V. Centenary of the Balfour Declaration 1917

Britain, through the Balfour Declaration of 1917, was entirely responsible for the success of the Zionist movement in establishing itself to the great detriment of the native inhabitants of Palestine. A generation ago this was freely admitted in England.  For instance a popular book by James Williamson, that went to 6 editions, A Short History of British Expansion (1967) states:

“The British connection with Palestine arose out of the defeat of the Turks in the First World War… The Arab peoples in general… assisted the British to overthrow Turkish rule, and had a claim to British gratitude. In 1917, however, before the victorious campaign had taken place, the British Government had made a promise to assist the setting up a Jewish national home in Palestine, although without prejudice to the Arab population. This pledge, known as the Balfour Declaration, was ill-judged and disastrous, and has cursed Palestine with a generation of strife.” (p.318)

Despite a further “generation of strife” that sort of thing is no longer said in Britain. Now the British Prime Minister sees the Balfour Declaration as a cause for celebration with the Zionists who have taken control of and expanded the territory handed to them through conquest and have invited the Israeli Prime Minister to the party.

It is undoubtedly the case that without Britain’s Great War on Germany and the Ottoman Turks there would have been no Zion in Palestine. Just as in the Second World War of the 20th Century when millions of Jews were exterminated it required a global catastrophe to bring about such a dramatic event. That global catastrophe came about as a result of Britain’s Great War on Germany and the Ottoman State. Without the Balfour Declaration and Britain’s promise of a homeland in Palestine for the Jews the Zionist movement would have remained a thing of sentiment.

The Round Table, a Liberal Imperialist periodical of the Lord Milner Kindergarten/Chatham House/Royal Institute of International Affairs, movers and shakers of the Empire, explained the background to the British adoption of the Zionist project in its edition of March 1918 and how it was facilitated:

There was… a Zionist movement that… had the… objective of establishing a national state. But the Jewish nationalists did not have the power to realise it themselves in the region. Though… the British Government… had made the Zionist Movement an offer (which proved abortive) of a territory in East Africa as the home of a Jewish settlement with some measure of autonomy, Zionism was not, and had no apparent prospect of becoming, a factor to be reckoned with in international politics.

“Now, almost suddenly, all that is changed. Thanks to the breadth and sincerity of British statesmanship, to the inherent justice of its own aims, and to the ability with which those aims have been presented, Zionism has received the official approval of the British Government an approval which, in the circumstances in which it was given, makes the realisation of the objects of Zionism one of the avowed war-aims of the Allied Powers. The way in which the Governments declaration of support has been received shows that substantially it speaks the mind of the whole British nation, and indeed of the whole Commonwealth…

The potential value of the Jewish colonisation of Palestineits value as an indication of what the Jews, and they alone, can make of Palestineis enhanced by the fact that it has been carried out hitherto in spite of difficulties created not only by the absence of any State organisation behind it, but by the shortcomings of Turkish government. It must indeed be said, in fairness to the Turk, that from the Jewish national point of view his rule has had its good as well as its bad side. Talaat Pasha, in a recent interview, made much of the fact that anti-Semitism was unknown in Turkey, and that the Jewish colonies in Palestine had been allowed freedom in local administration and in the use of the Hebrew language for educational and general purposes. He had a right to take credit for this tolerance, which, if it resulted rather from passivity than from active goodwill on the side of the rulers, was none the less of great value to the ruled. It may well be that if during the last thirty years Palestine had been in the hands of an efficient and centralised government, Jewish colonisation might have progressed more rapidly on the material side, though the settlers might have been much less easily able to learn the rudiments of self-government and to retain and strengthen their specific national consciousness. But there is a heavy account on the debit side. Not only has Jewish colonisation been hampered by burdensome taxes, restric­tions on the sale of land, and the neglect of the Government to provide those material facilities without which a country cannot be developed on modern lines; but the absence of security has kept out of the country much Jewish energy and capital which would otherwise have flowed into it, to the benefit both of the Jewish national movement, of Pales­tine, and of Turkey as the overlord of Palestine…  It is clear, therefore, that Zionism imperatively needs a substantial changewhether or not accompanied by a formal changein the political position of Palestine if the work of a generation is not to be practically wasted, and if the Jewish people is not to be doomed once more to fall back on hopes and prayers.

The Balfour Declaration proclaimed to the world that British authority would bring great improvements to the territory on behalf of its existing inhabitants as well as the new colonists. Let history judge that.

The Balfour Declaration was what The Irish News called “an immense and revolutionary experiment in Palestine” (7.9.21). Britain was inaugurating an unprecedented innovation in the region that would alter its fundamental social character.

The Ottomans had for centuries provided stable and functional political structures for the Jews which enabled them to live in relative peace and security with their Arab neighbours, sharing the territory. But the Balfour Declaration brought progress to the region in an unprecedented and great revolutionary act of the rulers of the world.

Two things are necessary for a state – a territory and a population. Zionism had neither of these things needed to produce a Jewish state in Palestine. The Jews constituted less than 10 per cent of the population of Palestine (60,000 of 700,000 inhabitants) in 1917. Only a minority of these Jews were Zionists. Only British power could provide the territory.

Zionism could not have achieved its objective without British political and military sponsorship. Zionism was a minority political movement within Jewry and many powerful Jews were thoroughly opposed to it on the basis that it went hand in hand with Anti-Semitism. It was believed that it helped foster Anti-Semitism by encouraging the view that the real home of the Jews was elsewhere. And it was noticed that many Anti-Semites were supportive of Zionist objectives and Zionists were willing to work with these people to gain their objective. Assimilationist Jews, particularly in England, who were the majority interest in Jewry, were startled by the implications of the Zionist movement.

In Palestine itself a Jewish state was highly improbable outside of a cataclysm. The Jews numbered only about 10 per cent of the populace in the Ottoman province of Palestine. They occupied a minuscule amount of land. There was less basis for a Zion in Palestine than there was for an Armenian state. And a National Home the size of Wales was never going to absorb the 12 million Jews worldwide without ethnically cleansing the native population or expanding its borders.

The Jews were an important community of the Ottoman State, along with the Greeks and Armenians. They lived in many urban areas like Istanbul  and Baghdad and constituted not only a bourgeoisie for the Empire but a proletariat in some places. The great Jewish city of the Ottoman Empire had been Salonika. Despite being free to settle in Palestine over the centuries, the Jews had avoided it as a wilderness.

The Zionist objective seemed a pipe dream before 1917 and the Balfour Declaration. But then Zionism was employed by Britain to win its Great War.

Why?

“The Central Powers, with startling rapidity, had crushed and overrun Belgium, Serbia, and Roumania, and a large slice of France was in the grip of the invader. It was a case of stalemate with Italy, while Russia, the Colossus with the feet of clay, was in the throes of a Revolution and lost to the Allies.

“Turkey, the so-called “ sick man of Europe,” was found not only able to ” sit up and take nourishment,” but strong enough to administer some nasty knocks to the surgeon, as we discovered to our cost in Gallipoli, and other places in the Near East.

“The Great Republic of the West did indeed throw-in her lot with us in April, 1917, but many perilous months would have to elapse before she could pull her full weight, or even make her enormous power felt to any appreciable extent on the battlefields of Europe.

“At such a moment as this it was of the very greatest importance that the world should be carefully scanned and every available ideal and policy made use which could be of advantage to our righteous cause.

“The happy inspiration hereupon seized upon our Ministers to win over to the side of the Allies the teeming millions of the Children of Israel scattered through-out the world.” (Lieut. Col. J. H. Patterson, D.S.O. With The Judeans In The Palestine Campaign, pp.4-5)

Despite mobilising all the resources of Empire and making alliances with France and Russia Britain failed to defeat Germany in a couple of years of war. It needed the US as an ally to finish what it had started. However, the US had substantial groups which blocked American involvement.

The Jews had little sympathy for Russia after the Black Hundreds, Pogroms and ghettos. At the same time Germany, Austria and Ottoman Turkey had offered them refuge. As a Chatham House publication later put it: “In particular, in 1917, it was desirable to check the pro-German activities of the Russian Jews, who were already believed to have done so much to bring about the disintegration of Tsarist power.” (G.M. Gathorne-Hardy, A Short History of International Affairs, p.120)

Britain issued the Balfour Declaration as a means of winning its Great War. The long-term effect of it on the region and the world was a very secondary consideration.

The Balfour Declaration promised a people a homeland in a territory Britain had no historic right to, did not occupy and which it had already promised to others, at least by strong implication, to lure into war.

Zionists switched sides and Zionism received a massive boost by becoming a client of the most powerful state in the world. In England it was believed that the support of Jewry tipped the scales for Britain in America and the US participation in the War tipped the military scales in Europe against Germany.

Britain stoked up Arab nationalism to gain an insurrection/Jihad against the Ottomans on the basis of a promise that the provinces of Syria/Palestine and Mesopotamia would form an independent Arab state in the post-War settlement.

In late 1916/early 1917 the outlook for the Allied Powers was particularly bleak. England, the mainstay in the great struggle, was in deadly peril, for, just about this time, the submarine campaign was at its height and Britain’s shipping losses were appalling.

The character of the new War Cabinet in Britain headed by Lloyd George was an important factor in the making of the Balfour Declaration. In late 1916 an internal Liberal coup helped replace the Coalition that itself had replaced the Liberal Government that declared the War on Germany and the Ottomans. What was established was a dictatorship geared to winning the War that Britain and her allies was failing to win. Maurice Hankey, the Cabinet Secretary, called it a “civil dictatorship” in distinguishing it from a purely military dictatorship. It was much smaller than the normal British Cabinet with only 5 members and could make decisions with little scrutiny of its doings. Parliament had ceased to hold the Government to account and the media which had become the only scrutineer of government supported the new development wholeheartedly. Real revolutionary work in the world became a possibility.

The new Cabinet contained strong Zionists. Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, had a close relationship with Chaim Weizmann, who had supplied him with expertise in explosive manufacture. Lloyd George had made this aspect a popular issue in manoeuvring against Asquith with the Unionists he needed the support of to attain the position of Prime Minister. So Lloyd George was in debt to the Zionists and the Zionists needed Lloyd George.

The new Prime Minister, although a ruthless opportunist, had a sentimentality toward the Jews from his Bible School days. However, Asquith recorded in his Memoirs that Lloyd George “did not give a damn about the past of the Jews, or their future.” He was known to hold Anti-Semitic views and incessently worried about “the power of the Jew” to influence the course of the War that his career depended upon to win. He was also determined to prevent the French getting Palestine and win the Peace so he saw their great use in this pursuit.

There was also Lord Milner who had little time for democracy and wanted to do what was necessary to win the War. Milner, a vigorous expansionist Imperialist, was interested in employing a Jewish colony to expand the British Empire in the area.

Arthur Balfour, a Zionist of long standing, was moved from the Admiralty to the Foreign Office, replacing Edward Grey. His assistant was Lord Robert Cecil, Balfour’s cousin and another ardent Zionist.

At the first meeting of the new War Cabinet in March 1917 Balfour suddenly exclaimed: “I am a Zionist, but I do not know whether anybody else is.” Milner answered: “It is impossible to go into that now.” From that point on work went on behind closed doors with regard to reconciling British Imperial aims with Zionism. It proceeded with winks and nods.

To support it the War Cabinet had a strong Secretariat headed by Maurice Hankey. His assistant secretaries were Mark Sykes and Leopold Amery. All these men were supporters of a Jewish Palestine project. Edwin Montague, the strongly anti-Zionist Jew, was supposed to have had Sykes’s position but he was vetoed, presumably through a word in Lloyd George’s ear.

Samuel Landman, an English Zionist, later published an intimate and knowing account of how the Balfour Declaration was accomplished behind the scenes, away from the gaze of the democracy, by two small and unrepresentative groups of people – the British Zionists and the Lloyd George War Cabinet. “Those who assisted at the birth of the Balfour Declaration were few in number” records the participant in this world-historic affair. His account is worth drawing attention to:

“As the Balfour Declaration originated in the War Office, was consummated in the Foreign Office and is being implemented in the Colonial Office, and as some of those responsible for it have passed away or have retired since its migrations from Department to Department, there is necessarily some confusion or misunderstanding as to its raison d’étre and importance to the parties primarily concerned. It would, therefore, seem opportune to recapitulate briefly the circumstances, the inner history and incidents that eventually led to the British Mandate for Palestine.

“Those who assisted at the birth of the Balfour Declaration were few in number. This makes it important to bring into proper relief the services of one who, owing above all to his modesty, has hitherto remained in the background. His services however should take their proper place in the front rank alongside of those Englishmen of vision whose services are more widely known, including the late Sir Mark Sykes, the Rt. Hon. W. Ormsby Gore, the Rt. Hon. Sir Ronald Graham, General Sir George Macdonagh and Mr. G. H. Fitzmaurice.

“In the early years of the War great efforts were made by the Zionist Leaders, Dr. Weizmann and Mr. Sokolow, chiefly through the late Mr. C. P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian, and Sir Herbert Samuel, to induce the Cabinet to espouse the cause of Zionism.

“These efforts were, however, without avail. In fact, Sir Herbert Samuel has publicly stated that he had no share in the initiation of the negotiations which led to the Balfour Declaration. (England and Palestine, a lecture delivered by Sir Herbert Samuel and published by the Jewish Historical Society, February 1936.) The actual initiator was Mr. James A. Malcolm and the following is a brief account of the circumstances in which the negotiations took place.

“During the critical days of 1916 and of the impending defection of Russia, Jewry, as a whole, was against the Czarist regime and had hopes that Germany, if victorious, would in certain circumstances give them Palestine. Several attempts to bring America into the War on the side of the Allies by influencing influential Jewish opinion were made and had failed. Mr. James A. Malcolm, who was already aware of German pre-war efforts to secure a foothold in Palestine through the Zionist Jews and of the abortive Anglo-French démarches at Washington and New York; and knew that Mr. Woodrow Wilson, for good and sufficient reasons, always attached the greatest possible importance to the advice of a very prominent Zionist (Mr. Justice Brandeis, of the US Supreme Court); and was in close touch with Mr. Greenberg, Editor of the Jewish Chronicle (London); and knew that several important Zionist Jewish leaders had already gravitated to London from the Continent on the qui vive awaiting events; and appreciated and realized the depth and strength of Jewish national aspirations; spontaneously took the initiative, to convince first of all Sir Mark Sykes, Under-Secretary to the War Cabinet, and afterwards M. Georges Picot, of the French Embassy in London, and M. Goût of the Quai d’Orsay (Eastern Section), that the best and perhaps the only way (which proved so to be) to induce the American President to come into the War was to secure the co-operation of Zionist Jews by promising them Palestine, and thus enlist and mobilize the hitherto unsuspectedly powerful forces of Zionist Jews in America and elsewhere in favour of the Allies on a quid pro quo contract basis. Thus, as will be seen, the Zionists, having carried out their part, and greatly helped to bring America in, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was but the public confirmation of the necessarily secret ‘gentleman’s’ agreement of 1916 made with the previous knowledge, acquiescence and/or approval of the Arabs and of the British, American, French and other Allied Governments, and not merely a voluntary altruistic and romantic gesture on the part of Great Britain as certain people either through pardonable ignorance assume or unpardonable ill-will would represent or misrepresent.

“Sir Mark Sykes was Under-Secretary to the War Cabinet specially concerned with Near Eastern affairs, and, although at the time scarcely acquainted with the Zionist movement, and unaware of the existence of its leaders, he had the flair to respond to the arguments advanced by Mr. Malcolm as to the strength and importance of this movement in Jewry, in spite of the fact that many wealthy and prominent international or semi-assimilated Jews in Europe and America were openly or tacitly opposed to it (Zionist movement) or timidly indifferent. MM. Picot and Goût were likewise receptive.

“An interesting account of the negotiations carried on in London and Paris, and subsequent developments, has already appeared in the Jewish press and need not be repeated here in detail, except to recall that immediately after the ‘gentleman’s’ agreement between Sir Mark Sykes, authorized by the War Cabinet, and the Zionist leaders, cable facilities through the War Office, the Foreign Office and British Embassies, Legations, etc., were given to the latter to communicate the glad tidings to their friends and organizations in America and elsewhere, and the change in official and public opinion as reflected in the American press in favour of joining the Allies in the War, was as gratifying as it was surprisingly rapid.

“The Balfour Declaration, in the words of Prof. H. M. V. Temperley, was a “definite contract between the British Government and Jewry” (History of the Peace Conference in Paris, vol. 6, p. 173). The main consideration given by the Jewish people (represented at the time by the leaders of the Zionist Organization) was their help in bringing President Wilson to the aid of the Allies. Moreover, officially interpreted at the time by Lord Robert Cecil as ‘Judea for the Jews’ in the same sense as ‘Arabia for the Arabs,’ the Declaration sent a thrill throughout the world. The prior Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916, according to which Northern Palestine was to be politically detached and included in Syria (French sphere), was subsequently, at the instance of the Zionist leaders, amended (by the Franco-British Convention of December 1920, Cmd. 1195) so that the Jewish National Home should comprise the whole of Palestine in accordance with the promise previously made to them for their services by the British, Allied and American Governments, and to give full effect to the Balfour Declaration, the terms of which had been settled and known to all Allied and associated belligerents, including Arabs, before they were made public.

“In Germany, the value of the bargain to the Allies, apparently, was duly and carefully noted. In his Through Thirty Years Mr. Wickham Steed, in a chapter appreciative of the value of Zionist support in America and elsewhere to the Allied cause, says General Ludendorff is alleged to have said after the War that: “The Balfour Declaration was the cleverest thing done by the Allies in the way of propaganda, and that he wished Germany had thought of it first” (vol. 2, p. 392). As a matter of fact, this was said by Ludendorff to Sir Alfred Mond (afterwards Lord Melchett), soon after the War. The fact that it was Jewish help that brought the USA into the War on the side of the Allies has rankled ever since in German – especially Nazi – minds, and has contributed in no small measure to the prominence which anti-Semitism occupies in the Nazi programme.” (Samuel Landman, Great Britain, The Jews and Palestine, pp. 3-6)

Only a Zionist could get away with saying that the Balfour Declaration had something to do with the rise of the Nazis in Germany!

“The defeat of Germany was not by the arms of the Allies. It was not owing to those who conducted the War, but to the actions and intrigue of International Jews and German revolutionaries, incited and aided by outside influences and propaganda born in the United States and in England, which were brought to bear on the German Nation… and… bent on destroying the house of Hohenzollern, ultimately succeeded in stabbing their Nation’s national honour, in the back.”

Standard “stab in the back” Nazi propaganda? Actually no. This is from a British source from 1924 (E.J. Jellicoe, Playing the Game, The Origin of the Great War Unmasked, pp. 270-71). It seems there was also a parallel British understanding of events similar to Hitler’s.

Just before the Declaration Montague issued a Memorandum to the Cabinet called ‘The Anti-Semitism of the Present Government’ which argued that establishing a place for the Jews in Palestine would greatly increase hostility to them in England and elsewhere. It was fundamentally an Anti-Semitic programme. He wrote in his diary a week after the issuing of the Declaration that “The Government… have endeavoured to set up a people which does not exist; they have alarmed unnessisarily the Mohammedan world…” (11.11.17)

In May 1917 the Foreign Secretary, Balfour, met with Supreme Court Justice Brandeis in America. His meetings were aimed at securing US support for a British annexation of Palestine. President Wilson had proclaimed himself against all annexations and secret treaties, so the Zionist project proved a handy device to make a special case for British expansion in the area. Just as Zionism was used to cheat the French of Palestine it was employed to sweeten the Americans with regard to British Imperial expansion and colonialism.

At this point the Zionists, as well as wishing to secure a public commitment from the British Government for the Zionist project, had two other aims. Firstly, they wished to prevent a separate peace being made with Turkey in 1917 that might leave the Ottoman Empire largely intact. Secondly, they wished to prevent the French from having any authority in Palestine. This was because the Zionists believed that France would not be thoroughgoing in the full implementation of Zion. As James de Rothschild remarked: “She carried her civilisation everywhere and would make the development of a Jewish type impossible.” (C.P.Scott diaries 27 January 1917)

It was Britain and British Imperial power which Zionism banked on to provide a blank slate for a year zero in Palestine. The Anglo-Saxon was “the great extirpating race” of the world (in Charles Dilke’s phrase) and was needed specifically for the long-term success of the Zionist entity in clearing out the actual inhabitants of the territory it had been gifted.

This is the document that started the process:

“THE BALFOUR DECLARATION.

“FOREIGN OFFICE,
“2nd November, 1917.

“LORD ROTHSCHILD,

“I have much pleasure in conveying to you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations, which has been submitted to and approved by the Cabinet:

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

“Yours sincerely,

“(Signed) ARTHUR JAMES BALFOUR.

POSTSCRIPT 

In 1919 Balfour told his successor as Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, that he regarded a Jewish Government in Palestine as “inadmissible” under the Declaration. Curzon told Balfour:

“I feel sure that while Weizmann may say one thing to you, or while you may mean one thing by a national home, he is out for something different. He contemplates a Jewish state, a Jewish nation, a subordinate population of Arabs etc. ruled by Jews, the Jews in possession of the fat of the land… He is trying to effect this behind the screen and under the shelter of British trusteeship.” (26.1.19 PRO FO 800/215)

Curzon saw a Zionist conspiracy to piggy-back on the British Mandate to establish a Jewish State and do down the Arabs, Britain’s allies in the War. But Lord Curzon was wrong. There was, in fact, a British/Zionist conspiracy to do the same under the Balfour Declaration. Balfour had told a Zionist in 1918 that he hoped for a Jewish state and at a meeting with Winston Churchill in 1922 he and Lloyd George stated to Weizmann that the Balfour Declaration “had always meant a Jewish State.” Meinertzhagen, Middle East Diary, p.9 and Martin Gilbert, Churchill Vol. 3, p.621)

In March 1937 Churchill gave evidence to the Peel Commission, a British Government investigation into the deteriorating situation in Palestine and what was to be done by the Imperial Power with the developing problem there. A fundamental question that arose in relation to the future of the Mandated territory was what did the Balfour Declaration actually mean?

When asked about the future of the Arab population in relation to the Balfour Declaration’s original intentions, Churchill compared the Palestinians to the “dog in the manger”:

“I do not admit that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to those people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, or, at any rate, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place. I do not admit it… They had not the right, nor had they the power.”

It was Britain which provided the right and power for the Zionists to cleanse Zion of its low-grade inhabitants beginning with the Balfour Declaration.

 

 

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