“Enemies of Civilization”? Misquoting Churchill

by Richard M. Langworth on 22 August 2011

In a 1920 arti­cle,  “Zion­ism ver­sus Bol­she­vism,” Churchill noted that many lead­ing Bol­she­viks were Jews. Colum­nist Roger Cohen is now read­ing this to mean that Churchill con­sid­ered Jews ene­mies of civilization.

Quot­ing Churchill out of con­text has become a hobby among those deter­mined to find among his 15 mil­lion words exactly what they hope to find, instead of what he wrote or said. Roger Cohen is too respected a writer to be among them.

In “Jews in a Whis­per” (New York Times Sun­day Review, 21 August 2011), Mr. Cohen argues  that “Jews, with their his­tory, can­not become the sys­tem­atic oppres­sors of another peo­ple.” Fair enough, but in recount­ing the his­tor­i­cal antipa­thy to Jews, why do we need to twist Churchill’s words to make the point?….

Win­ston Churchill, no less, argued in 1920 that Jews were part of a “world­wide con­spir­acy for the over­throw of civ­i­liza­tion and the recon­sti­tu­tion of soci­ety on the basis of arrested development.”

This quo­ta­tion (which inci­den­tally is inac­cu­rate) is based on Churchill’s arti­cle, “Zion­ism ver­sus Bol­she­vism,” in the 25 Jan­u­ary 1920 Illus­trated Sun­day Her­ald—which has been used by sev­eral pre­vi­ous writ­ers as evi­dence that Churchill was an anti-semite.

Churchill’s arti­cle was an attack on Bol­she­vism (“a sin­is­ter con­fed­er­acy”), not Zion­ism, which Churchill sup­ported. Churchill mentioned—accurately—that many Bol­she­viks were Jews—and also gave a rea­son: They were, Churchill explained, peo­ple “reared up among the unhappy pop­u­la­tions of coun­tries where Jews are per­se­cuted on account of their race….Trot­sky (Rus­sia), Bela Kun (Hun­gary), Rosa Lux­em­burg (Ger­many ), and Emma Gold­man (United States), this world-wide con­spir­acy for the over­throw of civ­i­liza­tion and for the recon­sti­tu­tion of soci­ety on the basis of arrested devel­op­ment, of envi­ous malev­o­lence and impos­si­ble equal­ity, has been steady growing….with the excep­tion of Lenin, the major­ity of lead­ing fig­ures are Jews.”

To quote these lines out of con­text from the rest of the arti­cle is to mis­rep­re­sent Churchill, who added that fig­ures like Trot­sky com­prised only a small por­tion of Jews, who he calls “the most for­mi­da­ble and the most remark­able race which has ever appeared in the world.”

Pre­fig­ur­ing his later indict­ment of Nazi Ger­many, Churchill wrote: “Noth­ing is more wrong than to deny an indi­vid­ual, on account of race or ori­gin, his right to be judged on his per­sonal mer­its and con­duct.” Nearly half a cen­tury later, Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. would dream of the day when peo­ple were judged not by the color of their skin but by the con­tent of their character.

Jews in every coun­try, Churchill continued,

iden­tify them­selves with that coun­try, enter into its national life…a Jew liv­ing in Eng­land would say, “I am an Eng­lish­man prac­tis­ing the Jew­ish faith.” This is a wor­thy con­cep­tion, and use­ful in the high­est degree…and in our own Army Jew­ish sol­diers have played a most dis­tin­guished part, some ris­ing to the com­mand of armies, oth­ers win­ning the Vic­to­ria Cross for valour.

Par­tial quo­ta­tions taken out of con­text dis­tort what Churchill was say­ing. No one but the most ardent Churchillo­phobe can use his “Zion­ism ver­sus Bolehsvism” to accuse Churchill of anti-semiticsm. Writ­ers need to go to the source, and get it right.

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Mr. Cohen also adds a point given him by a Lon­don professor:

A cen­tury ago, dur­ing the Sid­ney Street siege of 1911, it was the Jews of London’s East End who, cast as Bol­she­viks, were said to be “alien extremists.’’

The Sid­ney Street siege was attended and con­ducted in part by Churchill, who was then Home Sec­re­tary.  I don’t think it was ever empha­sized at the time that the Sid­ney Street extrem­ists were Jews. They were referred to as “anar­chists” and “Lat­vians,” though only one had a pos­si­ble Lat­vian name. They were from Rus­sia, of course. Whether or not they were Jews was not promi­nently mentioned.

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A com­plete tran­script of “Zion­ism ver­sus Bol­she­vism” is avail­able by email.

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