ALIFE-LONG ACTIVIST IN communal affairs, Percy Gourgey campaigned to help Jews persecuted in Arab lands at a time when the community’s attention was focused on Soviet Jewry . In 1973 he created and chaired the action committee for Arab Jewry under the auspices of the Board of Deputies and the Zionist Federation’s campaign for Jews in Arab countries.
He protested and demonstrated against the hanging, murder, rape and torture of Jews in Syria and Iraq and, after the fall of the Shah in 1979, in Persian Iran. In 1999 he organised an impressive memorial service for the Baghdadi Jews killed by Saddam Hussein 30 years earlier.
He urged the British government to give humanitarian help, and told Jewish students to stand up to antisemitism on campus. He was particularly dismayed at Indian policy when top politicians, whom he knew to be friendly with Jews, gave in to Arab pressure and denied conference visas to Israeli delegates.
Brought up in Bombay with his late twin brother, Archie, Percy Gourgey had an older brother and two older sisters, who survive him. At Maccabi club he was a keen sportsman and swimmer, playing in the water polo team.
In the Second World War he served in the Indian Royal Navy. He later wrote a memoir of his navy days. After the war, he sat on the management committee of the Israelite (later renamed Sir Elly Kadoorie) School.
He was so impressed by Earl Mountbatten’s negotiations on India’s independence in 1947 that, as secretary of the Bombay Zionist Association, he wrote to him suggesting he work on the partition of Palestine. The idea was politely declined.
He left India in 1952, like most of the Jewish community, as career opportunities shrank. Settling in Twickenham, South West London, he wrote for the and other papers and spoke widely on Eastern Jewry. In 1954 he was the Indian delegate to the Jewish Commonwealth Conference in Geneva. In the early 1960s he had a short-lived marriage.
In 1965 he was selected Labour candidate for the North London Tory stronghold of Southgate, shortly after being appointed MBE for political and public services.
In 1971 he was co-founder and first editor of The Scribe, the journal of Babylonian Jewry established by the Dangoor family, who had left Baghdad.
Active in the Labour movement and party, he was elected secretary of Poale Zion in 1959 and chairman from 196467, becoming vice-president and later national chairman.
He was less successful electorally in the many other organisations he was involved in, but his years of dedicated service were recognised.
In the Zionist Federation he reached only junior offices in the 1970s but his long committee service led to a vicepresidency and, in 1996, to an honorary fellowship of the World Zionist Organisation. Locally, he headed Richmond JIA and the Hammersmith branch of Ajex, and was a board member and warden of Richmond synagogue.
From1961herepresentedthe Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation — he held two shul memberships — at the Board of Deputies, chairing the aliens committee from 1973-79 and also the Eretz Israel committee. He was elected to the national executive in 1988.
In 1993 he was elected vice-chairman of Hammersmith and Fulham Council for Racial Equality and became chairman of the Labour Party’s umbrella body, the socialist societies section.
Warm-hearted and careless of his person, he led Seder services at Nightingale House. He enjoyed his siblings’ families and traced their family tree. The family was related to the Sassoons and Percy’s middle name was Sassoon.
In his last four years, suffering from dementia, he was cared for at Edinburgh House, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation’s residential home in Wembley.
Percy Gourgey: champion of Jews suffering under Arab regimes