By Gilad Atzmon
This year, Palestinians and their supporters mark the 100th anniversary of The Balfour Declaration, a written statement from the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, to Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, in favour of the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.
For Palestinians, The Balfour Declaration was the beginning of their plight: a century of ethnic cleansing at the hands of European newcomers who claim Palestine as their historic home. Yet, for some reason, supporters of the Palestinians are desperate to suppress discussion of the motivation for the Balfour Declaration – how and why did it come about?
The Balfour Declaration provides solid evidence that the dominance of Jewish political lobbies in world affairs is not really a ‘new development.’ In 1917, at the peak of WWI, it was up to a few Jewish financiers and lobbyists to decide the fate of countries, continentsand the outcome of global conflicts.
In his invaluable book, The Pity of it All, Israeli historian Amos Elon suggests that the 1917 Balfour Declaration was at least partially motivated by the British government’s desire to win the support of pro-German American Jews so that they would help to pull the USA into the war.
Elon argues that at the beginning of the war, German- American Jewish financierssidedwith the Germans and would reject any possible alliance between the USA and England. “Jacob H. Schiff, head of Kuhn, Loeb—at the time the largest private bank in the United States after J. P. Morgan—declared that he could no more disavow his loyalty to Germany than he could renounce his own parents. Schiff prayed for Germany’s victory. In a statement to the New York Times on November 22, 1914, he charged the British and the French with attempting to destroy Germany for reasons of trade.” (The Pity Of It All, pg. 455)
And German-American Jews were not alone in the Jewish community. Russian-American Jews also supportedGermany in the war. “Eastern European Jews in the United States, repelled by the anti-Semitism of czarist Russia, were equally pro-German. In Russia itself, Jews of the Pale greeted German troops advancing into Poland, Byelorussia, and the Ukraine as liberators. In a sense, they were.” (ibid)
According to Elon, the Brits encountered an American Jewish problem. “The British government took these developments very seriously. In a fit of paranoia, the British ambassador in Washington even suspected the existence of a veritable German Jewish conspiracy in the United States directed at Britain.” (Ibid)
Elon’s conclusion is clear. “The 1917 Balfour Declaration, calling for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, was at least partly motivated by the British government’s desire to win support among pro-German American Jews.” (ibid)
Elon’s reading of the circumstances that led to the Balfour Declaration is pretty much the same as Benjamin Freedman’s in his notorious 1961 address.
Freedman states that Zionists offered Britain their support in pulling the USA into the war in return for a British commitment to make Palestine into a Jewish homeland in the future. Freedman believed that Germany’s post-WW I animosity towards Jews stemmed from what they regarded as the betrayal and complicity of German-Jewish financiers in their defeat.
100 years after the Balfour Declaration, Palestinian solidarity enthusiasts choose to avoid discussion on the global Judeo-centric politics that led to the declaration, even though it was arguably the most significant event that shaped the Middle East and present day Palestinian reality. This reluctance suggests that the solidarity movement is itself an occupied territory. Once again, we observe that the discourse of the oppressed is controlled by the sensitivities of the oppressor.
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Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli-born British jazz saxophonist, novelist, political activist, and writer.
Atzmon’s album Exile was BBC jazz album of the year in 2003. Playing over 100 dates a year, he has been called “surely the hardest-gigging man in British jazz.” His albums, of which he has recorded nine to date, often explore the music of the Middle East and political themes. He has described himself as a “devoted political artist.” He supports the Palestinian right of return and the one-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His criticisms of Zionism, Jewish identity, and Judaism, as well as his controversial views on The Holocaust and Jewish history, have led to allegations of antisemitism from both Zionists and anti-Zionists. A profile in The Guardian in 2009 which described Atzmon as “one of London’s finest saxophonists” stated: “It is Atzmon’s blunt anti-Zionism rather than the music that has given him an international profile, particularly in the Arab world, where his essays are widely read.”