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The British Empire’s Jewish Question and the Post-Ottoman Future

Abstract

This chapter re-examines the British Empire’s World War I alliance with Zionism as an exercise in legitimation. Unlike traditional Zionist historiography, Renton argues that the Balfour Declaration has to be understood in the context of the global imperial politics of race. From this perspective, he shows that the British Empire enlisted Zionism as a means of solving a new perceived Jewish Question: the specter of a supposed global Jewish power, opposed to the Allied cause. This policy led to the British and French empires including Zionism in the political cartography for a post-Ottoman Western Asia. The misconceived racial thought behind this re-mapping resulted in the sponsorship of Jewish and Arab nationalisms in the Holy Land, which led, he argues, to the beginnings of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict.

Keywords

  • Middle East
  • British Government
  • Jewish Question
  • Racial Thought
  • Jewish Section

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Notes

  1. 1.

    On race-thinking, see Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York, 1973), ch. 6.

  2. 2.

    For examples of the statist interpretation, see Isaiah Friedman, The Question of Palestine: British-Jewish-Arab Relations: 1914–1918, 2nd ed. (New Brunswick, NJ, 1992), 311–32; Jon Kimche, The Unromantics: The Great Powers and the Balfour Declaration (London, 1968), 48.

  3. 3.

    For the perfidy thesis, see Abdul L. Tibawi, Anglo-Arab-Relations and the Question of Palestine 19141921 (London, 1978). For the incompetence argument, see Elie Kedourie, In the Anglo-Arab Labyrinth: The McMahon-Husayn Correspondence and Its Interpretations, 19141939 (Cambridge, 1976), chs. 1–3; and Isaiah Friedman, British Pan-Arab Policy, 1915–1922: A Critical Appraisal (New Brunswick, NJ, 2010).

  4. 4.

    On the race-thinking context of the Balfour Declaration, also see James Renton, The Zionist Masquerade: The Birth of the Anglo-Zionist Alliance, 1914–1918 (Basingstoke, 2007), chs. 1–2.

  5. 5.

    For a recent example, see Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (London, 2010). Even though Schneer includes a significant discussion of British Arab policy, it is not integrated into his analysis of British Zionist policy.

  6. 6.

    On the Empire as a world-system, see John Darwin, The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830–1970 (Cambridge, 2011).

  7. 7.

    Joseph Heller, British Policy towards the Ottoman Empire, 1908–1914 (London, 1983).

  8. 8.

    James Renton, “Changing Languages of Empire and the Orient: Britain and the Invention of the Middle East, 1917–1918,” The Historical Journal 50, no. 3 (2007): 648.

  9. 9.

    See the report and minutes of the Committee on Asiatic Turkey of April to June 1915: “British Desiderata in Turkey in Asia,” [Cabinet Papers, United Kingdom National Archives, Public Record Office, Kew] CAB 27/1.

  10. 10.

    On the use of nationalism, see Hew Strachan, The First World War, Vol. I: To Arms (Oxford, 2001), ch.9; Aviel Roshwald, Ethnic Nationalism and the Fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia and the Middle East, 1914–1923 (London, 2001); Michael A. Reynolds, Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires, 1908–1918 (Cambridge, 2011); Kenneth J. Calder, Britain and the Origins of the New Europe, 1914–1918 (Cambridge, 1976); James Renton, The Zionist Masquerade: The Birth of the Anglo-Zionist Alliance, 1914–1918 (Basingstoke, 2007), ch. 2.

  11. 11.

    Lord Milner, The Nation and the Empire: Being a Collection of Speeches and Addresses, with an introduction by Lord Milner, G.C.B. (London, 1913), 39.

  12. 12.

    “Race and Nationality by the Right Hon. Arthur J. Balfour, M.P., 21 October 1909,” in Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, Session 1908–1909 (London, 1909), 238.

  13. 13.

    David Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties (London, 1938), 2:1118.

  14. 14.

    David French, “The Dardanelles, Mecca and Kut: Prestige as a Factor in British Eastern Strategy, 1914–1916,” War & Society 5 (1987): 45–62; Briton Cooper Busch, Britain, India, and the Arabs, 1914–1921 (Berkeley, 1971), chs. 2 and 4; Kedourie, Anglo-Arab Labyrinth, chs. 1–3.

  15. 15.

    Renton, “Changing Languages,” 654–59.

  16. 16.

    Akaby Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian Question, 19151923 (London, 1984), 69–88, 119.

  17. 17.

    David Lloyd George memorandum, 19 February 1917, [Foreign Office Records, United Kingdom National Archives, Public Record Office, Kew] FO 395/139/42320; Philip Kerr to John Buchan, 22 March 1917, FO 395/139/63739.

  18. 18.

    Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian Question, 93–100.

  19. 19.

    Ibid., 86–119.

  20. 20.

    Lancelot Oliphant minute, 27 June 1916, George Clerk minute, 29 June 1916, Sir Edward Grey minute, n.d., Oliphant minute, 4 July 1916, Maurice De Bunsen to Lucien Wolf, 4 July 1916, FO 371/2817/130062.

  21. 21.

    Report and minutes of the Committee on Asiatic Turkey, April–June 1915: “British Desiderata in Turkey in Asia,” CAB 27/1; Vincent Cloarec, La France et la question de Syrie (1914–1918) (Paris, 2010), 238–73.

  22. 22.

    Paul Cambon to Sir Edward Grey, 9 May 1916, FO 371/2777/88317, with map signed by Georges Picot and Sykes, [Maps and Plans, United Kingdom National Archives, Public Record Office, Kew] MFQ 1/426.

  23. 23.

    Mark Levene, War, Jews, and the New Europe: The Diplomacy of Lucien Wolf, 1914–1919 (Oxford, 1992), 50–51, ch. 3.

  24. 24.

    Lord Robert Cecil minute, c. 8 March 1916, FO 371/2671/35433.

  25. 25.

    Renton, Zionist Masquerade, ch. 3.

  26. 26.

    FO to Lord Bertie, Paris, and Sir George Buchanan, Petrograd, 11 March 1916, FO 800/96 (Sir Edward Grey Papers), cited in Friedman, Question of Palestine, 57–58.

  27. 27.

    Cloarec, La France et la question de Syrie, 270; Friedman, Question of Palestine, 60–61.

  28. 28.

    Renton, Zionist Masquerade, ch. 2.

  29. 29.

    David French, The Strategy of the Lloyd George Coalition, 1916–1918 (Oxford, 1995), 275–76; James Renton, “The Historiography of the Balfour Declaration: Toward a Multi-Causal Framework,” Journal of Israeli History: Politics, Society, Culture 19, no. 2 (1998): 120–3.

  30. 30.

    War Cabinet minutes, 261, 31 October 1917, CAB 23/4. On the reasons behind the Declaration, see Renton, Zionist Masquerade, chs. 3–4; Mark Levene, The Crisis of Genocide, vol. 1, Devastation: The European Rimlands 1912–1938 (Oxford, 2013), ch. 1.

  31. 31.

    Renton, Zionist Masquerade, ch. 5.

  32. 32.

    Sykes, “Memorandum on the Asia Minor Agreement,” 14 August 1917, FO 371/3059/159558.

  33. 33.

    See James Renton, “The Age of Nationality and the Origins of the Zionist-Palestinian Conflict,” The International History Review 35, no. 3 (2013): 576–99.

  34. 34.

    On the Provisional Government, see Rex A. Wade, The Russian Search for Peace, February-October 1917 (Stanford, 1969). On Wilson, see Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (New York, 2007), Part I.

  35. 35.

    V. H. Rothwell, British War Aims and Peace Diplomacy, 19141918 (Oxford, 1971), 129–31, 134–38, 213–15, 218–19, 286–87.

  36. 36.

    “Minutes of the Third Meeting of the Sub-Committee of the Imperial War Cabinet on Territorial Desiderata in the Terms of Peace,” 19 April 1917; “Report of Committee on Terms of Peace (Territorial Desiderata),” 28 April 1917, CAB 21/77.

  37. 37.

    Sykes to Sir Percy Cox, 23 May 1917, 42c, Sykes Collection, Middle East Centre Archive, St Antony’s College, Oxford (MECA).

  38. 38.

    Cloarec, La France et la question de Syrie, 238–73.

  39. 39.

    Sykes to Balfour, 8 April 1917, 42b, Sykes Collection, MECA.

  40. 40.

    Henry Laurens, La Question de Palestine: Tome Premier, L’invention de la Terre sainte (Paris, 1999), 347–49.

  41. 41.

    C. P. Scott to Lloyd George, 5 February 1917, Lloyd George Papers, Parliamentary Archives, London, LG/F/45/2/4; Sir Ronald Graham minute, 17 April 1917, FO 371/3052/78324; Graham minute, 21 April 1917, and Hardinge minute, n.d., FO 371/3052/82982; Cecil minute, 20 December 1917, FO 371/3061/24367.

  42. 42.

    M. Philips Rice, “Russian Diplomacy I: The Secret Treaties,” The Manchester Guardian, 28 November 1917, 5; “Asiatic Turkey: Full Text of Allies’ Agreement with Ex-Tsar,” The Manchester Guardian, 19 January 1918, 5.

  43. 43.

    George Antonius, The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement (Safety Harbor, FL, 2001), 253–56.

  44. 44.

    Great Britain, Palestine and the Jews: Jewry’s Celebration of its National Charter (London, 1918), 17–18.

  45. 45.

    For the bureaucratic terminology in Whitehall, see Helmet Mejcher, “British Middle East Policy 1917–1921: The Inter-Departmental Level,” Journal of Contemporary History 8, no. 4 (1973): 81–95.

  46. 46.

    Renton, Zionist Masquerade, chs. 6–7; idem, “Age of Nationality,” 580–90.

  47. 47.

    Sykes to William Ormsby-Gore, 17 November 1918, FO 371/3398/190447.

  48. 48.

    Bernard Wasserstein, The British in Palestine: The Mandatory Government and the Arab-Jewish Conflict 1917–1929, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1991), 12–14; Brigadier-General C. F. Clayton to FO, 11 February and 5 March 1918, FO 371/3391/27254 and 41979.

  49. 49.

    For exceptions, see Lord Curzon, “The Future of Palestine,” 26 October 1917, CAB 24/30 and D. G. Hogarth minute, c. 20 August 1918, FO 371/3381/146256.

  50. 50.

    Sykes, “Note on Palestine and Zionism,” c. 23 September 1917, Sykes Collection, no. 80, MECA. Also see Ormsby-Gore, “Attachment to Political Intelligence Summary, No. 4, 26 April 1918,” Wingate Papers, Sudan Archive, Durham University Library, 148/8/101.

  51. 51.

    Sykes, “Note on Palestine and Zionism,” c. 23 September 1917, Sykes Collection, no. 80, MECA.

  52. 52.

    Muslim-Christian Association, Jaffa, to Military Governor, 16 November 1918, FO 371/3386/213403; Laurens, La Question de Palestine, 424; Haim Gerber, Remembering and Imagining Palestine: Identity and Nationalism from the Crusades to the Present (Basingstoke, 2008), 90–91, 164–66; Renton, “Age of Nationality,” 590–93.

  53. 53.

    Court of Inquiry report, 1 July 1920, 7–8, FO 371/5121/9379.

  54. 54.

    Ibid., 80.

  55. 55.

    Ibid.,10, 19–20, 33, 46.

  56. 56.

    Ibid., 1.

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Renton, J. (2017). The British Empire’s Jewish Question and the Post-Ottoman Future. In: Wertheim, D. (eds) The Jew as Legitimation . Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-42601-3_9

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