Anti-Semite Balfour Didn't Want Jewish State, Just a Bigger British Empire

Arthur Balfour 1st Earl of Balfour (265K)
Arthur Balfour, Earl of Balfour, Former British Prime Minister and his Plans for Palestinian land

By Lenni Brenner

By now every politically literate Brit and Yankee knows that November 2nd was the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. In it, the UK's Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, informed Lord Walter Rothschild, a super-wealthy Jewish community leader, that

"His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

It sounded good, both for the Jews and the Arabs, but the fact is that Balfour was anti-Jewish in theory and practice, and he saw the Palestinian Arabs as just another people to be ruled by the British empire.

In 1914, Chaim Weizmann, later Israel's first President, was living in London and sought to win over British politicians to the Zionist cause. He contacted Balfour, who, as Prime Minister, had spoken against Jewish immigration in 1905. Weizmann learned the full extent of Balfour's anti-Semitism, as he unburdened himself of his philosophy to Weizmann on 12 December 1914. In a private letter, Weizmann wrote:

"He told me how he had once had a long talk with Cosima Wagner at Bayreuth and that he shared many of her anti-Semitic postulates."

Cosima was the widow of Richard Wagner, the composer, Germany's best known anti-Semite prior to Hitler.

Weizmann's letter can be found in The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, Letters, vol.VII p.81, edited by Meyer Weisgal.

Wikipedia's Balfour article tells us that, "In 1905 he supported stringent anti-immigration legislation, meant primarily to prevent Jewish immigrants fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe from entering Britain.[13][14]"

13 - Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland (London: Verso, 2012), 14-15

14 - Sabbagh, Karl (2006). Palestine : a personal history. London: Atlantic. p. 103. ISBN 1-84354-344-3. "Balfour warned the House of Commons in his speech of 'the undoubted evils that had fallen upon the country from an immigration which was largely Jewish"

Why then did this anti-Semitic Foreign Secretary "favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people"? The answer is very clear. It was in British imperialism's interest in WWI.

One of London's most important war goals was secure British domination of Egypt's Suez Canal, Europe's trade gateway to Asia.

Egypt was a de jure Ottoman Turkish province until 5 November 1914, when its de facto British economic rulers declared it a British protectorate in reaction to the Ottoman Empire's decision to go to war on Germany's side.

An Allied victory meant French domination of Syria and Lebanon. A French company had built the canal and London feared that Paris would contend again for economic power in Egypt if its Lebanon reached down to the Sinai Peninsula. A British protectorate between Egypt and Lebanon was the solution.

Britain's governing strategy was virtually uniform throughout its empire. Wherever possible, London used a native minority against the native majority - Muslims against the Hindus in India, etc. As the Christians in Palestine were too few to play that role, a Zionist Jewish homeland would be created under British rule.

In January 1919, Balfour wrote "Weizmann has never put forward a claim for the Jewish Government of Palestine. Such a claim in my opinion is clearly inadmissible and personally I do not think we should go further than the original declaration which I made to Lord Rothschild"

For more see Lieshout, Robert H. (2016). Britain and the Arab Middle East: World War I and its Aftermath.

Lenni Brenner is a historian best known for his book "Zionism in the Age of the Dictators". See our archive about him here.

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