Legacy of Empire Britain: Zionism and the Creation of Israel by Gardner Thompson

Reviewed by Duncan Bowie

Gardner Thompson is a local resident and former Head of History at Dulwich College. He is a colonial historian who has previously written on East Africa. He has been brave to venture into this territory which is well trodden by specialists and which remains highly contentious. Many previous studies are partisan, whether Zionist or anti-Zionist, and the lack of partisanship in Thompson’s work means that the book is actually a very useful contribution to the debate. Thompson’s starting point is on the Balfour declaration of 1917, but after examining, as many other works do, the prehistory and the Zionist campaign to win British support, he focuses on its consequences and on the British post-war occupation and on diplomacy during the period of the British mandate in Palestine from 1922 to 1948. The book therefore examines the failure of the British government to deliver on the commitment in the declaration that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” noting that the declaration did not in fact guarantee the political rights of the non-Jewish population, who remained the majority population of Palestine throughout the mandate period, despite the rapid increase in Jewish immigration.

The book considers the failure of successive administrations, most significantly that led by the first High Commissioner, the Zionist Herbert Samuel, to constrain both Jewish immigration and the increasing political role of the Jewish Agency. Gardner points out that the promotion of Zionism was actually incorporated into both the terms of the British Government’s 1922 White Paper and the terms of the mandate, which was drafted by the British government, in contradiction of the League of Nations objective of working towards self-determination by the existing population of a mandated territory.

Gardner is more sympathetic to the attempt by Sir John Chancellor, High Commissioner from 1928-1931, who recognised the inherent contradiction in the Balfour declaration and sought to adopt a more balanced approach to the conflicting interests of Jews and Arabs. Chancellor’s successor, Sir Arthur Wauchope, High Commissioner until 1938 was to openly favour Zionism, and British support for Zionism was to continue, despite the attacks of Zionist organisations such as Irgun, Hagannah and the Stern gang, on the British military and civil governance bodies, until Britain surrendered the mandate in 1947, with Ernest Bevin stating in the British parliament that “the obligations undertaken to the two communities in Palestine have been shown to be irreconcilable.”

A series of attempts to partition Palestine between Jewish and Arab communities had all failed, and the boundaries established by the UN in 1947 were soon breached as military action by the new Israeli state occupied territory allocated to the Arab state, first in 1948-9 and subsequently in 1967 with the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan heights. In his conclusion, Gardner comments that the Balfour declaration and the continued British commitment to supporting the establishment of a national home in Palestine for the Jewish people at the expense of the second commitment to protect the rights of the non-Jewish population bears some responsibility for the divisions in Palestine over the last 100 years, and that the centenary of the declaration was an opportunity to acknowledge this responsibility rather than a cause for celebration.

Just in case this book is not regarded as sufficiently controversial, Thompson has published an article on the Open Democracy website comparing Lloyd George’s policy on Palestine to David Cameron’s policy on BREXIT as both cases of self-inflicted political damage !

Player, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist: The Story of Edward Alleyn 1566-1626 by Antonia Southern

Reviewed by Brian Green

The appearance of a new biography of Edward Alleyn in this the 400th anniversary year of his foundation is welcome. While other authors have touched on his life in varying degrees, one has to go back to the 1950’s to G L Hosking’s ‘The Life and Times of Edward Alleyn’ for an actual monograph. Discarding the usual methodology of chronology, the book is instead thematic, highlighting different aspects of a life which the author rightly describes as that of a definitive multi-tasker. That it requires fourteen, albeit short, chapters ably demonstrates Alleyn’s energy and ambition.

The problem with this approach however, is that there is considerable repetition in the chapters and the reader might become irritated with references, say, to Alleyn’s office as Master of the King’s Bulls, Bears and Mastiff Dogs which constantly crop up or the working relationship with his equally energetic father-in-law, Philip Henslowe.

The Alleyn archive, including of course the Henslowe and Alleyn’s diaries, which are more record and account books than the modern notion of a diary, have been well-combed for the past century and a half. No new information is therefore derived from this source. Nevertheless, Antonia Southern, with the biography of Nathaniel Field already under her belt (Player, Playwright and Preacher Kid: The story of Nat Field 1587-1620) is able brings other sources into play and will surprise many with the revelation of Alleyn having performed in seven different plays within a fortnight, as a young actor in 1583.

Unfortunately, the book fails to answer the two key questions of Alleyn’s life - where did his money come from? Southern vaguely suggests it was from somewhat shady sources early in his life rather than that there had been a previous and lucrative marriage. The second unanswered question is what actually triggered his philanthropy which created his Foundation?

Although this book appears to be aimed at the academic market, its helpful references and extensive bibliography will prove useful to anyone interested I the early days of English theatre.

Player, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist by Antonia Southern 204 pages paperback Academica Press £37.50

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