Makovsky: Churchill admired Zionist Weizmann

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Winston Churchill was a strong supporter of Zionism and Jewish interests for nearly all of his long career as a British statesman, and his great admiration for Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann was a strong influence on Churchill’s feelings on those issues, according to Michael Makovsky, author of Churchill’s Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft (Yale University Press), which recently received a National Jewish Book Award. Makovsky, a St. Louis native and graduate of the Epstein Hebrew Academy and the first graduating class of Block Yeshiva High School, returned to his hometown last week, where he addressed a large audience at the Kopolow Building.

Makovsky received his doctorate in diplomatic history from Harvard University and is currently Foreign Policy Director for the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. In addition to receiving a 2007 National Jewish Book Award, Churchill’s Promised Land has been praised by other leading scholars and experts in the Middle East and foreign policy.

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In his remarks, Makovsky offered warm greetings to the audience, including his relatives, former teachers at Epstein Hebrew Academy and the Block Yeshiva High School. He recalled that when he was elected president of the Student Council at Epstein Hebrew Academy, his late grandfather, the esteemed local Jewish educator, Jacob Elbaum, jokingly asked, “Is that good for the Jews?” Makovsky said, “that is the classic Jewish question, of course, born of years of persecution, and so it is natural for us to ask, ‘Was Churchill good for the Jews?’ We can also ask, ‘Were the Jews good for Churchill?'”

Makovsky answered his rhetorical questions in his remarks and in his books with “yes,” based on many years of Churchill’s history in which he related very positively with both the Jewish community in Great Britain during most of his political career, and in his associations with the Zionist movement, especially the Zionist leader, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, for whom Makovsky said Churchill had great respect, even at times bordering on “fear.”

“Churchill through most of his career and life regarded the Jews as a great race. He was influenced by his father, Randolph Churchill, who in turn had been favorably influenced by Benjamin Disraeli, whose father had him baptized because of a dispute with his synagogue. The Jewish-born Disraeli served as prime minister for Queen Victoria, and his statesmanship inspired both Churchill and his father,” Makovsky said.

Makovsky added, “Churchill observed, ‘The Lord deals with the nations as they deal with the Jews,’ which was based on the often-quoted statement in Genesis that God will bless those that bless Israel and curse those that curse Israel.”

Makovsky took note of Churchill’s good relations with the Jewish residents of his district in northwest Manchester, when he first ran for Parliament. “He humorously observed, ‘When you have three Jews, two will be prime ministers and the third will be the leader of the opposition.”

There was only one lapse in Churchill’s overall positive attitude towards Jews, accordign to Makovsky: the rise of the Bolshevik/Communist movement in Russia.

“Because many of the Russian Communists were Jews, Churchill, like other conservative leaders of his time tended to equate Jews with Communism, and to use that equation in political debate. During the anti-Semitic pogroms of 1904-05 and the Bolshevik Revolution later on, Churchill suggested that Bolsheviks were Jews.”

After the rise of Fascism and Nazism, Makovsky added, Churchill became a consistent and stalwart defender of the Jewish people.

“His political rival, Clement Atlee recalled Churchill crying over the news of Nazi killings of Jews. On at least one documented occasion, Churchill wanted to bomb the rail lines leading to the Nazi death camps, but he was apparently undermined in those efforts by military people below him when he was prime minister of Britain during World War II.”

Churchill’s relationship with Zionism, its leaders and the eventual founding of the State of Israel was more complex and nuanced, according to Makovsky.

“While Churchill’s practical relationship with Zionism could be described as erratic, he was also drawn to the romantic, sentimental notion of restoring Jews to their homeland. This was counterbalanced with practical efforts by Britain to maintain good relationships with the Arabs, who tended to be both anti-Jewish and anti-British.”

“On Feb. 2, 1908, Churchill said, ‘A Jewish Center would be great,’ and he even wanted Jerusalem to be part of that center.”

When the British government issued the famous Balfour Declaration, recognizing the right of the Jews to establsh a national home in Palestine, “Churchill said nothing,” Makovsky noted. “He was also opposed to breaking up the Ottoman Empire, wanting it to remain as a buffer against the Russians. In the 1910s and 1920s, it was the only period in which Churchill openly disparaged Zionism.”

As colonial secretary, Makovsky said, Churchill made three historic, major decisions affecting the Middle East: he gave 75 percent of Palestine to Emir Abdullah, the former Arabian leader and grandfather of the current King Abdullah II of Jordan; he maintained west Palestine as a Jewish homeland and he installed the Sunni King Faisal as ruler of the mostly Shia Iraq.

Despite his practical need to accommodate the Arabs, Churchill “declared his sympathy for Zionism in many venues and occasions,” Makovsky said. He adds, “in the most dramatic moment of Churchill’s engagement with Zionism thus far, and ultimately one of the most moving Zionist experiences of his life, he spoke to a crowd of 10,000 Jews at the site of the uncompleted Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jeurusalm on March 29, 1921.”

In that speech, Makovsky quotes Churchill as having said, “My heart is full of sympathy for Zionism. This sympathy has existed for a long time, since 12 years ago….I believe that the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine will be a blessing to the whole world, and a blessing to Great Britain.”

Makovsky added that Churchill then planted a palm tree, “assisted by (High Commissioner Herbert) Samuels and (James de) Rothschild, while Hatikvah, (The Hope), the Zionist anthem was sung enthusiastically by the crowd.”

During World War II, while Churchill had opposed the infamous British White Paper of 1939 which restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine, he did not attempt to have it repealed. He did agree to the creation of a Jewish Brigade in Palestine to join the British war effort against the Nazis and their Axis allies.

His long-term relationship with Weizmann was the most influential, according to Makovsky. When Churchill had to make decisions that he felt would upset Weizmann, Churchill was literally “afraid to meet with him, because of his great respect and admiration for the Zionist leader.”

Makovsky’s appearance was sponsored by the Brodsky Library, the St. Louis Chapter of the American Society for Technion and the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. Also sponsoring the event was the Winston Churchill Memorial Library in the United States, located at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo.

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