Churchill’s Promised Land: Zion­ism and Statecraft

Michael Makovsky

By – November 10, 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.

The Begin­nings of Churchill’s Promised Land

By Michael Makovsky

My book is based on a few chap­ters of my his­to­ry doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion at Har­vard on Churchill’s world­view, but the doc­tor­ate turned out to be only the begin­ning of a decade-long jour­ney — one that was most stim­u­lat­ing and consuming.

The book’s sub­ject, which was sug­gest­ed by one of my pro­fes­sors, com­bined two long­stand­ing inter­ests: Zion­ism and Win­ston Churchill’s approach to world affairs. Israel was always impor­tant to my fam­i­ly as I was grow­ing up, as was for­eign affairs and pol­i­tics. Indeed, we often spoke of those mat­ters, as well as sports, at the din­ner table. After study­ing his­to­ry in col­lege, I got a MBA and worked at ener­gy trad­ing com­pa­nies. But after twice read­ing Churchill’s six-vol­ume WWII mem­oirs and some biogra­phies of him on a com­muter train, I decid­ed to go back and get a PhD in diplo­mat­ic history.

I began work­ing on the book short­ly after get­ting my doc­tor­ate, and it became for me a pas­sion­ate cause. The more I researched the more I became fas­ci­nat­ed by Churchill’s com­plex, evolv­ing, mul­ti­di­men­sion­al rela­tion­ship with the rel­a­tive­ly new and unusu­al cause of Zion­ism, which large­ly appealed to the roman­tic side of this so-called real­ist.’ I came to under­stand how Churchill helped shape the mod­ern Mid­dle East, con­tributed to the estab­lish­ment of the State of Israel in 1948 (60 years ago this spring), and what his com­plex rela­tion­ship with Zion­ism meant for his world outlook.

Churchill summed up the book-writ­ing expe­ri­ence well and most col­or­ful­ly in 1949, Writ­ing a book is an adven­ture. To begin with, it is a toy, and an amuse­ment; then it becomes a mis­tress, and then it becomes a mas­ter, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be rec­on­ciled to your servi­tude, you kill the mon­ster, and fling him about to the public.”

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.

Discussion Questions

1. Who influ­enced Churchill’s view of Jews?

2. What were some of the rea­sons Churchill became a Zion­ist, and when?

3. Why did Churchill some­times ignore or oppose Zion­ist issues?

4. What were some of Churchill’s pro-Zion­ist objec­tives in World War II?

5. On bal­ance, was Churchill good for the Jews and Zionists?