Sir Winston Churchill: Zionist hero

Jews hold strong views about the man honoured by a new statue in Jerusalem, says Catrina Stewart

Jewish supporters of Winston Churchill are to unveil a bust of the British wartime leader in Jerusalem this weekend in what they say is a long-overdue recognition of his staunch and unwavering support of the Jewish cause and their desire for a homeland.

“As a passionate Zionist all his life and a philo-semite, Churchill has been under-recognised,” says Anthony Rosenfelder, a trustee of the Jerusalem Foundation, which is behind the project to commemorate the British leader. He “combined a historical understanding of the Jewish people and what the promised land meant for Jews … with realpolitik”.

It is perhaps ironic that a statue of Churchill should stand just yards away from the King David Hotel, scene of a deadly Jewish terror attack on British military headquarters in 1946 that was to hasten the demise of mandate rule in Palestine.

Sixty-four years after the British exit, Jewish antipathy towards its mandate-era rule of Palestine still remains strong.

Some regard Churchill as a controversial figure whose government turned back Jewish immigrants trying to reach Palestine during the Second World War. Others claim that Churchill was one of the greatest supporters of the Zionist movement. They say he should be acknowledged for his role in helping make real the 1917 Balfour Declaration of British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Nearly half a century after his death, though, Churchill still remains a complex historical figure among Jews. “It’s always important to give history a bit of time to bed down,” says Randolph Churchill, great-grandson of the British leader, a reference to the anger many Israelis still harbour towards the British. “People have had time to reflect and consider [on his role]. I don’t think it’s late after the event.”

Most Israelis will remember Churchill for his role in defeating Hitler, and as the man who set the world against the Nazis, he is much admired. Unlike other British officials who backed the movement, such as Henry Balfour, Sir Wyndham Deedes and David Lloyd George, there is, however, almost no official recognition of his contribution.

“Churchill is not really commemorated here, and for lots of reasons he should be,” says Isaac Herzog, an Israeli politician behind the bust initiative.

Many Israelis will admit scant knowledge of his long alliance with the Jews during the early part of the 20th century, one which spurred a friend to tell his official biographer, Martin Gilbert, that Churchill was not without fault, that he was “too fond of the Jews.”

Indeed, it is Mr Gilbert, himself a Jew, who has proven one of the single biggest champions of Churchill, and whose weighty tome on the subject fired imaginations, including that of Mr Rosenfelder who said the book “switched on a light for me”.

Tom Segev, author of One Palestine Complete, claims that Churchill once told his close friend and an elder of the Zionist movement, Chaim Weizmann, that he would support the Zionists “even if they did horribly stupid things”.

Not everybody is so convinced. Some see his support for Zionism as a matter of expediency. He spoke often of a Jewish conspiracy behind the Bolshevik Revolution, and there are those who believe that his support for a Jewish state arose from a desire to keep the Jews from meddling in the affairs of others.

“His attitude towards the Jews was very complicated,” says Eli Shaltiel, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. “The Jewish state was a way of solving the Jewish problem… Once they had a state of their own, it would serve their very uniqueness. They would be normal like any other nation.”

The question of Auschwitz concentration camp, where thousands were killed daily, also remains a bone of contention. Critics say he put Allied lives before Jewish ones by failing to bomb it in 1944. Although historians concede Churchill did give the order for an attack, he did not make it a priority.

Edward Luttwak, a Washington-based scholar writing a book about Churchill, is even more uncomplimentary. Even as the full horrors of the extermination camp became more widely known, , he claims, Churchill wilfully ignored the plight of Hungarian Jews.

He points to events in early 1944, when Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary all ceased to cooperate with Nazi Germany in deporting their Jewry, but Britain continued to enforce rigorously stiff immigration quotas to Palestine to appease the Arabs during a time of war. He claims they denied many European Jews safe passage by either declining or issuing out-of-date visa documents.

“The Romanians survived, the Bulgarians survived, the Hungarians did not. That’s on Churchill’s conscience,” says Mr Luttwak. “In 1944, Churchill, lifelong friend of the Jews, became Hitler’s remaining Holocaust ally.”

By then, Britain’s Palestine policy was increasingly under attack from the Jews. The Struma incident two years earlier – where a ship carrying Romanian refugees trying to reach Palestine via Turkey was turned away, only to be sunk by a Soviet submarine, killing 768 people on board – had rallied opposition to the British: Churchill himself was to become a target.

Newly declassified MI5 papers reveal that in 1944, the British feared that the Stern Gang, a Jewish terrorist group determined to oust the British from Palestine, was plotting to kill Churchill, as well as the unpopular politician Ernest Bevin.

In the end, it was not Churchill who died, but his close friend Lord Moyne, who was assassinated by the Stern Gang in Cairo in November 1944. Mr Segev writes that the bloody act “lost the Zionists one of their most important supporters, Winston Churchill”.

In an address to the House of Commons, Churchill made clear the depth of his dismay: “If our dreams for Zionism are to end in the smoke of assassins’ pistols and our labours for its future to produce only a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently and so long in the past.”

But by then the wheels had already been set in motion, and the Jewish state was only a few years from becoming a reality.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?