Posted by: aboutalbion | October 31, 2017

Remembering Balfour

My weekend newspaper added to my slender knowledge about the Balfour Declaration, whose centenary is being marked in the next day or two.

Urging the declaration forward were the Zionists, together with Lord Rothschild, David Lloyd George (Prime Minister), Lord Balfour (Foreign Secretary), and The Times.

However, I appreciated reading that “many long-established Anglo-Jewish families were strongly opposed to Zionism”.

Within the British Cabinet, the only Jew, Edwin Montagu (Secretary of State for India), wrote in a memorandum: “The policy of His Majesty’s government is antisemitic in result and will prove a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country of the world.”

Joint-presidents of the Conjoint Committee (drawn from the Anglo-Jewish Association and the Board of Deputies), David Lindo Alexander and Claude Montefiore, wrote in a letter to The Times: “The establishment of a Jewish nationality in Palestine, founded on this theory of homelessness, must have the effect throughout the world of stamping the Jews as strangers in their native lands.  …  The proposal to invest the Jewish settlers in Palestine with certain special rights in excess of those enjoyed by the rest of the population … would prove a veritable calamity for the whole Jewish people.”

My current understanding is that geo-political proposals for winning the war against Germany had the highest priority in the British decision to promulgate the declaration.  The proposal for giving “encouragement” towards a Zionist “homeland” to as many Jews as possible around the world seems to have been based on an exaggerated belief in global Jewish influence and a perception of at least two potential wartime benefits.

First, it might weaken the support of Jews in Germany for their wartime effort and, at the same time, encourage Jewish financial contributions from the US to the British war effort.

Second, and in the knowledge of the German plan for a strategic railway from Berlin to Baghdad (and beyond), it was thought that Jews in Palestine could be presumed to be reliable partners in the region for British plans to be able to deploy military forces to the area of the Gulf if it thought India was threatened.

I find it profoundly sad that the UK government has resisted appeals to revisit and to review its decision a hundred years ago – a decision which has birthed one of the world’s most intractable political problems.


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