Balfour Declaration Must Be Basis of Agreement Between Jews and Arabs, Says Magnes
Menu JTA Search

Balfour Declaration Must Be Basis of Agreement Between Jews and Arabs, Says Magnes

Download PDF for this date

The following is the complete text of a cablegram to Dr. S. Margoshes, editor of “The Day,” from Dr. Judah L. Magnes in which the latter clarifies his position on the Palestine situation:

“The Balfour declaration, having been confirmed so often and with such solemnity, must, in my opinion, remain and should become the basis of an agreement between Jews and Arabs, instead of a cause of quarrel. In addition, the interpretation given the Balfour declaration, as contained in the Churchill-Samuel White paper of 1922, which was accepted by the Zionist Organization, should serve as a basis for an active, constructive policy looking toward the rendering of Palestine not as a Jewish State, not as an Arab State, but as a bi-national country.

“According to this policy, Jewish immigration and settlement of land, as well as the use of the Hebrew language, would be recognized as of right and not as of sufferance. This policy to my mind, is the only genuine basis for a Jewish spiritual and cultural centre, rooted in agriculture, industry and labor. For Palestine, being the land of two peoples and of three religions, its international as well as inter-religious and inter-racial sacred character must continue to be emphasized if we are to remain true to our tradition.


“For the continuation of this chief characteristic of Palestine the country must always remain under the League of Nations mandate, thus safeguarding the international obligations undertaken by the world at large and guaranteeing all elements of the population their full rights, one of these being the right of the Jewish settlement. In order to achieve this purpose, a most complicated and unique constitutional problem, I deem, must first be settled, but it cannot be settled either in haste or in hatred. A selected group of statesmen, with the aid of international lawyers, may aid in the solution, but what is needed most is loving care by both Jew and Arab.

“As far as I am concerned, I believe that intelligent discussion of all angles of the problem must precede whatever settlement may be reached later, for here is involved the very existence of the Jewish national home. There was altogether too much hysteria about everything connected with Palestine, and what we want now is clear thinking and straight talking.

“The same applies with particular force to the question of a parliament in Palestine. If, after intensive study of all factors in the situation, a way can be found of gradually and carefully introducing an appropriate responsible form of self-government guaranteeing all inhabitants and communities their full rights, then I am for a parliament in Palestine, but if this self-government is merely to be a mechanical and thoughtless imitation of Western parliaments, disregarding the distinct character of Palestine, including the specific Jewish rights, then I am opposed to it. In any event, the transition from the present absolutist Colonial regime must be gradual.

” ‘The Day’ has asked me as to the main purpose of my present utterances on conditions in Palestine. To this I wish to say that my only purpose is to set the Jewish public to thinking and agitate it to realize that it is impossible to continue as heretofore, for it is my profound conviction that without this realization the Jewish public the world over is bound to suffer disappointment and disillusionment in its hopes with regard to the Jewish national homeland in Palestine.


“I consider the Jewish Palestine worth while only if made possible on the highest ethical plane. The bayonets such as now support the Jewish settlement in Palestine are repugnant to the spirit of Judaism.

“I have all my life believed in the cleansing, spiritualizing and enriching power of Palestine over the Jews and Judaism, but I am now convinced more than ever that the process of building up Palestine on the basis of force and against the will of the Arab is bound to inevitably cause the deterioration of the Jewish community and all our cultural and spiritual values.

“Therefore, if we are set on our task seriously, we must try to uplift the Arab world, through geniuine understanding, through education and through a system of economic, social and political cooperation while at the same time making our own community stronger and greater. This is the only way worth while trying, and I am sure that the very effort will add a glorious chapter to the history of the eternal people.”

Discussing editorially the situation in Palestine in light of the recent discussions brought up by the utterances of Dr. Judah L. Magnes, the New York “Herald-Tribune” says: “If the Zionists can carry on their work in the spirit that Judah Magnes indicates, they will not need to rely on British tanks and airplanes, and they will add new lustre to the long Jewish tradition.”

Remarking that Dr. Magnes has on more than one occasion shown himself possessed of some of the attributes that made the ancient Hebrew prophets examples for 3,000 years, the “Herald-Tribune” says: “He has shown it again, facing an excited Jewish audience at the convocation of the winter semester at the Jerusalem University and calling upon them to make friends with the Arabs. Some of his audience hissed him and some applauded, but all are likely to remember what he said.”

Continuing its discussion of the current problem in Palestine, the “Herald-Tribune” points out that “it is natural enough that there should be hot tempers in Jerusalem today, but they do their own cause bitter harm. Jews and Arabs will continue to live in Palestine for generations, and their relations cannot be safely left to the doubtful understanding of British officials. The 750,000 Arabs might, if they so desired, wipe out 160,000 Jews, but there is no evidence that they all so desire.

“The sheiks of Ben Shemen personally mounted guard before the homes of the Jewish settlers when Bedouin Arabs threatened the town; at Zurbahr the local Arabs clad the Jews in Arab robes and hid them in their own homes; at Petach Tikvah, a young sheik who had spent three years in prison for leading an anti-Jewish mob in 1921, joined in 1929 in insisting that his followers keep the peace.

“Jew and Arab are ultimately of like racial stock; they have a country and a vast tradition in common, and there was before the events of August, a growing body of mutual goodwill to build upon…”

The critics of Dr. Judah L. Magnes, chancellor of the Hebrew University, are called to task in an editorial in the current number of the “Jewish Tribune,” which says that “flay him as they will,” they cannot “point out a repudiation of (his) views by the responsible leaders of the world movement for Palestine.”

Admitting that perhaps Dr. Magnes’s utterances were at worst ill-timed, the “Jewish Tribune” remarks that “what he had to say deserves better. His opinions must not be snowed under an avalanche of private and personal recrimination…. Dr. Magnes’s views do not sacrifice fundamental Jewish rights. Critics who see this are giving their own peculiar interpretation to the program of the Brith Shalom Society…. The Jewish Agency has, at this writing, yet to be heard from. We await world from Dr. Weizmann and from Felix M. Warburg… who made the decaration some months ago, we stand solemnly pledged to the following general principles: no political ambition, but cultural, social and economic live and let live for all,’…”

Pointinf out that while Dr. Magnes “may be judged and condemned upon the fine points of ‘tact’ or ‘timeliness’… his proposals cannot be lightly dismissed by anyone having a proper regard for the destiny of the Jewish home in Palestine.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund