Monday, April 16, 2012

It's Hard to Believe...

... but once upon a time (1922 to be precise), in a faraway place (called England if you must know), there lived a press baron who neither went to bed with the Zionist lobby nor to water when its lobbyists phoned for a chat. In fact, he told them exactly what he thought of them, and - I know you're not going to believe this - even managed to have a bit of fun at their expense:

"As a result of [Northcliffe's] fleeting visit to Palestine he was importuned for interviews and support by London Zionists. They did not find him entirely responsive. He had written to Albert M Hyamson, of the Department of Labour in the Government of Palestine (April 13): 'I went out of my way to revisit Palestine, knowing nothing of the state of affairs that I found there. What impressed me most was the unhappiness of British officials, the over-pushfulness of the Zionists, and the fact that England, which cannot afford it, is committed to a high annual expenditure to keep the peace in that country'. His mind reverted to 'our Palestine commitments', he said, when he saw 'the mournful processions of unemployed in London'. As for charges that he was anti-Semitic, 'I believe that the Jews have greatly contributed to the attainment of the high position held in the world by the British Empire'.

"Meeting the Jews in their promised land had not been an altogether happy experience. He found them rebounding from the bondage of the ghetto with violent social assertiveness. Sir Herbert Samuel, the High Commissioner, had written to him on March 26 saying that 'our political difficulties are considerable', and concurring in Northcliffe's opinion that the excessive demands put forward by some of the Zionist leaders had greatly contributed to the difficulties of the existing situation which was 'far from satisfactory'. Northcliffe had been provoked into admonishing the general secretary of the Zionist Organization, Israel Cohen. 'You are overdoing it with this telephoning and general pushfulness, just as you are overdoing it in Palestine'. Cohen wished Northcliffe to know that 'Dr Chaim Weizmann is exceedingly anxious to see you'.

"The Daily Mail was taking the line that the British taxpayer could not afford to support Zionist ambitions towards which the paper was otherwise sympathetic. Weizmann, whom destiny had marked out to be the first president of the Jewish national homeland, wanted to put before Northcliffe personally the proposition that the British troops in Palestine would have to be garrisoned in Egypt or elsewhere at probably greater cost. He was asked to lunch at Carlton Gardens. Northcliffe also asked the ardent defender of English interests everywhere, LJ Maxse. According to Dr Weizmann's published account of what happened (in his autobiography, Trial & Error), Northcliffe sat himself between them after lunch and announced that he would umpire their discussion, but that it was Northcliffe who did the talking. Quoting Weizmann, 'this conception of the functions of an umpire was new to me, and suggested that I was probably wasting my time, so I shortly made my excuses and withdrew'. HG Price was present. He supplemented Weizmann's account from his own recollection. 'When the two men were seated, the Chief took out his watch and said: 'Now, gentlemen, you each have 5 minutes in which to state your case'. He handed the watch to Price, who was told to call out 'Stop!' at the end of each speaker's 5 minutes. He ordered Price to 'take a careful note' of what was said. When the speeches were over and the two men had gone, Price asked Northcliffe if he wanted the notes typed out. 'Good Lord, no!' Northcliffe said. 'Forget it'." (Northcliffe, Reginald Pound & Geoffrey Harmsworth, 1959, pp 845-846)


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