Palestine & George VI

Palestine & George VI

by Rev. Frank Julian Gelli

I have not seen, nor do I intend to see that much praised movie, The King’s Speech. The weighty matter of George VI’s stammer interests me as much as Prince William’s receding hairline, or the sticking-out ears of his father, or the number of fleas on the Queen’s Welsh corgi dogs. I do not give a damn whether Colin Firth gets an Oscar for his role or not. The current hoo-hah over the King’s attitude towards Jewish immigration into British Mandate Palestine, however, raises some topical questions. Namely, was the stuttering monarch anti-Semitic or clairvoyant? Worth a think.

In December 1917 the victorious British Army in Palestine took Jerusalem from the Turks. (When a French general entered the holy city he exulted: ‘Saladin, we are back!’) Only a month before Foreign Secretary Balfour had issued a declaration – in the form of a letter to Lord Rothschild - which promised that there should be a national home (not a state) in Palestine for the Jews. In fact, most of the inhabitants of the Holy Land at the time were Arabs. Balfour had also pledged that his declaration was not to prejudice their religious and civil rights but that was at best bloody obfuscation and fudge - vile mendacity at worst. Did the lofty and very ethical British Government assume that the Arabs would willingly vacate their land to foreign immigrants and clear off to some far corner of the collapsing Ottoman empire? Jill, Duchess of Hamilton, a stately Roman Catholic Australian, suggested in a lecture at SOAS that it had something to do with Balfour and PM Lloyd George’s biblical beliefs but I don’t buy it. Practical desire to court American Zionism is more likely. A.J.P. Taylor, that king of British historians, also speculates that one purpose was ‘to put a barrier between the French in Syria and the Suez Canal.’ That too makes sense.

After WWI Jewish immigration into Palestine grew apace. Zionist funds enabled them to purchase plenty of Arab land. Clearly, the Jewish national home was gradually mutating into a national state. The Arabs could hardly be expected to like that, so riots and violence followed. 

By 1930 the British Colonial Secretary was Lord Passfield, a.k.a. socialist Sidney Webb of Fabian fame. Fabianism is synonymous with temporising but even Webb must have realised it was time to halt to Jewish immigration, if Palestine was to be pacified. (N.B. Hitler’s baleful moustache had not yet appeared on the horizon.) When he announced his intention, Taylor tells us, the enlightened Webb found himself vilified by Zionists ‘as the worst enemy of the Jews since Haman’. Too bad. (Haman is one of the many bad guys in history who have sought to destroy the Jews and who in doing so have only managed to dig a pit for themselves.) The unpalatable reality was – despite all well-meaning cant – that the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine was insoluble – it still is.

Fast forward to 1939. Britain recants. Balfour was wrong. ‘His Majesty’s Government…now declares unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish state.’ Still, as a sop to Zionists, Britain allowed 75.000 more Jews to settle in Palestine over the next five years.

By this stage of course Hitler’s inhuman persecutions of innocent Jews was creating an urgent refugee problem. President Roosevelt then concocted a plan that would have allowed a rescue programme. Read all about it in Alan Hart’s provocative Zionism: the Real Enemy of the Jews. Roosevelt envisaged Britain and America offering asylum to 300.000 Jews. Canada, Australia and South America also as many. So many lives saved! However, the plan was scuppered. It is incredible but it seems the Zionist leaders did not at like the idea of Europe’s Jewish refugees channelled away from Palestine. Indeed, according to radical Jewish writer Lenni Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of the Dictators – A Reappraisal, Zionist leaders did not scruple to deal directly with III Reich officials like Eichmann, using even Nazism to bump up numbers in Palestine.

Enough. Too harrowing a matter. One wonders: how many Jews would have been saved if President Roosevelt’s plan had not been shot down by Zionists? To be sure, it is Hitler, not Zionism, which primarily brought about the horrendous fate of many Israelites in WWII. Nonetheless, reading Hart and Brenner leaves you with a funny taste in the mouth. Something ain’t right.

The Palestinians had to pay the price for anti-Semitism - essentially a European problem – a melancholy conclusion. During the 1967 war between Israel and the Arabs, I affirmed that much in a speech to a meeting of a socialist youth party branch in Rome. (Yes, he confesses it: Fr Frank was once a young socialist!) Only one comrade voted for me. I was then so naive I was convinced that Israel was a lamb attacked by big bad Arab wolves, so I went to the Israeli embassy and volunteered – just as well they did not need a useless goy! Besides, the war was over in six days, Israel occupied some more land and the Arabs got it in the neck once more.

Back to George VI. Apparently he did not like the idea of more Jews getting illegally into Palestine. Some correspondence with Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax indicates that. Halifax, a committed Anglo-Catholic, was not quite a philo-Semite – in 1939 he objected to Hore-Belisha becoming minister of information because the man was a Jew. Groan…things have changed a bit since then.

But was the King really anti-Semitic? Or was he perhaps far-sighted? Even clairvoyant? Considering where we are now in 2011, with the stalemate in the Holy Land showing no sign of resolution, the festering conflict poisoning the atmosphere of the whole Middle East, the unending suffering of the Palestinians, the Israeli insecurity mixed with hubris, Christians who have lived in those lands for centuries being murdered daily or forced to flee, the bitterness, the oppression, the hatred – was it wise to create the Star of David state? Was it really in the best interest of the Jewish people worldwide? Discuss.

St Thomas Aquinas wrote that the only truly demonic, morally desperate situation for a man to be in is when he has made contradictory promises. Britain made promises to both Arabs and Jews. Promises she could not keep. Demonic enough. The results are there for all to see.

FATHER FRANK’S RANTS - Rant Number 425   - 19/1/11
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