Winston Churchill was probably the most prominent non-Jewish supporter of the Zionist movement throughout the first half of the 20th century, yet his memory is barely commemorated in Israel. This was rectified Sunday when the Jerusalem Foundation, in cooperation with the local municipality, unveiled a new bust of Churchill in the Moses Montefiore Garden at Mishkenot Sha'ananim in the center of the capital.
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The relationship between Churchill and the Zionist movement goes back to the warm friendships he and his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, had with Jewish figures in the late 19th century. These friendships were noted by many of their contemporaries in a period during which anti-Semitism was still prevalent, and even fashionable, among the British upper class. The young Churchill's relationship with the British Jewish community was taken to a different level in 1904 when he was elected to the House of Commons representing the constituency of Manchester North West, where a third of the voters were Jewish. His biggest supporters were the leaders of the Jewish community, and he and his wife Clementine became regular visitors to Jewish events.
Even after Churchill moved to a different constituency, the ties remained and over the years formed into a bond with the Zionist movement as he staunchly supported the 1917 Balfour Declaration, and, in his different ministerial positions and from the wilderness of opposition, fought against the attempts by various British governments to relinquish its commitment to establish a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.
Even before Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Churchill was one of the most adamant voices in Europe warning against the threat Hitler posed, citing mainly his anti-Jewish policies. While Zionist leaders were occasionally exasperated by Churchill especially by his initial opposition to the Palestine partition plan and his view that it would take many decades until an independent Jewish state could be established and that in the meantime, it would be preferable to restrict Jewish immigration there he remained their firmest ally in London.
Churchill’s support was acknowledged by Israeli leaders in the first years of the Jewish state and the last of Churchill’s life, but in Israel today, the absence of Churchill memorials is surprising. There is a tiny alleyway named Churchill Street on the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, where Churchill visited the building site during his first visit to Palestine in 1921, and another small side street named after him in a residential area of Netanya. There is also a small forest named after him near Nazareth.
Anthony Rosenfelder, a British trustee of the Jerusalem Foundation, thought there should be a more central memorial for Churchill after reading the book “Churchill and the Jews” by the historian Martin Gilbert, who was also Churchill’s official biographer. “When I read Gilbert’s book two years ago,” recalls Rosenfelder, “I realized just how outsized Churchill’s contribution had been throughout his life, both in his personal views and politically. It seemed strange that none of Israel’s major cities had a large street or building named after him, certainly nothing of proportion to what this man had done for the Jewish people and Israel.”
That’s when the idea of dedicating a more prominent memorial to Churchill got rolling; the Jerusalem Foundation’s members in Britain secured a bronze bust from a cast originated by Churchill’s official sculptor, Oscar Nemon. The bust is identical to the ones standing in New York and Washington.
The dedication on Sunday coincided with the 95th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and also included the inauguration of an annual Churchill lecture. It was attended by Churchill’s great-grandson Randolph Churchill, who said that “Oscar Nemon captured Sir Winston like no one else. It’s wonderful that one of the last bronzes is going to be in Jerusalem, symbolizing his deepest admiration for the Jewish community and his deep feelings that the Jews should have their own homeland.”