Tuesday, April 28, 2015

  • Tuesday, April 28, 2015
  • Elder of Ziyon

December 1940.  France had fallen six months earlier.  The United States would stay wrapped in isolationism for another year.  The British Empire stood alone against the Nazi barbarians.

In Jerusalem, the Very Reverend Dr Norman Maclean (1869-1952) was fourteen months into his wartime appointment as chaplain to St Andrew’s Church.  The son of a schoolmaster on the Isle of Skye, the elderly minister had enjoyed a distinguished career.  From 1915-37 he had served the foremost congregation in Edinburgh – St Cuthbert’s – and in 1927 had been moderator of the Church of Scotland. He had preached in the United States, in Australia, and, in 1930, at the League of Nations in Geneva.  He was a king’s chaplain for Scotland, and often preached before the Royal Family when they were in residence at Balmoral.

Much published, he had commenced the foreword he had written to Leon Levison’s The Jew in History (1916) with a resounding assertion of philosemitism: “The world owes its soul to the Jews”. He was also an ardent supporter of Zionism, declaring that “the restoration of the Jews to Palestine” comprised “the only lasting reparation that Christendom can make for centuries of wrong” and that “it was a disgrace that the holy places of Christianity should be in the hands of Mohammedans”.

Shortly after his arrival in Jerusalem in 1939 he had delivered a sermon on the theme of Exodus 17, with the Nazis depicted as the Amalekites who attacked the Israelites at Rephidim only to be ultimately vanquished by Joshua.

Now, Maclean had been invited by Gershon Agron, editor of the Palestine Post (retitled the Jerusalem Post in 1950) to write a Christmas message for inclusion in that paper.  Gladly accepting, he warmed to the task.  Attempting to raise morale at so dark and desperate a juncture in human affairs, he entitled the message “Sursum Corda” (“Lift up Your Hearts”). 

Determined to gesture his deep sympathy for Jewry, and mindful that Christmas coincided that year with Chanukah, he was at pains to acknowledge Christianity’s debt to its parent religion, referring in his message to the

“world of wonder and mystery, in which the threads of life are so closely interwoven that were it not for the Jewish festival there would never have been a Christian festival, for the one is the child of the other”

However, that passage never made it to Agron’s newspaper – it was cut by the Palestine Censor employed by the British Mandatory government during the Second World War.

Dr Maclean also wrote:

“it is totalitarians today who must be changed from instruments of torture and tyranny into men of goodwill ‘ere peace can come”

For some reason the Palestine Censor disapproved of that eminently reasonable statement, and through that passage too went his blue pencil.

The Censor also struck this out:

“the Angels did not proclaim peace to gangsters, robbers, and mass murderers”

And this:

“Bethlehem will conquer Berchtesgaden. In that great hope Christians and Jews can rejoice together. The Jews no less than the Christians. For it is the Jews who have given the world a universal religion. They gave the world the priceless gift of monotheism that through Bethlehem has gone unto the ends of the earth. It is no exaggeration to say that there is nobody in the world today for whom life is not different because of Jerusalem or Bethlehem.”

You’ve guessed it. Blue-pencilled as well.

In fact, by the time the Palestine Censor put down his pencil only thirty-nine lines of Dr Maclean’s 100-line text remained. The good clergyman’s message had been eviscerated –    or, to express that another way, effectively de-judaised.

The following month, January, saw Maclean and his wife preparing imminently to depart Jerusalem and return to Scotland.  Maclean had evidently been declared persona non grata by the British authorities.

The pro-Jewish book he had begun to write while sitting on a hilltop overlooking John the Baptist’s birthplace would have to await its completion at home on his native Isle of Skye.

At the beginning of 1942 (see Jewish Chronicle,16 January 1942) Time and Tide – a  British literary and current affairs journal of liberal inclination, founded in 1920 by Welsh feminist Viscountess Rhondda (1883-1958) – broke the story of Maclean’s treatment at the Palestine Censor’s hands..

The journal noted with indignation that the Censor even reworked the translation from the Latin “Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis” in Maclean’s message in order to discard the final three words, meaning “to men of goodwill”. 

Maintaining that the Censor’s changes constituted a “British version of the Index Expurgatorius,” the journal continued:

“If any underlying idea can be traced in the Censor’s excisions, it seems to suppress the connection between Christianity and Judaism. This connection is asserted by all the Christian Churches, while the Nazis deny it by suppression and perversion of evidence. Is Bethlehem not to conquer Berchtesgaden?”

Following Time and Tide’s exposure of the story, a leading article in the Manchester Guardian – as pro-Zionist then as its egregious lineal successor, the London-based Guardian, is anti-Zionist – called for an explanation of the Censor’s “eccentricities”.  The article went on:

“There seems to be no reason for the fantastic exercise except that the Palestine censorship must have wanted to hide the origins of Christianity in the Jewish race and religion. But why? The Colonial Office, which is the Ministry responsible to Parliament, should be made to explain.”

As the relevant issue of Hansard shows, on 10 March 1942, in the House of Lords, a Welsh peer and former Liberal MP, Baron Davies of Llandinam (1880-1944), a wealthy colliery-owner who took a keen interest in international affairs, fulminated against British policy towards the Jews in Palestine.

Regarding the abridgement of Maclean’s Christmas message, Davies complained:

“….When this article appeared, the Censor had got hold of it and out of 139 lines he had struck out 100 lines. If your Lordships will read the article you will find that there is not a single word about any political subject at all. It is simply an endeavour to put the case from the standpoint of the Christians and from the standpoint of the Jews. I cannot help feeling that it was not only an affront to the Jews but an affront also to the Christians that this article should be dealt with in the way that it was. I wonder whether the Censor has been reprimanded. The whole thing has a Nazi smell about it, and I cannot help feeling that it does show the extraordinary way in which our Administration carries on affairs in Palestine.”
“There is a second instance to which I must draw the attention of the House, and which happened quite recently. Dr Weizmann, who, as your Lordships are aware, is the head of the Jewish Agency, sent a cable to Palestine on the occasion of a great recruiting campaign, in order to encourage people there to join not Jewish regiments but the British Army. He said: "My heartiest greetings to the Palestine Auxiliary Territorial Service at the outset of its recruiting campaign. I know how eagerly our women will welcome this opportunity to share with the ten thousand of their men already serving in defence of their lives, homes and of all that Palestine means to them. That was the message, but the Censor refused to allow it to be published in the Jewish papers in Palestine. I cannot help wondering how we can ever hope to win this war if this is the way in which we treat our friends and their efforts to help us in fighting the enemy. It is a stupid policy. It brings us into contempt with the Arabs, and it brings us into disrepute with our friends".’
That same year, the book that Dr Norman Maclean had embarked upon while in Jerusalem was published in London by Victor Gollancz.  Destined to go quickly into a second edition and to be taken up by the American Zionist Emergency Council, it was entitled His Terrible Swift Sword: On the Problem of Jewish Immigration to Palestine.
Reported the Palestine Post (4 June 1942):
‘The High Commissioner [Sir Harold MacMichael] has prohibited the importation into Palestine of Dr Norman Maclean’s book entitled “His Terrible Swift Sword” under the Customs Ordinance …’
The Glasgow Herald (5 June 1942) carried a similar item, which added:
 ‘…. The “banned” book is concerned with the Jew-Arab controversy and is sympathetic to the Jewish cause in Palestine.’
As Professor Elliott Horowitz has written, MacMichael ‘may not have approved of such passages as

“Nine months after we declared war on Hitlerism, victims of Hitlerism are still in Athlit [the detainee camp south of Haifa]”.’

But of course the case of Dr Norman Maclean was only the tip of an iceberg of censorship by the British authorities in Palestine that was deemed detrimental to Jewry.

Join me again, dear reader, for more on this subject …

Note: For an obituary of Maclean see The Times (17 January 1952).  Apart from the newspapers cited, I also referred in the compilation of this article to a blogpost by Professor Elliott Horowitz of Bar-Ilan University: http://seforim.blogspot.com.au/2009/08/elliott-horowitz-modern-amalekites-from.html

Daphne Anson is an Australian who under her real name has authored and co-authored several books and many articles on historical topics including Jewish ones. She blogs under an alias in order to separate her professional identity from her blogging one.

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