From the vast materials that he has accumulated about Churchill, Sir Martin Gilbert has now selected material relating to Churchill's relationship with the Jews. Throughout his life, Churchill was a staunch supporter of the Jews and of the Zionist cause. His father had many friends among the wealthy leaders of Anglo-Jewish society - Lord Rothschild, Sir Ernest Cassel, Baron de Hirsch - friendships which his son inherited. Churchill entered Parliament in 1901, where he strongly opposed both the Conservatives' Aliens Bill of 1904 and the Liberals' Aliens Act of 1906. At the 1906 General Election he had become MP for North-West Manchester, where a third of the electorate was Jewish (and where he first met Chaim Weizmann, who had settled in Manchester in 1904.) Long before the Balfour Declaration in November 1917, Churchill spoke up in favour of Zionism, and he was of course an enthusiastic supporter of that document. When he was made Colonial Secretary in 1921, he became responsible for Mandate Palestine.
At that time Arab opposition to the Balfour Declaration and to Jewish immigration into Palestine was already very strong, and in Britain also there were second thoughts about the wisdom of the Declaration and attempts to undo it. Churchill vigorously opposed these, admired the contribution the Jews had already made to Palestine, and insisted that the Arabs would themselves benefit from this. He had no intention of limiting immigration or of allowing any representative institutions to Palestine as a whole because the Arabs would have a majority there. The Churchill White Paper of 1922 reaffirmed this policy, but also said that `the Jewish National Home in Palestine is not the imposition of a Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole'. Gilbert quotes from a letter of gratitude from Weizmann soon afterwards, but does not mention that actually many Zionists, Weizmann included, felt let down by the White Paper, because they in fact hoped that Palestine as a whole would eventually become a Jewish State. But Churchill, now in opposition, attacked the Passfield White Paper of 1930, which recommended restrictions on Jewish immigration into Palestine.
Churchill - out of office in the 1930s - early saw the danger that Hitler's accession to power represented; and among the articles he wrote and the speeches he made on the subject, the Nazi persecution of the Jews was always among the items he singled out. There was an increase in Jewish immigration, which in turn contributed to the Arab Revolt of 1936. The Peel Commission in 1937 eventually came out with a Report recommending that no more than 12,000 Jews should be admitted to Palestine in any one year. Giving evidence before it, Churchill thought that it would be wise for tactical reasons temporarily to limit immigration somewhat (later in 1937 he proposed a figure of between 30,000 and 35,000 a year - comparable to the increase of the Arab population); but in principle he maintained that Britain should admit as many Jews as possible, and he envisaged the possibility that one day in the distant future they might indeed be the majority in Palestine. He expressed some contempt for the Arabs, and some of his answers to the questions he was asked (unpublished at the time) make for crude and intemperate reading today for anyone who is not an insensitive Zionist. The Peel Commission also proposed the partition of Palestine between an Arab state and a tiny Jewish state about a third of the size of Israel of 1948. Weizmann reluctantly accepted this, but Churchill, siding with Jabotinsky, vigorously opposed it on the grounds that such a small state could not defend itself against Arab attacks. And he made a blistering speech against the government's adoption of the MacDonald White Paper in May 1939 which effectively was a repudiation of the Balfour Declaration.
When Churchill became Prime Minister, he pressed repeatedly for a change of policy embodied in the MacDonald White Paper: for arming the Jews in Palestine, for admitting illegal immigrants, for ignoring Arab objections; but he could not get this through Cabinet against the stubborn resistance from the Foreign Office, and the War Office and the administration in Palestine. Only in September 1944 did he get his way to the extent that the War Office agreed to the formation of a Jewish Brigade with its own Star of David flag.
There were Zionists who had long regarded the British government as hostile to their aspirations, and, with the MacDonald White Paper still in force, the fact that the British prime minister was personally pro-Zionist cut little ice with some of them. The Irgun and the Stern Gang fought British troops in Palestine, and in November 1944 the Stern Gang assassinated Lord Moyne, a personal friend of Churchill's. (A month later, during the trial of Moyne's murderers, it even considered assassinating Churchill himself.) But Churchill remained committed to the Zionist cause, in the teeth of his Cabinet's opposition, which, to Weizmann's despair, made it impossible for him to abolish the White Paper immediately after the surrender of Germany and the liberation of the concentration camps.
But then he lost office in 1945 and had to watch the events in Palestine from the sidelines. From the Opposition benches he continued to make powerful speeches against the `squalid' war which the British were fighting against the Jewish militants; rather than that, he suggested the surrender of the Mandate which in due course the government was forced to do.
Right at the end of his second premiership, in 1955, Churchill supported the idea that Israel might join the Commonwealth; and when, soon after his retirement, the Suez War broke out, he publicly supported the actions that Eden's government had taken and justified the participation of Israel, which had acted `under the gravest provocation'.
Throughout this comprehensive account, the superb eloquence of Churchill sparkles magnificently against Gilbert's sober prose.