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The Bevin enigma: what motivated Ernest Bevin's opposition to the establishment of a Jwish state in Palestine

Raphael Langham

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies , volume 44, 2012 The Bevin enigma: what motivated Ernest Bevin's opposition to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine1 RAPHAEL LANGHAM Ernest Bevin was the British Foreign Secretary between 1945 and 195 1 . Thus he was the most senior Cabinet Minister responsible for the formulation and implementation of British Palestine policy from the end of the Second World War until a few years after the establishment of the State of Israel. A common view at the time was that he was antisemitic and this influenced his policies. These accusations of antisemitism only arose after he became Foreign Secretary, but they were so strong and widely held that they have been subsequently addressed by many historians and all his biographers, as well as in memoirs of his contempories. Not everyone either at the time or later considered that he was antisemitic, and the following are a number of contrasting quotations. The first two are from speeches in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister Clement Attlee and the leader of the oppo- sition, Winston Churchill. Churchill remarked: "I do not feel any great confi- dence that he has not got a prejudice against the Jews".2 To which Attlee responded: "That is entirely and utterly untrue. My right honorable friend has many good friends among the Jews".3 Those closest to Bevin when he was Foreign Secretary were Christopher Mayhew, who was Under Secretary of State in the Foreign Office, and Frank Roberts, who was Private Secretary to Bevin from December 1947 to April 1949. Mayhew wrote: "There is no doubt, to my mind, that Ernest detests Jews",4 whereas in his memoirs Roberts wrote that "Bevin has often been accused of being anti-Jewish, which is quite untrue".5 Among the Jewish Zionists, the two leaders at the time were Chaim Weizmann and David Ben Gurion, who had contrasting views. In a letter Weizmann wrote: "The British Foreign Secretary is blinded by his hatred of 1 Based on a paper presented to the Society at its meeting on 23 June 201 1 . 2 Winston Churchill, speech in House of Commons, 26 January 1949. Hansard , 5th Series, vol. 460 cols 953 and 1051. 3 Clement Attlee, ibid, col. 1058. 4 Christopher Mayhew, Time To Explain (London, 1987) 119. 5 Frank Roberts, Dealing with Dictators: The Destruction and Revival of Europe 1930-70 (London, 1991), 125. 165</page><page sequence="2">Raphael Langham the Jews"6 but Ben-Gurion observed that "It has been said that he was anti- Semitic[;] I prefer to consider Bevin simply as an anti-Zionist".7 Biographers and historians have the benefit of reflection over time, but they do not agree among themselves. Alan Bullock, who authored the official biography, wrote that "Bevin was not moved by hatred of the Jews or anti- semitism"8 yet Peter Weiler, in a more recent biography, wrote: "It is also the case that Bevin held antisemitic views . . . although there is no evidence that they shaped his policy towards Palestine".9 Among historians, Avi Shlaim considered that Bevin was "the guardian angel of the infant state"10 but Efraim Karsh responded that Shlaim"s comment "represents the exact opposite of the historical truth" ,n So there we have it - an enigma. Was Bevin an antisemite and if so did it influence his policy on Palestine? The main object of this paper is to examine the evidence and see what conclusions can be drawn as to Bevin's anti- semitism. Both primary and secondary sources have been used. Regrettably there was no access to Hanslope Park where the missing secret Foreign Office files on Palestine, as well as other former British possessions, have been secreted. First, I give a brief life history of Bevin to see if one can glean from it any hints as to why, if at all, he became antisemitic. It is a life history and not a biography, so there is no consideration of his character, characteristics, personality and so on. Second, I examine Bevin's involvement with Jews prior to his becoming Foreign Secretary. Third, I discuss his role in British Palestine policy from 1945. Finally there are some conclusions. Life History Ernest Bevin was born at Winsford in Somerset on 7 March 1881 . He was the seventh child of Diana Mercy Bevin. Her husband had left her in 1877 and thereafter she called herself a widow. The name of the father is omitted from Bevin's birth certificate and thus his father is unknown. At one time there was speculation that his father was an itinerant Jewish peddler, but there is no evidence of this. Thus it is unlikely that he imbibed any antisemitism from his mother's milk. Bevin's mother was a chapel-goer and sent him to Non- conformist religious schools, which resulted in him holding strong 6 Barnett Litvinoff, gen. ed., The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann , Series A, Vol. XXIII (Jerusalem, 1980), 237. 7 Moshe Pearlman, Ben Gurion looks back (London, 1965), 96. 8 Alan Bullock, Ernest Bevin: Foreign Secretary 1 g 45-51 (London, 1982), 169. 9 Peter Weiler, Ernest Bevin (Manchester, 1993), 170-71 . 10 Avi Shlaim, Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement , and the Partition of Palestine (Oxford, 1988), 618. 11 Efraim Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History: The "New Historians" (London, 1997), 145. 166</page><page sequence="3">Ernest Bevin's opposition to the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine Nonconformist beliefs, certainly as a young man. His mother died in 1889 and Bevin went to live with his married sister in Devon. He left school when he was eleven and, after working on two farms, moved to Bristol to join two of his brothers. He had various jobs but in 191 1 became a paid trade union official. In Bristol he attended numerous chapels but favoured the Manor Hall Baptist mission where he was actively involved. It is doubtful that the Baptists had any anti-Jewish dogmas so he was unlikely to have imbibed any antisemitism there. He also became something of a lay preacher. His first address in 1904, to the Christian Endeavour Society, was on the history of Israel - quite appropriate in the light of events forty years later. According to Bullock's biography, this address was still remembered in i960, fifty-six years after Bevin had delivered it.12 Although it must have been a remarkable sermon, even the best search efforts have been unable to find any record of what Bevin said. It was through the Baptist church and its discussion classes that Bevin not only found his speaking talents but also involved himself in the Labour Party. From there it was but a short step to involvement with the trade union movement, particularly with the dockworkers. Bevin's talents were soon recognized by the dockworkers' union and he rapidly became one of the union's national organizers. He found his trade union activities began to centre on London and in 1920 he and his wife bought a house in Golders Green, not far from the site that became the Dunstan Road synagogue two years later. This move to Golders Green led one of his biogra- phers to the view that Bevin could not thus have been an antisemite.13 Bevin moved rapidly up the trade union ladder, becoming President of the TUC in 1937. He was persuaded by Churchill to become the Minister of Labour and National Service in the war cabinet and, when Labour was vic- torious in the 1945 election, he was appointed as Foreign Secretary, a post he held until just before his death on 14 April 195 1 . Bevin and Jews prior to 1945 The first recorded political involvement of Bevin with Jews dates from the 1920s when he was the Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union. His leadership was often challenged by communist infiltrators and he had many battles with them. He found that his bitterest opponents were com- munists who happened to be Jews or Jews who happened to be communists.14 Involvement of Jews with communism seems to have stuck in his mind. In 12 Bullock, Bevin , Vol. 1: Trade Union Leader (London, 1969), 9. 13 Mark Stephens, Ernest Bevin: Unskilled Labourer and World Statesman, 1881-1Q51 (Stevenage, 1981), 119. 14 on Kimche, "British Labor's Turnabout on Zionism", Commentary 4, 6 (December 1947), 514. 167</page><page sequence="4">Raphael Langham 1945 he pointed out that it was significant that the only constituency in Britain where the communists had gained a seat in the 1945 general election was a constituency with a high proportion of Jewish voters.15 He was refer- ring to Phil Piratin, the MP for Mile End in London, who was a Jew, but Bevin failed to mention that the unsuccessful Labour candidate was also Jewish. A by-election in Whitechapel in late 1930 occurred at a critical political moment; it was important for Labour to retain the seat as it was a minority government. The "Passfield" White Paper, which set out a new policy on Palestine including stricter regulation of Jewish immigration and land pur- chase, had just been published and had created a massive furore in Jewish circles. More than a third of the electorate in Whitechapel was Jewish and Poale Zion had a strong hold over them. Bevin, already prominent and pow- erful in the Labour Party, entered into discussions with the leadership of the British Poale Zion, who eventually decided to support the Labour candidate. It seems that the clinching deal was Bevin's promise to intercede with Ramsay MacDonald, the Prime Minister, to have the White Paper with- drawn. There was a stormy public meeting organized by Poale Zion and attended by Bevin. According to one historian, Bevin succeeded in calming the audience,16 but an eye-witness stated that Bevin stormed out because he was unable to make himself heard.17 The Jewish vote, which had previously been predominantly Labour, was split but nonetheless Labour just won. Bevin kept his promise and interceded with Ramsay MacDonald on the White Paper. When studying Bevin's speeches in the 1930s, one finds a number of exam- ples of prejudice that he seemed to have against Jews and their involvement in finance. At the Labour Party Conference in 193 1, Bevin, when talking about the financial crisis in Britain, seemed to blame a Jewish conspiracy when he said: "It is the game of Shylock versus the people, with Shylock getting the pound of flesh every time."18 Later that year, at the TUC conference, Bevin said: "It is a terrible burden is this usury. You will remember that in the Old Book the prophet of Nineveh lectured the Jews about quarrelling over money- lending and he told them they must not lend money to each other in future but only lend it to the gentiles. The prophet's direction appears to have been carried out".19 The Jewish Chronicle did not report or comment on either of these statements. Nor did the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Bevin had found a popular scapegoat for Britain's financial crisis. He did 15 Weiler, Bevin, 75. 16 Joseph Gorny, The British Labour Movement and Zionism, 1017-1048 ( London, 1983), 93. 17 Discussion with N. M. Fox, Feb. 1998. 18 Report of the 31st Annual Conference of the Labour Party (Scarborough, 193 1), 192. 19 Report of the Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Trades Union Congress (Bristol, 193 1), 465. 168</page><page sequence="5">Ernest Bevin's opposition to the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine not let go of this prejudice. At a cabinet meeting on 1 1 October 1945 on the subject of Jewish refugees, he remarked that Jews who were admitted to Britain should be trained in agriculture in order "to prevent too many of them from seeking openings in commerce".20 Yet, in the 1930s Bevin was also concerned with the plight of the Jews in Europe and he displayed this both publicly and behind the scenes. In his presidential address to the TUC conference in 1937 he expressed sympathy for the Jews in Europe and praised the Jews of Palestine, remarking inter alia that "One of the great tragedies of the world has been the persecution of the Jews". He continued: "The test of the partition proposal is whether it will contribute towards the ending for all time of the persecution of the Jewish race".21 Hardly the sentiments of an antisemite. Emil Ludwig was a well-known German Jewish writer and biographer who lived most of his life in Switzerland. In February 1938 Bevin wrote a letter to Ludwig regarding some comments Ludwig had made in a recently published, but now untraceable, article. His letter is in two parts. The first asks about Ludwig's observations on the German national character and the second about his observations on Jewish characteristics. In his biography of Bevin, Bullock quotes from Bevin's letter but only deals with the first part and omits the section on Jews.22 This is what Bevin wrote about Jews at that time (it is probably the first time that this extract has been published). It is important because it is the only extant document where Bevin addresses anti- semitism: I am concerned too, with your reference to a conspiracy against the Jewish race. I would be interested to have your "summing up" of the Jewish Character, for I have continually observed how easily, even in a country like this, anti-Semitic feeling is stirred up. What does worry me, and a good many of my friends who have fought hard against the anti-Semitic feelings, is the difficulty that we have often been placed due to what appears a lack of appreciation on the part of the Jew to appreciate the freedom in the country where he enjoys it. I am not referring to the "working Jew" but chiefly to the "nouveau Riche" or moneyed person, and even many of the cultural classes.23 In his response Ludwig dealt with the points on the character of Germans, 20 Amikam Nachmani, Great Power Discord in Palestine: The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry into the Problems of European Jewry and Palestine, 1 945-1 946 (London, 1987), 15. 21 Report of the Proceedings of the 69th Annual Trade Union Congress (Norwich, 6-10 Sept. 1937), 75- 22 Bullock, Bevin, 623. 23 Modern Research Records Centre, Warwick University, MS 126/EB/X/ 17/1 13. 169</page><page sequence="6">Raphael Langham denied that he ever referred to a conspiracy against Jews but did not answer Bevin's queries about the "Jewish Character". The Bevin archives contain only Bevin's letter and the response, with no record as to whether or not Bevin followed the matter up. As there are two parties to a letter, I tried to see if there was any other material in Ludwig's archives. They are held at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York and, fortunately, much of his correspon- dence has been digitized and is available online. Frustratingly, I could not find any correspondence with Bevin. As already mentioned, Bullock did not comment on the second (Jewish) part of the letter. Later in his biography, Bullock devotes a fair amount of space to the accusation that Bevin was antisemitic so it is a little surprising that he did not draw on this letter in that section. The letter indicates that Bevin was of the view, shared by many Jews at that time, that antisemitism was caused by the actions and behaviour of some Jews themselves. It is prob- ably a coincidence that later in 1938, when the Board of Deputies was re-for- mulating its policy for combatting antisemitism, it established a number of Vigilance Committees throughout the country to make the Jewish commu- nity aware of the effect of individual malpractices and to follow up complaints against Jews. Bevin's letter makes it clear that he was much concerned about what was happening to Jews in Germany, and it is difficult to envisage that such a letter would be written by someone harbouring antisemitic feelings. Other correspondence from 1938 shows Bevin communicating with labour leaders in Australia and New Zealand in order to find a refuge for Jewish refugees. It was not a political ploy; he was genuinely concerned.24 His own union helped put Jewish refugees on the land as agricultural workers but in 1939 Bevin supported, albeit reluctantly, trade union policy, which was gen- erally to prevent refugees entering Britain on the grounds that they were a threat to British labour.25 Thus in the course of the 1930s Bevin expressed a few prejudices but he became aware of the plight of Jewish refugees and gained knowledge of Jewish political aspirations in Palestine. He appeared sympathetic on all these issues, thus hardly someone harbouring deep antisemitic prejudices. When Bevin was appointed to the cabinet in 1940 he had to be found a seat in Parliament. Harry Nathan, the Labour MP for Wandsworth, south London, was persuaded to step down. He was offered a peerage and Bevin was elected unopposed. Nathan had been prominent in the fight against fascism in the 1930s and is unlikely to have agreed to step down if he had sus- pected in any way that Bevin was antisemitic. Bevin's sympathy with Jews continued throughout the war. In November 24 Gorny , British Labour Movement, 141. 25 T ony Kushner, The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination: A Social and Cultural History (Oxford, 1994), 79-80. 170</page><page sequence="7">Ernest Bevin's opposition to the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine 1940 he intervened with the Prime Minister regarding some illegal immigrant ships that had been detained in Haifa and Churchill ordered the responsible minister not to send the ships away.26 This was the same Ernest Bevin, who only a few years later was responsible for sending illegal immigrant ships away from Palestine. In October 1941 Ben-Gurion wrote that he had had a friendly meeting with Bevin regarding raising a Jewish army; Bevin even suggested dropping the idea of a Jewish army and aiming instead for some form of Jewish state or autonomy in Palestine.27 That is the same Ernest Bevin who, four years later, became strongly opposed to a Jewish state in Palestine. Bevin's attitude to Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs) immediately after the war was not unsympathetic. He just did not want them to go to Palestine and he thought the solution was to resettle them in Europe.28 In October 1945 he wrote to the British ambassador in Washington that succour and help should be given to the Jewish DPs to assist them to resettle and to allay their fears and nerves.29 Hardly what an antisemite would do. However, he was opposed to any sizable number of Jewish DPs coming to Britain, partly for labour reasons and partly as he believed it would lead to serious antisemitism.30 To round off discussion of this period, what is to be made of the following story recorded by Chuter Ede, who was a close colleague of Bevin and was the Home Secretary in the 1945 Labour government? It appears that in October 1944 Bevin asked the Labour Party National Executive to send some members to him to discuss Labour policy for the future of Britain. Harold Laski (the chairman of the party and a Jew), Emanuel Shin well (a previous chairman of the party, an MP and a Jew) and Barbara Gould (also a previous chairman of the party and half-Jewish) were chosen. Bevin is supposed to have remarked when they arrived that "he could spend his time better than in discussing Britain's future with three Yids".31 Bevin and British Palestine policy from 1945 The Labour Party annual conference, held a few weeks before the 1945 general election, re-affirmed the party's policy regarding Palestine, includ- ing the unrestricted entry of Jews and the establishment there of a Jewish national home. The conference confirmed its support for a declaration made 26 N. A. Rose, ed., Bajfy: The Diaries of Blanche Dugdale, 1Q36-1947 (London, 1973), 178. 27 Gorny, British Labour Movement. 169. 28 W. Roger Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East , 79/4-/95/ (Oxford, 1984), 391-92. 29 Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History, 160. 30 Kushner, Holocaust , 233. 31 Kevin Jefferys, ed., Labour and the Wartime Coalition : From the Diary of James Chuter Ede 1 941-1 945 (London, 1987), 193. 171</page><page sequence="8">Raphael Langham a few weeks earlier at a conference of European Socialist parties that "the time has come, moreover, when the civilized world must recognize the existence of Palestine and must guarantee to the Jewish people the full opportunity for the establishment of their national home".32 It is little wonder that Jews everywhere warmly greeted Labour's victory and there was, apparently, dancing on the streets of Tel Aviv. Yet the warning signs were there. The major Labour leaders in the wartime cabinet (Attlee, Bevin and Cripps) were not committed to Zionist demands. Labour became a government instead of an opposition and, although the government had changed, not so the Foreign Office and its pro- Arab experts. There was a shock within hours of Attlee becoming Prime Minister. He was expected to appoint Dalton as Foreign Secretary and Creech Jones as Colonial Secretary. Both were Zionist supporters. Instead Bevin was appointed the Foreign Secretary and George Hall, who was considered unsympathetic to Zionism, was appointed the Colonial Secretary. Bevin received a series of briefings at the Foreign Office. There is no doc- ument extant regarding the briefing he received concerning Palestine and the Middle East but one can get a general view from papers that were written subsequently and from comments attributable to Harold Beeley, the Foreign Office official responsible for briefing Bevin on Palestine. The main points were that the Middle East was an area of cardinal impor- tance to the United Kingdom, that it was a focal point of communication, a source of oil, a shield of Africa and the Indian Ocean, and Palestine an irre- placeable base. In order to maintain Britain's position in the Middle East, the Arabs had to be kept "on side", not only because in the eyes of the Foreign Office Palestine was seen as an Arab issue but also because of fears of the effect on Muslims in India. The Suez Canal was a vital lifeline and there was a constant fear of Russian involvement in the Middle East so Arabs had to be prevented at all costs from falling into the Soviet camp. The establishment of a Jewish state could thus be seen as inimical to Britain's Middle East objec- tives. In fact, it was desirable to convert Palestine from a mandated territory to a British possession.33 It seems likely that Bevin would have challenged the policy put to him, partly because of the nature of the man but mainly because he appreciated at once that the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine had been Labour Party policy for many years and he would have great difficulty in obtaining cabinet approval for such a reverse. Nevertheless, he accepted the case put to him by the Foreign Office officials. He was probably convinced by the arguments but perhaps he was doubtful yet inclined to accept them because of antisemitic prejudices. Whatever the reasons, the Foreign Office view of the importance 32 Report of the 44th Annual Conference of the Labour Party , 21-24 March 194$ (Blackpool), 169. 33 National Archives, CAB 129/3/CP (49)183, 25 Aug. 1949. 172</page><page sequence="9">Ernest Bevin's opposition to the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine of British interests in the Middle East and how to maintain them became paramount: the Arabs had to be supported or appeased and there should be no Jewish state. All future decisions stemmed from this decision. It creates a dilemma in assessing Bevin's role, since refusal to alter course and reverse the policy may reflect continued belief in the policy or stubbornness, but not anti- semitism. Like many other strong and obstinate men, once Bevin made a decision he was not prepared to change his mind. He truly believed that his policy was in Britain's best interests. A Cabinet committee was appointed on 28 August 1945 to formulate short-term Palestine policy. Its recommendations were essentially that a study should be made into a long-term policy to be submitted to the United Nations for approval, while undertaking to honour the Mandate in the mean- time and Jewish immigration to Palestine should continue on the basis of the 1939 White Paper. This was disappointing to Jews but not antisemitic.34 Debate and discussion continued and on 13 November Bevin informed the House of Commons of the formation of an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry to study the condition of Jews in Europe and the political and eco- nomic conditions for mass Jewish immigration to Palestine. In his statement to the House, Bevin said "We cannot accept the view that the Jews should be driven out of Europe, and should not be permitted to live again in those coun- tries without discrimination and contribute their ability and talent towards rebuilding the prosperity of Europe".35 Again, this was disappointing to Zionists but difficult to attribute to antisemitic motives. However, later that day he spoiled it all when, in answer to a question at a press conference, Bevin stated: "I am very anxious that Jews shall not in Europe over-emphasise their racial position. If the Jews, with all their suf- ferings, want to get too much at the head of the queue, you have the danger of another antisemitic reaction through it all". Weizmann remarked that there had been a time when the Jews had the highest priority in the queues that led to the crematoria of Auschwitz and Treblinka.36 To remark on queue-jumping relating to Jews was unfortunate at that time. It was a period of great austerity in Britain, many goods (including food) were unavailable or in short supply and there was rationing and long queues. Jews were often accused of pushing to the front of queues and being major operators in the black market. It was a most uncomfortable period for Jews and, despite the news of the Holocaust, there was much antisemitism. This remark of Bevin's fanned the flames. It was not usual for senior government ministers to repeat in public, and appear to sanction, populist antisemitic jibes. Arthur Koestler, when discussing Bevin's decision to repatriate the illegal Jewish immigrants 34 National Archives, CAB 129/2/CP (45) 156, 8 Sept. 1945. 35 Hansard, ibid., vol. 415, 13 Nov. 1945, col. 1027. 36 Weizmann quoted in Louis, British Empire , 389 n. 14. 173</page><page sequence="10">Raphael Langham on Exodus to Germany, pointed out that Bevin's first statement on Palestine policy warned the Jews not to try to get to the head of the queue and his last act of immigration policy was to make sure they remained at the end of the queue.37 The Anglo-American Committee"s report was published on 20 April 1946. They did not recommend a Jewish state in Palestine but did recom- mend that a hundred thousand Displaced Persons be allowed to enter Palestine as soon as possible. It seems that at first Bevin was prepared to accept the recommendations but in the end he rejected them.38 In June 1946 in a speech at the Labour Party conference, Bevin said, in relation to the agitation in the United States for such a number of Jewish refugees to be admitted to Palestine, that "I hope I will not be misunderstood in America if I say that this was proposed with the purest of motives. They did not want too many Jews in New York".39 It was a gratuitous sneer but there was a grain of truth in it in that, for different reasons, both Zionists and WASPS (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) felt there was no place for Jewish refugees in the United States.40 In fact, a United States opinion poll taken in January 1946 indicated that only five per cent of the respondents favoured more immigration from Europe and fifty-one per cent wanted either fewer newcomers or none at all.41 Nonetheless, Bevin's speech infuriated Truman, caused dockers in New York to refuse to handle Bevin's luggage when he went there later in the year, led to violent demonstrations against him when he attended a baseball match, and the U.S. press equated him to Hitler.42 To be fair to Bevin, the rest of his speech contained a better understanding of Zionist hopes: "there would be a welcome for many more Jewish brains and ability throughout the whole of the Arab world. That is what is needed. They possess scientific, cultural and other abilities which the Middle East requires."43 This is confirmed in a speech Bevin made at a conference at Lancaster House, London, in September 1946 where he told the Arab dele- gation that no solution could be envisaged which ignored Jewish claims.44 We next need to examine the build up to the British decision in February 1947 to hand the problem over to the United Nations. It seems that Bevin came to the view that Britain should abandon the Mandate during his visit to the United States in November and December 1946; the Cabinet began reviewing policy options.45 A memorandum was circulated to the Cabinet in 37 Arthur Koestler, Promise and Fulfilment: Palestine 1017-1040 ( London , 1040), 181. 38 Nachmani, Great Power Discord, 197-8, 215 and 226. 39 Report of the 45th Annual Conference of the Labour Party (Bournemouth, June 1946), 165. 40 Bullock, Bevin, 278. 41 Michael J. Cohen, Palestine and the Great Powers , 1Q45-1Q48 (Princeton, 1982), 118. 42 Christopher Sykes, Crossroads to Israel (London, 1965), 357. 43 Report of 45th Conference , 165. 44 Jewish Chronicle , 27 September 1946, 12. 174</page><page sequence="11">Ernest Bevin's opposition to the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine January 1947 indicating that the "centre of gravity" of oil production was moving to Arab lands and warning of the grave risks involved in offending the Arabs by appearing to encourage Jewish settlement and endorsing Jewish aspirations for a separate state.46 The memorandum could hardly be consid- ered to have been motivated by any antisemitic prejudice since one of the two authors was Shinwell; the other was Bevin. Of course, conspiracy theorists could think it was a devious plan by the Foreign Office Arabists to get Shinwell, a Jew and by then a Zionist supporter, to agree to such pro- Arab sentiments. The Cabinet next considered two proposals regarding Palestine, the first by Creech Jones advocating partition, the second by Bevin proposing an independent unitary state with special rights for the Jewish minority. He opposed partition on the grounds that the Arabs would never agree. His motive might have been stubbornness, in that partition was not his idea, or possibly antisemitism, in that he did not want Jews to get what they had been demanding. The Cabinet was divided and some members, in particular Aneurin Bevan, even challenged the premise that Britain needed to avoid enraging the Arabs.47 At a Cabinet meeting on 14 February 1947 it was agreed to submit the problem to the United Nations.48 In his speech to the House of Commons announcing the hand-over to the United Nations, Bevin blamed the Jews and the United States for his failure in solving the problem.49 Perhaps there was an element of antisemitism in his choice of one of the scapegoats. Of the United Nation's committee established to look into the matter, the majority favoured partition. Bevin opposed the plan. Not only was it more favourable to the Jews than any Britain had envisaged but, he warned, it would lead to an Arab uprising. It could not be construed that there was anti- semitic prejudice in Bevin's views, however, since it was clear that the Arabs were against partition and it was British policy to conciliate the Arabs. The Exodus incident in July 1947 is, perhaps, an example where anti- semitism influenced the decision. Illegal immigrants had until then been interned in Cyprus but Bevin insisted in this case that they had to be sent back to the port of embarkation. They were refused entry in France, whence they had embarked, and eventually the refugees were disembarked in Hamburg. Other solutions were possible but this decision seems to have been taken in pique, in which antisemitic prejudices might have played a large part. 45 Ritchie O vendale, "The Palestine Policy of the British Labour Government 1947: The Decision to Withdraw", International Affairs 56 (1980), 75. 46 Martin Gilbert, Exile and Return: The Emergence of Jewish Statehood (London, 1978), 297-8. 47 Ovendale, "Palestine Policy", 79. 48 National Archives, CAB 128/9/22 (47). 49 Gorny, British Labour Movement , 215. 175</page><page sequence="12">Raphael Langham It certainly lacked perceptiveness and humanity.50 In his memoirs Richard Crossman records some remarks made by Bevin at a meeting they held on 4 August 1947: Bevin thought that the Jews had successfully organized a world-wide conspiracy against Britain and him per- sonally and that it was a gigantic racket run from America. When Crossman pointed out that the Irish racket had also been run from America and Britain had conceded a state, Bevin retorted that "they did not steal half the place first". Bevin also remarked that he would not be surprised if the Germans had learned their worst atrocities from the Jews. At this meeting he informed Crossman that the Russians had massed an army of Jews at Odessa ready for an attack.51 Paranoia and antisemitism. On 29 November 1947 the United Nations voted in favour of partition. Britain abstained. Thereafter the charge of antisemitism influencing policy has more substance but Britain still had a policy of conciliating the Arabs. Helping to execute the UN policy would favour the Jews and to do nothing would impede its execution. Britain chose to do nothing. It neither helped the UN in trying to carry out its functions nor arranged an orderly transfer of power and responsibility. It abdicated its responsibility. Indeed, it thought the tiny Jewish armies would be swept into the sea by superior Arab armies and did nothing to prevent such an outcome.52 On the contrary, there appears to be some evidence that Britain did not discourage Arab armies from attack- ing Israel and indeed separating the Negev from Palestine in order to provide a common frontier between Egypt and Jordan.53 Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Bevin was out- spoken in his support of the Arabs. In May 1948 he remarked, to loud cheers in the House of Commons, that "We must also remember the Arabs' side of the case - there are, after all, no Arabs in the House" ß4 This was seen as a jibe at the twenty-eight Jewish MPs. Later the same month, in answer to a ques- tion in the House, Bevin replied: "We must remember the British sergeants were not hanged from the tree by Arabs".55 Three months later, on 3 August 1948 in a conversation with James McDonald, the first American ambassa- dor to Israel, Bevin remarked that "the Jews were treating the Arab refugees as they themselves had been treated by the Nazis".56 Bevin can thus be seen as prejudiced in favour of the Arabs but this does 50 Kenneth Morgan, Labour People: Leaders and Lieutenants , Hardie to Kinnock (Oxford, 1987), 215- 51 Richard Crossman, A Nation Reborn: The Israel ofWeizmann , Bevin and Ben-Gurion (London, i960), 70. 52 Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History, 167 and 190-91. 53 Ibid., 150-52. Louis, British Empire , 376. 54 Mayhew, Time to Explain^ 119. 55 Jewish Chronicle , 7 May 1948, 5. 56 National Archives, FO371/68578/E10430/G. 176</page><page sequence="13">Ernest Bevin's opposition to the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine not necessarily mean that he was antisemitic. It suited British policy. In fact, Be vin tried to explain his pro- Arab stance in a letter of 3 February 1949 to the British ambassador in Washington; there he stated that because the Americans had consistently favoured the Jews, it had fallen to him to try to keep the balance and thus he appeared "to lean further on the other side than would otherwise have been the case".57 Here he showed no regard for the merits of the case. Britain did not recognize Israel until January 1949. This delay was proba- bly caused by pique on Bevin's part and perhaps concern about adverse Arab reaction, rather than an indication of antisemitism. Bevin also continued with his communist paranoia and thought that within five years Israel might be a communist state because most Jewish immigrants would come from coun- tries behind the Iron Curtain.58 When he announced recognition in the House of Commons, his acceptance was grudging. He did not say anything in appreciation of the Jewish achievement in creating Israel and he reiterated his support for the Arabs.59 Conclusions There are two questions. Was Bevin an antisemite? If so, did this influence his policy regarding Palestine? There had been no suggestions before 1946 that Bevin was antisemitic and, apart from a few off-hand comments, there is no evidence or indication pointing to antisemitism. There is no smoking gun in the archives or elsewhere. He could have been a closet antisemite - improbable, although conspiracy theorists might think otherwise. In 1945, when Bevin announced the formation of the Anglo-American Committee and the interim policy on Palestine to the House of Commons, he expressed some pro-Jewish sentiments. He continued to do so as the policy developed. It is thus not unreasonable to conclude that in formulating his Palestinian policy Bevin was not motivated by antisemitism. He genuinely thought it was in the best interests of Britain. It was the implementation of the policy that gave rise to the accusations of antisemitism. Not only were there hostile comments and difficult meetings with Jewish leaders from Palestine and elsewhere but there were also the activities of the Irgun and the Stern Gang. Bevin believed in his policy and was not a man to change his mind. Indeed, the attacks on him by Jews and others made it more difficult for him to form a cool judgment. As the oppo- sition grew, so did his determination to stick to his policy. So much so, that 57 Ibid., FO371/75337/E1932/G. 58 Louis, British Empire, 570. 59 Bullock, Bevin, 679. 177</page><page sequence="14">Raphael Langham without doubt he became strongly opposed to the viewpoint of most Jews and gradually came to support the Arabs. He became an anti-Zionist. It is but a small step from anti-Zionism to antisemitism. Did Ernest Be vin take that step? i78</page></plain_text>