Sunday, January 23, 2011

Get George!

If there's one thing that gets me going it's playing fast and loose with history, otherwise known as cliocide (See my 11/1/11 post Casual Cliocide (to Oud Accompaniment)).

Arguably, no history has fallen victim to cliocide more than that of Palestine, whether modern or ancient. Here's just the latest example:

"Colin Firth's hopes of Oscar glory for his portrayal of George VI are under threat from an apparent internet smear campaign alleging that the wartime monarch had Nazi sympathies... His depiction of George VI's battle to overcome a stammer has won acclaim and box office success on both sides of the Atlantic for the British-made film The King's Speech... There are fears that its success at next month's Oscars could be hampered by an email apparently being circulated to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, who vote on the awards, accusing the film of 'glossing over' history. It alleges that George VI, the father of the Queen, actively 'stymied' efforts by Jews fleeing Nazi Germany to settle in British-controlled Palestine... While historians have suggested George VI viewed Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement favourably, fearing that war would lead to the break-up of the Empire, he is remembered as an inspirational figure during the struggle that followed." (Nazi claim threaten's to ruin Firth's Oscar night, The Age, 20/1/11)

This report elicited the following corrective letter: "It seems a bit unfair to taint George VI with anti-Semitism in 1939 using facts not verified until years later... There was a large and bloody revolt by Palestinian Arabs from 1936 to 1939. A major trigger was illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine. There was no obvious reason to support this immigration at the time - and there were plenty of reasons to be against it in terms of imperial policy, which would no doubt have been George's primary concern. Britain had previously promised Palestine to both the Arabs and the Jews, and the conflict this caused had started. More immigration would have been more fuel on the fire." Charles Meo, Northcote (21/1/11)

Which elicited in its turn, as surely as night follows day, the following claptrap from one of our usual suspects: "Charles Meo claims there was 'no obvious reason to support' Jewish immigration into Palestine in the late 30s. The perilous situation that Germany's more than 500,000 Jews found themselves in during those years was an obvious and very necessary reason. In addition, by restricting Jewish immigration into Palestine after 1939, Great Britain was in breach of its League of Nations obligation to help establish Palestine as the homeland of the Jewish people." Merv Morris, East St Kilda (22/1/11)

Meo's clarification, while welcome, is by no means the end of the matter, however.

The subtext of the anonymous email smear seems to be that the main focus of the Zionist leadership in Palestine at the time was the rescue of German Jewry from Nazi persecution, but that they were 'stymied' in this endeavour by the perfidious British, who were at best cowards (Chamberlain) and at worst anti-Semites (George VI).

Now, if one can discern, in the following account of this period (by a Zionist historian), the faintest trace of concern for the plight of German Jews, as distinct from an overwhelming preoccupation with the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, then my critical faculties have completely deserted me:

"The [British] White Paper of 1939 which indicated a strong movement towards the Palestinian Arab position [a direct result of the 1936-1939 Palestinian revolt referred to by Meo] was seen by Weizmann and the mainstream Zionists as a deep betrayal of Jewish trust in British promises and as a self-evident vehicle to safeguard British interests in the event of an outbreak of war. 75,000 Jews would be admitted to Palestine over the following 5 years and thereafter Jewish immigration would be in the gift of the Palestinian Arabs. For the Irgun [the military wing of the Zionist revisionist movement], it was a defining watershed which initiated a new campaign - this time, not only against Palestinian Arabs, but also against the British... The Irgun issued a long statement which delineated its approach to the White Paper. It proclaimed that no nation in history had ever succeeded in winning its independence without resorting to military force. The British, the statement claimed, 'instigated, favoured and allowed to continue' episodes of Arab violence in order to backtrack on the Balfour Declaration and ultimately nullify the promises made to the Jews. It warned that 'a Jewish ghetto in Palestine will be established only over our dead bodies'... Weizmann was depicted as a British stooge and the Zionist Organization was condemned for its bequest of 'pacifism at any price'. The Round Table conference of early 1939, the Irgun argued, had brought them to this impasse and the only way forward was to 'reconquer the Land of Israel'... A week before the invasion of Poland, the Irgun killed 3 British CID members whom they accused of torturing an Irgun commander. The day before the Germans crossed the border with Poland, the British arrested and imprisoned the entire high command of the Irgun. As history records, [Vladimir] Jabotinsky immediately took the opportunity to throw his personal support and that of the Revisionist movement behind the Chamberlain government. [Irgun leader] David Raziel in a communique from prison resolved to do the same and declared a ceasefire - much to the surprise of [Avraham] Stern and the rest of the Irgun high command. This was the first step in a series of political and personal disputes between Raziel and Stern... It ended in a split with Stern leading his own group out of the Irgun. This was known perjoritavely by the British as 'the Stern Gang' - later as Lehi - which still saw the British as the central enemy. Stern devoutly believed that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' so he approached Nazi Germany. With German armies at the gates of Palestine, he offered co-operation and an alliance with a new totalitarian Hebrew republic. He hoped that with German assistance, he could now bring 40,000 Jews from occupied Europe to Palestine to overthrow British rule." (The Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism & The Origins of the Israeli Right, Colin Shindler, 2010, p 217-218)

We also learn from Shindler that:

a) The British in 1939, far from blocking Jewish immigration into Palestine, had merely decided to reduce it. (Shindler, of course, neglects to explain that they had finally woken up to the fact that 'favouring the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people', as per the Balfour Declaration of 1917, was, in the teeth of the violent and sustained Palestinian Arab resistance of 1936-1939, just another of those 'It seemed like a good idea at the time' ideas.)*

b) Chamberlain had broad Zionist support for his policy of appeasement.

c) The Sternists, who were later to bequeath Israel one of its prime ministers, Yitzhak Shamir, were happy to solicit German support in their fight against the British.

In addition, the historical record indicates that even as ardent a gentile Zionist as Winston Churchill was in favour of restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine, recognising, as he proclaimed in parliament, that "[w]e have obligations to the Palestinian Arabs as well as to the Jews and world Jewry" (Churchill & The Jews, Martin Gilbert, 2007, p 151).

It is not the makers of The King's Speech who are glossing over inconvenient facts, but rather the anonymous author of the email.

[* See my 19/1/10 post It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time...]

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