The Anonymous Figure Behind the Balfour Declaration

While many of those associated with the Balfour Declaration, which was published one hundred years ago, have been given their due recognition, with heaped accolades, one name remains absent from the list. I refer to South African General Jan Smuts, a highly intelligent, articulate and complicated personality as well as a Zionist.

Letter to the New York Times 19 February 1984

The the Editor: In his review of “The High Walls of Jerusalem,” Paul Johnson named all but one of the actors in the drama of the Balfour Declaration. He was Gen. Jan Smuts of South Africa. As the authors Leonard Stein (“The Balfour Declaration”) and Richard P. Stevens (“Weizmann & Smuts: A Study in Zionist South African Cooperation”) point out, General Smuts was an integral, albeit anonymous, figure in the creation of the Balfour Declaration and later diplomatic recognition of the State of Israel by various nations. RABBI JOSHUA DAVID KREINDLER Editor, Journal of the American Institute of the Study of Middle Eastern Civilization

Kew Gardens, N.Y

Early Life

Smuts, one of six children born on a farm in the Cape Colony, started his formal schooling at the age of twelve, matriculating with distinction four years later. By the age of twenty one hr found himself at Christ’s College, Cambridge, on a scholarship to study law following a highly successful four year study period at Stellenbosch University in Cape Colony. His studies in Stellenbosch ended in 1891 when he earned double first class honours in the diverse subjects of Literature and science.
Smuts graduated with a double First from Christ’s College in 1893 after receiving numerous academic prizes and accolades which included the prestigious George Long Prize for Roman Law and Jurisprudence. Professor Maitland, a tutor at Christ’s College, described Smuts as the most brilliant student he had ever met. Lord Alexander Todd, 1957 Nobel Chemistry Prize winner and Master of Christ’s College from 1963 to 1978 said that “in 500 years of the College’s history, of all its members, past and present,three had been truly outstanding, John Milton, Charles Darwin and Jan Smuts”. Illustrious company indeed! During 1894 Smuts wrote the Honours Examination of the Inns of Court, in Smuts’ own words “perhaps the hardest Law examination in the world. Of the 20 or 30 candidates who appeared I alone obtained the Honours Certificate.” He relates that he was awarded a prize of 50 Guineas for distinction in Constitutional Law and History and Legal History.

The Anglo Boer War

After his admission to the London Bar, Smuts returned to the Cape Colony where he entered legal practice, while politically he became a supporter of Cecil Rhodes, Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. The Jameson Raid, led by Rhodes’ protégé, Leander Starr Jameson, infuriated and alienated Smuts, who saw the incursion into the Transvaal as an act of betrayal by Rhodes. The result was that Smuts left the Cape and went to the Transvaal, where he served as State Secretary under Paul Kruger, President of the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek (South African Republic). He became an implacable enemy of the British, eventually rising to the rank of General, commanding a military force that made incursions into the Cape Colony. Here he tweaked the British nose by taking control of a 300 mile swathe of British territory after Lord Roberts had occupied the Z.A.R. capital of Pretoria. He later attended the Peace Conferencepin Vereeniging that resulted in the peace treaty signed on 31 May 1902, establishing British control over the whole of South Africa.

Having made his peace with Britain, Smuts now dedicated himself to establishing a Union, under British Rule, between the four territories which made up South Africa – The Cape, Natal, The Orange Free State and the Transvaal. His creation, the Union of South Africa, under the aegis of the British Empire, came into being on 31 May 1910. Having embraced Britain as the rulers of South Africa, Smuts offered his loyalty to the British Empire and supported a Declaration of War against Germany in support of Great Britain by the Union of South Africa in 1914. Smuts commanded the South African forces that defeated the German army in South West Africa and then took command of the battle against the German forces in East Africa. Following his military successes, he was offered the command of all Allied forces in Palestine, an offer he refused, after which he was appointed as a member of the Imperial War Cabinet under Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

International Statesman

Although an excellent military tactician and astute politician, Smuts was also a scientist and botanist who had identified many new species of flora in South Africa. He shared the belief of many early Afrikaaners who viewed themselves as modern Israelites under a British yoke, making him an ardent Christian Zionist. This, combined with his scientific background, made him an ideal friend and confidante of Zionist leader, Dr Chaim Weizmann. After Smuts and Weizmann had met in London during the First World War, the two began a close friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives and greatly influenced events in Palestine. As Richard P. Stevens says in his essay on Smuts and Weizmann “perhaps few personal friendships have so influenced the course of political events during the twentieth century as the relationship between General Jan Christiaan Smuts, South Africa’s celebrated prime minister, and Chaim Weizmann, Zionist leader and Israel’s first president.”

British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George and his Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, had a great admiration for Smuts and valued his opinion on matters pertaining to the British conduct of the war, as well as international politics. Smuts played a great backroom role in the drafting of the Balfour Declaration, providing Weizmann with a direct conduit to the War Cabinet. In common with Smuts, Lloyd George and Balfour who had both had a Christian Evangelical background as children, were ardent Christian Zionists, the spiritual aspect of Zionism holding great appeal for both politicians. The precise role played by Smuts has not come to the fore, but in almost every history of that momentous period, the name Smuts flits in and out, almost like that of an eminence grise exercising an influence that has never been fully defined.

That this was the way in which Smuts operated is borne out by the introductory lines to the chapter on Smuts in the book The Boer War Generals by Peter Trew. The opening line of the chapter reads:

Smuts’ contribution ran like a thread through the Boer War – he played a significant part in the events leading up to it, in its conduct and in the final peace negotiations”. A similar description could be given to the part played by Smuts in the Balfour Declaration. Here too he played a significant part in the events leading up to it, through his close association with Weizmann and the Zionist group on the one hand, and as a member of the Imperial War Cabinet on the other hand, he was party to its final wording and approval. He was present at the Versailles Peace Conference as well as the later San Remo Conference, where he was responsible for the Smuts Resolution regarding the establishment of the various Mandates and one of the authors of the San Remo Declaration. He could in many ways be said to have had a dual loyalty, to Weizmann and the Zionist cause, while at the same to Great Britain and British interests, with these loyalties coinciding in the Balfour Declaration.

Smuts and Zionism

Ashley Perry, editor of the Middle East Information project writes in an essay that General Smuts, a member of the Imperial War Cabinet when the Declaration was published, stated in 1919 that “he could see in generations to come, a great Jewish state rising there once more.” Prophetic words indeed.

Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan which was founded in 1932 was named in honour of Jan Smuts, Yohanan being the Hebrew translation for the Afrikaans Jan or English John, in recognition of his unstinting efforts on behalf of the Jewish people. I believe that the naming of Ramat Yohanan was at Weizmann’s prompting in recognition of the Smuts contribution to the Balfour Declaration. Smuts Boulevard in Tel Aviv was also named in honour of this remarkable individual, in this case in gratitude for his early recognition of the State of Israel as Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa

Smuts and the South African Zionist Federation

Below is an excerpt from a book by Marcia Gitlin (1950), The Vision Amazing, the Story of South African Zionism:- In January 1917 it (The South African Zionist Federation) had requested Nathan Levi, a Zionist who was known to be a friend of Smuts, to “use any personal influence and any opportunities” to obtain Smuts’ support for a SAZF resolution. The resolution dealt with ensuring that the Peace Conference after the end of the Great War would ensure the establishment of a Homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. (My synopsis of a lengthy resolution).
Gitlin further quotes from a speech delivered by Smuts at a banquet honouring him two years after the publication of the Balfour Declaration when he said “I was ill in my house, and the resolutions passed by the Zionist Federation were brought to me there. I gave my assurance that whenever I would have the chance, I would help Zionism”. Later in the speech he related how he had been offered command of the military forces in Palestine by Lloyd George, an offer he refused, after which he became a member of the Imperial War Cabinet. He continued “I was really at the centre of things. And then began the movement in favour of a Declaration on behalf of Palestine as the future home of the Jewish race ……..Dr. Weizmann, who was a friend of mine, approached me and pressed me very strongly, and I told him of the promise I had made on my sick bed in Irene (his home village), and that I had to carry out my promise – and I did my best to carry it out……”

Recognition with Regard to the Balfour Declaration

There can be no doubt that General Jan Smuts, a South African born farmer’s son who rose to bestride the world stage like a colossus in the first half of the twentieth century, played an active and important role in the events leading up to the publication of the Balfour Declaration. Due recognition should be given to this truly amazing international statesman and friend of the Jewish people.

Peter Bailey

 

Israel’s president invites Royal Family to Israel for Balfour Declaration centenary

Reuven Rivlin extended the Royal invite to mark 100-years since Britain formally issued support for a Jewish state

By Stephen Oryszczuk

The Prince of Wales visiting his grandmother on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Princess Alice of Greece’s, final resting place in Jerusalem for the first time. @ClarenceHouse/PA

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.”


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Lord Rothschild discusses cousin’s crucial role in ‘miracle’ Balfour Declaration

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.”

Lord Rothschild

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.


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Celebrating Chaim Weizmann’s Role in The Balfour Declaration

As the year’s countdown to the centenary of the Balfour Declaration on 2 November 2017 begins, we are proud to announce that Weizmann UK is part of the Balfour 100 campaign which is a coalition of over 23 British-Jewish cross-communal and pro- Israel organisations.

The Balfour Declaration was a letter from the UK Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild (as a representative of the British Jewish Community and for passing on to the Zionist Federation) on 2 November 1917 promising support for the creation of a national homeland for the Jewish people in Israel. As part of the Balfour 100 campaign, we are proud of the British support for a Jewish and democratic state that strives to uphold the rights of all peoples living in the land and are proud of the contribution that Great Britain made towards the creation of the State of Israel.

Of particular cause for celebration for us at Weizmann UK is the very central role in securing the Balfour Declaration that was played by Dr Chaim Weizmann, founder of the Weizmann Institute of Science and first President of the State of Israel.

Chaim Weizmann‘s activities as Zionist and incisive political operator are recounted in detail on the Balfour 100 website as are the considerable contributions of his wife Vera Weizmann.

For Weizmann UK we celebrate in particular the dual achievements of Chaim Weizmann as a scientist and statesman and over this centenary year we will reflect on his vision that science would play a key role in the success of Israel as a country.

Testament to that vision was his foundation in 1934 of the Daniel Sieff Research Institute in Rehovot, that would later be renamed the Weizmann Institute of Science in his honour.

In 1949, when Chaim Weizmann was elected the first President of the State of Israel it was clear that his political and scientific ambitions for the country were closely intertwined. In his opening speech at the Knesset, he said:

“We must build a new bridge, connecting science with the human spirit. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ All my life I have endeavoured to make science and research the basis of our national undertaking. But I also know that beyond science, there are lofty values that hold the solution to the ills of mankind, the values of justice and honesty, peace and fraternity.”
Thanks to Weizmann’s vision, today Science and technology is one of Israel’s most developed sectors. The percentage of Israelis engaged in scientific research and the amount spent on R&D in relation to GDP is the second highest in the world.

The Weizmann Institute’s scientific achievements go from strength to strength. It was recently ranked 10th in the world by the highly regarded Leiden University ranking of scientific research impact. It was the only Institute outside of the US to make the top 10.

The Balfour 100 campaign has produced the following materials and will be holding events over the year to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

Website

A comprehensive website on the Balfour Declaration is now available and provides authoritative, historical and accurate detail about the Balfour Declaration. It has annotated versions of the 5 Declaration drafts, biographies of key players involved, and reactions to the Declaration from historic figures. There is also an extensive timeline of events leading up to the Declaration, as well as a shorter, more comprehensive slideshow which has questions and answers relating to each event in the timeline. You’ll be able to see this at www.balfour100.com.

Educational resources

A wide range of educational resources have been designed to educate a variety of audiences on the Balfour Declaration, and will be available to download from the website. These include a Balfour Basics ‘primer’, FAQ, informal education programmes and more.

Balfour Shabbat

The Jewish community will also be holding a cross-denominational ‘Balfour Shabbat’ on 3rd and 4 November 2017. Synagogues across all British Jewish denominations and movements will be marking the Balfour Centenary in their own way on this Shabbat.

Balfour 100 Lecture

On 1 November 2017 there will be a Balfour lecture. Advice on how to secure tickets to the event will be released in 2017.

Other events

There will be a number of events and conferences between November 2016 and November 2017. Academics are planning various key note lectures and lecture series around the country. Community groups in Manchester are hosting a large scale event on October 31 2017. The Balfour website will also host details of Balfour related events around the country, and there will be a communal calendar where this information will also be readily accessible.


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Faisal–Weizmann Agreement – When the Arabs asked the Jews to return to Israel

Feisal-Frankfurter Correspondence (March 1919)

Letter from Emir Feisal (Son of Hussein Bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca | Great grandson of the prophet Muhammad) to Felix Frankfurter, associate of Dr. Chaim Weizmann:

DELEGATION HEDJAZIENNE

Paris Peace Conference

March 3, 1919

Dear Mr. Frankfurter:

I want to take this opportunity of my first contact with American Zionists to tell you what I have often been able to say to Dr. Weizmann in Arabia and Europe.

We feel that the Arabs and Jews are cousins in having suffered similar oppressions at the hands of powers stronger than themselves, and by a happy coincidence have been able to take the first step towards the attainment of their national ideals together.

The Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organisation to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper. We will do our best, in so far as we are concerned, to help them through: we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.

With the chiefs of your movement, especially with Dr. Weizmann, we have had and continue to have the closest relations. He has been a great helper of our cause, and I hope the Arabs may soon be in a position to make the Jews some return for their kindness. We are working together for a reformed and revived Near East, and our two movements complete one another. The Jewish movement is national and not imperialist. Our movement is national and not imperialist, and there is room in Syria for us both. Indeed I think that neither can be a real success without the other.

People less informed and less responsible than our leaders and yours, ignoring the need for cooperation of the Arabs and Zionists, have been trying to exploit the local difficulties that must necessarily arise in Palestine in the early stages of our movements. Some of them have, I am afraid, misrepresented your aims to the Arab peasantry, and our aims to the Jewish peasantry, with the result that interested parties have been able to make capital out of what they call our differences.

I wish to give you my firm conviction that these differences are not on questions of principle, but on matters of detail such as must inevitably occur in every contact of neighbouring peoples, and as are easily adjusted by mutual good will. Indeed nearly all of them will disappear with fuller knowledge.

I look forward, and my people with me look forward, to a future in which we will help you and you will help us, so that the countries in which we are mutually interested may once again take their places in the community of civilised peoples of the world.

Believe me,

Yours sincerely,

(Sgd.) Feisal

Letter of reply from Felix Frankfurter to Emir Feisal:

Paris Peace Conference

March 5, 1919

Royal Highness,

Allow me, on behalf of the Zionist Organisation, to acknowledge your recent letter with deep appreciation.

Those of us who come from the United States have already been gratified by the friendly relations and the active cooperation maintained between you and the Zionist leaders, particularly Dr. Weizmann. We knew it could not be otherwise; we knew that the aspirations of the Arab and the Jewish peoples were parallel, that each aspired to re-establish its nationality in its own homeland, each making its own distinctive contribution to civilisation, each seeking its own peaceful mode of life.

The Zionist leaders and the Jewish people for whom they speak have watched with satisfaction the spiritual vigour of the Arab movement. Themselves seeking justice, they are anxious that the just national aims of the Arab people be confirmed and safeguarded by the Peace Conference.

We knew from your acts and your past utterances that the Zionist movement — in other words the national aim of the Jewish people — had your support and the support of the Arab people for whom you speak. These aims are now before the Peace Conference as definite proposals by the Zionist Organisation. We are happy indeed that you consider these proposals “moderate and proper,” and that we have in you a staunch supporter for their realisation.

For both the Arab and the Jewish peoples there are difficulties ahead — difficulties that challenge the united statesmanship of Arab and Jewish leaders. For it is no easy task to rebuild two great civilisations that have been suffering oppression and misrule for centuries. We each have our difficulties we shall work out as friends, friends who are animated by similar purposes, seeking a free and full development for the two neighbouring peoples. The Arabs and Jews are neighbours in territory; we cannot but live side by side as friends.

Very respectfully,

(Sgd.) Felix Frankfurter

Agreement Between Emir Feisal and Dr. Weizmann
Faisal–Weizmann Agreement

3 January 1919

His Royal Highness the Emir Feisal, representing and acting on behalf of the Arab Kingdom of Hedjaz, and Dr. Chaim Weizmann, representing and acting on behalf of the Zionist Organization, mindful of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people, and realizing that the surest means of working out the consummation of their natural aspirations is through the closest possible collaboration in the development of the Arab State and Palestine, and being desirous further of confirming the good understanding which exists between them, have agreed upon the following:

Articles:

Article I

The Arab State and Palestine in all their relations and undertakings shall be controlled by the most cordial goodwill and understanding, and to this end Arab and Jewish duly accredited agents shall be established and maintained in the respective territories.

Article II

Immediately following the completion of the deliberations of the Peace Conference, the definite boundaries between the Arab State and Palestine shall be determined by a Commission to be agreed upon by the parties hereto.

Article III

In the establishment of the Constitution and Administration of Palestine, all such measures shall be adopted as will afford the fullest guarantees for carrying into effect the British Government’s Declaration of the 2nd of November, 1917.

Article IV

All necessary measures shall be taken to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale, and as quickly as possible to settle Jewish immigrants upon the land through closer settlement and intensive cultivation of the soil. In taking such measures the Arab peasant and tenant farmers shall be protected in their rights and shall be assisted in forwarding their economic development.

Article V

No regulation or law shall be made prohibiting or interfering in any way with the free exercise of religion; and further, the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall ever be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.

Article VI

The Mohammedan Holy Places shall be under Mohammedan control.

Article VII

The Zionist Organization proposes to send to Palestine a Commission of experts to make a survey of the economic possibilities of the country, and to report upon the best means for its development. The Zionist Organization will place the aforementioned Commission at the disposal of the Arab State for the purpose of a survey of the economic possibilities of the Arab State and to report upon the best means for its development. The Zionist Organization will use its best efforts to assist the Arab State in providing the means for developing the natural resources and economic possibilities thereof.

Article VIII

The parties hereto agree to act in complete accord and harmony on all matters embraced herein before the Peace Congress.

Article IX

Any matters of dispute which may arise between the contracting parties hall be referred to the British Government for arbitration.

Given under our hand at London, England, the third day of January, one thousand nine hundred and nineteen

Chaim Weizmann Feisal Ibn-Hussein

Reservation by the Emir Feisal

If the Arabs are established as I have asked in my manifesto of 4 January, addressed to the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I will carry out what is written in this agreement. If changes are made, I cannot be answerable for failing to carry out this agreement.


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Beyond Balfour

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.

Forget Sykes-Picot. It’s the Treaty of Sèvres That Explains the Modern Middle East.

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.

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