HOWARD EPSTEIN: MANCHESTER REVERBERATIONS AND REFLECTIONS
May 2017: Manchester, North-West England – 22 dead, many of them children.
May 1974: Ma’alot, Northern Israel – 25 murdered, 22 of them children.
The Common Factor: Sunni terrorism.
Long-Term Source of Finance: the West.
Terrorism, against “soft targets”, such as pedestrians and children in schools or at pop concerts, was made into the New Normal by the (Sunni) Palestinians. What matured in Israel, without sufficient sorrow or empathy in the West — insufficient, that is, to staunch the supply of finance to a murderous credo — has leached into Europe and the USA, with a more pained reaction than was the case as long as the victims were “only” Jews and Jewish children. As you sow, so shall ye reap, and what the West sowed was the seed-corn for a technique for drawing attention to Moslem grievances — against Israel at first, now against the West in general. Once again, the depredations of Israel and the Jews are merely pre-cursors of more general horrors to come. What was sowed in Israel is being reaped elsewhere.
What the West should have told the Palestinians, as from around 1970, was this: Israel is (like us) a democratic society and you must not seek to promote your argument with them by the use of terror. If you do, we shall not fund you. The West did not, and it is that failure to empathise with liberal, democratic, rule of law-based Israel, even as she bled, that has led to the consequences of an immoral policy being visited upon its funders. Thus terror has come — via Ma’alot, Kiryat Shemonah, Jerusalem, Netanya and Tel Aviv, to New York, London, Madrid, Nice, Brussels, Berlin and San Bernardino — to Manchester.
“An attack against Manchester is an attack against the whole free world” went the British media’s response to last Monday’s horrors, whilst asserting that Manchester’s response was different from all that had preceded it. What is so special about Manchester? Well, just about everything.
Walking, as an interlude to my return home to Israel, through the calm streets and the daily-expanding floral shrine in hushed St Peter’s Square in the centre, just three days on from the outrage, confirmed to me that Manchester (my provenance, obviously) is unique. The newly-coined expression, “Manchester City United”, referred, in its double-entendre, to two footballing arch-enemies who threw their doors open to all for food and shelter, and made large donations to a victims’ fund that before the week’s end exceeded £5 million. Reports of the hungry homeless, one moment settling down for the night on the sidewalk close to the stricken Arena, the next dashing inside to save lives previously somewhat more sheltered than their own, and a photograph of a patently Muslim citizen comforting an old Jewish lady at the city’s vigil, merely added to the sense of the specialness of, and to the legend that is, Manchester.
The world’s first industrial city, it was to Manchester that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels travelled from Germany to commence their research into poverty and harsh social conditions, catalysing their inventive view on how society should be reorganised along class lines. Their work resulted in some of the most influential political books ever written: The Condition of the Working Class in England and soon afterwards (finished in London), Das Kapital. From Manchester, therefore, issued communism, a political philosophy that overshadowed half the world during more than half of the 20th century.
Then, again, it was Manchester that (without adopting communism) led the world with public housing and healthcare, the first libraries, trade unions, co-operative societies and railway stations. It was the birthplace of Emmeline Pankhurst, the originator of the militant suffragette movement. The atom was first split (by Ernest Rutherford in 1917) at Manchester University. Niels Bohr, the great Danish physicist, developed his theories (that contributed to the US atom bomb) in Manchester.
The city’s history is more diverse than we have so far examined. As poet, Terry Hopkins, said on the steps of the magnificent mock-Gothic Manchester Town Hall (really the city hall, but Manchester is too unpretentious to use so grandiose a title) during the vigil:
This is the place. In the north-west of England. It’s ace, it’s the best
And the songs that we sing from the stands, from our bands
Set the whole planet shaking.
Our inventions are legends.
There’s nowt we can’t make, and so we make brilliant music.
We make brilliant bands.
We make goals that make souls leap from seats in the stands.
And we make things from steel.
And we make things from cotton.
And it was the Manchester cotton-workers who, in 1863, walked out on strike, refusing to make goods from cotton picked by black slaves in the southern states of America, in support of Lincoln and condemnation of the slave owners. A finer example of ordinary (and indigent) workers going without work, and income, in the selfless pursuit of idealism and morality, would be hard to find.
Small wonder perhaps that Disraeli called Manchester “the philosophical capital of the world”. The expression, The Manchester School, (otherwise Manchester Liberalism, Manchester Capitalism and Manchesterism) refers to the political, economic and social movements of the 19th century that originated in Manchester. The Free Trade Movement won acceptance of the argument (that has dominated for the last hundred years) that free trade, pursued democratically, leads to a more equitable society, and makes essential products available to all.
The Manchester School has another meaning, too. It was the Manchester School of Zionism, led by Chaim Weizmann, that was indispensable to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
In 1904 (at the age of 30 and in the week that Herzl died, aged 44) Weizmann came, out of Germany, in the footsteps of Marx and Engels, to Manchester, to continue his researches in bio-chemistry, then a new branch of science. Seeking to create synthetic rubber, he developed the Weizmann Process for the acceleration of chemical processes through the fermentation of Nature’s products.
The British, whose empire-building by its control of the Straits of Gibraltar and Egypt, strengthened by their acquisition of Malta and Cyprus, and of course, the possession of the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, India (which then included today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh), had its sights firmly trained, since Disraeli’s dawn raid on the Suez Canal company of 1882, on Palestine. On the day in July 1914 that the Great War erupted, Prime Minister Asquith announced the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire as a major war aim. The British were intent on taking Palestine equally as winning what was later known as the First World War.
One year later, in the Shell Crisis of 1915, the British were on the cusp of losing the war. To enable the Royal Navy and their great land armies to fight, the British were desperate for new sources of acetone to create cordite, the propellant for their ammunition. The traditional source of acetone had been in the forests of Germany and was perforce out of reach. A government plea to create acetone on an industrial scale elicited only one response – that from Chaim Weizmann. He set up production plants for synthetic acetone that increased shell production from 100,000 to 1.4 million monthly within a four month period.
The government that became indebted to Weizmann included Lloyd-George, Churchill, Balfour and several other Protestant politicians who were gentile Zionists, reared on the belief that a Jewish homeland in Palestine was both appropriate and desirable. (It could only assist the smooth-running of the Empire, too.) Of course, they could not be left to catalyse that post-war outcome alone. That was a job for the Manchester School of Zionism.
Unlike London, where many Jews were assimilationist, those in Manchester, almost to a man, were Zionists. Weizmann, who was an activist Zionist from way before Herzl’s first Zionist Congress in 1897, had a receptive audience and willing team of collaborators in Manchester. Many of them were persons of influence with useful connections, not least in Parliament. So it was that Harry Sacher, Leon Simon, Samuel Landman and Norman Bentwich, and later, Simon Marks and Israel Sieff (of Marks & Spencer) — Mancunians all — at the request of the War Cabinet presented it in February 1917 with the first blueprint for a Jewish state: democratic; rooted in the rule of law; a thrusting ambition to develop infrastructure, industry and agriculture; locally autonomous; supportive of institutions existing and (by implication) projected; and a right of citizenship for Jews from all over the world. Weizmann’s “unique access” to the top politicians meant that, although the war was still going badly for Britain and France, the War Cabinet would find, in 1917, time to discuss Palestine.
By July 1917, the Manchester School was asked to draw up a draft declaration about British intentions for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Despite several setbacks, mostly surmounted only by Weizmann’s tireless efforts and unshakeable focus, the Balfour Declaration was, on November 2, 1917, in Weizmann’s hands. Like much, if not most, of what was manufactured in those days, Israel too could be said to have been made in Great Britain and, more specifically, in Manchester.
What would have happened had there been no Balfour Declaration, once Allenby had taken Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land, can never be known with certainty now, but we can speculate quite reasonably that Weizmann would not have visited Palestine with the Zionist Commission in 1918, nor then laid the foundations of the Hebrew University; he could not have turned the World Zionist Organization into the Sochnut (The Jewish Agency), that developed into a government-in-waiting that would continually push for Jewish immigration to be allowed year by year; there may have been a British Mandate from the League of Nations but it would not have incorporated, word-for‑word the Balfour Declaration; nor, accordingly, any British moral obligation to lead to Jewish autonomy. Whilst the British reaction to Arab pogroms against the Yishuv and anti-British riots (not to mention the violence later meted out to them by Jewish militant groups) were to cause the British to regret their promises to the Jews, the latter’s existence, development and formal and constitutional establishment there were facts of life that the Mandatory authorities could crimp but not completely ignore or blot out. Thus the Yishuv developed the institutions that would fall into place once Ben Gurion declared independence on the night of 14 May 1948. Without Weizmann and his Manchester associates, none of that would have happened.
That the failure of British politicians three generations on to empathise with Israel and help her resist terrorism over the past fifty years and up, should now ear-splittingly and flesh and bone-splatteringly resonate in Manchester is an irony drenched in the blood of its children from which lessons may, but probably will not, be drawn.
© Howard Epstein — May 2017
Howard Epstein’s book: Chaim Weizmann – The Indispensable Zionist will be published in August.