Photo Credit: Jewish Press
On November 2, 1917, through the top of World War I, a letter was delivered to 148 Piccadilly, the London house of Lord Walter Rothschild, scion of the English department of the famed banking dynasty. The letter was from Britain’s Foreign Minister, Lord Arthur James Balfour, and it learn as follows:
November 2nd, 1917
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I’ve a lot pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the next declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and accredited by, the Cabinet.
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the institution in Palestine of a nationwide house for the Jewish individuals, and can use their greatest endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be completed which can prejudice the civil and non secular rights of present non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political standing loved by Jews in every other nation.
I ought to be grateful if you happen to would deliver this declaration to the information of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour
The Balfour Declaration, because it grew to become identified, was the primary political recognition by a world energy of the Zionist dream to construct a Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisrael. One hundred years later historians and political badysts are nonetheless debating the significance of the declaration – and what, precisely, was promised.
The Cast of Characters
As with any good drama – and the backstory to the declaration is a rousing story of political intrigue – it’s typically useful to first know one thing concerning the characters concerned. Here is a shortlist of the principal gamers:
Lord Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930): Upper-clbad and well-connected, Balfour started his political profession as personal secretary to his uncle, the Marquess of Salisbury, who was international secretary within the authorities headed by Benjamin Disraeli. After an unsuccessful stint as prime minister within the early 1900s, Balfour grew to become international secretary within the authorities fashioned by David Lloyd George. Both males have been idealistic Christian Zionists – and each males disliked Jews as a “race.” Thus, whereas Balfour was sympathetic to the institution of a Jewish “national home” in Eretz Yisrael, whereas he was prime minister he advocated for the pbadage of the 1905 Aliens Act, whose objective was to restrict immigration of Eastern European Jews to Britain. As Balfour informed Chaim Weizmann just a few years earlier than the Balfour Declaration was penned, in his opinion the Jews had solely two choices: badimilate or create their very own society within the Land of Israel. Remaining “a people apart” in Europe was not an choice.
Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952): Born in Russia and educated in Germany and Switzerland, Weizmann arrived in Britain in 1904, having been employed by the University of Manchester to show biochemistry. He quickly grew to become one of many leaders of British Zionism – and simply as rapidly ran up in opposition to the anti-Zionist stance of a lot of established British Jewry, together with that of Edwin Montagu, the one Jewish member of Lloyd George’s cupboard. Montagu would later clarify his opposition to the Balfour Declaration by saying that as a British citizen he had no want to return to a “Jewish ghetto.” As for Weizmann, he would spend greater than a decade engaged in “backroom diplomacy” whereas he tried to drum up badist for a Jewish homeland; the Balfour Declaration was the profitable results of these labors. Among his many different achievements, he grew to become the State of Israel’s first president in 1948.
Nahum Sokolow (1859-1936): Born in Eastern Europe, Sokolow moved to London in 1914, after the outbreak of World War I. An ardent Zionist, Sokolow translated into Hebrew Theodor Herzl’s utopian novel Altnueland, which he known as Tel Aviv (the town was named after the e book’s title). While Chaim Weizmann often will get a lot of the credit score for the adoption of the Balfour Declaration, Sokolow’s pivotal position can also be at the moment acknowledged, because of historian Martin Kramer. According to Kramer, “He accomplished what many thought impossible. During the spring of 1917, he secured the explicit or tacit badent of the French and Italian governments, and even of the Catholic pope, to a Jewish ‘national home’ under British auspices.”
Leopold Amery (1873-1955): The Balfour Declaration wasn’t written by Balfour. While there have been many drafts, the ultimate model was penned by Leopold Amery, who was political secretary to the War Cabinet in October 1917 – and a “secret Jew.” It’s not clear why British-born Amery felt he needed to conceal his Jewish identification, since Jews have been holding political workplace and different positions of status and energy in Britain by this time. But in contrast to many who distanced themselves from Jewish causes after baduming a non-Jewish identification, Amery was an enthusiastic Zionist. In addition to championing the Balfour Declaration, Amery helped set up the Jewish Legion, a forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces.
Why the Jews?
The story of the Balfour Declaration takes place in opposition to the backdrop of World War I and the declining years of the British Empire.
By the autumn of 1917, Britain had been at conflict with Germany for 3 lengthy years and there was no finish in sight to the brutal battle. But with a complete empire to fret about, why was the British authorities involved concerning the longing of the Jewish individuals for a homeland of their very own? The reply might be summed up in three phrases: desperation and anti-Semitism.
The desperation was on account of the truth that in 1917 Britain’s allies have been falling aside. Russia, which had modified governments after the revolution that came about within the spring of that yr, was threatening to drag out of the conflict. French troopers, disheartened by their extreme losses, had begun to mutiny. The United States declared conflict on Germany in April 1917, however they hadn’t but despatched any troops. Somehow, Britain needed to persuade Russia to maintain combating and persuade the United States to start to take action. At a gathering of the War Cabinet on October 31, Balfour claimed to have discovered an answer to the issue:
“The vast majority of Jews in Russia and America as, indeed, all over the world, now appeared to be favourable of Zionism. If we could make a declaration favourable to such an ideal, we should be able to carry on extremely useful propaganda both in Russia and America.”
In different phrases, Balfour believed the outdated anti-Semitic canard that Jews dominated the world: rich Jewish American financiers managed their authorities simply as Jewish Russian Bolsheviks now managed theirs. Give the Jews a promise of a homeland, Balfour argued, and they might repay the favor by serving to Britain with its conflict effort.
Yet another excuse needed to do with Britain’s quest for extra direct entry to India. If it may wrest Eretz Yisrael from the Ottoman Empire – Turkey had sided with Germany within the conflict – and create a Jewish homeland beneath British supervision, Britain may obtain this intention. It would additionally make the Suez Cbad, then beneath British rule, safer.
Lloyd George would later give another excuse for the Balfour Declaration. In his autobiography, the previous prime minister wrote that it was given to Weizmann as a reward for his work through the conflict; Weizmann had developed a course of for producing acetone on a big scale, which was used to make explosives. Weizmann, nonetheless, disagreed. In his autobiography, Trial and Error, he wrote: “I almost wish it had been as simple as that, and that I had never known the heartbreak, the drudgery which preceded the Declaration. But history does not deal in Aladdin’s lamps.”
Why the Heartbreak?
Part of the explanation for Weizmann’s heartbreak and drudgery was as a result of the Allies, badured of victory on the outset of the conflict, had already divvied up the huge lands managed by the Ottoman Empire.
In March 1915, Britain signed a secret settlement with Russia, during which Russia obtained Constantinople and retained management of the Dardanelles. Britain, which was most within the areas the place oil had not too long ago been found, bought a lot of the remainder of the Ottoman Empire’s lands in addition to central Persia.
What did the French get? A yr later, in yet one more secret settlement, this time between Britain and France, the French obtained modern-day Syria and Lebanon, whereas Britain obtained modern-day Iraq and Jordan; in some areas the 2 European nations would have direct management, whereas in others they might solely supervise the native Arab chieftains. Under the Sykes-Picot Agreement, named after the settlement’s two negotiators, neither nation claimed central Palestine, which included Jerusalem. Instead, the land was to be dominated by a global administration; this was to appease Russia and different Christian nations with an curiosity within the Holy Land.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner within the Sultanate of Egypt, was making a cope with Hussein ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca. Hussein requested for an Arab Caliphate of Islam, and McMahon badured him that his help in Britain’s struggle in opposition to the Turks could be rewarded by an Arab empire stretching from Egypt to Persia, excluding British possessions and pursuits in Kuwait, Aden, and the Syrian coast.
Where did the Jews and the Zionist dream match into all this political intrigue? In the autumn of 1916, nowhere. But in December 1916 Lloyd George grew to become Britain’s prime minister and he was sad. Specifically, he thought Britain ought to rule over Palestine. To set up “facts on the ground,” in June 1917 he gave Edmund Allenby, Britain’s new commander in Egypt, his marching orders: “Jerusalem by Christmas.” Allenby captured Jerusalem in December 1917.
Russia had no drawback with this variation in British international coverage, so long as it nonetheless obtained Constantinople. But the French weren’t amused, and Britain couldn’t threat offending its wartime ally by going it alone. Nor did Britain have any want to offend the remainder of the Christian world, together with the Americans, whose troops have been badly wanted. Thus, in early 1917, Sir Mark Sykes, co-author of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, was given his diplomatic marching orders: persuade the world that Britain deserved the lion’s share of Palestine. Practically in a single day, Sykes grew to become a Zionist.
Sykes met with a number of distinguished British Zionist leaders, together with Lord Walter Rothschild, Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow. He knowledgeable them that Britain may grant the Zionist trigger some recognition if they may put the “Jewish views” earlier than the French and persuade them to badent to the institution of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, together with a British protectorate over the realm. Nahum Sokolow was chosen to do the job.
Sokolow labored carefully with Sykes and in June 1917 they bought their badent from France. In an almost-forgotten letter issued by Jules Cambon, the secretary-general of France’s international ministry, wrote:
You have been ok to current the venture to which you’re devoting your efforts, which has for its object the event of Jewish colonization in Palestine. You think about that, circumstances allowing, and the independence of the Holy Places being safeguarded then again, it might be a deed of justice and of reparation to help, by the safety of the Allied Powers, within the renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that land from which the individuals of Israel have been exiled so many centuries in the past.
The French authorities, which entered this current conflict to defend a individuals wrongly attacked, and which continues the battle to guarantee the victory of proper over may, can however really feel sympathy on your trigger, the triumph of which is certain up with that of the Allies.
I’m blissful to offer you herewith such badurance.
The Chambon letter, with its references to “justice” and the Jewish individuals’s historic declare to the Land of Israel, was stronger than the Balfour Declaration, which adopted six months later. Sokolow even obtained an enthusiastic response from Pope Benedict XV, who informed him, “Yes, yes, I believe we will be good neighbors!”
Sokolow subsequent turned his consideration to the United States, the place coverage makers have been completely against Zionism. He recruited Louis D. Brandeis to the trigger. Brandeis had been appointed to the Supreme Court by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and he used his affect to garner badist for the Balfour Declaration. In mid-October 1917, Wilson secretly agreed to badist the British – secretly, as a result of whereas the British have been knowledgeable of his determination, Wilson’s personal secretary of state was not.
Soon afterward, Italy and Japan additionally endorsed the declaration. Thus, whereas on the floor the Balfour Declaration may seem like a unilateral step taken by the British, it truly had the badist of a lot of the main world powers of that period. A number of years later, the newly-established League of Nations acknowledged the legitimacy of the Balfour Declaration when it established the Mandate in Palestine. The Mandate was formalized by the League’s 52-member governments on July 24, 1922.
But whereas the Balfour Declaration was an essential step in securing worldwide recognition of the Jews’ proper to determine a homeland, it was solely a partial victory for the Jewish individuals. Whereas the declaration had referred to all of pre-World War I Palestine, in 1921 four-fifths of the land was lopped off by the British and given to the Arabs as a separate state, present-day Jordan. And it was the British who appointed Haj Amin al-Husseini as grand mufti of Jerusalem. A rabid anti-Semite, Husseini promoted using violence to expel the Jews from the land.
By the outbreak of World War II, the British have been extra involved with appeasing the Arabs than giving the Jews a homeland, and in 1939 they imposed restrictions on Jewish immigration. Thus, whereas the Balfour Declaration had fastidiously kept away from promising the Jews a “state,” simply 27 years later the British authorities was additionally denying European Jews making an attempt to flee from Nazi Germany a “home.”
We did get our state in 1948, however not because of the British. While historians are nonetheless debating the sincerity of Balfour, Lloyd George and different British politicians concerned with the Balfour Declaration 100 years later, it’s the phrases of one other declaration that also ring true: “Don’t rely on princes, in mortal man there is no salvation” (Tehillim 146:three).
“History of the Balfour Declaration,” Jewish Virtual Library.
“How Ant-Semitism Helped Create Israel,” Jonathan Schneer, Foreign Affairs, September eight, 2010.
“The Balfour Betrayal: How the British Empire Failed Zionism,” Eli Kavon, Jerusalem Post, November 2, 2013.
The Balfour Project: “Chaim Weizmann,” Mary Grey, April 25, 2012; “Lloyd George,” January 26, 2013; “The Other Arthur Balfour ‘Protector of the Jews,’” Brian Klug, July eight, 2013; “The Secret of Leopold Amery,” William D. Rubinstein, November 11, 2012.
“The Forgotten Truth about the Balfour Declaration,” Martin Kramer, Mosaic, June 5, 2017.