AN OBSESSION THAT CAUSED MILLIONS TO DIE IN WORLD WAR II
Documentary hails Judeophiliac Churchill
Documentary hails Churchill as Zionists' greatest ally
TORONTO — Millions of people credit Winston Churchill, Britain’s inspiring wartime prime minister during its darkest hours, with saving the world from Hitler.
But was Churchill also — as we’ve rarely heard — the greatest ally the Jewish people have ever had?
The answer is a passionate yes, according to Barry Avrich, whose compelling documentary — An Unlikely Obsession: Churchill and the Jews — will have its premiere at 10 p.m. Monday on the Vision channel.
“When I was first approached about making a film based a book by Martin Gilbert,” Avrich recalls, “I said ‘No, I’m the wrong guy for this project.’ But then I read the book, and I met Gilbert, and I undertook some research on my own. I pored over the material, trying to connect the dots. What I discovered is powerful stuff. By then I was hooked. I knew what a great subject this was, and I had to make the film.”
Avrich runs a major Toronto marketing firm but moonlights directing, producing and writing movies. Typically he does one film a year. But the past year has been far from typical. For the second year in a row, he made a screen version of a Stratford Shakespeare Festival production; The Tempest, already a hit in HD at Canadian cinemas, will be released in the U.S. in May. And next month TIFF’s Bell Lightbox will present the premiere of Unauthorized, Avrich’s titillating portrait of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. His next project: a documentary about veteran comedian David Steinberg, featuring a concert performance.
Jewish celebrities acclaim Sir Winston
The proposal to make the Churchill film had come from Michael Levine, the Toronto entertainment lawyer, agent and occasional producer. Gilbert, a renowned British scholar and author, was one of Levine’s clients.
Gilbert had spent 20 years writing the official 10-volume biography of Churchill. He had also written many books on Jewish subjects. In his book about Churchill and the Jews, Gilbert argued that it was largely thanks to decades of support from Churchill (going back to World War I) that the state of Israel was born in 1948.
One of Churchill’s old friends described him as being “too fond of Jews.” And it has also been said that Sir Winston’s strong support for creating a Jewish homeland did not always win him friends.
But is Alan Dershowitz, the celebrated Harvard law professor, exaggerating a tad when he claims that there really ought to be a huge statue of Sir Winston in Jerusalem? If he’s right, then Churchill ought to loom as large in the story of Israel’s birth as those legendary Zionist prophets Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann.
Dershowitz is one of many intellectual celebrities who appear on screen. Yes, it’s a talking heads film of the traditional variety, but what an array of heads! Among those who pop in and out of the frame, offering insights into Churchill’s and his obsession with the Jewish dream of establishing a homeland, are fallen media tycoon Conrad Black (doing his first TV interview since being released from jail), historian Margaret MacMillan (author of Paris 1919); and, of course, Sir Martin Gilbert. Z
Took inspiration from Old Testament tales
The off-screen narrator is that man with the golden voice, Gordon Pinsent.
The starry commentators tell the story of how at a time of casual anti-Semitism at the highest social and political levels of post-Victorian British society, Churchill took inspiration from Old Testament tales, aspiring to become a latter-day Moses.
Denouncing pogroms in Russia even while British voters wondered what events so far away had to do with them, Churchill hob-nobbed with influential Jewish leaders and articulated the view that the foundations of modern civilization and ethics came out of Jewish history — for which he felt the rest of the world should show its gratitude.
Not all historians agree with Gilbert. Some claim Churchill’s main motive was to extend the power of the British Empire, and that at some points he sacrificed Jewish interests in an effort to protect access to Arab oil.
“Churchill’s support for a Jewish homeland may have wavered now and then over the years,” Avrich says. “But mostly he was giving the cause huge support when no other world leader was doing so. Not Franklin Roosevelt in the U.S. and certainly not William Lyon Mackenzie King in Canada.”
© 2011 British People's Party, BM Box 5581, London WC1N 3XX