Blanche Dugdale…Zionist Par Excellence


Glenda Woolf, a frequent contributor to Jewish Affairs, is a novelist and essayist whose articles and stories on Jewish themes have appeared in Jewish publications worldwide. Her novels, published under the name Gita Gordon, include: South African Journeys (2002), Flashback (2007), Mystery in the Amazon and Scattered Blossoms (both 2008) and Guest House (2012).

One name is missing from the history of the early struggle with the British for the creation of a Jewish state. It is that of Lord Arthur Balfour’s niece. Born Blanche Elizabeth Campbell Balfour in 1880, she became Blanche Dugdale after marrying a wealthy landowner’s son. To those close to her, she was always known as Baffy.

Blanche ‘Baffy’ Dugdale’s dedication to the Zionist cause was based on the double foundation of her religion and her interest in politics. Her activities and thoughts are well documented in her diaries, kept from early on till almost the end of her life.

A diary entry is quite different to a speech or a history book. Entries are written down as they occur. There is no altering of facts blurred by time. Blanche Dugdale’s diaries provide a unique story of the bitter fight during the 1930s between the Jews wanting their own independent homeland and the English hierarchy fighting to prevent it. Straddling both worlds is Baffy herself, an aristocratic woman with connections in high government circles and close friendships with Zionist leaders. It is clear from the diaries how hard and persistently she fought for the realization of a Jewish national home.

Blanche Dugdale with her children, Michael and Frances.

Blanche Dugdale with her children, Michael and Frances.

Early in January 1937, evidence of Dugdale’s interaction between Jewish Zionists and the influential British establishment can be seen. This was the time following the devastating Arab attacks that began in April 1936 and which led to the British government’s establishing a Royal Commission under Professor Earl Peel. The Commission was coming to the decision that a solution to the Arab violence against the Jews would be to separate the warring parties by establishing two states, one Jewish and one Arab, with a British enclave in Jerusalem. The diary entry for 18 January reads: “January 18th - London…went to Zionist Office where were Arthur Lourie and Lewis, he just home from Palestine. He talked for half an hour about the Royal commission, but had no conception of what the Reports will be”. Later that day, Baffy met with Walter Elliot, Conservative MP for Kelvingrove and at that time Secretary of State for Scotland. Although not explicitly mentioned in the diary, there is the suggestion that there would be a linkage to the halting of Jewish immigration: “I told him that nothing will keep the Jews out now - but if they think the basis of immigration unjust they will come in illegally somehow or other – and Britain will lose the asset of their loyalty”. The entry of 25 January records a discussion at the Zionist Office as to who should give evidence to the Royal commission in London.

All though February, Baffy discusses the issue of Partition with Chaim Weizmann and others. The entry for 1 February reads, “Chaim returned yesterday from Palestine…because he has a hunch he ought to be here while the Royal Commission is cogitating its report……It appears from something Coupland said to him ….. that there is a possibility of recommending, not Cantonization, but an actual division into two halves making the Jewish portion a real Jewish State….. The Jews would be fools not to accept it, even if it were the size of a tablecloth…….” On 2 February she writes: “When Walter talked on the telephone this morning he said the Heathcote-Amory (Willy Peel’s secretary in Palestine) had told him a Jewish State was under discussion.

As the weeks progress, Baffy’s optimism becomes muted: “March 2nd.……What makes me most nervous most foolish and is the growing rift between Chaim and Ben-Gurion – who is making most foolish and intransigent speeches in Palestine”.

All through March and into April, Baffy was busy visiting the Zionist offices, discussing the news with Weizman and talking to government ministers:

March 2nd …… That the Royal Commission will put forward the Jewish State as one recommendation…….Things are evidently coming to a head - and the Jews must walk like Agag. It will never do if this idea is prematurely bruited abroad, and it must not seem to be inspired by the Jews……What makes me most nervous is the growing rift between Chaim and Ben Gurion…..

April 9th Jos Wedgewood to lunch. We discussed Palestine---he is not very favorable to The Scheme….

April 14th. Spent most of the day at Zionist Office. Discussion sterile and fruitless. Only Chaim and Lewis see that the Scheme must be accepted.

April 27th…Chaim….told me of a long talk with Coupland the night before….Frontiers fairly satisfactory to Chaim……Complete Independence…..Chaim told me he would go as far as he could - but would not break with the Jewish Agency.

Baffy does not agree with Weizmann on this issue. She ends ominously: “Great events lie ahead. The Jews in the plains – so it must be before Armageddon”.

It should not be thought that Baffy spent so much of her time on Zionist activities because she was short of other interests. She had been involved with the Tory party, but at this time disillusioned with it had joined the Labour party and was being considered as a candidate for Central Southwark. She was an executive member of the League of Nations Union. She further visited friends in their stately homes, and in late March 1937 went on a motoring tour of Northern France. Yet all through the months, almost every day, there is some mention of Zionist activity (e.g., “May 25th……..Very disquieting telegram from Jerusalem that the Royal commission does not intend to recommend a contiguous frontier with Syria – in fact it means to withhold all Upper Galilee. If this is so it is fatal, and the Jews cannot acquiesce”).

The next week was a busy one. Baffy met with government ministers to discuss the Palestine question. She flew for an overnight stay to Paris to view the Palestine Pavilion at the exhibition, and on returning to England, attended a crucial meeting: “May 31st. Went up to Zionist offices at 11.am for a conference. Present Chaim – Ben Gurion – Katzenelson – Arthur – Brodetsky – self – later on Peter……Chaim told us he had decided to refuse a frontier which leaves Huleh, Tiberias, and the adjacent colonies and Safed outside. All agreed to this”.

That same afternoon Baffy went to the House of Commons to talk to Walter Coupland about Palestine. It is clear from the diary entry of that day just how valued she was in Zionist circles and how integral a part she was in the movement due to her friendships in government circles and the use she made of them.

General Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, High Commissioner to Palestine and Transjordan 1931-38

General Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, High Commissioner to Palestine and Transjordan 1931-38

All through June there was much to do. On the 9th, Baffy went to a meeting at the Zionist Office in the morning and had lunch with Weizmann. The afternoon found her in meetings at the House of Commons. She ends her long day thus: “June 9th ………We are at the eleventh hour now. After dinner at a small meeting at Henry Melchett’s B.G. declared he would fight for Partition under our minimum conditions – e.g. full sovereignty – all N. Galilee – access to Haifa- (and he adds), at least some token rights in Jerusalem. This is very important.

What is important to note here is how Baffy manages to bring together, at a social occasion of dinner, the Jewish and British politicians:

June 14th Chaim came here about 10……I drove him to the war Office where he was going to see Creedy (Sir Herbert Creedy, under-secretary of State for war, 1920- 1939)……Then I went to the Office….and we worked on final draft of Chaim’s letter (to Ormsby Gore, setting out the minimum requirements of a Jewish State)… went off to the House of Commons to attend a luncheon in honour of Ramsay MacDonald….I went back to the Office to make sure Chaim’s letter is ready for posting tonight. Final draft quite good.

June 22nd. I have seen the Report, (Savoy Grill around midnight)….There is one thing that may wreck it all, for it is recommended that immigration be limited to 12,000 for five years…….Ben Gurion is very gloomy – I fear he is beginning to play politics. Chaim is in Paris….We are only at the beginning of our troubles.

In that assessment she was correct. There were more discussions in June and then:

July 1st. God! What a day! Went to Zionist Office and found Chaim raging, after a telephone talk with Boyd (Billy Gore’s secretary) in which he learned he was not to get the Report….until three days before publication. I have never seen him so angry……. I blame Billy for the folly of denying Chaim the Report. Especially as I know that the Cabinet, though unwilling, did not forbid it being shown to him.

July was a busy and stormy month and the discussions, both at the Zionist Office and with British officials took up much of Baffy’s time: “July 20th Palestine debate took place in the House of Lords from 3 to 7 and then adjourned. Peel made a pro-Arab speech - Lord Dufferin speaking for H.M.G. a very tactless one --- Lord Samuel made a kind of ‘Brit Shalom’ proposal which will bring down on his head the wrath of Jewry”.

July was filled with meetings, and on the last day of the month Baffy flew to Zurich to attend the Zionist Conference: “July 31st. …… Chaim is extremely hopeful - says the calculations are that 70 per cent of Congress will be for Partition”.

So ends a dramatic month, filled with optimism, unfortunately not to be fulfilled. However, what is clearly seen in these diaries is both the passion for Zionism and the important work that Blanche ‘Baffy’ Dugdale did for the Jewish national cause.

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