2 November 2017 marks the centenary of the letter sent by Arthur Balfour, the Foreign Secretary, to Lord Rothschild, setting out the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This Balfour Declaration could be seen as constituting a first step in achieving the objective of political Zionism that had been outlined by the First Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897, namely “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.”
The motives behind this decision were various. Aside from a belief in the righteousness of the Zionist cause, it has been suggested that British leaders hoped the declaration would help gain Jewish support for the allies in neutral countries, such as in the United States of America or Russia. Great Britain and France were mired in a stalemate with Germany on the western front by 1917 and all efforts to defeat the Turks had failed. They feared that the war might be fought to a draw. Lloyd George also had come to see British dominance in Palestine as an essential post-war aim and felt that the establishment of a Zionist state, under its protection, would accomplish this.
The text of the declaration reads as follows:
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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.
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour
Among the Special Collections, the collection MS 144 contains papers relating to the Balfour Committee, formed for the purpose of convening a conference of Anglo-Jewry to consider means of furthering the policy laid down in the Balfour Declaration. The collection contains a book of committee minutes, dating from 17 Dec 1917 – 26 Oct 1918; correspondence of A.M.Hyamson, honorary secretary of the committee, 1917-18, including correspondence with Dr Israel Abrahams; together with statements for the press, drafts of heads of scheme, and copies of memoranda, including proposals for Jewish settlement of Palestine, some signed by members of the committee.