Friday, March 27, 2009

History Lesson: Ernest Bevin A Statesman and an Antisemite

The Iconoclast remembers:

Ernest Bevin was a crude man with crude thoughts, and an antisemite. He was an antisemite, when it was not, as it had been a decade before, and would become several decades later, the easy and popular thing. He was a vicious antisemite when sympathy for the Jews was at its height, and it is instructive to remember just how disappointingly low that “at its height” turned out to be. He was amazingly unsympathetic to the survivors of those camps, and unsympathetic to Zionism. He suggested that perhaps the Jews who remained alive should stay in Europe – even stay in Germany, now that the Nazis were not in control (but there were millions of Nazis and their sympatheizers and collaborators all over Germany, as he surely must have known). He enforced a cruel blockade preventing Jewish survivors from reaching Palestine – the Exodus offers one example. American and British Jews, former servicemen in World War II, who volunteered to serve on these missions of bringing Jews longing to go to Palestine from the DP camps, were even beaten to death by British soldiers. Ernest Bevin not only found nothing wrong with this, but while preventing Jews from reaching Palestine, he warned in November, 1947 darkly that "if the Jews, with all their sufferings, want to get too much at the head of the queue ...” – this at a time when hundreds of thousands of Jews were languishing in camps in Germany itself, and in other scenes of their mass-murder, amidst the ashes and corpses of their own relatives – this could lead to a new eruption of anti-Semitism.

While Bevin was Foreign Minister, Great Britain not only continued the policy of the 1939 White Paper, essentially keeping Mandatory Palestine off-limits to Jewish refugees, but he embargoed all arms shipments to the Jews of Israel, while at the same time being perfectly complicit in the continued supplying of arms, and of training, by British officers to the armies of Egypt, Jordan (the Arab Legion under John Glubb, or Glubb Pasha), and Iraq. British intelligence knew that members of the Hanzar Brigade of the Waffen S.S., consisting of Bosnian Muslims, had come to the Middle East to help the Arabs against the Jews, and did nothing. Germans, Nazis war criminals, began to show up in Cairo and in Damascus, and the British said nothing, did nothing. Meanwhile, the Jews of Palestine, who during the war had volunteered for suicide missions against the Germans in Egypt, in Syria, and in Iraq, were treated by the British with contumely, and worse.


Ernest Bevin continued to rant against the Jews throughout his tenure as foreign minister. There is, for example, the testimony of Christopher Mayhew, in his diary entry for May 1948: 'must make a note about Ernest's anti-semitism … There is no doubt in my mind that Ernest detests Jews. He makes the odd wisecrack about the 'Chosen People'; explains Shinwell away as a Jew; declares the Old Testament is the most immoral book ever written … He says they taught Hitler the technique of terror – and were even now paralleling the Nazis in Palestine.”

Ian Mikardo, a Jewish M.P. and a left-wing Labourite, offers similar testimony in his own “Memoirs” published decades later, when he noted how Bevin would go on and on about Jewish conspiracies. James McDonald, the American diplomat who became the first American ambassador to Israel, and who had worked on the question of Jewish refugees in the 1930s, wrote in his own diaries that he had been shocked at the antisemitism displayed by Bevin in his conversations with McDonald: hatred of Israel, of the United States and, above all, hatred of ‘the Jews.’


Bevin's name is mentioned in this post of mine.


At 1:40 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In his biography of Bevin, Asa Briggs tried to whitewash Bevin, and refused to include a chapter in the book about Bevin and the Palestine issue. He even went so far as to claim that Bevin admired the spiritual fortitude of the Jewish people. James "fuck the Jews" Baker writes approvingly of Bevin in his "The Politics of Diplomacy", and recalls how much he impressed him as a young man. And Abba Eban recounts how much open hatred not only Bevin but also his wife displayed towards the Palestine Jewish delegation at the UN. Ezer Weitzman was instructed to assassinate Bevin by his Irgun commanders, but was prevented from doing so by his uncle Chaim Weitzman.

It is ironic that Mayhew writes of Bevin's antisemitism, since Mayhew himself was an active and venomous Jew-hater. A WW2 foreign office "black propaganda" expert, he went on the BBC just before the 1967 war and urged that Britain send two ships to Haifa to pick up those Jewish refugees who may remain alive after the war. Two ships would suffice, he was sure. And when Nasser died, he eulogized him as a great man of peace.


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