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Explaining the Origins of the Balfour Declaration: The Real Beginning of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Winter 2011

By Jonathan Schneer,  
Random House, 432 Pages, $30.00.  
Issued in London in 1917, the Balfour Declaration is one of the key documents of the 20th century. It committed Britain to supporting the establishment in Palestine of a “national home for the Jewish people,” and the consequences continue to be felt to this day.  
In this book, Professor Jonathan Schneer, a specialist in modern British history at Georgia Tech’s School of History, Technology and Society, recounts in great detail the public and private fight in the early 1900s for the small strip of land in the Middle East, a battle that began when the governing Ottoman Empire took Germany’s side in World War I.  
This is a complex story, involving many players, and many contradictory political machinations. It shows how Arab nationalists, backed by Britain, fought for their future, while Zionists battled diplomatically for influence in England, vigorously opposed by anti-Zionist Jews. Unknown to either side, Prime Minister David Lloyd George was telling Turkey that she could keep her flag flying over the disputed territory if only she would agree to a separate peace.  
Secret Maneuverings  
At the very time the Balfour Declaration was announced, notes Dr. Schneer, “… Britain’s prime minister and his agents were engaged in secret maneuverings to detach the Ottoman Empire from the Central Powers. They were offering, among other things, that the Turkish flag could continue to fly over Palestine. But the Zionists had long deemed Ottoman rule in Palestine to be one of their chief obstacles. Most of them viewed Turkish suzerainty, no matter how attenuated, as intolerable. Had the Turks accepted Lloyd George’s offer, most Zionists, and certainly their most important leaders, would have felt that the British government had compromised, perhaps fatally, its recent pledge. In which case, no one today would pay much attention to the Balfour Declaration at all.”  
Who lived in Palestine at the time of World War I? The author points out that there were as many as 700,000 residents, many of whom were descended from the Canaanites, or Philistines, who gave the land its name, or from the Arabs, even from the ancient Hebrews. “They spoke Arabic,” he writes, “and most of them may be termed Arabs … The majority were Sunni Muslims … but some were Shiite Muslims … There were as well Druze and other Christians, some of them European or of European descent, and Jews, some of whom were also European transplants or of European origin.”  
Since l5l7, Palestine had been governed by the sultans of the Ottoman Empire. A main reason for the increasing pressure on the land in the early 20th century, writes the author, “was the arrival in Palestine of a new and foreign element, although one that claimed an organic and ineradicable connection. They were European and Russian Jews, burning with the desire to live free, which they could not do in the countries of their birth. They were not themselves wealthy, but often they had wealthy patrons, and when land in the vicinity of Jaffa rose ten times in price over the decades, the patrons could afford to buy it while the fellah (indigenous Arabs) could not.”  
Zionism a New Idea  
Zionism was a new idea, beginning to take shape in Eastern Europe in l88l, when Russian revolu-tionaries assassinated Tsar Alexander II. His son, Alexander III, blamed the Jews. Immediately he reimposed the anti-Semitic policies his father had relaxed. The tsar’s adviser, his former tutor Constantin Pobiedonostsev, vowed that one-third of Russian Jews would convert to the Orthodox Church, one-third would emigrate, and one-third would starve to death.  
This, notes Schneer, was the stimulus for the late 19th century Jewish exodus from Russia. Most Russian Jews who left the country went to England, France, the U.S. and Canada. “Seven thousand reached Palestine in 1882,” he writes, “the largest number in a single year since the Romans had destroyed the Second Temple … Together, Russians and Romanians composed the larger part of the ‘First Aliyah’ (or ‘ascent’ to the promised land). In a little more than 20 years, some 30,000 Jewish immigrants made the permanent pilgrimage to their ancient homeland, as they deemed it.”  
The Zionist movement, whose initial congress took place in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, aided the immigrants. “Zionists sought to help them establish a national home,” the author points out. “They may or may not have meant an independent state, purposively leaving it ambiguous, perhaps to avoid exciting antagonisms, or perhaps because that goal seemed too ambitious even to them.”  
Jewish Immigrants  
As time went on, more Jewish immigrants arrived. Still, Schneer reports, “In 1914, Jews repre-sented perhaps one-ninth of the population of Palestine … Funded by their patrons and by the Zionist organization, Jews bought only large tracts, almost never small farms from an occupier-owner. The fellahin who had worked on a large estate, and perhaps lived on it, invariably were displaced, for the Jews were determined to be self-sufficient. Even if the fellah stayed nearby and continued to labor in adjoining fields, how could he not resent his changed situation? Moreover, the Jews did not recognize the fellah’s traditional right to pasture his flock on any field just harvested, which caused much hard feeling … Some Jews were hostile toward and contemptuous of the Arabs. ‘Had we permitted the squalid, superstitious, ignorant fellahin … to live in close contact with the Jewish pioneers,’ wrote one, ‘the slender chances of success … would have been impaired, since we had no power … to enforce progressive methods or even to ensure respect for private property.’”  
During the same period, nationalist sentiment was growing among the Arabs. Movements opposed to Ottoman Turkish rule emerged prior to World War I. During the war, the British had capitalized on the existence of Arab nationalist sentiment by striking an agreement with Hussein ibn Ali (Sharif Hussein), who led an Arab revolt against the Turks in support of British military operations in Palestine and Syria. In return for this support, Henry McMahon, the British high commissioner in Egypt, promised Hussein, in what later became known as the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, British support for an Arab kingdom under his rule after the war. Such a kingdom, covering present-day Syria and its capital at Damascus, did come into being briefly in 1919, but it was suppressed in 1920 by French forces acting to assert control over Lebanon and Syria.  
Arab Independence  
The promised Arab independence was to have taken place over an area whose boundaries are still a matter of dispute among historians today. One letter from McMahon left the impression that Palestine would be included in the area of Arab independence.  
While Zionists were engaged in negotiations about a Jewish homeland in Palestine, in London, the British and French in 1916 signed the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement which set aside Lebanon and Syria as areas of French interest while giving Britain a free hand in the region to the south. Thus, conflicting promises were being made in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the Balfour Declaration, making Palestine what has been described as the “much-promised” land.  
Of particular interest is Dr. Schneer’s description of Zionist political activity in London and the split among British Jews about the very idea of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  
“Prewar indifference to Jewish nationalism was widespread,” writes the author, “the British public, including the vast majority of British Jews shared it. Of 300,000 Jews living in Britain in 1913, only 8,000 belonged to the Zionist organization. Of the 150,000 Jews living in London, fewer than 4,000 called themselves Zionists.”  
Immigrants from Eastern Europe  
Zionist leaders in London were largely immigrants from Eastern Europe. Most prominent was Chaim Weizmann, who took up a post at the University of Manchester in 1904. Six years later he became a naturalized British subject.  
“In 1914,” writes Schneer, “Zionists lacked easy entre to the Foreign Office, but a Jewish anti-Zionist, Lucien Wolf, did have access to it. Wolf was director of the Conjoint Foreign Committee of British Jews … It held that British Jews differed from their Quaker, Congregationalist and Catholic Britons only in the religious belief system to which they adhered. The Board of Deputies maintained that British Jews constituted a distinct entity; the Zionists contended that they were a distinct nation; but the Anglo-Jewish Association argued that British Jews were Britons who also happened to be Jewish.”  
The argument presented by Zionist leaders was that support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine would serve both British interests in World War I as well as its post-war imperial ambitions. In the case of World War I, the Zionists, Schneer argues, played on the often anti-Semitic notion that world Jewry constituted an extraordinarily influential power. Thus, support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, it was argued, would cause American Jews to urge the U.S. to enter the war on Britain’s side. Such support would cause Russian Jews to urge continued involvement in the war and it would cause German Jews to lessen their support for their country’s war effort.  
“World Jewry”  
“Britain’s willingness, beginning early in 1916, to explore seriously some kind of arrangement with ‘world Jewry’ or ‘Great Jewry’ must be understood in this context,” writes Schneer. “The British never believed that the Jews alone could alter the balance of the war, but they did come to believe that the Jews could help fund it; and perhaps more important, they could persuade mightier forces to weigh in or out or to stand firm. Many Britons in 1916, including policymakers, apparently believed in the existence of a monolithic and powerful Jewish factor in world affairs. But there was no such thing. The government’s wartime decision to appeal to the Jews was based upon a misconception.”  
The Zionists argued that Jews constituted a single national group and that British Jews who believed that they were British by nationality and Jews by religion were deluding themselves. This produced a vocal reaction on the part of British Jews who rejected this notion and considered themselves to be fully British.  
Led by Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu, who insisted that Jews be regarded as a reli-gious community and himself as a Jewish Englishman, these anti-Zionist Jews fought the establishment of any Jewish nation. They maintained that it would have the effect of “stamping Jews as strangers in their native land and undermining their hard won position as citizens and nationals of those lands.”  
Beyond this, opponents of Zionism held that the proposal for a Jewish homeland was all the more inadmissible “because the Jews are and will probably long remain a minority of the population of Palestine and because it might involve them in the bitterest feuds with their neighbors of other races and religions which would seriously retard their progress.”  
Montagu’s Foresight  
The British Cabinet records of 1915 to 1920, made public by the British government only in 1970, contained many references to the Balfour Declaration, including three memoranda by Montagu, the sole Jewish Cabinet member, which reveal his foresightedness.  
Montagu, in a memorandum circulated to other Cabinet members, pinned the term of anti-Semitism on the sponsors of Zionism’s charter. The document of Aug. 23, 1917 titled “The Anti-Semitism of the Present Government,” and marked “Secret” is, in many ways prophetic.  
It reads, in part: “I have chosen the above title … not in any hostile sense, not by any means as quarreling with an anti-Semitic view, which may be held by my colleagues, not with a desire to deny that anti-Semitism can be held by rational men, not even with a view to suggesting that the Government is deliberately anti-Semitic, but I wish to place on record my view that the policy of His Majesty’s Government is anti-Semitic in result and will prove a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country of the world.”  
In Montagu’s view, “Zionism has always seemed to me to be a mischievous political creed, unten-able by any patriotic citizen of the United Kingdom. If a Jewish Englishman sets his eyes on the Mount of Olives and longs for the day when he will shake British soil from his shoes and go back to agricul-tural pursuits in Palestine, he has always seemed to me to have acknowledged aims inconsistent with British citizenship and to have admitted that he is unfit for a share in public life in Great Britain or to be treated as an Englishman.”  
No Jewish Nation  
Montagu makes clear his view with regard to the question of nationality: “I assert that there is not a Jewish nation … It is no more true to say that a Jewish Englishman and a Jewish Moor are of the same nation than it is to say that a Christian Englishman and a Christian Frenchman are of the same nation … I deny that Palestine is today associated with the Jews. It is quite true that Palestine plays a large part in Jewish history, but so it does in modern Mohammedan history, and, after the time of the Jews, surely it plays a larger part than any other country in Christian history … the Government should be prepared to do everything in their power to obtain for Jews in Palestine complete liberty of settlement and life on an equality with the inhabitants of that country who profess other religious beliefs. I would ask that the Government should go no further.”  
These views were widely held by anti-Zionist Jews. Lucien Wolf discussed the fundamental premise of Zionism: “The idea of Jewish nationality, the talk of a Jew ‘going home’ to Palestine if he is not content with the land of his birth, strikes at the root of all claim to Jewish citizenship in lands where Jewish disabilities still exist. It is the assertion not merely of a double nationality … but of the perpetual alienage of Jews everywhere outside Palestine.”  
Imperial Ambitions  
As time went on, the British Government, for its own reasons with regard to the war and its post-war imperial ambitions, saw reasons to embrace the Zionist enterprise, at least up to a point. On Feb. 28, 1916, British diplomat Hugh James O’Beirne composed the first Foreign Office minute to link the fate of Palestine both with Jewish interests and with British chances of victory in the war. In this instance, O’Beirne aimed at influencing the Jews of Turkey, not America. “It has been suggested to me,” he told colleagues, “that if we could offer Jews an arrangement as to Palestine which would strongly appeal to them, we might conceivably be able to strike a bargain with them as to withdrawing their support from the Young Turk government which would then automatically collapse.” The focus would then shift to American Jews and to Jews in other countries.  
All of this, of course, was kept in the strictest secrecy because, as we have seen, the same land of Palestine appears to have been secretly promised to the Arabs as well. “It must be admitted,” O’Beirne noted, “that if the Arabs knew we were contemplating an extensive Jewish colonization scheme in Palestine (with the possible prospect of eventual Jewish self-government), this might have a very chilling effect on the Arab leaders.”  
“Thus,” Schneer writes, “did the Triple Entente divide the prospective Ottoman carcass even before they had skinned it, even before it was dead; thus in the spring of 1916 did they fight the war to end all wars, on behalf of small powers, nationality, liberalism and the like … And now the British had to worry about the French, who believed that Palestine belonged to greater Syria and therefore that Palestine’s northern parts would belong to them, as Sykes and Picot had arranged when they negotiated their agreement in London only a few short weeks earlier.”  
Key to Victory  
Sykes concluded that the Zionists represented “the key to the situation,” by which he meant nothing less than the key to victory in the war. “With ‘Great Jewry’ against us,” he was warned, “there is no possible chance of getting the thing through,” that is, defeating Germany. Jewish ill will would mean “optimism in Berlin, dumps in London, unease in Paris, resistance to the last ditch in Constantinople, dissensions in Cairo, Arabs all squabbling among themselves.” But give the Zionists a reason to support the Allies, and everything would change. “If they want us to win they will do their best which means they will (a) calm their activities in Russia, (b) pessimism in Germany, c) stimulate in France, England and Italy, (d) enthuse in the U.S.A.” He was heartened because “Picot now sees this and understands it and will put it to those who count in France.”  
Both the Zionists and the Arabs believed that they had British support for their ultimate goals. “Like two ships headed for a collision,” writes Schneer, “in the dark of night — or rather, given that part of the world, like two desert caravans separated by trackless wastes but following intersecting routes — the Arab and Jewish nationalist movements pushed relentlessly forward, oblivious to each other, fated nonetheless to coincide eventually. During 1916 the Zionists in London gained strength. Early in 1917 Weizmann and his allies made the crucial connection with Sir Mark Sykes, a giant step toward gaining the support of British policy makers for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. During the same period Sharif Hussein and his sons had won British backing for the establishment of an Arab kingdom, part of which, they appear to have expected, would include Palestine. With British encouragement, they launched their rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in early June 1916. Then, during the following months, as the Zionists in London moved toward their ultimate objective, Sharif Hussein and his sons fought their way towards theirs, with this difference: They had to employ the skills not only of diplomacy but of the battlefield as well; and they placed their own lives in the balance.”  
Indigenous Population  
The indigenous Arab population of Palestine was of little concern to the Zionist leaders. When Picot asked Zionist spokesman Nahum Sokolow “how did the Jews propose to organize themselves as a nation in Palestine?” Schneer describes his response: “Mr. Sokolow replied that they would establish themselves in the same way as the French and English had established themselves in Canada or the Boers in South Africa, viz by settling on the land. … Notably, Sokolow did not mention the Arabs already resided on Palestinian land. At this moment they appear to have been as invisible to him as black Africans had been to Boers intending to move to Cape Town…”  
As Zionist ambitions became more widely known, a meeting of the Islamic Society took place in London in June 1917. The purpose of the meeting was to protest the possibility of Palestine becoming a Jewish state under Britain’s protection. Mushir Hussein Kidwai argued in his opening address that Palestine was “holier to the Muslims than…to the Jews or the Christians…So if the Zionistic ambitions of our Jewish brothers must be realized; if they have suffered for the last two thousand years…suffered, mind, never at the hand of Muslims but always at the hands of Christians…then those ambitions can only be realized by the cooperation and under the suzerainty of Muslims.”  
Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din said in part: “The Great Temple of Solomon at present is below the surface of the ground with a large and splendid mosque over it…Does not restoration of the Temple of Solomon mean demolishing the mosque and its appurtenances?”  
Heated Debate  
Within Britain’s Jewish community, the debate became increasingly heated. “Zionists would insist that Jews constituted a distinct nationality and must therefore receive distinct privileges while building their homeland in Palestine,” notes Schneer. Against them, the anti-Zionist Jews “would insist with equal resolve that Jews cherished a belief system in common and nothing more. As liberals, they held the thought of special privileges for their coreligionists in Palestine, or anywhere else, as anathema.”  
Claude Montefiore, president of the Anglo-Jewish Association, published essays in The Fortnightly Review for November 1916 and The Edinburgh Review for April 1917. “How can a man belong to two nations at once?” Montefiore asked rhetorically. No man could belong equally and simultaneously to two nations. One who tried to opened himself to the charge of divided loyalties. “No wonder that all anti-Semites are enthusiastic Zionists,” Montefiore wrote.  
Lucien Wolf dismissed Zionist claims with similar decisiveness: “The Zionist wing of the (Jewish nationalist) movement was never tired of claiming that it expressed an unbroken national yearning of over 2,000 years … The Jews were always primarily a religious people and their national life in Palestine was a phase of their greater history as a church. The religion could live without it, and the exiled people soon lost their political yearning and merged their hopes of national restoration with the Messianic teachings of their prophets and sages. The restoration they prayed for was fulfillment of the Divine Scheme of human redemption.”  
Skillful Diplomacy  
During the six months prior to the release of the Balfour Declaration on Nov. 2, 1917, writes Schneer, neither the Zionists nor the Arabs “really understood that they were in a race at all, and both parties incorrectly identified their adversary. Zionists in Britain fixed their gaze upon Whitehall, hoping that the use of skillful diplomacy would persuade the British government to support them. Of King Hussein and his armies in the Hejaz and Syria, they rarely thought. Meanwhile the Arabs sought to improve their military capacity and effectiveness against the Ottomans, with British aid. If they thought themselves to be in a race, it was not against the Zionists but against the French, who they knew had designs upon Syria. They believed the British would help them to establish control over that country, including most probably a good bit of Palestine. Zionism they rarely considered.”  
T.E. Lawrence — later to be known as “Lawrence of Arabia” — was attached to the military intelligence department of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in 1914. He eventually made contact with Feisal and soon proved to be a genius at guerrilla warfare. “I could see,” he wrote in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his famous book about the Arabian campaign, that, “If we won the war the promises to the Arabs (made by McMahon in his correspondence with Hussein) were dead paper. Had I been an honorable adviser I would have sent my men home. And not let them risk their lives for such stuff. Yet the Arab inspiration was our main tool in winning the Eastern war. So I assured them that England kept her word in letter and spirit. In this comfort they performed their fine things but, of course, instead of being proud of what we did together, I was continually and bitterly ashamed.”  
Anti-Zionist Jewish Leaders  
Although Britain’s anti-Zionist Jewish leaders were unable to prevent the Balfour Declaration, the effects of their spokesman in the British War Cabinet bore fruit in the final wording: “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 under-stood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”  
The safeguarding clauses protecting the status of Jews outside Palestine and of the Arabs in Pales-tine were important limitations upon the grant to the Zionists, making the Declaration conditional — and not a blank check.  
What Professor Schneer does not discuss in any depth in this book is the response of American Jews to the Balfour Declaration, nor the contradiction between the Balfour Declaration and Woodrow Wilson’s commitment to self-determination in the post-World War I world.  
In 1919, a petition was presented to President Wilson entitled “A Statement to the Peace Confer-ence.” It reflected the then dominant position of most American Jews on Zionism and Palestine. Those signing included Rep. Julius Klein of California; Henry Morganthau, Sr., ex-Ambassador to Turkey; Simon W. Rosendale, former Attorney General of New York; Mayor L.H. Kempner of Galveston, Texas; E.M. Baker, president of the New York Stock Exchange; R.H. Macy’s Jesse L. Straus; New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs; Judge M.C. Sloss of San Francisco, and professors Edwin S. Seligman of Columbia University and Morris Jastrow of the University of Pennsylvania. President Wilson brought the petition with him to the peace conference.  
Segregate Jews  
The petition criticized Zionist efforts to segregate Jews “as a political unit … in Palestine or else-where” and underlined the principle of equal rights for all citizens of any state “irrespective of creed or ethnic descent.” It rejected Jewish nationalism as a general concept and held against the founding of any state upon the basis of religion and/or race. The petition asserted that the “overwhelming bulk of the Jews of America, England, France, Italy, Holland, Switzerland and other lands of freedom have no thought whatever of surrendering their citizenship in those lands in order to resort to a ‘Jewish homeland in Palestine.’”  
The rejection of Jewish nationalism is reiterated in the petition. Point 5 makes this clear: “We object to the political segregation of the Jews because it is an error to assume that the bond uniting them is of a national character. They are bound by two factors: First, the bond of common religious beliefs and aspirations and, secondly, the bonds of common traditions, customs and experiences largely, alas, of common trials and sufferings. Nothing in their status suggests that they form in any real sense a separate nationalistic unit.”  
With regard to the future of Palestine, the petitioners state: :It is our fervent hope that what was once a ‘promised land’ for the Jews may become ‘a land of promise’ for all races and creeds, safeguarded by the League of Nations which, it is expected, will be one of the fruits of the Peace Conference … We ask that Palestine be constituted as a free and independent state to be governed under a democratic form of government recognizing no distinction of creed or race or ethnic descent, and with adequate power to protect the country, against oppression of any kind. We do not wish to see Palestine, either now or at any time in the future, organized as a Jewish state.”  
Zionism a Fallacy  
In his autobiography, Henry Morganthau, Sr., who served as U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, stated that, “Zionism is the most stupendous fallacy in Jewish history. It is wrong in principle and impossible of realization, it is unsound in its economics, fantastical in its politics and sterile in its spiritual ideals. I speak as a Jew.”  
In a speech at the Menorah Society dinner in Dec. 1917, Chief Judge Irving Lehman, brother of New York Governor Herbert H. Lehman, declared: “I cannot recognize that the Jews as such constitute a nation in any sense in which that word is recognized in political science, or that a national basis is a possible concept for modern Judaism. We Jews in America, bound to the Jews of other lands by our common faith, constituting our common inheritance, cannot as American citizens feel any bond to them as members of a nation, for nationally we are Americans and Americans only, and in political and civic matters we cannot recognize any other ties. We must therefore look for the maintenance of Judaism to those spiritual concepts which constitute Judaism.”  
When it comes to the contradiction between the Balfour Declaration and President Wilson’s belief in the “self-determination” of all peoples in the post-World War I world, at a meeting of the Council of Ten held in Paris on May 22, 1919, Wilson declared he “had never been able to see by what right France and Great Britain gave this country (Syria) away to anyone.”  
Commission of Inquiry  
The President favored sending a Commission of inquiry to ascertain the wishes of the people of Syria, Palestine and Iraq. But the British, following the lead of the French, backed away from this idea, and the Four Power Inquiry never took place. In 1919, President Wilson dispatched Oberlin College President Dr. Henry C. King and industrialist Charles R. Crane as the American section of the International Commission on the Mandates in Turkey.  
The findings of the King-Crane Commission, based on a six-week inquiry in the areas concerned, were withheld from the public until late Dec. 1922, after the provisions of the peace treaty had been established. It was only then that the ailing Wilson gave permission for the full publication of the report. The findings made it clear why Balfour, the Zionists and the French all opposed any inquiry into the Middle East. The American commissioners reported: “No British officer consulted by the Commissioners believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms … only a greatly reduced Zionist program should be attempted by the Peace Conference and then only very gradually initiated.”  
The Commission proposed that one mandate be established for all of Syria, including Palestine, within which Lebanon should be given autonomy, and recommended that Faisal be made King of Syria with another Arab ruler to be found for Iraq. Noting that while they had been predisposed to Zionism at the start, the Commissioners called for a serious modification of the Zionist program of unlimited immigration, looking to Jewish statehood: “The actual facts of Palestine coupled with the force of the general principles proclaimed by the Allies and accepted by the Syrians” had driven them to new recommendations.  
Gravest Trespass  
Regarding the Balfour Declaration, King and Crane wrote: “A national home is not equivalent to making Palestine a Jewish state nor can the erection of such a Jewish state be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities.”  
Nine tenths of the population of Palestine, the Commission reported, were against the entire Zionist program. “To subject the people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land would be a gross violation” of Wilsonian principles, they wrote, “and of the people’s rights, though it be kept within the forms of law.”  
As we know, the recommendations of the King-Crane Commission were ignored and the Zionist enterprise proceeded. It is interesting to see that the machinations of the British and French in dividing up the Middle East after World War I continue to have an impact upon the contemporary region. Discussing recent developments in Tunisia, Anthony Shadid, writing in The New York Times) (Jan. 16, 2011) declares: “The miserable state of affairs in the Arab world is often seen here as the detritus of Sykes-Picot, the 1916 agreement that was the highlight of Britain’s and France’s deceitful machina-tions to divvy up the spoils of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. They drew borders that forged only more divisions (Lebanon), imposed monarchs where their families had no roots (Jordan and Iraq), and created a climate of conspiracy in a region where conspiracies are still hatched. The creation of Israel followed, helping give rise to Arab national-security states that claimed legitimacy through their conflict with it.”  
Britain’s War Effort  
Professor Schneer provides abundant evidence that the reasons for adopting the Balfour Declaration by the British Government had nothing to do with either sympathy for Zionism or concern for the lives of the people then living in Palestine. The goal, instead, was to persuade Jews — whose power and influence they grossly exaggerated — to support Britain’s war effort. Balfour put it to the War Cabinet this way: “The vast majority of Jews in Russia and America, as indeed all over the world, now appeared to be favorable to Zionism. If we could make a declaration favorable to such an ideal we should be able to carry on extremely useful propaganda both in Russia and America.”  
“Implicit here,” writes Schneer, “is the wildly unrealistic estimate of the power and unity of ‘world Jewry’ that we have seen such British officials as Hugh O’Beirne and Sir Mark Sykes to have displayed. Let an infamous notation, jotted down by Robert Cecil relatively early in the war on a Foreign Office document, stand for all such miscalculations: ‘I do not think it is possible to exaggerate the international power of the Jews’ … It is a further irony that British Zionists had done what they could to foster such thinking.”  
One British Zionist, Harry Sacher, wrote long afterward: “Many … have a residual belief in the power and the unity of Jewry. We suffer for it, but it is not wholly without its compensations. It is one of the imponderables of politics, and it plays, consciously or unconsciously, its part in the calculations and the decisions of statesmen. To exploit it delicately and deftly belongs to the art of the Jewish diplomat.”  
Germany Courting Jews  
During 1917, Schneer writes, “… the Zionists did just that. Starting in June 1917, they began warning that Germany was courting Jews. Usually they did not say, indeed it was better left unsaid, that if Germany won Jewish support, then the Entente would lose it — and possibly the war. British officials were capable of reaching this conclusion themselves. On one occasion, however, Weizmann went even that far. The Germans had ‘recently approached the Zionists with a view to coming to terms with them,’ he warned William Ormsby-Gore on June 10. ‘It was really a question whether the Zionists were to realize their aims through Germany and Turkey, or through Great Britain.’ Mean-while, the British Jewish press had taken up the issue. Lord Rothschild repeated it to Balfour: ‘During the last few weeks the official and semi-official German newspapers have been making many statements, all to the effect that the Peace Negotiations the Central Powers must make a condition for Palestine to be a Jewish settlement under German protection. I therefore think it important that the British declaration should forestall any such move.’ Thus did the Zionists indirectly play ‘delicately and deftly’ upon the ignorance and prejudice of British officials; thus did they employ a mirror image of the same card that Sharif Muhammad al-Faruki had played two years earlier, when he claimed that the Germans would help the Arabs if the British did not.”  
During the period prior to the Balfour Declaration, Schneer reports, Weizmann and those who worked with him “acted as inspired opportunists. Finally, they could argue convincingly that a community of interest linked Zionist aspirations with those of the Entente. Zionists wanted the Ottomans out of Palestine; Britain and France wanted them out of the Middle East altogether … More generally, Weizmann and his colleagues persuaded powerful men in Britain, France and Italy that support of Zionism would benefit their wartime cause and the peace to follow. ‘International Jewry’ was a powerful if subterranean force, they claimed, although this was a notable exaggeration if not an outright fantasy, whose goodwill would reap dividends for the allies. Specifically, they suggested that Jewish finance in America, and Jewish influence upon antiwar forces in Russia, could help determine the conflict’s outcome.”  
Trump Their Enemy  
Weizmann warned the British Foreign Office that Germany recognized the potential of Jewish power and had begun to court it already. He advised the allies to trump their enemy by declaring outright support for Zionism. “His arguments worked upon the minds of anti and philo-Semites alike among the British governing elite,” writes Schneer, “who were desperate for any advantage in the wartime struggle. Eventually, to gain Jewish backing in the war, they promised to support establish-ment of a homeland for Jews in Palestine. It did them little good. Historians have discovered that in America Jewish financiers overwhelmingly favored the Allies already. In Russia the Bolsheviks seized power five days after the War Cabinet agreed to the Balfour Declaration. Lenin and Trotsky would take their country out of the war no matter what Russian Jews said.”  
The cynicism at work took many forms. Through his emissaries, Lloyd George offered the Turks, among other inducements, that their flag continue to fly over Palestine if they would make a separate peace, even as other British officials were promising the Zionists and Arabs that the Ottomans and their flag would be expelled from the Middle East altogether. Palestine, states Schneer, “was promised, or at any rate dangled as bait, four times: before the Zionists and the Arabs, before Picot by Sykes in the shape of an as-yet-unformed international consortium, and before the Turks, who would otherwise lose it as a result of the war.”  
Two days after the publication of the Balfour Declaration, William Yale of the U.S. State Depart-ment was reporting that “the Syrians have held meetings to protest against Zionism to all the Allies, and the younger and more hot-headed among the Moslems are laying plans for the future that bode no good for the peace of Palestine.”  
Syrian Telegram  
The Syrian leaders dispatched a telegram to Balfour: “With reference to the recent publication of your Excellency’s declaration to Lord Rothschild regarding the Jews in Palestine, we respectfully take the liberty to invite your Excellency’s attention to the fact that Palestine forms a vital part of Syria — as the heart is to the body — admitting of no separation politically or sociologically, more especially as Palestine is looked upon both by Islam and Christendom as the Polar star and birthplace of their religious ideals as much as by Jewry.”  
To such objections, the British always replied that the Balfour Declaration specifically protected the rights of non-Jews in Palestine. But in 1917, Schneer notes, “Arabs outnumbered Jews there by six or seven to one. A promise to protect the vast majority from a tiny minority seemed upside down to them. And British officials sometimes grew impatient with expressions of Arab unease. When he learned of the Syrian telegram to Balfour, General Clayton called its authors to a meeting. He told them ‘the Zionists were very powerful … Throughout the world the Jews controlled the capital … In their determination to obtain Palestine as a Home for the Jews they would undoubtedly succeed.’ So he advised that Arabs had better cooperate when the Zionists arrived in Palestine.”  
Sowed Dragon’s Teeth  
Dr. Schneer concludes: “During World War I, then, Britain and the allies slew the Ottoman dragon in the Middle East. By their policies, they sowed dragon’s teeth. Armed men rose up from the ground. They are rising still.”  
Dr. Schneer shines an important spotlight on a crucial moment in history and contributes to our understanding of the current dilemmas in the Middle East. Those who seek the real roots of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians would do well to read this book.  
Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and serves as Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and Editor of Issues. The author of five books, he has served on the staff of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President.

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