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Churchill and Zionism

Last week’s NYT review by Geoffrey Wheatcroft of Churchill and Empire gave the impression that the most important aspect of the British Empire to Churchill was the creation of Israel.  I can’t believe that Churchill cared more about Israel than India.  Discussing Churchill’s reaction to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the review says, “Although his own sympathies were with the Zionist settlers, he soon realized what a thankless burden this Palestine was, and toyed with the idea of handing it over to the United States, a teasing ‘what if’ of history….”  Later in the article, which devotes about a quarter of its discussion to Churchill’s Zionism, Wheatcroft states:

Churchill’s friend and colleague Lord Moyne, who was assassinated by Zionist extremists in 1944, was not a viscount; and the dinner in London for Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader, in June 1937 was at the house of Sir Archibald Sinclair, the Liberal leader, not that of the Labour leader Clement Attlee, as James says.

 That evening was memorably reported by Blanche (Baffy) Dugdale, niece of A. J. Balfour, a former prime minister and the signer of the declaration, who was herself an active gentile Zionist: “Winston in his most brilliant style, but very drunk.” And here’s something James might have made more of. Benjamin Netanyahu keeps a portrait in his office of his hero Churchill, who was certainly a Zionist and supporter of Israel, but Netanyahu should be careful. He is perhaps unaware that Churchill’s commitment to Zionism was based on his belief that the Jews were a “higher grade race” than the Arabs they were supplanting.

We are left with two great paradoxes. The man who, at one extraordinary moment, heroically defied the vilest racial tyranny in history was himself not only an intransigent imperialist but a racist, by the standards of his own age as well as ours.

The reviewer did not like the book.  I didn’t like the review.  Churchill’s greatest concern about the decline of the British Empires was certainly not what would happen to Palestine.

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