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Zionism, Binationalism, Anti-Semitism: Three Contemporary Jewish Readings of the Balfour Declaration

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Brian Klug

The letter from the British foreign secretary to Lord Rothschild dated November 2, 1917—the Balfour Declaration—had a mixed reception in Jewish circles in Britain and beyond. This article focuses on the attitudes expressed in three texts that were more or less contemporary with the Declaration, all of them written by prominent Jews who were either British or temporarily residing in Britain at the time. I examine, in turn: a “Zionist Manifesto,” which appeared in the name of the London bureau of the (World) Zionist Organization under the joint signatures of Chaim Weizmann, Nahum Sokolow, and Yechiel Tschlenow; “After the Balfour Declaration,” an essay by Ahad Ha’am; and an internal British Cabinet memorandum written by Edwin Montagu, secretary of state for India, who was the sole Jewish member of the Cabinet in Lloyd George’s government. The angle of approach in this article is textual rather than historical: I analyze the logic and rhetoric that structure each text, with an eye to two topics that lie at the heart of Arab-Jewish confrontation in Palestine: (a) Jewish identity vis-à-vis nationhood and statehood, and (b) the existence of an Arab population in Palestine. The result is a kind of snapshot of an extended moment in time: a juxtaposition of three radically different Jewish European readings of the Declaration within three years of its being issued.