Most histories I’ve read portray the Balfour Declaration of 11/2/1917 as a great act of charity or philosemitic vision. This piece in Le Monde Diplomatique, translated at the behest of Antony Loewenstein, portrays it as a gambit of power politics. I think the author, Alain Gresh, is leaving out the financial angle, the war bonds angle.
The Balfour Declaration meets several preoccupations of the government in London. While the War intensifies on the Continent, it is a matter of gaining the sympathy of global Jewry, perceived as being in the possession of considerable power. This vision, historically ironic, is not too distant from that of the worst anti-Semites who detect everywhere the ‘hand of the Jews’. The British Prime Minister [David Lloyd George] in his Memoirs evokes the power of ‘the Jewish race’, guided by its singular financial interests, whilst Lord Balfour himself had been the promoter, in 1905, of a project of a law on the limitation of immigration to Great Britain, aimed in particular at Russian Jewry. Mark Sykes, one of the negotiators of the accords that partition the Middle East in 1916, wrote to an Arab leader: “Believe me, for I am sincere when I tell you that this race [the Jews], vile and weak, is hegemonic through the entire world and that one is not able to defeat it. Jews sit in each government, in each bank, in each enterprise.” [‘vile’ appears to have been a favourite epithet which Sykes used indiscriminately – translator]
The Balfour Declaration is addressed particularly to American Jewry, suspected of sympathy for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and to Russian Jewry, influenced by revolutionary organisations that have overturned the Tsar in the spring of 1917. Many of them are favourable to the idea that Russia signs a separate peace. London hopes to prevent this ‘desertion’. Balfour even evokes the mission that will be entrusted to the Jews in Palestine: to ensure that the Jews of the world behave ‘appropriately’. This calculation will fail since, during the night of the 6th November 1917, the insurgent Bolsheviks seize power at Petrograd and demand an immediate peace.