A bust of Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, will be unveiled in central Jerusalem on Sunday in a ceremony commemorating his contribution to the founding of the state of Israel and his warm ties with the Jewish people.
Churchill’s relationship with the British Jewish community goes back to 1904, when he sat in Parliament for the North-West Manchester constituency where a third of the voters were Jewish.
Even before that, the young Churchill and his father, Lord Randolph, were notable for their open friendships with Jews in the openly antisemitic atmosphere of their time.
Throughout his career in ministerial positions and in the wilderness of opposition, Churchill was a staunch supporter of the Balfour Declaration, forcing the various governments to adhere to Britain’s commitment to establish a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, which he visited twice.
Despite this history, Churchill commemoration has been a very low-key affair in Israel. There is a small Churchill Forest near Nazareth in the north, and two Churchill Streets; a tiny cul-de-sac on the Hebrew University campus in Jerusalem and a small side street in the coastal city of Netanya.
The initiative for a more central memorial was originally that of Jerusalem Foundation trustee Anthony Rosenfelder who, two years ago, read the book Churchill and the Jews by historian and official Churchill biographer, Martin Gilbert.
“When I read Gilbert’s book,” says Mr Rosenfelder, “I realised just how outsized Churchill’s contribution had been throughout his life, both in his personal views and politically, and it seemed strange that none of Israel’s major cities had a large street or building named after him, certainly nothing of proportion to what this man had done for the Jewish people and Israel.”
That vacuum will finally be filled on Sunday at the Moses Montefiore Garden at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in central Jerusalem where a bronze bust, made from an original cast by Churchill’s official sculptor, Oscar Nemon, will be unveiled and an annual Churchill lecture will inaugurated.