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March 19, 2007

Winston Churchill and the "Jewish moneylenders": Far from being an anti-Semite Winston Churchill was a lifelong Zionist and philo-Semite, argues historian William D. Rubinstein

Posted by William D. Rubinstein

William D. Rubinstein - professor of modern history at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and the author of Men of Property: The Very Wealthy in Britain since the Industrial Revolution and co-author of Philosemitism: Admiration and Support for Jews in the English-speaking World, 1840-1939 - shows that Winston Churchill was no anti-Semite.

Was Winston Churchill anti-Semitic? This is a strange question, but one which has recently been given some prominence in the national press. Dr Richard Toye, a Cambridge University historian, found a typed but unpublished article allegedly written by Churchill in 1937 among the vast range of papers held in the Churchill Archives at Churchill College, Cambridge. I have not seen the typed article, and am relying here on reports which have appeared in The Observer ("Historians clash over Churchill 'anti-Semitism'", 11th March 2007), the Sunday Times ("Authors battle over 'anti Jewish' Churchill", 11th March 2007) and elsewhere.

According to the portions of the typed article, entitled How the Jews Can Combat Persecution, which have been quoted in the press, Churchill claimed that Jews:

have been partly responsible for the antagonism from which they suffer… the central fact which dominates the relations of Jews and non-Jews is that the Jew is "different". He looks different. He thinks differently…He refuses to be absorbed…Every Jewish moneylender recalls Shylock and the idea of Jews as usurers...
These are typical of the portions of the typescript quoted in the press. In context, they might make a very different impression. Obviously, no mainstream politician outside of Iran- except our own Islamists and those emanating from the anti-Zionist left - would write like this today, or, indeed, would claim that there was a "Jewish question".

Sir Martin Gilbert, the eminent historian who wrote the multi-volume official biography of Churchill, and who is also a prominent Jewish historian of the Holocaust and other topics, was immediately contacted by the press about this document. Gilbert claimed that the typescript is not a new discovery at all, and was actually catalogued and described by him many years ago in his Churchill Bibliography.

More importantly, it was not written by Churchill. According to Gilbert, its actual author was one Adam Marshall Diston, described by Gilbert in press reports as "Churchill's ghost writer". It will be news to most of us that Winston Churchill, of all people, employed a ghost writer, let alone one with (so far as I am aware) no reputation as a writer; even more strangely, it seems that Diston (1893-1956) had been a supporter of Sir Oswald Mosley when Mosley founded his New Party in 1931, surely a bizarre appointment to have been made by Churchill in 1937 or indeed accepted by Diston.

Sir Martin was also quoted as saying that Churchill's instructions in requesting that Diston write the article

were different in both tone and content from what Diston eventually wrote,
and that it remained unpublished because Churchill stopped its publication. In a subsequent response, Dr Toye claimed that Churchill did not try to stop its publication, but actively tried to have its sold to several magazines, and was prevented from doing so only by previous contractual arrangements.

There the matter is likely to rest, although it seems to me that Gilbert's comments ought to be given greater weight. Certainly the few extracts quoted in the press do not sound Churchillian, and I would not have guessed that he wrote them. All historical research on Churchill and the Jews - and, perhaps oddly, there has been a considerable amount - has emphasised that he was a lifelong philo-Semite and pro-Zionist, perhaps remarkably so for someone of Churchill's background. Churchill's father, Lord Randolph, had vocally opposed the Tsarist pogroms of the 1880s and in the 1890s Winston Churchill was an outspoken pro-Dreyfusard, vehemently opposing and attacking the celebrated trial and imprisonment of the French Jewish army officer. Churchill became a convinced Zionist in the early 1900s, and it is worth recalling that, although we remember Churchill as an arch-Tory, from 1904 until 1922 he was a fairly radical Liberal who would have instinctively opposed religious persecution. A major component of his anti-Appeasement stance in the 1930s stemmed from the odium with which he regarded Hitler's anti-Semitism.

In old age, Churchill made a series of little-known but extraordinary remarks supporting the State of Israel in its conflict with the Arabs. In 1956, when Nasser blocked the Suez Canal to Israeli ships, Churchill told the Foreign Office that

I do not mind it being known here or in Cairo that I am on the side of Israel in her ill-treatment by the Egyptians,
and told Sir Anthony Eden, his Foreign Minister, that
To me the greatest issue in this part of the world is not deserting Israel,
a remark which might be read with profit today. In 1954 Churchill told journalists,
I am a Zionist, let me make this clear. I am one of the original ones after the Balfour Declaration and I have worked faithfully for it.
Churchill was also a realist and, in those days before political correctness, often called a spade a spade with brutal frankness, even a Jewish spade. Churchill's most famous foray into this area was an article he wrote in February 1920 for The Illustrated Sunday Herald, entitled Zionism Versus Bolshevism: A Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People. Beginning by declaring that the Jews were
beyond all question the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world,
he proceeded to divide the Jews into patriotic "national Jews" and "terrorist Jews" who, from Karl Marx to Trotsky and Bela Kun, were part of a
worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation.
This was a stock right-wing view of the time, just after the Bolshevik Revolution. But Churchill's remarkable insight and intelligence manifested itself in what he stated next: there was a
struggle for the soul of the Jewish people
between Zionism and Bolshevism, and it was altogether in the interests of the non-Jewish world in Britain and the West to support Zionism as a constructive counterweight to Bolshevism. He was, of course, absolutely right, and today, nearly ninety years later, the fact that the State of Israel is among the major targets of the Western left and of Third World radicalism, and one of the main allies of America and the West, is evidence of his remarkable foresight. Churchill's 1920 essay, however, has been widely misinterpreted by less perceptive observers as evidence that he was somehow anti-Semitic, when the precise opposite was the case. It is difficult to believe that, for unknown reasons, Churchill formed diametrically opposite views in 1937, when he was fighting politically virtually alone against Hitler.

William D. Rubinstein is professor of modern history at the University of Wales-Aberystwyth. He is the author of Men of Property: The Very Wealthy in Britain since the Industrial Revolution (Social Affairs Unit, 2006) and co-author of Philosemitism: Admiration and Support for Jews in the English-speaking World, 1840-1939 (Palgrave Macmillan, 1999).

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