Christian Zionist - Richard Meinertzhagen

 Part 1

 A throwaway comment in a book I read recently by espionage writer Ben Macintyre who could only say about Meinertzhagen that he was a 'zionist anti-semite' aroused my interest. This throwaway comment i've seen regarding other friends of Israel and zionism such as Balfour. It seems that the best way to undermine the fact that a christian could be a friend of Israel and zionism is that he was an anti-semite. There is a need amongst enemies of Israel to portray zionism as against jewish interests, and that non-jewish zionists can therefore only have bad intentions towards the jewish people. This argument is of course part of the war against jews and against those who would befriend the jewish people and Israel.

So I took this comment by Macintyre with a pinch of salt. It seems he bases it upon a revisionist historian Tom Segev who delights in painting Israel's history in a bad light. I believe that with Meinertzhagen Segev has taken comments he made about the milieu he lived and might have reflected himself at an early period in his life as meaning that he was once and for all time an anti-semite. Segev I believe in taking one quote as exemplifying the man is distorting the record. But then this is only my opinion before I read further. So I am going to begin reading Meinerthagen's Middle-East Diary 1917-1956 and see what evidence I can find to bolster either my feelings or Segev's stated opinion.

And who was Meinertzhagen in any case?

He was a very good friend of the zionist cause at the time it mattered most, around the turn of the 20th century. He was a world class ornithologist, Head of military intelligence in Cairo in 1917 and author of one of the most successful deceptions of the Ottoman Turks, leading to success in the Battle of Beesheba. This was after British troops had been repulsed on two earlier attempts to invade Israel.

Meinertzhagen's life was strewn with controversy. In Africa as a young captain he was a ruthless man, having  shot down in cold blood a rebellious tribal head who came to parley with him. The tribe was thus pacified. The end justifying the means would seem to be a thread running through Meinertzhagen's life.

But Meinertzhagen came to believe in the zionist cause with a passion. Chaim Weizmann spared him no praise.
In Weizmann's biography he wrote of Meinertzhagen,
At our first meeting, he told me the following story of himself: he had been an anti-Semite, though all he had known about Jews had been what he picked up in a few casual, anti-Semitic books. But he had also met some of the rich Jews, who had not been particularly attractive. But then, in the Near East, he had come across Aaron Aaronsohn, a Palestinian Jew, also a man of great courage and superior intelligence, devoted to Palestine. Aaronson was a botanist, and the discoverer of wild wheat. With Aaronson, Meinertzhagen had many talks about Palestine, and was so impressed by him that he completely changed his mind and became an ardent Zionist - which he has remained till this day. And that not merely in words. Whenever he can perform a service for the Jews or Palestine he will go out of his way to do so.[24]
Meinertzhagen wrote in his book, Middle East Diary,“But thank God I have lived to see the birth of Israel. It is one of the greatest historical events of the last 2,000 years and thank God I have been privileged to assist in a small way this great event which, I am convinced, will bring benefit to mankind”.[25]
In the past I read about Meinertzhagen, about his travels in Africa, even about how he once came upon a bush and was attacked by the most unpleasant snake one can imagine, the black mamba. It had killed two people and as it reared to strike again Meinertzhagen  gave it both barrels of his shotgun. He was an accomplished artist and author and I have his Book on the birds of Egypt, a weighty tome which I flick through every now and again. In my own travels in africa I have a field guide which is about a quarter of the weight but still gives me pause when packing.

So I don't want to think of Meinertzhagen as an anti-semite but have to realise that it fits in with his upbringing at Harrow, of being a child of the British upper classes of those days. Who wasn't an anti-semite then? The very air, the culture, the literature was infused with anti-semitism (nowadays in the West it seems the realm mostly of the left, of christian clerical hierarchy and of muslims). If even someone like George Orwell could write the most unpleasant things about jews then surely Meinertzhagen and Balfour were the same?

For me the thing that sets these men apart is that they tried their best to help in the great jewish project of re-establishing our nation in Israel. They gave their time, their advice and their energy, so that if they were at one time possessed of anti-semitic sentiment, they recognised these feelings, fought against them and made amends.

In the jewish religion, we are taught that someone who repents of his evil should never be reminded of it. Its gone, forgotten. And the same with an anti-semite who repents. They are no longer the same people, they are new and deserving of respect for the deeds they have done. Segev and Macintyre might ponder on this when slandering someone who can not respond. I doubt if they care in the slightest.

There is the problem of Meinertzhagen liking to play up his own role, of possibly being dishonest, even having been suspected of stealing bird specimens (he did however leave his very important collection to the British Museum so maybe with this intention in his mind he only thought of his having "borrowed" the specimens to be paid back many times over later). Whatever the facts about his own failings, Meinertzhagen was so accomplished that I will read his writings, with maybe a more than usually critical eye.


The diary begins in 1910 with Meinertzhagen  explaing that his  burning interest in zionism comesfrom witnessing a pogrom in Odessa with the British consul general. The consul had witnessed one before and advised Meinertzhagen  to do nothing. The police had agreed to disappear for 3 days whilst the crowd.
Fussians,many with bludgeons or knives or axes, were rushing all over the place, breaking open barricaded doors and chasing the wretched Jews into the streets where they were hunted down, beaten and often killed. One old man was axed on the head quite cloose to us.......Another Jewish youth was chased, beaten into the gutter, viciously kicked, robbed and left unconscious....The climax arrived when a Russian passed the Consulate dragging a Jewish girl of about 12 years old by her hair along the gutter; she was screaming and the man was shouting. ...........I could not help it,..I dashed out, kicked the Russian violently in the stomach with my heavy Russian boots and landed him a good blow on the jaw; he went downlike a log and I carried the child into the Consulate. Smith said 'we shall get into trouble for this.' trouble indeed, when compared with the fate of this child.

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