Martin Gilbert is a historical writing phenomenon; a historian without peer in many areas; and an intellectual giant in Churchilliana. Again he has produced another valuable niche product in the vast compendium of Churchill related works, this one centred on Churchill’s 70-year relationship with Jews, Zionism and post 1947 Israel. Even if you are not found of Churchill, the book should be read by those who desire to know more about the Middle East, the current Israeli-Arab struggle, and why in modern times, Israel was created as a backdrop to current events; Gilbert has produced a valuable canvass.
I have read all of Gilbert’s works, and pretty much everything there is on Churchill, and this book served up two pleasant surprises. The first, is the not inconsiderable politically incorrect pro-Zionist narrative found in Gilbert’s prose acted out by Churchill’s 70-year affinity for the cause of ‘Jewishness’ and Zionism. When world ‘opinion’ and outrage is so consumed by sympathetic revisionism seen in pro-Arab, pro-Palestinian and extreme tolerance towards all things Muslim, it is heartening to read intelligent reality based commentary which disavows genuflection to the Arab-Islmaic-Mulit-Cult, anti-modern program. The second surprise was to read of Churchill’s constancy in his support of Jews, in spite of political opprobrium over so many decades. He even once described Judaic ethics as, “incomparable the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together.” The gutless political wonders of today wouldn’t have the courage or intellectual understanding to utter such a thing. Besides the Arab feminist gay vote would cry and be pouty. It takes a rare man to stand so long on principle even as political and public ‘opinion’ support erodes.
But neither Churchill nor Gilbert are ordinary men. Churchill’s career, as Gilbert highlights, is one intertwined with, and supportive of, ‘Jews’ and Zionism, especially the idea of a Jewish home, where the long persecuted race could find security and safety. Churchill always rejected, ‘the anti-semitic lines of prejudice’ both in and outside Britain, feeling that with applied intelligence and patience, Jews and Arabs could peaceably prosper in a flourishing and modern Palestine. Unfortunately the Arabs then as now, show little inclination to live in the modern world.
From 1904 to 1908 Churchill, the 30 to 34 year old politician represented a minority Jewish constituency in Manchester. Jewish concerns were thus imprinted upon Churchill’s world view early in his career. As Gilbert elaborates, Churchill during his lifetime had many Jewish friends, publishers, researchers, political allies, and even financiers. (Churchill almost went bankrupt in the 1930’s, saved by the intervention of some notable Jewish families). As a Cabinet Minister in 1921 and 1922, charged with determining the future status of a Jewish home in Palestine; through World War Two and the holocaust, as Prime Minister from 1951-1956; and as a historian puzzling over the relationship between Jews and Arabs; Churchill was profoundly associated with Jewish concerns and the complexity of Arab Jew interaction in Palestine.
Though fond of Jews (and too fond according to one critic), Churchill was at times evisceratingly critical of Jewish extremism or inflexibility. Not surprisingly Churchill knew of the depth of Jewish leadership in the Russian bolshevist movement (all top Bolsheviks, including Lenin were indeed at least partially Jewish), calling upon Jewish leaders to denounce bolshevism and instead elevate true Jewish ethics instead. Likewise during the 1930s and 1940s, when fringe Jewish terrorist groups were attacking and murdering British Subjects and innocents in the Palestine mandate, Churchill adjured Jewish leaders to strike down such evil elements lest a Jewish home became a political and social impossibility.
In short, if you analyze his career and statements, Churchill was not Hitler’s caricature of a drunken, Jewish knave, promoting capitalism as the smiling, materialistic face of neo-imperialist slavery. He was instead a politician who believed in the Judeo-Christian tradition and who had the power to help realize Britain’s 1917 Balfour Declaration guaranteeing Jews a Palestinian home (done to gain support of Jews in Russia and America to prosecute the war against Wilhelmina Germany). If you look at the historical record, the Jews owe Israel’s very existence, at least in part, to Churchill’s exertions.
In 1922 Churchill as a Cabinet Minister responsible for Palestine, produced the Churchill White paper; which laid the foundation of an Israeli State. Churchill’s White Paper, which addressed the partition of Britain’s mandate between Arabs and Jews (Palestinians were a separate ‘people’ created by the U.N. and Arabs circa 1967), was decidedly pro-Zionist, allocating perhaps 12% of the mandate to the Jews and 88%, including present day Jordan, some of Syria, and current ‘Palestinian’ holdings to the Arabs. In terms of geographical coverage the Arabs won in terms of legitimacy, the Jews had their necessary and powerful, political support. Churchill’s plan was to increase civilizational development for 1000 years. As Churchill commented, the Arabs had done nothing with the land. As Jews increased from 80,000 people in 1922, economic development would dictate the levels of Jewish emigration. It was Churchill’s hope that the 500,000 Arab residents in 1922 would not feel overwhelmed by a rising Jewish population.
As it turned out he need not have worried. By 1948 the Arab population in the British Mandate had tripled from 1922 levels to 1.5 million. The Jewish population had surged to about 800,000. Upon declaring statehood in 1948, post-British withdrawal, the tiny Jewish State was attacked by 5 Arab States with 50 times the population. Israel survived of course, humiliating the Arab armies. (It is a cautionary tale. However, for those who chatter about precipitate withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan, those Western allied governments will simply collapse if the West exits).
Gilbert’s book is in many ways required reading for our days and times. There is nothing wrong as Churchill’s example attests to, of having constancy and moral purpose in politics. Defending the Jews- a vital part of Western civilization- is noble and just. Affirming blame to Arab-Islamic intolerance when analyzing Middle-Eastern affairs is necessary and justified. Learning from Churchill, from history, and from cultural precedents is also to be embraced.