A lifelong supporter of Zionism and the Jewish people, Winston Churchill is now being accused of anti-Semitism on the strength of an alleged article of his, making the rounds on the internet.
Informed of a 1937 article draft in the Churchill Archives, accusers say it proves Churchill's lifelong sympathy for the Jews was hypocrisy - that Churchill was, ipso facto, a closet anti-Semite.
The allegations began with an article in Britain's The Independent: "Uncovered: Churchill's Warnings About the 'Hebrew Bloodsuckers'" on 11 March 2007.
"The 1937 document, 'How the Jews Can Combat Persecution,' was unearthed by Dr. Richard Toye, a Cambridge University historian," The Independent states. "Written three years before Churchill became Prime Minister, the article has apparently lain unnoticed in the Churchill Archives at Cambridge since the early months of the Second World War.
"Churchill criticised the 'aloofness' of Jewish people from wider society and urged them to make the effort to integrate themselves... Churchill says: 'The central fact which dominates the relations of Jew and non-Jew is that the Jew is "different." He looks different. He thinks differently. He has a different tradition and background.'
"He then goes on to criticise Jewish moneylenders: 'Every Jewish moneylender recalls Shylock and the idea of the Jews as usurers. And you cannot reasonably expect a struggling clerk or shopkeeper, paying 40 or 50 per cent interest on borrowed money to a "Hebrew Bloodsucker," to reflect that almost every other way of life was closed to the Jewish people.'"
"Dr Toye said: 'I nearly fell off my chair when I found the article. It appears to have been overlooked....It was certainly quite a shock to read some of these things and it is obviously at odds with the traditional idea we have of Churchill.'"
We at The Churchill Center would have fallen off our chairs too - if Churchill had written such words. But Churchill did not write them. Nor did he publish them. Nor did he approve of them.
Now, the facts
"How the Jews Can Combat Persecution" has not "lain unnoticed since the Second World War." It was "unearthed" nearly thirty years ago by Oxford historian and Churchill biographer Sir Martin Gilbert, poring through the million documents in the Churchill Archives Centre.
Twenty-six years ago, Gilbert actually reprinted the letter conveying the draft of this article to Churchill, in Winston S. Churchill, Companion Volume V, Part 3, The Coming of War: Documents 1936-1939 (London: Heinemann, 1982), page 670.
The author of "How the Jews Can Combat Persecution" was Adam Marshall Diston (1893-1956), whom Gilbert's volume identifies on page 190:
"Born in Scotland. Served in a Highland Regiment, 1914-18. Joined the Staff of Amalgamated Press after the war; subsequently Assistant Editor of Answers, and acting Editor (1934).... A Socialist, he joined Sir Oswald Mosley's New Party in 1931. Unsuccessful New Party Candidate for Wandsworth Central in the 1931 election (where he polled only 424 votes out of a total of 11,647, and lost his deposit); he never stood for Parliament again."
Churchill briefly employed Diston to write rough drafts for the popular press. While drafts for Churchill's weighty histories, such as Marlborough and A History of the English Speaking Peoples, were prepared by distinguished historians such as Bill Deakin and Keith Feiling, Diston drafted some of what Churchill called his "potboilers," which supplied much of his income in the 1930s. Indeed, says Sir Martin Gilbert, this article "was the only serious subject Diston was asked to tackle, in which he went over the top in the use of his language."
Diston's membership in Mosley's fascist party suggests his sentiments. Indeed, in his letter conveying the draft to Churchill, he recognized them: "Mrs Pearman (Churchill's secretary) did not tell me for what paper it was wanted. If it is for a Jewish journal, it may in places be rather outspoken. Even then, however, I do not know that that is altogether a bad thing. There are quite a number of Jews who might, with advantage, reflect on the epigram: 'How odd, Of God, To choose, The Jews.'"
Diston's draft departed drastically from the article guidelines Churchill had sent him only three weeks earlier: "Obviously there are four things. The first is to be a good citizen of the country to which he belongs.
The second is to avoid too exclusive an association in ordinary matters of business and daily life, and to mingle as much as possible with non-Jews everywhere, apart from race and religion.
The third is to keep the Jewish movement free from Communism.
The fourth is a perfectly legitimate use of their influence throughout the world to bring pressure, economic and financial, to bear upon the Governments which persecute them." (Companion Volume 5, Part 3, 654). All those sentiments are typical of Churchill. and certainly do not smack of "Shylock," or people who "look different." Winston Churchill was among the least conscious of how people looked of anyone in his generation.
Interviewed March 11th by London's The Sunday Times, Sir Martin Gilbert said Churchill refused to have Diston's article published because it was not his work and did not reflect his views. Gilbert added that Dr. Toye, the lecturer who "found" the article and includes it in a new book, Lloyd George and Churchill, must have failed to consult Companion Volume V, Part 3, which describes it: "I'm amazed. My book would have been on the same shelf in the same library. I immediately recognised the name of the article."
Not only did Churchill not write about "Hebrew Bloodsuckers." He refused even to subject Diston's draft to his usual heavy editing and revision, which he traditionally did before submitting an article to a publisher. (See footnotes on the drafting of "King George VI," Companion Volume 5, Part 3, 519.)
Subsequent correspondence in the Churchill Archives, from March 1940, has Charles Eade, then Churchill's editor for his war speeches, suggesting that Diston's "rather provocative" article be published in the Sunday Dispatch. Kathleen Hill, forwarded his proposal to Churchill with a note: "I cannot trace that this article on the Jews has ever been published. You originally wrote it for the American Magazine Liberty about June 1937....However, the article was not published as Colliers objected to any of your articles appearing in a rival magazine." (Churchill Archives, CHAR 8/660/32.)
It has been suggested that the piece was not published only because of Colliers' objections. But that opinion was Mrs. Hill's, not Churchill's. While she might have remembered Collier's objections, Churchill was never one to fail to place a good story. Yet, after reading Mrs. Hill's memo, Churchill himself wrote across the bottom: "better not." Mrs. Hill in turn informed Eade: "Mr.Churchill thinks it would be inadvisable to publish the article." (Churchill Archives, CHAR 8/660/31.)
Clearly, both in 1937 and 1940, Churchill did not want this article published. As William Manchester wrote, Churchill "always had second and third thoughts, and they usually improved as he went along. It was part of his pattern of response to any political issue that while his early reactions were often emotional, and even unworthy of him, they were usually succeeded by reason and generosity." (Manchester, The Last Lion vol. I, Boston: Little Brown, 1982, 843-44).
The feet of clay school
Not long from now, we may assume, The Independent's story or portions of the Diston draft will be dredged up out of context as proof of Churchill's hypocrisy. There is an element in modern discourse that seeks always to deconstruct time-proven institutions, societies and leaders. No matter how positive their record, their least peccadilloes are seized upon as proof that revered institutions and individuals are no better than the villains of history: that "we" are no better than "they." Call it the Feet of Clay School.
Winston Churchill is particularly susceptible to such accusations. Thanks to the massive archive he left us, ably marshalled and made available to one and all by the faithful Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, Churchill is in the relatively unique position of being subject to criticism not only for his most personal thoughts in his most private letters, but even for articles he never wrote.
Leave aside Churchill's lifelong support of Zionism. Forget his legion of Jewish friends, from Sir Ernest Cassel to Henry Strakosch to Bernard Baruch, who stuck by him when it took courage to do so, often bailing him out of financial misfortune. Omit the fact that his official biographer is also a leading Holocaust and Jewish historian. Churchill was a friend of the Jews because, as a moral man, his sense of justice was revolted by persecution. "How can any man be discriminated against," he once asked, "purely because of how he was born?"
But Churchill was not an uncritical friend. He once observed that most Bolsheviks were Jews, but added (in a phrase usually omitted by the Feet of Clay School) that the reason for this was that they were also the most persecuted minority in Europe. (See notes on Churchill's 1920 article "Zionism vs. Bolshevism," Finest Hour 128, page 43.)
In November 1944, Churchill was outraged by the killing of his friend Lord Moyne (Walter Guinness), the Minister Resident in Cairo, by members of the terrorist Stern Gang.
In a statement to Parliament, Churchill said: "If our dreams for Zionism are to end in the smoke of assassins' pistols and our labours for its future to produce only a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently and so long in the past. If there is to be any hope of a peaceful and successful future for Zionism, these wicked activities must cease, and those responsible for them must be destroyed root and branch." (See Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill vol. VII Road to Victory, 1050).
"I never felt that he was going to spring an unpleasant surprise on me,"
said Sir Martin Gilbert, reflecting on his forty years of biographical research with the historian Max Hastings (Finest Hour 65). "I might find that he was adopting views with which I disagreed. But I always knew that there would be nothing to cause me to think: 'How shocking, how appalling.'"
Richard M. Langworth is the editor of Finest Hour, The Journal of Winston Churchill