Churchill and the Jews: A Life­long Friendship

Mar­tin Gilbert
  • Review
By – December 9, 2011

Even Win­ston had a fault,” an old friend of Churchill’s told Mar­tin Gilbert in 1969. He was too fond of Jews.” From two dif­fer­ent points of view, both Mar­tin Gilbert — Win­ston Churchill’s offi­cial biog­ra­ph­er — and Michael Makovsky— for­eign pol­i­cy direc­tor of the Bipar­ti­san Pol­i­cy Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, DC — explore Churchill’s long and deep con­nec­tion to Jews and to the Zion­ism that lies behind this remark, with exten­sive doc­u­men­ta­tion. From his father, Churchill inher­it­ed a close and com­fort­able rela­tion­ship with Jews. He was an ear­ly sup­port­er of Zion­ism and a life­long friend of Chaim Weiz­mann, tak­ing many unpop­u­lar posi­tions and hold­ing fast to the pledge made in the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion in the face of polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion and gen­er­al British anti-Semitism. 

With his exten­sive and inti­mate knowl­edge of Churchill, Gilbert draws the more per­son­al and expan­sive pic­ture. He recre­ates exchanges — con­ver­sa­tions, as record­ed in diaries and archives, and cor­re­spon­dence— between Churchill and many of the lead­ing Zion­ists, from Weiz­mann to Vladimir Jabotin­sky to David Ben-Guri­on, and the warmth that often marked them. Makovsky approach­es Churchill’s Zion­ism more ana­lyt­i­cal­ly, try­ing to under­stand the place of what he calls Churchill’s sen­ti­men­tal sup­port of Zion­ism in his over­rid­ing goal of pre­serv­ing British pow­er and secu­ri­ty and West­ern civilization. 

As prime min­is­ter of Britain dur­ing its most des­per­ate hours, Churchill had to give his full ener­gies to win­ning the war and to estab­lish­ing a peace that ensured Britain’s strate­gic and polit­i­cal goals. These goals some­times sub­or­di­nat­ed the goals of the Zion­ists, and Churchill at times turned from them. In the end, how­ev­er, both authors agree that Churchill was, in his own words, a Zionist,…one of the orig­i­nal ones,” who fought might­i­ly for the Jew­ish state. In addi­tion to giv­ing a rich pic­ture of Churchill’s sup­port of Zion­ism, both books also describe the polit­i­cal strug­gles in the British gov­ern­ment over the cre­ation of Israel, which make the estab­lish­ment of the state even more remarkable.

Addi­tion­al Books Fea­tured in this Review

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

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