Jews (Fighting Services).

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 6th August 1942.

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Photo of Mr Ian Hannah Mr Ian Hannah , Wolverhampton Bilston

Who can count the dust of Jacob, or the number of the fourth part of Israel? Three thousand four hundred years have rolled away since this question was first asked. I think its context in the Old Testament makes it fairly clear that at that time it was highly rhetorical. To us at the present time this question, in a rather different form perhaps, is most eminently practical. It was answered in this House just a few days ago—10,000 men. There were supplementaries, of course. What Minister of the Crown could ever get on without supplementaries? In this particular case the supplementaries were 23,000. Approximately the same number weekly would be forthcoming in this House but for your skill, Mr. Speaker, in stemming the tide. Those supplementaries are all right enough. The basic number of 10,000 is the same as was at the disposal of the grand old Duke of York in his not very obviously useful military operations. If I had to confine myself to my own poor vocabulary, I should describe it as woefully inadequate. If I were permitted to browse in the rich verbiage that grows in the Vale of Evesham, I should snap out that it was "most unsatisfactory." The question, again in a rather different form, was answered in another place on 16th April this year. The other place in this particular case was the floor of the Senate in Washington. The speaker was Senator Johnston, of Colorado, and his estimate was 200,000, half of them within 24 hours. Of course, the questions are not absolutely identical. The 10,000 were actually armed, the 200,000 had yet to come together. If the sum, however, be worked out, it will be discovered that the American estimate is exactly 20 times the British one. It may have been that the Senator was, to a certain extent, swayed by that spirit of buoyant optimism that we are all accustomed to associate with the American West. He is a very prominent representative of the American Committee for a Jewish Army. The object of this committee, as officially stated in its own paper, is this: To bring about, by legal means and in accordance with the laws and foreign policy of the United States, the formation of a Jewish Army, based on Palestine, to fight for the survival of the Jewish people and the preservation of democracy. This Army, composed primarily of Palestinian Jews and refugees, as well as volunteers from free nations, will fight on all required battlefields side by side with the United States, Great Britain and the other Allied Nations. I welcome this Jewish Army, and I have, with enthusiasm, joined the English Committee, because I believe from the very bottom of my heart that the future of the world is largely bound up with loyal Anglo-American co-operation, I think I realise the difficulties as well as anybody. I lived for a dozen years in the United States, and I have to a certain extent viewed this country from the other side of the Atlantic. There have been great misunderstandings in days gone by between the two countries. It was a terrible to-do between 1776 and 1783. The Americans complained that, although they were not represented in this House, they were taxed by it. To a very large extent I think we have put that right. America is represented in this House. I think we should all agree most admirably, and certainly very vocally, represented, and yet we make no claims whatever now to tax Americans.

If we can get any soldiers from Jewry, it is surely all to the good. We realise that we are making efforts far beyond the limit of our own population. I expect we have all had experiences, when going to and fro in our own constituencies, of the terrible hardships that conscription is bringing to so many of our people. I know a certain household, the head of which, already working in munitions and 42 years old, was forced to join the Army, although his wife is practically a nervous wreck, and there are six children, all boys, whom she is quite incapable of controlling. We know that there are tragedies of the same kind to be found throughout the length and breadth of this land. Jewry has no choice as between the Axis and the democratic Powers for other faiths are wooed by both sides. The Axis has declared irrevocable war upon Jewry in all portions of the world. I feel that we ought definitely to pledge the honour of Britain that we will find new homes for the Jews who are persecuted in all parts of Europe at the present time, if they will stand side by side with us in this terrible emergency.

I know that the position in Palestine is delicate, most delicate. This is a moral question, and if it were approached in a purely material way, I realise the tremendous embarrassment that might be caused to the Government, and I trust that I should be the very last person who would want to bring about anything of that kind. It might likewise do great harm throughout the world. The bulk of the population of Palestine consists of the people who are generally known as Arabs. They represent the relics of practically every race that has ever occupied that country, but the vast majority of them were converted to the faith of Islam during the seventh century. There is a small but most important Christian community, and there are various other small minorities of different kinds. I suppose that the little Samaritan community is probably the best-known. But still, broadly speaking, the question of the Arabs in Palestine brings up the problem of our relations with the faith of Islam, the great Mohammedan world, with which we are confronted in all lands, from Sierra Leone to Borneo, most of all in India itself. Nobody can believe that we have any quarrel with Islam. Are we not fighting to the very death to hold inviolate from inhuman foes that city which above all others at the present time is the capital of the Moslem faith—Cairo, the victorious town, with its great university of El-Azhar? Have we not heard only yesterday further details about the way in which the Moslem Government presented a site in Cairo for the building of a great Christian cathedral and our reciprocating by providing a site in the capital of this Empire for a Moslem mosque? Shades of Richard Coeur-de-Lion, King of England, and of Saladin, Sultan of the East! It surely is magnificent if at last we are getting together in such a way as that.

Our propaganda is the worst in all the world. It was well described by one of my colleagues at Oberlin College—not very felicitously perhaps, but not entirely untruthfully—as "proper goose." Japan tells the whole East of the recent building of a mosque in Tokyo. We are doing far too little to convince Moslems all over the world of the way in which we are holding out to them in every way we can the right hand of fellowship. If the Arabs fight side by side with us, I think they should definitely be promised that they will be allowed to remain a majority in the Holy Land. What could be a better title than the prescription of more than 14 centuries, in addition to the presence of the third most sacred city in all the Moslem world—for Jerusalem as a holy city is second only to Mecca and Medina—and the careers of two of the greatest and best men that Islam ever gave to the world, the Caliph Omar in the seventh century and the Sultan Saladin in the twelfth?