Balfour and the Secret of the First World War

Guillaume NICHOLS
lecteur en droit
Univ. Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne

23 October 2000

to The Daily Telegraph


A recent exchange in your website's letters section has dealt most superficially with the famous 1917 document known as the Balfour Declaration. The gist of the letters seems to be that, although it was decidedly pro-Jewish, the said declaration was in no way hostile to Arab interests.

So be it.

1917 was, as I hardly need tell you, not just a year like any other.

For some valuable background I refer you to David Lloyd George's speech in the Commons as reported on 20 June 1936, p. 7, in the Times, a speech given in the context of continuing violence between Arabs and Jews in Palestine with a view towards explaining what it was all about:

It was at one of the darkest periods of the War that Mr Balfour first prepared his Declaration. At that time the French Army had mutinied; the Italian Army was on the verge of collapse; America had hardly started preparing in earnest. There was nothing left but Britain confronting the most powerful military combination that the world had ever seen. It was very important for us to seek every legitimate help that we could get. The Government came to the conclusion, from information received from every part of the world, that it was very vital that we should have the sympathies of the Jewish community.

Under those conditions and with the advice they received, the Government decided that it was desirable for us to secure the sympathy and cooperation of that most remarkable community, the jews, throughout the world.

If things today were a bit more Orwellian this passage would have disappeared for good down a memory hole, that is, been withdrawn from the Times' microfilmed archives where I myself found it, for it is an open admission, a confession urbi et orbi that the "Jewish homeland" was a quid-pro-quo haggled out in the context of the collective European suicide known today as the First World War. Thus I find it somewhat reassuring that one may still, with a bit of effort, get to the bottom of things in regard to 20th century history.

Still, one might have hoped that the world had moved on a bit since 1917.

I look forward to hearing from you on this matter.

Yours sincerely,


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