Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University. writes in Middle East Eye that the Balfour Declaration is an example of British duplicity:
Palestine controlled the British Empire’s lines of communications to the Far East. France, Britain’s main ally in the war against Germany, was also a rival for influence in Palestine.
Under the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, the two countries divided up the Middle East into zones of influence but compromised on an international administration for Palestine. By helping the Zionists to take over Palestine, the British hoped to secure a dominant presence in the area and to exclude the French. The French called the British “Perfidious Albion”. The Balfour Declaration was a prime example of this perennial perfidy.
What Shlaim doesn’t say is that the French officially blessed the idea of a Jewish national home in Palestine before the Balfour Declaration! As Martin Kramer wrote recently in a tour de force of scholarship about how the Zionists managed to get the entire civilized world to support the Zionist goals in the 1910s:
The French expressed a general sympathy for Zionism, but [Nahum] Sokolow then had the bold temerity to ask for it in writing. And he received it. On June 4, 1917, Cambon issued him a letter (on the prime minister’s authority), which not only anticipated the Balfour Declaration but cleared the way for it.
The Cambon letter, almost as forgotten as Sokolow, was addressed to him and is worth quoting in full:
You were good enough to present the project to which you are devoting your efforts, which has for its object the development of Jewish colonization in Palestine. You consider that, circumstances permitting, and the independence of the Holy Places being safeguarded on the other hand, it would be a deed of justice and of reparation to assist, by the protection of the Allied Powers, in the renaissance of the Jewish nationality [nationalité juive] in that land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centuries ago.
The French government, which entered this present war to defend a people wrongly attacked, and which continues the struggle to assure the victory of right over might, can but feel sympathy for your cause, the triumph of which is bound up with that of the Allies.
I am happy to give you herewith such assurance.
As Weizmann’s biographer Jehuda Reinharz has noted, the Cambon letter “in content and form was much more favorable to the Zionists than the watered-down formula of the Balfour Declaration” that followed it. The French accepted a rationale in terms of “justice” and “reparation,” and acknowledged the historical Jewish tie to the land.
Zionists received official support for their aims from Italy, Japan, the US and other nations as well.
It is true that Great Britain had its own self-interest at heart for supporting Zionism, as does every nation whenever any decision is made. And it is also true that England wanted to maximize its own position in the Middle East at the expense of the French. But Shlaim paints Balfour as a British land grab without looking at this context.
Indeed, Shlaim pretends that the universal support of a Jewish homeland in the West that led to the League of Nations making that goal part of international law is somehow an underhanded British plot rather than a Zionist triumph:
Britain compounded its original mistake by writing the terms of the Balfour Declaration into the League of Nations’ mandate for Palestine. What had been a mere promise by one great power to a minor ally now became a legally binding international instrument.
Shlaim here admits that the Mandate was international law. But in this case, he is arguing that international law is wrong. And he is implying that somehow the other members of the League of Nations were somehow forced or bamboozled to support an immoral British proposal that the Jewish people have the human right of self-determination in their historic lands – hardly a controversial position to take.
Unless, that is, you hate Jews.
Shlaim admits in this essay that he was one of the people to sign a petition to force Britain to apologize for the Balfour Declaration. He was stung by the rejection of the petition:
The Balfour Declaration is an historic statement for which HMG does not intend to apologise. We are proud of our role in creating the state of Israel.
The declaration was written in a world of competing imperial powers, in the midst of the First World War and in the twilight of the Ottoman Empire. In that context, establishing a homeland for the Jewish people in the land to which they had such strong historical and religious ties was the right and moral thing to do, particularly against the background of centuries of persecution.
Much has happened since 1917. We recognise that the declaration should have called for the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly their right to self-determination. However, the important thing now is to look forward and establish security and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians through a lasting peace.
Shlaim doesn’t care about international law or human rights or even history. He just wants to use any platform he can to delegitimize the Jewish state.
We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.