IN THE SUMMER OF 1917, months of wrangling and politicking still separated British Zionists from their great goal, but they thought it finally lay within their grasp. Of Lawrence’s hair-raising adventures, of his specific attempts at lobbying General Allenby, George Lloyd, and other authorities in support of Arab independence, they knew nothing. Of King Hussein’s intentions for Syria and of his British supporters’ sympathies, they had some general knowledge. Of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, they had more than an inkling. They realized that with regard to Palestine they must “elicit [from the1 government] … some definite statement beyond the mere verbal assurances with which we have hitherto been contented”—or someone else might. In consultation with sympathetic officials such as Mark Sykes and Ronald Graham, Weizmann and Sokolow worked out a method of approach. They and their colleagues would compose a Zionist statement. When it was ready, Lord Rothschild would send it to the foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour. The latter would present it to the War Cabinet for approval. When this body had sanctioned it, Balfour would inform Rothschild by letter. This would constitute a declaration of British support for Zionism, in fact a Balfour Declaration.
Then, as we know, Weizmann had to travel unexpectedly to Gibraltar to head off Henry Morgenthau, and subsequently to Paris to report to Lloyd George. While he was thus engaged, and while Lawrence and Feisal and Auda were trekking the desert wastes of Arabia blowing up tracks and trestles, the London Zionist Political Committee was meeting at the faux-Gothic, faux-Tudor, and long-since-demolished Imperial Hotel on Russell Square. There, in leafy Bloomsbury in July 1917, Sokolow, Sieff, Marks, Simon, Ahad Ha’am, occasionally Sacher (when on leave from Manchester), and several others discussed and argued and wrote their draft declarations.
Characteristically, Sacher thought Zionists should ask “for as much as2 possible.” “We must control3 the state machinery in Palestine. If we don’t, the Arabs will. Give the Arabs all the guarantees they like for cultural autonomy; but the state must be Jewish.” Sokolow overbore him and other maximalists. He remained in constant touch with Sykes; indirectly he had communicated with Balfour himself; and at this stage he knew better than his colleagues what the British government would accept and what it would not. The group must not submit an itemized wish list, he realized; certainly it must not even mention a Jewish state. “Our purpose,”4 Sokolow wrote to Joseph Cowen, who also took part in the deliberations, “is to receive from the Government a general short approval of the same kind as that which I have been successful in getting from the French Government.”
On July 12 the group (minus Sacher, who had journalistic duties in the north) boiled down half a dozen more or less militant and detailed drafts into a single, albeit still somewhat prolix, paragraph for the British government to sanction. It argued that Britain should recognize Palestine as the national home of the Jewish people and should establish with the Zionist Organization a “Jewish National5 Colonizing Corporation,” under whose aegis Jews could immigrate to Palestine freely, live autonomously, and develop economically.
Sokolow submitted this statement to Sykes and Graham. They responded within a matter of days, but not positively. Sokolow, reporting their objections, said the paragraph was “too long”6 and “contained matters of detail which it would be undesirable to raise at the present moment.”
Sokolow reconvened the committee on July 17. This time Sacher attended. He had grasped what kind of statement the Foreign Office wanted. While sitting, or pacing, in the hotel room, the Zionists debated what to cut from their earlier paragraph and what to retain. Leon Simon jotted down on a scrap of paper the formulation at which they eventually arrived. Harry Sacher was its principal architect. The scrap survived—someone saved it. Eighty-eight years later its anonymous owner put it up for auction at Sotheby’s in London. An unidentified bidder purchased it for $884,000. Here is what Simon wrote all those years ago:
1. His Majesty’s7 Government accepts the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the National Home of the Jewish people.
2. His Majesty’s Government will use its best endeavors to secure the achievement of this object and will discuss the necessary methods and means with the Zionist Organization.
Note that the first sentence implies an unbroken link between Jews and Palestine despite the nearly two-thousand-year separation. Note that the second sentence posits the Zionist Organization as official representative of Jewish interests. Sacher’s pithy new statement had taken note of the criticisms offered by Sykes and Graham but ceded little of substance.
Sokolow showed the condensed statement to Sykes and Graham, who approved it. He passed it along to Lord Rothschild, who sent it to Balfour, along with a note: “At last I am able8 to send you the formula you asked me for. If His Majesty’s Government will send me a message on the lines of this formula, if they and you approve of it, I will hand it on to the Zionist Federation and also announce it at a meeting called for that purpose.”
Rothschild thought, as did most of the informed Zionists, that the government statement of support would be forthcoming momentarily. Weizmann, who had just returned from Paris, was optimistic too. By this stage the Zionists had defeated the Conjoint Committee; they (himself most of all) had developed extensive and close relations with important officials and had reason to believe the officials supported them; they had nobbled the most important Rothschild, who now served as their emissary to the government; and they had produced the brief, vague, yet apt statement the Foreign Office desired. “The declaration is9 going to be given us soon I understand,” Weizmann informed Sacher on August 1. Even Balfour was sanguine. He drafted a reply to Rothschild: “I am glad to be10 in a position to inform you that His Majesty’s Government accept the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people.” Zionism stood upon the verge of an epochal step forward. But Balfour did not send the note.
In the same way that much ink has been spilled examining the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, so historians have traced with infinite care British officials’ revisings and rewordings of Sacher’s two-sentence message during the late summer and autumn of 1917, the discussions and meetings among them to which it gave rise, and the reactions of Jewish Zionists and anti-Zionists alike. But here historians have no controversy (although inevitably they divide over the motivations of individuals). The War Cabinet minister Sir Alfred Milner, possibly hoping to assuage the fears of anti-Zionists such as his friend Claude Montefiore, removed the word “reconstituted” from the statement. Instead of terming Palestine “the National Home of the Jewish people” he called it in his new draft “a National Home for the Jewish people.” Later, at Milner’s request,11 Leopold Amery, an under secretary to the War Cabinet, further attenuated Sacher’s two sentences, excising any reference to the Zionist Organization and incorporating language, employed by Zionists in letters to The Times during their controversy with the Conjoint Committee, denying they would damage Arab interests in Palestine. These changes were important, but they reflected qualified support, not opposition. That came from another quarter of the cabinet, most irreconcilably from the newly appointed secretary of state for India and sole remaining Jewish cabinet minister, Edwin Montagu. Ironically, a Jew represented the greatest remaining obstacle to cabinet acceptance of the Balfour Declaration.
Like his cousin Herbert Samuel, Montagu had resigned his cabinet post in December 1916, when Asquith relinquished the prime minister’s position to Lloyd George. He took this step reluctantly but could do nothing else. He owed much to the former Liberal leader, whose friendship he still cherished and whom he greatly admired. He had no inkling of Asquith’s genteel but unmistakably anti-Semitic references to him in his correspondence with Venetia Stanley (although one wonders whether he learned about them when Venetia Stanley became his wife). He once had written to Asquith:
In all the things12 that matter, in all the issues that frighten, in all the apprehensions that disturb, you show yourself clear sighted and self possessed, ready to help, to elucidate, to respond, to formulate, to lead, to inspire. That’s why loving you and following you is so easy and so profitable … Whatever happens, you are firm as a rock … understanding, shielding.
But Montagu admired Lloyd George too. And he was ambitious and justifiably confident of his own powers, although perhaps socially insecure. He could not remain content outside government for long. On March 28, 1917, he wrote to Lloyd George:
As the desert sand13 for rain,
As the Londoner for sun,
As the poor for potatoes,
As a landlord for rent,
As drosera rotundifolia for a fly,
As Herbert Samuel for Palestine,
As a woman in Waterloo Road for a soldier
I long for talk with you.
Lloyd George must have proved amenable, for shortly thereafter Montagu reentered the cabinet, first as minister without portfolio working on plans for postwar reconstruction, later as replacement for Austen Chamberlain as secretary of state for India. But there was a price to pay. For such disloyalty, as he perceived it, Asquith never forgave him.
Lucien Wolf’s Conjoint Committee fell and British Jews who favored assimilation lost their leadership, when the tall, brooding, emotional Montagu, in effect, stepped into the breach. He may not have intended it, but that is what he did. He knew nothing of Zionists drafting paragraphs at the Imperial Hotel or, probably, even of the close connections linking Weizmann and Sokolow to Sykes and various Foreign Office figures. He did not see Sacher’s two-sentence statement or Balfour’s draft reply until August 22. But when finally he did see it, he was galvanized. He wanted the foreign secretary to redraft his letter and reject the Zionist statement. The scorching memorandum that he composed, five pages of coruscating irony and sarcasm, was titled: “The Anti-Semitism of the Present Government”—not, as he carefully explained, because he thought Lloyd George and his team held anti-Semitic views but rather because he thought their pro-Zionist policy would “prove a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country in the world.”
We have become familiar with the arguments Montagu employed against Zionism. Most cabinet ministers knew them as well, for the arguments had changed little since Montagu’s own opposition to Herbert Samuel’s 1915 Zionist statement to the cabinet. “I assert that14 there is not a Jewish nation,” Montagu wrote again, two years later. “I deny that Palestine is today associated with the Jews or properly to be regarded as a fit place for them to live in.” And further down the page: “When the Jew has a national home surely it follows that the impetus to deprive [him] of the rights of British citizenship must be enormously increased. Palestine will become the world’s Ghetto.” And finally, and perhaps inevitably: “The Government are asked to be the instrument … of a Zionist organization largely run … by men of enemy descent or birth.” But such quotations do not do justice to the vehemence of Montagu’s attack. Cabinet ministers, accustomed to one another’s dry formulations and businesslike prose, would have been taken aback when they read their colleague’s cri de coeur.
For that was what it was. Montagu took the issue personally. He had once remarked that he had been trying all his life to escape the ghetto. Now he understood the Zionists to be trying to push him, and every other assimilated British Jew, back inside. If the government endorsed the Zionist memorandum, Montagu argued in a desperate letter to Lloyd George, it would mean that “the country for which15 I have worked ever since I left the University—England—the country for which my family have fought, tells me that my national home … is Palestine.” He treasured his appointment to the India Office, he reminded the prime minister. He looked forward to championing progressive reforms there, to carrying the ideals of British Liberalism to the subcontinent. But how could a Palestinian—as he must be termed if the government accepted the Zionist statement—represent Britain in India? “Every anti-Semitic organization and newspaper will ask what right a Jewish Englishman, with the status at best of a naturalized foreigner, has to take a foremost part in the Government of the British Empire.”
Montagu belonged to the cabinet but had no position in the War Cabinet, that decisive subset of the whole that would render final verdict on the Zionist statement. Nevertheless, his fervent protest ensured him a seat at the table when the body met on September 3. On that day members had before them Sacher’s two sentences, Milner’s revised version of them, and Montagu’s perfervid response. In the discussion that ensued Montagu, according to minutes of the meeting, “urged that the use16 of the phrase ‘the home of the Jewish people’ would vitally prejudice the position of every Jew elsewhere and expanded the argument contained in his Memorandum.” Bizarrely, neither Lloyd George nor Balfour could attend this particular session; perhaps that fact worked in his favor, although Milner and Robert Cecil (deputizing for Balfour) ably argued the Zionist position. Thus the British War Cabinet divided along lines adumbrated in that first confrontation between Zionists and assimilationists in the offices of Lucien Wolf in early 1915. The result was equally inconclusive. In the end, the War Cabinet agreed only to consult Britain’s ally, President Wilson of the United States, before taking action.
News of the cabinet’s indecision quickly reached Chaim Weizmann. Balked at this penultimate stage, and furious, he hurled himself into a last great effort to push the declaration through. He mobilized American Zionists to extract a pledge of support from Wilson, and urged British Zionists to press forward one more time. At his indirect instigation, hundreds of telegrams, from Jewish congregations across the length and breadth of the British Isles, all urging government support of the declaration, flooded into the Foreign Office. By the fall of 1917 Weizmann could turn the key to most doors in Whitehall. He met with Foreign Office officials, cabinet ministers, the prime minister’s closest advisers, finally even with the prime minister himself (although for only three minutes). With Lord Rothschild he drew up a toughly worded restatement of the Zionist position that could also be read as a barely concealed reproach to the government for stalling: “We have submitted17 the text of the declaration on behalf of an organization which claims to represent the will of a great and ancient, though scattered, people. We have submitted it after three years of negotiations and conversations with prominent representatives of the British nation.” Montagu took steps too. He prepared a second anti-Zionist memorandum for the War Cabinet to consider. But he stood at a disadvantage. He had no organization behind him and scarcely an ally in the government.
The War Cabinet convened again, on October 4, this time with Lloyd George in the chair and Balfour at his right hand. The foreign secretary explained briefly and lucidly what Zionism meant and why he supported it. Unexpectedly a powerful voice intervened—in opposition to him. Here was Montagu’s only cabinet-level ally, the Marquess Curzon of Keddleston, lord president of the council. But he was an ally only up to a point. He intended to offer the War Cabinet a cold douche of realism. He opposed Zionism for practical reasons, he explained. He would not concern himself with philosophical speculation about the possibility of Jewish assimilation in the countries of the Diaspora. Alone among the men sitting at 10 Downing Street, he had been to Palestine: “barren and desolate18 … a less propitious seat for the future Jewish race could not be imagined.” Anyway, how would Jews get there in significant numbers? What would they do when they arrived? And what would happen to the present Muslim population? Zionism he regarded “as sentimental idealism, which would never be realized and [with which] His Majesty’s Government should have nothing to do.”
Montagu would have been glad of Curzon’s unforeseen, if frigidly offered, support, but he may have understood that it came too late. This meeting would be his swan song. His duties as Indian secretary called him to the subcontinent, and he would be leaving England in a matter of weeks. Still he continued to hammer, arguing not on practical grounds, as Curzon had, but rather on intensely personal ones. “How would he negotiate with the peoples of India on behalf of His Majesty’s Government if the world had just been told that [Britain] regarded his national home as being in Turkish territory?” He pointed out too that “the only trial of strength between Zionists and anti-Zionists in England had resulted in a very narrow majority for the Zionists, namely 56 to 51 of the representatives of Anglo-Jewry on the Conjoint Committee.” Surely the government could not choose one side over the other on this slight basis? And he could not refrain from underlining once again the foreign origins of leading Zionists in Britain.
For a second time the War Cabinet deferred a decision, this time so that members could read a paper Curzon wished to prepare and ascertain more precisely the views of President Wilson. The latter’s aide, Colonel Edward House, had sent on the president’s behalf a noncommittal response to the original cabinet inquiry, but then Wilson had permitted the American Zionist Louis Brandeis to send a more positive one. They decided as well to canvass representative Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews in Britain to ascertain their views of the draft declaration. Montagu composed a third anti-Zionist memorandum, his most outspoken and personal yet, criticizing Weizmann specifically: “On this matter19 he is near to being a religious fanatic.” The secretary of state for India appears to have understood, however, that he was rowing against the current and that the tide was too strong. Except for Curzon, the cabinet’s big guns opposed him: Lloyd George, Balfour, Milner. He told C. P. Scott the day after submitting this last memorandum that the big three could not be moved. Therefore “the thing will go20 through.”
Poor Edwin Montagu! For all his worldly success, he embodied the dilemmas and tragedies of early-twentieth-century assimilated British Jewry. He believed passionately in assimilation. At War Cabinet meetings and in his written memoranda, he fought for this ideal with all the tools of an upper-class Englishman: the irony and wit and logic he had imbibed in the debating clubs at Cambridge, the Liberalism he had learned from Asquith, the rhetorical skills he had acquired over years of political campaigning in the flatlands of Norfolk. He even allowed to appear, as an upper-class Englishman might have done when pressed, a glimpse of the antiforeigner sentiment so pervasive in wartime Britain. We cannot know whether his colleagues perceived him to be an Englishman who happened to be Jewish (as he so desperately wished) or rather as a Jew who happened to have been born and raised in England (as Asquith did). We cannot know whether true assimilation was possible for Jews in Britain in 1917.
But surely the response Montagu elicited only a few weeks after the cabinet meeting from none other than Aubrey Herbert, recently returned from his secret mission to Switzerland, is suggestive. Let us give to Herbert, a brave and interesting man, every benefit of the doubt. Let us posit that he sympathized with Jews as he did with other oppressed and persecuted peoples. Now he was on his way, on secret government duty, to Albania to assist in the nationalist struggle against the Ottomans. Montagu had started out for India. Their paths intersected in Turin, Italy, where they dined together. Herbert described the event in his diary. He simply could not regard “Edwin of the Saxon Sword,” as he snidely called him (but not to his face), as anything other than a Jew who happened to have been born in Britain. “It’s ridiculous21 to pretend he is an Englishman,” Herbert wrote. “He is every inch an Oriental.” Then the son of the Earl of Carnarvon, and the son of Lord Swaythling, both on British government service, continued along their separate ways.
Meanwhile the cabinet had received replies to their circular from four Zionists, including Weizmann, Sokolow, and Rothschild, and from four anti-Zionists, including Claude Montefiore and Sir Philip Magnus, MP, with responses to the proposed declaration. President Wilson, decisively influenced by Justice Brandeis via Colonel House, had telegraphed finally an unambiguous message of support for Zionism. Lord Curzon had completed his anti-Zionist memorandum. Cabinet ministers read and digested all this. A third meeting of the War Cabinet was scheduled. It would convene on Wednesday, October 31, 1917.
We know the outcome. On that day the War Cabinet agreed to what has become known as the Balfour Declaration. The document authorized the foreign secretary to reply to Lord Rothschild in the following terms:
His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
On November 2 Balfour sent this message to Rothschild. The press would publish it exactly one week later. Thus did Weizmann’s long, unlikely campaign finally gain its object. Thus too did the campaign of T. E. Lawrence, King Hussein, and Sharif Feisal for some form of Arab confederation or empire (albeit one whose borders remained a matter of contention and misunderstanding) receive a grave setback. Their projected greater Arabia, if ever it came into existence, would not include Palestine.
In the last part of the last sentence of the Balfour Declaration, the War Cabinet attempted to take Edwin Montagu’s primary fear into account. They failed to satisfy him. Montagu reached India, where he learned what the War Cabinet had done. Irreconcilable to the last, he wrote in his diary: “The Government has22 dealt an irreparable blow to Jewish Britons, and they have endeavored to set up a people which does not exist.” From the vantage point of nearly a hundred years on, however, we may say that what Montagu dreaded has not come to pass. Indeed, that last reassuring phrase of the Declaration seems almost superfluous. Anti-Semitism has scaled heights beyond Montagu’s imagining since 1917, in fact has risen and fallen more than once in different countries, but without regard to Britain’s recognition of Palestine as “a national home for the Jewish people.” As for the Indian secretary’s anguished prediction that the Balfour Declaration would make assimilation in Britain less attainable for Jews: perhaps it did, or perhaps it did not. One cannot prove or disprove a negative.
The War Cabinet attempted also to meet the objections raised by Lord Curzon. Members had read his memorandum before the meeting on October 31. In it Curzon referred to the Syrian Arabs, mainly Muslims, who had “occupied [Palestine]23 for the best part of 1,500 years,” and asked what would become of them. “They will not be content either to be expropriated for Jewish immigrants or to act merely as hewers of wood and drawers of water to the latter.” It was a good prophecy, but he did not press it. Perhaps the Declaration’s promise to uphold “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” persuaded him. It is proper to note, however, that these words have persuaded few Arabs.
In his memorandum Curzon advanced a second reason for opposing the Declaration. The Jewish world population amounted to twelve million. He did not believe that tiny, arid Palestine could become the national home of even a small fraction of this number. Here he ran into a buzz saw wielded by Sir Mark Sykes. Alerted to Curzon’s opposition, Sykes prepared and caused to be circulated a powerful paper of his own. He knew Palestine better than “Alabaster,” as he called the Marquess of Keddleston, whom hehappened to detest. He had seen with his own eyes Jewish colonies that made the desert bloom with flowers. With proper management Palestine eventually could accept a population five times its present size. No one need be24 dispossessed. During the War Cabinet discussion Balfour, relying on Sykes, dismissed Curzon’s warning with relative ease: “There were considerable25 differences of opinion among experts regarding the possibility of the settlement of any large population in Palestine, but he was informed that if Palestine were scientifically developed a very much larger population could be sustained than had existed during the period of Turkish rule.”
Curzon, then, did not maintain his opposition to the Declaration, as Montagu, had he been present, undoubtedly would have done. For Montagu, the issues raised by Zionism were too profound for compromise. For Curzon, they could be subsumed by what he perceived to be larger issues. He and other cabinet ministers were increasingly worried that Germany intended to play the Zionist card herself. She would force Turkey to promise autonomy to the Jews of Palestine. That would rally world Jewish opinion to the Central Powers and alienate them from the Entente. Jewish American support for war bonds would dry up; Jewish Russian support for the moderate Kerensky government would be withdrawn; the Bolsheviks would seize power and make a separate peace. Such considerations overwhelmed Curzon’s hesitations regarding the dispossession of Arabs and the inability of Palestine to support a larger population.
He also would have believed, as did everyone else in the room, that if Britain preempted Germany with her own Zionist declaration, then she rather than Germany would reap the benefits. Balfour put it to the War Cabinet this way: “The vast majority26 of Jews in Russia and America, as indeed all over the world, now appeared to be favorable to Zionism. If we could make a declaration favorable to such an ideal we should be able to carry on extremely useful propaganda both in Russia and America.” Curzon “admitted the force27 of the diplomatic arguments in favor of expressing sympathy.” Some such expression, he thought, “would be a valuable adjunct to our propaganda,” not least since “the bulk of the Jews held Zionist rather than anti-Zionist opinions.”
Implicit here is the wildly unrealistic estimate of the power and unity of “world Jewry” that we have seen such British officials as Hugh O’Bierne and Sir Mark Sykes to have displayed. Let an infamous notation, jotted down by Robert Cecil relatively early in the war on a Foreign Office document, stand for all such miscalculations: “I do not think28 it is possible to exaggerate the international power of the Jews.” In his memorandum, and despite its title, Montagu had discounted “the anti-Semitism of the present government.” But stereotypical thinking about Jews did play a role in the War Cabinet’s decision to issue the Balfour Declaration.
It is a further irony that British Zionists had done what they could to foster such thinking. The inimitable Harry Sacher wrote long afterward: “Many29 … have a residual belief in the power and the unity of Jewry. We suffer for it, but it is not wholly without its compensations. It is one of the imponderabilia of politics, and it plays, consciously or unconsciously, its part in the calculations and the decisions of statesmen. To exploit it delicately and deftly belongs to the art of the Jewish diplomat.” During 1917 the Zionists did just that. Starting in June 1917, they began warning that Germany was courting Jews. Usually they did not say, indeed it was better left unsaid, that if Germany won Jewish support, then the Entente would lose it—and possibly the war. British officials were capable of reaching this conclusion themselves. On one occasion, however, Weizmann went even that far. The Germans had “recently approached30 the Zionists with a view to coming to terms with them,” he warned William Ormsby-Gore on June 10. “It was really a question whether the Zionists were to realize their aims through Germany and Turkey or through Great Britain. He [Weizmann], of course, was absolutely loyal to Great Britain.” Meanwhile the British31 Jewish press had taken up the issue. Lord Rothschild repeated it to Balfour: “During the last few32 weeks the official and semi-official German newspapers have been making many statements, all to the effect that in the Peace Negotiations the Central Powers must make a condition for Palestine to be a Jewish settlement under German protection. I therefore think it important that the British declaration should forestall any such move.” Thus did the Zionists indirectly play “delicately and deftly” upon the ignorance and prejudice of British officials; thus did they employ a mirror image of the same card that Sharif Muhammad al-Faruki had played two years earlier, when he claimed that the Germans would help the Arabs if the British did not.
It helped that the British government was receiving independent confirmation of the Zionist warnings. A Bavarian major, Franz Carl Endress, had authored a series of potent articles on the subject for the Frankfurter Zeitung. “This man displays33 a matchless eloquence in order to persuade the Jews that Germany and Turkey are disposed to support Zionism,” reported a War Office informant. Nor was Endress the only German to write such articles. The same War Office official listed more than half a dozen others. On October 8, Balfour received a warning from a British agent in Berne: “A meeting is said34 to have taken place lately at Berlin at which Herr von Kuhlmann [former German ambassador to Constantinople, now the German foreign minister], Jemal Pasha and a leading Zionist were present in order to discuss the Palestine question. Certain promises were made to the Jews in order to obtain their cooperation in the new war loan.” The same cable went on to advise that the current German ambassador to Turkey, Count von Bernstorff, had been courting Jews in Constantinople and that the German minister at Berne was in touch with prominent Jews in that city as well.
British officials, then, could reasonably conclude that they must take preventive measures because something was definitely going on between German leaders and Jewish representatives. But they erred. Historians, recognizing the real basis of their suspicions, unanimously discount their conclusions. The Ottomans never would have allowed unrestricted Jewish immigration into Palestine, let alone autonomy for Jews once they had arrived there. Nor could the Germans ever have forced them to do so. British leaders overestimated German influence upon Constantinople, and Jewish influence everywhere. In this sense, the Balfour Declaration sprang from fundamental miscalculations about the power of Germany and about the power and unity of Jews.
“It’s a boy,” Sykes reported gleefully to Weizmann, minutes after the War Cabinet sanctioned the Declaration. The ebullient British diplomat, who back in April could not sit still in the Paris hotel waiting for Nahum Sokolow to report on his meeting with the French foreign minister but had to dash into the streets to intercept him, could be excused this time for rushing from the War Cabinet meeting (he had been present) to the anxiously waiting Weizmann. And the Zionist leader, although disappointed that the Declaration did not go further, nevertheless greeted the news Sykes brought with elation. If the government of Lloyd George had not promised specific action, it had promised general support. Weizmann could reasonably assume this meant removal of Ottoman rule in Palestine, the main obstacle as Zionists perceived it.
What would follow could not be certain, but given all the previous discussions, Weizmann was confident it would be some form of British oversight. We may be sure he felt a great weight lift from his shoulders and ecstatic happiness enter into his heart. Moments later he was speeding in a taxi to share the glad tidings with Ahad Ha’am. Another member of the Political Committee, Shmuel Tolkowsky, accompanied him. Weizmann was so filled with pleasure, Tolkowsky recorded, that he “behaved like a35 child: He embraced me for a long time, placed his head on my shoulder and pressed my hand, repeating over and over mazel tov.” That night, at his home, at an impromptu celebration, Weizmann and his wife and friends literally danced for joy.
But here let us step back for just a moment. Finally Zionism had the backing of the British government. It had pledged its word. Chaim Weizmann never doubted that its word was good. Now think back to King Hussein the previous May. “The British Government will fulfill her word,” he had rebuked his doubting son Feisal and his aide Fuad al-Khatib on that steamy night in Jeddah, just before agreeing that France should treat the coastal portion of Syria exactly as Britain would treat Mesopotamia. In their admiration for Britain, at any rate, Weizmann and Hussein were more alike than they ever knew—and strange to say of such experienced and sophisticated men, in this one respect perhaps they were equally naïve. The remaining chapter in our history of the Balfour Declaration treats a subject of which Chaim Weizmann and Grand Sharif Hussein remained always, and blissfully, unaware.