The Anti-Semite was Diston, Not Churchill

The Anti-Semite was Diston, Not Churchill

.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,,,thinks differently…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 draft­ed by a British jour­nal­ist, Adam Mar­shall Dis­ton (1893-1956)—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 wrote, was then pub­lish­ing on aver­age an arti­cle a week—so he hired Dis­ton to draft cer­tain arti­cles for his con­sid­er­a­tion. Some he published—after heavy edit­ing. This one nev­er was.

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 what Churchill called his “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 to edi­tors after being vet­ted by WSC. They had none of the fas­tid­i­ous revi­sion Churchill afford­ed his books.)

Not Churchill’s work

“How the Jews Can Com­bat Per­se­cu­tion,” con­tin­ued Gilbert, “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 Sir Hen­ry Strakosch to Bernard Baruch, who stuck by him when it took courage to do so, often bail­ing him out of finan­cial mis­for­tune, ask­ing noth­ing in return. 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 was Churchill’s integri­ty. He paid 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.

8 thoughts on “The Anti-Semite was Diston, Not Churchill

  1. This may be one of the most impor­tant arti­cles you have or will ever write. It clar­i­fies every­thing vital to make a con­sid­ered judge­ment about Churchill’s gen­uine thoughts con­cern­ing the Jew­ish peo­ple. Now as much as in the past the Jews occu­py a cen­tral place in nation­al & world affairs. Churchill’s polit­i­cal wis­dom & pru­dence can help us Jews think about that place. Now as much as in the past polit­i­cal wis­dom & pru­dence is lack­ing, or almost nowhere to be found. Churchill was a great friend to the Jew­ish peo­ple, per­haps most in the resources of polit­i­cal knowl­edge which he left behind for future gen­er­a­tions, in his speech­es & books. It is there­fore very impor­tant to know what were his gen­uine thoughts, writ­ings, speech­es and say­ings and which were not.

    I end with a ques­tion. I have always believed the piece on Bol­she­vism & Zion­ism to be authen­ti­cal­ly Churchill’s. Is this a mis­tak­en opin­ion? What are the facts?

  2. The point is that the words in the draft “How the Jews Can Escape Per­se­cu­tion” were not Churchill’s words. We may dif­fer about whether the words were anti-Semit­ic, (though “Hebrew blood­suck­ers” sounds fair­ly defin­i­tive). But as Sir Mar­tin Gilbert point­ed out, this was draft­ed by a writer as the basis for an arti­cle Churchill nev­er pub­lished or even tried to edit. Yet they are fre­quent­ly rolled out as proof of Churchill’s anti-Semi­tism. That’s too easy to be good.

  3. Re “How the Jews Can Com­bat Per­se­cu­tion,” Why are the phras­es and com­ments sin­gled out anti-Semit­ic? I pre­sume he was mak­ing a valid crit­i­cism. The ques­tion should be, are the com­ments true? The fact that we may not like a truth is not a good rea­son for reject­ing it.

  4. Won­der­ful piece. The so-called quo­ta­tion is so out of char­ac­ter I would find it very hard to believe Churchill expressed such prej­u­dices. I think you are write to think it was a vetoed ghost-writ­ten pot-boil­er. In any case res non verba….Churchill’s deeds speak for themselves.

  5. Won­der­ful piece. The so-called quo­ta­tion is so out of char­ac­ter I would find it very hard to believe Churchill expressed such prej­u­dices. I think you are right to think it was a vetoed ghost-writ­ten pot-boil­er. In any case res non ver­ba – deeds not words. And Churchill’s deeds speak for themselves.

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