A lifelong supporter of Zionism and the Jews, Winston Churchill is sometimes labeled an anti-Semite. The proffered evidence, an alleged article of his, has made the obligatory rounds of the Internet.
A 1937 article draft in the Churchill Archives supposedly proves that Churchill’s off-expressed sympathy for the Jews was hypocrisy. Churchill was, if this article is to be believed, a closet anti-Semite.
Origins of a Slur
The allegations began with a 2007 article in Britain’s The Independent: “Uncovered: Churchill’s Warnings About the ‘Hebrew Bloodsuckers.’”
The 1937 draft, “How the Jews Can Combat Persecution,” had “apparently lain unnoticed in the Churchill Archives at Cambridge since the early months of the Second World War,” stated The Independent:
Churchill criticised the “aloofness” of Jewish people from wider society and urged them to make the effort to integrate themselves….Churchill says: “The central fact which dominates the relations of Jew and non-Jew is that the Jew is ‘different.’ He looks different. He thinks differently. He has a different tradition and background.” He then goes on to criticise Jewish moneylenders: “Every Jewish moneylender recalls Shylock and the idea of the Jews as usurers. And you cannot reasonably expect a struggling clerk or shopkeeper, paying 40 or 50 percent interest on borrowed money to a ‘Hebrew Bloodsucker,’ to reflect that almost every other way of life was closed to the Jewish people.”
Some of this could be the words of an anti-Semite. But Churchill did not write them. Nor did he publish them. Nor did he approve of them.
Anti-Semite Marshall Diston
“How the Jews Can Combat Persecution” had not “lain unnoticed since the Second World War.” It was “unearthed” over three decades ago by the Churchill biographer Sir Martin Gilbert. It is among the million documents in the Churchill Archives Centre. Gilbert published it in 1982 in Winston S. Churchill, Companion Volume V, Part 3, The Coming of War: Documents 1936-1939. Today it is in The Churchill Documents, Volume 13 (Hillsdale College Press, 2009), page 670.
Gilbert reveals that the article was written entirely by a British journalist, Adam Marshall Diston (1893-1956)—a journalist, a follower of Sir Oswald Mosley’s New Party before it became fascist, and a would-be Labour candidate for Parliament in 1935. Diston was also an anti-Semite. Churchill, Gilbert notes, was then writing on average an article a week—so he hired Diston to draft certain articles. Churchill amended most Diston drafts before publication; he published unamended.
It is important to keep Diston’s role in perspective. Drafts for Churchill’s weighty histories, such as Marlborough and A History of the English Speaking Peoples, were prepared by distinguished historians such as Bill Deakin and Keith Feiling. Diston drafted some of what Churchill called “potboilers”—articles written to help maintain his expansive staff and luxurious lifestyle. (“We loved pot-boilers,” his former secretary Grace Hamblin told me. Churned out raidfire, they went straight to magazine editors. They had none of the fastidious revision Churchill afforded his books.)
Not Churchill’s Work
“How the Jews Can Combat Persecution,” continued Sir Martin, “was the only serious subject Diston was asked to tackle. [And] he went over the top in the use of his language.”
When conveying the draft to Churchill, Diston recognized his excesses: “Mrs. Pearman [Churchill’s secretary] did not tell me for what paper it was wanted,” he wrote Churchill. “If it is for a Jewish journal, it may in places be rather outspoken. Even then, however, I do not know that that is altogether a bad thing. There are quite a number of Jews who might, with advantage, reflect on the epigram: ‘How odd, Of God, To choose, The Jews.’” It is impossible to describe those words as other than those of an anti-Semite.
Subsequent correspondence in the Churchill Archives, from March 1940, has Charles Eade, then Churchill’s editor for his war speeches, suggesting that Diston’s “rather provocative” article be published in the Sunday Dispatch. Kathleen Hill, forwarded Eade’s proposal to Churchill with a note:
I cannot trace that this article on the Jews has ever been published. You originally wrote it for the American Magazine Liberty about June 1937….However, the article was not published as Colliers objected to any of your articles appearing in a rival magazine. (Churchill Archives, CHAR 8/660/32.)
Churchill himself would not have himself sought to publish the article, Martin Gilbert explained: “His private office did that, and was always most efficient.” It is not clear that Churchill even read either the original or the retyped Diston article. His usually copiious red-ink corrections are not there.
Excuses and Prevarications
Were Colliers’ objections the problem? Colliers was Churchill’s primary American article outlet. But that opinion was Mrs. Hill’s, not Churchill’s. While she might have remembered Colliers’ objections, Churchill had other outlets. And he was never one to fail to place a good story. Yet, after reading Mrs. Hill’s memo, Churchill himself wrote across the bottom: “better not.” Mrs. Hill duly informed Charles Eade: “Mr. Churchill thinks it would be inadvisable to publish the article.” (Churchill Archives, CHAR 8/660/31.)
Notwithstanding that it was Diston not Churchill who wrote of “Shylock” and “Hebrew Bloodsuckers,” we may be sure The Independent’s story or portions of the Diston draft will continue to surface as proof of Churchill’s anti-Semitism. There is an element today that seeks always to deconstruct time-proven institutions, societies and leaders. No matter how positive their record, their least peccadilloes prove they are no better than the villains of history: that “we” are no better than “they.” Call it the Feet of Clay School.
Leave aside Churchill’s lifelong support of Zionism. Forget his legion of Jewish friends, from Sir Ernest Cassel to Henry Strakosch to Bernard Baruch, who stuck by him when it took courage to do so, often bailing him out of financial misfortune. Omit the fact that his official biographer was also a leading Holocaust and Jewish historian. Churchill championed the Jews. He deplored their persecution. “How can any man be discriminated against,” he once asked, “purely because of how he was born?”
Second and Third Thoughts
But Churchill was not an uncritical friend. Outraged by the 1944 killing of his friend Lord Moyne, Minister Resident in Cairo, by members of the terrorist Stern Gang, Churchill said: “If our dreams for Zionism are to end in the smoke of assassins’ pistols and our labours for its future to produce only a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently and so long in the past.” Despite his outrage, he refused to agree to a Colonial Office proposal after Moyne’s death to curb Jewish immigration to Palestine, and refused to appoint as Moyne’s successor two senior Conservatives whom he knew were opposed to Zionism.
Churchill “always had second and third thoughts, and they usually improved as he went along,” wrote William Manchester. Along with his second thoughts go Churchill’s integrity. He pays no heed to “public opinion.” He would not recognize what we call today Political Correctness.
Reflecting on his four decades as official biographer many years ago, Sir Martin Gilbert said a thing about Churchill we should never forget: “I never felt that he was going to spring an unpleasant surprise on me. I might find that he was adopting views with which I disagreed. But I always knew that there would be nothing to cause me to think: ‘How shocking, how appalling.’”
No. Not once.