Jeremy Havardi, Author and Churchill biographer
Last week saw a moving recreation of Sir Winston Churchill’s 1965 state funeral. In the years since his passing, the great man’s legacy remains undiminished.
As a war leader, statesman, orator and writer, he still reigns supreme in the affections of the British nation and throughout much of the free world.
What is less well known is the affinity he showed with Jewish causes throughout his political career. Reflecting on the Jews in 1920, he penned these words: ‘No thoughtful man can doubt that they are the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world.’
Churchill’s philosemitism was based partly on his veneration of Jewish ethics which he regarded as, ‘the most precious possession of mankind’ and worth ‘the fruits of all other wisdom and learning together’.
He believed in the supremacy of Judaeo-Christian ideals and in his essay on Moses, lauded the great prophet and his monotheism.
Though not religious, Churchill understood the enduring power of Jewish values in a turbulent world. Throughout his career, Churchill consistently opposed anti-Semitism.
As a young MP, he denounced the Aliens Act as an unfair and discriminatory piece of legislation that would be harmful to immigrant Jews. During the Russian Civil War, he expressed his unqualified horror at an ongoing series of horrific pogroms, urging General Anton Denikin to prevent ‘the ill treatment of the innocent Jewish population’.
Throughout the 1930s, he decried the virulent anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany just as forcefully as he opposed the policy of appeasement.
It is true that, on one occasion, his fierce anti-Communism led him to indulge in harmful conspiracy thinking. Noting the presence of Jews in the Bolshevik movement, he warned of a ‘tyrannic government of Jew commissars’ in Moscow and referred to Russia as ‘a world wide communistic state under Jewish domination.’
But it is worth noting that in the same article, Churchill contrasted these ‘revolutionary’ Jews with their patriotic co-religionists and the Zionist pioneers in Palestine.
His interest in Zionism, a matter of conviction and astute political calculation, showed itself early on.
In 1908, he wrote: ‘The restoration to (the Jews) of a centre of racial and political integrity would be a tremendous event in the history of the world.’ He rejected arguments for a Jewish home outside Palestine, declaring ‘Jerusalem must be the only goal’.
He then added a note of certainty about a Jewish state that would have pleased Theodore Herzl: ‘That it will some day be achieved is one of the few certainties of the future’.
As a post-war Colonial Secretary, he made decisions that were crucial for the future of the Middle East. This included removing three quarters of the original Palestine mandate to create the state of Transjordan, an act condemned by Zionist leaders.
Yet his White Paper stated that Jews were in Palestine ‘as of right and not by sufferance’ and went on to defend the Zionist enterprise amid a cacophony of Arab opposition.
During the war, Churchill intervened several times to help Europe’s beleaguered Jews. In 1943, he insisted with success on the repeal of the anti-Semitic Vichy laws in Algeria.
He agreed an operation to bomb Auschwitz in 1944, only to be overruled by the Air Ministry.
Despite not overturning the provisions of the 1939 White Paper, he showed sympathy with Jewish refugees who had travelled to Palestine to seek refuge from Axis-controlled Europe.
Against the advice of others in the War Cabinet, he successfully championed the creation of a Jewish brigade, arguing that he liked ‘the idea of the Jews trying to get at the murderers of their fellow countrymen in Central Europe’.
During the war, he also backed the creation of a Jewish state as part of a post-war settlement.
Though his faith in Zionism was shaken by the Irgun’s post war militancy, he continued to support Israel once it had been established. He even argued for the country’s inclusion in the Commonwealth.
Churchill deserves to be remembered for his supreme statesmanship and courage at a critical moment in Western history. But as Jews, we have yet another reason to honour this titanic figure.