Various media outlets criticized President Trump over one of his defenses of his decision to remove American troops who were assisting Kurdish fighters in Syria. “They didn’t help us in the Second World War,” President Trump said regarding the Kurds. “They didn’t help us with Normandy, as an example.” To rebut Trump’s argument, CNN quoted Michael Rubin, from the American Enterprise Institute: “World War II was a war among states and the Kurds weren’t a state.” It also quoted Henri Barkey, a Middle East expert from the Council of Foreign Relations, who said, “Just like many other people who did not have a state, (Kurds) could not have helped the United States.”
In fact, though, both in World War I and in World War II, stateless Zionist Jews lobbied and organized in the US, UK, Canada, pre-state Israel, and elsewhere to form independent fighting units to join on the US side and fight against Germany and the Ottomans in World War I and again against Nazi Germany and the Axis in World War II. This was all before the creation of the State of Israel.
In World War I, first the Zion Mule Corps (650 Jewish soldiers, who served at Gallipoli) and then later the Jewish Legion (5,000 Jewish solders) were organized as fighting units under British Army command. In World War II, the Jewish Brigade (30,000 Jewish solders) was part of the British Army and was based on the World War I model and precedent.
The men responsible for organizing and leading the Jewish soldiers in World War I and agitating for a Jewish fighting force in World War II are some of the most colorful and amazing individuals to ever be part of the Zionist movement. That Barkey and Rubin could be expert sources for CNN and not be highly familiar with their stories is surprising and goes to show that many in media need to be more selective about the experts they utilize.
The World War I Jewish fighters were led by British officer John Henry Patterson. Patterson was the most famous African lion hunter in British history. His story is told in the 1996 Val Kilmer / Michael Douglas film, The Ghost and the Darkness. Patterson was played by Kilmer and the movie is based on a book by Patterson. Two other books written by Patterson detail his work with Jewish solders and were titled With the Zionists in Gallipoli and With the Judaeans in the Palestine Campaign.
The Zionists who organized the World War I soldiers were Yosef Trumpeldor and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
Trumpeldor was a dashing one-armed disabled veteran and former POW of the Russian-Japanese war. In 1920, he and seven other valiant Zionist defenders died in the defense of the Galilee village Tel Chai against a much larger Arab force. A large statue of a lion sits at the site, and the Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona is named after Trumpeldor as well. The lion statue is the closest physical tribute that Israel has to a Mount Rushmore.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky was the greatest right-leaning Zionist leader in the era between the World Wars. Prime Minster Netanyahu’s father, Benzion Netanyahu, was a personal aide to Jabotinsky on the eve of World War II. Jabotinsky died in the US in 1940 while trying to convince Americans to support a new Jewish Legion for World War II. Patterson joined Jabotinsky and Benzion Netanyahu in this work in the US. Benzion named his oldest son, Yonatan (Yoni) Netanyahu, for Patterson. In honor of Yoni’s bris milah (ritual circumcision) Patterson presented the Netanyahu family with an engraved silver cup with the wording, “To my beloved godson Yonatan from Lt.-Col. John Henry Patterson” at the ceremony in New York in 1946.
Jabotinsky’s book The Story of the Jewish Legion is about his World War I exploits with Trumpeldor and Patterson. Before World War II, he wrote the book, The Jewish War Front, in which he presented an argument that the Jewish people needed to form a Jewish army to take an active part in the war against Nazi Germany.
Jabotinsky traveled to the US with Bibi Netanyahu’s father and other Zionist activists. They took the ideas in The Jewish War Front as their inspiration when they initiated what can be termed the first Zionist lobbying effort on Capitol Hill. This Jabotinsky movement demand for stateless Jews being allowed to fight also included full-page newspaper ads written by the legendary Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht that appeared in The New York Times!
The stateless Kurds may not have had their Jabotinsky. Fortunately, stateless Jews did have Jabotinsky and were thus able to create Jewish army formations to fight alongside the Allies against the Nazis. Without this Zionist partnership with the Allies, Jewish history after World War I would have continued in a much different direction.
Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s US division. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education and is dedicated to the ideals of pre-World War II Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Herut’s website is www.herutna.org.