Balfour Declaration

WAR & CONFLICT BOOK
ERA:  WORLD WAR I/THE FRONT

November 9, 1917 The New York Times published the following.

LONDON, NOV.8 – Arthur J. Balfour, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, has written the following letter to Lord Rothschild expressing the Government’s sympathy with the Zionist movement:

“The Government view with favor the establishment of Palestine as 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 will be done that may prejudice the civil or religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

Mr. Balfour ads that this declaration of sympathy for the Jewish Zionist aspirations has been submitted to and approved by the Cabinet.

The Jewish Chronicle, commenting on Mr. Balfour’s letter, says:
“With one step the Jewish cause has made a great bound forward. It is the perceptible lifting of the cloud of centuries: a palpable sign that the Jew – condemned for two thousand years by unparalleled wrong – is at last coming to his right. He is to be given the opportunity and means by which in place of being a hyphenation he can become a nation, in place of being a wanderer in every clime there is to be a home for him in his ancient land. The day of his exile is to be ended.”

The headline of the article: BRITAIN FAVORS ZIONISM made it obvious that the British support of Zionism had alternative reasons. Nearly 10 months prior to the printing of the article, the Germans who had bombarded England and defeated the French on multiple fronts had over 100,000 Jewish solders who had served in their military. The Jewish people had multiple reasons for supporting Germany during World War I what with the Eastern front battles happening in their front yard causing them to witness the destruction of their communities by the Russian attempts to invade the Austro-Hungarian territories. With all the destruction, many Jewish refugees were displaced and forced to leave Russian areas or face brutal massacres with the dishonorable label of “disloyal citizen” attached to them. The Jewish majority had no love for the Russian czars and supported the Bolsheviks when the communist movement had picked up steam. As a result, approximately 100,000 Jews were killed in the anti Bolshevik campaigns conducted by Ukrainians, Poles, and Russians. Now on the German side, there were moments when Jewish people were accepted under the condition of publicly signing documentation to swear their loyalty to Germany.
In 1914, Germany defeated France in the Battle of the Ardennes, Battle of Mulhouse, Battle of Lorraine, Battle of Charlesroi, and proceeded to capture Maubeuge. In 1916, just before the Allies launched a costly assault in the Battle of the Somme, French General Joseph Joffre stated that his army would soon “cease to exist,” in reference to the squeeze that the Germans had placed on the French at Verdun. The battle at Verdun was a long, 10 months battle that the Germans expected would last as long. The strategy was to attack the French stronghold and win a war of attrition. German General Erich von Falkenhayn explained to his superiors that a long drawn out war at Verdun would kill the French will to fight and cause the British to sue for peace. The conditions at Verdun favored the Germans, and von Falkenhayn lured the French into the battle where he planned to “bleed the French to death.” This plan was very successful as the French lost vital land and troops. The relief did not come for the French until months later when the Germans had to divert attention to the east after a Russian led offensive at Somme captured a multitude of Austro-Hungarian troops. This allowed the French to regain much of their territory in Verdun.

Still, while this was happening, the Central Powers and the Allied forces were doing everything possible to pull the U.S. into the war. To show support for the German efforts, German Jews founded the Committee for the East, an organization designed to spread pro-German propaganda in Poland and other Eastern European countries. In 1915, Hermann Cohen, a Jewish philosopher arrived in the U.S. to persuade the American government, through Jewish influence, to join the war on Germany’s side.

While the French and British were pinned down, and the Germans had the advantage in the west, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Holweg attempted to make peace, using Pope Benedict XV as the primary negotiator. The peace would have returned the prewar boundaries and left the German overseas possessions open for debate. Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquees of Lansdowne followed with a petition for peace with the hopes of saving British civilian lives. His efforts, along with the German chancellor’s efforts were dismissed by the British. The terms of the peace agreement were fair and reasonable but denied as the Allied Forces seemed to have known that, in the final hour, the U.S. would save them as they were already favored by the U.S. public opinion and investors.

The U.S. Joined the war April 6, 1917 for the following reasons: the propaganda against the Germans was very successful, centered on the cruel treatment of “neutral” Belgium and her citizens. Another reason for the U.S. involvement in the war was to protect the financial investments of nearly $3 billion in loans and bonds by J.P. Morgan and other U.S. investors that helped fund the British and French war efforts. These investors supported the “Preparedness Movement” that called for the U.S. to join the war on the Allied forces side. Then there were the deceptions that included a mysterious and convenient interception by the British of a German telegram to Mexico that allegedly promised the Mexican government the return of its stolen land (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona) if the Mexico attacked the U.S. The next deception was the German sinking of the Lusitania which is believed to have carried military equipment on a passenger boat. Over 1,000 people were killed, 128 of which were Americans.

After the Americans joined the war, the Jewish Legion was established largely in part to the efforts of Jewish lobbyist like Vladimir Jabotinsky who won fame for spearheading the effort to have Jewish soldiers involved in the war against the Ottomans to conquer Palestine. He believed that such participation would give the Jewish people proper representation in the peace talks while coincidentally ignoring and preventing any representation from the Palestinians who already lived there. The Jewish battalions were the 38th, 39th and 40th Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers and composed of Jewish soldiers from multiple countries. By the time the Balfour Declaration was released, all the work had already been done. The German Jews had switched sides to the Allied forces, the promise of a Jewish state in Palestine was made, and the Americans had made enough excuses to join the war.

Barnavi, Eli. My Jewish Learning, Modern Jewish History; The Great War had a
profound impact on world Jewry.
https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/wwi-and-the-jews/
Isaacs, Anna. Moment Magazine, How the First World War Changed Jewish History.
http://www.momentmag.com/how-the-first-world-war-changed-jewish-history/