L. J. Greenberg

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Leopold Greenberg (Fraddele & Young, 1903).jpg

L. J. Greenberg, born Leopold Jacob Greenberg (1861–1931), was an accomplished British Jewish journalist. He had become an energetic propagandist of the new Zionism in England by the Third Zionist Congress in 1899, at which he and Jacob de Haas were elected as members of the ZO's Propaganda Committee.[1]

Early Zionism[edit]

He was born in Birmingham in 1861, the son of Simeon Greenberg, a successful jewellery manufacturer. He was educated in London, at a private Jewish school in Maida Vale, then at University College School. Greenberg made friends with many prominent political figures in Great Britain at the turn of the twentieth century. This enabled him to partly fulfill the wishes and dreams of Theodor Herzl, whom he invited to his home in London. His primary aim was to get Zionism accepted by British Jews. In 1900, 99% of them were indifferent to the idea – middle class Jews were busy trying to get accepted as English gentlemen and lower class Jews were too involved in the day-to-day struggles for better wages and conditions. But Greenberg, who had edited a monthly magazine in the 1890s called Young Israel, disseminated the philosophy (Cesarani 1994, p. 107).

The Jewish Chronicle[edit]

Greenberg stressed the need for a platform. So, when he heard that The Jewish Chronicle was for up for sale, he proposed to Herzl that the Zionist Organisation acquire the weekly. However, when the proposal was put before the 1903 congress, it was rejected, so the idea lapsed. Then, in 1904, Greenberg decided to float a company to finance the purchase. He found four wealthy Jewish backers, including Leopold Kessler, a mining engineer who had just returned from South Africa with considerable substance. Greenberg became the Chronicle '​s editor in 1907, a position he held the rest of his life.[2]

Political persuasion[edit]

The lawyer Greenberg chose to draw up the Articles of Association of the Jewish Chronicle (JC) was a Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) by the name of David Lloyd George. They had established a good relationship long before he became Prime Minister.

Another close acquaintance of his and Liberal MP was Joseph Chamberlain. Chamberlain later rose to became Secretary for the Colonies in 1902, and Greenberg felt he could approach him with the request that he give the Jewish people a homeland, somewhere in the British Empire, preferably in what is now Israel. But that territory was a Turkish province, so Chamberlain was unable to help. But he did offer the Jewish people Sinai in 1901, as that was distinct from Egypt. The heat and lack of water made it impractical to support a large population, so the offer fell through. Then, in 1903, Chamberlain offered Greenberg the colony of Uganda as a Jewish home. That had a better climate, but the Russian Zionists all rejected it saying with great force, "Israel or nothing" at the 1904 World Jewish Congress in Basel (Cesarani 1994, p. 101). The Western concept of Zionism, headed by Herzl, was foreign to Russian Jewry (Weizmann 1949, p. 73).

First World War[edit]

After Herzl's death, the Zionist movement languished, with only a small bureau of Herzl's followers remaining in Vienna. On the other side of the English Channel, Greenberg edited the JC and took vital steps to secure its future as the sole voice of the British Jewish community, assisted by Jacobus Kann, Joseph Cowen, and Leopold Kessler.

Chaim Weizmann was also in England teaching chemistry at Manchester University, although he and Greenberg were not on speaking terms since Weizmann had headed the "Israel or nothing" lobby (Weizmann 1949, p. 117).

The schism in Zionism had not healed in 1914 when the First World War broke out with a Zionist movement of sorts in each of the belligerent capitals.

Prior to 1914, the Jewish Chronicle had been unrestrained in its criticism of Tsarist Russia, because of the ill-treatment the Jews had endured (Cesarani 1994). Greenberg even expressed the view in an editorial that Britain should join Austria and Germany in a war against Russia. But once Germany violated Belgian neutrality, Greenberg had to abandon Russian Jewry, and claimed that Britain should join Russia in a war against Austria/Germany. The JC placed a placard outside its London offices saying "England has been all she could be to the Jews; the Jews will be all they can to England." In a similar vein, on 4 September 1914, the JC argued "From the Russian people Jews have never experienced anything but the deepest sympathy, and with the Russian people they have ever felt on mutually agreeable terms."

In 1916 America remained neutral. Britain was virtually exhausted. A new front had to be opened. The Allies first decided to attack Turkey, but that operation was a disaster. Then the British decided they would invade the Turkish colonies and promise the Arabs home rule. Col. T. E. Lawrence played a key part and the British used Egypt as their base to invade Iraq, Syria and Palestine, Palestine being put in the trusted hands of General Edmund Allenby.

Still the Americans were neutral. While in Russia, there had been a revolution that had removed the hated Czar and seen Lenin and his Bolsheviks take control. American opinion turned against Britain, and the Americans were even considering entering the war on the side of Germany.

At this point, Weizmann made an interesting discovery: he found it was possible to extract acetate, needed to produce dynamite, from chestnuts. As the British war effort was almost at a standstill for the lack of acetate, Weizmann's discovery assumed capital importance. The Prime Minister, David Lloyd-George, is said to have offered Weizmann anything to show his gratitude. According to legend, Weizmann is said to have replied: "All I want is a homeland for my people". Greenberg, at the same time, was asked: "What can we do to bring American opinion back to supporting Britain?" Greenberg answered: "Give the Jewish people the homeland they have been dreaming of for 2,000 years!" They also asked Greenberg what to do to win back Russian opinion and got the same reply.

Just as Allenby's army set out from Cairo to conquer Palestine, the British Government issued a statement by the Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, offering a Jewish national home in Palestine. That pledge was the document that ensured the creation of modern Israel and meant that the British had to concede the creation of an independent state. However, after the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Greenberg still kept on sniping at Weizmann, writing, for example, that Weizmann should have demanded "a Jewish state" rather than a mere "national home" and complaining that Palestine meant "both sides of the Jordan river". That row only ended when Greenberg died in 1931. Greenberg did not live to see the declaration of independent Israel.

Delayed burial[edit]

Greenberg had expressed the wish that he should be cremated and his remains buried, without any religious ceremony, near Mount Scopus in Palestine. The casket containing his ashes arrived in Haifa in November 1931, but the Orthodox rabbinate in Jerusalem insisted that since Jewish law prohibits cremation, it could not be buried in consecrated ground. Letters flew back and forth between London and Palestine as his son Ivan tried to resolve the impasse. In January 1932, Joe Linton, one of Weizmann's aides, suggested burying the casket in Herbert Bentwich's private garden near Mount Scopus. This would have been a nice irony since the two men had loathed one another. In any event, this solution was over-ruled by the rabbinate. By May 1932, the casket was still in the customs office in Haifa, and officials threatened to throw it out if something was not done about it. Eventually, through the combined efforts of Moshe Sharett (later Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Israel) and Chaim Arlosoroff, both high-ranking officials in the Jewish Agency, a resting place for Greenberg's remains was found at Kibbutz Degania[disambiguation needed] by the shore of the Sea of Galilee.


  1. ^ Nahum Sokolow, History of Zionism 1600–1918, p.xliii (1919)
  2. ^ "Leopold Jacob Greenberg (1861–1931), journalist and Zionist". Museum of the Jewish People. Retrieved 3 April 2008. [dead link]
  • Cesarani, David (1994), The Jewish Chronicle and Anglo-Jewry 1841–1991, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-43434-3 
  • Weizmann, Chaim (1949), Trial and Error, the Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann, First, Edition, ASIN B000P3VU1A, New York: Harper and Brothers, OCLC 512638