HC Deb 29 March 1867 vol 186 cc838-46

said, that he wished to ask the noble Lord (Lord Stanley), whether the communications between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Servia afforded any hope of an improved treatment by the latter of its Jewish subjects? He (Sir Francis Goldsmid) regretted that he had not received the information on which his Question was founded before the late debate on the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory.) He (Sir Francis Goldsmid) hoped, however, that for two reasons he should be considered justified in bringing this matter forward. In the first place, everything had now an interest which bore upon the relations of the Turkish Government with its non-Mahomedan subjects. In the second place, although as a general rule he was opposed to discussions in that House on the internal affairs of Foreign States, yet this was not a case in which an expression of opinion by the Government of England or by Members of Parliament could be considered, either in the English or French sense of the word, as officious. By the Treaty of Paris the independence of Servia, subject to the suzerainty of the Porte, was guaranteed by England in common with other Powers; and therefore they had a right to expect that the conditions upon which that guarantee had been given should be observed. The 28th Article of the Treaty was in these terms— The Principality of Servia shall continue to hold of the Sublime Porte in conformity with the Imperial hatts which fix and determine its rights and immunities, placed henceforward under the collective guarantee of the contracting Powers. In consequence the said Principality shall preserve its independent and national administration, as well as full liberty of worship, of legislation, of commerce, and of navigation. The House would observe that liberty of worship in the Principality was here expressly stipulated for. But the Greek Christians of Servia appeared to understand by this, liberty of worship for the majority; while the Jews, who were a minority, were now subjected to vexatious restrictions, not only as regarded worship, but also in respect to their mode of living and the occupations which they carried on. Jews had been settled in Servia since the 15th century, when they had been expelled from Spain. During the Government of the Turks they seemed to have been subject to no special hardship, nor whilst Servia was passing from the complete dominion of the Turks to that modified independence which she had now attained. For more than twenty years after 1815 Prince Milosch bore a principal part in the government of Servia. He did not, indeed, appear to have been wholly free from the taint of semi-barbarism; but, at the same time, he was firmly impressed with notions of religious freedom, and during his time the Jews had little cause to complain. In 1842 another dynasty was substituted, and shortly afterwards there was published a decree which was extremely hostile to the Jews. In March, 1856, the Treaty of Paris, containing the stipulation already referred to, was concluded. Yet in October of the same year a decree passed the Servian Senate confirming the previous proscription against the Jews. In September, 1859, Prince Milosch was restored, and he issued an edict declaring that no inhabitant of Servia, whatever his nationality or religion, should be prevented from settling where he pleased, or from devoting himself to commerce or any profession he might choose. In 1861, however, after the death of Prince Milosch, a change took place, and a law was enacted permitting Jewish subjects, who had settled in the interior, to continue to carry on their businesses in the localities where they were domiciled, but prohibiting them from entering into new undertakings. It also prohibited their children from succeeding to their fathers' occupations, and forbade the entrance of new Jewish settlers. Its terms were— Art. 1. All Jewish subjects of Servia, who in virtue of the law of September 1859 have settled in the interior of the country, or who may settle there between this day and the 28th of February, 1861 (the date fixed for the coming into force of the law which forbids any further accession to the number of Jews inhabiting the interior), and who have established, or who may establish, a trading business there, are allowed to continue their residence and their business, but only in the localities in which they are domiciled. Art. 2. Israelites inhabiting Servia, who up to the present time have been engaged in retail trade only, who have not been manufacturers, and who have not sold articles of food, shall not in future be allowed to commence either of the two last-mentioned businesses within any part of the Servian territory. Art. 3. The right of sojourning in Servia, and of carrying on trade in the country, shall be enjoyed exclusively by such Israelites as shall be settled in the country previous to the 28th of February, 1861; they only are allowed to carry on business, or to exercise a profession. This right is not transmissible to their heirs. The 4th Article related to the liberty of trade, and it forbade the Jews to trade in houses or lands in the interior, without special authorization, under penalty of the application of the law of the 30th of October, 1856. Some hon. Members had, in conversation with him, expressed a doubt whether such a law as he had just read could really have been passed; but he could assure them that it was not only genuine, but was being enforced with increasing rather than with relaxed rigour. If these things were to be ascribed to religious bigotry, they might call to mind the language which the great Spanish novelist put into the mouth of Sancho Panza. "I am an honest man," says Sancho, "and a Christian whose fathers were Christians before him. I hate Jews mortally. What more is necessary in order to deserve eternal happiness?" He (Sir Francis Goldsmid) was certain, however, that he might venture to inform the Servians that Sancho's doctrine was not that of Western Europe in the latter half of the 19th century. But further, he was assured, and he believed the Government had received similar assurances, that to ascribe the treatment of the Servian Jews to religious bigotry would be to give the Servians greater credit than they deserved. Their conduct really originated in a jealousy of Jewish traders, who either from being more clever in business, or from being contented with smaller profits than their competitors, were able to supply the Servian peasants with the necessaries they required on cheaper terms than their rivals. It was thus self-interest which was clothing itself in the garb of religious zeal—a kind of hypocrisy more contemptible than bigotry, if it could not be more mischievous. Great distress had been suffered by a number of Jews through the bombardment of Belgrade, their houses being situated almost under the guns of the fortress; and though the Servian Government might not be responsible for that bombardment, it was their oppressive measures which had obliged a large number of Jews to reside in that quarter of the town, and by interfering with their means of livelihood had reduced them to destitution. The exhibition of such intolerance ought to be well considered by those who wished this country to forego its old Eastern policy. The testimony of the hon. Members for Southwark and Bridgwater (Mr. Layard and Mr. Kinglake), of Viscount Strangford (a nobleman who it was to be regretted did not oftener give to the House of Lords and the country the benefit of his intimate knowledge of the East), and of other gentlemen best acquainted with Turkey, went to show that while our own notions of toleration nowhere existed in that country, the Mahomedans were much less inclined to oppress the Christians and Jews than the Greek Christians were to oppress all who differed from them, whether Protestants or Roman Catholics, Jews or Mahomedans. Persecution would not be diminished by giving independence to the Christians; but its direction would simply be changed, and its virulence and intensity probably increased. Those semi-barbarians, reversing the maxim of the Roman poet, had learnt from the oppression which they had endured no other lesson than this, how best to avail themselves of the first opportunity of inflicting similar oppression upon others. He hoped the Servians would be made to understand that they would receive no further sympathy from England unless they conceded to others the rights which they were ready enough to claim for themselves. He acknowledged with gratitude the friendly remonstrances which had been offered by the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) and by his predecessors in office. He did not call upon the Government to take any action in this question beyond persevering in that course; but he hoped that the discussion of the subject in the British House of Commons would have a moral effect. He expressed a confident hope that the noble Lord would be found ready to offer again words of friendly, though earnest, remonstrance on behalf of the unfortunate class whose case he (Sir Francis Goldsmid) had brought to the attention of the House.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, a Copy of any Correspondence between Her Majesty's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Her Consul General in Servia, respecting the condition and treatment of the Jews of that Principality,"—(Sir Francis Goldsmid,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, the hon. Baronet might be certain of the sympathy of the House in the matter he had brought under its notice. Having taken some interest in the country to which the statement referred, he (Mr. Darby Griffith) should be the last to excuse any such persecution as that described. Interested as the hon. Baronet was in this subject, if he had remained up to a recent period ignorant of the facts, others might be excused for not being acquainted with them. Certainly he was taken very much by surprise. He should have hoped that those who had suffered persecution as the Servians had would have learnt a lesson of mercy; but the perversity of human nature taught exactly the opposite lesson. We had acquired a moral right to offer a remonstrance in this case to anything we conceived opposed to the principles of humanity. That rested upon the Treaty of Paris, and upon the part we had taken on all occasions with the greatest impartiality to introduce peace and comfort into those countries which were partially under the Turkish rule, and partially emancipated from it. While, however, he condemned the conduct which had been described, he could not fail to notice that the hon. Baronet had spoken of no flagrant cases of oppression, and no doubt what had occurred was attributable to trade jealousy. He could not refrain from expressing his opinion that throughout the whole of the negotiations in reference to Servia the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office (Lord Stanley)had displayed extreme tact and judgment.


said, he thought his hon. Friend had acted perfectly right in bringing before the House the wrongs of his co-religionists, and he was sorry to hear the statement that had been made. It was a grievous thing that the noble and gallant people who had for so many years been engaged in a conflict for liberty themselves should have been so oblivious of the causes of that conflict as to oppress a race of people within their borders solely on the ground of religion. The Jews, wherever they settled, were a quiet and orderly people, turning their attention to trade, and engaging in no intrigues. He hoped that this discussion would meet the eyes of the wise and liberal Prince who governed Servia, feeling confident that he would take the matter into his consideration, and show his people that the sympathy of Europe with the Christians in the East extended to every race of people whatever their religion who suffered on account of their religion. A favourable opportunity was now presented for interference on our part. The Prince of Servia in the course of a very few days would be in Constantinople, and it might be possible for our representative at the Sublime Porte to lay before his Highness what transpired this evening. If that were done he felt certain, from what he knew of the character of the Prince, that a complaint so well founded would not be allowed to go long unremedied.


I have no objection whatever to lay upon the table the papers for which the hon. Baronet asks. They will contain all the information that exists, or, at any rate, that is in our possession on this question. As these papers will shortly be before the public there is less reason for me to trouble the House at any length. The hon. Baronet has adverted to the most material features of the question, and I believe that his statement is fair and accurate. I am quite sure that the feeling of the House will be unanimous in cordially and sincerely sympathising with the object he has in view. I quite agree that we have a moral right to give advice to the government and people of Servia. I should not rest that right so much on the stipulations of the Treaty of Paris. I think we may fairly rest it upon the efforts which not England alone, but Europe collectively, has made on behalf of the Servians in order to remove that foreign occupation of Belgrade which was the constant and fruitful cause of irritation and annoyance. I can only confirm what has been stated by the hon. Baronet as to the laws now in force in Servia regulating and restricting the occupations of the Jewish community; and I do not think that the hon. Baronet has characterized those laws in terms which are too strong for the occasion. I am afraid it is impossible to deny that the conduct of the Servian people in regard to the Jewish community residing amongst them has been utterly unworthy of a people who reasonably and justly aspire to take their place amongst the civilized communities of Europe. I say the conduct of the Servian people, rather than the Servian Government, because, if I am not misinformed, it is much more a case of popular prejudice and popular bigotry than any intentional impolicy on the part of the Government. I believe that the Government will be willing to do what is fair and reasonable in this matter if they are assured that they can do so without coming too strongly into conflict with popular prejudices. The existence of these prejudices is the more discreditable, because the Servians ought to remember that no people have spoken more strongly on behalf of their nationality—none have shown more impatience of oppression, of anything like foreign constraint or domination—and none have appealed more freely or frequently to the general feeling of Europe on behalf of Christian races than themselves. I think this dis- cussion, however short it may be, will do good. A state like Servia—a half civilized community—is always peculiarly sensitive to European opinions, and I think in that respect also the publication of the papers will be useful. The influence of the British Government, whatever that influence may be, has been exerted, and will for the future be exerted in Servia, and we hope everywhere else, in the cause of toleration and humanity. We must, of course, do this not dictatorially, but unobtrusively and quietly. Above all, we must not suppose that in a day we can overcome the rooted prejudices of years. For my own part, I have great confidence, not so much in diplomatic representations, as in the pressure of general European opinion, which as nations come more and more into contact with each other is brought to bear on every community and every people. With regard to the suggestion which the hon. Gentleman opposite has thrown out, that of taking the opportunity of the visit of the Prince of Servia to Constantinople, I think it is very judicious. I might suggest that any memorial or representation from the Jewish community, either of Servia or of Europe at large, will receive the support of the British Ambassador.


said, he cordially agreed with everything that had fallen from the noble Lord. During the time he was at the Foreign Office, the hon. Baronet and that distinguished philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore were constantly in communication with him on the subject of the illtreatment of the Jews in Servia; but his hon. Friend with great good taste and good feeling was unwilling to bring the question before the House of Commons, hoping always that the representations which, by the direction of the Foreign Office, were made to the Servian Government by the British Consul General would have the desired effect. Unfortunately his hon. Friend had been disappointed, and the only resource left to him was to bring the matter under the notice of the House. He quite agreed in the opinion that the publicity of this discussion would have its effect in Servia in removing the vexatious and unjust laws and restrictions affecting the Jews. The Jews in the East formed a much larger community than perhaps the House was aware of. When banished from Spain by the bigotry of that country, they took refuge in large numbers in Turkey, and they had always been treated by the Turks with considerable fairness and moderation. In Constantinople there were many Jews, several of whom had risen to great wealth and influence, and had been employed by the Turkish Government. The great enemies of the Jews in Turkey were not the Mahomedans but the Christians. The animosity did not arise from the competition in trade, but depended mainly upon bigotry. His impression was that Jews were practically unable to reside in Greece on account of the persecution and ill-treatment to which they were subjected. Such was the persecution of Jews by the Christians in Turkey, that during Easter week they were obliged to keep within their houses, for if they ventured into the streets they would run the risk of being murdered. That was even the case in Smyrna, where perhaps the most civilized Christian population of the East resided. This was really a very shocking state of things, and it was an unfortunate necessity that the only Government in the East capable of keeping order amongst the Christians and Jews was the Turkish Government. If they would go to Jerusalem in the Easter week they would find that this was perfectly true; and that Turkish troops had to be sent even into the Holy Sepulchre itself to prevent the Roman Catholics cutting the throats of the Greeks, and the Greeks from cutting the throats of the Roman Catholics. In all communities where there were Jews they were placed upon the municipal councils; and in certain provinces Jews, Christians, and Mahomedans were equally represented in those councils. He trusted that what had been said that night would go to the East; and that both Greeks and Servians would learn that they would not be supported by this country if they persecuted others because they did not agree with them in religious opinion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.