How Winston Churchill Preserved the Dream of Israel: July, 1922

How Winston Churchill Preserved the Dream of Israel: July, 1922

The Dream of Israel : An ear­li­er ver­sion of this arti­cle appeared in The Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor on June 30th. There were some inter­est­ing com­ments. Click the link to read. 

Here­in, some edits of the edits, which diverged slight­ly from the draft. The pub­lished sub­ti­tle was, “Here’s bet­ting he would have loved America’s new embassy.” (Nev­er bet on what Churchill might love or not love.) It’s worth not­ing that the U.S. Embassy is in West Jerusalem. In a set­tle­ment, there could also be an Arab seat of gov­ern­ment in East Jerusalem. RML

Britain and Israel

Prince William land­ed in Israel June 25th for the first roy­al vis­it to the coun­try. In many respects this marks a his­toric British recom­mit­ment. Churchill’s resolve near­ly a cen­tu­ry ago ensured that an Israel would exist.

British sup­port of Israel is large­ly attrib­uted to Arthur James Bal­four, for whom the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion is named. By it, Britain backed a “Jew­ish nation­al home” after the end of World War I. But few know or note that Win­ston Churchill con­tributed more to what became Israel than Arthur Bal­four. His words to the House of Com­mons, spo­ken on Amer­i­can Inde­pen­dence Day, 1922, saved the nation­al home from extinction.

Con­tro­ver­sy over the cre­ation of a Jew­ish state had been build­ing for sev­er­al years before Churchill made his case on the 4th of July. The Zion­ist move­ment, found­ed by Theodor Her­zl in 1897, strove to reestab­lish a Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in that part of Pales­tine which was the ancient home­land of the Jews. In 1920, Churchill wrote that if “there should be cre­at­ed in our own life­time by the banks of the Jor­dan a Jew­ish State…an event would have occurred in the his­to­ry of the world which would, from every point of view, be beneficial.”

Not every­one agreed. Britain had fought the war in part to defeat the Ottoman Empire. Arabs, many argued, should rule there exclusively.

Mandate of Palestine

Pales­tine as a Man­date includ­ed what is now both Israel and Jor­dan. (Wiki­me­dia)

In the peace that fol­lowed World War I, the new League of Nations pro­vid­ed legal sta­tus, called “man­dates,” for ter­ri­to­ries trans­ferred from the con­trol of one coun­try to anoth­er. The League defined man­dates as “way­points toward inde­pen­dence.” Cyn­ics said it was a polite term for colony-build­ing. Britain received the Man­date of Pales­tine, includ­ing what is now Jor­dan and Israel. Its cap­i­tal was Jerusalem.

As colo­nial sec­re­tary in 1921, Churchill estab­lished Jor­dan in six-sev­enths of the Man­date and backed a Jew­ish home­land in the remain­der, where the Zion­ists had large­ly set­tled. “One prin­ci­ple of the Bal­four dec­la­ra­tion,” he told a Jew­ish del­e­ga­tion, “is that the process of the estab­lish­ment of a nation­al home for the Jews is to be with­out prej­u­dice or unfair­ness to the Arab and Chris­t­ian inhab­i­tants.” (See War­ren Dok­ter, Churchill and the Islam­ic World.) Many in Par­lia­ment object­ed. In 1922, they tried to can­cel the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion — with warn­ings that sound remark­ably familiar.

In 1922, two-thirds of the House of Lords vot­ed to reject Balfour’s promise, declar­ing that a Jew­ish home­land was unac­cept­able “to the sen­ti­ments and wish­es of the great major­i­ty of the peo­ple of Pales­tine.” The Arabs, said Lord Syden­ham, a for­mer colo­nial admin­is­tra­tor, “would nev­er have object­ed to the estab­lish­ment of more colonies of well-select­ed Jews; but, instead of that, we have dumped down 25,000 promis­cu­ous peo­ple on the shores of Pales­tine…. What we have done is… to start a run­ning sore in the East, and no one can tell how far that sore will extend.”


In a bravu­ra per­for­mance in the House of Com­mons on 4 July 1922, Churchill turned things around, hurl­ing the ear­li­er words of doubters back at them. Lord Syden­ham, he not­ed, had ear­li­er hoped “…to free Pales­tine from the with­er­ing blight of Turk­ish rule, and to ren­der it avail­able as the nation­al home of the Jew­ish peo­ple, who can restore its ancient prosperity.”

The Con­ser­v­a­tive stal­wart Sir John Butch­er, Churchill said, “has just addressed us in terms of bit­ing indig­na­tion.” Then he quot­ed what Butch­er had said in 1917: “I trust the day is not far dis­tant when the Jew­ish peo­ple may be free to return to the sacred birth­place of their race, and to estab­lish in the ancient home of their fathers a great, free, indus­tri­al community….”

Sir William Joyn­son-Hicks, a pop­u­lar Tory and future gov­ern­ment min­is­ter, had led the attack on the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion. Churchill flung back at “Jix” his words from 1917: “I will do all in my pow­er to for­ward the views of the Zion­ists, in order to enable the Jews once more to take pos­ses­sion of their own land.” Churchill con­clud­ed: “If, over the por­tals of the new Jerusalem, you are going to inscribe the leg­end, ‘No Israelite need apply,’ then I hope the House will per­mit me to con­fine my atten­tion exclu­sive­ly to Irish matters.”


It was, as the his­to­ri­an Paul John­son wrote, “one of [Churchill’s] great­est speech­es.” And it had the intend­ed effect. The House of Com­mons vot­ed 292-35 to con­tin­ue Balfour’s Pales­tine pol­i­cy, revers­ing the House of Lords. John­son con­sid­ers the speech a water­shed: “With­out Churchill, it is very unlike­ly that Israel would ever have come into existence.”

In 1922, Churchill reject­ed a demand by Arabia’s King Ibn Saud to stop Jews from set­tling in Pales­tine. He pro­posed a com­pro­mise, allow­ing immi­gra­tion based on Palestine’s eco­nom­ic capac­i­ty. As a result, 400,000 Jews escaped from Europe before World War II.

In 1939 Churchill opposed a British white paper again attempt­ing to slow immi­gra­tion. In 1941, he exempt­ed Pales­tine from the Atlantic Char­ter. This declared the right of all peo­ples to the gov­ern­ment of their choice. He explained to Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt that the Arabs would claim a major­i­ty and block Jew­ish immigration.


Churchill retained sym­pa­thy for Arab aspi­ra­tions and was not unafraid to crit­i­cize Jew­ish extrem­ism. Out­raged when his friend Lord Moyne, British min­is­ter of state in Cairo, was killed by Stern Gang (Lehi) mil­i­tants in 1944, he urged Zion­ist leader Chaim Weiz­mann to sup­press extrem­ism, lest Zion­ism only pro­duce “a new set of gang­sters wor­thy of Nazi Ger­many.” Weiz­mann agreed.

Churchill’s speech­es after the found­ing of Israel were con­sis­tent­ly sup­port­ive. On his 75th birth­day, he received a mes­sage from David Ben-Guri­on, Israel’s first prime min­is­ter: “Your words and your deeds are indeli­bly engraved in the annals of human­i­ty. Hap­py the peo­ple that has pro­duced such a son.”

In 2015, the Simon Wiesen­thal Cen­ter and Muse­um of Tol­er­ance in New York cel­e­brat­ed Churchill’s

ever­last­ing love and affec­tion for the Jew­ish peo­ple.… Over 600 peo­ple watched with an awe that tran­scends gen­er­a­tions…. [This] sig­naled grat­i­tude to a fam­i­ly that bore much crit­i­cism, heartache and pro­fes­sion­al con­se­quence for its stead­fast sup­port of our peo­ple and our nation­al home.

Near­ly 110 years ago, Churchill said, “Jerusalem must be the [Jews’] only ulti­mate goal. When it will be achieved it is vain to proph­esy… That it will some day be achieved is one of the few cer­tain­ties of the future.”For Britain as for Amer­i­ca, it looks as though that day has arrived. But let us remem­ber to whom we are real­ly indebt­ed for these achievements.

One thought on “How Winston Churchill Preserved the Dream of Israel: July, 1922

  1. Excel­lent and infor­ma­tive infor­ma­tion. I was not aware of the depth of Churchill’s influence.

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