by Jason Lever
Posted on Thu, 14 Nov 2013 12:21:59 GMT
Their traditional claims to Jewish votes
Anglo-Jewry had long-standing Liberal leanings following that party’s championing of Jewish political emancipation in the 1840s and 1850s (ref: Brodie). This compared favourably to ‘the strength of Conservative hostility to emancipation’ (ref: Alderman, 1983). Five Jews were adopted as candidates to be Members of Parliament (MPs) in the 1840s and all Jewish MPs of this period were Liberals.
Nevertheless, East End Jews’ political allegiances continued to fluctuate between the two main parties well into the twentieth century. The one overwhelmingly Jewish ward in Stepney constituency in the 1900s was regarded as ‘a “hotbed of Toryism”’ and the free trade position of the Liberals also limited Jewish support (ref: Brodie). Cabinet-makers were told by their masters to vote Conservative because if they voted Liberal the market would be flooded with cheap furniture from abroad (ref: Samuel). Yet, ‘the Conservatives failed to win a Jewish following in the East End’ (ref: Srebnik).
‘The endurance of Liberal loyalties among, at least, working-class London Jews’ owed much to Whitechapel’s Liberal MP at the end of the 19th century, Sir Samuel Montagu, Yiddish-speaking doyen of the Anglo–Jewish establishment. His legacy of good works included founding the Federation of Synagogues, which catered for the poor immigrant community of the East End – including the Lever family – by unifying a plethora of tiny “shtiebel” communities, based on Central and Eastern European home towns (ref: Alderman, 1983).
Half a century after Liberal Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, introduced a Jewish Disabilities Bill in 1848, Liberal Party Jewish support still held up. This was aided by the restrictive measures of the Aliens Act (1905) brought in by the Conservative government (ref: Srebnik).
The Liberals won a landslide election in 1906 and Herbert Samuel – a member of a distinguished Anglo-Jewish political family, who had campaigned against the measure in opposition – became one of the Ministers administering the new law limiting the numbers of East European Jews entering the country. However, the Liberals may have gained some credit when, following the 1905 (abortive) Russian Revolution, the Home Secretary instructed Immigration Boards to give immigrants seeking asylum on religious or political grounds “the benefit of the doubt” (Glover).
Yet, for someone of Solomon Lever’s generation and background, the established institutions of Anglo-Jewry and their Liberal leanings likely held little sway. Sir Samuel died in 1911, and by the time Solomon Lever was making his way in the world as a cabinet maker in the 1920s the influence of the old Anglo-Jewish establishment had declined.
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