Balfour Declaration: the responses


Three weeks ago, Mosaic Magazine published my essay on “The Forgotten Truth about the Balfour Declaration,” here. I argued that Britain would have never issued the declaration (a century ago this November) had any of the principal Allies opposed it. And I demonstrated that prior to the declaration, Zionists cleared the way by securing Allied buy-in. (A little-remembered Zionist leader, Nahum Sokolow, spearheaded this effort.) The French provided the Zionists with a letter of their own, Woodrow Wilson signed off on Balfour’s text, and the Zionists even got a nod from the Vatican. These pre-approvals made the Balfour Declaration possible.

In the day before the League of Nations and the United Nations, the Balfour Declaration thus had five-star international legitimacy. By contrast, commitments to the Arabs in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence had none. And that’s why the Balfour Declaration finally entered the mandate for Palestine, as an international commitment under law.

There have been three responses:

• Nicholas Rostow, authority on international law: “How the Balfour Declaration Became Part of International Law,” here.

• Allan Arkush, professor of Judaic studies and history: “How Gentile Zionism Affected the Statesmen Behind the Balfour Declaration,” here.

• Colin Shindler, historian of Israel and Zionism: “Jabotinsky’s Role, and the Jewish Legion’s, in Securing the Balfour Declaration,” here.

I’ll have the final word in a few days’ time. Until then, enjoy this unusual photograph. It features, left to right, Nahum Sokolow (in the thinker’s pose), Menahem Ussishkin (in bed), and Chaim Weizmann (hand on head). All three were in Paris in February 1919 to address the peace conference, so I would guess this was taken then, in Ussishkin’s hotel room. Credit: World Zionist Organization, here.

Sokolow, Ussishkin, and Weizmann in Paris, 1919

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