Updated: Mar 29
We often dedicate articles to former world leaders who supported the establishment of the State of Israel. The street signs bearing their names serve as an eternal legacy to their bond of friendship with the Jewish nation. Accordingly, many former British leaders, such as Lloyd George, Josiah Wedgewood, and John Henry Patterson, have streets in Jerusalem’s elegant German Colony named after them.
Why is Winston Churchill, regarded as one of the greatest global leaders of the 20th century, who was sympathetic to the Jewish plight and drawn to the idealistic vision of restoring Jews to their ancient homeland, treated as an afterthought, with only a small road in Netanya and a street bordering Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus named after him?
From early in his political career, Winston Churchill was friendly and genuinely sympathetic to Jewish causes, both domestically and globally. In addition, Churchill viewed the Zionists as kindred spirits and collaborators in the great mission to civilize the world – his preeminent objective – and he remained forever a Zionist at heart. However, Churchill’s actions did not usually match his rhetoric.
In 1921, as colonial secretary responsible for British Mandate Palestine, Churchill made strong pro-Zionist pronouncements and rejected Arab demands to renounce the Balfour Declaration. Yet, he endorsed limiting Jewish immigration and declined to make achieving a Jewish majority an official goal, despite the British Mandate’s stated goals of helping to achieve a Jewish homeland. By choosing Arab appeasement, Churchill lost the opportunity to further the Zionist aims which he espoused. Consequently, he unwittingly set the stage for Britain to shut the doors to Palestine in the 1930s, when the Jews desperately needed a haven to escape Hitler’s murderous policies.
While serving as Great Britain’s prime minister during World War II, Churchill was mindful to never jeopardize the war effort for Jewish causes. Thus, despite his opposition to the nefarious 1939 White Paper which impeded Jewish immigration, he neither rescinded nor amended it, which would have saved minimally hundreds of thousands of Jews from death; he did not bomb the concentration camps or the rail lines leading to them; and he did not keep his promise of committing Britain to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine once the war ended.
In actuality, Winston Churchill was a more vocal supporter of Zionism when he did not reside at 10 Downing Street, which made sense, as the prime minister has to answer to the demands of the nation. Consequently, during his years not in the top post, Churchill was free to speak his mind in the face of rampant antisemitism prevalent in the government and among the masses.
Ultimately, Churchill’s top priorities were his country and his career. Zionism, though a just cause in his eyes, did not advance his career – and possibly hindered it – and was therefore relegated to the bottom of his action items. However, Churchill’s rejection of antisemitism and support for the Zionist cause, in a time period when both were uncommon, generated excitement and anticipation in Jewish circles. These unfulfilled expectations led to the Jews’ disillusionment in one of the most remarkable figures of the last century.
The primary source for this article was Michael Makovsky’s “Churchill’s Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft.”
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at email@example.com.