Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Balfour Declaration - ninety years on

The 90th anniversary of the controversial Balfour Declaration passed without much notice earlier this month. The Declaration was a mealy-mouthed expression of sympathy by the British government for Zionist aspirations. It was issued at this time because of a mistaken (and in itself decidedly anti-Semitic) belief that the Jews together wielded enormous hidden influence worldwide, and especially in Russia. There, British government officials forlornly hoped, the Jews might be able to halt the rise of the Bolsheviks. But the same day that The Times published the Declaration, 9 November, it also carried news of Lenin's successful coup in St Petersburg.

The Declaration also anticipated the capture of Jerusalem by British forces one month later. What had started as an aggressive defence of the Suez Canal had evolved into a military campaign. The pressing need for a victory of some sort to counterbalance bad news on the western front, and the perceived prestige of running such a sacred land were both reasons why it had.

But it was the cold logic of imperial strategy that was the fundamental reason behind the British invasion, and it was this that the Declaration sought to camouflage with its invocation of a moral cause for British actions, to a world that was increasingly cynical about imperial ambitions. As the significance of airpower began to be appreciated, it was Palestine's strategic value, as a buffer east of the Suez Canal and as a stepping stone between Europe and India that made it attractive to the British.

The development of aircraft that could fly ever further rendered Palestine ineffective as a buffer and irrelevant as an airstrip. Woolier hopes, that Britain could bring "a new order" in the Holy Land, "founded on the ideals of righteousness and justice" (© The Times's leader on the day after the capture of Jerusalem was announced) proved illusory for as long as the legitimacy of British rule was tied to the promotion of the Zionists' ambitions. Bruised by experience, public support for Zionism in Britain, which was probably never more than lukewarm, cooled quickly after 1948.

Some reasons why are put forward in a discussion here. Though I don't agree with all the analysis, the summary makes an interesting read.

No comments: