Jews (Fighting Services).

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

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Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelly

I wish to say a few words on this very important and vital matter on behalf of the Executive of the Labour Party and the National Council of the Labour Party, which have given it very careful consideration. We in the Trade Union and Labour movement are fully aware of the fact that for very many years before we felt the force of the Nazi terror, the Jewish people on the Continent bore the first brunt of that brutal attack. Our sympathy and our good will go out to them because the first fury of this Nazi terror fell upon them. As the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Colonel Cazalet) said, none of us can read about events in the part of Europe occupied by Hitler without feeling a sense of horror and shame at the terrible things that are happening in this century. It is really one of the worst episodes in the history of the world. Our sympathy, our whole hearts, go out to the Jewish people in the ordeal through which they are passing at this time. The bodies with which I am associated understand and fully appreciate how the Jewish people must feel in these days when the war gets daily and hourly nearer to Palestine. As the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham said, there is the danger of an attack upon Palestine from more than one direction. They are naturally concerned—and I hope the Government fully realise that concern—by the possibility of a sudden attack upon them, and particularly they are concerned about the possibility of an attack being made upon them when they are not as well prepared to meet it as they would desire to be.

I understand it is for those reasons that the most recent proposals have been put forward. I think it is desirable to bring the House back to what I understand are the immediate proposals. There is a proposal which, although it would be possible to discuss it on the Adjournment, I think it would be better at this moment not to discuss; I refer to the proposal to create a Jewish Army including Jews from all over the world. That matter has been discussed in the House and it has been dis- cussed in another place; there is a good deal of controversy about it and it excites considerable attention on the other side of the Atlantic. But when the bodies with which I am associated considered this matter recently, their consideration was of proposals which I want to repeat to the House, although they were referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham. There are two proposals having the sanction of the Jewish Agency, which speaks for responsible bodies of Jews. The first proposal is that the British Government should be asked to unify the existing Jewish units into battalions, to create, to train, and to equip the maximum number of new Jewish companies, and to mould the whole of these into a Jewish fighting force within the British Army; and for this purpose we gather that at least another 20,000 men could be enlisted immediately in Palestine. The second proposal is to recruit, to train, and to equip forthwith all the available 40,000 or 50,000 additional Jewish men for Home Guard duties, and it is stated that that is possible without taking them away from agriculture and industry until the emergency requires that that shall be done. It seemed to us, therefore, that these two proposals, which I hope the House will discuss for the moment outside the larger proposal for a Jewish Army including Jews from all over the world, are put forward because of the fact that daily and hourly the danger approaches Palestine, and that they are born of a desire to create in Palestine a force, both in the Army and in the Home Guard, that will be able to defend their own country against a possible attack.

I am sure that all of us appreciate and realise that this desire on the part of the Jewish people in Palestine to defend their ancient land, a part of which they are now recreating, is a very natural one and one that calls for the sympathy of every one of us. Those of us who have read about what the Jews have done in Palestine in the last 20 years, their creative and reconstruction work, and the new land they are building, cannot have failed to be impressed. Therefore, we all realise their anxieties about the possibility of attack, and I am sure, if an attack comes, they will defend Palestine with very great valour and courage, and with the added sense that they are now defending the new home which they have built up. It is a natural anxiety and desire in war for people who feel together and form part of the same community to fight together. The Secretary of State for War is a Member for a Welsh division, and he will know, because he is not entirely new to the War Office, that the War Office on matters of this kind have not shown much imagination. They have often been dull to the fact that people will fight better, particularly in moments of great emergency, if they have around them people who are like them and have roots like them. Many times we have made representations about this to the War Office, without very much success. We believe, and the Secretary of State for War must know that his constituents believe it too, that our own people would be a very much more effective force in the British Army, if more imagination were shown in recruiting them, and bringing them together. It is a natural desire, and we have tried to impress it upon previous Ministers. We have had promises, but very little has been done. I mention it to show that I enter into the desire of people who wish to fight together.

I share very fully this desire of the Jewish people, and we want the Government and the Secretary of State for War to give their fullest consideration to the problem. Objections have been raised, which I do not wish to refer to in detail. One of the main objections is the fear of the Government that if they conceded even this modified form of a Jewish fighting force, there would be very serious political repercussions. It is very difficult for Members of Parliament and outside bodies, like the body with which I am associated, to make a definite pronouncement upon a matter of that kind. We have not the requisite knowledge to enable us to arrive at a decision as to whether the Government's fears about possible political repercussions are well grounded. We are, however, mindful of the fact that in days gone by this fear of political repercussions has been used as a cloak to cover up certain policies, and as a buttress to support a policy of appeasement not merely in the Middle East but everywhere. It is for this reason that, when we hear it now, we question the Government whether this is the real reason. On a matter of this kind the final decision must obviously rest with the Government, and we fully appreciate that they have to take into account possible political repercussions. We hope, how- ever, that they will judge this matter objectively, and that there will be no hangover in other Departments, such as the War Office or the Foreign Office, of the old appeasement days. We desire that everything which can be done should be done to enable the Jewish people to defend their home if the attack comes.

We desire the Government to mobilise on our side, not merely the forces in Palestine, but the forces all over the world. We believe that some statement on this problem would do a good deal to damp down something which, I am afraid, is growing in our country, namely, anti-Semitic feeling. I know something of the attempts to fan this feeling among working-class circles. Anti-Semitism has been used on the Continent to destroy every section of the Labour movement, and I should like to give this warning and let it go out to the people with whom I am associated. Let them beware of it. There are two problems which confront us: Firstly, the possibility of attack upon Palestine, and enabling the Jewish people to be reasonably well prepared to meet that attack if it comes, and, secondly, the satisfying of Jewish sentiment. From our point of view we wish the proposals to be judged by the Government upon their merits, and I hope the Minister will give an undertaking that they will be so considered, and that, if not all, some of the points will be conceded.