Was Churchill a Friend of the Jews and Zionism? More Questions and Answers


Dr. Daniel Mandel is a Fellow in History at Melbourne University and author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist (Routledge, 2004). His blog can be found here.

I thank those who have discussed my piece on HNN, " Was Churchill a friend of the Jews and Zionism?" published on 21 May. Putting aside all exchanges extraneous to the precise subject, three major challenges have emerged from readers:

  • Churchill wrote in 1920 an article in which he blamed atheistic Jews for Bolshevism, demonstrating that he was anti-Semitic
  • Whatever Churchill thought about helping the European Jews during the Second World War by bombing the railway lines and/or death camps, the bureaucracies of the US and UK were not interested in helping the Jews and Churchill effectively permitted the bureaucracies to have their way.
  • Was not the British Foreign Office, presided over by Anthony Eden, guilty of the decisions in Iraq that permitted the farhud against the Baghdadi Jews to take place in June 1941, and if so, how can one say that Churchill was not in ultimate authority and therefore not implicated?

  • 1. This Churchill article attacks "Jewish domination" of Bolshevism, of which Churchill had rightly written the previous year that it "means in every country a civil war of the most merciless kind between the discontented, criminal, and mutinous classes on one hand and the law abiding on the other." At the same time, Churchill contrasted the Jewish role in Bolshevism to the "simpler, truer, and far more attainable goal" of Zionism, hoping to direct Jewish energies in that direction. Such a hope was hardly anti-Semitic, but the belief in Jewish domination of, as opposed to participation in, Bolshevism conveys, in the words of Churchill's biographer, William Manchester, "a sour tang of anti-Semitism."

    Why Churchill briefly took this line (for he never recurred to it) is a matter for speculation. It has been suggested that this was the baleful influence of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which had exploded onto the international scene and was everywhere in the air at the time. My own view is that this was an uncharacteristic lapse. My evidence is that Churchill, who at this time was backing mightily the anti-Bolshevik military campaign of the White Russians under Anton Denikin, was not blind to the persecution of Jews under the ancién regime that had contributed to the Jewish gravitation to Bolshevism. Accordingly, he was far from being an uncritical supporter of Denikin. Churchill urged upon Denikin several liberal commitments, including demanding a written promise to suppress anti-Semitism in Russia. Which anti-Semite, furnished with an opportunity to harm Jews, would have done that?

    2. I cannot see how the notion that Churchill permitted the bureaucracies to abandon the Jews to their fate at the hands of the Nazis can be inferred from what I wrote. I referred to  the failure of the RAF to bomb Auschwitz stemming from the overriding of Churchill's directives on sometimes spurious logistical grounds. In other words, Churchill supported the idea, but the relevant bureaucracies did not. To understand this better, here is Gilbert's explanation of Churchill's reaction on 7 July 1944 to the news received that day from the Jewish Agency for Palestine that Jews were being gassed at Auschwitz:

    The … request of the Jewish Agency was, "that the railway line leading from Budapest to Birkenau, and the death camp at Birkenau and other places, should be bombed."

    When Churchill was shown this request by Eden, he did something I've not seen on any other document submitted to Churchill for his approval: He wrote on it what he wanted done.

    Normally, he would have said, "Bring this up to War Cabinet on Wednesday," or, "Let us discuss this with the Air Ministry." Instead, he wrote to Eden on the morning of 7 July: "Is there any reason to raise this matter with the Cabinet? Get anything out of the Air Force you can, and invoke me if necessary." I have never seen a minute of Churchill's giving that sort of immediate authority to carry out a request.

    As Gilbert relates in Road to Victory (Volume 7 of his Churchill biography), Eden duly passed on Churchill's request for bombing the railway lines to the Air Ministry. Sir Archibald Sinclair, the Secretary of State for Air, replied that it "was out of our power" and that bombing the gas chambers could only be done by day, thus necessitating action by the US 8th Air Force, which conducted the daylight raids on the Third Reich. Churchill was not shown Sinclair's reply and the US War Department turned down the request.

    In short, those who say that Churchill permitted the bureaucracies to have their way are mistaken. Much more to the point is that the bureaucracies were peopled with hostile and anti-Semitic officials. That this was so can be demonstrated also by other indices, of which the following is telling: one British Foreign Office official, Armine Dew, felt moved to minute on 1 September 1944, "In my opinion a disproportionate amount of time of this office is wasted on dealing with these wailing Jews." As Conor Cruise O'Brien comments on this passage in his The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism, "Officials don't write that sort of thing on files, if they feel that other officials are likely to think the comment in poor taste. The comment was in fact neither reproved nor exceptional; it represented the dominant official view."

    3. Readers who argue that Churchill could and should have initiated timely British action to stop the farhud against the Baghdadi Jews have simply ignored the fact that, like other war leaders, Churchill was compelled to delegate many important decisions to diplomats and commanders in the field, of which the Iraqi situation in 1941 was a classic instance.

    I said in my earlier piece that the defective judgment of the British ambassador in Baghdad, Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, and the military commander, General Archibald Wavell, were to blame, but some readers maintain that the Foreign Office ran affairs in Iraq and Churchill could and should have initiated timely British action to stop the farhud. This is inaccurate. Large discretion was invested in Cornwallis and Wavell and not even the Foreign Office took the fateful decisions that permitted it to occur.

    The Foreign Office and Wavell believed in propitiating the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali al Kaylani and coming to terms with him rather than putting an end to his take-over of Iraq. If the decision had been left to either, that is probably what would have occurred. However, the efforts of the Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery, the government of India (with its justified strategic anxieties about securing supply lines to India) and ultimately Churchill himself prevailed to override their objections and put into effect the operation to quash Rashid Ali's coup and establish control in Iraq which is recounted with panache by Somerset de Chair, a British intelligence officer who participated in it, in his bookThe Golden Carpet. This move and the decisions that flowed from it in London forced Rashid Ali's hand by compelling him to militarily oppose the British before German forces in the Mediterranean theatre could come to his aid. In this connection, Kedourie writes in Arabic Political Memoirs  that "Churchill's hand is clear in this swift and decisive response."

    However, even after Rashid Ali's coup had been suppressed, Wavell remained devoted to the idea that Britain should leave, to use contemporary parlance, a "light footprint" in restoring the pro-British administration. He also gave orders that, once communications had been reestablished with Cornwallis in Baghdad, that the latter would issue all directives on the ground. Cornwallis, like Wavell, had believed that Rashid Ali was a man who could be dealt with, that he represented Iraqis in some meaningful sense and that consequently firm British action would be resented by Iraqis and so tended to the improvisatory, weak policy favoured by Wavell. It was Cornwallis who, on behalf of Britain, approved the terms of the armistice with the internal security committee appointed by Rashid Ali, which included permitting the Iraqi military to retain its arms.

    This clause, and others like it, was motivated by the flawed assumption that British interests could not be secured unless the fiction was established that Britain had not clashed with the Iraqi army but was there solely to reinstate the legitimate Iraqi government. This in turn led Cornwallis to insist that British troops not enter Baghdad or its environs. (The failure to station troop in Baghdad was even remarked upon in the Foreign Office as contrary to expectations and mistaken). Responsibility for the maintenance of law and order thereby devolved on Iraqi police and troops, but since they were "debauched by Nazi propaganda, and bereft of leadership, they ran amuck and themselves began the attacks on the Jews" (Kedourie). Until the Iraqi regent signed orders on 2 June to suppress the rioters, no one moved to end the killing, which claimed the lives of 180 Jews. De Chair with justice commented bitterly, "All who cared to defend their own belongings were killed, while eight miles to the west waited the eager British force which could have prevented all this. Ah, yes, but the prestige of our Regent would have suffered."

    To reiterate, the vital sequence of British decisions that permitted the farhud to occur were made by Wavell and Cornwallis, not by Churchill – and one could add, not even by Eden and the Foreign Office. This reflects the inescapable fact that fateful decisions on the ground in war-time are often made by local commanders and officials, not prime ministers and cabinets.

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    More Comments:

    Daniel Mandel - 7/9/2007

    I cannot claim to have probed deeply into the BBC's conduct. I would dispute R.R. Hamilton's statement that firm knowledge of atrocities was lacking until after the liberation of the camps: definite knowledge of particular atrocites emerged during the war and, as I noted in my piece, the news of the mass gassing at Auschwitz finally reached the West and was reported upon in 1944. The legacy of the reportage on First World War atrocities may have been a factor that induced reluctance in some instances to report on Nazi atrocities. However, it is notable that even the little that was definitely known was often played down or neglected. The Auschwitz gassings required a publicity campaign mounted in Switzerland by my late cousin, George Mandel Mantello, before the allied media took it up.

    R. R. Hamilton - 6/30/2007

    To A.E. Green:

    It is my understanding that one of the reasons the Allied-controlled media "minimized the Holocaust" was due to the experience of World War I. Then, there was much hyperventilating about "German atrocities" that later were proved unfounded. So the Western media adopted a "once shot, twice shy" policy to reports of German atrocities in World War II. Remember, there were no public film reports of the death camps until after they were liberated.


    Elliott Aron Green - 6/25/2007

    Daniel, I'm reading your responses carefully. AS to Anthony Eden, he bore direct responsibility for the BBC, which was was attached --at least in its foreign news reporting-- to the Foreign Office.

    There is a problem about how the BBC covered the Holocaust, how it treated Shmul Zigelboym, the delegate of the Jewish Labor Bund [Jewish Socialist Bund] to the Polish National Council [Polish govt-in-exile in London]. Zigelboym complained about BBC coverage before he committed suicide in 1943 as a protest against the world's indifference to the mass murdre of the Jews.

    Barbara Rogers, a British historian, reports that the BBC was following specific UK govt directives to overlook, to minimize the Holocaust, to disregard or minimize its Jewish aspect, when it was covered. Barbara Rogers reported all this in an article in History Today, October 1999. Can you elaborate on BBC policy during the policy, and on its connection with the Foreign Office, and what that would mean about Eden??