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

Well, yes, it was. I am almost deluged with Jewish propaganda—I have a sample of it here—and, perhaps rather unwisely, I read it every week during the long railway journey between Bilston and this place. There are a great many things in it that impress one. The Jews themselves are very deeply divided. Those Jews who claim that the Holy Land is irrevocably and for ever theirs, I would, from the historical point of view, refer to certain events which happened in the reigns of Vespasian and Hadrian. I need not trouble the House with details. Perhaps I have wandered too much into history already. I would also say that it is impossible to pour a quart into a pint pot, and that, after all, it does seem to me quite possible that Jews can make themselves happy in other lands. I had the privilege of spending some time in the Henry Street Settlement on the East Side of New York, a Jewish welfare centre, in which I was very nearly the only non-Jew. At that time a certain amount of stir had been caused by some sort of Jewish Convention—I cannot give actual chapter and verse at this moment—voting that America was their promised land, and Washington their Zion. Of course, that naturally caused rather obvious retorts about right hands losing their cunning. But I maintain that anybody who has seen the Jews in New York will not for one moment believe that it is impossible for them to be happy in any other country than Palestine.

The history of Mohammedanism is very largely connected with the history of Jewry. I would especially remind the House of those glorious days when, under the black flag of Abbas, in the Caliphate of Bagdad, Moslem and Jew worked together magnificently to promote one of the highest cultures which the world has ever seen. They gave us algebra, among other things. Then take the case of Moslem Spain. It was there in fact that Moses Maimonides, perhaps the greatest ornament in philosophy that Jewry ever knew, lived and taught under Moslem rule. Later on, when unfortunately for themselves—materially at least—the Spaniards expelled the Jews from their soil, they found new homes in Moslem lands in the neighbourhood of Salonika. Why cannot that come again? There, I think, is the whole crux of the problem. Have we done our obvious duty? Have we impressed upon the leaders of Palestinian Mohammedanism and of Jewry the need for reviving those glorious days when they worked together so splendidly for the culture and learning of the world? Have we taught it to their children? Have we done our best to produce an atmosphere in the Holy Land that would make for real co-operation?

Some of my Jewish friends a few years ago took me to see a Jewish film in this city. I was much impressed with the undoubtedly splendid material results that the Jews had brought about in Palestine. They are marvellous. But I was not entirely satisfied. One of the pictures represented mixed bathing in the Mediterranean, off the shore of Tel-Aviv, and I could not help feeling that the Jewish ladies shown there had somehow or other been raiding the laundry bags of the Garden of Eden. I cannot profess to be a great authority on the fashions of girls' dresses, but it was fairly obvious, even to myself, that the difference between the modes of the Garden of Eden and of Tel-Aviv were not very great. One can easily realise how terribly that would shock the Moslem community. I am told that it also shocks, to a very large extent, some of the older communities of Jews in the Holy Land.

This question of a Jewish Army brings up in a very acute form the whole position of our Empire in the world. It is nearly 2,000 years since the greatest of all the poets of Rome, in words that are still alive, tried to set forth the destiny of that great Empire: Others, I grant you indeed, may more gracefully model their bronzes, or better draw out fair forms from the snow-white marble, argue their cases in courts, or tell of the stars in their courses. Thine be the part, Oh Rome, to govern with mandate imperial, Proudly to conquer the proud, showing mercy unto the humbled. I do not stop to inquire what Virgil would write about the sawdust Caesar, who struts about the streets of Rome to-day. I would rather suggest what is to be our place in the world. Let others, by blitzing, build empires on blood,And laugh at free peoples' tears.Be thine, O Britain, to stem this flood,And soothe the discords of years. I was very much impressed by a recent address in the Jerusalem Chamber by the Bishop of Chichester, in which he told us, talking about his recent visit to Sweden, that Scandinavian opinion was practically unanimous as to the deep concern the Germans feel at the present time over their tremendous unpopularity almost everywhere to-day. Germany has encountered the hatred of all the lands she has overrun. How many millions of troops would it be worth to Hitler to have the good-will of those subject nations?

Jewry is deeply divided. If, in her agony, she can give us nothing nobler than a stale rehash of that appalling vindictiveness that runs through the old Testament, then I fear that she will add new fuel to the flames of anti-Semitism that are blazing through half the world. But there is another Jewry. I look into the face of One who bade us love our enemies, and meant it: a man of Jewish race, a practical Man of affairs. We must never forget that, in the permanent history of the world, moral forces are far stronger than any material ones. China has outlasted the companions of her youth because she has always relied on moral, rather than on material, forces. The Roman Empire continued to exist centuries after any victories had been won by her legions. This is the day of battle, man against man, tank against tank, ship against ship, plane against plane. No one counsels peace to-day. I should be the last to want in any way to hold back any sanction of power from the international authority that we hope will give permanent peace to the world in the happier days to come; nor would I, for one moment, advocate putting any confidence or trust whatever in what is obviously utterly unreliable. But I want to impress, especially in connection with this Jewish Army for which we hope, the absolute necessity of heeding chiefly moral forces, and of considering the position of Jewry in relation to all the other races concerned. Some people are inclined to tell us that the British Empire is nearing its end, that our story is as a tale that is nearly told. I do not for one moment believe it. Our great career may be only just beginning, because the world needs us so tremendously. Sometimes I wish that this House always remembered that strong sense of mission for which it is so famous through all the centuries. Only the other day I was reading an account of the staid, dignified, courtly proceedings of this House by a rather flippant poet. He put it this way: he wrote these disgraceful lines: Thy senate is a scene of civil jar,Chaos of contrarieties at warWhere sharp and solid, phlegmatic and light,Discordant atoms meet, ferment and fight,Where Obstinacy takes his sturdy stand,To disconcert what Policy has planned;Where Policy is busied all night longIn setting right what Faction has set wrong,Where flails of oratory thresh the floorWhich yields them chaff and dust and nothing more. Surely, Mr. Speaker, that is a breach of Privilege! What a blessed word that is! Yet I am afraid we cannot very well proceed against the poet because he has been in his grave for 150 years. Those lines are from the "Expostulation" of a famous English poet whose name, I believe, should be pronounced Cooper, but, if you want anyone to know whom you mean, it is rather better to call him Cowper, as it is spelled. With all the earnestness that I can possibly command, I do want to impress upon the Government that there is a very broad feeling, both in the United States and in this country, that we are not making the most of the man-power and the reservoir of good will that exists in Palestine. This American Committee for a Jewish Army includes a very large number of prominent Americans in all walks of life. It has, I understand, received the blessing of the Secretaries of State for both Army and Navy, and of Mrs. Roosevelt herself. Those Members of this House who have American wives will realise what that means. I ask the Government very sympathetically indeed to consider the possibility of bringing some Jewish Army into actual being. If I have said a single word that is likely to embarrass them or to worsen the serious international relations that exist at the present time, I desire most unhesitatingly to retract it. I should like to apologise for breaking the record which I had only an hour ago of never having addressed this House for more than 13 minutes at a time. But let us all remember that we are on trial as we never were before. The world depends to a very large extent on what we can do. We must never lose sight of the undoubted fact that moral forces are eternal and that mere physical power falls by its own weight. If we fail now, our children will arise up and call us accursed.