Posts Tagged Israel

The Allied Balfour Declaration

My “final word” on the Balfour Declaration is published at Mosaic Magazine, here. Excerpt:

Had Nahum Sokolow not secured the assent of other powers in 1917 for the hoped-for British declaration, it would not have come about. And had he not returned to regain their approval in 1918, it would not have become binding international law. It is always crucial to “work” the great capital—London in 1917, Washington today. But a diversified diplomacy also aggregates the power that resides in other centers around the globe. Such aggregation gave Zionism the Balfour Declaration, the UN partition plan, and Security Council resolution 242. Absent it, Israel or its actions may yet be robbed of their international legitimacy, especially if the “unshakable bond” with its great friend begins to unravel.

Along the way, I write about the (lack of a) role of Christian restorationism in the declaration’s gestation, Britain’s failure to fulfill its commitment, and Sokolow’s forgotten finesse. As another Zionist leader once put it,

he had an amazing capacity for adjusting to his partner. Talking to a hasidic rabbi he turned into a Hasid; dealing with a French statesman he became a charming bel esprit, and, as somebody once said half in jest and half in malice, conferring with the Pope he became a Catholic.

Read my final word at this link.

Photo below: Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu peruse the original Balfour Declaration at the British Library, September 2015 (Government Press Office).

The Netanyahus view the original Balfour Declaration.

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    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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      The Balfour Declaration: what’s been forgotten

      This year is the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, the decision of the British government announced on November 2, 1917, in favor of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration is the beginning of the international legitimation of the Zionist project and, ultimately, the State of Israel. That’s why British prime minister Theresa May has invited Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to London in November to mark the centennial. That’s also why the declaration is the target of Israel’s opponents, who cast it as a self-dealing grab by a perfidious empire. To the Arabs, it occupies the same circle of hell as the Sykes-Picot agreement.

      Is this an accurate representation of the Balfour Declaration? If you deemed it an exclusively British project, you might think so. But what if it wasn’t? What if it represented the considered consensus of all the Allied powers at the time? What if Britain had insisted that the Zionists secure the buy-in of France, Italy, the United States, and even the Vatican before it issued the declaration? What if the Balfour Declaration was in fact an Allied declaration, the equivalent to a U.N. Security Council resolution today?

      In the June monthly essay in the on-line Mosaic Magazine, I consider just that possibility, by a shift of focus. This isn’t the well-known story of Chaim Weizmann’s charm offensive among British decision-makers. It’s a lesser-known story, revolving around a forgotten Zionist leader (hint: he’s in the postcard below), and exploring many other assurances made in Paris, Rome and Washington, without which Britain wouldn’t have issued any declaration at all.

      “The Forgotten Truth about the Balfour Declaration,” in Mosaic Magazine, at this link. It’s the monthly essay, so it will be followed each week by a response from another authority on the subject, and then by my own final word.

      Seated right to left, Nahum Sokolow, Lord Balfour, Chaim and Vera Weizmann, in Rishon LeZion, 1925.

      British passport

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        Israel, American Jews, and the gap

        Moment Magazine runs a symposium in its November-December issue on “The Growing Gap Between Israel and American Jews.” Contributors include Elliott Abrams, Daniel Gordis, Yossi Klein Halevi, Aaron David Miller, Jonathan Sarna, Anita Shapira, Abe Sofaer, Dov Zakheim, and more. Here is my contribution.

        It would be difficult to find two halves of one people who inhabit such totally different worlds. The blue-state suburbs of America, where most American Jews reside, are the most stable, secure and peaceful abodes known to humankind since the Garden of Eden (in one word: ever). In most of these places, no soldier has fired a shot in more than a century. American Jews are a minority of just under two percent of the population in an open society that embraces them. Having let their guard down, they’re being assimilated away.

        Israeli Jews are just under two percent of the population of the Arab world, which adamantly refuses to “normalize” them in any way. They are subjected to barrages of threats in a region where people fulfill threats of violence every day. Arabs can be ruthless to one another: The death toll in nearby Iraq and Syria since 2003 is about equal to the massive death toll of the American Civil War. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what would happen to Israel’s Jews were they to let their guard down. Is it any wonder, then, that American Jews and Israelis see the world differently?

        Yet despite the perils, Israeli Jewry is thriving. When Israel was born, there were nine American Jews to every Israeli Jew. Now they are at parity, and the long-term trend is clear: Israel is destined to become the center of the Jewish world. Sovereignty is such a powerful elixir that Jews who enjoy it thrive even in the most troubled part of the world. In less than a century, the center of world Jewry will have moved from Europe to America, then from America to Israel. Alas, some American Jews are experiencing this as a loss. The negation of Israel is one (minority) response among those who can’t grasp the dilemmas of sovereignty in an often anarchic world. But the majority of American Jews are driven by a sincere desire to help Israel prosper. Where their expectations aren’t realistic, Israel must work to change them. But it must never ignore them, lest the Jews cease to be a people.

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          Israel and the Post-American Middle East

          This article will appear the July/August 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, and may be previewed online.

          Foreign AffairsWas the feud between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, first over settlements and then over Iran, a watershed? Netanyahu, it is claimed, turned U.S. support of Israel into a partisan issue. Liberals, including many American Jews, are said to be fed up with Israel’s “occupation,” which will mark its 50th anniversary next year. The weakening of Israel’s democratic ethos is supposedly undercutting the “shared values” argument for the relationship. Some say Israel’s dogged adherence to an “unsus­tainable” status quo in the West Bank has made it a liability in a region in the throes of change. Israel, it is claimed, is slipping into pariah status, imposed by the global movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).

          Biblical-style lamentations over Israel’s final corruption have been a staple of the state’s critics and die-hard anti-Zionists for 70 years. Never have they been so detached from reality. Of course, Israel has changed—decidedly for the better….

          Read the rest here.

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