lrof. Ruth Lapidoth speaks about the specific details which determine whether the Balfour Declaration is legally binding document.
Daniel Taub explores the more human aspects of the negotiations and dealings that lead up to the Balfour Declaration, as well as all the facts and motivations of today’s Zionism and its supporters.
Rev Dr David Schmidt in a London lecture marking the centenary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration claimed that the evangelical Christian faith of the then war cabinet was a major influence which motivated them to make the Declaration.
As a Bible-believing academic, Dr Schmidt is convinced that, the Balfour Declaration was part of God’s plan and Israel’s destiny, as foretold by the Old Testament prophets.
Various theories have been put forward for the motivation of David Lloyd George’s ten-strong War Cabinet of 1917 – such as empire expansion, remorse over Jewish persecution and even gratitude for the war efforts of Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, a top biochemist who had developed an important chemical ingredient for gunpowder.
But Dr Schmidt is convinced that Christian Zionism was, at its heart, defining Zionism as the belief that Jews remain God’s chosen people and that they have a right to live in the land of Israel.
Though from different social backgrounds and representing all contemporary political parties, these magnificent ten were, for the most part, non-Conformist evangelical Christians – there were no Anglicans – who were familiar with the Old Testament and aware of biblical prophecy. Ironically, the only Jewish member strongly opposed the policy. Many Jews at the time saw it as being herded into a ‘ghetto’. But their opposition gradually faded as the Zionist movement gained momentum.
Lloyd George was the main figure behind the declaration, said Dr Schmidt. Though “ethically challenged” – he had a mistress, for one thing – the Manchester born, Welshspeaking Liberal Prime Minister was raised on the Bible and retained a sentimental attachment to biblical values while not always living up to its high ideals.
Balfour too was steeped in the Bible from his Scottish Presbyterian childhood, believing that Christian civilization owed an immeasurable debt to Judaism. He was motivated by what he called “the desire to give the Jews their rightful place in the world” and even gave theological lectures at Cambridge University. He was highly accomplished, having already served as Prime Minister, and declared on his deathbed that aiding Jewish restoration was possibly the most worthwhile thing he had done.
Also in the cabinet was Jan Christian Smuts, a Boer general in the South African War. Raised in the Reform Church, his early life was filled with Bible teaching and he predicted that, in generations to come, a great Jewish state would arise once more. In fact, Smuts argued for the biblical restoration of Israel all his life. He was the only Cabinet member who lived to see the re-born state when, as South African Prime Minister, he was the first to recognise the new country after the United States.
Edward Carson, a fiery criminal lawyer from Ulster, opposed Lloyd George on many other issues, but not this one.
Andrew Bonar Law, a Canadian raised by a Presbyterian minister, became Prime Minister in 1922, but died of cancer soon afterwards.
Labour politician Arthur Henderson was converted to Christ through the famed evangelist Gypsy Smith and was also a wholehearted supporter of the Balfour Declaration, as was fellow Labour member George Barnes, who loved the Jewish people.
Support also came from Alfred Milner (brought up in Germany) but George Nathaniel Curzon raised early objections. As a former Viceroy of India, he understood how the Muslims could rise up in opposition and believed the Jews would struggle to live in such “a desolate place”.
Edwin Montague, meanwhile, was opposed both to the declaration and to Zionism in general despite being a Jew himself because it would force a nationality on people who had nothing in common, and become a Jewish ghetto.
In answer to questions, Dr Schmidt suggested that the failure of British foreign policy was not in supporting the Jews with their Zionist cause but, in having done so, trying to appease the Arabs as well so that in the end they pleased no-one.
Charles Gardner, author of Israel the Chosen and Peace in Jerusalem.
Author: Barry Shaw
The stars were in perfect alignment at a time in history. Such moments are fleeting and must be grabbed before the opportunity recedes into the past.
One such moment was when David Lloyd George succeeded Herbert Henry Asquith as Britain’s Prime Minister in 1916. People assume that Lloyd George was a Welshman but he was born in Manchester. The alignment was enhanced with the appointment of Arthur Balfour to the position of Foreign Secretary in Lloyd George’s government.
Alignment and timing are all important in world affairs. Both men were raised on a late Victorian religious upbringing and the relevance of their Christianity on matters of principle. Both were nurtured on hymns and on the belief in the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral land, an act that would herald the coming of their Messiah.
Although Jewish Zionist heroes such as Herzl and Weizmann were lobbying and organizing global and diplomatic support for the notion of reclaiming a national home in an ancient land, then called Palestine, it was, if truth be told, the influence of well positioned Christians that opened the political gates to that goal. It was the core beliefs of people like Lloyd George and Balfour that would drive a policy that has led us to where we are today.
Parts of Kenya on the border with Uganda had been suggested as a British protectorate for the Jews but this had been dismissed by Chaim Weizmann. He stated his case forcefully;
“Uganda will never be Palestine. We cannot possibly sell our birthright. It is like someone giving up one’s religion, giving up one’s self. We thank the British Government for its generous and magnanimous offer, but we cannot accept it, and we think the British Government is perhaps the only government which will understand the motives which lead us to refuse this offer.”
It was this rejection that prompted the first meeting between the Manchester-based Jew and Balfour who had been one of the proposers of the Uganda plan.
Balfour was curious to hear why Weizmann had rejected the African proposal. The conversation between them went on for some time until Dr. Weizmann said to Balfour, “Mr. Balfour, suppose I gave you Paris in place of London? Would you take it?”
“We have London,” Balfour replied.
“Mr. Balfour. We had Jerusalem when London was a swamp.”
Balfour was impressed by Weizmann’s stubbornness and determination that, for the Jews, a homeland could only be based in the land of their forefathers, even if it was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
Weizmann was not to meet Balfour for another ten years. In 1916 Balfour was First Lord of the Admiralty. Weizmann went into the meeting with great trepidation. He was concerned that the senior British politician would recall the abrupt ending of their last conversation. When he entered the office, Balfour greeted him with, “You know, Dr. Weizmann, if the Allies win the war you might possibly get your Jerusalem.”
Britain was at war and was contemplating opening up a new front in the Middle East against the Turks who had allied with the Germany.
By 1917 Arthur Balfour was Foreign Secretary in Lloyd George’s government and was persuaded by faith and by persuasion to inform his colleagues in the War Cabinet of his intention to submit an official letter on behalf of His Majesty’s Government that would be favorable to Zionist aspirations in Palestine. The reason he gave was that this would attract both American and Russian support behind Britain’s war against Germany and their Turkish allies. In this he was supported by his Prime Minister.
The stars were aligned at a moment in history for the Jewish people.
Balfour met with Chaim Weizmann and Lord Rothschild on June 19 and invited them to submit a declaration that would be acceptable to the War Cabinet for the British Government to declare its conviction and support of the Zionist aims for the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine.
In my new book, ‘1917 From Palestine to the Land of Israel,’ I relate the background to the drafting of the Balfour Declaration which was to set British policy at a critical time in the Jewish struggle to claim Palestine as a national homeland.
A little known fact is that the early working of this document was done by a small team of Zionists based in Manchester. Simon Marks and Israel Sieff were born in Prestwich. They were joined by Harry Sacher who was a journalist at the Manchester Guardian. They gathered under the tutelage of Weizmann in Sieff’s home in Didsbury.
Their enthusiasm and intellectual input raised the spirits of Chaim Weizmann who wrote in his book Trial and Error; “They helped make Manchester, the city I had come to as a stranger, and had considered a place of exile, a happy place for me.”
Sachar began composing the document by writing, “The British Government declares that one of its essential war aims is the reconstitution of Palestine as a Jewish state.”
The group received advice from Herbert Sidebotham. Sidebotham was the military correspondent at the Manchester Guardian. He and its editor, C.P. Snow, were ardent Zionists and close friends of Weizmann. Sidebotham sent Sachar a memo pointing out that “by a Jewish state is meant a state composed not only of Jews, but one whose dominant national character shall be as Jewish as the dominant national character of England in English.”
Sachar told Nahum Sokolov, a prominent Zionist leader, “We must control the State machinery in Palestine. If we don’t, the Arabs will. Give the Arabs all the guarantees they like for cultural autonomy but the State must be Jewish.”
It must be mentioned there was a raging public argument in Britain between the Zionists and the anti-Jewish state Jews. One of the anti-Zionist leaders was the influential Edwin Montagu, a senior member of the government.
The fearful Montagu expressed his position against a Jewish state by arguing “When Jews are told that Palestine is a national home every country will immediately desire to get rid of its Jewish citizens.”
The narrow-minded lord went on, “When the Jews have a national home surely it follows that the impetus to deprive us of rights of British citizenship must be enormously increased.”
Leopold Amery, the War Cabinet Secretary threw scorn on Montagu calling him “a tame Jew who doesn’t want to be bothered with Zionism or national aspirations and only regards it as a nuisance to himself.”
The ignoble Lord Montagu accused the Zionist Organization of being run by “men of enemy descent or birth.”
The War Cabinet rejected Montagu’s argument by reminding him “that the existence of a Jewish State or autonomous community in Palestine would strengthen rather than weaken the situation of Jews in countries ere they were not yet in possession of equal rights.”
Weizmann responded to the clique of Jewish anti-Zionists by claiming they were “a small minority of so-called assimilated cosmopolitan Jews, most belonging to haute finance, who have lost contact with the development of Jewish life or ideas.”
The drafting of an original Zionist Organization proposal underwent several changes and redraftings. Lord Rothschild drafted a proposal in July 1917 which read;
“1. His Majesty’s Government accepts the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people.
2. His Majesty’s Government will use its best endeavours to secure the achievement of this object and will discuss the necessary methods and means with the Zionist Organization.”
There were further counter-drafts drawn up by Balfour in August and later amended the same month by Lord Milner. Milner changed the phrase “reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people” to “the establishment of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine.”
The Milner/Amery draft of October clarified the nature of the Jewish entity by calling it “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish race” but the word “race” was changed back to “people” in the final Balfour draft.
The final draft of the Balfour Declaration was drawn up and presented to Walter Rothschild, a leader of Britain’s Jewish community for transferring on to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, It read;
‘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 letter was presented to Baron Rothschild on 2nd November 1917 and published in the press one week later.
The wording fell short of what the Zionist representatives wanted. Instead of the word “establishment” they wanted the word “re-establishment” to emphasize the continuity of the Jewish presence in Palestine and its history and heritage with this land. They had called for the inclusion of the word “state” but out of fear of opposition within the British Cabinet compromised with the inclusion of a reference to a “national home.”
Balfour said in 1918, he hoped that “Jews will make good in Palestine and eventually found a state.”
Prime Minister Lloyd George confirmed that when the Jews would be a majority in Palestine then “Palestine would become a Jewish Commonwealth.”
Leopold Amery, who had been intimately involved with the history of the drafting and was acutely aware of the political implications and purpose behind the release of the Declaration, when testifying under oath at the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry as late as 1946 to examine the political, economic, and social conditions in Mandatory Palestine with regard to the problems of Jewish settlement and immigration, said;
“The phrase ‘the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people’ was intended and understood by all concerned to mean at the time of the Balfour Declaration that Palestine would ultimately become a ‘Jewish Commonwealth’ or a ‘Jewish state,’ if only Jews came and settled there in sufficient numbers.”
This is where you, dear reader, are playing a vital role in living the essence of the Balfour Declaration.
Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
1917. From Palestine to the Land of Israel is available from the author or from CreateSpace in paperback https://www.createspace.com/6830537 or from Amazon in Kindle format at:
On November 2nd, 1917, a declaration that changed the course of history was published.
The document that would become the foundation of the state of Israel was sent in the form of a letter by Lord Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild. Rothschild was to pass it on to the Zionist Organization headed by Dr. Chaim Weizmann.
The unpublished drafts of the declaration open a window to an entirely different and equally significant history.
As the Hebrew settlement in the Land of Israel kept establishing and expanding itself, the leaders of the Zionist movement realized they would need support from the world’s empires, specifically the British Empire.
When the British ousted the centuries old Ottoman presence in Palestine, Chaim Weizmann presented a draft for the founding of a state. This draft was a declaration sent to the then British Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur James Balfour, on July 1917. The draft declared that Britain would recognize the Land of Israel as the land of the Jewish people.
The declaration did not leave the Foreign Office as it was drafted, of course. The declaration went through several rewrites by the Foreign Office. By early October 1917, the draft was processed by the War Office in conjunction with the Zionist Organization delegation.
It was in one of the final drafts of the declaration that the section regarding the Jewish people’s right to the land was omitted and the “Jewish state” became a “National Home” – an unprecedented legal and diplomatic term.
Before the declaration was officially presented to Lord Rothschild by Lord Balfour, the draft was presented to Jewish leaders of every political stripe, both Zionist and non-Zionist. One of these leaders was Sir Philip Magnus, a Reform rabbi and British politician whose opinion on the declaration was sought.
The National Library holds the draft of the declaration the War Office sent Sir Magnus. The differences in the draft sent to Sir Magnus and the final historic letter were slight, but significant. In the finalized version in which “His Majesty’s government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish People”, the earlier draft speaks of a “National Home for the Jewish Race”.
With this change the British government strengthened the Zionist position of Jews as a nation, rather than a culture and religion, which the word race conveyed strongly in the early 20th century.
Sir Magnus’ reply and draft changes are also kept in the National Library, offering a glimpse into the minds and opinions of Non-Zionist British Jews. Sir Magnus refused to distinguish between his opinions as a Jew and as British subject in a stroke of political brilliance. Sir Magnus made the claim that ever since the Roman exile, the Jewish people ceased being a political body and share only a religion and as such do not have a national aspiration in the Land of Israel.
Sir Magnus’ suggested changes, which were later incorporated into the final decleration, had more to do with the people of other faiths and cultures in the region. This is clearly stated in the final draft of the declaration as: “It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
The original letter sent to Lord Rothschild by Lord Balfour is kept in the British Museum to this very day.
In speech to Conservative Friends of Israel, Theresa May calls Balfour Declaration ‘one of the most important letters in history’
In a speech overflowing with praise and support, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday hailed the State of Israel as “a remarkable country” and “a beacon of tolerance,” said UK ties with Israel were “crucial,” promised to raise the bilateral trade relationship to new heights, and described the Balfour Declaration as “one of the most important letters in history.”
In an address to her Conservative Party’s Friends of Israel, May also castigated the opposition Labour Party for “turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism.”
The speech at a CFI luncheon, which received a standing ovation from the 800 guests, underlined May’s ongoing support of Israel, maintaining the approach of successive Conservative prime ministers — and contrasting with the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn, a relentless critic of the Jewish state.
As the UK forges “a new role for itself on the world stage,” in the wake of its decision to leave the European Union, May said it would seek to be “open, outward-looking, optimistic” and that “Israel will be crucial to us as we do that.” This, she said, was “because I believe our two countries have a great deal in common. As the (Israeli) ambassador Mark Regev said, we have common values; we work together, on health, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, technology; and we can help each other achieve our aims.”
May firmly rebutted the so-called BDS movement against Israel, declaring: “I couldn’t be clearer: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is wrong, it is unacceptable, and this party and this government will have no truck with those who subscribe to it.”
She said she planned to “take our trading and investing relationship with Israel to the next level,” and noted that several ministers would visit Israel in the coming year.
Ahead of 2017’s centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which paved the way for the establishment of modern Israel, May said the UK was entering a “special time,” and highlighted that the Declaration was signed by a Conservative foreign secretary, Arthur James Balfour. “It is one of the most important letters in history,” she declared. “It demonstrates Britain’s vital role in creating a homeland for the Jewish people. And it is an anniversary we will be marking with pride.”
Addressing concerns about anti-Semitism in the UK, the prime minister said it “has no place in politics and no place in this country… It is unacceptable that there is anti-Semitism in this country. It is even worse that incidents are reportedly on the rise. And it is disgusting that these twisted views are being found in British politics.”
May announced that the UK was now adopting an internationally backed charity’s formal definition of anti-Semitism in a “ground-breaking step towards eradicating anti-Semitism.” (The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s, IHRA, an intergovernmental organization backed by 31 countries, agreed to a definition in May it hopes will become widely adopted globally.)
This move, she said, means that “there will be one definition of anti-Semitism — in essence, language or behavior that displays hatred towards Jews because they are Jews. And anyone guilty of that will be called out on it.”
In reference to Labour Party Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who recently sang ‘Am Yisrael Hai’ (The People of Israel Live) at a Labour Friends of Israel lunch, May said “no amount of karaoke can make up for turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism.” She added: “No matter what Labour say — or sing — they cannot ignore what has been happening in their party.”
Unlike Corbyn, Watson is a staunch supporter of Israel, and recently visited at the head of a Labour Friends delegation.
May called Israel a “remarkable country,” and elaborated: “We have, in Israel, a thriving democracy, a beacon of tolerance, an engine of enterprise, and an example to the rest of the world about how to overcome adversity and defying disadvantages”.
Recalling her visit to Israel in 2014 as home secretary, she said that “seeing isn’t just believing; it is understanding, acknowledging and appreciating… It is only when you walk through Jerusalem or Tel Aviv that you see a country where people of all religions and sexualities are free and equal in the eyes of the law… It is only when you travel across the country that you realize it is only the size of Wales — and appreciate even more the impact it has on the world.”
She added: “And it is only when you witness Israel’s vulnerability that you see the constant danger Israelis face, as I did during my visit, when the bodies of the murdered teenagers, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, were discovered.”
May noted with pleasure that CFI has “already taken 34 of the 74 Conservative MPs elected in 2015 to Israel.”
Turning to the recent decision to freeze a portion of aid that Britain gives to the Palestinian Authority pending an investigation into allegations that the PA is paying salaries to convicted Palestinian terrorists, May promised that “no British taxpayers’ money will be used to make payments to terrorists or their families.” Every penny of aid must be “spent in the right places and in the right way.”
She said the UK was also looking into allocating greater funds for peaceful coexistence projects in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Regarding the peace process, May said the way to achieve a two-state solution is for “the two sides to sit down together, without preconditions.”
She also praised the UK’s Jewish community: “We should be so proud of the contribution Britain’s Jewish community’s made to our country. From business to the arts, public services to education, that contribution is exemplary,” she said.
Israel’s prime minister dismissed calls for Britain to say sorry for supporting the establishment of a Jewish state as ‘amazing’
Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the campaign in the UK for an apology for the Balfour Declaration – suggesting it was driven not by territorial dispute but by the very existence of the Jewish state.
The Israeli prime minister’s comments to the Jewish News came as Anglo-Jewry gears up to mark the centenary of Britain’s historic pledge and just weeks after the House of Lords launch of a campaign to push for an apology for the 1917 declaration – which he dismissed as “amazing”.
Addressing the second Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem, he said: “The Balfour declaration recognised this land as the home of the Jewish people which obviously had consequences later down the line.
“But if the Palestinians are challenging 100 years later even the idea that the Jewish people have a home here you know they’re not really gung-ho on a state – a nation state for the Jewish people. It’s very revealing about the true source of this ensuring conflict.
“It’s not about territory, even though that’s an issue. It’s not about settlements, even though that’s an issue – it’s not the issue. It was never and is still not about the Palestinian state. It was always about the Jewish state. The fact there was a challenge to the Balfour declaration 100 years later tells us we haven’t come very far.”
Although the premier didn’t say what he will do for the centenary, Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to the UK and the PM’s former spokesman, has previously spoken of bilateral plans to mark the occasion. A programme of events is also being finalised by the Balfour 100 Committee, comprising dozens of Jewish community and Israel organisations.
Netanyahu also used the summit to rubbish claims that Israel is facing increasing international isolation – insisting the opposite is the case.
With a diary comprising 250 meetings with presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers this year, he said: “The great powers of Asia, Africa and Latin America, they’re all coming to Israel. It’s happening at an unbelievable pace. I wish we had a little isolation because I could use the time.”
He said warmer relations were being driven by cooperation on tackling terrorism, Israel’s technological prowess and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – claiming he encourages visiting leaders to host direct talks without preconditions.
“Israel has all of a sudden become a cyber security and digital health power. We have a car industry all of a sudden. All of these countries understand that not only to protect themselves against terrorism but to seize the future – everything is becoming technologies – and Israel is a global force in technology.” He predicted that “it’s only a matter of time before this bilateral change is going to be reflected in the way countries vote in the UN”.
Clearing up some misconceptions about Sykes-Picot on its centenary.
Lord Arthur James Balfour is best remembered for the famous Balfour Declaration of 1917 that bears his name.
This letter, signed by the cabinet of British prime minister David Lloyd George and delivered to Baron Walter Rothschild as a representative of the Zionist movement, affirmed that “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…”
But Lord Balfour’s legacy of concern for the Jewish people and their restoration in Eretz Israel found other notable expressions beyond his time of service as foreign secretary under Lloyd George and as a prime minister himself.
His niece Blanche Dugdale wrote about her famous uncle in a twovolume biography published in 1936.
“Balfour’s interest in the Jews and their history was lifelong,” she recalled. It originated in the Old Testament training that Balfour had received from his mother and in his Scottish upbringing.
“As he grew up, his intellectual admiration and sympathy for certain aspects of Jewish philosophy and culture grew also, and the problem of the Jews in the modern world seemed to him of immense importance,” wrote Dugdale. “He always talked eagerly on this, and I remember in childhood imbibing from him the idea that Christian religion and civilization owe to Judaism an immeasurable debt, shamefully ill repaid.”
Last April, I was in Scotland and England doing historical research and thought it would be appropriate to find where Balfour “rested” and place a small stone of respect on his gravesite, in the time-honored Jewish tradition. The simple gesture opened another door of understanding and appreciation for this unique Christian friend of the Jewish people.
Lord Balfour died on March 19, 1930. He was buried on his family’s estate at Whittingehame Tower, not far from Edinburgh, Scotland. The estate is isolated, difficult to find, but beautifully located a few miles from the sea, amidst sweeping dales dotted with sheep.
The family moved from the estate long ago. Whittingehame House, the family home, is stark in its cold, concrete-gray color, angular in its construction and impressive in its original approach down a broad treelined lane. Today, Whittingehame House has been converted, ignominiously, into a series of apartments. There is not so much as a historic marker to indicate the meaning of the site. They do not want the culturally curious.
Lord Balfour is buried nearby at a 15th-century military tower believed to have been the site of conspiratorial events contributing to the tragic story of Mary Queen of Scots. The gravesite is worn and partly lichen covered. I placed my little stone and said a Kaddish prayer.
Whittingehame has another history – a history of saving lives of Jewish children from the Holocaust. That story is not very well known. The greatest irony is that Lord Balfour, who had strived so valiantly for so long to have the British government help create a national homeland for the Jewish people, did not live to see the fruits of his efforts.
British governments that came after him tried to thwart his pro-Zionist policies in the hope that a Jewish state would not arise. The tragic results were that, when a home in Palestine was most desperately needed to save Jewish lives from the Nazi genocide, the British authorities barred most Jews from entering its safe haven. Balfour was unable to save Jewish lives in their promised homeland, but he did save Jewish lives in his own home.
As the darkening clouds of Nazi Germany descended over Europe, many Jews in Germany and Austria feared for their lives. Where could they go? If they could not save themselves, could they save their children? Rescue efforts were being considered, but few were enacted.
The terrifying events of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” in which Jews were attacked and their properties destroyed across Germany and Austria on November 9-10, 1938, pushed the British Jewish Refugee Committee to appeal to Members of Parliament. Shortly before, the British government had refused to allow 10,000 Jewish children entry into Palestine. The events of Kristallnacht reopened the issue.
The appeal was championed by such leading British Christian figures as Lord Baldwin, Sir Wyndham Deeds, Bertha Bracey and Jean Hoare. Assessing that “Here is a chance of mitigating to some extent the terrible suffering of their parents and their friends,” British foreign minister Samuel Hoare proposed admitting 10,000 Jewish refugee children into Britain. The British government agreed to admit the children, provided a fiftypound bond was paid for each children to guarantee that they would be sent back to their parents in Europe after the conflict was over. The government further stipulated that only children under the age of 17 could go, and none of their parents were allowed entry.
The first of the Kindertransport trains left in sealed cars for Britain on December 1, 1938. The last left for England on May 14, 1940, the very day Holland fell to the Nazis. The final ship was strafed by Luftwaffe planes but arrived safely in Britain. In all, approximately 10,000 children were saved.
A similar effort to save 20,000 Jewish children was co-sponsored in the United States by Sen. Robert F. Wagner (D-NY) and Rep. Edith Rogers (R-MA) in early 1939. But the legislation failed to get Congressional approval. American isolationist sentiment, combined with latent anti-Semitism, grounded the measure. The American Jewish community thought it best not to protest.
In Britain, citizens were appealed to by radio to open their homes to the arriving children. Many of the children were taken in by Jewish and non-Jewish families. Some did not find homes.
Robert Arthur Lytton Balfour, Lord Balfour’s nephew, discussed the problem with his father: What can be done to help? They resolved to open Whittingehame House to the children. Some 180 of the young Jewish refugees were brought to Scotland. A school program was set up, called the Whittingehame Farm School. Its purpose was to teach the young refugee children how to be farmers, not in Britain but some future day in Palestine. The children were given instruction in Hebrew, Jewish songs and culture. A synagogue was established in the late Lord Arthur Balfour’s private rooms.
Jewish refugee children arrived at Whittingehame in 1939. A period of darkness and panic covered Britain in early 1940 when the European war turned hot. Britain feared invasion and the potential of a fifth column inside the country. The newly elected government of Winston Churchill responded to popular pressure to intern all citizens of enemy nations. Suddenly, any German or Austrian Jewish refugee over the age of 16 was arrested.
Whittingehame was no exception. Police arrived, and 37 refugees were taken away.
Most of the Whittingehame refugees returned after the national hysteria subsided. But some of the Jewish refugees in Britain were deported as enemy aliens to Canada and Australia. Two infamous transport ships from that period remain a blemish on Britain. One ship, the Dunera, became a hell hole of abuse as it carried Jews, Italians and some German POWs to Australia.
Another ship, the Andorra Star, carrying a large number of Italians and German Jews, as well as some captured German sailors, was sent to Canada. It was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland on July 1, 1940, taking down 600 passengers with it.
The Whittingehame Farm School remained open until 1941. The children were relocated into the local community. The young men of Whittingehame enlisted in the British armed forces, eager do what they could to end Nazi tyranny forever.
Ninety-five years ago today, Europe carved up the Ottoman empire. That treaty barely lasted a year, but we’re feeling its aftershocks today.
Ninety-five years ago today, European diplomats gathered at a porcelain factory in the Paris suburb of Sèvres and signed a treaty to remake the Middle East from the ashes of the Ottoman empire. The plan collapsed so quickly we barely remember it anymore, but the short-lived Treaty of Sèvres, no less than the endlessly discussed Sykes-Picot agreement, had consequences that can still be seen today. We might do well to consider a few of them as the anniversary of this forgotten treaty quietly passes by.
In 1915, as British troops prepared to march on Istanbul by way of the Gallipoli peninsula, the government in London printed silk handkerchiefsheralding the end of the Ottoman empire. It was a bit premature (the battle of Gallipoli turned out to be one of the Ottomans’ few World War I victories) but by 1920 Britain’s confidence seemed justified: With allied troops occupying the Ottoman capital, representatives from the war’s victorious powers signed a treaty with the defeated Ottoman government that divided the empire’s lands into European spheres of influence. Sèvres internationalized Istanbul and the Bosphorus, while giving pieces of Anatolian territory to the Greeks, Kurds, Armenians, French, British, and Italians. Seeing how and why the first European plan for dividing up the Middle East failed, we can better understand the region’s present-day borders, as well as the contradictions of contemporary Kurdish nationalism and the political challenges facing modern Turkey.
Within a year of signing the Treaty of Sèvres, European powers began to suspect they had bitten off more than they could chew. Determined to resist foreign occupation, Ottoman officers like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk reorganized the remnants of the Ottoman army and, after several years of desperate fighting, drove out the foreign armies seeking to enforce the treaty’s terms. The result was Turkey as we recognize it today, whose new borders were officially established in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.
Sèvres has been largely forgotten in the West, but it has a potent legacy in Turkey, where it has helped fuel a form of nationalist paranoia some scholars have called the “Sèvres syndrome.” Sèvres certainly plays a role in Turkey’s sensitivity over Kurdish separatism, as well as the belief that the Armenian genocide — widely used by European diplomats to justify their plans for Anatolia in 1920 — was always an anti-Turkish conspiracy rather than a matter of historical truth. Moreover, Turkey’s foundational struggle with colonial occupation left its mark in a persistent form of anti-imperial nationalism, directed first against Britain, during the Cold War against Russia, and now, quite frequently, against the United States.
But the legacy of Sèvres extends well beyond Turkey, which is precisely why we should include this treaty alongside Sykes-Picot in our history of the Middle East. It will help us challenge the widespread notion that the region’s problems all began with Europeans drawing borders on a blank map.
There’s no doubt that Europeans were happy to create borders that conformed to their own interests whenever they could get away with it. But the failure of Sèvres proves that that sometimes they couldn’t. When European statesmen tried to redraw the map of Anatolia, their efforts were forcefully defeated. In the Middle East, by contrast, Europeans succeeded in imposing borders because they had the military power to prevail over the people resisting them. Had the Syrian nationalist Yusuf al-‘Azma, another mustachioed Ottoman army officer, replicated Ataturk’s military success and defeated the French at the Battle of Maysalun, European plans for the Levant would have gone the way of Sèvres.
Would different borders have made the Middle East more stable, or perhaps less prone to sectarian violence? Not necessarily. But looking at history through the lens of the Sèvres treaty suggests a deeper point about the cause-and-effect relationship between European-drawn borders and Middle Eastern instability: the regions that ended up with borders imposed by Europe tended to be those already too weak or disorganized to successfully resist colonial occupation. Turkey didn’t become wealthier and more democratic than Syria or Iraq because it had the good fortune to get the right borders. Rather, the factors that enabled Turkey to defy European plans and draw its own borders — including an army and economic infrastructure inherited from the Ottoman empire — were some of the same ones that enabled Turkey to build a strong, centralized, European-style nation-state.
Of course, plenty of Kurdish nationalists might claim that Turkey’s borders actually are wrong. Indeed, some cite Kurdish statelessness as a fatal flaw in the region’s post-Ottoman borders. But when European imperialists tried to create a Kurdish state at Sèvres, many Kurds fought alongside Ataturk to upend the treaty. It’s a reminder that political loyalties can and do transcend national identities in ways we would do well to realize today.
The Kurdish state envisioned in the Sèvres Treaty would, crucially, have been under British control. While this appealed to some Kurdish nationalists, others found this form of British-dominated “independence” problematic. So they joined up to fight with the Turkish national movement. Particularly among religious Kurds, continued Turkish or Ottoman rule seemed preferable to Christian colonization. Other Kurds, for more practical reasons, worried that once in charge the British would inevitably support recently dispossessed Armenians seeking to return to the region. Some subsequently regretted their decision when it became clear the state they had fought to create would be significantly more Turkish — and less religious — than anticipated. But others, under varying degrees of duress, chose instead to accept the identity the new state offered them.
Many Turkish nationalists remain frightened by the way their state was destroyed by Sèvres, while many Kurdish nationalists still imagine the state they might have achieved. At the same time, today’s Turkish government extolls the virtues of Ottoman tolerance and multiculturalism, while Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan, apparently after reading the sociologist Benedict Anderson in prison, claims to have discovered that all nations are merely social constructs. The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the pro-Kurdish HDP spent much of the last decade competing to convince Kurdish voters that a vote for their party was a vote for peace — competing, that is, over which party was capable of resolving Turkey’s long-simmering conflict by creating a more stable and inclusive state. In short, as many Americans still debate the “artificial” nature of European-made states in the Middle East, Turkey is fitfully transcending a century-long obsession with proving how “real” it is.
Needless to say, the renewed violence Turkey has seen in the past several weeks threatens these fragile elements of a post-national consensus. With the AKP calling for the arrest of Kurdish political leaders and Kurdish guerrillas shooting police officers, nationalists on both sides are falling back into familiar, irreconcilable positions. For 95 years, Turkey reaped the political and economic benefits of its victory over the Treaty of Sèvres. But building on this success now requires forging a more flexible political model, one that helps render battles over borders and national identity irrelevant.