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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

What were the British government’s motivations for issuing the Balfour Declaration?

Filed under: International Law, Israel, The Middle East

Of course, the Balfour Declaration was many things to many people.

Today, it’s customary to look at it as though Britain was seeking to gain politically – it was hoping that the Jews would provide support in America or in Russia for the British war efforts.

 Looking back, it looks like the British might have got it wrong on two levels: first, it wasn’t clear that the Jews had the kind of support they were hoping to find from them, and secondly it was by no means clear that support for Zionism at that stage was the way to the heart of the Jewish community, because there was such, such strong opposition from people who feared that this would lose them the rights that they had fought so hard to obtain if they were regarded as being part of the people whose homeland was elsewhere.

But I think it’s also, as you said, it was not just a remarkable constellation of events, it was a remarkable constellation of people and when you dig back into the history you find people – some of them rather extraordinary individuals.

Lord Rothschild, who was primarily an animal collector, a zoologist, who one of whose most passionate conversation with Chaim Weizmann was to ask him to chase up two ostriches which he had sent to Palestine and nobody knew what happened to them. Really a remarkable group of people, and I think one of the lessons that we can draw is that each of us in our own way can find our own way – however, however strange and unusual we might be – to play our role in the story of Israel and the Zionist story.