Tuesday, March 19, 2024

The beginning of modern Israel: The Balfour Declaration

It is often assumed the modern nation of Israel is a historical anomaly disconnected from Jewish history. However, the Balfour Declaration (1917) and subsequent League of Nations Mandate (1922) demonstrate a widespread awareness that the Jewish desire for a national homeland was not merely the product of national self-determination but the result of a long-standing connection with what was then known as the Ottoman province of Palestine. In order to help defeat the Ottoman Empire the Allies (notably Great Britain and France) encouraged both Jewish and Arab nationalism (Hadi, 1932).  

Allied plans for the post-war future of the Ottoman Empire underwent several revision and while the Balfour Declaration was part of a larger strategic calculation, it was not an isolated anomaly. The French government was in favour of the Declaration, with the French Foreign minister Jules Cambon saying this about a draft of the Declaration in October, 1917. "The renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that Land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centries ago." (Gold, 2017) Additionally the American Government was consulted prior to the release of the Declaration. (Gold, 2017).  Then "[o]n July 24, 1922, the British pledge to help build the Jewish National Home was explicitly incorporated into the text of the League of Nations Mandate, which called for "putting into effect" its terms." (Gold, 2017) 

Future prime minister of Israel David Ben Gurion described the Declaration in this way in 1937. "I say on behalf of the Jews that the Bible is our Mandate, the Bible which was written by us, in our own language, in Hebrew in this very country. That is our Mandate. It is only recognition of this right which was expressed in the Balfour Declaration." (Gold, 2017) Furthermore the League of Nations Mandate (1922) states in the preface: "Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connexion of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country." (Laqueur & Rubin, 2008).


Aouni Bey Abdul Hadi, 'The Balfour Declaration'., The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 164, Palestine. A Decade of Development (Nov., 1932), pp. 12-21. 

Dore Gold, 'The Historical Significance of the Balfour Declaration' Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 28, No. 1/2, 100 Years Since the Balfour Declaration (Spring 2017), pp. 8-13.

Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin, eds. The Israel-Arab Reader: A documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, London: Penguin Books, 2008.