...I think the episode of General Barker's letter* was passed over much too lightly. It will not do merely to talk about the intolerable conditions under which officers and men are acting. I agree about that, and greatly regret what has happened, and we all condemn with horror and emphasis the outrages that have taken place...but it will not do merely to say that letters such as General Barker's were written under great strain. If we are to have the vicious circle of intolerable circumstances producing wicked and criminal acts, and then those wicked and criminal acts are used as a sort of excuse, or reason for continuing the intolerable conditions, we shall never get anywhere at all. If a thing was right a month ago, the mere fact that some people have committed criminal acts between then and now does not make it wrong now...
May I now turn for one moment to this letter of General Barker's? It is one of the misfortunes of this Government— and I do not know whom to blame for it —that their beneficent activities and their general policy are very largely hamstrung outside this country by the maintenance of most reactionary people in key positions. How can it be expected that the Government can carry out their policy? This is a matter about which hon. Members on the other side of the House may be pleased, but, sitting on this side, I am not pleased about it, because I know that it exists. Take this letter of General Barker. I should like to know, and I hope an answer may be given to me presently, why it was sent. With great respect, I suggest that the letter is just vulgar anti-Semitism. I would like to know whether there is any connection between that attitude and the fact that the recent attack made upon Jerusalem took place upon the Jewish Sabbath day. Not a word was said about that by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon in outlining the case, although I regard it as one of the most deplorable things that has happened in our time...
I would like to know whether that had been deliberately arranged and whether the loathing and contempt which General Barker so freely expresses in his letter inspired it. He is certainly not a man with a judicial mind, if the reports of his letter are accurate, and he ought not to assume the position of judging the rights of the general mass of the Jewish population of Palestine. Anything more immoderate and injudicious than this letter, I can scarcely conceive, and I earnestly hope that somebody will deal with it on behalf of the Government.
...I hope we shall hear from the Minister who is to reply, something more about this letter of General Barker. I am not the only hon. Member who has received from men in the Army in Palestine letters of protest, or more often of plain inquiry, asking what the attitude is at home towards the Jews, because they have been told that there is now, definitely, a note of anti-Semitism in official propaganda. We had better face these facts. I should like to hear something more about them. I was thoroughly glad that my right hon. Friend dissociated the Government from this letter, but I hope we shall have something much stronger than that...
...I would like here to recall the fine phrase which was used by the Leader of the House in 1938, in an article he wrote in the newspaper "Forward." He said: The words of one of our Socialist Zionist leaders are that the countries of the world are being divided into two categories: those which Jews are forbidden to enter, and those in which they find it impossible to live...As one who is not a member of the Jewish race but who is just—God help me!— attempting to be a practising Christian, I believe that it is the Divine Will of Almighty God that Palestine should be the national home of the Jewish people. The more I become convinced of that, the more ephemeral and evanescent the present situation seems. It will be a fatal thing if we attempt to put ourselves in the path of what I believe is a Divine Ordinance and Decree.
I know, and I regret it, that it is not now fashionable to talk of these things here. There was a time, as I have read with pleasure and longing, when matters of deep moral conviction could be voiced in this House, and when hon. Members were not afraid to quote Scripture to one another, in endeavouring to base their case upon the Scriptures. Fashions no doubt change, but fundamental things do not. Eternal values do not. I am certain that there will be no permanent peace in this world and no real prosperity for humanity until right things are done, and one of those right things is that the Jewish people shall, once again, return with songs to their own land and be domiciled there. For so long they have had no land of their own, and no rest for the soul of their people. They have borne for many of us the brunt of the misery, cruelty and infamy of man, and, despite that, so often in their tragic history they have had from the people they helped far more kicks than halfpence. Yet they have still come to their aid, as they did to ours during the last war, and as they would come to our aid again. Let nothing of the dreadful acts of violence which have taken place cause us to lose our sense of proportion. This is a great and fundamental matter. This is a crying aloud for real justice. There is an opportunity for the reassertion in this House, in this country and in the world of a great spiritual truth. I hope and pray that this Government will have the courage to take this decision, and to grant the Jewish people their rightful place.
"The Jewish community of Palestine cannot be absolved from responsibility for the long series of outrages culminating in the blowing up of a large part of the Government offices in the King David Hotel causing grievous loss of life. Without the support, active or passive, of the general Jewish public the terrorist gangs who actually carried out these criminal acts would soon be unearthed, and in this measure the Jews in this country are accomplices and bear a share of the guilt.
I am determined that they shall suffer punishment and be made aware of the contempt and loathing with which we regard their conduct. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by the hypocritical sympathy shown by their leaders and representative bodies, or by their protests that they are in no way responsible for these acts ... I have decided that with effect on receipt of this letter you will put out of bounds to all ranks all Jewish establishments, restaurants, shop, and private dwellings. No British soldier is to have social intercourse with any Jew ... I appreciate that these measures will inflict some hardship on the troops, yet I am certain that if my reasons are fully explained to them they will understand their propriety and will be punishing the Jews in a way the race dislikes as much as any, by striking at their pockets and showing our contempt of them."
Barker's letters to his former lover Katie Antonius contain overtly antisemitic passages. He wrote about the Jews in April 1947: "Yes I loathe the lot - whether they be Zionists or not. Why should we be afraid of saying we hate them. Its time this damned race knew what we think of them - loathsome people".^