Case of Jews Absolutely Exceptional and Must Be Treated by Unusual Methods, Said Balfour, Discussing
Menu JTA Search

Case of Jews Absolutely Exceptional and Must Be Treated by Unusual Methods, Said Balfour, Discussing

Download PDF for this date

In two speeches which he delivered, one at a public demonstration held by the English Zionist Federation under the chairmanship of Lord Rothschild in 1920 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, to celebrate the conferment of the Mandate for Palestine upon Great Britain, and another two years later in the House of Lords on a motion introduced by Lord Islington, which had proposed that Great Britain should not accept the Mandate for Palestine, the late Lord Balfour touched on the relation of the Arabs towards Zionism.

In the course of his speech at the Albert Hall demonstration in 1920, Lord Balfour said:

"Let us not forget in our feelings of legitimate triumph all the difficulties which still lie before us. Those difficulties I have no hesitation in dwelling upon, because I know that you will overcome them; yet it is worth while to enumerate some of them, not to discourage you, but to raise your courage and your resolution even to a higher pitch than it has already reached. Among these difficulties I am not sure that I do not rate the highest, or at all events first, the inevitable difficulty of dealing with the Arab question as it presents itself within the limits of Palestine. It will require tact, it will require judgment, it will require above all sympathetic goodwill on the part both of Jew and Arab.

"So far as the Arabs are concerned—a great, an interesting and an attractive race—I hope they will remember that while this assembly and all Jews that it represents through the world desire under the aegis of Great Britain to establish this home for the Jewish people, the Great Powers, and among all the Great Powers most especially Great Britain, has freed them, the Arab race, from the tyranny of their brutal conqueror, who had kept them under his heel for these many centuries. I hope they will remember it is we who have established the independent Arab sovereignty of the Hejaz. I hope they will remember that it is we who desire in Mesopotamia to prepare the way for the future of a self-governing, autonomous Arab state, and I hope that, remembering all that, they will not grudge that small notch—for it is no more geographically, whatever it may be historically—that small notch in what are now Arab territories being given to the people who for all these hundreds of years have been separated from it—but surely have a title to develop on their own lines in the land of their forefathers, which ought to appeal to the sympathy of the Arab people as it, I am convinced, appeals to the great mass of my own Christian fellow-countrymen. That is the first difficulty. That can be got over and will be got over by mutual goodwill.

"The second difficulty, on which I shall only say a word, arises from the fact that the critics of this movement shelter themselves behind the phrase—but it is more than a phrase—behind the principle of self-determination, and say that, if you apply that principle logically and honestly, it is to the majority of the existing population of Palestine that the future destinies of Palestine should be committed. My lords, ladies and gentlemen, there is a technical ingen#ity in that plea, and on technical grounds I neither can nor desire to provide the answer; but, looking back upon the history of the world, upon the history more particularly of all the most civilized portions of the world, I say that the case of Jewry in all countries is absolutely exceptional, falls outside all the ordinary rules and maxims, cannot be contained in a formula or explained in a sentence. The deep, underlying principle of self-determination really points to a Zionist policy, however little in its strict technical interpretation it may seem to favor it. I am convinced that none but pedants or people who are prejudiced by religious or racial bigotry, none but those who are blinded by one of these causes would deny for one instant that the case of the Jews is absolutely exceptional, and must be treated by exceptional methods."

Speaking two years later in the House of Lords, the Earl of Balfour said with regard to the Arab question:

"Those particular charges were, in the first place, as I understand them, that it was impossible to establish a Jewish Home in Palestine without giving to the Jewish organizations political powers over the Arab races with which they should not be entrusted, and which, even if they exercised them well, were not powers that should be given under a British Mandate to one race over another. But I think my noble friend gave no evidence of the truth of these charges. He told us that it was quite obvious that some kind of Jewish domination over the Arabs was an essential consequence of the attempt to establish a Jewish Home.

"It is no necessary consequence, and it is surely a very poor compliment to the British Government, to a Governor of Palestine appointed by the British Government, to the Mandates Commission under the League of Nations, whose business it will be to see that the spirit of the Mandate as well as the letter is carried out, and beyond them to the Council of the League of Nations, to suppose that all these bodies will so violate every pledge that they have ever given, and every principle to which they have ever subscribed, as to use the power given to them by the Peace Treaty to enable one section of the community in Palestine oppress and dominate any other.

"I cannot imagine any political interests exercised under greater safeguards than the political interests of the Arab population of Palestine. Every act of the Government will be jealously watched. The Zionist organization has no attribution of political powers. If it uses or usurps political powers it is an act of usurpation. Is that conceivable or possible under the lynx eyes of critics like my noble friend, or of the Mandates Commission, whose business it will be to see that the Mandate is carried out, or of a British Governor-General nourished and brought up under the traditions of British equality and British good government, and, finally, behind all those safeguards, with the safeguard of free Parliamentary criticism in this House and in the other House? These are fantastic fears. They are fears that need perturb no sober and impartial critic of contemporary events, and whatever else may happen in Palestine, of this I am very confident, that under British government no form of tyranny, racial or religious, will ever be permitted."

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