- Churchill’s Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft
An adage attributed to British statesman Benjamin Disraeli became at various times Winston Churchill’s mantra for his attitude toward Jews and Zionism: “The Lord deals with the nations as the nations [End Page 486] deal with the Jews.” Yet as Michael Makovsky points out in his meticulous examination of the often controversial statesman, Churchill’s record on Jews and Zionism was uneven, even erratic at times, but nonetheless firmly rooted in his weltanschauung. Churchill’s Promised Land doesn’t have the anecdotal elegance of the writings by official Churchill historian Martin Gilbert, but Makovsky’s work skillfully integrates Churchill’s evolution on Zionism within the worldview of a statesman who became the last and most fervent advocate of Great Britain’s imperial mission.
Makovsky’s work is not a political history of Great Britain’s policies on Zionism during the first half of the twentieth century and pays only scant attention to Churchill the statesman. Rather, as the author explains in the book’s preface, his investigation is one of Churchill’s mind and how Zionism reflected his complex outlook on the world and history. Churchill was deeply steeped in the Victorian past but possessed a clear and often unpopular vision of the present and the future. His dedication belonged to the advancement of civilization and the preservation of the British Empire. Hence, Makovsky concludes, Zionism was not a core belief, but rather a sentimental cause that blended “a myriad of complex considerations—racial, ideological, civilizational, humanitarian, paternal, personal, historical, romantic, mystical, and religious” (p. x).
Churchill’s infatuation with Jewish restoration to their ancient homeland began as early as 1906, when the Zionist movement itself was still in its infancy and most British Jews were not favorably disposed toward the idea of a Jewish homeland. In his bid to represent Manchester North West in Parliament, Churchill found himself courting the divided Jewish community there, openly espousing great sympathy for Jewish refugees from Russian pogroms and throwing his support behind Territorialism, a movement in favor of Jewish settlement in British East Africa and backed by Jewish financiers like Lord Rothschild, while at the same time pursuing the political support of Zionists. According to Makovsky, Churchill was philo-Semitic, which was rooted in his father’s admiration for the Jews and the late Benjamin Disraeli, but not immune to manipulating Jewish causes in order to advance his own career. Zionism, he concludes, was not at the center of Churchill’s concern, but the “seeds” for his future involvement were “planted” (p. 39).
Yet, as the author cautions in the beginning, Churchill’s trajectory on Zionism was far from even or predictable. The friend of the Jews and early sympathizer of a Jewish homeland completely ignored the 1917 Balfour declaration, a milestone in Zionist history and a public [End Page 487] expression of Great Britain’s commitment to supporting the realization of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Even more telling, his once philo-Semitic sentiments turned sour, and his sympathy for Jews gave way to anti-Semitic rhetoric about alleged Jewish power in the face of Bolshevism, popular conspiracy theories as espoused in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and rising British anti-Semitism. Again, we learn that Churchill’s view of Zionism was affected by his larger weltanschauung, which Makovsky describes as an “anti-Bolshevik fixation” (p. 84). Weakened politically by the precipitous decline of the Liberal party of which he was a member at the time, Churchill appeared to exploit the general phobia of Bolshevism and alleged Jewish power to secure his own political fortunes. His most controversial statements came in the form of a pamphlet titled “Bolshevism versus Zionism,” in which he echoed popular anti-Semitic arguments, while at the same time extolling the virtues of Zionism as an expression of positive Jewish internationalism and a symbol of Jewish unity and glory.
Makovsky does a marvelous job in integrating Churchill’s Zionism into the latter’s worldview on civilization...