Churchill and Israel
His Excellency Ron Dermer, Ambassador of Israel

March 25, 2018



“A man of destiny recognizes a people of destiny.”

My speech today on “Churchill and Israel” at Westminster College MO in Fulton Missouri, where Churchill gave his Iron Curtain speech.

Groucho Marx once said that he would never join a club that would have him as a member. That’s because he was never invited to be a Churchill Fellow.

I want to thank President Lamkin and Timothy Riley for inviting me to deliver this year’s Enid and R. Crosby Kemper Lecture in this magnificent church.

Destroyed by Nazis and rebuilt by Americans, this church is a powerful symbol of freedom and hope. How fitting that it stands in the place where the great man who saved the Old World placed his faith once again in the New.

I want to thank Governor Eric Greitens for joining us today, for his service to America and for his steadfast support of Israel.

I want to congratulate my fellow fellows – Sam Fox, Neal Perryman, William Clark Durant III and especially Captain Morton Harris, a fighter pilot in WWII, who is now 97 years young.

Captain Harris, after reading your bio – 33 missions, a record 8 bombing raids over Berlin, twice shot down – I couldn’t help but think how proud Churchill would have been to personally honor you today.

Speaking of personal, I have a personal connection to this place. It comes through the city where I was born and raised, Miami Beach, Florida, where both my father and brother served as Mayors.

While Miami Beach has a well-deserved reputation for being one of America’s playgrounds, its footprint on world affairs has been rather small.

With one exception. The Iron Curtain speech.

As you can see in an exchange of letters between the then President of Westminster College and Churchill – letters that are on display in the Museum here - the Iron Curtain speech was written while Churchill was on vacation in Miami Beach.

So permit a native son of Miami Beach a little pride.

I want to recognize a native son of St. Louis, Dr. Michael Makovsky, who is here today. I am not an expert on Churchill and Israel, but I am fortunate enough to have a friend who is. I found Michael’s book, Churchill’s Promised Land, brilliant and insightful, and highly recommend it.

Finally, I want to acknowledge both the late Sir Martin Gilbert for his book Churchill and the Jews, and the great and very much alive historian, Andrew Roberts, for graciously taking some time away from editing his new Churchill biography to speak to me about my speech today.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Winston Churchill was a great man — and he knew it.

“We are all worms,” Churchill said to Prime Minister Asquith’s daughter in 1906. “But I do believe that I am a glow-worm.”

Churchill was also a man of destiny. He knew that as well.

A half-century before those fateful days of May 1940, a 16 year-old Churchill told his friend Murland Evans,

I see vast changes coming over a now peaceful world… Great upheavals, terrible struggles; wars such as one cannot imagine…..London will be in danger and in the high position I shall occupy, it will fall to me to save the capital and save the Empire.

Churchill’s high self-regard rarely extended to his political rivals. 75 years before the first twitter-wars were launched, Churchill had already turned political put downs into an art form that was rarely more than 140 characters.

Clement Atlee, his Labor opponent and war-time colleague, who Churchill reportedly called a sheep-in-sheep’s clothing, provided ample fodder. Atlee was “a decent, modest little man who,” Churchill reminded us, “had much to be modest about.”

Churchill had less to be modest about.

He lived a remarkable life – the life of a brave soldier and a bold statesman, of a brilliant orator and a prodigious writer. He had a biography written about him by the time he was 30, was in parliament for half a century, held a dozen different cabinet posts and served two-terms as Prime Minister.

But none of those things made Churchill great. None made him a man of destiny.

What made Churchill great was his prescience, his ability to see the gathering storms ahead when so many others were blind.

And what made Churchill a man of destiny was both his sense of destiny and his ability when destiny called to inspire his nation to confront that storm with courage, thereby saving not only Britain but perhaps all of Western civilization.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is precisely this foresight, and this sense of destiny, that made Churchill such a faithful friend of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

Churchill is famous for foreseeing the dangers of Nazi Germany during those long wilderness years and the dangers posed by the Soviets before the Cold War even had a name.

But Churchill’s prescience was not limited to foreseeing forces that threatened civilization. It also extended to foreseeing forces that advanced civilization.

For Winston Churchill, those forces included Jews, Zionism and Israel.

But Churchill saw in the Jews something else, something that appealed to his sense of destiny. Like him, they too had a heroic past and a brilliant future. They too were walking with destiny.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Churchill’s sympathy with the Jews is well-documented. On the first page of his book on the subject, Sir Martin Gilbert writes that one of Churchill’s longtime friends told him: “Even Winston had a fault. He was too fond of Jews.”

Evidence of that fondness was everywhere. Randolph Churchill, the father he so admired, was close to many prominent Jews in an age when hardly anyone in the British aristocracy socialized with Jews.

His father’s Jewish friends looked after the young Churchill after his father died, creating a deep emotional bond that lasted for decades.

That emotional bond was reinforced by another sentimental attachment that linked Churchill through his father to his father’s political mentor, Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli was a Jew who had converted to Christianity as a boy and later became one of Britain’s most renowned Prime Ministers.

Unlike many converts, Disraeli was immensely proud of his Jewish heritage. He believed that the Jews were a great, even heroic people, who had played a unique role in history. He saw the survival of Jews against all odds as a testament to their strong national character, as well as to divine providence.

On this latter point, Disraeli believed in a concept that would be familiar to most evangelical Christians today when they open the Bible and read God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 verse 3. “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you. Through you, all the nations of the world will be blessed.”

Disraeli firmly believed that the Lord dealt with the nations as the nations dealt with the Jews. This Biblical idea, championed by Disraeli, evidently left a powerful impression on both Randolph and Winston Churchill, because the latter repeated it often enough throughout his life.

Moved by these powerful sentimental attachments, Churchill’s philo-semitism was obvious early on.

A 24 year-old Churchill applauded the French writer Emile Zola for penning a famous article condemning the French government’s antisemitism during the notorious Dreyfus affair, which Churchill called a “monstrous conspiracy.”

A few years later, Churchill fought what he regarded as his own government’s antisemitism, when he strongly opposed an Aliens bill that sought to restrict Jewish immigration to England from a pogrom-riddled Russia.

After Churchill published a letter opposing that bill in 1904, a leading British Rabbi said that the 30 year-old Churchill had won the gratitude not only of the Jewish community of Manchester but [of all the Jews of England]

As Home Secretary in 1911, Churchill’s reputation as a friend of the Jews grew even stronger when he sent in British troops to end a pogrom in the South of Wales.

Some argued that Churchill’s philosemitism was opportunistic, that is was a function of his wealthy Jewish friends and the large Jewish community in Manchester he represented in parliament. But Churchill’s sympathies stayed constant even when he changed parties, changed constituencies and no longer needed those friends.

Churchill genuinely sympathized with the Jews, and even admired them, because he thought they were true partners in advancing civilization.

Churchill once wrote that no one can doubt the fact that the Jews are beyond question the most formidable and remarkable [people] which has ever appeared in the world.

In equally striking terms, Churchill described the debt Christians owed the Jews for the system of ethics they had received from them:

“[E]ven it were entirely separated from the supernatural, [it] would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together. On that system and by that faith there has been built out of the wreck of the Roman Empire the whole of existing civilization.”

And Churchill thought the contribution of the Jewish people to civilization went well beyond laying down its ethical foundations.

“The thought, the inspiration, and the culture of the Jews” Churchill said, “has been one of the vital dominants in world history…none of the arts and sciences…have not been enriched by Jewish achievement.”

If Churchill’s sense of history made him appreciate the enormous contributions Jews had made in the past, his sense of destiny made him appreciate the glorious contributions Zionism could enable Jews to make in the future.

As early as 1908, a decade before the Balfour Declaration, Churchill said that he was “in full sympathy with Zionism,” and that the restoration of Jewish sovereignty would be a “tremendous event in the history of the world.”

But it was his appointment as Colonial Secretary in 1921 that gave Churchill the opportunity to give practical effect to that sympathy and propel that tremendous event forward.

The Balfour Declaration, named after then foreign minister Arthur Balfour, had been issued in 1917 in a government that included Churchill. It expressed His Majesty’s Government support for the establishment of a Jewish national home in what was then called Palestine.

For those of you who do not know, Judea was renamed Palestine by the Romans in the 2nd century in the false hope that changing Judea’s name would weaken the ties to it of the people of Judea — or Jews for short.

The Balfour Declaration was the product of longstanding Zionist sympathies in Britain.

Decades before the founder of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl appeared on the scene, British leaders like Lord Shaftesbury called for the restoration of the Jews to their land, British explorers like Sir Charles Warren made the land of the Bible come alive to a British public fired by Christian Zionism, and British novelists like George Eliot wrote that one day a Jewish state would “shine like a bright star of freedom amid the despotisms of the East.”

But the Balfour Declaration was also the product of a unique set of circumstances that prevailed during World War I.

Britain was in an hour of need. Its government hoped to mobilize the support of America and Russia by winning the sympathy of their respective Jewish populations. And Zionist leader and chemist Chaim Weizman was making an invaluable contribution to the British war effort by producing tons of acetone.

Regardless of why it was issued, the Balfour Declaration was a commitment – a wartime commitment that became the international legal basis through which the League of Nations entrusted Britain with the Mandate of Palestine.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Churchill took British commitments seriously, including the Balfour Declaration.

When Churchill came to Palestine for the first time in 1921 as Colonial Secretary, he fully intended to abide by that commitment.

The Palestinian Arab leaders who greeted him in Jerusalem had other ideas. They wanted Churchill to abandon the idea of a Jewish national home.

Churchill refused. This was his reply to them:

“You have asked me….to repudiate the Balfour Declaration and to veto immigration of the Jews into Palestine. It is not in my power to do so nor, if it were in my power, would it be my wish.”

On that same visit to Jerusalem, Churchill planted a tree and spoke on Mount Scopus, at the future site of Hebrew University.

Churchill made clear where he stood, and why he stood where he stood. “I am full of sympathy for Zionism,” Churchill said.

“I believe that the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine will be a blessing to [Jews] scattered all over the world, and a blessing to Great Britain. I firmly believe that it will [also] be a blessing to all the inhabitants of this country without distinction of race and religion.”

The next day Churchill traveled to the new city of Tel Aviv and to Rishon Lezion, a 40 year-old Jewish agricultural settlement.

What Churchill saw in those two places convinced him that his high hopes for Zionism were being realized. He captured the sense of promise in a speech in parliament a few weeks later.

From the most inhospitable soil, surrounded on every side by barrenness and the most miserable form of cultivation” he had seen “a fertile and thriving country estate, where the scanty soil gave place to good crops and good cultivation.. to vineyards and…to the most beautiful, luxurious orange groves, all created in twenty or thirty years by the exertions of the Jewish community who live there”

Then, foreshadowing the many fiery debates he would have with his anti-Zionist colleagues in the coming years, Churchill said

“I defy anybody, after seeing work of this kind, achieved by so much labor, effort and skill, to say that the British Government, having taken up the position it had, could cast it all aside and leave it to be rudely and brutally overturned by the incursion of a fanatical attack by the Arab population from outside”

But when those fanatical attacks continued, many in the British government were prepared to appease the Arabs and abandon Balfour.

By 1922, the House of Lords voted over two to one to turn its back on Balfour. Debate turned to the House of Commons.

There, Churchill rose to defend Balfour and to defend Zionism.

He described “how parts of the desert have been converted into gardens” and how Jews and Arabs alike were benefitting from development that he said would not have taken place without the Zionists “in a thousand years.”

He ridiculed all those fair weather friends who had enthusiastically supported the Balfour Declaration during the war and were so shamefully prepared to abandon it a few years later.

He implored his colleagues to “stand faithfully to the undertakings which have been given in the name of Britain” and “to keep the word she had given before all the nations of the world.”

After his powerful speech, the parliament voted overwhelmingly to support his policy. Churchill had won the day. The promise of Balfour was saved.

In the so-called Churchill White Paper of 1922, he set about fulfilling that promise by opening the gates of Mandatory Palestine to Jewish immigration and by placing the Jewish people on a clear path to establishing a Jewish state.

But in the years that followed, the Palestinian Arabs continued to try to shut those gates and block that path.

They continued their attacks against Jews, and as Churchill entered his wilderness years, what was true when it came to Europe was true when it came to Mandatory Palestine: The forces of appeasement in Britain grew stronger.

It was no coincidence that it was under Neville Chamberlain that a new White Paper was issued in 1939. The Jews called it the Black Paper, because it severely restricted Jewish immigration and effectively meant the end of Balfour.

Foolishly believing that his appeasement would convince the Arab and Muslim world to support Britain, Chamberlain said that ‘if we must offend one side, let us offend the Jews rather than the Arabs.”

But the Arabs had many national states. The Jews had none. And the betrayal of Balfour came during years when Jews were literally fleeing for their lives from the killing fields of Europe. For the Jewish people, that betrayal remains a great stain on Great Britain.

But it is also no coincidence that the fiercest opponent of that betrayal was Winston Churchill.

One again, it was Churchill who in 1939 rose up in parliament to defend Balfour and to defend Zionism.

He called the Chamberlain White Paper “…the end of the vision, the hope, and the dream.” He excoriated the government for its appeasement, asking whether many will rightly say, “This is another Munich” and warning that Britain’s efforts to convince potential allies of its resolve “would be dealt another fatal blow.”

Unfortunately, here too, Churchill’s warnings were ignored.

The Black Paper became official British policy, and the Jewish people’s walk with destiny faced what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle.

In May 1940, as Churchill’s walk with destiny began, many hoped that obstacle would be removed. At a lecture in Tel Aviv, Jewish students all stood up and cheered when the news reached them that Churchill had become Prime Minister. “With Churchill at the helm,” one of those students said, “there was now hope for the Jews of Palestine.”

That same month, hope also lifted the spirts of David Ben-Gurion, the future Prime Minister of Israel, who found himself in London during those fateful days.

On June 7th, 1940, he wrote to his wife Paula about how inspired he was by Churchill.

I know that you cannot stand against Hitler with speeches…but Churchill’s speech was undoubtedly the steadfast persistence of the English nation to stand and fight to the end….

Ben Gurion admired Churchill’s “refusal to find reassurance in false consolations” and his candor with the English people about the colossal military disaster that had occurred in France and Belgium.

“Only a great man” Ben Gurion wrote “who believes in his strength can allow himself to say such bitter words…before the entire nation….

A few weeks later, Ben Gurion again wrote to his wife about his admiration for Churchill.

How great is this nation that found a suitable leader in this terrible hour.… It is hard to describe how much England has changed. Since Churchill inherited Chamberlain’s place, there is a “silent and confident bravery beating in every Englishman’s heart.

Eight years later, that same Ben Gurion would confront a fateful May of his own. In May 1948, facing five Arab armies poised to invade, a hostile American State Department and an arms embargo, Ben Gurion declared Israel’s Independence.

Like the people of Britain in 1940, the people of Israel in 1948 summoned the will to pull through. They fended off the invasion and won the war.

But back in 1940, the Jewish people faced more than impossible odds. We had no state, no army to defend us, and no refuge from the Nazis and their willing executioners throughout Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is much controversy over the Allied powers’ treatment of the Jews during the Second World War. As the Ambassador of the one and only Jewish state, I will not whitewash that conduct, even in this special ceremony in this special place.

There were many brave individuals who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. But the world’s governments, almost without exception, did virtually nothing to save Jews.

Six millions Jews were murdered. One third of the Jewish people. In relative terms today, that’s like the murder of 100 million Americans. And if you cannot wrap your minds around such a number, imagine a 9/11 every day for a century. That is what the Holocaust did to the Jewish people.

And that is why for Israel, the primary lesson of the Holocaust has been and must be to never place our security and fate in the hands of others, not even in the hands of a steadfast friend like Winston Churchill.

Churchill was clearly one of the few friends the Jewish people had in high office during those dark years. But his primary focus then was not on saving the Jews but on winning the war.

Only in a Jewish state is saving the Jews and winning the war the same thing. That is why the Jewish people will always need a Jewish state.

In Churchill’s defense, he genuinely believed that the way to end the horrible crimes against the Jews was for a speedy victory of the allied nations.

But that victory came too late for those six million.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have no doubt that Churchill was deeply sympathetic to the Jews during the Holocaust. Atlee wrote of Churchill’s eyes filling up with tears when he talked of the suffering of the Jews.

He consistently condemned the Nazi atrocities against Jews, calling them the worst crimes in the history of the world.

In fact, his antipathy to Hitler’s antisemitism may have prevented him from meeting the German leader in August 1932.

He was in Munich working on a biography of his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough when Hitler’s overseas press secretary introduced himself to Churchill and suggested he meet his boss.

But Churchill did not hold his tongue about Hitler’s antisemitism.

Why is your chief so violent about the Jews…what is the sense of being against a man simply because of his birth?” Tell your boss from me that antisemitism may be a good starter but it is a bad sticker.

Churchill seemed to understand that the Jews were a canary in the coal mine and that the poison of Hitler’s noxious fumes would endanger everyone.

There were also numerous times during the Holocaust when Churchill acted to save Jews, whether it was trying to help Jewish children get out of Bulgaria, pressuring Spain to open its borders to Jewish refugees or writing to Marshal Tito to permit Hungarian Jews to escape.

And in July 1944, after receiving a report of what was happening at Auschwitz-Birkenau, he sent a memo to his Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, telling him to “get anything out of the air force you can” which appears to be a clear order to bomb that death camp or the tracks leading to it.

But despite Churchill’s sympathies, the British wartime government’s specific actions to help Jews during the Holocaust were extremely limited.

Its actions in Palestine were no better, and perhaps even more shameful.

Churchill had inherited Chamberlain’s White Paper. Though he consistently fought against it and steadfastly refused to endorse it, his government never abolished it. As the Nazis took over Europe, as they were deliberately planning and meticulously carrying out the Final Solution, the gates of the Jewish homeland were effectively closed.

Historians point to many forces that enabled this outrage. Churchill’s war cabinet was clearly anti-Zionist, if not anti-semitic. Many of the officials in the British Foreign Office, Colonial Office, military and bureaucracy were even worse. Roosevelt was at best indifferent to the plight of the Jews and at times downright hostile to the idea of a Jewish state. And while appeasement of the Nazis ended with the invasion of Poland, appeasement of the Arabs continued throughout the war.

Even Eden, his closest colleague in the Cabinet, strongly opposed Churchill’s policies. Eden’s private secretary put it this way:

Unfortunately, Eden is immovable on the subject of Palestine. He loves Arabs and hates Jews.

In 1942, Chaim Weizman wasn’t exaggerating when he wrote that the Zionists had “one great friend in England, the Prime Minister.”

While the Jews of Palestine, like the Jews of Europe, were not his focus, to Churchill’s credit, he often confronted the many anti-Zionists and anti-Semites that surrounded him and tried to help.

He insisted on leniency towards illegal Jewish immigration, supported arming the Jews of Palestine, and made clear that he was not prepared “in any circumstances to contemplate an absolute cessation of immigration into Palestine.”

Churchill’s commitment to a sovereign Jewish future also did not wane when Lord Moyne, was assassinated by members of the Stern Gang or when the Irgun bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which then served as the British Military Headquarters.

Both of these Jewish underground groups were incensed by the restrictions that were placed on Jewish immigration during the Holocaust and that remained afterward, as tens of thousands of desperate Jews were stranded in displaced persons camps.

Facing his hostile cabinet, Churchill instead placed his hopes for restoring Balfour and establishing a Jewish state in a post-war peace conference.

But that peace conference never came. A few weeks after the war was won in Europe, Churchill was out of office. The Labor government that succeeded him did not share Churchill’s fondness for Jews.

Three years later, Labor was still in power when Israel declared its independence.

President Truman, who came to Fulton with Churchill in 1946, took all of 11 minutes to recognize Israel. But nine months after Ben Gurion’s declaration in 1948, the British government had still refused to recognize Israel.

In January 1949, Churchill had a chance in parliament to express his outrage over the Labor government’s policy to the Foreign Minister, Ernest Bevin, who Churchill once accused of being an anti-Semite.

Armed as ever with his powerful sense of history and destiny, Churchill rose up like a Gulliver addressing Lilliputians.

“Whether the Right Honorable Gentlemen likes it or not,” the coming into being of a Jewish state in Palestine is an event in world history to be viewed in the perspective not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of a thousand two thousand or even three thousand years.”

Nine days after Churchill’s speech, Britain formally recognized Israel.

Churchill received a telegram of thanks from his old friend and the new Israeli President, Chaim Weizman.

Churchill responded with three words in his own hand…“The light grows.”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

55 years after Churchill’s death, that light continues to grow.

Like with so much else, when it came to the Jewish people and the Jewish state, Churchill saw what others could not see.

Others saw an enemy of civilization.He saw a partner of civilization.

Others saw a rabble. He saw a heroic nation.

Others saw weakness.He saw strength.

Others doubted.He believed.

History has once again proven Winston Churchill right.

After 2000 years of wandering, the Jewish people returned to our land, restored our sovereignty and rebuilt Jerusalem.

After centuries of facing every evil under the sun, we rose from the ashes of our darkest hour to shine again.

As Churchill foresaw, the Jewish state have become a powerful force for civilization and for good.

During the Cold War, Israel stood firmly on the right side of the Iron Curtain.

And for decades, Israel has bravely manned the frontlines in the fight against militant Islam, safeguarding freedom in the most dangerous region on earth.

As the Ayatollah regime tries to lower an Iranian curtain from Tehran to Tartus, from the Caspian to the Mediterranean, Israel stands strong.

And as the tentacles of global terrorism spread across the world, Israel’s intelligence services is foiling major terrorist attacks in dozens of countries on five continents.

But it is not just by repelling darkness that Israel lights the world.

This year, Israel celebrates 70 years of Independence.

Churchill would be proud of the remarkable state we have become, a beacon of freedom, progress and hope.

If Winton Churchill returned to Israel today, he would see that the hopes he expressed when he planted that tree in Jerusalem nearly a century ago are being realized.

He would see the rambunctious debates in our parliament and a woman presiding over our Supreme Court.

He would see that in the Middle East, the only place where Arab citizens are free and where gays can march with pride is in Israel.

He would see Israeli doctors advancing cures for Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis and Israeli scientists unlocking the mysteries of the brain and the universe.

He would see Israeli technologies that are feeding the world, quenching its thirst, powering its computers, driving its cars, and protecting its networks.

He would see Israeli compassion that treats thousands of Syrian wounded and that comes to the rescue when disaster strikes from Haiti to Nepal.

He would see a nation that has achieved peace with two of its neighbors and hopes for peace with all the rest.

And finally, Churchill could walk into the office of our Prime Minister. There, he would see his own black-and-white picture sitting on the shelf behind Prime Minister Netanyahu’s desk, inspiring the leader of our beleaguered democracy to continue to face our storms with courage and secure our people’s future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Winston Churchill’s greatness enabled him to see the brilliant future that lay ahead for Israel.

I suppose greatness recognizes greatness.

And a man of destiny recognizes a people of destiny.

On behalf of that people, I thank Winston Churchill today for everything he did to help us along the way.

“Leave the past to history especially as I propose to write that history myself.”

Winston S. Churchill