Balfour Declaration

    April 1998 - Passover Edition            
Search the Jewish Magazine Site: Google
The Balfour Declaration


Search our Archives:

Opinion & Society


Understanding the Why of the Balfour White Paper

By Hershy Goodman

History is history; understanding history is understanding.

The history of the Jewish People and the British has passed through many changes. There have been periods of time when we have been close allies and periods of time when we have been bitter enemies. It is well known that the Israeli War of Independence was fought, not just against the Arabs, but also against the British.

Contrast that to an earlier period, the period of World War I, when the relationship between the Jews and the British were in close proximity and the Balfour declaration was made declaring the intention of the British Government to establish a homeland in "Palestine" for the Jewish people.

What caused the British to do a good deed for the Jews and what caused the British Government to turn on their promise and try to renege on their stated intention?

The Balfour Declaration, which was written by Arthur James Balfour, the foreign secretary of Great Britain, in November of 1917, stated:

  "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."  

Now this declaration certainly sounds like a true and altruistic manifestation of idealism. A major world government has for the first time recognized the soul yearning of the Jews to return to their homeland as a valid and legal right. How many years have the Jews wandered from country to country, denied citizenship, plundered and exploited. Now finally a major world power has recognized their legal rights to their homeland. If so, why did the British turn on the Israelis several years later and deny them the very access to immigration that they promised?

To understand this historic document, we must view it in its true perspective. World War I was fought between the Allies and the Axis powers. The British were on the side of the allies; Germany and Turkey were on the side of the Axis powers. Until this point in time, Turkey controlled the Palestine area. The British understood that it was in their best interests to harness the Jewish Zionist aspirations for their own purposes.

Part of the Jewish world lived under German and Turkish rule. The Zionist headquarters were at that time in Berlin. Part of the Jewish world lived in the Russian territories, who were undergoing the pangs of revolution. The other part of the Jewish world lived in the USA, which desired to remain neutral. The remaining Jews lived in the Allied counties.

The British weighed the matter seriously. They were under the opinion that the Germans who used their influence with the Turks to promote the welfare of the Jewish population in Palestine. There were rumors that the Germans would soon recognize the Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The British felt that this would cement a world wide support by the Jews with the Axis powers. The British were fearful that the Americans might be influenced to give support to the Germans.

The British had two reasons to support the Jewish Palestinian homeland declaration. First, there was the moral support from the world at large that they hoped to enlist through the Jewish voices in the foreign lands. Secondly, was the support of the Jewish soldier in the middle east. The British were in a bloody war. If allies could be found in Palestine to fight against their enemy, let the spoils go to the victory. How many Jewish Youth volunteered and enlisted in the Jewish Legion of the British Army. This was the beginning of the Jewish Army in Israel. Jewish soldiers received British training.

Everything went according to the British plan. The Jews were appreciative of the British recognition of the Jewish national thirst for its own homeland. Except one thing. The Arabs, fearful of the ultimate ingathering of the aggressive and advanced western style Jews, fearful of the usurping of the lands that they now claimed as theirs, began riots against the Jews. The war being over, the British, now the ruler of Palestine was saddled with making peace with the Jews and the Arabs. The Arabs represented more to the British than the Jews now possessed. Prior to the war, the British courted the Jews and sought their support. In exchange they pledged a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Now the Arab empires were more important to the British. The British were not ignorant of the importance of the oil rich middle eastern Arab counties and therefore began the sell out of the concept of a Jewish homeland.

"Beware of the ruling authorities, for they bring a person close to them for their own needs". When they need you, they honor you. When you are no longer useful to them, they will abandon you and not stand by you in your time of need. This was the advice of the Jewish sages, as written in "Ethics of the Fathers," more than two thousand years ago. Happy are we who have truly understood this.


from the April 1998 - Passover Edition Edition of the Jewish Magazine

Please let us know if you see something unsavory on the Google Ads and we will have them removed. Email us with the offensive URL (