Tuesday this week saw Ephraim Mirvis, Britain’s Chief Rabbi,...
Heroes of Zion in 20th Century England
(EXCITING NEWS: Have you heard our own programme on PREMIER RADIO yet? You can hear past episodes here.)
This man needs no introduction. Younger readers will remember him as the inventor of the "two-fingered gesture", the V-for-Victory sign. Older readers and students of history will acknowledge him for encouraging the bulldog spirit of the British people and rousing them, through his inspiring speeches, to victory (with help from the Americans of course) in the Second World War.
Winston Churchill was a great friend of the Jewish people, whom he admired greatly. In fact he was known as “the last romantic Zionist Gentile”. As early as 1908 he spoke of “full sympathy … with their aspirations of establishing a Jewish homeland.” 5 Sometimes, among the British Government, he seemed to be their only friend. Here are some relevant episodes from his life:
* In 1921 when asked by the Canadian Prime Minister about his opinions of the Balfour Declaration, Churchill replied "To do our best to make an honest effort to give the Jews a chance to make a national home for themselves."
* In 1922, as a result of his pro-Zionist views, he ended the current ban on immigration of Jews to Palestine (although in the following year the British reduced the proposed homeland by 75%, to form Transjordan for the Arab Palestinians).
* Churchill said that the Jews were the most remarkable race on the earth and their religious contribution "is worth more than all other knowledge and all other doctrines."
* During the Second World War, as Prime Minister, he was in favour of increased Jewish immigration to Palestine, to save them from Nazi atrocities, but was over-ruled particularly through the efforts of the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden who was too worried about what the Arabs would think of it, reinforced by the fact that many were pro-Nazi.
* Churchill was the only real supporter in both Allied governments for the bombing of the Auschwitz death camp factory.
* Churchill was the only supporter of the idea of a Jewish strike force against the Germans. He got his way and the 25,000 strong Jewish Brigade was formed. The experience gained by these Jewish fighters became invaluable when they had to subsequently fight for their existence during the Arab-Israeli wars.
Yes, it's another British political figure, this time the Prime Minister at the time of the First World War. Here was another man convinced by his reading of the Bible as to the destiny of the Jewish people and their rights to the Holy Land. His inclusion in this list follows the willing role he played in the political dramas taking place at the time, particularly concerning the efforts of Chaim Weizmann and other Jewish Zionists. It is clear that it was well within his power to block the Balfour Declaration, yet he chose to sponsor it, to his credit.
David Lloyd George was one of the prominent politicians targeted by Chaim Weizmann, who also 'nobbled' Winston Churchill and Lord Balfour, creating Zionists of the three of them, (and therefore deserving the highest honour paid to him by becoming the first president of the State of Israel).
It was when Lloyd George had taken over the War Office from Lord Kitchener (he of the war poster - Your country needs you - fame), that things really got moving. More resources were diverted to the war effort in the Middle East, culminating in the taking of Palestine from the Turks. Things got even better when Lloyd George took over as Prime Minister from the anti-Semitic Asquith. It just wasn't realised at the time that the man now elected to run the country was a philo-Semite and a fervent Zionist. In fact after a war meeting with prominent financiers, including Lord Rothschild, he was heard to remark 'Only the old Jew made sense'. Weizmann and Herbert Samuel, another Jewish politician, cleverly worked on Lloyd George by reminding him of how Palestine was the same size as his own homeland, Wales, and constantly mentioning place names in the Holy Land that they knew would be familiar to him, as they knew he was a Bible-thumper. But I'm sure Lloyd George, not a stupid man, was a willing convert to the cause.
When the First World War was over both Lloyd George and Lord Balfour were determined that if any good was to come out of this pointless war it would be to establish a home for the Jews. Lloyd George even told Weizmann at one time that 'Palestine was the one interesting part of the war'.
Here was a truly great friend of the Jews, a practical one too - he taught them how to fight! A devout Christian, Captain Charles Orde Wingate of the British Army was an ardent Christian Zionist and during the 1936-1939 Arab riots in Palestine undertook the training of special Jewish Commando Units, who worked under cover of darkness under the name of the night squads. Many of Israel's future military leaders had their initial military experience under this man. Moshe Dayan had this to say about him, "There were times when he would march on, driven by an iron will. He had an unshakeable belief in the Bible. Before going into action, he would read the passage in the Bible relating to the places where we would be operating and find testimony to our victory - the victory of God and the Jews."
He was well loved by the Jews in the land, who named him Ha-Yedid, 'the friend'. Unfortunately the British high command wasn't too pleased with the activities of this maverick and he was withdrawn from Palestine in 1939 with the following endorsement in his passport, "The bearer ... should not be allowed to enter Palestine."
His dream was always to lead the army of the future Jewish state, though, sadly, he was to die in a plane crash in Burma in 1944. He loved the Jews right up to the end; a year before his death he wrote this in a letter to a friend, "If I forget thee O Jerusalem ...". This brave man is now commemorated in Israel by a children's village, a College of Physical Education, a forest and a Square in Jerusalem.
It is interesting and significant that, apart from Corrie Ten Boom, all of the people we looked at were British! It is not a contrived list, borne out of misplaced patriotism. It is a lot easier to compile a list of anti-Semites, believe me, a list that would span both the centuries and the continents. But you have a more limited choice when you wish to list the philo-Semites and two factors do stand out sufficiently to make them statistically probable - adherence to the Christian faith and a British birth. To make it more interesting, it seems that the period of greatest 'philo-Semitism' shown by the British people co-incided with the rise and flourishing of the British Empire. But this attitude seemed to change after the Second World War; something to do with Arab oil, I believe. Is it a co-incidence that the subsequent lamentable record of the British Government towards Israel has co-incided with the dramatic and swift collapse of the British Empire? It’s worth a brief consideration, surely?