Percy Gourgey

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

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

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