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Churchill, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer°

CHURCHILL, SIR WINSTON LEONARD SPENCER°

CHURCHILL, SIR WINSTON LEONARD SPENCER ° (1875–1965), British statesman and author. With some lapses, Churchill was a lifelong philo-semite and pro-Zionist. His general view on Judaism and the Jews was based on his awareness of their spiritual potentialities and their role in history, as well as his own Christian belief. "No thoughtful man can doubt the fact that they are the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world," he wrote in the Illustrated Sunday Herald (Feb. 8, 1920). Christianity and mankind, he concluded, owe to the Jews the system of ethics on which Western civilization has been built. This belief guided him to no small degree when he encountered Jewish reality and problems upon entering public life. The first confrontation occurred in 1904 when the *Balfour government submitted to Parliament a restrictive Aliens Bill which was to regulate immigration to Britain. Churchill attacked the bill from the opposition benches for its inhuman and antisemitic nature, and partly due to his efforts the measure was withdrawn. The revised bill, adopted the following year, contained many amendments proposed by Churchill. In the early years of his parliamentary activities Churchill strongly supported the Saturday Closing and Sunday Opening bills, the reduction of naturalization fees, and specific Jewish educational rights. As home secretary (1911), he had to handle anti-Jewish outbreaks that occurred during a coal strike in South Wales. Considering the local police force insufficiently strong, he dispatched a special riot police force to the affected areas to prevent further outbreaks. On the other hand, in 1919, as secretary for war and air, he was criticized for his failure to prevent the anti-Jewish excesses of the White Russian troops under General Denikin, whom the British supported in his war against the Bolsheviks. In self-defense Churchill published the telegrams which he had sent to Denikin demanding cessation of anti-Jewish outbreaks, but which went unheeded.

Churchill's attitude toward Zionism throughout his career was consistently sympathetic. In 1906, as undersecretary for the colonies, he publicly supported Israel *Zangwill's Jewish Territorial Organization (see *Territorialism), which advocated autonomous Jewish settlement within the British Empire. However, after a visit to East Africa in 1908, he avowed his belief in the Zionist conception of settlement in Palestine. As colonial secretary in 1921, after the French expulsion of King Feisal from Damascus, Churchill was confronted with unrest in the whole Middle East area, owing to the various, often contradictory, pledges given by Britain to Arab leaders. He attempted to end the uncertainty. At a conference in Cairo, Feisal was made king of Iraq. Then, at the end of March, Churchill went to Palestine for a week's visit. In Jerusalem he met Feisal's brother, Abdullah, who accepted an offer to become emir of *Transjordan. In May 1922 Churchill issued the *White Paper, named after him, in which the Arabs were assured that Britain did not intend to create a wholly Jewish Palestine, and that Jewish nationality would not be imposed upon them. Jewish immigration was to be limited so as not to exceed the country's economic capacity to absorb new arrivals. This White Paper was generally regarded by Zionists as a whittling down of Britain's promises and undertakings to the Jews. However, it also contained reassuring sections, such as the reaffirmation of the Balfour Declaration, which "was not susceptible of change," and the statement that "the Jewish community should freely develop its capacities in Palestine and that it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance. That is the reason why it is necessary that the existence of the Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection." Churchill regarded this document as binding for Great Britain, and throughout the Mandatory period it dictated his views on all problems that arose in connection with Palestine. Churchill fought fiercely against all moves in the 1930s which limited the scope of the National Home or proposed to stop immigration. His pleas for Zionism and his warnings to the government often rose to heights of eloquence and pathos that are Churchillian classics.

Churchill, as prime minister, has been criticized for not attempting to rescue more Jews from the Nazis during World War ii – although it is difficult to see what he might realistically have done; for not abolishing the White Paper of 1939 which he had so strongly condemned; and for failing to take practical steps to save the remnants of European Jewry, primarily by opening Palestine to all those able to save themselves. In his Memoirs Churchill explained his attitude as a single-minded concentration on winning the war, disregarding all other issues. From this position followed the avoidance of any controversy within the Cabinet or Parliament which might accompany the desire to solve any problem, including that of Palestine. "I do not advise any decision at the present time on the Palestine policy," he wrote to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, on June 29, 1944. "I am determined not to break the pledge of the British government as modified by my subsequent statement at the Colonial Office in 1922. No change can be made in policy without full discussion in Cabinet." It was only in 1944 that Churchill, overruling the delaying tactics of the secretary of war, pressed for the formation of a *Jewish Brigade, for which he had expressed sympathy as far back as 1940.

While Churchill did not officially concern himself with solutions to any postwar problem, he had, prior to Lord Moyne's assassination by members of *Loḥamei Ḥerut Israel (1944), set up a commission to investigate the possibility of a partition of Palestine out of which a viable Jewish state (including the Negev) would emerge. On another occasion he informed Chaim *Weizmann that he planned to make King Ibn Saud the head of all Arabs, providing he came to terms with the Zionists. He advised the Zionist leader to discuss this with President *Roosevelt. "There is nothing that he and I cannot do if we set our minds to it," he told Weizmann. But Churchill had no chance of carrying out any of these suggestions. Soon after the end of the war the Conservatives were defeated at the general election, succeeded by Clement *Attlee's Labour government. As leader of the opposition in the House of Commons, Churchill attacked the government's Palestine policy, accused Foreign Secretary Ernest *Bevin of antisemitism, and was one of the first to suggest the abandonment of the Mandate and to demand the recognition of the State of Israel after its emergence in 1948. Under Churchill's second premiership (1951–55) a complete change in Middle East policy and strategy emerged, which reflected Britain's postwar declining power. During the 1950s, too, Churchill made a series of extraordinarily pro-Zionist statements supporting Israel in its conflict with the Arabs. After his death in 1965, most of his multi-volume official biography was written by the distinguished Anglo-Jewish historian Sir Martin *Gilbert, which should certainly be consulted by anyone interested in Churchill's relations with the Jews and Zionism.

bibliography:

W.S. Churchill, Second World War, 6 vols. (1948–54), indexes, s.v.: Jews, Palestine, Weizmann, Zionism; Ch. Weizmann, Trial and Error (1949), index; O.K. Rabinowicz, Winston Churchill on Jewish Problems (1956). add. bibliography: M.J. Cohen, Churchill and the Jews (1985); W.D. Rubinstein, A History of the Jews in the English-Speaking World: Great Britain (1996), index.

[Oskar K. Rabinowicz]

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