Michael Makovsky chronicles Churchill’s support of Zionism in new book


In numerous books which publish lists of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, the late Sir Winston Churchill, the great World War II Prime Minister of Great Britain is consistently at or near the top of the list.

Similarly, when the events of the recently ended 20th century are listed in order of importance, the re-birth of the modern State of Israel after 2,000 years of Jewish wandering and persecution is usually among the most significant events listed.

St. Louis native Michael Makovsky, who received his doctorate in diplomatic history from Harvard University, and who is foreign policy director for the prestigious Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., brings his considerable academic and analytical skills to bear in his superb and fascinating new book, Churchill’s Promised Land, which meticulously chronicles Churchill’s long-standing support of the Zionist movement and the right of the Jewish people to establish an independent Jewish State in the Promised Land of their ancestors.

Few statesmen of worldwide stature had the durability and breadth of experience across so wide a swath of history and global territory as Winston Churchill.

He began his long political career as a Conservative, switched to the Liberal Party and then became a Tory again. During World War II, he was First Lord of the Admiralty, while a young and promising American Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt was Secretary of the Navy. During World War II, Churchill and FDR formed an historic friendship and alliance, standing shoulder to shoulder and using their considerable speaking abilities to mobilize the Allies in the all-out and successful effort to defeat the evil Axis Powers of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and militaristic Japan.

That Churchill became such a successful British prime minister and world leader came as a major surprise to his detractors. In May of 1940, when the disgraced Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who had tried to appease Adolf Hitler was forced to step aside, Churchill was 66 years old, addicted to brandy and chronically depressed, having never fully recovered from his grave miscalculation in the battle of Gallipoli in 1915, in which he made the decision to seize the strait of Dardenelles in order to take Turkey out the war. Makovsky notes that as a result, Churchill’s “career crashed from a great height and seemed finished” after that “disaster.”

Within a short time after he agreed to succeed Chamberlain as British prime minister, Churchill won over his opponents and later his nation by saying he had nothing to offer but “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Churchill’s spellbinding oratorical skills provided the “roar” to the British Lion, helping his people survive the Blitz and to mobilize the British people in the successful effort to defeat the forces of tyranny.

Michael Makovsky, in this magisterial book, carefully traces and interweaves Churchill’s relationship to the growing Zionist movement which roughly coincided with his unusually long career in political leadership positions.

As Colonial Secretary, Churchill worked with the legendary T. E. Lawrence of “Lawerence of Arabia” fame. In that capacity, Churchill took it upon himself to unilaterally cede the eastern half of the British Mandate of Palestine to Emir Abdullah, who had supported the British during World War II.

Abdullah, who had ruled in the Hejaz region of what became Saudi Arabia, fled to the East Bank of the Jordan River after he was defeated by the House of Saud. Under Churchill’s plan, he became King Abdullah I of the Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan, which was later shortened to the name of the famous river, Jordan.

At the same time as Churchill befriended and supported Arabists like Lawrence and Arab leaders like Abdullah, he befriended Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader who became the Jewish nationalists’ main leader following the death of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, in 1904. Just as Abdullah was rewarded with literally half of Palestine because of his support of British interests, so was Weizmann rewarded for sharing his expertise on weapons-grade explosives with the British military during World War I.

In 1917, Weizmann and British and American Zionist leaders asked Lord Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, to issue an official statement affirming Jewish rights to establish a sovereignty in Palestine, over which Britain was granted a Mandate by the League of Nations after the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I. The result of Weizmann’s request was the famous Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, written on the Royal Letterhead, which stated, “His Majesty’s Government view with favour, the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…”

Makovsky takes note of the fact that in 1920, as British Secretary of War, Churchill “had prominent oficial responsibility implementing the Balfour Declaration, which was supported by his Liberal patron, Prime Minister David Lloyd George.” Like any statesman or artist who survived several decades of prominence, Churchill was extremely deft at re-inventing his political and diplomatic persona in order to assure his continued importance.

Makovsky takes note of the fact that in the 1920s, when Churchill took up the torch for the Balfour Declaration, “political considerations framed much of Churchill’s public and even his private comments about Zionism at this time, occasionally obscuring his true thoughts. To British audiences he almost always focused on the need to implement the government’s Zionist policy, crafting a politically appealing argument and rarely belaboring its merits. To Palestinian Arabs he repeatedly conveyed the government’s firm commitment to the Balfour Declaration, while to Jews he often waxed poetic about Zionism. He played for time, hoping to emerge from his tenure at the Colonial Office with the Zionist experiment on firm footing, Palestine relatively quiet, financial commitments substantially reduced, and his political standing among Conservatives enhanced or at least not diminished. In all this he succeeded.”

Thus Churchill is shown repeatedly by Makovsky as a true artist in statecraft, managing to consistently support certain core principles, such as emotional commitment to the Zionist cause of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, practical reassurance to the Palestinian Arabs that the clause in the Balfour Declaration which assures their rights will be observed, and a general stance which assures that the powers that be recognize his ongoing role as a key player in all major political and diplomatic decisions of any given period.

Churchill’s firm and continued support in the 1920s for the Zionist cause is also illustrated in his relationship to Herbert Samuel, a Jew who as a government official first urged the Cabinet to embrace a Zionist policy in 1914-1915, and then was appointed High Commissioner for Palestine in 1920 “to replace the British military administration that was found to have encouraged Arab anti-Jewish rioting,” says Makovsky. Once in office in Palestine, Samuels went out of his way to be empathetic to the Palestinians, assigning more blame for their riots on the Jews of Palestine, and he “absolved the Palestinian Arabs, whose leaders he considered moderate.”

Churchill was disappointed in Samuels’s whitewashing of the Palestinians whom he personally blamed for the riots.

Samuels even tried to “suspend Jewish immigration temorarily and then restart it only if the immigrants were carefully selected.” Churchill is described as having reluctantly assented to the Samuels’s suggestion, only to back away from it in remarks to the House of Commons a couple of weeks later, in which he called for a resumption of “a steady flow of Jewish immigrants into the country…”

Makovsky carefully records the many instances in which Churchill “declared his sympathy for Zionism in many venues and occasions.”

He notes that “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 ten thousand Jews at the site of the uncompleted Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem 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 twleve 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.”

Churchill then planted a palm tree, “assisted by Samuels and (James de) Rothschild, while Hatikvah (The Hope), the Zionism anthem was sung enthusiastically by the crowd.”

Thus Churchill waxed Churchillian in support of the Zionist cause over and over again at key points in his career and in the quest for the establishment of a Jewish State.

“If I did not believe that you were animated by the very highest of spirit of justice and idealism, and that your work would in fact confer blessings upon the whole country, I should not have the high hopes which I have that eventually your work will be accomplished.”

During the build-up to World War II and during the war itself, Churchill’s central role in working with wartime Allies FDR, the Russians and the Free French to defeat Adolf Hitler was also absolutely essential in the eventual post-war estabishment of the Jewish State.

In 1945, in the first general election in Great Britain after Victory in Europe, Churchill was turned out of office by a war-weary British public. The new Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin was the exact opposite of Churchill, not only opposing the Zionist cause, but engaging in rhetoric which many saw as cold-blooded anti-Semitism in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

Churchill returned to Number 10 Downing Street in his comeback election of 195l, three years after David Ben-Gurion, the Churchill-like first Prime Minister of Israel, along with Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first President, succeeed in fulfilling the dream of Theodor Herzl: a modern Jewish State after 2,000 years of Jewish exile and political powerlessness.

Churchill, the towering statesman who faced down and helped defeat Hitler and the Nazis, also played a nearly consistent constructive and supportive role in encouraging the Zionist dream.

Michael Makovsky’s book, Churchill’s Promised Land, records his role in helping the Zionist cause with great care and meticulous scholarship.

As Ernest May of Harvard University says of Makovsky’s book, “Most studies of Churchill stress his tough-minded realism. Michael Makovsky’s graceful and compact study of Churchill’s sustained interest in Zionism brings to light a parallel strand of idealism evident through all the latter part of Churchill’s career. His book adds greatly to our understanding of the man and also of Britain’s stance in the Middle East from World War II down to the 1950s.”

Professor May is right on the mark.

Serious scholars as well as general readers interested in the career of the last century’s most remarkable and enduring statesman, and his pivotal role in supporting the Zionist goal will be turning to Churchill’s Promised Land by Michael Makovsky for many years to come.