How a Jewish Legion Came to Fight for the United Kingdom in World War I

Aug. 21 2017

From the moment the Ottoman empire joined forces with the Central Powers in November 1914, the Zionist leaders Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Chaim Weizmann worked to create a Jewish legion to fight alongside the British army to liberate Palestine from the sultan. The idea met with strong opposition from both the government of Herbert Asquith and the Zionist leadership, and resulted only in the short-lived Zion Mule Corps, which fought against the Turks in the failed Gallipoli campaign. But in 1917 London reconsidered, allowing for the formation of Jewish units to be made up primarily of Russian subjects living in Britain. Colin Schindler writes:

Leading Zionists—including Nahum Sokolow, Max Nordau, and Ahad Ha’am—had hitherto opposed the formation of a Jewish military force. In addition to compromising the movement’s neutrality, they feared Turkish reprisals in the fashion that had been visited upon the Armenians—massacre and persecution.

British Zionists such as Harry Sacher and Leon Simon believed that Weizmann had been seduced by Jabotinsky’s “jingoism.” The [British] Zionist Federation indignantly opposed the very idea of a Jewish regiment as did Lord Rothschild, later the recipient of the Balfour Declaration.

The fear that a specifically Jewish regiment would impinge on their loyalty to the British crown affected many communal leaders. . . . The anti-Zionist Edwin Montagu, secretary of state for India, considered himself a patriotic Jewish Briton and vehemently opposed the Balfour Declaration. While the cabinet rebuffed his attempt to prevent any declaration, it did accede to his opposition to a battalion of British Jews. “Friendly alien Jews” was another matter—and such battalions would be added to the Royal Fusiliers. British-born Jews themselves could apply to join or be transferred. The poet Isaac Rosenberg wished to join but was killed in action [on the Western front] before he could do so. . . .

Jews from the UK eventually constituted almost one-third of the five battalions of the Royal Fusiliers—now known to history as the Jewish Legion. It was, however, more the symbolism of a Jewish army than the few minor military clashes in the Middle East in 1918 that impacted on Jews worldwide.

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More about: Chaim Weizmann, History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism, Jewish Legion, World War I, Ze'ev Jabotinsky

To Israel’s Leading Strategist, Strength, Not Concessions, Has Brought a Measure of Calm

Aug. 14 2018

Following a long and distinguished career in the IDF, Yaakov Amidror served as Israel’s national-security adviser from 2011 to 2013. He speaks with Armin Rosen about the threats from Gaza, Hizballah, and Iran:

For Israel’s entire existence, would-be peacemakers have argued that the key to regional harmony is the reduction of the Jewish state’s hard power through territorial withdrawals and/or the legitimization of the country’s non-state enemies. In Amidror’s view, reality has thoroughly debunked this line of reasoning.

Amidror believes peace—or calm, at least—came as a result of Israeli muscle. Israel proved to its former enemies in the Sunni Arab world that it’s powerful enough to fill the vacuum left by America’s exit from the region and to stand up to Iran on the rest of the Middle East’s behalf. “The stronger Israel is, the more the ability of Arab countries to cooperate [with it] grows,” Amidror explained. On the whole, Amidror said he’s “very optimistic. I remember the threat that we faced when we were young. We fought the Six-Day War and I remember the Yom Kippur War, and I see what we are facing today. We have only one-and-a-half problems. One problem is Iran, and the half-problem is Hizballah.” . . .

In all likelihood the next Israeli-Iranian confrontation will be a clash with Amidror’s half-threat: the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hizballah, Iran’s most effective proxy in the Middle East and perhaps the best armed non-state military force on earth. . . . “We should neutralize the military capability of Hizballah,” [in the event of war], he said. “We should not destroy the organization as a political tool. If the Shiites want these people to represent them, it’s their problem.” . . .

“It will be a very nasty war,” Amidror said. “A very, very nasty war.” Hizballah will fire “thousands and thousands” of long-range missiles of improved precision, speed, and range at Israeli population centers, a bombardment larger than Israel’s various layers of missile defense will be able to neutralize in full. . . . This will, [however], be a blow Israel can withstand. “Israelis will be killed, no question,” Amidror said. “But it’s not going to be catastrophic.”

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Lebanon