What we have clearly established about the Balfour Declaration is that it was the product of an Anglo-American collusion over which the political Zionist organisations exerted immense influence. You might be tempted to think that what developed from the Declaration in 1917 was an unexpected unstoppable enthusiasm for a new Jewish state which the British government had not foreseen. But the evidence clearly argues otherwise.

Arthur Balfour supposed author of the Declaration which bears his name.

Arthur Balfour voiced the official foreign office view at the time. [1] The minutes of the War Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 31 October 1917, stated that it was their unanimous opinion that: ‘from a purely diplomatic and political point of view, it was desirable that some declaration favourable to the aspirations of the Jewish nationalists should now be made. The vast majority of Jews in Russia and America, as indeed all over the world, now appeared to be favourable to Zionism. If we could make a declaration favourable to such an ideal, we should be able to carry on extremely useful propaganda both in Russia and America.’ [2] Was this so? He produced no evidence at all, and the Cabinet papers from Curzon and Montagu violently dismissed these very claims.

Balfour dressed the cabinet decision in the robes of diplomacy and politics. With Russia in the throes of revolution and the possibility that they might make a separate peace with Germany, every avenue of propaganda had to be activated. Chaim Weizmann had made his mark. Though there was ample evidence to the contrary, ridiculous claims which could never have been proven appeared to justify the War Cabinet’s decision. From whose lips did the phrase ‘the vast majority of Jews … all over the world’ take shape? In Britain, Jewish communities were clearly divided on the issue. Edwin Montagu provided ample proof. [3] Indeed the very notion that Zionism commanded such support was a fiction. It was the message from the Zealots. This was the assurance given to Balfour by Brandeis and Weizmann. It was a lie which was repeated so often within the exalted cabinet circle that it was accepted as ‘fact’. The evidence presented was to the contrary. In modern parlance the decision was the product of smoke and mirrors, spun to create the illusion that the British Cabinet cared about the future of impoverished Jews for whom they would take a moral stand. Impoverished Arabs did not matter.

Weizmann, like Lloyd George, wrote his memoirs through a rose-tinted, self-congratulatory prism dispensing multi-coloured favours on his chosen supporters. The omissions and misrepresentations falsified history. He wrote of ‘those British statesmen of the old school’ who were, ‘genuinely religious’ who bravely supported his cause. Inside their brand of Christian morality, he claimed they understood as a reality the concept of the ‘Return … of the Jewish peoples to the Holy Land. It appealed to their tradition and their faith.’ [4] What breath-taking nonsense. To describe the men who had approved massacres at Omdurman in Sudan, the slaughter of the Matabele tribes to create Rhodesia, [5] the men who caused the Boer War, [6] permitted the death of over 20,000 women and children in the vile concentration camps on the Veldt,[7] and planned and caused the world war that raged across the globe as ‘genuinely religious’, defied reason. Theirs was a very different religion of self-interest and control.

What is certain is that the Secret Elite’s innermost circle of influence knew the consequences of declaring its support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. They had been explicitly warned by Curzon and Montagu of the impact that it would have on the Arabs. But the truth was, for as long as the Arabs could be cajoled through false promises to help throw the Turks out of Palestine and Syria, they would serve a short-term purpose. The Secret Elite aimed to control, manage and make profitable what they deemed to be a worthy civilisation built through the Empire on the foundations of English ruling-class values. [8] That the Arab world was to be fractured for that purpose did not bear heavily on their collective conscience.

Although some historians credit Chaim Weizmann for winning round the War Cabinet to his Zionist cause [9] the ‘diplomatic and political’ interests to which the Secret Elite steadfastly held course, were the imperial designs which underpinned their ultimate aim to dominate all other empires. It has been said that if Zionists hadn’t existed, Britain would have had to invent them. [10] Palestine was the final link in a chain which would stretch from India through Persia and the Middle East, protect the Suez Canal and give them unbridled access to the sea-routes to Persia, India and the Far East. French ambitions represented a serious and lasting concern. Whether or not the Sykes-Picot-Sazanov agreement would survive the final division of spoils remained unproven in 1917. Creating a Jewish-Palestinian buffer zone under some form of British control was eminently preferable to the risk of a French protectorate along the Suez. [11] Such thinking consumed their every decision.

Undeterred by warnings that it was inadequately resourced to accommodate a Jewish homeland, Balfour informed his cabinet colleagues that if Palestine was scientifically developed, a very much larger population could be sustained than had endured the Turkish misrule. (You can almost hear Brandeis’s and Weizmann’s voices.) His definition of a ‘national home’ remained significant. He understood it to mean ‘some form of British, American, or other protectorate under which full facilities would be given to the Jews to work out their own salvation and to build up, by means of education, agriculture and industry, a real centre of national culture and focus of national life.’ [12] It was a generalised, almost throw-away interpretation which appeared to avoid any threat to other communities in Palestine. Had he ended his remarks at that, there may have been a sliver of doubt about his understanding of what might follow. But A.J. Balfour clarified his thinking, and in so doing acknowledged that the establishment of a Jewish State was in fact likely. The Cabinet minute reported his claim that ‘it did not necessarily involve the early establishment of an independent Jewish State, which was a matter for gradual development in accordance with the ordinary laws of political evolution.’ [13]

The very influential Chaim Weizmann

Consider the thought behind these words. His message to Weizmann, the international bankers and all who had direct and indirect access to the British policy, was that if they took the opportunity which Britain presented, an independent Jewish State could be within their grasp. Put very simply, the message that Jews all over the world heard was that if they supported Britain, Britain would support them. Having said that, Balfour immediately contradicted himself by adding that the suggested declaration might raise false expectations which might never be recognised. [14]

It was classic double-speak, but he knew what he was doing.

1. War Cabinet no. 261 p. 5.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. GT 2263.
5. Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 226.
6. Will Podmore, British Foreign Policy since 1870, p. 21.
7. Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War, p. 115.
8. W.T. Stead, quoted in Hennie Barnard, The Concentration Camps 1899-1902.
9. One example being Leonard Stein, The Balfour Declaration.
10. Mayir Verete, The Balfour Declaration and its Makers, Middle Eastern Studies, 6 (1), January 1970. p. 50.
11. Ibid., pp. 54-57.
12. War Cabinet 261, p. 5.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid., p. 6.