Sunday, March 25, 2007

Churchill and anti-Semitism - yet again

Thanks are due to Dr Hiding Pup for drawing my attention to Richard Toye's detailed defence of the provenance of the anti-Semitic article supposedly written by Winston Churchill, which I posted on earlier. Toye is the author of a new book, Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness. His major critic is Martin Gilbert, not only the official biographer of Churchill but author of several books on Jewish history and of the forthcoming Churchill and the Jews. The Churchill bibliographer, Richard M Langworth, has also written to defend Gilbert's position, that Churchill refuted and prevented the publication of the article, the product of a ghostwriter, Adam Marshall Diston, whom most of the press reports link to Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. This is disingenuous as Diston stood as a candidate for Mosley's ill-fated New Party, rather than the BUF. The New Party was formed by Mosley as a Keynesian opposition to MacDonald's economic orthodoxy and was disbanded by him when he converted to Fascism after a visit to Mussolini's Italy.

The Mosley connection is a convenient way of discrediting Diston and shifting the attention from Churchill, but regardless of the provenance of the document, which I am in no way in a position to speculate on, I am still uneasy at its use. A single document like this may provide an insight into anti-Semitic discourses, but it is hard to see how it could counter a much longer record of pro-Zionism, Jewish friendships and opposition to anti-Semitism. A single article, however contentious, should not distract from a broader historical record.

History is complex and casual anti-Semitism was ubiquitous amongst elite circles and was inevitably reflected in a range of contemporary discourses. That Churchill was capable of echoing the prejudices of his class is unsurprising. That these isolated instances amounted to anything significant is dubious, but they certainly make for an interesting spat.

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