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The th anniversary is an opportune moment to revisit the role played by Chaim Weizmann, Zionist statesman par excellence, in the decision by the British government to issue the Balfour Declaration in November It was there as an year-old boy that he developed his passion for the Zionist cause, while living under Tsarist suppression and the savagery of the pogroms.
Weizmann believed that the rebirth of the Jewish people in their own ancestral homeland had to become a reality and he moved to Britain in believing that the preeminent global power possessed the means to bring this about. We can win over influential circles; we must manifest our desire for Palestine with deeds rather than shallow phrases.
We must place our political activities — or call it what you will, I simply call it propaganda — in the hands of first-rate men, who will patiently win over the sympathies of Europe … Weisgal, ; 68 In January Weizmann was introduced by Anglo-Jewish leader Charles Dreyfus to Arthur James Balfour, the leader of the Conservative Party.
Balfour asked Weizmann why some Zionists were fiercely opposed to the idea of Uganda as a home for the Jews. The Jews I meet are quite different. Balfour, you meet the wrong kind of Jews. A few weeks earlier, on 16 September , Weizmann recorded in his diary that he had met C. This was something of an understatement.
By the end of November , Scott had informed Weizmann of his discussions about Palestine with the British Prime Minister Lloyd George, telling him that the British leader wanted to see Weizmann in the presence of cabinet minister Herbert Samuel.
Weizmann told Scott that he and the entire Zionist Movement was in his debt for organising the meeting Ibid. Weizmann I was convinced of its value not only for the Jewish people but for other nations as a connecting link between East and West.
Weizmann and London Fascinatingly, Crossman believed that the British ruling classes were attracted to Weizmann not because of his love of Britain but rather because of his Jewishness: The attraction of Weizmann for the British was precisely that he was the most Jewish Jew we had met.
He impressed us because he was not Western, because he was not assimilated, because he was utterly proud to be a Russian Jew from the Pale, because he had no feeling of double loyalty, because he knew only one patriotism, the love of a country that did not yet exist. Yet, as Avi Shlaim has argued in The Iron Wall, Weizmann was mistaken in believing that the convergence of British and Jewish interests would stand the test of time.
As Britain withdrew from the promises made in the Balfour Declaration, Weizmann became deeply disillusioned with the British leadership. In a letter to Lord George Lloyd, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in November , Weizmann could not hide his despair: The implementation of a new part of the White Paper under a Government mostly composed of men who have publicly condemned it would tell world Jewry that Great Britain has definitely abandoned them to the Arabs, to be a hopeless minority in a Palestinian Arab state … it would deal a most severe blow to Jewish co-operation with Great Britain.
The Guardian Archive , Yet Weizmann clung to the belief that there was no other option but to continue working with London as the Mandatory power. The Zionist leadership perceived the British White Paper of with its restrictions on Jewish immigration as a severe act of betrayal.
Even so, in a letter to Churchill in April , Weizmann would write: I refuse to give up this hope. I still believe that the final word of Great Britain in regard to Palestine and the Jews has not yet been spoken.
The slaughter of European Jewry can only be redeemed by establishing Palestine as a Jewish country. Tragically, this was something that Weizmann never lived to see. He died on 9 November Inevitably, with the passage of time, the traditional narrative about Weizmann has frayed at the edges.
Thus, it is argued that British politicians such as Balfour and Samuel were only too happy to support Weizmann in his propaganda campaign, believing that support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine would result in the intervention of Jewry on behalf of the British war effort against Germany.
According to this thesis, the Balfour Declaration was influenced less by British strategic interests or high-minded support for Zionism but rather by anti-Semitic perceptions that world Jewry was a force which could rally public opinion in the US and Europe behind Britain. Weizmann bore such prejudice with equanimity Rose, ; For once, the anti-Semitic image of the Jews proved useful — they were believed to be so maliciously dangerous that one would do best to acquire them as allies rather than as enemies.
The Guardian Archive , C. The Guardian Archive , W. Weisgal, Meyer W. Hamilton
Trial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann (Book Two)
Trial Error by Weizmann Chaim, Signed