ORIGINAL THINKING: George Lansbury – a European politician in today’s mold

This is the advice I would give to European parliamentarians who are rushing to welcome a Palestinian state, for altruistic reasons, without first checking the reality.

European Union flags (photo credit: REUTERS)
European Union flags
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In 1929 George Lansbury became a member of the second Labour government in Great Britain. As the most senior surviving minister after the electoral defeat of 1931 he became leader of the Labour Party and leader of the Opposition. Lansbury also served as chairman of the No More War Movement. Dick Sheppard, founder of the Peace Pledge Union, of which Lansbury was president at the time of his death, called him “Public Pacifist Number One.”
In June 1933, George Lansbury, as leader of the Labour Party, had this message for voters at the Fulham East by-election: “I would close every recruiting station, disband the army and disarm the air force. I would abolish the whole dreadful equipment of war and say to the world: ‘Do your worst.’” Lansbury’s deep Christian pacifist convictions were absolute. In 1933, Labour was essentially a pacifist party. Under his leadership, the British Labour Party suffered the shock of facing the reality of Hitler. By the end of 1937 it had become a party that believed in armed deterrence, a party that urged collective security through the League of Nations and a party that bitterly opposed Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement.
A coherent case for pacifism as policy is so much harder to make after the Holocaust. Like today, the appeal of pacifism in the early 1930s was founded on the abhorrence of war. In their case it was the echoes of the Great War that still resounded in Britain. Today, it is the memory of World War Two, and experiences with more recent unsuccessful wars against Islamic terrorism. Both resulted in delusional appeasement efforts, or in the words of Winston Churchill, feeding the crocodile in order that it eat you last.
Lansbury’s greatest electoral achievement came in the 1933 Fulham East by-election, a few months after Hitler’s election. It was fought on a peace ticket following Germany’s withdrawal from the League of Nations.
There was a massive swing to Labour in Britain. It was that by-election which helped to convince Stanley Baldwin, who had taken up many of the duties of an ailing prime minister, that there could be no public support for rearmament, leading Churchill to include his famous diary index indictment: “Baldwin, Stanley, admits putting party before country.”
Lansbury was an accidental leader, like Attlee after him, who had office thrust upon him. The Peace Pledge Union loudly supported Lansbury. It pursued peace and appeasement well beyond Munich. Along with the British Union of Fascists, with which it incredibly formed an alliance on this issue, its Peace Newspaper became prominent in arguing that German territorial demands were reasonable and should be conceded peacefully. This has echoes in today’s European parliamentary demands for Israel to cede critical territory to a rejectionist Palestinian leadership in search of peace.
The PPU took this well beyond advocating giving Hitler the Sudetenland at Munich.
Lansbury met with Hitler. He prepared a memorandum for Hitler to read which ended with the words, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Hitler played this elderly pacifist like a fool. Lansbury gushed with enthusiasm after his meeting, saying, “Hitler treated the interview very seriously. I think he really wants peace.”
We hear similar statements by left-wing parliamentarians when talking about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
About Mussolini, Lansbury told people on his return from his meeting with Hitler that “the cynics might say that Signor Mussolini’s assurances might be to ‘cod’ a silly old man but I prefer to take people at their face value.”
Sadly, European politicians make the same mistake in taking Abbas at face value, by listening to what he tells them in English rather than what he is telling his own people in their own language, a la Hitler. In both cases, the truth is obvious to anyone but naïve politicians desirous of believing the unbelievable.
Lansbury had the nerve to visit Prague and the Czech prime minister, who was under tremendous pressure exerted by Britain’s Chamberlain, France’s Deladier, and, of course, from Mussolini and Hitler to surrender land for peace, basically to acquiesce in the destruction of his country. This is hauntingly akin to the pressure being exerted on Israel today by politicians to surrender territory to an undefined Palestine.
Lansbury did it with a firm sense of pacifistic altruism that reflects current rationale for the intense pressure on Israel. He cabled prime minister Edvard Benes with the following words: “The world’s peace is dependent on you accepting further sacrifices and giving away before the further demands, backed by the threat of force....”
This message resonates today with the unilateral pressure on Israel. Lansbury believed he was so right that he was willing to sacrifice another country for his convictions, and no force of reason or reality could prevent him from throwing his entire weight behind a cause that would jeodardize, first and foremost, another nation’s security and self-determination.
Doesn’t that sound all too familiar? It took the aftermath of Munich and Hitler’s deception with regard to Czechoslovakia to make Britain aware of the shame of Chamberlain and the embarrassment of Lansbury. It took the awful awareness of the Holocaust to understand the horror of what this political mistake wrought of the Jews of Europe.
In his old age Lansbury admitted, “It may be that I have been too believing, that I should be more skeptical.”
This is the advice I would give to European parliamentarians who are rushing to welcome a Palestinian state, for altruistic reasons, without first checking the reality of the monster they are likely to create.
Try not to be too believing, and to become more skeptical of Palestinian leaders and Palestinian intent.
The writer is the author of Israel Reclaiming the Narrative. He is also a Knesset Forum member on Israel’s legitimacy.