October 30, 2023

The Art of Being Winston Churchill: Zionism


Winston Churchill first visited Jerusalem in March 1921. “Personally my heart is full of sympathy for Zionism,” Churchill said on 29 March during a visit to the site of the Hebrew University, then under construction. “…The establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine will be a blessing to the whole world, a blessing to the Jewish race scattered all over the world, and a blessing to Great Britain. I firmly believe that it will be a blessing also to the inhabitants of this country without distinction of race and religion.”

As Colonial Secretary, Churchill toured the Middle East with Clementine addressing firsthand obligations Britain had assumed during the First World War. He led a conference in Cairo where it was decided that land west of the Jordan River would be held by Britain as a Mandate under the authority of the League of Nations to fulfill the British government’s promise made in the 1917 Balfour Declaration to support “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people….”

Churchill persisted in defending this decision when he met with an Arab delegation in Jerusalem: “It is manifestly right that the Jews, who are scattered all over the world, should have a national centre and a National Home where some of them may be reunited,” he maintained.

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In 1934, this time in a private capacity, the Churchills made a second and final visit to the Holy Land. They drove from Damascus to Nazareth, where they spent the night on October 9th, then on to Nablus and, finally, Jerusalem and the King David Hotel. At dinner that night, after giving instructions “to keep Churchill’s glass always filled” with champagne, acting High Commissioner John Hathorn Hall grilled his guest. “I acted as ‘feeder,’” Hall later wrote, “raising all sorts of of controversial political and international issues and wild theories for him to demolish, which he did with devastating wit and superb prose….When I saw him to his car he said to me, ‘I know that you don’t really believe those things you were saying. I knew what you were doing my boy.’”

Barry Singer is proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers in New York City and author of Churchill Style (2012).

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