Weizmann’s First Steps

THE DECLARATIONS OF WAR in late July and early August 1914 burst upon an unprepared world like a volley of gunshots at a summer garden party. They sliced through illusions, ripping up the pretty picture of great powers at peace and taking their ease. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28; Germany declared war on Russia on August 1 and on France on August 3. Britain declared war upon Germany on August 4. Initial shock quickly gave way to martial ardor, however, and then to apprehension for loved ones serving in rapidly deploying armies all over Europe. British Jews had additional worries. They feared for their coreligionists in Russia, where anti-Semitism was scaling new heights, and in Habsburg Poland, which lay directly in the path of the tsar’s advancing forces.

Then Turkey gave British Zionists a reason to hope. When the Ottomans entered the war on the side of the Central Powers in early November, they called into question the future of their own empire, which meant the future of Palestine as well. It took a moment for the implication to sink in. At first even the most sophisticated and best-informed British Zionists foresaw only additional calamities. “The fate of Palestine1 thus becomes dreadful and, moreover, uncertain,” Ahad Ha’am wrote to Weizmann. “Our colonies,2 our institutions—everything may now be swept away,” Weizmann lamented. But then dread gave way to a wild and surging anticipation. Assume that Britain won the war, against Turkey as well as against Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Middle East would drop into the melting pot at last. And then perhaps5 the ingot of Palestine could be pried loose from the great slab of Turkey’s Middle Eastern empire.

But should Zionists hope that Britain won the war? Zionism was a world movement—Jews lived everywhere, fought everywhere, on every front, against each other, for their respective countries of residence. The World Zionist Organization tried to insist that its various branches remain neutral, but this was impossible. Much as socialists from Germany, France, and Britain marched to the trenches (while singing the Internationale), so too Jews, even Zionists, loyally supported the wartime governments of the countries in which they lived. A typical example: Leopold Greenberg wrote on August 14 in The Jewish Chronicle, “England has been all she could be to the Jews; the Jews will be all they can to England.” Outside his office he put up a giant placard displaying the same words.

For a British government minister such as Herbert Samuel, neutrality was obviously impossible. But the Ottoman attack on Russia in early November, like a flash of lightning, illumined a landscape that had been previously dark to him. “The moment Turkey3entered the war the position was entirely changed,” he recalled. The prewar proto-Zionist, the self-described “first member of the Jewish community ever to sit in a British Cabinet” (Disraeli, born Jewish, had converted to Christianity at age twelve), emerged as the Zionist movement’s most effective and highly placed champion. He could and would combine his duties to Britain with his duties, as he now conceived them, to the Jewish people.

He kept a record4 of his initial steps as a fully fledged, if as yet publicly undeclared, Zionist and reproduced the relevant passages verbatim in his memoirs. On November 9, 1914, only a week after Turkey entered the war, Samuel met with Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey in the grand building with the Italianate facade and six-story tower overlooking Horse Guards Parade and St. James’s Park. He was no unfamiliar Jew from Poland seeking audience with a distant and disdainful official. He was a member of the government. For once, a Zionist had entered the inner sanctum on equal terms to discuss the future of Palestine.

He prepared carefully for the interview and came right to the point. “Perhaps,” he told Sir Edward, “the opportunity might arise for the fulfillment of the ancient aspiration of the Jewish people and the restoration [in Palestine] of a Jewish state.” He ticked off the reasons why Britain should support this “ancient aspiration.” Most important, “the geographical situation of Palestine and especially its proximity to Egypt would render its goodwill to England a matter of importance to the British Empire.” But almost equally significant in the present wartime circumstances, if Russia could be induced to back the Zionist policy, then Russian Jews would have some reason to support their government. That would benefit Russia’s ally Britain. For that matter, Samuel argued, a pro-Zionist policy would rally Jewish opinion throughout the world on behalf of the Allies.

Britain should support establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, he added, for less self-interested reasons. Such a state would be good not merely for Britons but for everyone: “It might become the centre of a new culture. The Jewish brain is rather a remarkable thing, and under national auspices the state might become a fountain of enlightenment and a source of a great literature and art and development of science.” Obviously it would be good for the Jews themselves: “If they could see men of their own kin achieving great things it would have a profound influence on their outlook.” And this would benefit their Middle Eastern neighbors as well: “Raising their [the Jews’] character would add to their usefulness to the peoples among whom they lived.”

How Grey would have responded only weeks before, when Britain was hoping to keep Turkey’s goodwill, can readily be imagined. With Turkey having chosen the wrong side in the great conflict, however, he could make only one response. Zionism, which would undermine Turkey in the Middle East if given free rein, finally had entered the realm of practical politics, from the British point of view—or at least had got its toe inside the door. So without actually committing himself to a specific policy, Grey smiled upon a proposal that his Foreign Office subordinates had rejected, politely but scornfully, just a few months before when put to them by Nahum Sokolow. “The idea had always had a strong sentimental attraction for him,” Samuel recalled him saying. “The historical appeal was very strong. He was quite favourable to the proposal and would be prepared to work for it if the opportunity arose.”

Later that day Samuel broached the same subject with another colleague, chancellor of the exchequer David Lloyd George. The previous April, Lloyd George had described the president of the Local Government Board as “a greedy, ambitious6 and grasping Jew with all the worst characteristics of his race”; on November 9, however, when Samuel mentioned the “ancient aspiration” of Jews to establish a state in Palestine, Lloyd George replied that he was “very keen to see a Jewish state established there.” Thus encouraged, Samuel prepared a memorandum on the subject for circulation among the other cabinet ministers.

It is worth noting here the parallel evolution of British interest in and sympathy for the rise of both Arab and Jewish nationalism. Before the war, when Sharif Hussein’s son Abdullah inquired about British support, he received polite but short shrift from Lord Kitchener and Sir Ronald Storrs in Cairo. At roughly the same time the Zionist Nahum Sokolow was leaving the Foreign Office in London equally empty-handed. But once the war was raging, and the Ottoman Empire was a declared enemy, Lord Kitchener discovered a coincidence of interest among Arabs and Britons after all. Simultaneously Grey and Lloyd George were expressing a newly avowed, but ostensibly long-held, concern for Zionist goals. Did Grey know that Kitchener had approached Abdullah? Perhaps. Did it occur to him that the Arab nationalism that Kitchener now encouraged and the Jewish nationalism that he himself supported were potentially contradictory? Probably not. Sharif Hussein and Herbert Samuel knew nothing of each other, but from now on their two movements would advance in unsuspecting tandem.

Meanwhile in London in the late summer and early fall of 1914, leading Jews were mobilizing for action. Israel Zangwill, head of the ITO, which sought a safe refuge for Jews anywhere that would take them, worried for the Austro-Polish Jews living in the path of the advancing Russian army, and for Russia’s own Jews subject to ever harsher repression. Using contacts gained from his ITO work, he lobbied high-placed contacts on their behalf. Leopold Greenberg, of The Jewish Chronicle, shared Zangwill’s fears, as well as Zangwill’s hope that the British government would pressure Russia to treat Jews less vilely. Unlike Zangwill, he also hoped to persuade Britain to help them if they wished to flee to Palestine. The old wire-puller managed a brief audience with several people at the Foreign Office. “Needless to say they7 have enough on their hands without our ‘tsuris,’” Greenberg reported somewhat ruefully. But he discerned in their reaction to him a shift in Britain’s Middle Eastern policy: “I think they want to see some settlement of our question.” This was before Turkey entered the war.

Despite his earlier relative unimportance, Chaim Weizmann proved during this period to be a more effective champion of Zionism than Greenberg, Zangwill, or anyone else. That he should become the undisputed leader would not have been predicted, and was even counterintuitive. During 1914–18 he mastered the political Zionist approach, which as a practical Zionist he had once condemned. The folks-mensch learned to circulate comfortably in august social circles. If the search for British support took him down unanticipated paths, he would follow where they led.

Unlike Greenberg and Zangwill, who looked to the government for immediate intervention on behalf of Austro-Polish and Russian Jews, Weizmann approached the situation from a strategic point of view. He shared their concern but held that only the Russians could solve the problem of Russian anti-Semitism. Therefore, as he wrote on September 8 (to a Russian Zionist friend in New York City), he would focus instead upon “the unification of Jewry,8 or such part of it as might present definite demands at a future peace conference.” The first demand, of course, would be a homeland for Jews in Palestine. Already he was thinking in terms of political rather than practical Zionism.

He considered bringing together international Zionist notables to concert their demands for the peace conference but decided instead to focus on British Zionists. Then he decided that Zionism needed not so much to formulate demands as to produce a memorandum stating the Zionist position. For this he turned to the Manchester school, notably to Harry Sacher and to Sacher’s friend Leon Simon. Simon was a follower of Ahad Ha’am who earned his living as a civil servant (he would rise eventually to head the British Post Office) while serving as president of the University of London Zionist Organization. Quickly the three set to work. Their correspondence for the months of November and December 1914 refers often to progress and lack of progress on the document.

Weizmann also reached out to former opponents, such as the old practicals Cowen and Greenberg. He contemplated approaching Israel Zangwill too, despite his loathing of the ITO program, but Greenberg warned Weizmann that Zangwill “will be difficult to9 get into line. He takes such ferocious views and then he sticks to them so ferociously.” Weizmann tried anyway, even offering Zangwill leadership of the movement that he himself was attempting to organize. Zangwill turned him down flat: “It would be a case of the blind leading the blind.” Moreover, “I should find it10 difficult to demand that the Jewish minority should rule over the Arab majority [in Palestine]; a free and equal constitution for both races is all that is in the British or the modern tradition.”

For some months Weizmann unavailingly courted Zangwill, but he had bigger fish to fry. The most important Jewish family in Britain, indeed in the world, was the great banking dynasty, the House of Rothschild. Weizmann wanted the family’s support for his concert of Jews preparing to submit demands to an eventual peace conference. (When that project lapsed, he would seek it for Zionism more generally.) His prewar advocacy of a Hebrew university in Jerusalem had brought him into contact with Baron Edmond de Rothschild in Paris. In fact, he had visited the baron just as war was breaking out (and had managed to return to England only with difficulty). Weizmann also knew the baron’s son, James, a tall, elegant, monocle-wearing devotee of the racetrack, and owner of prizewinning horses, who in 1913, at age thirty-five, had married Dorothy (Dolly) Pinto, an Englishwoman or girl, really; she was just seventeen. With the outbreak of war, Baron James joined the French army, but Dorothy stayed in London.

On November 7 and 8 Weizmann had two long sessions with Dorothy in lieu of meeting with her husband (who already was serving in the army) or with her father-in-law (who had traveled to Bordeaux). “I tried to learn11 from Madame James whether Jews like [the English] Lord [Nathan Mayer] Rothschild and his circle would be willing to take any action at present, but Madame James was not well informed on these points.” But Weizmann, who could exercise great fascination upon women (and men too), had touched a deep chord. Dorothy wrote to him less than two weeks later: “I have spoken to Mr. Charles Rothschild, not in any sort of way officially, but in the course of conversation he thoroughly approved of the idea [a Jewish Palestine] and in fact thought it would be the only possible future.” Charles was the second son of Nathan Rothschild and the younger brother of Walter Lionel Rothschild, who would become the Lord Rothschild to whom the Balfour Declaration would be addressed. Thus were woven the first strands of a great web.

Dorothy, who was now playing the role of a political go-between for Weizmann, reported that she had also spoken with the Earl of Crewe, Asquith’s secretary of state for India. Crewe was related12 to the Rothschilds by marriage. According to Dorothy, he too believed that “our compatriots13 would not be unwelcome in Palestine … if by some chance it became British.” Crewe was very much aware of Kitchener’s recent approach to Sharif Hussein. On November 12—a few days after speaking with Dorothy Rothschild about the future of Palestine—he wrote to Lord Hardinge, the Indian viceroy: “Supposing that the Arabs14 took up arms against the Turks I think it would be our policy to recognize a new Khalif at Mecca … If this were done there appears to me to be a possibility for allowing Syria to be organized as an Arab state under the Khalif.” He then suggested that Europeans might indirectly control the new Arab state. But as we saw in Chapter 3, Kitchener never mentioned any such possibility to Sharif Hussein. In fact, quite the opposite; he had held out to him the prospect of Arab independence. Perfidious Albion aside, did Crewe believe that Palestinian Jews would live contentedly within a new Syrian kingdom under a newly appointed Arab caliph, even if indirectly protected by Europeans? Most probably he did not think about the potential for conflict between Jews and Arabs in Syria at all. This is an early sign of the incomprehension with which some important Britons initially pursued two mutually exclusive policies.

Weizmann, knowing nothing of Kitchener’s plans for Arabia, was delighted with Dorothy Rothschild’s letter. “You don’t—I am sure15—expect me to acknowledge your very kind letter in ordinary conventional terms of thanks. The action you undertook and your intention to help on a just cause is in itself sufficient satisfaction and so much in harmony with the glorious Jewish traditions of the house to which you belong, that my trivial thanks would only be superfluous.” Then, unexpectedly, he told her that he had been present “in the cursed town of Kishinev during a Jewish massacre … we defended the Jewish quarter with revolvers in our hands … We ‘slept’ in the cemetery—the only ‘safe’ place and we saw 80 Jewish corpses brought in, mutilated dead.” Only he had not been in Kishinev during the pogrom but in Geneva. He was making it up, trying to impress a twenty-year-old girl.

He saw Dorothy again three days later, this time with her husband, who was on leave from the French army. Baron James urged him “to try and influence16 members of the British government” and, further, to advocate to them more ambitious goals than practical Zionism had hitherto advanced. “One should ask for something which … tends towards the formation of a Jewish State.” This remark only reinforced Weizmann’s developing approach, although he and his allies carefully avoided the word “state,” which they rightly deemed too controversial to introduce at the moment.

Through Baron James and Dorothy Rothschild, Weizmann now came into contact with other members of the Rothschild family, most important the Hungarian-born Rozsika, wife of Charles Rothschild, to whom Dorothy had spoken about Palestine. Through Rozsika he would meet Charles and Charles’s older brother, Walter. Again the folks-mensch exercised an irresistible fascination upon the cream of British high society. Charles, Rozsika, and Walter would become important supporters. Eventually Rozsika outdid17Dorothy as a political go-between, introducing Weizmann to many influential figures, including Robert Cecil, a cousin of Arthur Balfour and parliamentary under secretary of state for foreign affairs. Cecil reported to his superiors after his first meeting with Weizmann: “It is impossible18 to reproduce in writing the subdued enthusiasm with which Dr. Weizmann spoke, or the extraordinary impressiveness of his attitude, which made one forget his rather repellant and even sordid exterior.” This, one suspects, is the authentic voice of the British establishment and a faithful recapitulation of its reaction to the Zionist leader during the early war years.

Weizmann made one of his most important contacts without Rozsika’s help, at a social event in Manchester, to which his wife dragged him early in November 1914. At that tea party someone introduced him to a Mr. Scott. Weizmann did not recognize the editor of Britain’s most famous Liberal newspaper, The Manchester Guardian. “I saw before me19 a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman, advanced in years, but very alert and attentive. He was inquisitive about my origin and work.” Weizmann told him, “I am a Jew and if you want to talk to me about that, Mr. Scott, I am at your disposal.”

It was the beginning of an extraordinary partnership. They did talk, at the party and then more seriously at Scott’s Manchester Guardian offices, or (accounts vary) possibly at his home, The Firs, a large house surrounded by extensive gardens and noble trees. Weizmann opened his heart to the older man, a complete stranger. Perhaps he sensed political affinities based upon common liberal values; possibly he had a shrewd intimation that more than mere sympathy would be forthcoming. Or conceivably, Weizmann sensed something even deeper in Scott’s reaction to him, for the elderly editor would soon take almost a paternal interest in the younger man.

Scott, for his part, found Weizmann “extraordinarily interesting, a rare combination of idealism and the severely practical which are the two essentials of statesmanship.” He was struck particularly by Weizmann’s “perfectly clear conception of Jewish nationalism, an intense and burning sense of the Jew as Jew, just as strong, perhaps more so, as that of the German as German or the Englishman as Englishman, and secondly arising out of that and necessary for its satisfaction and development, his demand for a country, a homeland which for him and for anyone sharing his view of Jewish nationality can be no other than the ancient home of his race.” But for Scott as for Grey and Lloyd George (who spoke with Herbert Samuel at roughly the same time), it was the Ottoman entry into World War I that spelled the difference between mere sympathy and active support. He asked Weizmann for a memorandum encapsulating the Zionist position. This was the document upon which Weizmann and Harry Sacher and Leon Simon worked in November and December and that came to overshadow Weizmann’s initial preparations for a future peace conference.

As their second interview came to an end, Scott said to Weizmann: “I would like to do20 something for you.” He knew most of the British government, he said, and would like Weizmann to meet Herbert Samuel, president of the Local Government Board. “For God’s sake, Mr. Scott, let’s have nothing to do with this man,” expostulated Weizmann, assuming that a member of the Cousinhood would oppose Zionism tooth and nail.

So Scott contacted Lloyd George first and asked him to meet the extraordinary Zionist from Manchester. Lloyd George agreed—as he told Scott, he just had been talking about Zionism with Herbert Samuel. Perhaps Dr. Weizmann would meet the two of them together. (“Alas,” sighed Weizmann when he heard of it, still unaware of Samuel’s Zionist epiphany.) Lloyd George suggested a date; then he had to postpone. He suggested a second date and had to postpone again, but this time he indicated that Weizmann should meet at any rate with his colleague. Meanwhile Weizmann frenziedly exhorted Sacher and Simon to polish the memorandum so that he could present it at the meeting. But it does not appear to have been ready on the afternoon of December 9, when Weizmann took the four-fifteen train from Manchester to London. He spent the night at the home of Ahad Ha’am in Haverstock Hill and met the president of the Local Government Board in his Whitehall office the next morning.

Weizmann expected little from Herbert Samuel. He explained to him the Zionist position—for the first time, as he probably thought. Samuel listened patiently, then floored his visitor. “Since Turkey had entered21 the war, he [Samuel] had given the problem much … consideration … Realization of the Zionist dream [now] was possible … Big things would have to be done in Palestine … The Jews would have to build Railways, harbours, a University, a network of schools, etc.” Flabbergasted, Weizmann told Samuel, “If I were a religious Jew I should have thought the Messianic times22 were near.” Shortly after the meeting he repeated this formulation in a letter to his wife: “Messianic times have really come … He told me that his programme is more ambitious than mine.” In great excitement he returned to Haverstock Hill, where he and Ahad Ha’am went over the details of the meeting again and again. “I have just remembered23 another of Samuel’s remarks which I have not passed on to you,” he wrote to his friend three days later. “He said: We would rebuild the Temple, as a symbol of Jewish unity.” Weizmann wrote delightedly to Scott, who had made the eye-opening meeting possible, that Samuel “feels the responsibility24 lying on him, as a British Cabinet Minister and [as] a Jew.” Indeed, he reported, Samuel had expressed a desire to meet additional Zionists. Weizmann would be happy to make introductions. An important meeting of minds had taken place, and an important relationship had been established.

Weizmann was on fire. He had lassoed for Zionism important members of the Rothschild family and the influential editor of The Manchester Guardian; and he had made contact with the president of the Local Government Board, a political insider. Yet he had his eye on even bigger game, a former prime minister now serving not merely as Conservative member of Parliament for the City of London but also, at Asquith’s invitation, as a member of the War Council. He had met Arthur James Balfour eight years ago in Manchester, briefly during the general election of 1905–06, and again shortly thereafter for a more extended discussion of Zionism. Now he asked a mutual friend to request for him a third audience.

It was a shrewd request. So far Weizmann’s most important political contacts belonged to the Liberal Party. It seemed only common sense to approach the Conservatives as well, not least since, as Ahad Ha’am warned, “it is very possible25 that after the war there will be a Conservative Government with Balfour at its head.” Moreover, Conservatives did not share the anti-imperialist scruples of certain Liberals, such as Grey. They would not object to Britain expanding her empire by adding Palestine.

A. J. Balfour looms large in the history of Zionism; for the Declaration that bears his name, for his role in events leading up to its release, and for his sympathetic attitude afterward. Yet he seems an odd protagonist, scion as he was of the aristocratic Cecil political dynasty, which began in the sixteenth century with Lord Burghley, the adviser to Queen Elizabeth I, and extended down the years to Balfour’s uncle, the third Marquess of Salisbury, who had served as Conservative prime minister after Disraeli. The line had continued to the present generation, with Balfour himself as its most eminent representative among a stable of successful relatives who served in Parliament, the Foreign Office, and the diplomatic corps.

Balfour’s manner betrayed his background. He indulged (it was not affectation) a sort of aristocratic indolence and imperturbability. Tall and willowy, he rarely stood straight, but leaned against a wall. In the House of Commons he slouched low in his seat, boots on the railing before him. His spoken interventions in Commons were so graceful that, even when he criticized or directly attacked his opponents, they almost appreciated the attention. In fact there was steel beneath the creamy surface. When he was Irish home secretary under his uncle, Lord Salisbury, his appearance initially earned the ridicule of Home Rulers, who called him “Daddy Long Legs” and “Niminy Piminy.” Then when he defended policemen found guilty of willfully murdering three tenants at Mitchelstown during a rent strike, they learned to call him “Bloody Balfour.” Eventually “Daddy Long Legs” confounded them even more completely by climbing to the top of the greasy pole, replacing his uncle, who resigned as prime minister in 1902.

Critics accused him of laziness because he could not be bothered to read blue books. They accused him of dilettantism because politics was only one of his myriad interests. He belonged to the Royal Society, to the British Academy, and to the Society for Psychical Research. He wrote thoughtful works of philosophy attempting to reconcile Darwinism and religion. Acute, subtle, detached, and profoundly conservative, he was no democrat; he believed in a representative Parliament for the British and their kin but for few others. “Even in the West,”26 he once pointed out to cabinet ministers, “Parliamentary institutions have rarely been a great success, except amongst the English-speaking peoples.” He shared the attitudes of his time and class with regard to the various races of the world. “They have been different27 and unequal since history began,” he once said, and “different and unequal they are destined to remain.” He supported British imperialism because it was, he thought, good for Britain and good for the world. In short he was not, on the face of it, a likely ally for the much-despised Jews. Yet he wrote to Weizmann’s friend: “I have the liveliest28 and also the most pleasant recollections of my conversation with Dr. Weizmann in 1906 … I shall be happy to see him.”

The darkly bearded Zionist, intense and foreign, met the tall, languid aristocrat in the latter’s splendid London residence, 12 Carlton Gardens, just across St. James’s Park from the Foreign Office, on December 12. Only two days had passed since Weizmann’s meeting with Herbert Samuel; he had not returned to Manchester but had spent the time with Ahad Ha’am, likely preparing for the coming audience. Afterward he crowed with delight: “Balfour remembered29 everything we discussed eight years ago.” Weizmann brought him up-to-date on Zionist achievements since 1906 and lamented that the war had interrupted progress. No doubt with the prospective defeat of Turkey in mind, Balfour replied: “You may get your things done much quicker after the war.”

But Weizmann was not, at present, asking Balfour to help him get specific things done. His more subtle and difficult task was to explain to a skeptical, patrician philosopher-cum-politician the tragedy of anti-Semitism and how to overcome it. He hoped not to ask for favors, but to educate and to convert. The two men spoke of the Jews in Germany. They had contributed much to German greatness, Weizmann pointed out, “as other Jews have to the greatness of France and England, at the expense of the whole Jewish people whose sufferings increase in proportion to ‘the withdrawal’ from that people of the creative element which are absorbed into the surrounding communities—those same communities later reproaching us for this absorption, and reacting with anti-Semitism.” He cannot have expressed himself as drily as in his memoir, however. For Balfour listened intently and was deeply moved—“to tears,” Weizmann reported in near disbelief to Ahad Ha’am, “and he took me by the hand and said I had illuminated for him the road followed by a great suffering nation.”

Balfour had immediately grasped the essential difference between Weizmann and other Jews he had met. Claude Montefiore had once asked Balfour to intercede on behalf of Romanian Jews. “What a great difference30 there is between you and him,” he told Weizmann. “For you are not asking for anything … you demand, and people have to listen to you because you are a statesman of a morally strong state.” He added that he “regretted having known only Jews of one type.” As the meeting drew to a close and he led his guest to the door, he said to him: “Mind you come again to see me, I am deeply moved and interested, it is not a dream, it is a great cause and I understand it.”

After that almost anything would have seemed anticlimactic, but Weizmann continued his political work at the same fever pitch. He met again with Herbert Samuel, this time with their mutual acquaintance, the haham Moses Gaster, present as well. They discussed the memorandum that Samuel was preparing for the cabinet. He traveled to Paris and conferred once more with Baron Edmond de Rothschild. On January 15, 1915, he met at last with Lloyd George, Herbert Samuel being present as well. Scott coached him for this meeting:

You probably will find31 that he will take the lead in the conversation and put questions to you which will give you plenty of openings … he will want to discuss with you … the present strength of the Jewish element in Palestine and the possibility of its rapid expansion; its relation to the local Arab population which so greatly outnumbers it; the potential value of Palestine as a “buffer” state and the means of evading for ourselves an undesirable extension of military responsibility; the best way of allaying Catholic and “Orthodox” jealousy in regard to the custody of the Holy Places.

Weizmann approached the meeting, which took place at 11 Downing Street, with great nervousness. As Scott had predicted, the future prime minister bombarded him with questions: “I answered32 as best I could.” He must have answered very well indeed. With Lloyd George, as with almost everyone else during this extraordinary period, Weizmann worked his magic: The chancellor too would become a firm supporter.

Less than two weeks later Herbert Samuel forwarded his memorandum, now amended in light of Weizmann’s suggestions, to Grey and Asquith for approval before submitting it to the cabinet as a whole. He no longer advocated a Jewish state in Palestine but rather the territory’s annexation to the British Empire.

It is hoped33 that under British rule facilities would be given to Jewish organizations to purchase land, to found colonies, to establish educational and religious institutions, and to cooperate in the economic development of the country, and that Jewish immigration, carefully regulated, would be given preference, so that in course of time the Jewish people, grown into a majority and settled in the land, may be conceded such degree of self-government as the conditions of that day might justify.

And he concluded:

The Jewish brain is a physiological product not to be despised. For fifteen centuries the race produced in Palestine a constant succession of great men—statesmen and prophets, judges and soldiers. If a body be again given in which its soul can lodge, it may again enrich the world. Till full scope is granted, as Macaulay said in the House of Commons, “let us not presume to say that there is no genius among the countrymen of Isaiah, no heroism among the descendants of the Maccabees.”

The prime minister’s response was lukewarm. Asquith, either in Liberal anti-imperialist mode or in veiled anti-Semitic mode, confessed to his confidante Venetia Stanley: “I am not attracted34 by this proposed addition to our responsibilities, but it is a curious illustration of Dizzy’s [Disraeli’s] favourite maxim that ‘race is everything’ to find this almost lyrical outburst proceeding from the well-ordered and methodical brain of H.S.” But the prime minister did not forbid the preparation of a less lyrical memorandum for the cabinet to consider. Samuel got back to work. Six weeks later the British government duly convened to discuss the future of Palestine as a British Jewish nationalist envisioned it. Thus was a watershed crossed.

During the first months of World War I British Zionism, led primarily by Chaim Weizmann but with Herbert Samuel playing a crucial role and the titular leaders of the EZF very much overshadowed, moved purposefully to establish influence among the men who determined British foreign policy. It was a brash and successful program that Weizmann conducted, its success all the more extraordinary for largely being planned and executed by a man born not in Britain but in Russia.

Some British Jews, if they had known of Weizmann’s activities, would not have approved. Most of the Cousinhood and its auxiliaries, the Board of Jewish Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association and their Conjoint Committee, held very different ideas about how to solve the “Jewish problem.” When Weizmann first realized the desirability of Jewish unity, he had approached not only Israel Zangwill of the ITO and his former political Zionist opponents Greenberg and Cowen, but the Conjoint Committee as well, in the person of Lucien Wolf. Perhaps this gesture was somewhat pro forma, as it had been with Zangwill. Perhaps, however, Weizmann genuinely expected to work his magic on this representative of assimilated British Jewry. If so, then he was doomed to disappointment. Lucien Wolf and his colleagues regarded Zionism with distaste. They deemed Weizmann an interloper. They had their own wartime program for British Jewry, and it was not his. A significant struggle, a competition for the ear of the British government, was about to commence.

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