Arthur Herman: Churchill understood that the Jews are the bedrock of Western tradition





[Mr. Herman's "Gandhi & Churchill" will be published by Bantam in April]

"Why should we Anglo-Saxons apologize for being superior?" Winston Churchill once growled in exasperation. "We are superior." Certainly Churchill's views of what he and other late Victorians called the "lesser races," such as blacks and East Indians, are very different from ours today. One might easily assume that a self-described reactionary like Churchill, holding such views, shared the anti-Semitism prevalent among Europe's ruling elites before the Holocaust.

But he did not, as Martin Gilbert vividly shows in "Churchill and the Jews." By chronicling Churchill's warm dealings with English and European Jews throughout his long career, and his heartfelt support of Zionism, Mr. Gilbert conveys Churchill's deep admiration for the Jewish people and captures his crucial role in creating the state of Israel. Churchill offers the powerful example of a Western statesman who--unlike other statesmen in his own time and ours--understood the malignant nature of anti-Semitism and did what he could to oppose its toxic effects.

His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, had been a close friend and ally to many wealthy British Jews, almost notoriously so, given the rancid snobbery of his circles. The son rarely failed to follow his father's inclinations, in this matter as in others. Jews like the Rothschilds and the banker Sir Ernest Cassel helped to advance Winston Churchill's early career (including watching over his finances after his father's death), and he repaid their support in part by publicly condemning the kind of anti-Semitism that was all too common in England's upper classes. But his actions were not merely an expression of personal thanks.

A student of history, Churchill came to feel that Judaism was the bedrock of traditional Western moral and political principles--and Churchill was of a generation that preferred to talk about principles instead of "values." For Europeans to turn against the Jew, he argued, was for them to strike at their own roots and reject an essential part of their civilization--"that corporate strength, that personal and special driving power" that Jews had brought for hundreds of years to Europe's arts, sciences and institutions.

To deny Jews a national homeland was therefore an act of ingratitude. Churchill became a keen backer of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which broached the idea of creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. As a friend to Zionist leader Chaim Weizman, and as colonial secretary after World War I, Churchill made establishing such a homeland a matter of urgency. "The hope of your race for so many centuries will be gradually realized here," Churchill told a Jewish audience in Jerusalem during his visit in March 1921, "not only for your own good, but for the good of all the world."...


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