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Learning From The 1930s


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Several factors in the delegitimization of Israel by European agitators call to mind what Jews experienced in the late 1930s. To study this thoroughly would require a huge effort. Formulating a few key ideas, however, could easily come from reading a single book on that period.

One example is Duff Cooper’s autobiography Old Men Forget. The author, a former British Conservative minister, served as first lord of the Admiralty at the time of the Munich agreements. On September 29, 1938, England and France abandoned Czechoslovakia to Hitler by agreeing it had to give up part of its territory to Germany. This led to the German occupation of the entire country six months later.

Shortly before Munich, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain spoke on the radio. Cooper writes that he had no words of sympathy for Czechoslovakia, only for Hitler.

Cooper resigned from the cabinet immediately after Munich. This act required great courage. Chamberlain was at the height of his popularity, as the agreement he signed promised long-term peace. Less than a year later, of course, war broke out after the German invasion of Poland.

In a diary entry dated May 22 1938, a time of continuous vicious German verbal attacks on Czechoslovakia, Cooper wrote about a cabinet meeting where “The general feeling seemed to be that great, brutal Czechoslovakia was bullying poor, peaceful little Germany…. It was decided to send off a telegram to tell the French to go carefully and not to rely too much on us, and another to urge the Czechs to make large concessions.”

This resembles the European Union’s ongoing criticism of Israel and its tiptoeing around the “peaceful Arab world” where many thousands have been slaughtered by their own countrymen.

In September 1938, another cabinet member, Viscount Hailsham, said to Cooper: “It all depends on whether we can trust Hitler.” Cooper asked, “Trust him for what? He has got everything he wants for the present and he has given no promises for the future.”

Can one trust Arab states or the Palestinians today? The great majority of Egyptians want to abolish the Camp David peace treaty in which their country got back Sinai without fighting. The Palestinian Authority glorifies murderers of Israeli civilians and names youth camps, streets and schools after them. Hamas has the genocide of the Jews written in its charter.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, many in Britain took the attitude that Poland was lost anyhow, so why should Britain continue to fight against Germany?

While the Germans were spending huge amounts of money on propaganda, the British were allocating none. Shortly after the outbreak of war, Cooper took off for the United States on a lecture tour. Before he left, Chamberlain sent a high-ranking official to request that Cooper abstain from saying anything that might sound like British propaganda.

“A former cabinet minister arrives from England and his country has just entered on a great war and he is advertised to lecture all over the United States on topics of current interest,” Cooper wrote. “What will his audiences expect of him except information about this war, the causes and the prospects of it? How can an Englishman give such information without presenting and defending the cause of his country? And what better form of propaganda could there be?”

Since Oslo we have had some Israeli governments emulate Chamberlain’s foolish position. While the current government has not done so, there certainly is vast room for improvement in the presentation of Israel’s case to the world.


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About the Author: Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is a board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (2000-2012). He is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.


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