by Jason Lever
Posted on Sun, 01 Dec 2013 17:45:06 GMT
Making the case for the government to recognise the State of Israel
It was, of course, not his status as a Labour councillor but the truly democratic outcome of TUC rules that allowed him as general secretary of one of the very smallest, affiliated trade unions to have similar speaking rights at Congress than his “brother” representing say some half a million miners.
During his long tenure, he had faced a constant challenge of maintaining member numbers in the London Jewish Bakers Union. The Union had affiliated to the TUC with 200 members in 1920, but its membership had fallen to 40 paying members by the start of World War Two. This lifted to 70 members by 1945 and rose steadily to over 100 by 1950 (ref: Marsh & Smethurst).
The following extracts of his speech at the TUC annual conference on 10 September 1948 illustrate his heightened concern at the Labour Government’s lack of recognition of the State of Israel. He had agreed to withdraw his Union’s resolution on Palestine in return for being permitted to make a statement on the General Council’s report on this topic (TUC History Online, 2):
‘The sole purpose of our resolution was to remind Congress and the Labour Movement generally of the many promises which were made to the Jewish people to help them establish a home in Palestine’.
His approach was to convey near incredulity that such a great country as Britain could be ‘guilty of such bad faith
‘Since the days of Cromwell, Britain had the goodwill of every Jew in every corner of the world... Was not Britain one of the first nations to grant complete freedom and emancipation to the Jews?
‘What a tragedy it is, therefore, that to-day, when Jews need Britain’s helping hand more than they have ever done in their whole history, they find that Britain is almost alone among the great powers which has not yet recognised the State of Israel. Jews throughout the world can hardly believe that it is Britain who is guilty of such bad faith [after the Balfour Declaration]’.
He then raises the stakes by giving many examples of how the Labour Party has conducted a deplorable volte face, referring to all the conference and TUC resolutions in favour of ‘building Palestine as the Jewish National Home
‘This state of affairs is all the more deplorable because Britain to-day has a Labour Government in power...
He quotes Clement Attlee before he became Prime Minister, a man he very likely knew, via Toynbee Hall where Attlee was a resident and one time secretary:
‘... There was a strong case for [a Jewish National Home] before the war. There is an irresistable case now [in 1944], after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold and calculated German Nazi plan to kill all Jews in Europe’.
He then goads the Government’s position of breaking its promises for its “friends”:
‘Is it for Egypt, who could not afford even one soldier to defend herself against Hitler. But who can now send an army against Israel...? Or perhaps it is for Iraq, which had a pro-Axis revolt and stabbed Britain in the back in 1941.... Or is it for the Mufti [of Jerusalem], the ally and collaborator of Hitler, who had to flee to Egypt to escape the vengeance of the Allies?’
He brings the speech to a close calling for Britain to give ‘unqualified recognition to the State of Israel
‘For twenty centuries the Jews have been a people without a country...[and] lived as strangers in countries that did not want them, and have been tortured, killed and persecuted on a scale without parallel in the history of men... [culminating] when they died in their millions to satisfy the unholy causes of Fascism.
‘I ask you, comrades, is it not time that the world said to the Jewish people, “You have had enough of this persecution. You have had enough of slaughter. Here is your ancient homeland. Go there and live in peace”?’
The full speech can be read at TUC History Online
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