Behind the Balfour Declaration: Britain's Great War Pledge To Lord Rothschild. The Meaning for Us
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To Benjamin H. Freedman, who committed himself to finding and telling the facts about Zionism and Communism. and encouraged others to do the some. The son of one of the founders of the American Jewish Committee, which for many years was anti-Zionist, Ben Freedman founded the League for Peace with Justice in Palestine in 1946. He gave me copies of materials on the Balfour Declaration which I might never have found on my own and encouraged my own research. (He died in April 1984.)
The Institute for Historical Review is providing means for the better understanding of the events of our time.
Attempts to review historical records impartially often reveal that blame, culpability, or dishonor are not to be attached wholly to one side in the conflicts of the last hundred years. To seek to untangle fact from propaganda is a worthy study, for it increases understanding of how we got where we are and it should help people resist exploitation by powerful and destructive interests in the present and future, by exposing their working in the past.
May I recommend to the Nobel Prize Committee that when the influence of this organization's historical review and search for truth has prevailed the societies of its contributors – say about 5 years or less from now – that they consider the IHR for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Regrettably, some of the company in that award would be hard to bear!
The Balfour Declaration may he the most extraordinary document produced by any Government in world history. It took the form of a letter from the Government of His Britannic Majesty King George the Fifth, the Government of the largest empire the world has even known, on which – once upon a time – the sun never set; a letter to an international financier of the banking house of Rothschild who had been made a peer of the realm.
Arthur Koestler wrote that in the letter "one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third." More than that, the country was still part of the Empire of a fourth, namely Turkey.
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.
Arthur James Balfour.
It was decided by Lord Allenby that the "Declaration" should not then be published in Palestine where his forces were still south of the Gaza-Beersheba line. This was not done until after the establishment of the Civil Administration in 1920.
Then why was the "Declaration" made a year before the end of what was called The Great War?
"The people" were told at the time that it was given as a return for a debt of gratitude which they were supposed to owe to the Zionist leader (and first President of Israel), Chaim Weizman, a Russian-born immigrant to Britain from Germany who was said to have invented a process of fermentation of horse chestnuts into scarce acetone for production of high explosives by the Ministry of Munitions.
This horse chestnut propaganda production was not dislodged from the mass mind by the short bursts of another story which was used officially between the World Wars.
So let us dig into the records and bury the chestnuts forever.
To know where to explore we must stand back from the event and look over some parts of the relevant historical background. The terrain is extensive and the mud deep, so I shall try to proceed by pointing out markers.
Herzl on the Jewish Problem
Support for a "national home" for the Jews in Palestine from the government of the greatest empire in the world was in part a fulfillment of the efforts and scheming of Theodore Herzl (1860-1904), descendant of Sephardim (on his rich father's side) who had published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) in Vienna in l896. It outlined the factors which he believed had created a universal Jewish problem, and offered a program to regulate it through the exodus of unhappy and unwanted Jews to an autonomous territory of their own in a national-socialist setting.
Herzl offered a focus for a Zionist movement founded in Odessa in 1881, which spread rapidly through the Jewish communities of Russia, and small branches which had sprung up in Germany, England and elsewhere. Though "Zion" referred to a geographical location, it functioned as a utopian conception in the myths of traditionalists, modernists and Zionists alike. It was the reverse of everything rejected in the actual Jewish situation in the "Dispersion," whether oppression or assimilation.
In his diary Herzl describes submitting his draft proposals to the Rothschild Family Council, noting: "I bring to the Rothschilds and the big Jews their historical mission. I shall welcome all men of goodwill – we must be united – and crush all those of bad." 
He read his manuscript "Addressed to the Rothschilds" to a friend, Meyer-Cohn, who said,
Up till now I have believed that we are not a nation – but more than a nation. I believed that we have the historic mission of being the exponents of universalism among the nations and therefore were more than a people identified with a specific land.
Nothing prevents us from being and remaining the exponents of a united humanity, when we have a country of our own. To fulfill this mission we do not have to remain literally planted among the nations who hate and despite us. If, in our present circumstances, we wanted to bring about the unity of mankind independent of national boundaries, we would have to combat the ideal of patriotism. The latter, however, will prove stronger than we for innumerable years to come." [2a]
In this era, there were a number of Christians and Messianic groups who looked for a Jewish "return." One of these was the Protestant chaplain at the British Embassy in Vienna, who had published a book in 1882: The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine According to the Prophets. Through him, Herzl obtained an audience of the Grand Duke of Baden, and as they waited for their appointment to go to the castle, Herzl said to Chaplain Hechler, ''When I go to Jerusalem I shall take you with me.''
The Duke gave Herzl's proposal his consideration, and agreed to Herzl's request that he might refer to it in his meetings outside of Baden. He then used this to open his way to higher levels of power.
Through intermediaries, he endeavoured to ingratiate himself with the Sultan of Turkey by activities designed to reduce the agitation by emigre Armenian committees in London and Brussels for Turkish reforms and cessation of oppression [A] and started a press campaign to calm public opinion in London on the Armenian question. But when offered money for Palestine, the Sultan replied that his people had won their Empire with blood, and owned it. ''The Jews may spend their millions. When my Empire is divided, perhaps they will get Palestine for nothing. But only our corpse can be divided. I will never consent to vivisection. '' [2b]
Herzl met the Papal Nunclo in Vienna and promised the exclusion of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth from the Jewish state. He started a Zionist newspaper – Die Welt, and was delighted to hear from the United States that a group of rabbis headed by Dr. Gustave Gottheil favored a Zionist movement. All this, and more, in a few months.
It was Herzl who created the first Zionist Congress at Basel, Switzerland, 29-31 August 1897, [B] There were 197 "delegates"; some were orthodox, some nationalist, liberal, atheist, culturalist, anarchist, socialist and some capitalist.
''We want to lay the foundation stone of the house which is to shelter the Jewish nation,'' and ''Zionism seeks to obtain for the Jewish people a publicly recognized, legally secured homeland in Palestine.'' declared Herzl. And his anti-assimilationist dictum that "Zionism is a return to the Jewish fold even before it is a return to the Jewish land," was an expression of his own experience which was extended into the official platform of Zionisn as the aim of "strengthening the Jewish national sentiment and national consciousness." 
Another leading figure who addressed the Congress was Max Nordau, a Hungarian Jewish physician and author, who delivered a polemic against assimilated Jews. "For the first time the Jewish problem was presented forcefully before a European forum," wrote Weizmann. But the Russian Jews thought Herzl was patronizing them as Askenazim. They found his "western dignity did not sit well with our Russian-Jewish realism; and without wanting to, we could not help irritating him." 
As a result of the Congress, the "Basic Protocol," keystone of the world Zionist movement, was adopted as follows:
Zionism strives to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law. The Congress contemplates the following means to the attainment of this end:
1. The promotion on suitable lines of the colonization of Palestine by Jewish agricultural and industrial workers.
2. The organization and binding together of the whole of Jewry by means of appropriate institutions, local and international, in accordance with the laws of each country.
3. The strengthening and fostering of Jewish national sentiment and consciousness.
4. Preparatory steps towards obtaining Government consent where necessary to the attainment of the aim of Zionism.
The British Chovevei-Zion Association declined an invitation to be represented at the Congress, and the Executive Committee of the Association of Rabbis in Germany protested that:
1. The efforts of so-called Zionists to found a Jewish national state in Palestine contradict the messianic promise of Judaism as contained in the Holy Writ and in later religious sources.
2. Judaism obligates its adherents to serve with all devotion the Fatherland to which they belong, and to further its national interests with all their heart and with all their strength.
3. However, those noble aims directed toward the colonization of Palestine by Jewish peasants and farmers are not in contradiction to these obligations, because they have no relation whatsoever to the founding of a national state.
In conversation with a delegate at the First Congress, Litman Rosenthal, Herzl said,
It may be that Turkey will refuse or be unable to understand us. This will not discourage us. We will seek other means to accomplish our end. The Orient question is now the question of the day. Sooner or later it will bring about a conflict among the nations. A European war is imminent. . The great European War must come. With my watch in hand do I await this terrible moment. After the great European war is ended the Peace Conference will assemble. We must be ready for that time. We will assuredly be called to this great conference of the nations and we must prove to them the urgent importance of a Zionist solution to the Jewish Question. We must prove to them that the problem of the Orient and Palestine is one with the problem of the Jews – both must be solved together. We must prove to them that the Jewish problem is a world problem and that a world problem must be solved by the world. And the solution must be the return of Palestine to the Jewish people.[American Jewish News, 7 March 1919]
A few months later, in a message to a Jewish conference in London, Herzl wrote "the first moment I entered the Movement my eyes were directed towards England because I saw that by reason of the general situation of things there it was the Archimedean point where the lever could be applied." Herzl showed his desire for some foothold in England, and also perhaps his respect for London as the world's financial center, by causing the Jewish Colonial Trust, which was to be the main financial instrument of his Movement, to be incorporated in 1899 as an English company.
Herzl was indefatigable. He offered the Sultan of Turkey help in re-organizing his financial affairs in return for assistance in Jewish settlement in Palestine. To the Kaiser, who visited Palestine in 1888 and again in 1898, [C] he promised support for furthering German interests in the Near East; a similar offer was made to King Edward VII of England; and he personally promised the Pope to respect the holy places of Christendom in return for Vatican support.[D] But only from the Czar did he receive, through the Minister of the Interior, a pledge of "moral and material assistance with respect to the measures taken by the movement which would lead to a diminution of the Jewish population in Russia." 
He reported his work to the Sixth Zionist Congress at Basle on 23 August 1903, but stated, "Zion is not and can never be. It is merely an expedient for colonization purposes, but, be it well understood, an expedient founded on a national and political basis." 
When pressed for Jewish colonization in Palestine, the Turkish Sublime Porte offered a charter for any other Turkish territory [with acceptance by the settlers of Ottoman citizenship] which Herzl refused. The British Establishment, aware of Herzl's activities through his appearance before the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration, [E] and powerful press organs such as the Daily Chronicle and Pall Mall Gazette which were demanding a conference of the Powers to consider the Zionist program,  somewhat characteristically, had shown a willingness to negotiate about a Jewish colony in the Egyptian territory of El-'Arish on the Turco-Egyptian frontier in the Sinai Peninsula. But the Egyptian Government objected to making Nile water available for irrigation; the Turkish Government, through its Commissioner in Cairo, objected; and the British Agent in Cairo, Lord Cromer, finally advised the scheme's rejection.
Meanwhile, returning from a visit to British East Africa in the Spring of 1903, Prime Minister Joseph Chamberlain put to Herzl the idea of a Jewish settlement in what was soon to become the Colony of Kenya, but through a misunderstanding Herzl believed that Uganda was intended, and it was referred to as the "Uganda scheme." Of the part of the conversation on the El-'Arish proposal, Herzl wrote in his diary that he had told Chamberlain that eventually we shall gain our aims "not from the goodwill but from the jealously of the Powers."  With the failure of the El-'Arish proposal, Herzl authorized the preparation of a draft scheme for settlement in East Africa. This was prepared by the legal firm of Lloyd George, Roberts and Company, on the instructions of Herzl's go-between with the British Government, Leopold Greenberg.
Herzl urged acceptance of the "Uganda scheme," favoring it as a temporary refuge, but he was opposed from all sides, and died suddenly of heart failure on 3 July 1904. Herzl's death rid the Zionists of an "alien," and he was replaced by David Wolffsohn (the Litvak [F]).
The "Uganda proposal" split the Zionist movement. Some who favored it formed the Jewish Territorial Organization, under the leadership of Israel Zangwill (1864-1926). For these territorialists, the renunciation of "Zion" was not generally felt as an ideological sacrifice; instead they contended that not mystical claims to "historic attachment" but present conditions should determine the location of a Jewish national homeland.
In Turkey, the "Young Turk" (Committee of Union and Progress) revolution of 1908 was ostensibly a popular movement opposed to foreign influence. However, Jews and crypto-Jews known as Dunmeh had played a leading part in the Revolution.
The Zionists opened a branch of the Anglo-Palestine Bank in the Turkish capital, and the bank became the headquarters of their work in the Ottoman Empire. Victor Jacobson [G] was brought from Beirut, "ostensibly to represent the Anglo-Palestine Company, but really to make Zionist propaganda among the Turkish Jews."  His contacts included both political parties, discussions with Arab members of Parliament from Syria and Palestine, and a general approach to young Ottoman intellectuals through a newspaper issued by the Zionist office. In Turkey, as in Germany, "Their own native Jews were resentful of the attempt to segregate them as Jews and were opposed to the intrusion of Jewish nationalism in their domestic affairs." Though several periodicals in French "were subvened" by the Zionist-front office under Dr. Victor Jacobson,  (the first Zionist who aspired to be not a Zionist leader but a "career" diplomat,) and although he built up good political connections through social contacts, "always avoiding the sharpness of a direct issue, and waiting in patient oriental fashion for the insidious seed of propaganda to fructify,"  yet some of those engaged in the work, notably Vladimir (Zev) Jabotinsky (1880-1940), came to despair of success so long as the Ottoman Empire controlled Palestine. They henceforth pinned their hopes on its collapse.
At the 10th Congress in 1911, David Wolffsohn, who had succeeded Herzl, said in his presidential address that what the Zionists wanted was not a Jewish state but a homeland,  while Max Nordau denounced the "infamous traducers," who alleged that "the Zionists… wanted to worm their way into Turkey in order to seize Palestine . It is our duty to convince (the Turks) that… they possess in the whole world no more generous and self-sacrificing friends than the Zionists." [H] 
The mild sympathy which the Young Turks had shown for Zionism was replaced by suspicion as growing national unrest threatened the Ottoman Empire, especially in the Balkans. Zionist policy then shifted to the Arabs, so that they might think of Zionism as a possible make-weight against the Turks. But Zionists soon observed that their reception by Arab leaders grew warmer as the Arabs were disappointed in their hopes of gaining concessions from the Turks, but cooled swiftly when these hopes revived. The more than 60 Arab parliamentary delegates in Constantinople and the newly active Arabic press kept up "a drumfire of complaints" against Jewish immigration, land purchase and settlement in Palestine.
"After many years of striving, the conviction was forced upon us that we stood before a blank wall, which it was impossible for us to surmount by ordinary political means," said Weizmann of the last pre-war Zionist Congress. But the strength of the national will forged for itself two main roads towards its goal – the gradual extension and strengthening of our Yishuv (Hebrew: literally, "settlement," a collective name for the Jewish settlers) in Palestine and the spreading of the Zionist idea throughout the length and breadth of Jewry.
The Turks were doing all they could to keep Jews out of Palestine. But this barrier was covertly surmounted, partly due to the venality of Turkish officials,  (as delicately put in a Zionist report – "it was always possible to get round the individual official with a little artifice");  and partly to the diligence of the Russian consuls in Palestine in protecting Russian Jews and saving them from expulsion.
But if Zionism were to succeed in its ambitions, Ottoman rule of Palestine must end. Arab independence could be prevented by the intervention of England and France, Germany or Russia. The Eastern Jews hated Czarist Russia. With the entente cordiale in existence, it was to be Germany or England, with the odds slightly in Britain's favor in potential support of the Zionist aim in Palestine, as well as in military power.[I] On the other hand, Zionism was attracting some German and Austrian Jews with important financial interests and had to take into account strong Jewish anti-Zionist opinion in England.
But before Zionism had finally reckoned it could gain no special consideration in Palestine from Turkey, the correspondent of The Times was able to report in a message published 14 April 1911, of the Zionist organ Jeune Turc's [J] "violent hostility to England" and "its germanophile enthusiasm," and to the propaganda carried on among Turkish Jews by "German Zionist agents." When the policy line altered, this impression in England had to be erased. The concern of the majority of rich English Jews was not allayed by articles in the Jewish Chronicle, edited by Leopold Greenberg, pointing out that in the Basle program there was "not a word of any autonomous Jewish state,"  and in Die Welt, the official organ of the Movement, the article by Nahum Sokolow, then the General Secretary of the Zionist Organization, in which he protested that there was no truth in the allegation that Zionism aimed at the establishment of an independent Jewish State. Even at the 11th Congress in 1913, Otto Warburg, speaking as chairman of the Zionist Executive, gave assurances of loyalty to Turkey, adding that in colonizing Palestine and developing its resources, Zionists would be making a valuable contribution to the progress of the Turkish Empire.
|[A]||A letter entered in Herzl's diary on 15 May 1896 states that the head of the Armenian movement in London is Avetis Nazarhek, "and he directs the paper Huntchak (The Bell). He will be spoken to."|
|[B]||On either side of the main doorway of the hall hung white banners with two blue stripes, and over the doorway was placed a six-pointed "Shield of David." It was the invention of David Wolffsohn, who employed the colors of the traditional Jewish prayer shawl. Fifty years later, the combined emblems became the flag of the Zionist state. The "Shield of David" is of Assyrian origin: previously a decorative motif or magical embleni. It appeared on the heraldic flag of the Jews in Prague in 1527.|
|[C]||On the latter trip he was accompanied by his Empress. Their yacht, the Hohenzollern, put in at Haifa, and they were escorted to Jerusalem by 2,000 Turkish soldiers.|
|[D]||Pope Pius X told him that the Church could not support the return of "infidel Jews" to the Holy Land.|
|[E]||In 1880, there were about 60,000 Jews in England. Between 1881 and 1905, there was an immigration of some 100,000 Eastern Jews. Though cut by the Aliens Bill of the Balfour Government, which became law in the summer of 1905, immigration continued so that by 1914 there was a Jewish population in England of some 300,000. A leader of the fight against the Aliens Bill and against tightening up naturalization regulations in 1903-1904 was Winston S. Churchill.|
|[F]||The Eastern Jews referred to each other as "Litvaks" (Lithuania), "Galizianers" (Galicia), "Polaks," "Hungarians," and geographical regions of their ancestral origin, e.g., "Pinskers"; never by the term Jew.|
|[G]||(1869 – 1935). Born in the Crimea, and nurtured in the atmosphere of assimilation and revolutionary agitation in Russia, Jacobson had organized clubs and written about Zionism in Russian Jewish newspapers. After the First World War, the era of the direct and indirect bribe and the contact man gave way to one in which the interests of nationalities, represented by diplomat-attorneys, had to be met, wrote Lipsky: "In this new world into which Jacobson was thrown, he lahoured with the delicacy and concentration of an artist . . working persistently and with vision to build up an interest in the cause. He had to win sympathy as well as conviction." |
|[H]||In the Zionist Congress of 1911, (22 years before Hitler came to power, and three years before World War I), Nordau said, "How dare the smooth talkers, the clever official blabbers, open their mouths and boast of progress… Here they hold jubilant peace conferences in which they talk against war… But the same righteous governments, who are so nobly, industriously active to establish the eternal peace, are preparing, by their own confession, complete annihilation for six million people, and there is nobody, except the doomed themselves, to raise his voice in protest although this is a worse crime than any war… '' |
|[I]||Approximate annual expenditure for military purposes by the European Powers in the first years of the century were: France – £38,400,000; Germany – £38,000,000; Italy – £15,000,000; Russia – £43,000,000; United States – £38,300,000; Great Britain – £69,000,000 at pre-1914 values of sterling.|
|[J]||Its business manager was a German Jew, Sam Hochberg. Among invited contributors was the immensely wealthy Russian Jew Alexander Helphand who, as "Parvus," was later to suggest to the German left-wing parties that Lenin and his associates be sent to Russia in 1917 to demoralize still further the beaten Russian armies.|
|||A Survey of Palestine, 1945-1946, H.M.S.O., vol. I, p.1.|
|||Lowenthal, The Diaries af Theodor Herzl. pp.35.|
|[2b]||Ibid., pp. 128-129, 132, 152, 176.|
|||Weizmann, Trial and Error, p.45-46.|
|||Stein, Leonard, Zionism, (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubaer and Ca., 1932). p.62.|
|||Bela. Alex., Theodor Herzl (tr. Maurice Samuel). (Philadelphia: Jewish Palestine Society), pp. 304-305; Halpern. The Ideal of a Jewish State, p.144.|
|||Ibid,. For financial details. see pp. 262-264.|
|||Lowenthal, The Diaries of Theodor Herzl, p.398.|
|||Lewisohn, Ludwig, Theodor Herzl. (New York: World. 1955). pp. 335-341.|
|||Bela. Theodor Herzl, p.490.|
|||Ibid., pp. 361ff. 378f.|
|||Ziff, William B., The Rape of Palestine. (New York: Longmans & Green, 1938), p. 43.|
|||British Foreign Office to Herzl, 19 lane 1903, Zionist Archives, Jerusalem.|
|||Tagebuecher, vol.111, pp, 412-413 (24 April 1903), Berlin 1922.|
|||Stein. Leonard, The Balfour Declaration. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1916),|
|||Lipsky, Louis, A Gallery of Zionist Profiles, (New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1956), p.37.|
|||Halpern, The Idea of a Jewish State, pp. 154-155.|
|||Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p.78.|
|||Ibid., p. 35.|
|||Lipsky, A Gallery of Zionist Profiles, p.94.|
|||Alsberg, F.A., Ha-Sh'ela ha-Aravit, vol. I, Shivat Zion, IV, pp. 161-209. Quoted by Halpern in The Idea of a Jewish State, p.267.|
|||Lipsky, A Gallery of Zionist Profiles, p.36.|
|||Ibid., p. 98.|
|||Halpern, The Idea of a Jewish State, p.267.|
|||Lipsky, A Gallery of Zionist Profiles, pp.95.98.|
|||Protocols of the 10th Zionist Congress, p.11.|
|||Lipsky, A Gallery of Zionist Profiles, p.26.|
|||Halpern. The Idea of a Jewish State, p. 267.|
|||Report of the 12th Zionist Congress (London: Central Office of the Organization. 1922) pp. 13ff.|
|||Bela, A., Return to the Soil. (Jerusalem: Zionist Organization. 1952) p.27.|
|||Hecht, Ben, Perfidy, (New York: Julian Messner, Inc., 1961), p.254.|
|||Reports submitted by the Executive of the Zionist Organization to the 12th Zionist Congress, London, 1921, Palestine Report. p.7.|
|||Hyamson, A.M., The Near East, 31 Oct. 1913, (London, 1917), p.68.|
|||Jewish Chronicle, 16 October 1908.|
|||Die Welt, 22 January 1909.|
|||Protocols of the 11th Zionist Congress, p.6.|
Additional information about this document
|Title:||Behind the Balfour Declaration: Britain's Great War Pledge To Lord Rothschild. The Meaning for Us, Paper Presented to the Fifth International Revisionist Conference|
|Sources:||The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 6, no. 4 (winter 1985), pp. 389-450, 498|
|First posted on CODOH:||Nov. 8, 2012, 6 p.m.|