Free to Cheat: “Jewish Emancipation” and the Anglo-Jewish Cousinhood

Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, July 22, 1878

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”
Charles Mackay, 1841[1]

Shortly after his election to Parliament in 1830, Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–1859), a famous historian and one of Britain’s leading men of letters, took up the cause of removing Jewish “civil disabilities” in Britain. In a succession of speeches, Macaulay was instrumental in pushing the case for permitting Jews to sit in the legislature, and his January 1831 article Civil Disabilities of the Jews had a “significant effect on public opinion.”[2]Professing Jews residing in Britain at that time were unable to take seats in the House of Commons, because prior to sitting in the legislature one was required to declare a Christian oath. In addition, Jews were “excluded from Crown office, from corporations, and from most of the professions, the entrance to which bristled with religious oaths, tests, and declarations.”[3] Even the 1753 Naturalization Act which had granted citizenship to foreign-born Jews had been repealed following widespread popular agitation, and a pervading atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust of Jews generally, and foreign Jews especially.[4]
 Ursula Henriques states that because of the resolute opposition of the British people to the involvement of Jews in British political life, since their readmission in the 17th century “the Jews had remained quiet.”[5]

However, buoyed by the granting of political emancipation to Protestant Dissenters and Catholics in 1828 and 1829, British Jews began to agitate for their own “emancipation,” and this agitation was augmented and spearheaded to a great extent by Thomas Macauley. Within thirty years the British elite had capitulated; not only had all Christian oaths been abandoned, but six unconverted Jews sat in the House of Commons. Within fifty years, Britain had sixteen Jewish Members of Parliament, and a Jewish Prime Minister who espoused a doctrine of Jewish racial superiority — Benjamin Disraeli; and under Disraeli Britain would pursue a foreign policy dictated to a large extent by what future Prime Minister William Gladstone called “Judaic sympathies.”[6] This foreign policy would include support for the Ottomans who were friendly to Jews and were massacring Christians in Bulgaria. And it would include waging of war on the Boers in a move highly beneficial to Jewish mining operations in South Africa.[7] How and why did such a dramatic change in circumstances occur? And how did the Anglo-Jewish elite repay Britain for its act of ‘justice’?

Let us first return momentarily to Macaulay. An in-depth survey of his life reveals no Jewish ancestry and no clear links to Jews. Son of a Scottish colonial governor and abolitionist, Macaulay seems at first glance to be something of a weak-kneed liberal idealist, and in addition he appears to have had very little knowledge of Jewish history or culture. He saw the Jewish agitation for entry into government as being primarily a religious issue, and perceived Jews as being, in his own words, “victims of intolerance.”[8] Macaulay prided himself on his knowledge of Greek literature,[9] and yet we can but wish he’d spent more time on his Greek philosophy, particularly that of Plato who condemned ” those who practise justice through timidity or stupidity,” and opined that “if justice is not good for the just man, moralists who recommend it as a virtue are perpetrating a fraud.”[10]

However, a complete reading of his 1831 article on Civil Disabilities of the Jews would leave us feeling slightly less antagonistic towards this would-be emancipator, and his article reveals much about the extent and nature of Jewish power and influence in Britain at that time. Macaulay, it seems, viewed emancipation as a means of ‘keeping the Jews in check.’ For example, he insisted that “Jews are not now excluded from political power. They possess it; and as long as they are allowed to accumulate property, they must possess it. The distinction which is sometimes made between civil privileges and political power, is a distinction without a difference. Privileges are power.”[11] Macaulay was also aware of the role of finance as the primary force of Jewish power in Britain. He asked: “What power in civilised society is so great as that of creditor over the debtor? If we take this away from the Jew, we take away from him the security of his property. If we leave it to him, we leave to him a power more despotic by far, than that of the King and all his cabinet.”[12]
 Macaulay further responds to Christian claims that “it would be impious to let a Jew sit in Parliament” by stating bluntly that “a Jew may make money, and money may make members of Parliament. … [T]he Jew may govern the money market, and the money market may govern the world. … The scrawl of the Jew on the back of a piece of paper may be worth more than the word of three kings, or the national faith of three new American republics.”[13]

Macaulay’s insights into the nature of Jewish power at that time, and his assertions that Jews had already accumulated political power without the aid of the statute books, are quite profound. Yet his reasoning — that permitting Jews into the legislature would somehow offset this power, or make it accountable — seems pitifully naive and poorly thought out. Nonetheless, I wish to take Macaulay’s article as a starting point. What was it in the nature of British Jewry at that time that so alarmed Macaulay, and provoked such a rash response on his part?

The Cousinhood.

We should first bring the Anglo-Jewish elite, referred to by Macaulay, into sharper focus. From the early 19th century until the First World War, English Jewry was ruled by a tightly connected oligarchy. Daniel Gutwein states that this Anglo-Jewish elite comprised some twenty inter-related Ashkenazi and Sephardic families including the houses of Goldsmith, Montagu, Nathan, Cohen, Isaacs, Abrahams, Samuel, and Montefiore.[14]At its head “stood the House of Rothschild.”[15]
This network of families had an “exceptionally high degree of consanguinity,” leading to it being termed “The Cousinhood,” and among them “conversion and intermarriage [with non-Jews] was rare.”[16] Todd Endelmann attributes the lack of conversion to the fact that “conversion was not as useful, in general, to English Jews as it was to Jews in Central and Eastern Europe.”[17]
The Cousinhood exercised control over the Jewish community through its leadership of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organization which would later become one of the chief engines of the move for Jewish emancipation.[18]

The other means through which the Cousinhood maintained control over English Jews was its practice of “systematized philanthropy.” The Cousinhood largely refrained from involvement in Jewish religious life but heavily devoted itself to founding and leading the Anglo-Jewish Association — “the principle arm of Anglo-Jewish political and education aid” to global Jewry.[19]Endelmann notes that these communal institutions “determined the tenor and the agenda of the public side of Jewish life in London.”[20]

To illustrate the extent of blood and financial ties of this network of families, let us consider the following: in 1870, the treasurer of the London Jewish Board of Guardians was Viennese-born Ferdinand de Rothschild (1838–1898). Ferdinand had married his cousin Elvina, who was a niece of the President of the London United Synagogue, Sir Anthony de Rothschild (1810–1876). Meanwhile, the Board of Deputies was at that time headed by Moses Montefiore, whose wife, a daughter of Levi Barent Cohen, was related to Nathan Meyer Rothschild. Nathan Meyer Rothschild’s wife was also a daughter of Levi Barent Cohen, and thus Montefiore was uncle to the aforementioned Anthony de Rothschild. In addition, Anthony was married to a niece of Montefiore, the daughter of Abraham Montefiore and Henrietta Rothschild[21]et cetera, et cetera. In financial terms, the houses of Rothschild and Montefiore had united in 1824 to form the Alliance Insurance Company, and most of the families were involved in each other’s stock-brokering and banking concerns. Endelmann notes that in these firms “new recruits were drawn exclusively from the ranks of the family.”[22]

Working tightly within this ethnic and familial network, the Cousinhood amassed huge fortunes, and in the years before World War I, despite comprising less than three tenths of 1% of the population, Jews constituted over 20% of non-landed British millionaires.[23]
 William Rubinstein notes that of these millionaires, all belonged to the Cousinhood.[24] It is worth noting that this wealth was derived exclusively from the fields of “banking, finance, the stock markets and bullion trading.”[25]

By virtue of this incredible level of wealth, the Cousinhood enjoyed a certain degree of political influence. Endelmann provides evidence that the group had “used its economic power to insinuate itself into the different sectors of the political establishment: the political parties, both Houses of Parliament, and even the government.”[26]Endelmann further states that the Cousinhood’s influence was wielded in the pursuit of “ethnic sympathies, family tradition, and group self-interest,” and it was this influence that so alarmed Thomas Macaulay.[27]

The Move Into Parliament.

By the mid-1830s, English Jews led by the Cousinhood began to press for the removal of Christian oaths in Parliament and this for their ability to enter the legislature. Between 1830 and 1836 no fewer than four Bills were tabled for the removal of Jewish ‘disabilities,’ and all failed to win the support of elected officials. Frustrated that their influence was proving ineffectual, the Cousinhood decided to directly confront Parliament by putting Lionel de Rothschild up as a Liberal candidate for the City of London constituency, and funding him to an extent that almost ensured victory before the campaign even began. Although the Cousinhood had, as Endelmann noted, backed all parties when it was in their interests, they settled on the Liberals because they were broadly supportive of religious liberty. By framing Jewish interests in a religious context, de Rothschild sought to “bring the issue of Jewish emancipation into the broader Liberal agenda of civil and religious liberty, and he was determined that Liberals should adopt Jewish emancipation as a cause.”[28]

De Rothschild came third in the 1847 General Election but won enough votes to take a seat in Parliament. Lord John Russell, then Whig Prime Minister, immediately set about introducing a Jewish Disabilities Bill which would do away with the Christian oath. The Bill was passed in the House of Commons, but resistance proved strong, and it was thrown out by the Lords twice in 1848, and again in 1849. A remarkable but quite unsurprising detail about this time concerns the complicity of Benjamin Disraeli in lobbying members of the opposition party for support of the Bill. The quintessential ‘damp Jew’, Disraeli had been baptized a Christian at age twelve but never ceased to support Jewish ethnic interests, and became notorious for espousing a repugnant Jewish supremacism in his novels Coningsby (1844), Sybil (1845), and Tancred (1847). Although a member of the Tory party since 1837 — a party which was ostensibly dedicated to supporting Christianity in the form of the Established Church of England — correspondence in the official Rothschild Archive reveals that Disraeli was actively working “behind the scenes” to generate Tory support for the removal of the Christian oath.[29] Even taking into account Barbara Kaplan’s dubious and ill-evidenced claim that while Disraeli “lauded the Jewish people” (an understatement to say the least) he “claimed that Christianity was the superior religion,”[30] we can only conclude that in acting to undermine the Christian oath, for Disraeli Jewish ethnicity trumped any feeling he may have had towards Christianity. In a letter marked “Private”, Disraeli wrote to de Rothschild in December 1847:

My dear Lionel,

I find that 18 men, now Peers, voted against the Jews in the Commons 1833, & only 11 in their favor! I agree with you, therefore, that we must be cautious in publishing the lists of the divisions, & rather give a précis of them, calling attention only to what is in your favor….Writing to Lord John Manners today, I particularly mentioned the anxiety of the Court that the bill should pass, as this will be conveyed to the Duke of Rutland who is a great Courtier….My friend thinks that a good petition from King’s Lynn would nail Jocelyn’s vote for the second reading.

Ever yours faithfully


The diaries of Louise de Rothschild, sister-in-law to Lionel, further reveal that Disraeli had become a regular dining companion with members of the Cousinhood, and that during one evening with the Rothschilds in November 1847, Disraeli had argued that “we [my italics] must ask for our rights and privileges, not for concessions.”[31]This bravado proved ineffectual in the House of Lords, where hereditary, non-elected nobles continued to reject the Jewish Disabilities Bills for another decade. This obstruction was only ended in 1858, when a change in government allowed Disraeli himself to become Leader of the House of Commons, a position which allowed him to secure a measure “allowing each House to make its own rules about the form of oath” — thereby side-stepping the second chamber as well as established British democratic precedent altogether.[32] Lionel took his seat at the end of 1858, and was joined by his brother a year later. By 1865 his son also had a seat in the Commons, and numerous relatives began to follow. Just as in business, politics was a family affair.

The Cousinhood on the World Stage.

In 1847, London’s Jewish community had produced a statement for public consumption stressing that the election of Lionel de Rothschild would represent nothing more than the election of another politician who would work for “the welfare of the nation, and the prosperity of his country.”[33] However, later actions by members of the Cousinhood who had taken places in the legislature and in government would provide cause for pondering precisely which nation was being referred to. David Feldman has revealed that entry into the legislature facilitated greater Jewish involvement in the administration of the British Empire, and that the Cousinhood was involved in a succession of financial and political scandals which had at their root “family and religious connections,” “the pursuit of profit,” and attempts to “influence colonial affairs when it deemed [global] Jewish interests were at stake.”[34]

By 1900, through a process of ethnic and familial networking, the Cousinhood had secured many of the most significant administrative positions in the Empire. Feldman notes that the Nathan family alone had by that date secured the positions of Governor of the Gold Coast, Hong Kong and Natal, Attorney-General and Chief Justice in Trinidad, Private Secretary to the Viceroy of India, Officiating Chief Secretary to the Governor of Eastern Bengal and Assam, and Postmaster-General of Bengal.[35]
 In Parliament, Lionel Abrahams was Permanent Assistant Under-Secretary at the India Office, working under his cousin Edwin Montagu who was then Parliamentary Under-Secretary for India.[36]

The first signs of the Cousinhood working for global ethnic interests came in the early 1890s. The Cousinhood, particularly the Montagu and Cohen families, had been instrumental in forming and leading the Russo-Jewish Committee throughout that decade, and as a branch of the aforementioned Anglo-Jewish Association, the Committee was also operating under the watchful eye of the Montefiore and Rothschild branches.[37] Readers of my previous work on the “pogroms” in Russia will be aware of the highly significant role of the Russo-Jewish Committee in sensationalizing and misrepresenting events in Russia, and their attempts to smother accurate reporting of those events. Acknowledgments of this elaborate fraud in mainstream scholarship are rare, although the truth has found some form of expression among a small number of non-Jewish scholars. For example Katherine Knox has described the tale of Jews fleeing pogroms as “classic mythology” and following close examination of the origins of “refugees” Knox was able to declare that millions of migrants left from areas entirely untouched by any form of disturbance.[38] Although Cousinhood funding, via the Russo-Jewish Committee, was directed at Russian Jews under the guise of aid, no historian has yet been able to provide evidence that this funding was used, or was ever intended to be used, in any way other than the facilitation of mass migration. Thus, it was Cousinhood financing that tapped what Lloyd Gartner called “the biological reservoir for the entire Jewish people” and, with the help of the wealthy American Jews led by Louis Marshall of the American Jewish Committee (see herepassim), brought about “American Jewry’s ascent from 260,000 in 1880 to 1,704,000 in 1907 and 3,197,000 in 1915″[39]. And of course, without this tremendous numerical ascent, it is difficult to conceive that there could have developed an AIPAC or an ADL which would be anything other than a noisy nuisance — but I lose myself in the “what ifs”…

Another example of the Cousinhood’s increasing grip on the direction of British politics came with growing Rothschild involvement in South Africa. Feldman states that during 1890s the Rothschild branch became “heavily involved in diamond and gold mining on the Rand.”[40] When the German-Jewish diamond and gold mining magnate Alfred Beit floated Rand Mines in 1893, he was crucial in ensuring the House of Rothschild received more than 25% of the shares. By 1899, Britain found itself at war with the Boers of the Transvaal over the vague cause of securing political rights for foreign gold miners.[41]
Because of the obvious shared ethnic heritage of the mine owners and the diplomats who trod the path to war, “the view that the war was a Jewish war was commonplace among its opponents.”[42]

This opinion was reinforced by the fact that one of the conflict’s earliest supporters was J.H. Hertz — Chief Rabbi in South Africa. Hertz would later be rewarded for beating the war drum with an appointment to no less a position than “Chief Rabbi of the British Empire.”[43]
 In February 1900, Members of Parliament were openly acknowledging the Jewish complexion of the hostilities, with John Burns emphatically declaring before a full House of Commons that “Wherever we examine, there is a financial Jew operating, directing and inspiring the agonies that have led to this war…the British army which used to be used for all good causes…has become the janissary of the Jews”[44]
 — a comment that rings true today as a description of the American armed forces as a tool of Israel and its powerful American lobby in the war in Iraq and the looming war with Iran.

The same year, the Trades Union Congress issued a statement that the war was being fought to “secure the gold fields of South Africa for cosmopolitan Jews who have no patriotism and no country.” Justice, the newspaper of the Social Democratic Federation pointed out the involvement of “unscrupulous Jewish financiers” and the “Semitic-capitalist press.”[45]
 It is difficult to conceive of such free public expression today in the mainstream media.

The year 1912 saw another two scandals which would reveal the hypocrisy of the Cousinhood’s emancipation-era appeals to humanity, justice, and equal opportunity. In the summer of that year, allegations began to surface that a number of Liberal Members of Parliament stood to gain from insider trading with the English Marconi Company, which was at that time under the direction of Cousinhood member, Godfrey Isaacs. Accusations centred in particular on two Liberal politicians who had shares in Marconi as well as advance information on the terms of an extremely lucrative government contract for the installation of an Empire-wide wireless network — the two politicians concerned were none other than Godfrey’s own brother Rufus, and their cousin Herbert Samuel.[46] British historian Colin Holmes has stated that the scandal had an “irreducible core of Jewish involvement,” and notable contemporary Hillaire Belloc saw the scandal as evidence of a fundamental conflict between the “Anglo-Judaic plutocracy” and the English “national interest.”[47] Although the Cousinhood were successful in a subsequent libel suit, deft political and legal manoeuvring ensured they avoided a situation where they adopted the burden of proof, with the result that while Jewish historians such as Bryan Cheyette have crowed that the scandal was a figment of anti-Semitic imagination and that all involved were entirely innocent,[48] more sober and notably non-Jewish historians have maintained that the innocence of Isaacs and Samuel was “never finally elucidated.”[49]

The Cousinhood was of course multi-branched and quite busy. While the Samuels and the Isaacs were busy trying to disentangle themselves from one of their own webs, the houses of Montagu, Abrahams and Samuel (again) were caught out in yet another political and financial intrigue — the Indian Silver Scandal. Compared to the Marconi Scandal, Jewish historians have largely neglected this particular affair because the outcome was far from obscure and the role of Jews in it was clear-cut and easily proven. In short, because it doesn’t offer the slightest possibility of being turned into an exercise in the psychoanalysis of non-Jews or refuted with some gymnastic variant of Talmudic logic, Jewish historians have decided it is something best minimized or left alone, hopefully to die in a sufficient number of years, with the decay of the last yellowed and torn page to record it.

But let us survey the details. Until 1912, the Indian Government was partly financed by the purchase of silver through the Bank of England. This process was carried out by the Indian Office, and carried with it the benefit of avoiding dealing with a private bank and speculators, who could drive up the price. However, in 1912 Ernest Franklin, a merchant banker from the firm of Samuel Montagu and Co. approached Felix Schuster, then Chairman of the Finance Committee for the Council of India, with an offer to purchase £5 million in silver. The deal proceeded, overseen by senior civil servant Lionel Abrahams. The India Office, which had always carried out these transactions in the past, remained silent and was at that time headed by Edwin Montagu. Edwin’s cousin was Liberal Member of Parliament Stuart Montagu. There was some speculation that Stuart later became involved in attempting to “hush up” the scandal, and this takes on somewhat more significance when it is recalled that Stuart was then a partner in Samuel Montagu and Co. There are very few significant mentions of this affair in mainstream histories, though Anthony Julius states that “all these individuals were Jewish.”[50] Of course, Mr. Foxman would like us to believe that these men were linked by some other means, like a fondness for the color blue perhaps. Or maybe he could argue that it was family, rather than ethnicity that played a role, though this would run into difficulties when one recalls the involvement of Franklin and Shuster, and numerous others who were not part of the Cousinhood, but were certainly part of what appears to be a larger ethnic family.

• • •

To conclude, the history of Jewish ’emancipation’ and its aftermath in England is a long and sordid one, replete with hypocrisy, behind-the-scenes intrigues, and ethnic self-interest. There is no need for elaborate conspiracy theory here — the established and documented facts speak for themselves in a voice loud enough to bring reason to the honest man if only he will listen. One striking aspect to this history is that the abuse and expansion of power was concurrent with protestations of Jewish weakness and victimhood, a fact that brought to my mind the words of the great Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The sufferance which is the badge of the Jew, has made him, in these days, the ruler of the rulers of the earth.”[51] I should also answer that common critique made of any work dealing with the members of the Cousinhood: “But can you blame all Jews for the actions of a few individuals?” It has been abundantly demonstrated this history involves more than a few individuals, and that it was their Jewishness which linked them.

It is, moreover, arguable that as ‘ordinary’ Jews undoubtedly benefited from the corruption and power of their communal leaders, they themselves should be held accountable. After all, the synagogues, the charities, the communal organizations were all funded from the same corrupt source.

This type of logic, that the people should be held responsible for their leaders and their past actions, is of course a favorite among the Jews themselves. Does Stephen Brockman not typify the Jewish view on “collective guilt” when he writes: “Even Germans who had not themselves committed specific misdeeds were, at the very least, accessories to and had knowledge of them, since they had probably known about the crimes of their government and done nothing to stop them.”[52]

If I indict the Jews who supported Lionel de Rothschild, the Jews who received Cousinhood funding for their international voyage to the west, the South African Jews and their Rabbi who beat the war drum against the Boers, and the Jews of London who benefited from the philanthropy and the ethnic networking of their higher ups, then let it be known thatI am merely taking Jewish logic to its logical conclusion.

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