Intro by Balfour to Sokolow's History of Zionism

Tags: Zionism, History, Leadership

Lord Balfour’s introduction to the ‘History of Zionism’ where he captures the deep understanding of the essentiality of a Jewish homeland in Israel for the Jewish Nation.

By the Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour, M.P


Whether it be helpful for one who is not a Jew, either by race or religion, to say even the briefest word by way of introduction to a book on Zionism is, in my own opinion, doubtful. But my friend, M Nahum Sokolow, tells me that I long ago gave him reason to expect that, when the time came, I would render him this small measure of assistance; and if he attached value to it , I cannot allow my personal doubts as to its value to stand in his way. The only qualification I possess is that I have I have always being greatly interested in the Jewish question and that in the early years of this century, when anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe was in an acute stage, I did my best to support a scheme devised my Mr. Chamberlain, then Colonial Secretary, for creating a Jewish settlement in East Africa, under the British flag. There it was hoped that Jews fleeing from persecution might found a community where, in harmony with their own religion, development on traditional lines (we thought) peacefully proceeded without external interruption, and free from any fear of violence.

The scheme was certainly well-intentioned, and had, I think, many merits. But it had one serious defect. It was not Zionism. It attempted to find a home for men of Jewish religion and Jewish race in a region far removed from the country where that race was nurtured and that religion came into being. Conversations I had with Dr. Weizmann in January, 1906, convinced me that history cannot be ignored, and that if a home was to be found for the Jewish people, homeless now for nineteen hundred years, it was vain to see it anywhere but in Palestine.

But why, it may be asked, is local sentiment to be considered in the case of the Jew then (say) in that of the Christian or Buddhist? All Historic revisions rouse feelings which cluster round the places made memorable by the words and deeds, the lives and deaths of those who brought them into being.

Doubtless these feelings should always be treated with respect; but no one suggests that the regions where these venerable sites are to be found should, off set purpose and with much anxious contrivance, be colonized by the spiritual descendants of those who originally made them famous. If the centuries have brought no change of ownership for occupancy, we are well content. But if it to be otherwise, you make no effort to reverse the course of history. None suggest that we should plant Buddhist colonies in India, the ancient home of Buddhism, or renew in favor of Christendom the crusading adventures of our medieval ancestors. Yet, if this be wisdom when we are dealing with Buddhism and Christianity, why, it may be asked, is it not also wisdom when we are dealing with Judaism and the Jews?

The answer is, that the cases are not parallel. The position of the Jews is unique. For them race, religion, and country are inter-related, as they are inter-related in the case of no other race no other religion and no other country on earth. In no other case are the believers in one of the greatest religions of the world to be found (speaking broadly) only among the members of a single small people; in the case of no other religion is its past development so intimately bound up with the long political history of a petty territory wedged in between States more powerful far than it could ever be; in the case of no other religions are its aspirations and hopes expressed in language and imagery so utterly dependent for the meaning on the conviction that only from this land, only through this one history, only by this one people of all others which, retaining to the full its racial self-consciousness, has been severed from its home, has wandered into all lands, and has nowhere been able to create for itself and organized ,social commonwealth. Only Zionism - so at least Zionists believe- can provide some mitigation of this great tragedy.

Doubtless there are difficulties, doubtless there are objections- great difficulties, very real objections. And it is, I suspect, among the Jews themselves that these are most acutely felt. Yet no one can reasonably doubt that if, as I believe, Zionism can be develop into a working scheme, the benefit it would bring to the Jewish people, especially perhaps to that section of it which deserves our pity, would be great and lasting. It is not merely that large numbers of them would thus find a refuge from religious or social persecution; but that they would bear corporate responsibilities and enjoy corporate opportunities of a kind which, on the nature of the case, they can never enjoy as a citizen of any non-Jewish State. It is charged against them by their critics that with things that they now employ their great gifts to exploit for personal ends a civilization which they have not created, in communities they do little to maintain. The accusations as formulations is manifestly false. But it is no doubt true that in large parts of Europe their loyalty to the State in which they dwell is (to put it mildly) feeble compared with their loyalty to their religion and their race. How indeed could it be otherwise? In none of the regions of which I speak have they been given the advantage of equal citizenship, in some have been given no right of citizenship at all. Great suffering is the inevitable result; but not suffering alone. Other evils follow which aggravate the original mischief.

Constant oppression, with occasional outbursts of violent persecution, are apt either to crush their victims, or to develop in them self-protective qualities which do not always assume an attractive shape. Neither cruelty nor contempt, neither unequal laws nor illegal oppression, have ever broken their spirit, or shattered their incurable hopes. But it may well be true that, when they have been compelled to live among their neighbors as if they were their enemies, they have often obtained, and sometimes deserved, the reputation of being undesirable citizens, nor is this surprising. If you oblige many men to be money- lenders, some will assuredly be unsurers. If you treat an important section of the community as outcasts, they will hardly shine as patriots. Thus does intolerance blindly labor to create the justification for its own excesses.

It seems evident that, for these and other reason, Zionism will mitigate the lot and elevate the status of no negligible fraction of the Jewish race. These who go to Palestine will not be like those who now migrate to London or New York. They will not be animated merely by the desire to lead in some happier surroundings the kind of life they formerly led in Eastern Europe. They will go to join a civil community which co politely harmonizes with their historical and religious sentiments: a community bound to the land it inhabits by something deeper even than custom: a community whose members will suffer from no divided loyalty, nor any temptation to hate the laws under which they are forced to live. To them the material gain should be great; but surely the spiritual gain will be greater still.

But these, it will be said, are not the only Jew whole welfare we have to consider. Granting, if only for arguments sake, that Zionism will on them confer a benefit, will not inflict an injury upon others who, though Jews by descent, desire wholly to identify themselves with the life of the country wherein they have made their home. Among these are found some of the most gifted members of a gifted race, their ranks contain (at least, so I think) more than their proportionate share of men distinguished in science and philosophy, literature and art, medicine, politics and law. (of finance and business, I need say nothing.)

Now there is no doubt that many of this class look with a certain measure of suspicion and even dislike upon the Zionist movement. They fear that it will adversely affect their position in the country of their adoption. The great majority of them have no desire to settle in Palestine. Even supposing a Zionist community were established, they would not join it. But they seem to think (if I understand them rightly) that so soon as such a community came into being men of Jewish blood, still more men of Jewish religion, would be regarded by unkindly critics as out of pace elsewhere. Their ancient home having been restored to them, they would be expected to reside there.

I cannot share these fears. I do not deny that, in some countries where legal equality is firmly established, Jews may still be regarded with a certain measure of prejudice. But this prejudice, where it exists, is not due to Zionism, nor will Zionism embitter it. The tendency should surely be the other way. Everything which assimilated the national and international status of the Jews to that of other races ought to mitigate what remains of the ancient antipathies: and evidently this assimilation would be promoted by giving them that which all other nations possess: a local habitation and a national home.

On this aspect of the subject I need perhaps say no more. The future Zionism depends on deeper causes than these. That it will settle the “Jewish question” I dare not hope. But that it will tend to promote the mutual sympathy and comprehension which is the only sure basis of toleration I firmly believe. Few, I think, of M Sokolow’s readers, be they Jew or be they Christian, will rise from the perusal of the impressive start which he has told so fully and so well, without feeling that Zionism differs in kind from philanthropic efforts and that it appeals to different motives. Is it succeeding, it will do a great spiritual and material work for the keys, but not for them alone. For as I read its meaning it is, among other things, a serious endeavor to mitigate the age-long miseries created for western civilization by the presence in its midst of a Body which it too long regarded as alien and even hostile, but which it was equally unable to expel or to absorb. Surely, for this if for no other reason, it should receive our support.


  • What is your opinion on the original proposal of creating a Jewish homeland in East Africa?
  • What benefits of receiving a Jewish homeland did A.J Balfour predict for the Jewish people?
  • What distinction does A.J.B make between Judaism and other religions? Do you agree with his explanation?
  • Have these predictions proved correct?
  • Looking at the way both the Jewish Nation and Israel is portrayed today, do you think the creation of a Jewish state worsened or improved Anti-Semitism?

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Tags: Zionism, History, Leadership