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