Jay, Michael: re the pre-war meaning of “Palestine,” you’re right, of course. Three years ago, in a post on “Jew-baiting, then and now,” I wrote about the 1936 Cable Street riots in the East End:
By the way, those contemporary lefties who think the Jews should get out of Palestine might note the protest slogans of 70 years ago: In those London demonstrations, the Jews were told, “Go back to Palestine!”
Nevertheless, as much as I love “Shanghai Lil,” in the interests of full disclosure, one must note “Lena From Palesteena,” the 1920 novelty number by Con Conrad (who wrote “Ma, He’s Making Eyes At Me” and the first Oscar-winning song “The Continental”) and J Russel Robinson (who wrote “Singin’ The Blues” and Cab Calloway’s “Reefer Man”). (No vocal on this recording by Filu and his Swingers, but they’re hot.)
The eponymous Lena appears to be a somewhat stereotypical Jewish New York gal of the period; Conrad’s lyric has certain Yiddisher cadences (“Such a clever girl is Lena”); and Robinson’s tune is not un-Klezmer-(or perhaps bulgar-)like. However, once Lena takes her concertina to Palesteena:
When she squeaks
Her squeezebox stuff
All the sheikhs
Can’t get enough.
If only it were that easy.