Political Activity

The First World War took place against a background of other political and struggles.  Several of the people we researched were well-established within the UK’s civic and political system and helped with the management of the war.  Others opposed conscription and the continued fighting or worked on ways to prevent future wars.

The war drove further changes to the status of women and many people campaigned for better treatment for women and children as well as for the right to vote (suffrage) in elections and in the synagogue.  The war also led to revolutions in Germany & Russia and the collapse of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.  Changing borders, population displacement and assertion of new national identities strengthened calls for a Jewish homeland and Zionism.

Ottoman map including ‘The Land of Palestine’
Source: Typ 794.34.475, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Francis Montefiore is a standout figure in terms of the Sussex Jewish community’s participation in Zionism’s development. The British declared war on the Ottoman Empire in 1914, which coincided with Montefiore’s time as Chairman of the executive committee of the English Zionist Federation. As such, he would have represented his group as part of the thirty others during early discussions around the direction British Zionism would take should Palestine be taken from the Ottomans.

In November 1917, British troops advanced into the previously Turkish-held Palestine, capturing Jerusalem and creating a new opportunity for the British Zionist movement. Discussion of a Jewish homeland in and around Jerusalem had been discussed previously, but there had not been such a clear way towards achieving it as then. The Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, comprising of around thirty smaller organisations, engaged in talks with the British government under Balfour, and through the negotiation of Lord Rothschild produced the Balfour Declaration, supporting the existence of and right to a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Balfour Declaration war cabinet minutes.
Source: National Archives. Leonard Stein (1961) The Balfour declaration, Simon and Schuster, p. 524-526

Members of the Jewish diaspora began to move to Palestine, facilitated by the British administration. Two charities were set up – the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was tasked with ‘preparing the land for Jewish immigrant farmers’, and the United Joint Israel Appeal (UJIA) ‘was to help settle these farm workers in agricultural establishments (kibbutzim).’ (Godfrey Gould and Michael Crook, eds., An Anthology of the Brighton and Home Jewish Community 1766-2016, (East Sussex: The Jewish Historical Society of England, 2016) p.96). A branch of both charities was set up in Brighton and Hove; they were run jointly, fundraising to support Israel until the 1990s.

Not everyone in the Jewish Sussex community supported the idea of moving to Palestine. Israel Zangwill lived with his wife Edith Ayrton Zangwill (stepmother to Hertha Aryton, who we’ve also researched in the Shalom Sussex project) in West Sussex, and was a major part of the opposition to mainstream Zionism whilst still advocating for a Jewish homeland.

Originally a supporter of Theodor Herzl’s ideas, Zangwill at first believed Palestine was a ‘country without a people; the Jews are a people without a country,’ but changed his mind after realising the land had a substantial Arabian population. He broke away from the Maccabean Club to create his own Zionist movement in 1905: The Jewish Territorial Organisation (known as JTO).

Members of the Jewish Territorialist Organization with Zangwill sitting in the front row center; the photograph in the center background is of Theodor Herzl. June 1905

This branch advocated for a Jewish homeland to be found wherever there was space in the world rather than either displace or have to move in with the current population of Palestine. Places like America, East Africa, and Australia were suggested. Despite their best efforts, however, ITO never found a fully suitable place and did not gain much traction, eventually dissolving in 1925.

Zangwill eventually seemed to regret his decision to split from the mainstream Palestine idea, claiming the Arabian population was ‘at best an Arab encampment’ in 1921. He died in 1926 in West Sussex.

A brief exploration of Sussex Jewish political involvement:

Civic and political roles

Opposition to the war and ideas for future peace

  • Siegfried Sassoon published a protest against the war in 1917
  • Leonard Woolf who contributed to the foundation of the League of Nations

Campaigners and Supporters of Women’s Suffrage

• Barbara Ayrton-Gould (1886–1950) – Labour politician and co-founder of the United Suffragists; jailed for her suffrage activities, daughter of Edith Zangwill. 

• Kate (Katherine Sophia) Birnstingl (1857-1947), Hampshire WPSU organiser, donated books to Brighton suffragettes in 1913, who lived in Hove 1924-5. Her sister, Edith Birnstingl, was also an active suffragette and they were both friends with Zangwills.

Dora Montefiore was educated at home and in Brighton (1851–1934) and involved with sufrragism

• Leonard & Virginia Woolf, who lived at Beddingham and also Rodmell in East Sussex and London

• Edith & Israel Zangwill, East Preston, WSPU, JWLS & United Suffragists. Edith’s step-mother was the pro-suffragist, Hertha Ayrton.

Religious suffrage

  • 1914 – A Suffragette offered a prayer at the end of the service at Brighton Synagogue “May God forgive King George of England and the Tsar of Russia for the torture practised on their women subjects in and out of prison.”
  • 1917 – At Brighton & Hove Hebrew Synagogue women seat holders were given the right to vote for, and be elected as, members of the Board of Management. This was described in the Jewish Chronicle as a momentous step, the first by an orthodox synagogue

Better conditions of Women & Children

  • Eva Mond Isaacs (pro women’s rights, but not a suffrage campaigner), Thakenham & Mayfield. She teased her father’s friend, Lloyd George, by dressing up as a suffragette.

Activists in favour of a Jewish homeland or Zionists

  • Alfred Mond, his daughter Eva Mond Isaacs & her husband Gerald Isaacs
  • Israel & Edith Zangwill – ‘territorialists’ in favour of Jewish settlement outside of Palestine

Sources: Michael Crook’s JHSE talk, November 1918, Elizabeth Crawford (5-7): The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey.