Sir Martin Gilbert has a new book out. Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship is exactly what you'd expect it to be – a complete compilation of Winston Churchill's relationships with Jews of all types, including the early pre-state Zionist movement.
Sir Martin was kind enough to send me a review copy a couple of months ago. I hope to do a post on Churchill's response to what we now know as the Holocaust and another on the founding of the State of Israel, both later this month.
But I came across a startling bit of information in another of Sir Martin's books, Dearest Auntie Fori, The Story of the Jewish People.* On page 182 Sir Martin notes that after the forcible conversion of the Jews of Meshad in 1839 and the Damascus Blood Libel accusation of 1840, Sir Moses Montefiore was approached by Colonel Charles Churchill, a member of Winston Churchill's extended family, with a fascinating proposal. According to Sir Martin, Colonel Churchill wrote to Montefiore that:
…[I]n his view the Jews ought to promote the regeneration of Palestine the eastern Mediterranean region. Were they to do so, the Colonel believed, they would "end by obtaining the sovereignty of at least Palestine." [Emphasis added. Colonel Churchill would have meant both sides of the Jordan river – Shmarya.]
Charles Churchill felt strongly that the Jews should resume their "existence as a people."…
This would make Colonel Charles Churchill perhaps the first modern-day Zionist, predating all founders of the Zionist movement and all founders of modern Religious Zionism by many years.
But more than that, his plan – for Jews to work for the economic regeneration of the entire region, to benefit not only a prospective Jewish state but the native non-Jewish populations surrounding it as well – may very well have succeeded in giving the new Jewish state a larger, more easily defended territory along with friendlier neighbors.
But this did not happen, in part because Jews lacked the resources at that time to do it, in part because of the hostility of some of the surrounding population, and in part because we lacked the will to do it.
Would the Middle East have ben a more peaceful, stable place if we had followed Colonel Churchill's advice?
There is no way to know for sure. Speculation, of course, is another matter. Leave yours if you want in the comments section below. Thanks …
* The story behind this book is itself fascinating. Booklist and the American Library Association note:
…The "Auntie Fori" of the title is an elderly citizen of India who was born a Jew in Hungary. Having lived into her nineties in relative ignorance of Jewish history and culture, she asked her longtime friend to help her learn the history of the people to whom she still believed she belonged. The result is this compact, breezy, and thoroughly enjoyable survey.…
She married into what became a leading family in India's struggle for independence. Her husband served as a diplomat in several countries, including the US. Sir Martin went to college with one of her sons and befriended Auntie Fori and her husband while on a trip to India in the 1950s.