political power; many became highly assimilated. The starkest example of this was Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who was from a Bene Roma, or Italian Jewish, background. Prime Minister from February to December 1868 and again in 1874, Benjamin Disraeli was one of the architects of the British Empire. He was one of the major proponents of the 1876 declaration making Queen Victoria empress of India and under his administration the British took control of the Suez Canal. Disraeli also successfully campaigned at the Congress of Berlin in 1878 to block Russian expansion in the Balkans.
Disraeli was an Anglican but identified himself as an ethnic Jew. His political opponents often used his Jewishness against him. Disraeli never hesitated to defend the Jewish people. He wrote The Saxon, the Sclave, and the Celt, have adopted most of the laws and many of the customs of these Arabian tribes, all their literature and all their religion. They are therefore indebted to them for much that regulates David Feldman, Englishmen and Jews (New Haven: Yale University Press. 1994 ), p. 46.
much that charms, and much that solaces existence. The toiling multitude rest every seventh day by virtue of a Jewish law; they are perpetually reading, for their example, the records of Jewish history and signing the odes and elegies of Jewish poets; and they daily acknowledge on their knees, with reverent gratitude, that the only medium of communication between the creator and themselves is the Jewish race. 12 Disraeli attacked anti-Semitism on the basis that Christian Europeans took all of their religious traditions from the Jewish religion. He pointed out that Jesus was a Jew from Galilee. Disraeli, in fact, considered anti-Semitism to be rooted in a Christian inferiority complex.
The British Jewish community was highly assimilated by the 1880’s. While there was a clear current of anti-Semitism running through British society, it did not pose a threat to Jewish upward social mobility and was a peripheral ideology. Jews who immigrated to Britain found a society that, taken as a whole, allowed them to practice their religion in peace and was open to them. Nevertheless, most British considered the Jews, despite the large numbers of British Jews who had assimilated into mainstream British culture, to be a Semitic people who had African origins rather than being western (i.e. white). For example, the former British Commissioner and Consul-General Sir Harry H. Johnston wrote in his address to the First Races Congress in 1911, In the Jew, as in the Egyptians and the Moor, there is a varying but still discernible element of the Negro, derived in the case of the Jew from the strong infusion of Elamite blood, and in the case of the Moor, from the obvious connection with Negro Africa [sic] 13 The British experience with their own indigenous Jews and assimilated immigrants shaped their policy toward Jewish settlement in Palestine. This proved problematic as the vast majority of Jewish immigrants to Palestine came directly from Benjamin Disraeli, Lord George Bentinck (1852; London: Colburn and Company, 1969), pp. 482-483.
Sixth Session of the Universal Races Congress Papers on Inter-Racial Problems communicated to the First Universal Races Congress, Ed. G. Spiller (London: Orchard House, 1911), pp. 329-330.
eastern Europe. The British imperialist ministers, as is evident from British actions in India, practiced collectivism; meaning they grouped people into large religious groups rather than particular ethnic groups. 14 They disregarded, or were not aware of, the deepseated lines of ethnic division such as language and region and preferred to group their colonial subjects along lines that amounted to the least common denominator. Yet all Jews were not alike, as the fracturing of Jewish nationalism was to show.
Before 1858, the British Empire was not the globe-spanning entity it was by 1900.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the British did not take over territories to elevate Britain’s status. British imperial expansion was done in the name of necessity rather than grandeur. The British Empire was an informal empire based on the principle of free trade. 15 The United Kingdom was a trade-based economy. The British only seized territory perceived as integral to the preservation of trade and the protection of British economic interests. Most British colonies were situated along trade routes and served as safe harbor for British merchant ships. The colonies also maintained naval fleets so that the British could maintain a strong presence in a given region.
The phase of informal empire ended in the 1880’s. Bernard Porter writes, “The frontiers of Britain’s ‘informal’ empire were shrinking, and as they did so the frontiers of her ‘formal’ empire expanded to meet them.” 16 Industrially, other European nations had caught up to the British and began to create their own empires. In response to European encroachment in regions where they had previously held primacy, the British See Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge (Princeton; Princeton University Press, 1996), pp. 106-162.
Porter, p. 15.
Porter, p.122 consolidated their territory and expanded as was necessary. The British formally occupied Egypt in 1882 and expanded into the Sudan and parts of Somalia. In 1884, German chancellor Otto von Bismarck organized the Berlin Conference. The purpose of the conference was to regulate European expansion into Africa. The Conference gave the British sovereignty over Kenya and Uganda. By 1900, the British also claimed a protectorate over Nigeria on the west coast of Africa. On the east coast of Africa, British territory stretched from Egypt to South Africa. London became the center of the diamond trade. The British also established “White Rule” colonies in Rhodesia, South Africa, and
Kenya. Map 1 shows the extent of British control by 1905:
Courtesy of http://www.mapsworldwide.com/itm_img/1873590156.jpg.
By 1905, the British Empire was the largest land empire in human history.
Between 1870 and 1914, the Britain added an estimated nine million square miles. The “crown jewel” of the British Empire was India. The British Empire recognized Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and South Africa as self-rule colonies by 1910.
Spanning the entire globe with an estimated sixth of the world’s population subject to its crown, the British Empire had what Porter describes as “the most colonial flesh on her” and, thus, the most to lose in an imperialist war. 18 The Great War caused immense strain on the British Empire. Soldiers previously stationed in places like India were redeployed to Europe. Eventually, the British brought in regiments made up of colonial subjects from India to fight in the Ottoman theater of war. Seven hundred forty five thousand British men were killed in the Great War along with an estimated 1,600,000 wounded. 19 In addition to the British casualties, 49,200 Indians, 59,000 Australians, and 57,000 Canadians were killed in action. 20 Arthur Marwick writes, “There is no exact measure of the quantity of personal agony concealed behind these figures, but society, in later years, exhibited all the stings of have suffered a deep mental wound, of having undergone a traumatic experience.” 21 To win the war, the British government started making promises that would come back to haunt it. 22 In India, for example, the British promised to all South Asians participation in the British colonial administration and move towards Indian self-rule if they volunteered to fight in the British army. 23 The British made the same promises in Porter, p. 227.
Arthur Marwick, The Deluge (New York: Norton, 1965 ), p. 290.
Martin Gilbert, The Routledge Atlas of the First World War, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 1994), pp 129Marwick, p. 290.
Porter, p. 232.
Porter, p. 233.
Egypt. The British situation in Egypt had been ill defined. For the previous thirty years before Egypt was an independent state in title, but the British controlled the Egyptian government and the Suez Canal. 24 The British also maintained a strong military presence in Egypt. Following the outbreak of war, the British Empire assumed a formal protectorate over Egypt, deposed Abbas II, and installed Hussein Kamil as the sultan of Egypt. The British promised the Egyptians independence if they fought against the Ottomans.
The British government also made promises to a third, rather surprising party: the Zionist Congress. The foreign secretary Lord Arthur Balfour was familiar with the nationalist movement and its leader Dr. Chaim Weizmann. British officials thought that appealing to the Zionists would undermine the Central Power’s war effort and, more importantly, garner American and Russian Jewry’s support and influence on their respective governments. 25 British politicians believed that “the world Jewry was a powerful force which could affect the fortunes of war […] and that most Jews were active supporters of Zionism.” 26 Conversation between the British government and the World Zionist Organization resulted in the endorsement of a national Jewish homeland.
The entry of the Ottoman Empire into the Great War gave Britain a legitimate reason to go into the Arab peninsula and Mesopotamia. This did not mean that the British had sought war with the Ottoman Empire. Bernard Lewis writes, ”At the outbreak of war in 1914, the Prime Minister Mr. Asquith, in a speech at the Guildhall, informed his audience with deep and obvious regret that the Ottoman Empire had chosen to enter the Porter, p. 235.
Porter, p. 237.
Shepherd, p. 8.
war on the other[Central Powers’] side.” 27 Before the war, it had been British foreign policy to sustain the Ottoman Empire because it blocked Russian expansion into Persia, which posed a threat to British rule in India, and the Mediterranean Sea. With the outbreak of war, British interest in the Middle East was threefold: to maintain Britain’s role as the dominant power in the Mediterranean Sea, to secure the Suez Canal, and to gain access to Middle Eastern oil fields.
Access to Middle Easten oil was a primary concern for the British before the outbreak of war. Oil was first discovered in Persia in 1908. In 1909, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company formed to harvest, refine, and ship petroleum back to Britain. Oil gained strategic concern in 1911 when then First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill ordered the British Navy to use oil rather than coal as its primary fuel source. The strategic decision to convert to oil was based on two factors. First, oil was a superior fuel to coal. Oil could be stockpiled because it did not decay like coal. Ships that ran off oil were faster and fuel reserves took up less space, which in turn could be used for carrying extra materials such as gunpowder. 28 The second reason was that both Germany and the United States had begun to convert their navies to oil and this posed a direct threat to the British Empire. Daniel Yergin writes, “Naval supremacy was central to England’s conception of its world role and to the security of the British Empire.” 29 In order to protect its wide network of territories, the British had to maintain a mobile and costefficient navy. The conversion to oil met both of those needs.
To win the war against the Ottomans, the British exploited nationalist divisions that had emerged within the Ottoman Empire before 1914.The British established Lewis, p.152.
Yergin, p. 155.
Yergin, p. 152.
military alliances with the Arab dynasties of the House of Sa’ud and the Hashemite Sharif of Mecca in order to exacerbate the internal instability within the Ottoman Empire.
This policy and its arrangements will be covered in greater detail in chapter 2.