- Monday 2nd of November 2009 marked the 92nd anniversary since Britain’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued the Declaration to establish a national home for the Jews in Palestine.
- The Balfour Declaration forms the cornerstone of the Zionist design. They have relied on it as if it were a document of title to Palestine. It is often regarded as Britain’s greatest concession to political Zionism.
- Although the document in its draft stage was amended and endorsed in Washington by supreme judge Louis Brandais and President Woodrow Wilson it took its name from the British foreign secretary who finally signed it.
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
- There was notable opposition to the Declaration in the cabinet of Prime Minister Lloyd George. Lord Curzon warned of the consequences of issuing a deliberately ambiguous statement that would allow the interpretation that a Jewish ‘state’ was envisaged.
- Curzon warned the government not to support such a cause that was pregnant with unresolved problems.
- Another cabinet member to oppose to the National Home project was Edwin Montagu. The only Jewish member of the Cabinet and Secretary of State for India, Montagu attacked Zionism as a form of nationalism, a “mischievous political creed deviated from Judaism.”
- Montagu submitted a memorandum on August 16th 1917 to his fellow cabinet members entitled: ‘The Anti-Semitism of the Present Government’, warning that “you will find a population in Palestine driving out its present inhabitants, taking all the best in the country.”
- When the Declaration was issued on 2nd November 1917 British troops had not yet entered Jerusalem. It took almost another year before the entire country was brought under their control.
- During 1919, an official US investigation into the conditions existing in certain parts of the former Ottoman Empire led by Henry King and Charles Crane found that “…the erection of such a Jewish state cannot be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
- The Commission ruled that (1) that the Zionist claim of an “historical title” to Palestine had no basis in history, (2) that it could only succeed through force and (3) it should be abandoned.
- Lord Balfour subsequently affirmed in a memorandum dated 19th September 1919 that, “In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country… The Four Powers are committed to Zionism… Zionism be it right or wrong is more important than the wishes of 700,000 Arabs.”
- By itself the Balfour Declaration had little value to the Zionist movement. Though issued by the British government, it had no basis of legal authority.
- Had they so desired, any British government could have ignored or repudiated the Declaration, which was only a statement of policy. With its incorporation into the Mandatory and ratification by the Principal Allied Powers acting through the League of Nations on 22nd July 1922 the Balfour Declaration was raised to the level of an international treaty.
- When the House of Lords discussed the mandate in 1920 Lord Sydenham warned: “I sympathize entirely with the wishes of the Jews to have a National Home, but I say that this national home must not be given if it cannot be given without entailing gross injustice upon other people. Palestine is not the original home of the Jews. It was acquired by them after a ruthless conquest, and they have never occupied the whole of it, which they now openly demand.”
- In a subsequent debate in the House of Lords on 21st June 1922 Lord Islington said the Balfour Declaration directly violated pledges of His Majesty’s government to the people of Palestine and that its provisions concerning the establishment of a National Home were inconsistent with Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations.
- Balfour responded, “Zionism may fail… this is an adventure… are we never to have adventures?”
- Sydenham said, “‘What we have done is, by concessions, not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, to start a running sore in the East, and no one can tell how far that sore will extend’.”