Jaime Kardontchik
Jaime Kardontchik

The Balfour Declaration and the State of Israel

On November 2, 1917, the British issued a statement, the “Balfour Declaration”, in support of the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire. World War I was winding down, and the great powers of that time, Britain and France, were making their moves to secure a footing in the disintegrating Ottoman Empire.

Twenty-two years later, on May 23, 1939 – on the eve of World War II – the British issued a policy statement known as the “White Paper”. [see Reference 1] The new British policy limited Jewish immigration to Palestine to a total of 75,000 for the next five years (the official quota being 10,000 Jews immigrants per year). Furthermore, the “White Paper” stipulated that “after the period of five years, no further Jewish immigration will be permitted unless the Arabs of Palestine are prepared to acquiesce in it”. World War II was on the offing and the British Empire wanted the support of the Arab world. Millions of Jews got trapped inside Europe when they most needed an escape route. They perished in concentration camps.

For historical comparison, on February 6, 1778, the fledging thirteen American colonies in the middle of their war against the British, signed the “Treaty of Alliance” with France, a military alliance against Great Britain. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, then in Europe, worked tireless to obtain this support from France. The French army, led by the legendary Marquis de Lafayette, played a pivotal role in the defeat of the British in Virginia. The British and the French were then the great Imperial powers of Europe and they were fighting for their influence and domination in the new American continent. Did the Imperial French’s support blemish the fight for independence of the American colonies?

Twenty years later, between 1798 and 1800, America fought the “Undeclared War” with France, a naval war between the United States and France.

Imperial powers have their ways to support incipient national movements in distress when their mutual interest coincide, and withdraw their support, and even become adversarial, otherwise.

As the American colonies expressed their gratitude to France for the signing of the “Treaty of Alliance” in 1778 and their support to the American war of independence, so did the Jews express their gratitude to the British for the “Balfour Declaration” in 1917. However, both the Americans and the Jews knew to put these engagements with the Imperial powers of the time in their right perspective: Neither the Americans nor the Jews got their freedom from these documents and declarations. They had to pursue this freedom and fight for it by themselves.

Why the State of Israel came into being [2]

At the beginning of the 20th century anti-Semitism was rampant and Jews found themselves persecuted and unwanted everywhere. In Europe the ruling classes incited the mobs against the Jews to provide a scapegoat for the misery of the masses, and discrimination and pogroms against Jews were rampant. In the Arab world, from North Africa to the Middle East, the Jews suffered for centuries the chronic condition of “dhimmis”, a status of legal, social and psychological submission to the Muslim majority accompanied by bursts of physical violence. On top of this, the surge of nationalism in the Arab countries found the Jews as an easy target for scapegoating, rioting and pogroms. [3]

A small group of Jewish intellectuals came to the conclusion that the problem needed a radical solution: the return of the Jews to Zion (the Land of Israel) and the reconstitution of the Jews as a normal people in their own land. A trickle of ideologically motivated Jews (the “Zionists”) began returning to the Land of Israel, then a neglected far away province of the Ottoman Empire.

Life was extremely difficult for the Zionists: they came to the Land of Israel to become farmers, but swamps were usually the only places available for them. Diseases like malaria became common.  They were poor and their previous experience in agricultural work was nil. They came up with an original solution: a system of collective socialist communes (“kibbutzim”) was founded to survive and support each other. The first kibbutz, Degania, near the Sea of Galilee, was founded in 1910 by a group of ten men and two women.

Miriam Baratz tending cows at kibbutz Degania. Miriam was 21 when she joined a dozen men and women to found the kibbutz in 1910.[4]
Other Zionists were more inclined towards a bourgeois lifestyle: On April 1909 several dozen families gathered on sand dunes next to the Mediterranean Sea and declared the foundation of a new neighborhood, which became with time the city of Tel-Aviv.

The founding of Tel-Aviv in 1909 [5]
The dreams of these early comers to the Land of Israel would not have become true if the worst of their nightmares would not had become a reality: the rise of Nazism – with hundreds of thousands of desperate displaced Jews fleeing Europe after the war – and the ethnic cleansing of the Jews in the Arab countries – with another half million Jews arriving to Israel from Northern Africa and the Middle East. America did its part, by closing its gates to immigration when the Jews most needed it. Israel was born as a nation of refugees, who came to its shores because they had nowhere else to go. They came with nothing, except for their bare hands and traumatized minds.

References

[1] British White Paper of 1939:

https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/brwh1939.asp

[2] Excerpt from my book “Boycott of Israel is Wrong: How to fight it”. The book can be downloaded for free at:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/352573399_Boycott_of_Israel_is_Wrong_How_to_fight_it

(The book is also available at Amazon).

[3] Lyn Julius, “Uprooted: How 3000 years of Jewish civilization in the Arab world vanished overnight”, 2018 (The book is available at Amazon)

[4] “Miriam Baratz”, by Smadar Sinai:

https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/baratz-miriam

[5] “Meeting of the founding fathers of Tel-Aviv in the sand dunes near the sea” (Commons, Wikimedia)

About the Author
Jaime Kardontchik has a PhD in Physics from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. He lives in the Silicon Valley, California.
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