When Did Churchill Become a Zionist?

When Did Churchill Become a Zionist?

Q: Zionist and Israel supporter

“Churchill, a Zion­ist, was first to call for the cre­ation of  Israel in 1905.” Where and when in 1905 did he say that? —G.H., New York City

A: Date undetermined

Churchill was prob­a­bly a Zion­ist by 1905. Read­er Gene Kopel­son (Com­ments, below) notes Michael Makovsky’s evi­dence of young Winston’s ear­ly respect for Jews and many Jew­ish friends. This didn’t make him a Zion­ist per se, but he cer­tain­ly had become one by the time of the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion in 1917. But I can find no pub­lic state­ment call­ing for an inde­pen­dent Israel until 1948. Until then he called for a “Jew­ish Nation­al Home.” With his char­ac­ter­is­tic opti­mism, he believed Arabs and Jews in Pales­tine could coex­ist. He point­ed to the tal­ent of the Arabs. And he praised the Jews for their hor­ti­cul­ture and irri­ga­tion projects. Indeed in today’s Israel, Arabs com­prise 20% of the population.

Cairo, 1921

Head­ed by Churchill in 1921, the Cairo Con­fer­ence set the bor­ders of the mod­ern Mid­dle East. There he opt­ed for the Zion­ist idea, what he called a “Jew­ish Nation­al Home” with­in Britain’s Pales­tine Man­date, rough­ly coin­cid­ing with what is now Israel. The rest of the Pales­tine Man­date became the Arab state of Jor­dan. To a del­e­ga­tion of Pales­tin­ian Arabs in Jerusalem on 28 March 1921 Churchill declared for a Jew­ish Nation­al Home:

Pales­tine (Wikipedia Commons)

And where else could that be but in this land of Pales­tine, with which for more than 3000 years they have been inti­mate­ly and pro­found­ly asso­ci­at­ed? (Churchill by Him­self, 175)

Churchill’s impres­sive achieve­ment at that time was to con­vince two Arab poten­tates, King Abdul­lah in Jor­dan and King Feisal in Iraq, to tol­er­ate a Jew­ish Home­land in their midst. This sit­u­a­tion pre­vailed until Britain gave up the Pales­tine Man­date (with­out resolv­ing the ten­sions) after World War II. In the 1948 war Israel secured independence.

A world war later…

Zion­ist leader Chaim Weiz­mann (wear­ing Arab head­dress as a sign of friend­ship) with then-Emir Feisal in Syr­ia. (Wikipedia Commons)

…on 10 Decem­ber 1948, Churchill spoke in the House of Com­mons. He regret­ted that Britain and the West had lost the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make a per­ma­nent set­tle­ment in the Mid­dle East. This is the first admis­sion that I can find that he accept­ed par­ti­tion and an inde­pen­dent Zion­ist state:

I always had in my mind the hope that the whole ques­tion of the Mid­dle East might have been set­tled on the largest scale on the mor­row of vic­to­ry and that an Arab Con­fed­er­a­tion, com­pris­ing three or four Arab States—Saudi-Arabia, Iraq, Tran­sjor­da­nia, Syr­ia and the Lebanon—however grouped, pos­si­bly unit­ed amongst them­selves, and one Jew­ish State, might have been set up, which would have giv­en peace and uni­ty through­out the whole vast scene of the Mid­dle East. As to whether so large a pol­i­cy could have been car­ried into being I can­not be sure, but a set­tle­ment of the Pales­tine ques­tion on the basis of par­ti­tion would cer­tain­ly have been attempt­ed, in the clos­est pos­si­ble asso­ci­a­tion with the Unit­ed States and in per­son­al con­tact with the Pres­i­dent, by any Gov­ern­ment of which I had been the head. But all this oppor­tu­ni­ty was lost. (Churchill by Him­self, 176-77)

Hopes and regrets

Churchill sup­port­ed the Zion­ist state, declar­ing in the House of Com­mons in 1949: “…the com­ing into being of a Jew­ish State in Pales­tine is an event in world his­to­ry to be viewed in the per­spec­tive, not of a gen­er­a­tion or a cen­tu­ry, but in the per­spec­tive of a thou­sand, two thou­sand or even three thou­sand years.” (Churchill by Him­self, 175)

But in 1951 he deplored British poli­cies after the Sec­ond World War. These, he said, “led to the wind­ing up of our affairs in Pales­tine in such a way as to earn almost in equal degree the hatred of the Arabs and the Jews.” (Churchill by Him­self, 439).

Many who still have hope for Churchill’s opti­mism accept a “two state solu­tion” for Pales­tine and Israel. But the two sep­a­rate Pales­tin­ian enti­ties, Gaza and the West Bank, sub­di­vide the latter’s pop­u­la­tion. A solu­tion with a chance of suc­cess might con­tem­plate a shift of peo­ples to cre­ate a con­tigu­ous state. No one seems to want to grasp that net­tle (which caused hav­oc in India in 1947). Even in 1948, Churchill rec­og­nized that it would not be easy.

Further reading

How Win­ston Churchill Pre­served the Dream of Israel, July 1922” (2018)

Churchill and Lawrence of Ara­bia: A Con­junc­tion of Two Bright Stars” (2020)

2 thoughts on “When Did Churchill Become a Zionist?

  1. Not mak­ing a dis­tinc­tion between a sec­u­lar Zion­ist state E Euro­pean in nature that Stal­in cre­at­ed from a wan­der­ing pious peo­ple rec­og­nized by reli­gious prac­tice has plagued the under­stand­ing of mod­ern ‘Israel’ for mil­lions of Christians.

    Not W Euro­pean? Why were they wan­der­ing? Ah, good old Uncle Joe, he knew not what he wrought 

  2. Michael Makovsky in Churchill’s Promised Land (Yale Univ. Press, 2007, p46) notes that young Win­ston was impressed by the mourn­ing of Dis­raeli in 1881 when he was six, and shared his father’s respect for Jews. Makovsky notes Lord Ran­dolph tak­ing him to house par­ties at Lord Rothschild’s house, and Winston’s friend­ships with Lionel Roth­schild, Baron Mau­rice de For­est and Ernest Cas­sel. The lat­ter man­aged some of WSC’s finances and was a life­long friend. While none of this made him into a Zion­ist, it must have been part of his lat­er pro-Zion­ist ini­tia­tives in Par­lia­ment and Palestine. 

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