On 2 November 1917 the British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour wrote to Lionel, 2nd baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation, promising to support the establishment of a Jewish “national home” – commonly understood to mean “state” – in Palestine, once Britain completed its conquest of the Ottoman empire. The Balfour Declaration, as this letter became known, led to the creation of the settler-colonial state of Israel in 1948, the first Naqba in which some 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed, and the ghastly attempt at a second Naqba we are witnessing today. Largely forgotten is a second letter, written by Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India and the only Jew in the British cabinet, on 23 August 1917. There, Montagu warned against promising a Jewish “national home” in Palestine. He was able to see the long-term costs of this action, whereas his colleagues saw only the short-term benefits. His letter is worth republishing as a reminder that the current crisis did not begin on 7 October 2023 or in January 2006 when Hamas won the democratic election in Gaza, or even in 1948 when the settler regime was established, and that many of the consequences were predicted over a hundred years ago.

Circulated by the Secretary of State for India.


The Anti-Semitism of the Present Government,

Circulated by the Secretary of State for India. SECRET.

The Anti-Semitism of the Present Government
I have chosen the above title for this memorandum, not in any hostile
sense, not by any means as. quarrelling with an anti-Semitic view which may
be held by my colleagues, not with a desire to deny that anti-Semitism can
be held by rational men, not even with a view to suggesting that the Government is deliberately anti-Semitic ; but I wish to place on record my view
that the policy of His Majesty’s Government is anti-Semitic in result and
will prove a rallying ground for Anti-Semites in every country in the world.
This view is prompted by the receipt yesterday of a correspondence
between Lord Rothschild and Mr. Balfour.
Lord Rothschild’s letter is dated the 18th July and Mr. Balfour’s answer
is to be dated August 1917.- I fear that my protest comes too late, and it
may well be that the. Government were practically committed when Lord
Rothschild wrote and before I became a member of the Government, for
there has obviously been some correspondence or conversation before this
letter. But I do feel that as the one Jewish Minister in the Government I
may be allowed by my colleagues an opportunity of expressing views
which may be peculiar to myself, but which I hold very strongly and which
I must ask permission to express when opportunity affords.
I believe most firmly that this war has been a death-blow to Inter­nationalism, and that it has proved an opportunity for a renewal of the
slackening sense of Nationality, for it has not only been tacitly agreed by
most statesmen in most countries that the redistribution of territory resulting
from the war should be more or less on national grounds, but we have
learned to realise that our country stands for principles, for aims, for civilisation which no other country stands for in the same degree, and that in
the future, whatever may have been the case in the past, we must live and
fight in. peace and in war for those aims and aspirations, and so equip and
regulate our lives and industries as to be ready whenever and if ever we are
challenged. To take one instance, the science of Political Economy, which,
in its purity knows no Nationalism, will hereafter be tempered and viewed
in the light of this national need of defence and security.
The war has indeed justified patriotism as the prime motive of political
It is in this atmosphere that the Government proposes to endorse the
formation of a new nation with a new home in Palestine. This nation will
presumably be formed of Jewish Russians, Jewish Englishmen, Jewish
Roumanians, Jewish Bulgarians, and Jewish citizens of all nations—
survivors or relations of those who have fought or laid down their lives
for the different countries which I have mentioned, at a time when the three
years that they have lived through have united their outlook and thought
more closely than ever with the countries of which they are citizens.
Zionism has always seemed to me to be a mischievous political creed,
untenable by any patriotic citizen of the United Kingdom. If a Jewish Englishman sets his eyes on the Mount of Olives and long for the day when
he will shake British soil from his shoes and go back to agricultural pursuits in Palestine, he has always seemed to me to have acknowledged
aims inconsistent with British citizenship and to have admitted that he is
unfit for a share in public life in Great Britain, or to be treated as an
Englishman. I have always understood that those who indulged in this
creed were largely animated by the restrictions upon and refusal of liberty
to Jews in Russia. But at the very time when these Jews have been
acknowledged as Jewish Russians and given all liberties, it seems to be
inconceivable that Zionism should be officially recognised by the British
Government, and that Mr. Balfour should be authorised to say that Palestine
was to be reconstituted as the “national home of the Jewish people.” I do­
not know what this involves, but I assume that it means that Mahommedans
and Christians are to make way for the Jews, and that the Jews should be
put in all positions of preference and should be peculiarly associated with
Palestine in the same way that England is with the English or France with
the French, that Turks and other Mahommedans in Palestine wiil be regarded
as foreigners, just in the same way as Jews will hereafter be treated as
foreigners in every country but Palestine. Perhaps also citizenship must be
granted onlv as a result of a religious test.
I lay down with emphasis four principles : ­
1. I assert that there is not a Jewish nation. The members of my
family, for instance, who have been in this country for generations, have no
sort or kind of community of view or of desire with any Jewish family in
any other country beyond the fact that they profess to a greater or less
degree the same religion, It is no more true to say that a Jewish Englishman and a Jewish Moor are of the same nation than it is to say that a
Christian Englishman and a Christian Frenchman are of the same nation:
of the same race, perhaps, traced back through the centuries-through
centuries of the history of a peculiarly adaptable race. The Prime Minister
and M. Briand are, I suppose, related through the ages, one as a Welshman
and the other as a Breton, but they certainly do not belong to the same
2. When the Jews are told that Palestine is their national home, every
country will immediately desire to get rid of its Jewish citizens, and you
will find a population in Palestine driving out its present inhabitants, taking
all the best in the country, drawn from all quarters of the globe, speaking every language on the face of the earth, and incapable of communicating with one another except by means of an interpreter. I have always understood that this was the consequence of the building of the; Tower of Babel, if ever it was built, and I certainly do not dissent from the view, commonly held, as I have always understood, by the Jews before Zionism was invented, that to bring the Jews back to form a nation in the country from which they were dispersed would require Devine leadership. I have never heard, it suggested, even by their most fervent admirers, that either Mr. Balfour or Lord Rothschild would prove to be the Messiah.
I claim that the lives that British Jews have led, that the aims that they
have had before them, that the part that they have played in our public life
and our public institutions, have entitled them to be regarded, not as British
Jews, but as Jewish Britons. I would willingly disfranchise every Zionist.
I would be almost tempted to proscribe the Zionist organisation as illegal
and against the national interest. But I would ask of a British Government
sufficient tolerance to refuse to endorse a conclusion which makes aliens and
foreigners by implication, if not at once by law, of all their Jewish fellow citizens.
3. I deny that Palestine is to-day associated with the Jews or properly to
be regarded as a fit place for them to live in. The Ten Commandments
were delivered to the Jews on Sinai. It is quite true that Palestine plays a
large part in Jewish history, but so it does in modern Mahommedan history,
and, after the time of the Jews, surely it plays a larger part than any other
country in Christian history. The Temple may have been in Palestine, but
so was the Sermon on the Mount and the Crucifixion. I would not deny to
Jews in Palestine equal rights to colonisation with those who profess other
religions, but a religious test of citizenship seems to me to be only admitted
by those who take a bigoted and narrow view of one particular epoch of the
history of Palestine, and claim for the Jews a position to which they are not
If my memory, serves me right, there arc three times as many Jews in
the world as could possibly get into Palestine if you drove out all the
population that remains there now. So that only one-third will get back at
the most, and what will happen to the remainder ?
4. I can easily understand the editors of the Morning Post and of the
New Witness being Zionists, and I am not in the least surprised that the
non-Jews of England may welcome this policy. I have always recognised
the unpopularity, much greater than some people think, of my community.
We have obtained a far greater share of this country’s goods and opportunities than we are numerically entitled to. We reach on the whole maturity
earlier, and therefore with people of our own age we compete unfairly.
Many of us have been exclusive in our friendships and intolerant in our
attitude, and I can easily understand that many a non-Jew in England wants
to get rid of us. But just as there is no community of thought and mode of
life among Christian Englishmen, so there is not among Jewish Englishmen.
More and more we are educated in public schools and at the Universities,
and take our part in the politics, in the Army, in the Civil Service, of our
country. And I am glad to think that the prejudices against inter-marriage
are breaking down. But when the Jew has a national home, surely it follows
that the impetus to deprive us of the rights of British citizenship must be
enormously increased. Palestine will become the world’s Ghetto. Why
should the Russian give the Jew equal rights? His national home is
Palestine. Why does Lord Rothschild attach so much importance to the
difference between British and foreign Jews? All Jews will be foreign
Jews, inhabitants of the great country of Palestine.
I do not know how the fortunate third will be chosen, but the Jew will
have the choice, whatever country he belongs to, whatever country he loves,
whatever country he regards himself as an integral part of, between going to
live with people who are foreigners to him, but to whom his Christian fellow countrymen have told him he shall belong, and of remaining as an unwelcome
guest in the country that he thought he belonged to.
I am not surprised that the Government should take this step after the
formation of a Jewish Regiment, and I am waiting to learn that my brother,
who has been wounded in the Naval Division, or my nephew, who is in the
Grenadier Guards, will be forced by public opinion or by Army regulations
to become an officer in a regiment which will mainly be composed of people
who will not understand the only language which he speaks—English. I can
well understand that when it was decided, and quite rightly, to force foreign
Jews in this country to serve in the Army, it was difficult to put them in
British regiments because of the language difficulty, but that was because
they were foreigners, and not because they were Jews, and a Foreign Legion
Avould seem to me to have been the right thing to establish. A Jewish Legion
makes the position of Jews in other regiments more difficult and forces a
nationality upon people who have nothing in common.
I feel that the Government are asked to be the instrument for carrying
out the wishes of a Zionist organisation largely run, as my information goes,
at any rate in the past, by men of enemy descent or birth, and by this means
have dealt a severe blow to the liberties, position and opportunities of service
of their Jewish fellow-countrymen.
I would say to Lord Rothschild that the Government will be prepared to
do everything in their power to obtain for Jews in Palestine complete liberty
of settlement and life on an equality with the inhabitants of that country
who profess other religious beliefs. I would ask that the Government should
go no further.

E. S. M.
23rd August 1917