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


Lessons for Diplomats from the Balfour Declaration

Daniel Taub explores the more human aspects of the negotiations and dealings that lead up to the Balfour Declaration, as well as all the facts and motivations of today’s Zionism and its supporters.

We Are Our Own Worst Enemy

By Yaffa Abadi: It is a scary and somewhat daunting phrase that captures the truth about many aspects of interpersonal relationships. When it comes to the Jewish people as a unit, this too rings true. Most of the time our own worst enemy is, in fact, ourselves.

As the century mark of the Balfour Declaration is coming along, I have become engrossed in researching the process that led to the Declaration and what we can learn from it up until today. To me, this seems like a prime example where the Jews of the diaspora came together as a unit to fight for the continued existence of the Jewish people. But, as my research expands, a certain name keeps coming up. A thorn in the rosebush of this Jewish unity.

His name was Edwin Montague and in my mind, he represents one the biggest problems facing world jewry to this very day. Montague was the single Jew working in the British Cabinet during World War One and his family was one of the most prominent and influential families in British and Jewish affairs. With such a seemingly large influence in the secular world, you would assume that obviously this was a huge positive for the Jews at the time. One foot in the door of British politics!

Think again.

Montague was one of the most staunch anti-Zionists around, making it his life’s work to resist Zionist endeavors. In his writings, he makes his views clear, claiming ‘Zionism has always seemed to me to be a mischievous political creed, untenable by any patriotic citizen of the United Kingdom.

His attitude towards the Zionist movement came to life when he used his influence to try put an end to one of the most important letters leading up to the establishment of Israel and what led me to Montague in the first place – the Balfour Declaration. He tried his very best to stop this meaningful Declaration from being accepted. However when he saw that this was not possible, he was sure to add phrases that blurred the lines and added a sense of ambiguity about the nature of the homeland that the Jewish people would eventually receive.

Montague is an example in history that parallels some of the biggest threats we have today. From the anti-Israel Neturei Karta ‘a group of Orthodox Jews which rejects Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel. based off of their supposed religious ideals, to extreme left movements such as J Street who parade as Zionist organisations but whose actions, such as drawing parallels between Israel and Hamas and constantly condemning Israel’s protective efforts, proves it to be another Jewish movement that can act as a magnet to anti-Zionists.

While the size of movements such as these may not be large, any sort of threat coming from within our own people is something the Jewish Nation has suffered from the most throughout our history as a nation.

Going back to ancient times, we are reminded of the story of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa. A petty argument between these two Jewish men which led to the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash (temple). This cruel destruction of our most Holy temple did not begin from an outer force, but rather from the hatred that was bred within the Jewish community.

It is strikingly clear that while, as Jews living in Israel, we face many threats from outer forces, one of our worst enemies is none other than ourselves. From the biblical times, seen throughout our history and highlighted with Montague’s involvement in the Balfour declaration, this threat of Jews against Israel is very real still today and must be countered by remaining loyal and united even in the face of our differences.

Let us learn from our mistakes, and take action to ensure the continuity of our people. Let us look forward to celebrating the century mark of the Balfour Declaration as a symbol where our unity as a Jewish nation overcame all.

People take part in the 51st annual Israel parade in Manhattan, New York May 31, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz.


Sykes-Picot and the Zionists

Clearing up some misconceptions about Sykes-Picot on its centenary.

The Mandate For Palestine Still Relevant Nearly A Century Later

Successive Israeli governments have failed to recognize the supreme importance of the “Mandate for Palestine” [24 July, 1922]. The Mandate, a  historical League of Nations (the forerunner to the United Nations) document, laid down the Jewish legal right to settle anywhere in western Palestine, the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, an entitlement unaltered in international law.

Jewish leadership in Israel and the diaspora has done practically nothing effective with the best political weapon they will ever have. We simply cannot afford to ignore the valid rights granted to the Jewish people under the Mandate for Palestine. Justice is on our side; we must not let it slip away.

Israelis and friends of the Jewish State alike are accustomed to the never-ending scorn that the United Nations heaps on Israel, the Middle East’s only free democracy; never mind its desire for peace with all of its Arab neighbors. It may seem unfathomable then, that the very same institution was ultimately responsible for its creation.

The roots of the “Mandate for Palestine”– a legally binding document published by the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations – can be traced back to both the founding of modern Zionism in 1897 by Theodor Herzl, and the Balfour Declaration of November 1917.

After witnessing the spread of anti-Semitism around the world, Theodor Herzl felt compelled to create a political movement with the goal of establishing a Jewish National Home in historic Palestine, and assembled the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in August 1897. During World War I, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour simply expressed Great Britain’s view with favor and sympathy for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

In contrast, the Mandate is the multilateral binding agreement which laid down the Jewish legal right to settle anywhere in the geographical area called Palestine, the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, an entitlement unaltered in international law.

The Mandate was not an innocent vision briefly embraced by the international community. The entire League of Nations – 51 countries – unanimously declared on July 24th, 1922: “Whereas recognition has been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”

Washington went a step further: In September of that year, President Warren Harding signed the Lodge-Fish Joint Resolution, which had passed both Houses of Congress without dissent and read, “Favors the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people.”

The Mandate clearly differentiates between political rights referring to Jewish self-determination as an emerging polity – and civil and religious rights, referring to guarantees of equal personal freedoms to non-Jewish residents as individuals and within select communities. Not once are Arabs as a people mentioned in the Mandate for Palestine. Nowhere in the document is there any granting of political rights to the Arab population.

Article 5 of the Mandate clearly states that “The Mandatory [Great Britain] shall be responsible for seeing that no Palestine territory shall be ceded or leased to, or in any way placed under the control of the Government of any foreign power.” The territory of Palestine was exclusively assigned for the Jewish National Home.

Article 6 states that “the Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.”

Accordingly, article 6 clearly states that the creation of Jewish settlements is not only permissible, but actually encouraged. Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria (i.e., the West Bank) are perfectly legal. The use of the phrase “Occupied Palestinian Territories” is a disingenuous term that misleads the international community, while encouraging Palestinian Arabs, with the right to use all measures to attack Israel, including the use of terrorism.

The Mandate was subsequently protected by Article 80 of the United Nations Charter that recognizes the continued validity of the rights granted to all states or peoples, or already existing international instruments including those adopted by the League of Nations. The International Court of Justice has consistently recognized that the Mandate survived the demise of the League of Nations.

Legal arguments aside, it is worth noting that the Arabs never established a Palestinian state when the UN in 1947 recommended to partition Palestine, and to establish a “Jewish” state and an “Arab” state – not a Palestinian state. Additionally, the Arab countries never recognized or established a Palestinian state during the two decades prior to the Six-Day War when the West Bank was under Jordanian control and the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian control. Nor did the Palestinian Arabs clamor for autonomy, independence, or self-determination during those years.
It is important to point out that political rights to self-determination as a polity for Arabs were guaranteed by the same League of Nations in four other mandates – in Lebanon and Syria [The French Mandate], Iraq, and later Trans-Jordan [The British Mandate].

Any attempt to negate the Jewish people’s rights to Palestine, and to deny them access and control in the area designated for the Jewish people by the League of Nations, is in serious conflict with the Mandate’s legal framework


WWI Balfour Declaration: British Christian Zionism

Christian Zionism is a belief among some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy. The term Christian Zionism was popularized in the mid-twentieth century, following the coining of the term “Zionism” in 1890. Prior to that time the common term was Restorationism.

Some Christian Zionists believe that the “ingathering” of Jews in Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus. This belief is primarily, though not exclusively, associated with Christian Dispensationalism. The idea that Christians should actively support a Jewish return to the Land of Israel, along with the parallel idea that the Jews ought to be encouraged to become Christian, as a means fulfilling a Biblical prophecy has been common in Protestant circles since the Reformation”

“An Overwhelmingly Jewish State” – From the Balfour Declaration to the Palestine Mandate

By Sir Martin Gilbert

On 22 July 1922, when the League of Nations announced the terms of Britain’s Mandate for Palestine, it gave
prominence to the Balfour Declaration. ‘The Mandatory should be responsible,’ the preamble stated, ‘for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty…in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.’1 The preamble of the Mandate included the precise wording of the Balfour Declaration.

Nothing in the Balfour Declaration dealt with Jewish statehood, immigration, land purchase or the boundaries of Palestine. This essay examines how British policy with regard to the ‘national home for the Jewish people’ evolved between November 1917 and July 1922, and the stages by which the Mandate commitments were reached.

In the discussions on the eve of the Balfour Declaration, the British War Cabinet, desperate to persuade the Jews of Russia to urge their government to renew Russia’s war effort, saw Palestine as a Jewish rallying cry. To this end, those advising the War Cabinet, and the Foreign Secretary himself, A.J. Balfour, encouraged at least the possibility of an eventual Jewish majority, even if it might – with the settled population of Palestine then being some 600,000 Arabs and 60,000 Jews – be many years before such a majority emerged. On 31 October 1917, Balfour had told the War Cabinet that while the words ‘national home…did not necessarily involve the early establishment of an independent Jewish State,’ such a State ‘was a matter for gradual development in accordance with the ordinary laws of political evolution.’2

How these laws were to be regarded was explained in a Foreign Office memorandum of 19 December 1917 by Arnold Toynbee and Lewis Namier, the latter a Galician-born Jew, who wrote jointly: ‘The objection raised against the Jews being given exclusive political rights in Palestine on a basis that would be undemocratic with regard to the local Christian and Mohammedan population,’ they wrote, ‘is certainly the most important which the anti-Zionists have hitherto raised, but the difficulty is imaginary. Palestine might be held in trust by Great Britain or America until there was a sufficient population in the country fit to govern it on European lines. Then no undemocratic restrictions of the kind indicated in the memorandum would be required any longer.’3

On 3 January 1919 agreement was reached between the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann and the Arab leader Emir Feisal. Article Four of this agreement declared that all ‘necessary measures’ should 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 agreement went on, ‘the Arab peasant and tenant farmers shall be protected in their rights, and shall be assisted in forwarding their economic development.’4

The Weizmann-Feisal agreement did not refer to Jewish statehood. Indeed, on 19 January 1919, Balfour wrote to his fellow Cabinet Minister Lord Curzon: ‘As far as I know, Weizmann has never put forward a claim for the Jewish Government of Palestine. Such a claim is, in my opinion, certainly inadmissible and personally I do not think we should go further than the original declaration which I made to Lord Rothschild.’5

Scarcely six weeks later, on February 27, in Balfour’s presence, Weizmann presented the essence of the Weizmann-Feisal Agreement to the Allied Supreme Council in Paris, telling them that the nation that was to receive Palestine as a League of Nations Mandate must first of all ‘Promote Jewish immigration and closer settlement on the land,’ while at the same time ensuring that ‘the established rights’ of the non-Jewish population be ‘equitably safe-guarded.’

During the discussion, Robert Lansing, the American Secretary of State, asked Weizmann for clarification ‘as to the meaning of the words “Jewish National Home.” Did that mean an autonomous Jewish Government?’ Weizmann replied, as the minutes of the discussion record, ‘in the negative.’ The Zionist Organisation, he told Lansing – reiterating what Balfour had told Curzon – ‘did not want an autonomous Jewish Government, but merely to establish in Palestine, under a Mandatory Power, an administration, not necessarily Jewish, which would render it possible to send into Palestine 70,000 to 80,000 Jews annually.’ The Zionist Organisation wanted permission ‘to build Jewish schools where Hebrew would be taught, and to develop institutions of every kind. Thus it would build up gradually a nationality, and so make Palestine as Jewish as America is American or England English.’

The Supreme Council wanted to know if such a ‘nationality’ would involve eventual statehood? Weizmann told them: ‘Later on, when the Jews formed the large majority, they would be ripe to establish such a Government as would answer to the state of the development of the country and to their ideals.’6

British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, 1917 (Israel National Photo Collection)

The British Government supported the Weizmann-Feisal Agreement with regard to both Jewish immigration and land purchase. On June 19 the senior British military officer in Palestine, General Clayton, telegraphed to the Foreign Office for approval of a Palestine ordinance to re-open land purchase ‘under official control.’ Zionist interests, Clayton stated, ‘will be fully safeguarded.’7

Clayton’s telegram was forwarded to Balfour, who replied on July 5 that land purchase could indeed be continued ‘provided that, as far as possible, preferential treatment is given to Zionist interests.’8

The Zionist plans were thus endorsed by both Feisal and Balfour. But on 28 August 1919 a United States commission, the King-Crane Commission, appointed by President Woodrow Wilson, published its report criticising Zionist ambitions and recommending ‘serious modification of the extremist Zionist programme for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews, looking finally to making Palestine distinctly a Jewish State.’9

The King-Crane Commission went on to state that the Zionists with whom it had spoken looked forward ‘to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase.’ In their conclusion, the Commissioners felt ‘bound to recommend that only a greatly reduced Zionist programme be attempted’; a reduction that would ‘have to mean that Jewish immigration should be definitely limited, and that the project for making Palestine a distinctly Jewish commonwealth should be given up.’10

The United States was in a minority at the Supreme Council. On September 19 the Zionists received unexpected support from The Times, which declared: ‘Our duty as the Mandatory power will be to make Jewish Palestine not a struggling State, but one that is capable of vigorous and independent national life.’11

Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for War, and with ministerial responsibility for Palestine, took a more cynical view of Zionist ambitions. On October 25, in a memorandum for the Cabinet, he wrote of ‘the Jews, whom we are pledged to introduce into Palestine and who take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.’12

Churchill’s critical attitude did not last long. Fearful of the rise of Communism in the East, and conscious of the part played by individual Jews in helping to impose Bolshevik rule on Russia, he soon set his cynicism aside. In an article entitled ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism: the Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People,’ he wrote in the Illustrated Sunday Herald on 8 February 1920 that Zionism offered the Jews ‘a national idea of a commanding character.’ Palestine would provide ‘the Jewish race all over the world’ with, as Churchill put it, ‘a home and a centre of national life.’ Although Palestine could only accommodate ‘a fraction of the Jewish race,’ but ‘if, as may well happen, there should be created in our own lifetime by the banks of the Jordan a Jewish State under the protection of the British Crown which might comprise three or four millions of Jews, an event will have occurred in the history of the world which would from every point of view be beneficial, and would be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire.’

Churchill’s article ended with an appeal for the building up ‘with the utmost rapidity’ of a ‘Jewish national centre’ in Palestine; a centre, he asserted, which might become ‘not only a refuge to the oppressed from the unhappy lands of Central Europe,’ but also ‘a symbol of Jewish unity and the temple of Jewish glory.’ On such a task, he added, ‘many blessings rest.’13

Former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, January 16, 1943 (AP Photo)

On 24 April 1920, at the San Remo Conference, the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George accepted a British Mandate for Palestine, and that Britain, as the Mandatory Power, would be responsible for giving effect to the Balfour Declaration. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, noted in his diary that there had been a ‘two-hour battle’ among the British and French delegates, ‘about acknowledging and establishing Zionism as a separate State in Palestine under British protection.’14

In January 1921, Lloyd George appointed Churchill to be Secretary of State for the Colonies, charged with drawing up the terms of the Mandate and presenting them to the League of Nations. In March 1921, at the Cairo Conference, Churchill agreed to the establishment of a Jewish gendarmerie in Palestine to ward off local Arab attacks (Churchill preferred a Jewish Army). He also agreed that Transjordan, while part of the original Mandated Territory of Palestine, would be separate from it, and under an Arab ruler. This fitted in with what Britain had in mind as the wider settlement of Arab claims. On 17 January 1921, T.E. Lawrence had reported to Churchill that Emir Feisal ‘agreed to abandon all claims of his father to Palestine’ in return for Mesopotamia (Iraq) – where Churchill agreed at the Cairo Conference to install him as King – and Transjordan, where Feisal ‘hopes to have a recognised Arab State with British advice.’15

From Cairo, Churchill went to Jerusalem, where he was given a petition from the Haifa Congress of Palestinian Arabs, dated 14 March 1921, which began: ‘1. We refuse the Jewish Immigration to Palestine. 2. We energetically protest against the Balfour Declaration to the effect that our Country should be made the Jewish National Home.’16 Churchill rejected the Arab arguments. ‘It is manifestly right,’ he announced publicly on March 28, ‘that the Jews, who are scattered all over the world, should have a national centre and a National Home where some of them may be reunited. And where else could that be but in the land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated? We think it would be good for the world, good for the Jews, and good for the British Empire.’17

After Churchill’s visit, Arab violence in Jaffa led the British High Commissioner in Palestine, a British Jew, Sir Herbert Samuel, to order an immediate temporary suspension of Jewish immigration. This did not find favour in the Colonial Office. A telegram drafted for Churchill by one of his senior advisers, Major Hubert Young, who during the war had played his part in the Arab Revolt, was dispatched to Samuel on May 14. ‘The present agitation,’ the telegram read, ‘is doubtless engineered in the hope of frightening us out of our Zionist policy….We must firmly maintain law and order and make concessions on their merits and not under duress.’

On June 22 Churchill explained the British position on Zionism at a meeting of the Imperial Cabinet. The Canadian Prime Minister, Arthur Meighen, questioned Churchill about the meaning of a Jewish ‘National Home.’ Did it mean, Meighen asked, giving the Jews ‘control of the Government’? To this Churchill replied: ‘If, in the course of many years, they become a majority in the country, they naturally would take it over.’18

Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister, arrives at the White House in Washington on March 11, 1946. (AP Photo/William J. Smith)

Churchill was asked about this sixteen years later by the Palestine Royal Commission. ‘What is the conception you have formed yourself,’ he was asked, ‘of the Jewish National Home?’ Churchill replied: ‘The conception undoubtedly was that, if the absorptive capacity over a number of years and the breeding over a number of years, all guided by the British Government, gave an increasing Jewish population, that population should not in any way be restricted from reaching a majority position.’ Churchill went on to tell the Commission: ‘As to what arrangement would be made to safeguard the rights of the new minority’ – the Arab minority – ‘that obviously remains open, but certainly we committed ourselves to the idea that some day, somehow, far off in the future, subject to justice and economic convenience, there might well be a great Jewish State there, numbered by millions, far exceeding the present inhabitants of the country and to cut them off from that would be a wrong.’ Churchill added: ‘We said there should be a Jewish Home in Palestine, but if more and more Jews gather to that Home and all is worked from age to age, from generation to generation, with justice and fair consideration to those displaced and so forth, certainly it was contemplated and intended that they might in the course of time become an overwhelmingly Jewish State.’19

Whether the Jews could form a majority – the sine qua non of statehood – was challenged publicly by Herbert Samuel on 3 June 1921, when he said that ‘the conditions of Palestine are such as not to permit anything in the nature of mass immigration.’20 But at a meeting in Balfour’s house in London on July 22, Lloyd George and Balfour had both agreed ‘that by the Declaration they had always meant an eventual Jewish State.’21

Churchill’s adviser, Major Young, likewise favoured a policy that, he wrote to Churchill on August 1, involved ‘the gradual immigration of Jews into Palestine until that country becomes a predominantly Jewish State.’ Young went on to argue that the phrase ‘National Home’ as used in the Balfour Declaration implied no less than full statehood for the Jews of Palestine. There could be ‘no half-way house,’ he wrote, between a Jewish State and ‘total abandonment of the Zionist programme.’22

When the Cabinet met on August 17 there was talk of handing the Palestine Mandate to the United States, but Lloyd George rejected this. The official minutes noted: ‘stress was laid on the following consideration, the honour of the government was involved in the Declaration made by Mr Balfour, and to go back on our pledge would seriously reduce the prestige of this country in the eyes of the Jews throughout the world.’

On 3 June 1922 the British Government issued a White Paper, known as the Churchill White Paper, which stated: ‘So far as the Jewish population of Palestine are concerned it appears that some among them are apprehensive that His Majesty’s Government may depart from the policy embodied in the Declaration of 1917. It is necessary, therefore, once more to affirm that these fears are unfounded, and that that Declaration, re-affirmed by the Conference of the Principal Allied Powers at San Remo and again in the Treaty of Sטvres, is not susceptible of change.’

The White Paper also noted: ‘During the last two or three generations the Jews have recreated in Palestine a community, now numbering 80,000…it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on the sufferance. That is the reason why it is necessary that the existence of a Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed, and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection.’23

To reinforce this concept of ‘right,’ Churchill had granted the Zionists a monopoly on the development of electrical power in Palestine, authorising a scheme drawn up by the Russian-born Jewish engineer, Pinhas Rutenberg, to harness the waters of the Jordan River. To stop what critics were calling the ‘beginning of Jewish domination,’ a debate was held in the House of Lords demanding representative institutions that would enable the Arabs to halt Jewish immigration. In the debate, held on June 21, sixty Peers voted against the Mandate as envisaged by the White Paper, and against the Balfour Declaration. Only twenty-nine Peers voted for it.

On July 4 it fell to Churchill to persuade the House of Commons to reverse this vote. He staunchly defended the Zionists. Anyone who had visited Palestine recently, he said, ‘must have seen how part of the desert have been converted into gardens, and how material improvement has been effected in every respect by the Arab population dwelling around.’ Apart from ‘this agricultural work – this reclamation work – there are services which science, assisted by outside capital, can render, and of all the enterprises of importance which would have the effect of greatly enriching the land none was greater than the scientific storage and regulation of the waters of the Jordan for the provision of cheap power and light needed for the industry of Palestine, as well as water for the irrigation of new lands now desolate.’ The Rutenberg concession offered to all the inhabitants of Palestine ‘the assurance of a greater prosperity and the means of a higher economic and social life.’

Churchill asked that the Government be allowed ‘to use Jews, and use Jews freely, within limits that are proper, to develop new sources of wealth in Palestine.’ It was also imperative, he said, if the Balfour Declaration’s ‘pledges to the Zionists’ were to be carried out, for the House of Commons to reverse the vote of the House of Lords. Churchill’s appeal was successful. Only thirty-five votes were cast against the Government’s Palestine policy, 292 in favour.24

The way was clear for presenting the terms of the Mandate to the League of Nations. On July 5, Churchill telegraphed Sir Wyndham Deedes, who was administering the Government of Palestine in Samuel’s absence, that ‘every effort will be made to get terms of Mandate approved by Council of League of Nations at forthcoming session and policy will be vigorously pursued.’25

On 22 July 1922 the League of Nations approved the Palestine Mandate (it came into force on 29 September 1923). One particular article, Article 25, relating to Transjordan, disappointed the Zionists, who had hoped to settle on both sides of the Jordan River. ‘In the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined,’ Article 25 stated, ‘the Mandatory shall be entitled, with the consent of the Council of the League of Nations, to postpone or withhold application of such provisions of this mandate as he may consider inapplicable to the existing local conditions, and to make such provision for the administration of the territories as he may consider suitable to those conditions, provided that no action shall be taken which is inconsistent with the provisions of Articles 15, 16 and 18.’

The Zionists pointed out that Article 15 was clearly inconsistent with not allowing a Jewish presence in Transjordan, for it stated clearly, with regard to the whole area of Mandatory Palestine, west and east of the Jordan, that ‘The Mandatory shall see that complete freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, are ensured to all. No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants of Palestine on the ground of race, religion or language. No person shall be excluded from Palestine on the sole ground of his religious belief. The right of each community to maintain its own schools for the education of its own members in its own language, while conforming to such educational requirements of a general nature as the Administration may impose, shall not be denied or impaired.’

The rest of the Mandate was strongly in support of Zionist aspirations. Article 2, while making no reference to the previous four and a half years’ debate on statehood, instructed the Mandatory to secure ‘the development of self-governing institutions.’ In a note to the United States Government five months later, the Foreign Office pointed out that ‘so far as Palestine is concerned’ Article 2 of the Mandate ‘expressly provides that the administration may arrange with the Jewish Agency to develop any of the natural resources of the country, in so far as these matters are not directly undertaken by the Administration.’ The reason for this, the Foreign Office explained, ‘is that in order that the policy of establishing in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people could be successfully carried out, it is impractical to guarantee that equal facilities for developing the natural resources of the country should be granted to persons or bodies who may be motivated by other motives.’26 It was on this basis that the Rutenberg electrical concession had been granted as a monopoly to the Zionists, and on which representative institutions had been withheld for as long as the Arabs were in a majority.

Article 4 recognised the Zionist Organization as the ‘appropriate Jewish Agency,’ to work with the British Government ‘to secure the co-operation of all Jews who are willing to assist in the establishment of a Jewish national home.’ Article 6 instructed the Palestine Administration both to ‘facilitate’ Jewish immigration, and to ‘encourage’ close settlement by Jews on the land, ‘including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.’27

On the evening of 22 July 1922, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the pioneer of modern spoken Hebrew, went to see his friend Arthur Ruppin. It was more than forty years since Ben Yehuda had come to live in Palestine. He had just seen a telegram announcing that the League of Nations had just confirmed Britain’s Palestine Mandate. ‘The Ben Yehudas were elated,’ Ruppin recorded in his diary, with Ben Yehuda telling Ruppin, in Hebrew, ‘now we are in our own country.’ Ruppin himself was hesitant. ‘I could not share their enthusiasm,’ he wrote. ‘One is not allocated a fatherland by means of diplomatic resolutions.’ Ruppin added: ‘If we do not acquire Palestine economically by means of work and if we do not win the friendship of the Arabs, our position under the Mandate will be no better than it was before.’28

* * *


1. Council of the League of Nations, League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, 22 July 1922: League of Nations – Official Journal.

2. War Cabinet minutes, 30 October 1917; Cabinet Papers, 23/4.

3. Foreign Office papers, 371/3054.

4. The text of the Weizmann-Feisal Agreement was quoted in The Times, 10 June 1936.

5. Curzon papers, India Office Library.

6. Supreme Council minutes: Event 4651: Zionist presentation to the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference.

7. Foreign Office papers, 371/4171.

8. Ibid.

9. Henry C. King was a theologian and President of Oberlin College, Ohio. Charles R. Crane was a prominent Democratic Party contributor who had been a member of the United States delegation at the Paris Peace Conference.

10. Report of American Section of Inter-Allied Commission of Mandates in Turkey: An official United States Government report by the Inter-allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey. American Section. First printed as ‘King-Crane Report on the Near East,’ New York, 1922, volume 55.

11. The Times, London, 9 September 1919.

12. Churchill papers, 16/18.

13. Illustrated Sunday Herald, 8 February 1920.

14. Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, diary (unpublished).

15. Churchill papers, 17/20.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Minutes of the Imperial Cabinet: Lloyd George papers.

19. Palestine Royal Commission, notes of evidence, 12 March 1937: Churchill papers: 2/317.

20. Samuel papers.

21. Weizmann papers.

22. Colonial Office papers, 733/10.

23. Statement of British Policy in Palestine, Command Paper 1700 of 1922, 3 June 1922.

24. Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, 4 July 1922.

25. Colonial Office papers, 733/35.

26. Communication dated 29 December 1921, Command Paper 2559 of 1926.

27. Council of the League of Nations, League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, 22 July 1922: League of Nations – Official Journal.

28. Arthur Ruppin diary, Ruppin papers.