3 thoughts on “The Balfour Declaration”

  1. The story that Balfour could not remember signing is amusing, and consistent with Balfour’s reputation for using vagueness to avoid being pinned down. In 1918 General Milne, commanding the British forces in Salonika, telegraphed to London asking what were the general lines of British policy in the Caucasus. According to the Cabinet minutes, the response of the Foreign Secretary (Balfour) was, “This unhealthy curiosity on the part of our proconsuls in distant parts of the world is embarrassing. I do not think it is our business to have a policy with regard to these places.”
    Curzon was in the Cabinet (without a department), and was Foreign Secretary “in interim” when Balfour was attending the Peace Conference but did not become Foreign Secretary until 1919.
    What would Curzon have made of it? Almost certainly the only member of the Cabinet who had been there, he saw from the start that it was a can of worms, but was ineffective in opposing it. According to the minutes of the Cabinet meeting of 31 October 1917 which approved the text of the declaration “he admitted the force of the diplomatic arguments in favour of expressing sympathy… On the other hand he could not share the optimistic views held regarding the future of Palestine… He feared that by the suggested declaration we should be raising false expectations which could never be realised. He attached great importance to the necessity of retaining the Christian and Moslem holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and, if this were to be effectively done, he did not see how the Jewish people could have a political capital in Palestine. However, he recognised that some expression of sympathy with Jewish aspirations would be a valuable adjunct to our propaganda, though he thought that we should be guarded in the language used in giving expression to such sympathy.”
    He minuted inside the Foreign Office in March 1920 when the mandate was being drafted “I have never been consulted as to this Mandate at an earlier stage, nor do I know from what negotiations it springs… I think the entire conception wrong… Here is a country with 580,000 Arabs and 30,000 or is it 60,000 Jews (by no means all Zionists). Acting upon the noble principles of self-determination and ending with a splendid appeal to the League of Nations, we then proceed to draw up a document which reeks of Judaism in every paragraph and is an avowed constitution for a Jewish State. Even the poor Arabs are only allowed to look through the keyhole as a non-Jewish community… Perhaps there is no alternative. But I confess I should like to see something worded differently.”

  2. I showed your interesting Arab Digest speculation (20 October) on the background to the Balfour Declaration to a friend with a family connection to AJ Balfour (2nd generation). He has offered the following comments on the background to AJB’s personal motivation, drawing on talk among the family over the years. The suggestion of an influential pro-Zionist claque with roots in Manchester is of course circumstantial, yet intriguing. It does however suggest that Balfour’s motivation included a personal engagement as well as strategic considerations.
    [Quote] – “It was claimed that ‘Uncle Arthur’ could not remember signing it (the Declaration), which is improbable as it went three times to Cabinet. Looking at the ink blob he should have remembered! He was close to Weizmann who, as the chief chemist for Mond Industries obtained acetone to make dynamite [actually cordite]. Weizmann became Director of the Admiralty laboratories in Manchester. Arthur Balfour had been MP for a Manchester constituency, a period that coincided with the editorship of the Manchester Guardian by CP Scott, another keen pro-Zionist. There is an unsubstantiated rumour that Weizmann was treasurer of Balfour’s constituency association. All the Balfour family were strong Zionists, as I remember from talking to AJB’s sister. So was Lloyd George because of the Second Coming, and Winston.
    At the time of the Declaration Arthur Balfour was standing in as Foreign Secretary for Lord Curzon who was ill. I wonder what Curzon would have made of it.”

  3. There had been a Restorationist movement within the Protestant Church for much of the previous century, focussed on the London Jews Society, and championed by Lords Shaftesbury and Palmerston.
    This – and LJS’s establishment of Christ Church, Jerusalem – was also bound up in geo-politics, with the co-establishment of a British consulate in Ottoman Palestine (of which Christ Church was nominally its private chapel, initially.) Protestantism became one of the *millets* (or Ottoman minorities) with the UK as the Protecting Power, as France had long protected Roman Catholics and Russia, the Orthodox.
    A Protestant Bishopric was founded in Jerusalem in co-operation with the King of Prussia (who had the right to nominate alternate Bishops), the first of whom was Michael Alexander.
    LJS’s mission (of bringing Jews to Christianity) was also staunchly opposed by large sections of British Jewry, including Moses Montefiore.

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