John Henry Patterson - The Christian Godfather of the Israeli Army

        Winter 2015    
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Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson

The Christian godfather of the Israeli Army

The godfather of Yonni Netanyahu

By Jerry Klinger

Post war, British anti-Zionists began to weaken the Balfour Declaration. Palestine was portrayed by them as barren, sparsely populated, in desperate need for drainage and irrigation. It could not sustain even the tiny Jewish and Arab populations that were there little less permit more Jewish immigration.

Patterson responded:

In Palestine there was room to spar, for many years to come for both Jew and Arab. The hope of the Jewish people rest in the soil The barren hills must once again be terraced and planted with vine, fig and olive. Under Jewish land management and modern farming techniques, the land began to come back. Jewish energy and Zionist focus were bringing Palestine back.

The Arabs renewed attacks on Jewish settlements in 1920. Patterson became convinced that the best stewards of the land for the betterment of both Arabs and Jews were the Jews. He had maintained a close relationship with one of his lieutenants of the 38th, Vladimir Jabotinsky. Patterson became a confidant of Jabotinsky whose political life as a Zionist leader and visionary was dramatically rising.

At Jabotinskys request, Patterson traveled and spoke on Zionism, Palestine, and the Jewish Legion. Two very important draws for the Zionists of Pattersons help was his mass cultural appeal as the famous Lion of Tsavo hunter and second, the fact that he was not Jewish. He was a Christian advocating for the Zionists. His statements about Zionism, Palestine and Jews were given greater credence precisely because he was not Jewish.

Patterson was a no nonsense observer of American Zionism during his travels to the States speaking for Jabotinsky. He observed in a 1922 letter to Chaim Weizmann:

After having traveled this great land of the stars and stripes and having met various shades and brands, both of the Orthodox and the Reformed element, I have come to the conclusion that the former are anxious to hear the message from Palestine, are anxious to help in rebuilding the old land, and are anxious to see it once more green and Jewish. But the Reformed Jews on the whole care for none of these things. Palestine is not yet fashionable enough for them; but you might possible arouse their interest in the land of their Fathers, if you could arrange for a delegation composed of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Gaspari and say, Lord Rothschild!

Zionism would not become generally fashionable for the bulk of the American Reform movement until after the full extent of the Holocaust was understood. There were some notable exceptions such as the influential American Reform Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver. The Reform dominated anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism (ACJ), still functioning today, is a fraction of the size and influence that it was in 1945. The ACJ urged President Truman not to recognize the partition of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel. Anti-Zionism, or Pro-Palestinianism, is on an ascendency among contemporary younger American leftist Jews.

Israel Zangwill

Israel Zangwill, the famous British Jewish writer and controversial Zionist described Patterson in 1923:

    "A man of the simplest and most loveable character, imperturbable, breezy, hopeful and humorous, a crusader in a truly Christian Spirit, whose aim is to restore Palestine not to Christendom, but to the only homeless people on earth. Colonel Patterson has written his name indelibly on the scroll of Jewish as well as British history."

In 1930, Jabotinsky went to South Africa to speak on Palestine and raise funds for Zionism. The British barred him from returning. He needed eyes and ears on the ground in Palestine. He turned to Patterson. Three years later, at the Arlosoroff murder trial in Tel Aviv, when members of Jabotinskys political group were accused of murdering Haim Arlosoroff, it was Patterson who was sent to observe and report back on the trial to Jabotinsky.

Patterson was everywhere on behalf of Zionism. 1936, Patterson traveled to South Africa to raise money from the large Jewish community there for the establishment of a new moshav (a cooperative farm project) located near Netanya. The moshav was founded by members of the Jewish Legion. It was named Avihayil My Father was a Soldier. Patterson visited the moshav. He was received as a hero.

Tensions between the Arab community and Jewish community of Palestine were always troubled waters. Patterson put much of the long term conflict between the two communities firmly on the heads of the British Mandate Government. He especially blamed his old nemesis from the Jewish Legion days, General Bols who became the first military governor. Bols selected and embedded lower level administrators who remained for many, many years shaping Palestine after the League of Nations established the British Mandate over Palestine. Bols, Patterson felt, chose men not for the competence or even pro-Arabs views but more for their anti-Semitic feelings.

Patterson wrote after the Arabs again rioted in 1936 reflecting on Bols Palestine legacy:

    "An out and out anti-Semite who would leave no stone unturned to destroy, root and branch, the Jewish National Home. What was promised to the Jews (by the Balfour Declaration) must be given to them. Let the Arabs do what they like with their own countries, but Palestine, the whole of Palestine, is a Jewish country in which they must be able to work out their salvation."

The dark clouds of horror began fill the skies of Europe in the 1930s. Establishment Jewry remained quiescently timid. The British Mandate government turned their back on the scrap of paper called the Balfour Declaration. Desperate Jews searching for a safe haven, any haven for themselves, their children found the doors of Palestine closed to them. The British had surrendered to Arab blackmail in a rehearsal of Neville Chamberlains peace in our time blinders. They did not care about Jewish life.

Jabotinsky did. Patterson did. Jabotinsky went to Poland and railed, pleaded, begged Polish establishment Jewry to listen to what was being said by Hitler. He warned that words do matter as much as the threatened deeds. Palestine was their only hope. With months before Hitler invaded Poland in September of 1939, Polish Jewish leadership rejected Jabotinskys call.

Patterson was sent back to the United States. He continued speaking, seeking money, but his message changed to what he had called during the Great War, a Jewish Army. A Jewish Army was needed to face the existential threat of Nazism. American establishment Jewry rejected the message. They were afraid of antagonizing President Roosevelt. American Jews, most of whom were only second generation Americans, were very insecure in the identity. They wanted to remain low to the ground and not visible, assimilating into American life, much like the British Jews did when the call for the Jewish Legion went out. American Jews were afraid that the Jewish Army message would be turned on Jews. The Jews wanted war so that Christian blood would spill fighting the Nazis to save Jewish skins.

Pattersons message was simple and direct. The Jews have a right to defend themselves. It was a message he had used when speaking about Palestine and the Arabs. While Jabotinsky spoke in Poland, Patterson spoke in the U.S. He co-founded the American Friends for a Jewish Palestine and issued a special appeal to American Jewry.

    "On the Irgun, the Jewish National Military Organization of Palestine, rests much of the responsibility for the protection of Jewish life and property today. Its service to Palestine Jewry in years past has been inestimable and on many occasions when British security measures failed, it came to the rescue and saved many dangerous situations. The Irgun today is badly in need of financial assistance and I would urge you with all my heart that American Jewry now come forward and provide generously for the wants of this invaluable force. Do not let the bloody Swastika Wave over Jerusalem.

    Eight million Jews enslaved under the Hitler yoke place all their hopes for life and salvation in you Free Americans! Deliver Jewry from slavery and extermination in Europe. Destroy the gates of the Ghetto, by THE FORMATION OF A JEWISH ARMY which will battle alongside England and the Allies, to defend Palestine, Jewish honor and the most sacred principles of democracy.

    The Jewish Army will become a reality if everyone does his duty.

    Passivity is the cause of the Jewish national tragedy, therefore become active and join the movement for a Jewish Army.

    We await your helping hand. Call our office immediately!"

Patterson's American Jewish response was modest. He returned to London.

It was early 1940. War was a reality.

Jabotinsky and Patterson worked through the winter in London lobbying the British government for a Jewish army. They were turned down, repeatedly.

The young 28 year old, personal secretary of Jabotinsky read the writing on the wall better than Jabotinksy had. He was part of a group, Dr. Benjamin Akzin, Lord Lothian, and Elias Ginsburg along with Patterson and Jabotinsky desperately pushing the IRGUNs themes to no avail in Britain. He encouraged Jabotinsky that the mantel of leadership had left Britain. Jewrys future and salvation lay across the Atlantic, in America.

Jabotinsky resisted the appeal from the young man. He thought about it for a few days and decided. Colonel Patterson and his young personal secretary would relocate Jabotinskys political center from London to America. They should leave as soon as possible. The young personal secretarys name was Dr. Ben Zion Netanyahu, a historian of the Spanish Inquisition. Ben Zion Netanyahu would become the father of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel. Patterson was an active, focused man of 72. He left immediately for New York.

Patterson wrote to Lord Lothian from the United States, June, 1940.

    "During the last war, when our fortunes were at a low ebb, Mr. Lloyd George had the brilliant idea of bringing the Jewish people to our side by creating a Jewish Legion and solemnly promising Palestine as their national homeland. On 6th of March last, Mr. Chamberlain did just the opposite. He forced an act through Parliament (Mr. Churchill opposing him) devouring Israels heritage. Chamberlain paid no heed either to Englands honor or the bibles ominous warnings you will find it in the second chapter of Jeremiah and the third verse, all that devour Israel shall offend: evil shall come upon them saith the Lord. Lord Lloyd, and his pro-Nazi minions in the Colonial Office, have had their way and defeated the Jewish army scheme. (Lord Lloyd, the British colonial secretary, responsible for Palestine, was ant-Zionist and a pro-Arab supporter of Oswald Mosleys British Union of Fascists, at whose meetings he lectured.) But they have also brought England another step nearer her doom

    You may rest assured if England continues her anti-Jewish policy, England will be destroyed. I have seen this coming for years and have fought against it tooth and nail because I loved England and hated to see her betrayed by a gang of pro-Nazi, neo-pagan permanent officials They, together with the brainless, spineless MacDonalds, Baldwins, and Chamberlains, have led her into the present perilous situation

    Dont be afraid to tell Churchill. He is strong. A Jewish army and a Jewish Palestine would be of immense service to England The fate of England may be in your hands. Make use of every lever that will help. Please make no mistake-one Jewish mechanized division would be worth more than all the Arabs in the Near East."

Jabotinsky came to the United States during the summer of 1940. He was reviewing a Betar Youth Camp in upstate New York when he had a massive stroke. He was 59 years old when he died. It was a serious blow to Patterson. He served as one of the pall bearers.

Jabotinsky gravesite, Mt. Herzl

Jabotinsky was buried in New Yorks New Montefiore Cemetery. Sixteen years after the establishment of the State of Israel, 1964, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol arranged for Jabotinskys reburial on Jerusalems Mount Herzl National Cemetery. He was buried in a section reserved for national leaders. His resting place is deliberately sited between Theodor Herzls tomb and Israels national memorial museum to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem. Annually, a memorial service is conducted at Jabotinsky's grave.

Patterson's support for Zionism did not rest after his friend of twenty-four years died. Whenever and wherever he was needed to speak or be part of an effort on behalf of Zionism, the Jewish people and the Jewish army, he was there. He associated with the controversial Bergson group who rubbed establishment American Jewry the wrong way calling for action as the Jews of Europe burned. His call was always the same, a Jewish army, the Jews have a right to fight and defend themselves.

Patterson was 75 in 1942, still ramrod straight and thin as a razor. In the few years he had been in America, he had an incredible list of efforts he tied himself to, enough to have killed off a much younger man.

He was co-chair with Pierre Van Passen, of the Committee for a Jewish Army for Stateless and Palestinian Jews, founder of the American Friends of a Jewish Palestine, chairman and military adviser of the Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, chairman of the American Resettlement Committee for Uprooted European Jewry, president of the New Zionist League of America, supporter of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, and a member of both the Jabotinsky Publications Committee and the American Palestine Jewish League.

Ben Hecht, the famous American playwright and key member of the Bergson Group, amazed at Patterson wrote: that the cause of justice to the Jews should burn so brightly in the heart of a Britisher who was no Jew Colonel Patterson.

Ben Zion Netanyahu was the editor of the IRGUN publication. He did a special issue on Patterson writing about him in an editorial: the fighting Irishman who gave up the best of his life for the redemption of the Jewish people an outstanding example of a righteous man of the world.

Establishment American Jewry feared the activists of the Bergson Group. They feared Pattersons strident repeated efforts for a Jewish Army. They brought Patterson to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI because of his calls to arm the Palestinian Jews.

Patterson was the lightning rod. He continued saying the things that Jews could not and he could say it with authority. It made many uncomfortable.

October of 1943, he bluntly stated what was known but hidden by fearful political correctness about Arab involvement in the First World War.

    "I can vouch for the fact that the Palestine Arabs never lifted a finger to help the alliesThe Arabs outside, under Feisal, and Lawrence (of Arabia), gave a somewhat nebulous support for our extreme right flank far beyond the Jordan, but, according to Lawrence himself, even this assistance was but sporadic and only obtained by heavy payments in gold millions of pounds sterling to the Arab Sheiks. The Jews, on the contrary, gave thousands of their men, and millions of their money to help the Allied cause to victory."

Patterson's wife, Frances, health, never very good, began deteriorating seriously in 1945. She suffered from crippling arthritis and needed personal care. Patterson did what he could but he had little funds to help her or himself. The British Government had cut off his meager pension for the war years on a technical funds transmission issue. He was virtually penniless.

Mr. and Mrs. Marion Travis of Bel-Air, California, respectful of all that Patterson had done for Zionism and the Jews, took the Pattersons in. They lived in a small bungalow on their estate, care was provided as needed.

Patterson still traveled as he could for Zionism. In 1946, he crossed the United States to Philadelphia. Ben Zion Netanyahu and his wife Celia had just had their first child. It was a boy. They asked Patterson to come.

The Netanyahus so admired Colonel Patterson, they asked him to be a co-sandek, a Godfather of their new born son, along with Celia's father Nathan. The child was named Yonathan, Jonathan, in honor of both men. Patterson presented the infant with a silver cup inscribed, To my darling Godson, Jonathan, from your Godfather, John Henry Patterson. The cup is a treasured family heirloom of the Netanyahu family today.

Yoni Netanyahu

Yonathan, Yoni, as he was nick named, grew up to be a Commander in the Israel Defense Forces. He was a natural leader of men and a fierce defender of Israel and the Jewish people. July 4, 1976, in a mission of incredible heroic proportions, after Palestinian terrorists hijacked a commercial airliner to Entebbe Uganda, Israel responded. The Palestinians separated out the Jews and threatened to kill them unless their demands were met. The Israel Defense Forces chose Yoni to lead a daring commando mission to free the hostages.

Flying two thousand miles, Yoni led his men in a surprise attack. The hostages were freed. The terrorists were killed. There was only one casualty on the Israeli side. Yoni Netanyahu had been killed. He was buried on Mount Herzl. Israel and the Jewish people celebrated the rescue of Jews from certain death by Jewish defense forces. Israel and Jews wept at the death of Yoni. The world was amazed.

1947- interment of John Henry Patterson, lower middle column

Patterson returned to California. His health continued to deteriorate. A few months shy of his 79th birthday, and almost ten months before the birth of the State of Israel, John Henry Patterson died, June 18, 1946. He passed quietly in his sleep. Francie died six week later. Their bodies were cremated and interred modestly in Los Angeles Angelus-Rosedale Columbarium.

When Patterson died not one newspaper eulogized his passing. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, who had served in the Jewish Legion, never mentioned Patterson, not even in his autobiography. Ben Gurion was not atypical of politicians interested in the promotion of their own legacy, their own memory. He was not interested in promoting Pattersons role because without Patterson, Ben Gurion would have been at best a footnote of obscure history.

Things were moving very fast after the birth of Israel. There was little time to focus on the dead. It was to the living that attention was paid. It was to the defense of newborn Israel by Jewish defense forces faced with extermination by seven invading Arab armies intent on Jewish death that attention had to be paid.

The Pattersons resting place slipped into forgetfulness for sixty-seven years. His final wishes unfulfilled. The respect, honor and dignity they deserved undelivered.

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from the Winter 2015 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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