In This Review

Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship
Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship
By Martin Gilbert
384 pp, Henry Holt, 2007

An old line of the publishing industry holds that if you want to sell books you should write about Churchill or the Jews. Gilbert, Winston Churchill's prolific official biographer, has had the ingenious idea of doing both together -- but the pairing of the two topics is far from artificial. Churchill's vigorous and enduring backing of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, opposition to the 1922 White Paper limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine, leadership in the fight against the Nazis, and commitment to Israel after its founding in 1948 clearly establish him as a "lifelong friend" of the Jewish people. The more interesting question is why Churchill took such positions when so many of his contemporaries acted otherwise. Critics would point to a cynical desire to divide and rule in the Middle East, but Gilbert's explanations are more charitable. One is Churchill's sense of British honor: having committed to supporting a Jewish homeland for reasons of British national interest during World War I, it would have been shameful to abandon that commitment after the war was over. The other explanation stresses Churchill's genuine admiration for the Jewish people. Never afraid of sweeping characterizations in an era before political correctness, Churchill found the Jews to be "the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world." Gilbert makes clear in this detailed and readable narrative that Churchill's friendship with the Jews was not uncritical -- but it was enduring and exceptional.