Reuven Rivlin extended the Royal invite to mark 100-years since Britain formally issued support for a Jewish state
By Stephen Oryszczuk
Israel’s president has invited the Royal Family to visit Israel to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.
President Reuven Rivlin conveyed the message to visiting British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, saying: “This is a very important year in the history of the relations between Israel and the UK.”
During the two men’s meeting in Jerusalem, Rivlin added: “We will mark 100 years since the Balfour Declaration and I am greatly honoured to extend an official invitation to the Royal family to visit Israel to mark this event.”
Last year, Prince Charles travelled to Jerusalem for the funeral of Rivlin’s predecessor Shimon Peres, where he met Israel’s current president after the service.
Were the Queen and Prince Philip to visit, it is likely that they would attend the grave of Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, who was recognised as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by Yad Vashem for sheltering Jewish refugees in Athens. She is buried at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “We would sincerely hope that the invitation from the President of Israel is welcomed and accepted by those who advise the Royal Family on foreign visits.”
Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush said: “It is not only high time but well beyond time for a Royal visit to Israel. I have been extremely proactive in advocating that a visit should happen.”
Speaking ahead of the 67-word letter’s centenary, Jacob Rothschild describes the historic declaration which paved the way for Israel’s existence
By Stephen Oryszczuk: The current and fourth Lord Rothschild has described the Balfour Declaration that helped pave the way for the creation of Israel as a “miracle” and revealed new details about his cousin Dorothea’s crucial role.
Speaking ahead of the 67-word letter’s centenary, they are his first ever public comments on the show of support from then-foreign secretary Lord Balfour to the second Lord Rothschild, his eccentric uncle Walter, and were made in a rare TV interview with former Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub as part of the Balfour 100 project.
Jacob Rothschild, 80, head of the family’s banking dynasty, said the declaration of support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine went through five drafts before finally being penned on 2 November 1917, adding: “It was the greatest event in Jewish life for thousands of years, a miracle… It took 3,000 years to get to this.”
The way it was achieved was extraordinary, he said. “It was the most incredible piece of opportunism. You had an impoverished would-be scientist, Chaim Weizmann, who somehow gets to England, meets a few people, including members of my family, seduces them, he has such charm and conviction, he gets to Balfour, and unbelievably, he persuades Lord Balfour, and Lloyd George, the prime minister, and most of the ministers, that this idea of a national home for Jews should be allowed to take place. I mean it’s so, so unlikely.”
The letter “changed the course of history for the Middle East and the Jewish people,” said Taub, who interviewed Rothschild at Waddeston Manor in Buckinghamshire, a country pile bequeathed to the nation by the family in 1957, where the Declaration is kept.
It was written to Walter Rothschild, a naturalist and collector, who was first and foremost interested in ornithology (the study of birds), said Jacob, and a “deeply eccentric man who rode around Tring Park on giant tortoises and whose carriage was pulled by zebras.
Walter only became interested in Zionism in later life, but Rothschild said he had been “deeply committed to Israel since the 1960s and have been there every year since”.
However, he said his family at the time was divided on the idea of Israel, noting that some members “didn’t think it was a good thing that this national home be established there”.
He also revealed for the first time the role of his cousin Dorothy de Rothschild, who acted as a critical go-between while still in her teens. Describing her as “devoted to Israel,” Rothschild said: “What she did, which was crucially important, was to connect Weizmann to the British establishment, and extraordinarily, she told Weizmann how to integrate, how to insert himself into British establishment life, which he learned very quickly.”
Her letters, which are stored at Waddeston, detail her later dealings with a range of Zionist leaders, and her advice on the organisation of the Zionist Conference, and Rothschild said she had a profound effect on him, introducing him to Israel and the family’s philanthropic foundation in 1962.
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.
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.”
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.
Years after prime minister announced seminal Zionist document, issued 99 years ago today, would be displayed in Tel Aviv, dream of bringing it to Israel mired in renovations and bureaucratic snafus
took decades to bring the Balfour Declaration, which enshrined London’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, to fruition. Bringing the actual document to Israel for a second visit may take even longer.
Plans to bring the Balfour Declaration to Tel Aviv for its second-ever display in Israel were announced by the Israeli government six and a half years ago, but they are held up in a dust of renovation rubble and bureaucratic misunderstandings, with no horizon for getting it to Tel Aviv for at least another year.
The document, which was issued exactly 99 years ago Wednesday, is now expected to arrive in Israel in 2018. That is just in time for the country’s 70th anniversary — but one year after the declaration’s centennial in 2017.
Originally, the Israeli government expected to host the document in 2015 on the occasion of the grand opening of the renovated Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, where it was supposed to be displayed together with Lord Arthur Balfour’s desk.
In a press release issued in April 2013, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that then-cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser “received agreement in principle from the British Library for the original copy of the Balfour Declaration.”
The British Library, however, insists that no such agreement was ever granted. Indeed, Israel never formally asked for a loan, according to library spokesperson Ben Sanderson.
“We received an initial enquiry from the Israeli government, as to the conditions that need to be met to enable a loan of the item,” Sanderson wrote in an email to The Times of Israel. “The Library responded to this request, outlining our loans policy and indicating the issues that need to be considered in order to facilitate the loan of the Declaration. We have yet to receive a formal loan request. Any decision on a loan of the item will ultimately be made by the British Library Board.”
Once a formal loan request is made, Sanderson added, “we’ll be able to give proper consideration to whether the institution making the request is able to fulfill the requirements of our loans policy.”
Reuven Pinski, Israel’s point man in the contacts with the British Library, acknowledged that the government was incorrect in announcing an “agreement in principle” from the British Library. In fact, the library was unhappy about the misleading press release and voiced its displeasure to the Israeli authorities, he admitted.
“No agreement was reached; it was more like an informal understanding that if we fulfill all the conditions in the future they would agree to loan it to us,” Pinski, who at the time directed the the Heritage Division in the Prime Minister’s Office (which has since been incorporated into the Jerusalem and Heritage Ministry, headed by Ze’ev Elkin), told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.
Announcing an agreement where there was none was not the only inaccuracy in the Prime Minister’s Office’s 2013 statement: It also claimed that the future exhibit would mark the first time the Balfour Declaration would be shown in Israel. In fact, the original declaration was loaned to the Knesset from October 1987 to May 1988, on the occasion of its 70th anniversary and the State of Israel’s 40th birthday.
The British Library has strict rules for lending items to institutions abroad in order to guarantee they are preserved, presented and secured appropriately, Pinski explained. “We need to show exactly where it is going to be displayed, and what efforts we are making to preserve it and what kind of security there will be on the premises.”
Therefore, Israel has decided to wait until the current renovations at the Independence Hall are completed before filing a formal loan request, he said.
Following a government decision from May 2009, the preservation work started in 2011 and has since been expanded to included various stages. This major overhaul is a very complicated process, Pinski said, in part because the historic building on 6 Rothschild Boulevard — where David Ben Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel in 1948 — has no foundations, entailing special zoning changes and planning approvals that took years to acquire.
The latest permit needed to advance constructions was just received this week, Pinski said.
The building is among the first five houses built on the sands of Tel Aviv in 1909, and therefore the renovations are being done in stages, explained Nirit Shalev Khalifa, Independence Hall’s main curator.
“In 2013, preliminary renovation and preservation work was conducted to allow the functioning of the building, which hosts thousands of visitors per month,” she told The Times of Israel. “In the coming year, after detailed planning, the house will be closed for about one year for thorough repair work, including the digging of a basement with an auditorium and the strengthening the foundations.”
The renovations are expected to be concluded in time for Israel’s 70th birthday in May 2018. “For the opening, we hope to showcase all original items, foremost among them the Scroll [the original Declaration of Independence], which will remain in the building for a permanent exhibition,” Shalev Khalifa said. “For short periods of time, special items from abroad — including the [Balfour] Declaration — will be exhibited. Their presentation requires special means of preservation, which will exist in the new museum.”
But next year, when the world marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration’s centennial with a host of programs and events — Israel is planning to publish a stamp to celebrate the occasion — Independence Hall will be closed.
The actual letter, which Balfour wrote to the head of Britain’s Jewish community, Lord Walter Rothschild, asserting for the first time his government’s support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in mandatory Palestine, will remain safely stowed away in London. (The Rothschild family gave it to the British Museum, which later transferred it to the British Library.)
“It’s regrettable that we’re missing the 100-year anniversary,” the Jerusalem and Heritage Ministry’s Pinski said. “But it’s much preferable to present the Balfour Declaration at the grand opening of the Independence Hall.”
Battling over Balfour
Notwithstanding the document’s physical location during the centennial, Israelis and Palestinians have already launched rival campaigns, each interpreting the document’s historical importance according to their respective narrative.
Top officials in Ramallah have vowed to sue the British government and are badmouthing the “notorious” document, in which Britain gave “without any right, authority or consent from anyone, the land of Palestine to another people,” as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said at the United Nations in September.
In a piece for Newsweek published Wednesday, Palestine Liberation Organization chief Saeb Erekat called the declaration a “grave insult to world justice” and urged the UK to apologize for it.
Even Hamas chimed in, saying in a press release Wednesday evening that the Palestinians’ right to the land “is sacred and cannot be erased by a void promise from one criminal to another.”
In Jerusalem, the Balfour Declaration is being celebrated as “one of the earliest statements by a major international actor to recognize the Jewish people’s rights to self-determination in their historic homeland,” as the Israeli embassy declared in a statement released Wednesday. Israel’s ambassador in London, Mark Regev, on Wednesday marked the occasion by releasing 99 balloons and having the text of the declaration projected onto the embassy façade.
Clearing up some misconceptions about Sykes-Picot on its centenary.
Many people presume that the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, which partitioned the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire between Britain and France, advanced the Zionist project in Palestine.
The Zionist movement celebrated Sir Mark Sykes as one of its own, so many have assumed that he must have designed the agreement to serve the Zionist interest. In the words of a Palestinian professor of history at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, “Sykes-Picot was a carefully-designed plan and prelude to the Balfour Declaration. The creation of Israel on Palestinian land would not have been possible without the Sykes-Picot agreement.” A former Israeli Ambassador has written that the Sykes-Picot agreement “politically and materially contribut[ed] to the realization of the Zionist vision.” He has even suggested that its anniversary belongs on the same Zionist calendar with the anniversaries of the Balfour Declaration and the UN partition resolution of 1947, as “milestones on the path to Jewish statehood.”This is exactly wrong. In his memoirs, Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader who midwifed the Balfour Declaration, wrote of Sykes-Picot that it was “fatal to us…. The Sykes-Picot arrangement was not a full treaty; but it was sufficiently official to create the greatest single obstacle to our progress.” Sykes-Picot wasn’t a prelude to the Balfour Declaration, but an obstacle that had to be cleared to reach the Balfour Declaration. To understand that, all one has to do is look carefully at the map. But before that, a word on the purpose of Sykes-Picot. It was the Arab activist George Antonius who famously wrote of Sykes-Picot that it was “the product of greed at its worst.” But it was a product of fear as much as of greed, if not more so. The fear was that in the aftermath of war, Britain and France, old rivals, would clash disastrously over the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Sykes-Picot had the same logic as Yalta thirty years later: It proposed an orderly partition to keep wartime allies from plunging into a new conflict after victory. And a good case can be made that when it came to preventing clashes between two rivals, Sykes-Picot was much more effective than Yalta. Preserving the balance of power was its primary objective, and in that respect, Sykes-Picot achieved its purpose.This fear of clashing allies is most manifest on the Sykes-Picot map in its treatment of Palestine. Sykes and Picot divided the Arab provinces of the empire by an east-west “line in the sand” across the Syrian desert. North of that line, there would be a “blue” zone of exclusive French control (including Beirut and Tripoli), and an Arab state (or states) under French protection (including Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, and Mosul). South of it, there would be a “red” zone of direct British control (including Basra and Baghdad), and an Arab state (or states) under British protection (mostly desert).The first thing one notices is that Palestine doesn’t fit neatly within the dualistic rubric of the French and British zones. This corner of the map is, in fact, dividedfive ways.
A wedge in the north of the country, including the tributaries of the Jordan above the Sea of Galilee and part of the northern shore of the lake, are solid blue, that is, under direct French control.
The eastern shore of the lake and the Golan are marked off as part of the Arab state under French protection.
The bulk of the country, including Jerusalem, Jaffa, Nazareth, Tiberias, and Gaza, is colored brown. According to the agreement, “In the brown area there shall be established an international administration, the form of which is to be decided upon after consultation with Russia, and subsequently in consultation with the other Allies [the reference is to Italy], and the representatives of the Shereef of Mecca.” (In an earlier joint memo in January 1916, Sykes and Picot wrote that “the chief of the Arabian confederation should have an equal voice in the administration of Palestine.”) The notion was that this would be an Anglo-French condominium, with a yet-undetermined measure of input from other allies.
The ports of Haifa and Acre, and the plain between them, are red, under direct British administration. Britain wanted this as an end point for a railroad from Baghdad to the Mediterranean.
Last but not least, the south of the country, including Hebron and Beer Sheba, as well as Transjordan, are to be part of the independent Arab state or confederation of states under British protection.
The Sykes-Picot map thus constitutes the first partition plan for Palestine, into no fewer than five zones. Why so many pieces? Again, balance of power. Sykes had hoped to create a British-controlled land bridge from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, but other Allied claims stood in the way. So the agreement regarding Palestine made concessions to the interests of almost every stakeholder: Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the Sharif of Mecca.
Almost everyone: missing from the list were the Zionists. Twenty years later, George Antonius would call Sykes-Picot a “shocking document.” It certainly shocked the Zionists in London in April 1917. That is when the British Zionist activist Harry Sacher got wind of it from a friendly journalist who picked up news of it from France. Sacher informed Chaim Weizmann, who was distressed to find that the agreement displayed not a single trace of consideration for Zionist aims. At this very time, Zionist leaders had been deep in discussion about Palestine with sympathetic British officials, including Sykes. Sachar wrote to Weizmann in disgust: “We have been lied to and deceived all along.”Weizmann was stunned by two aspects of the agreement. First, the Sykes-Picot partition thoroughly divided the Yishuv. Many of the most veteran Zionist settlements—Metullah, Rosh Pina, Yesod Hama’alah, Mishmar Hayarden—would be in the exclusively French zone, as would Safed. The internationalized brown zone would include Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Tiberias, as well as newer settlements such as Tel Aviv, Petah Tikvah, Rishon Lezion, Rehovot, and Zichron Yaakov. Weizmann called this division a “Solomon’s judgment of the worst character, the child is cut in two and both halves mutilated.” Were Sykes-Picot implemented, he protested, “the Jewish colonizing effort of some thirty years [would be] annihilated.”Second, the agreement gave France a dominant role as far as the Jews were concerned. France would have full control of the Galilee settlements, and would be on equal par with Britain in Judaea and the coastal plain. Weizmann regarded France as wholly unsympathetic to Zionism; far from facilitating Zionist colonization, France would block it.So what was he to do? Weizmann’s immediate move was to show up at the Foreign Office and protest to Lord Robert Cecil, acting Foreign Secretary. Weizmann’s report of that meeting is the most thorough Zionist critique of Sykes-Picot. Weizmann denounced the proposed division between the Galilee and Judaea in emphatic terms. “We would always consider [this] as an unjust partition,” and the Galilee “would certainly constitute a Jewish irredenta…. There is little doubt that the suggested division of Palestine would raise an outcry which will ring through from one end of the world to the other.” As for international or dual control, in the brown area, “it would be fraught with gravest dangers…. Any enterprise in the country would have to be sanctioned by both governments and would lead constantly to jealousies.” According to Cecil, Weizmann even warned that “the Zionists throughout the world would regard a French administration in Palestine as… ‘a third destruction of the Temple.’”From April 1917, Weizmann devoted himself and his movement to overturning Sykes-Picot. The Zionists had one aim: to swap the Sykes-Picot partition plan for an exclusively British protectorate over the whole of Palestine. Only under a British protectorate, Weizmann rightly concluded, could the Jewish home project take root and flourish.And Weizmann succeeded: in regard to Palestine, he managed to overturn Sykes-Picot entirely. Or was it really his success? In fact, he had plenty of powerful partners. By the time Weizmann learned of Sykes-Picot, many British officials wanted to shred it. They thought Sykes had given away far too much to the French. In particular, they didn’t trust the French on the flank of the Suez canal, which was the imperial lifeline to India. And if the British and the ANZACs were going to do all the fighting and dying to liberate Palestine, why should Britain share it with anyone? As Lloyd George later wrote of the armies under Allenby: “The redemption of Palestine from the withering aggression of the Turk became like a pillar of flame to lead them on. The Sykes-Picot Agreement perished in its fire. It was not worth fighting for Canaan in order to condemn it to the fate of Agag and hew it in pieces before the Lord. Palestine, if recaptured, must be one and indivisible to renew its greatness as a living entity.”Sykes himself backtracked from the agreement, tried to get Picot to modify it, and helped formulate the Balfour Declaration. In 1919, the Zionist leader Nahum Sokolov wrote: “From the standpoint of Zionist interests in Palestine, [Sykes-Picot] justly met with severe criticism; but it was Sykes himself who criticized it most sharply and who with the change of circumstances dissociated himself from it entirely.”The Balfour Declaration was the crucial step in the unraveling the Palestine corner of the Sykes-Picot map. British military administration came next. The last nail in the coffin came in December 1918, when Lloyd George met Clemenceau in London. “Tell me what you want,” said Clemenceau. “I want Mosul,” said Lloyd George. “You shall have it. Anything else?” “Yes, I want Jerusalem too.” “You shall have it.” Exit France. Sykes-Picot formally and finally came undone when Britain received the exclusive mandate for all of Palestine. It is this exclusive British protectorate that eventually made Israel possible. Israel probably would never have been born, if the Sykes-Picot map had been implemented.So Sykes-Picot became a dead letter as regards Palestine no later than 1918, if not earlier. Has it left any legacy at all? The Sykes-Picot map proclaimed that no one actor could unilaterally determine the fate of the country. There were too many conflicting interests. During the mandate years, Britain had enough power to call the shots alone. But only twenty years after Sykes-Picot, partition again became the solution to solving clashing interests in Palestine. So it has been from the Peel plan of 1937, to the UN partition plan of 1947, and ever since. The idea of agreed partition is the lasting legacy of Sykes-Picot. Even Israel’s fifty-year control of the entire country from the Mediterranean sea to the Jordan river since 1967 hasn’t undone it. Other aspects of Sykes-Picot disappeared completely. The idea of an agreed partition of Palestine, proposed in 1916 but never realized, is likely to remain with us for some time to come.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Malki, on behalf of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, announced that the PLO was making plans to sue the British over the issuance of the 1917 Balfour Declaration. For almost 100 years, the Declaration has represented, for the Palestinians, the political beginning of Palestine falling out of their influence and into the control of the budding Zionist movement. Al-Malki made his announcement about possible legal action at the end of the July 2016 Arab League summit meeting in Mauritania.
The possible law suit is one more in a series of multiple efforts by anti-Israel or anti-Zionist forces who have since Israel’s inception sought to delegitimize Israel diplomatically: at the UN, from Eastern European Soviet Bloc countries, at the International Court at The Hague, through certain Christian Church groups, at the 2001 Durban Conference against racism, and in the contemporary Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
By intentionally focusing on the Balfour Declaration, the PA seek to reinvigorate the claims of its original 1964 PLO Charter which said, that “The Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void.” The PLO Charter continued that “claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.”
The contents of the Declaration spoke specifically about “the establishing of a national home for the Jewish people and protecting the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities.” These phrases were included in the 1922 Articles of the Mandate, sanctioned by the League of Nations, and earlier in the 1920 San Remo Agreement of the victorious Allies of World War I, which established the status of the former Ottoman territories in the Middle East as Mandates.
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.