When was the state of Israel born?
Easy. May, 1948 – almost seventy years ago.
Or, on November 29, 1947, exactly seventy years ago this month – when the United Nations voted to partition the land of Israel into a Jewish state, and into an Arab state.
Or, a hundred years ago this week — the one hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, in which the British government stated its support for the Zionist idea.
Let’s review some history.
The major Zionist personality of those times was Chaim Weizmann, who would become the first president of Israel.
Weizmann was a biochemist. He had invented a chemical that helped the British in their war efforts during World War I. His lobbying efforts for Zionism started to make progress in December, 1916. That was when David Lloyd George became the prime minister of Great Britain.
Lloyd George’s foreign secretary was Arthur Balfour. He supported Zionism. Some people have believed that it was because he, and Britain, were grateful to Weizmann. As I will say later, this probably was not the reason — at least, not the only reason.
On November 2, a declaration was released to the public — as a letter, addressed to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, one of Britain’s most prominent Jews, and a Zionist leader.
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine [which is to say, the land of Israel — JKS] of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours 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 countries.
I think of the Balfour Declaration whenever I go to Jerusalem. Because, as I walk the streets, there are certain places that almost move me to tears.
The first is Balfour Street — named, of course, for Arthur Balfour. There is one in Jerusalem, and in every major city in Israel — as well as a few in the United States.
But, Balfour is not alone. Because there is also Lloyd George Street. In fact, there are streets named for Lloyd George in Tel Aviv, and Henderson, Nevada, and in Birmingham, Alabama.
Jerusalem’s Lloyd George Street is right in the middle of the German Colony in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem’s neighborhoods all have their own unique “themes.” The German Colony’s “theme” is gentile British Zionists: the early 20th-century British Labor Party leader, Josiah Wedgewood; Colonel John Henry Patterson, commander of the Jewish Legion in World War I; and the pro-Zionist British general Wyndham Deedes.
And not far from there, there is Wingate Square, named for Orde Wingate, the British general who trained Jewish fighters in Palestine.
(Winston Churchill got robbed. Yes, there is a statue of him in Jerusalem, but there should also be a Churchill Street. The great statesman called himself a Zionist, and called the Jews “the most formidable and remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world.”)
But, back to Arthur Balfour and Lloyd George.
Why were they sympathetic to Zionism?
When it comes to the Jews and Judaism, there are two British narratives.
The first narrative is anti-Semitism. It is deep, and pervasive, and it still exists.
But, the second narrative is philo-Semitism — a great love for the Jewish people. It goes back to medieval times, when there was a romantic idea that the British were descended from one of the ten lost tribes. Some people even made a fanciful pun. British = brit ish — a covenant man.
Part of this love for the Jews was a love for the Jewish land. Many Englishmen had a romantic idea of the Jews returning to their ancient homeland — as early as the 17th century.
So, let us look at the two patrons of the Balfour Declaration.
David Lloyd George was a Welsh Baptist. He believed that the Jews had an unbreakable connection with the Land of Israel.
Arthur Balfour was the Scottish son of a Presbyterian minister. He grew up with the Bible. He studied Jewish philosophy and literature. He admired the Jewish people, and the Jewish religion.
Right before he died, in 1930, Balfour said that as he looked back on his life — what stood out for him, more than anything else, was what he had done for the Jews.
As he lay upon his deathbed, only one non-family member was allowed to visit him – and that was Chaim Weizmann. Balfour was too ill to speak. Weizmann was too moved to do anything but weep.
So, why am I celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration?
True: the Balfour Declaration is a problematic document.
Its hope for the protection of rights for non-Jewish communities in the land of Israel is still exactly that — a hope.
Moreover, the Declaration is, arguably, as much a testimony to British colonialism as it is to philo-semitism.
And yet, I cannot help but think of the deep faith of those two men — Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour.
Their faith, informed by the Bible, made them believe that there was the redemption of the Jewish people was not only possible; it was probable.