The ideas people have about Churchill never cease to amaze.
The Churchill Society of Israel will serve Israelis with an interest in Sir Winston Churchill, according to Russell Rothstein, quoted by Tim Walker in the January 9th Daily Telegraph: “Churchill’s long-standing support of Zionism and friendship with the Jewish people make it particularly appropriate that the modern state of Israel have a local organisation devoted to his memory and to preserving his thoughts, words and deeds for future generations.” Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer, adds: “Churchill was very familiar with the Old Testament. He wrote about the Children of Israel who “understood and adopted ideas which even ancient Greece and Rome, for all their power, failed to comprehend. He was familiar with the Zionist ideal and supported the idea of a Jewish state.”
But Israeli Professor Eli Shealtiel, who claims to be a Churchill scholar, disputes Churchill’s credentials: “He was no stranger to the latent anti-Semitism of his generation and class….he lost interest in Zionism after his close friend Lord Moyne was assassinated by Stern Gang extremists in Cairo in November 1944.”
For a Churchill scholar, Professor Shealtiel offers little insight. Churchill, who had many close Jewish friends throughout life, was a Zionist at least from the time he represented the heavily Jewish constituency of Manchester North West in 1908. As Colonial Secretary in 1921 he promoted a Jewish homeland in Palestine (which few remember was 6/7ths Arab, consisting of modern Jordan as well as Israel). In the 1930s he stridently spoke against Hitler’s pograms and the British government’s anti-semitic Palestine White Paper; his speeches from 1948 to 1955 were replete with pro-Israel sentiments. Ever the optimist, he hoped for reconciliation between Arabs and Jews.
But Churchill was not an uncritical friend. Outraged when Lord Moyne (Walter Guinness), Minister Resident in Cairo, was shot with his driver by members of the terrorist Stern Gang on 5 November 1944, Churchill wanted Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann to ensure that the Jewish Agency “do all in their power to suppress these terrorist activities.” Martin Gilbert’s official biography, volume 7, Road to Victory, records his speech to the Commons at that time: “If there is to be any hope of a peaceful and successful future for Zionism, these wicked activities must cease, and those responsible for them must be destroyed root and branch.”
The Israeli E-zine Haaretz further quotes Shealtiel as saying “Churchill made a number of anti-Semitic statements.” Which statements, and when? One can’t reply to this sort of unattributed, unspecific, unsubstantiated er, mishegas.
On his 75th birthday Churchill 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.”
The defense rests.