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Balfour Declaration, 1917 Information

Balfour Declaration, 1917

World War 1 Picture - Arthur James Balfour.

Picture - Arthur James Balfour.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 (dated 2 November 1917) was a formal statement of policy by the British government stating that

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."

The declaration was made in a letter from Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Rothschild (Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild), a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. The letter reflected the position of the British Cabinet, as agreed upon in a meeting on 31 October 1917. It further stated that the declaration is a sign of "sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations."

The statement was issued through the efforts of Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow, the principal Zionist leaders based in London; as they had asked for the reconstitution of Palestine as ‚Äúthe‚ÄĚ Jewish national home, the declaration fell short of Zionist expectations.

The "Balfour Declaration" was later incorporated into the Sx®vres peace treaty with Turkey and the Mandate for Palestine. The original document is kept at the British Library.

The anniversary of the declaration, 2 November, is widely commemorated in Israel and among Jews in the Jewish diaspora as Balfour Day. This day is also observed as a day of mourning and protest in Arab countries.

Text of the declaration

The declaration, a typed letter signed in ink by Balfour, reads as follows:

Foreign Office,
November 2nd, 1917.

Dear 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
Arthur James Balfour

Foreign Office,
November 2nd, 1917.

Dear 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
Arthur James Balfour

World War 1 Picture - Balfour Declaration, 1917

Background

In 1896, Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist living in Austria-Hungary, published Der Judenstaat ("The Jewish State"), in which he asserted that the only solution to the "Jewish Question" in Europe, including growing antisemitism, was through the establishment of a Jewish State. Political Zionism had just been born. A year later, Herzl founded the Zionist Organization (ZO), which at its first congress, "called for the establishment of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law". Serviceable means to attain that goal included the promotion of Jewish settlement there, the organization of Jews in the diaspora, the strengthening of Jewish feeling and consciousness, and preparatory steps to attain those necessary governmental grants. By the end of the First World War, Great Britain had the British Mandate for Palestine. The issuance of the Balfour Declaration greatly increased the immigration of Jews to Palestine. In 1947, Great Britain decided to turn its Mandate over to the United Nations, which, in the same year, adopted Resolution 181, partitioning the land into two states, one Arab and one Jewish.

The Jewish community agreed to the partition, but Arab countries and Palestinian Arabs did not, resulting in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the first in a series of wars fought between Israel and the Arab world. It took thirty years for an Arab country to recognize Israel: through United States mediation during the 1978 Camp David Accords, Israeli Prime Minister Begin and Egyptian President Sadat signed a peace treaty. "The Arab world reacted angrily to Egypt's separate peace with Israel and refused to endorse or participate in it. The Arab League moved its headquarters from Cairo and most of its members broke ties with Egypt, ushering in nearly a decade of Egyptian isolation." Sadat was assassinated by Egyptian fundamentalists in 1981.

Text development and differing views

In 1919 the General Secretary (and future President) of the Zionist Organization, Nahum Sokolow, published a History of Zionism (1600-1918). Sokolow represented the Zionist Organization at the Paris Peace Conference. He explained:

The object of Zionism is to establish for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law." ... ...It has been said and is still being obstinately repeated by anti-Zionists again and again, that Zionism aims at the creation of an independent "Jewish State" But this is wholly fallacious. The "Jewish State" was never part of the Zionist programme. The Jewish State was the title of Herzl's first pamphlet, which had the supreme merit of forcing people to think. This pamphlet was followed by the first Zionist Congress, which accepted the Basle programme - the only programme in existence.

The object of Zionism is to establish for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law." ... ...It has been said and is still being obstinately repeated by anti-Zionists again and again, that Zionism aims at the creation of an independent "Jewish State" But this is wholly fallacious. The "Jewish State" was never part of the Zionist programme. The Jewish State was the title of Herzl's first pamphlet, which had the supreme merit of forcing people to think. This pamphlet was followed by the first Zionist Congress, which accepted the Basle programme - the only programme in existence.

The records of discussions that led up to the final text of the Balfour Declaration clarifies some details of its wording. The phrase "national home" was intentionally used instead of "state" because of opposition to the Zionist program within the British Cabinet. Both the Zionist Organization and the British government devoted efforts over the following decades, including Winston Churchill's 1922 White Paper, to denying that a state was the intention. However, in private, many British officials agreed with the interpretation of the Zionists that a state would be established when a Jewish majority was achieved.

The initial draft of the declaration, contained in a letter sent by Rothschild to Balfour, referred to the principle "that Palestine should be reconstituted as the National Home of the Jewish people." In the final text, the word that was replaced with in to avoid committing the entirety of Palestine to this purpose. Similarly, an early draft did not include the commitment that nothing should be done which might prejudice the rights of the non-Jewish communities. These changes came about partly as the result of the urgings of Edwin Samuel Montagu, an influential anti-Zionist Jew and secretary of state for India, who was concerned that the declaration without those changes could result in increased anti-Semitic persecution. The draft was circulated and during October the government received replies from various representatives of the Jewish community. Lord Rothschild took exception to the new proviso on the basis that it presupposed the possibility of a danger to non-Zionists, which he denied.

At that time the British were busy making promises. At a War Cabinet meeting, held on 31 October 1917, Balfour suggested that a declaration favorable to Zionist aspirations would allow Great Britain "to carry on extremely useful propaganda both in Russia and America" The British later dropped Balfour Declaration leaflets over Germany, which were written in Yiddish.

The McMahon-Hussein Correspondence

Henry McMahon had exchanged letters with Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca in 1915, in which he had promised Hussein control of Arab lands with the exception of "portions of Syria" lying to the west of "the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo". Palestine lies to the south of these areas and wasn't explicitly mentioned. That modern-day Lebanese region of the Mediterranean coast was set aside as part of a future French Mandate. After the war the extent of the coastal exclusion was hotly disputed. Hussein had protested that the Arabs of Beirut would greatly oppose isolation from the Arab state or states, but did not bring up the matter of Jerusalem or Palestine. Dr. Chaim Weizmann wrote in his autobiography Trial and Error that Palestine had been excluded from the areas that should have been Arab and independent. This interpretation was supported explicitly by the British government in the 1922 White Paper.

On the basis of McMahon's assurances the Arab Revolt began on 5 June 1916. However, the British and French also secretly concluded the Sykes-Picot Agreement on 16 May 1916. This agreement divided many Arab territories into British- and French-administered areas and allowed for the internationalisation of Palestine. Hussein learned of the agreement when it was leaked by the new Russian government in December 1917, but was satisfied by two disingenuous telegrams from Sir Reginald Wingate, High Commissioner of Egypt, assuring him that the British government's commitments to the Arabs were still valid and that the Sykes-Picot Agreement was not a formal treaty.

According to Isaiah Friedman, Hussein was not perturbed by the Balfour Declaration and on March 23, 1918, in Al Qibla, the daily newspaper of Mecca, with Hussein writing:

The return of these exiles [jaliya] to their homeland will prove materially and spiritually an experimental school for their [Arab] brethren who are with them in the fields, factories, trades and all things connected to the land.

He called on the Arab population in Palestine to welcome the Jews as brethren and cooperate with them for the common welfare. Following the publication of the Declaration the British had dispatched Commander David George Hogarth to see Hussein in January 1918 bearing the message that the "political and economic freedom" of the Palestinian population was not in question. Hogarth reported that Hussein "would not accept an independent Jewish State in Palestine, nor was I instructed to warn him that such a state was contemplated by Great Britain". Continuing Arab disquiet over Allied intentions also led during 1918 to the British Declaration to the Seven and the Anglo-French Declaration, the latter promising "the complete and final liberation of the peoples who have for so long been oppressed by the Turks, and the setting up of national governments and administrations deriving their authority from the free exercise of the initiative and choice of the indigenous populations."

Lord Grey had been the foreign secretary during the McMahon-Hussein negotiations. Speaking in the House of Lords on the 27th March 1923, he made it clear that he entertained serious doubts as to the validity of the British government's interpretation of the pledges which he, as foreign secretary, had caused to be given to Hussein in 1915. He called for all of the secret engagements regarding Palestine to be made public. Many of the relevant documents in the National Archives were later declassified and published. Among them were the minutes of a Cabinet Eastern Committee meeting, chaired by Lord Curzon,which was held on 5 December 1918. Balfour was in attendance. The minutes revealed that in laying out the government's position Curzon had explained that: "Palestine was included in the areas as to which Great Britain pledged itself that they should be Arab and independent in the future".

Negotiation

One of the main proponents of a Jewish homeland in Palestine was Weizmann, the leading spokesperson for organized Zionism in Britain. Weizmann was a chemist who had developed a process to synthesize acetone via fermentation. Acetone is required for the production of cordite, a powerful propellant explosive needed to fire ammunition without generating tell-tale smoke. Germany had cornered supplies of calcium acetate, a major source of acetone. Other pre-war processes in Britain were inadequate to meet the increased demand in World War I, and a shortage of cordite would have severely hampered Britain's war effort. Lloyd-George, then minister for munitions, was grateful to Weizmann and so supported his Zionist aspirations. In his War Memoirs, Lloyd-George wrote of meeting Weizmann in 1916 that Weizmann

... explained his aspirations as to the repatriation of the Jews to the sacred land they had made famous. That was the fount and origin of the famous declaration about the National Home for the Jews in Palestine .... As soon as I became Prime Minister I talked the whole matter over with Mr Balfour, who was then Foreign Secretary.

However, this version of the story of the declaration's origins has been described as "fanciful", a fair assessment considering that discussions between Weizmann and Balfour had begun at least a decade earlier. In late 1905 Balfour had requested of Charles Dreyfus, his Jewish constituency representative, that he arrange a meeting with Weizman, during which Weizman asked for official British support for Zionism; they were to meet again on this issue in 1914.

During the first meeting between Weizmann and Balfour in 1906, Balfour asked what Weizmann's objections were to the idea of a Jewish homeland in Uganda, (the Uganda Protectorate in East Africa in the British Uganda Programme), rather than in Palestine. According to Weizmann's memoir, the conversation went as follows:

"Mr. Balfour, supposing I was to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?" He sat up, looked at me, and answered: "But Dr. Weizmann, we have London." "That is true," I said, "but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh." He ... said two things which I remember vividly. The first was: "Are there many Jews who think like you?" I answered: "I believe I speak the mind of millions of Jews whom you will never see and who cannot speak for themselves." ... To this he said: "If that is so you will one day be a force."

James Gelvin, a Middle East history professor, cites at least three other reasons for why the British government chose to support Zionist aspirations. Issuing the Balfour Declaration would appeal to Woodrow Wilson’s two closest advisors, who were avid Zionists.

"The British did not know quite what to make of President Woodrow Wilson and his conviction (before America's entrance into the war) that the way to end hostilities was for both sides to accept "peace without victory." Two of Wilson's closest advisors, Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter, were avid Zionists. How better to shore up an uncertain ally than by endorsing Zionist aims? The British adopted similar thinking when it came to the Russians, who were in the midst of their revolution. Several of the most prominent revolutionaries, including Leon Trotsky, were of Jewish descent. Why not see if they could be persuaded to keep Russia in the way by appealing to their latent Jewishness and giving them another reason to continue the fight?" ... These include not only those already mentioned but also Britain's desire to attract Jewish financial resources.

"The British did not know quite what to make of President Woodrow Wilson and his conviction (before America's entrance into the war) that the way to end hostilities was for both sides to accept "peace without victory." Two of Wilson's closest advisors, Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter, were avid Zionists. How better to shore up an uncertain ally than by endorsing Zionist aims? The British adopted similar thinking when it came to the Russians, who were in the midst of their revolution. Several of the most prominent revolutionaries, including Leon Trotsky, were of Jewish descent. Why not see if they could be persuaded to keep Russia in the way by appealing to their latent Jewishness and giving them another reason to continue the fight?" ... These include not only those already mentioned but also Britain's desire to attract Jewish financial resources.

Conflicts and broken treaty commitments (contradictory assurances)

The Anglo-French Declaration of November 1918 pledged that Great Britain and France would "assist in the establishment of indigenous governments and administrations in Syria and Mesopotamia by "setting up of national governments and administrations deriving their authority from the free exercise of the initiative and choice of the indigenous populations".

Balfour resigned as foreign secretary following the Versailles Conference in 1919, but continued in the Cabinet as lord president of the council. In a memorandum addressed to new Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, he stated that the Balfour Declaration contradicted the letters of the covenant (referring to the League Covenant) the Anglo-French Declaration, and the instructions to the King-Crane Commission. All of the other engagements contained pledges that the Arab populations could establish national governments of their own choosing according to the principle of self-determination.

Balfour explained:

"The contradiction between the letters of the Covenant [of the League of Nations] and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‚Äėindependent nation‚Äô of Palestine than in that of the ‚Äėindependent nation‚Äė of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose to even go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country though the American [King-Crane] Commission is going through the form of asking what they are.

"The contradiction between the letters of the Covenant [of the League of Nations] and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‚Äėindependent nation‚Äô of Palestine than in that of the ‚Äėindependent nation‚Äė of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose to even go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country though the American [King-Crane] Commission is going through the form of asking what they are.

The Four Great Powers [Britain, France, Italy and the United States] are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, and future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. In my opinion that is right.

The Four Great Powers [Britain, France, Italy and the United States] are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, and future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. In my opinion that is right.

What I have never been able to understand is how it can be harmonized with the [Anglo-French] declaration, the Covenant, or the instruction to the [King-Crane] Commission of Enquiry.

What I have never been able to understand is how it can be harmonized with the [Anglo-French] declaration, the Covenant, or the instruction to the [King-Crane] Commission of Enquiry.

I do not think that Zionism will hurt the Arabs, but they will never say they want it. Whatever be the future of Palestine it is not now an ‚Äėindependent nation‚Äô, nor is it yet on the way to become one. Whatever deference should be paid to the views of those living there, the Powers in their selection of a mandatory do not propose, as I understand the matter, to consult them. In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate.

I do not think that Zionism will hurt the Arabs, but they will never say they want it. Whatever be the future of Palestine it is not now an ‚Äėindependent nation‚Äô, nor is it yet on the way to become one. Whatever deference should be paid to the views of those living there, the Powers in their selection of a mandatory do not propose, as I understand the matter, to consult them. In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate.

If Zionism is to influence the Jewish problem throughout the world Palestine must be made available for the largest number of Jewish immigrants. It is therefore eminently desirable that it should obtain the command of the water-power which naturally belongs to it whether by extending its borders to the north, or by treaty with the mandatory of Syria, to whom the southward flowing waters of Hamon could not in any event be of much value.

If Zionism is to influence the Jewish problem throughout the world Palestine must be made available for the largest number of Jewish immigrants. It is therefore eminently desirable that it should obtain the command of the water-power which naturally belongs to it whether by extending its borders to the north, or by treaty with the mandatory of Syria, to whom the southward flowing waters of Hamon could not in any event be of much value.

For the same reason Palestine should be extended into the lands lying east of the Jordan. It should not, however, be allowed to include the Hedjaz Railway, which is too distinctly bound up with exclusively Arab Interests..."

For the same reason Palestine should be extended into the lands lying east of the Jordan. It should not, however, be allowed to include the Hedjaz Railway, which is too distinctly bound up with exclusively Arab Interests..."

Controversy behind declaration

British public and government opinion became increasingly less favorable to the commitment that had been made to Zionist policy. In February 1922, Winston Churchill telegraphed Herbert Samuel asking for cuts in expenditure and noting:

In both Houses of Parliament there is growing movement of hostility, against Zionist policy in Palestine, which will be stimulated by recent Northcliffe articles. I do not attach undue importance to this movement, but it is increasingly difficult to meet the argument that it is unfair to ask the British taxpayer, already overwhelmed with taxation, to bear the cost of imposing on Palestine an unpopular policy.

In both Houses of Parliament there is growing movement of hostility, against Zionist policy in Palestine, which will be stimulated by recent Northcliffe articles. I do not attach undue importance to this movement, but it is increasingly difficult to meet the argument that it is unfair to ask the British taxpayer, already overwhelmed with taxation, to bear the cost of imposing on Palestine an unpopular policy.

Sir John Evelyn Shuckburgh of the new Middle East department of the Foreign Office discovered that the correspondence prior to the declaration was not available in the Colonial Office, 'although Foreign Office papers were understood to have been lengthy and to have covered a considerable period'." The 'most comprehensive explanation' of the origin of the Balfour Declaration the Foreign Office was able to provide was contained in a small 'unofficial' note of Jan 1923 affirming that:

little is known of how the policy represented by the Declaration was first given form. Four, or perhaps five men were chiefly concerned in the labour-the Earl of Balfour, the late Sir Mark Sykes, and Messrs. Weizmann and Sokolow, with perhaps Lord Rothschild as a figure in the background. Negotiations seem to have been mainly oral and by means of private notes and memoranda of which only the scantiest records seem to be available.

little is known of how the policy represented by the Declaration was first given form. Four, or perhaps five men were chiefly concerned in the labour-the Earl of Balfour, the late Sir Mark Sykes, and Messrs. Weizmann and Sokolow, with perhaps Lord Rothschild as a figure in the background. Negotiations seem to have been mainly oral and by means of private notes and memoranda of which only the scantiest records seem to be available.

In his posthumously published 1981 book The Anglo-American Establishment, Georgetown University history professor Carroll Quigley explained that the Balfour Declaration was actually drafted by Lord Alfred Milner. Quigley wrote:

This declaration, which is always known as the Balfour Declaration, should rather be called "the Milner Declaration," since Milner was the actual draftsman and was, apparently, its chief supporter in the War Cabinet. This fact was not made public until 21 July 1937. At that time Ormsby-Gore, speaking for the government in Commons, said, "The draft as originally put up by Lord Balfour was not the final draft approved by the War Cabinet. The particular draft assented to by the War Cabinet and afterwards by the Allied Governments and by the United States...and finally embodied in the Mandate, happens to have been drafted by Lord Milner. The actual final draft had to be issued in the name of the Foreign Secretary, but the actual draftsman was Lord Milner."

This declaration, which is always known as the Balfour Declaration, should rather be called "the Milner Declaration," since Milner was the actual draftsman and was, apparently, its chief supporter in the War Cabinet. This fact was not made public until 21 July 1937. At that time Ormsby-Gore, speaking for the government in Commons, said, "The draft as originally put up by Lord Balfour was not the final draft approved by the War Cabinet. The particular draft assented to by the War Cabinet and afterwards by the Allied Governments and by the United States...and finally embodied in the Mandate, happens to have been drafted by Lord Milner. The actual final draft had to be issued in the name of the Foreign Secretary, but the actual draftsman was Lord Milner."

More recently, William D. Rubinstein, Professor of Modern History at Aberystwyth University, Wales, wrote that Conservative politician and pro-Zionist Leo Amery, as Assistant Secretary to the British war cabinet in 1917, was the main author of the Balfour Declaration.

Arab opposition

The Arabs expressed disapproval in November 1918 at the parade marking the first anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. The Muslim-Christian Association protested the carrying of new "white and blue banners with two inverted triangles in the middle". They drew the attention of the authorities to the serious consequences of any political implications in raising the banners.

Later that month, on the first anniversary of the occupation of Jaffa by the British, the Muslim-Christian Association sent a lengthy memorandum and petition to the military governor protesting once more any formation of a Jewish state.

Napoleon and a Jewish state in Palestine
Faisal-Weizmann Agreement
British Mandate of Palestine
Gathering of Israel
1947 UN Partition Plan
Declaration of Independence (Israel), 14 May 1948
Madagascar Plan
British Uganda Program
Benjamin Freedman

Further reading

Schneer, Jonathan. The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Random House, 2010) 464pp; ISBN 978-1-4000-6532-5

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Source: WikiPedia

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