In the spring of 2004 we received a message regarding Churchill’s purported hostility to Zionism. The message prompted me to spend an afternoon researching Churchill’s views in a variety of sources. I summarized my research in “‘Flabergasted’: A note on WSC.” I was struck at the time by the lack of a single authoritative text on a subject of such great and continuing interest.
Now, as such things frequently happen, the vacuum has been filled by two excellent books. Official Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert has just published Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship. The book documents with Gilbert’s customary thoroughness Churchill’s remarkable friendship with British Jews and his long advoacy of a homeland for the Jewish people within the Palestine Mandate. Gilbert begins with an essay Churchill wrote as a young student and traces his views to the end of his active life in politics. Of particular interest is Gilbert’s account of Churchill’s visit to Palestine as colonial secretary in 1922.
What Churchill saw with his own eyes — both the industriousness of the Jews and the backwardness of the Arabs — made a strong impression on him. Among many other interesting, amazing, moving statements by Churchill, Gilbert recalls Churchill’s essay “Moses,” reprinted in his 1932 collection Thoughts and Adventures. Arthur Herman fairly represents the substance of Gilbert’s book in his review of Gilbert’s book in today’s Wall Street Journal.
Gilbert’s book, however, needs to be supplemented by Michael Makovsky’s Churchill’s Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft. Makovsky persuasively demonstrates the occasional inconsistency of Churchill’s Zionism. Nevertheless, Churchill himself is seen to be utterly lacking in the anti-Semitic prejudices of his class or his colleagues. As in so many areas of his life, Churchill stands out as a uniquely magnanimous man. Makovsky’s Jerusalem Post column on “Churchill’s complex Zionist evolution” gives a good sample of the impressive scholarship that Makovsky brings to his pioneering study. Some of the complexities of the subject come into view in Makovsky’s question-and-answer session on Haaretz.
Daphne Merkin took note of both the Gilbert and Makovsky books in the New York Sun a few weeks ago. The time I spent trying to reconstruct Churchill’s view of Zionism three years ago would have been considerably shortened had the excellent essay “Churchill and Palestine” been available online then.
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