Lucien Wolf

Headed Joint Foreign Committee of the Anglo-Jewish Association 1857 - 1930

The Zionists “declare that where emancipation does not exist it is not worth striving for and where it does exist it is no remedy.”

Lucien Wolf

Lucien Wolf, a British-Jewish journalist and historian of Anglo-Jewry, was an indefatigable campaigner for Jewish civil rights. He was also an outspoken opponent of political Zionism. He believed that the Zionists were wrong to give up on the idea that European Jewish minorities could secure full citizenship rights.


Opposed Balfour Declaration

Wolf became the voice of Jewish anti-Zionism even though he was not unsympathetic to elements of the Jewish homeland idea.

In December 1915 he wrote a memo to the British Foreign Office on the question of how US Jewish opinion could be harnessed to advocate for an American entry into World War I. London wanted an end to Washington’s neutrality. Wolf frankly pointed out that US Jews were sympathetic to the Zionist idea. If Britain made it clear that were Palestine to come under its jurisdiction it would back “a liberal scheme of self-government” for the Jews, that might dampen the Jews’ predisposition to neutrality.

Despite his opposition to Zionism, which stemmed from a genuine conviction that it would be bad for Jews, Wolf understood Zionism and was called upon to write an Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the topic. He also contributed a piece on the history of anti-Semitism for the Encyclopedia’s 11th edition.

Wolf rejected the view that the Jews “constitute a separate political nationality.” Arguably, had the Zionists—instead of negating the Diaspora—incorporated Wolf’s (in hindsight, rose-colored) view that the Diaspora did have a future in a reformed Europe, he might today not be recalled as an anti-Zionist.

On August 17, 1916 Wolf and Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann met at the home of James de Rothschild in a failed attempt to achieve a modus vivendi.

Wolf’s anti-Zionist sails were trimmed when on June 17, 1917 the Board of Deputies in a policy shift criticized him for taking his opposition to political Zionism into the pages of The Times. In April Wolf had publicly complained that the Zionists “declare that where emancipation does not exist it is not worth striving for and where it does exist it is no remedy.”

‘Foreign Minister'

The Russian pogroms of 1881 had greatly affected Wolf’s psyche, leading him to devote much of his life to campaigning for Jewish rights in Eastern Europe. He developed an expertise in minority issues, including the Catholic position in Britain.

By 1917, as the Great War (WWI) progressed, Britain and Russia were on the same side. Wolf’s open hostility towards anti-Semitic Tzarist Russia forced him to leave the world of advocacy-journalism and he became the top official at the Joint Foreign Committee of the Anglo-Jewish Association and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

In other words, he became the ‘foreign minister’ of the organized Jewish community—a role for which he was admirably suited. Wolf was well-traveled, had the benefit of a cosmopolitan education and was fluent in French and German.

After WWI, he took part in the Versailles Conference in Paris as a spokesperson for the ad-hoc National Union for Jewish Rights. He helped draft the Minorities Treaties which were aimed at protecting the civil and religious rights of Jewish communities in Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Yugoslavia and beyond.

He briefly chaired the League of Nations committee on refugees.

At home, he lobbied against Sunday closing laws which barred Jewish-owned concerns from doing business on the Christian Sabbath.

The Zionists “declare that where emancipation does not exist it is not worth striving for and where it does exist it is no remedy.”

Lucien Wolf

Early years

Lucien Wolf was born in London on January 20, 1857. He turned to journalism at age 17, joining the Jewish World in 1874. He worked as a sub-editor and leader writer at the Daily Graphic, starting in 1890, and as London correspondent for the Paris-based Le Journal between 1893 and 1897. The New York Times often reported his newspaper commentaries on international relations.

He married Francis Moses in 1880 and the couple had four sons and three daughters.

Lucien Wolf died in 1930 at the age of 73. He was survived by his second wife, Margaret, whom he married in 1923.

Learn more about Lucien Wolf

War, Jews, and the New Europe: The Diplomacy of Lucien Wolf, 1914–1919 by Mark Levene

Postscript: The 'anti-Zionists' Didn't Oppose Jewish Immigration to Palestine

The anti-Zionist Jews of the early 20th century fully accepted Palestine’s special significance to the Jewish people.

Lucian Wolf was an opponent of political Zionism and director of the Conjoint Foreign Committee which largely concerned itself with battling anti-Semitism. Its Palestine position was articulated in March 1916:

“In the event of Palestine coming within the spheres of influence of Great Britain or France at the close of the war, the Governments of those Powers will not fail to take account of the historic interest that country possesses for the Jewish community. The Jewish population will be secured in the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, equal political rights with the rest of the population, reasonable facilities for immigration and colonisation, and such municipal privileges in the towns and colonies inhabited by them as may be shown necessary.”

And Edwin Montagu, the most persistent opponent of political Zionism inside the David Lloyd George Government nonetheless advocated on 23 August 1917:

“That the Government will be prepared to do everything in their power to obtain for Jews in Palestine complete liberty of settlement and life on an equality with the inhabitants of that country who profess other religious beliefs.”

Montagu had recently been appointed secretary of state for India. In addition to his anti-Zionist views as an English Jew, he also worried how any declaration would affect his standing amongst Indian Muslims.

His aim was to head-off political Zionism, on 14 September 1917, Montagu came back with yet another alteration for the Government to consider:

“His Majesty‘s Government accepts the principle that every opportunity should be afforded for the establishment in Palestine for those Jews who cannot or will not remain in the lands in which they live at present, will use its best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, and will be ready to consider any suggestions on the subject which any Jewish or Zionist organisations may desire to lay before it.”

Like their opponents, the anti-Zionists were products of their milieu.

They worried—among other things— that hard won Jewish rights in Western Europe would be withdrawn if Jews had their own national home.

That said, there were no Jewish voices which argued against immigration to Palestine or its special place in Jewish history.