How well has Britain treated the Jews?

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration which paved the way for the establishment of the modern State of Israel 30 years later. The seemingly intractable controversy created by Balfour was summed up by the Hungarian-born Jewish writer Arthur Koestler, who quipped, “one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third”. The Declaration is often thought to be the product of a relatively modern movement for the physical restoration of Jews to a geographical homeland—but in fact British welcome and support for Jewish people goes a long way back into a very mixed history.

The latest Grove Ethics book, British Christian History and the Jewish People by James Patrick, charts this controversial (and controverted) history in unusual detail, and in doing so unearths some remarkable aspects of Britain’s relationship with Jewish people. British affection for the Jews is buried deep within some key moments of our history.

Christianity is pervasive in the British Isles, long thought to have been introduced by first-generation followers of Jesus—fellow Jews—as early as the first century AD, apparently attested by Eusebius (Dem Ev III.5.112). In any case, by AD 200 Tertullian could refer to ‘the haunts of the Britons, inaccessible to the Romans but subjugated to Christ’ (Adv Jud 7.4)…

In the late 800s, King Alfred the Great first unified Anglo-Saxon tribes into the nation of England, and this new national self-identity was inspired by Israel’s tribes whom Moses united into one nation. Alfred was a lover of learning, credited in later centuries with founding the first schools in Oxford which subsequently developed into the university. He taught himself Latin in order to translate important Christian texts into Old English, and even began his royal English law code, called Alfred’s Dooms (the foundation for British common law), with translations of Moses’ laws from Exodus (20.1–17; 21.1–23.9, 13). Alfred justifies this reapplication to Christian England by citing Jesus’ affrmation of the ongoing value of Israel’s law (ie Matt 5.17–19). He then traces the connection to the Gentiles by translating in full the legal ruling of the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15.23–29), issued by apostles of Jesus to ‘heathen nations.’ His ‘English race’ is thus positioned as one among many who had received the ‘law of Christ’ (the Golden Rule is added from Luke 6.31 in its negative form). There is no hint of supersessionism here, but rather an illustration of the ancient prophecy that ‘the law will go forth from Zion…and he will make decisions for strong nations far away’ (Micah 4.2–3).

Having outlined a general sense of solidarity of British Christians with Jewish perspectives, James Patrick then explores the reception of actual Jewish communities following the Norman Conquest of 1066.

Christians had adopted for themselves the Old Testament prohibition against lending money with interest. Jews, on the other hand, were denied participation in trade guilds on religious grounds, and were therefore effectively barred from most professions. Their limited options led them into banking and consequently some of them became quite wealthy. The Norman kings gave direct royal protection to the Jewish community, which not only made them and their possessions the property of the king, but also isolated them from the feudal fabric of life in which everyone else found their proper place. Jewish moneylending became a personal source of finance for the king, enabling castle building and military spending, and freeing him from over-reliance on his powerful barons and retainers. The Jewish community, living amongst their Christian neighbours in roughly two dozen towns throughout the country, provided important nancial services to the local economy. Yet their unique status and privileges were often resented by their neighbours, and sometimes put them in danger of violence from barons in their debt.

Nevertheless, the first hundred years of their presence in England was generally peaceful. Jewish financiers kept business deeds in cathedral treasuries, enjoyed excellent and free relations with some of the great religious houses such as Canterbury, and entrusted their women and children to monasteries for safekeeping in times of disturbance. Aaron of Lincoln was the wealthiest person in England when he died in 1185, his vast estate requiring the creation of a special Exchequer of the Jews, and his loans had apparently even helped to build the cathedrals of Lincoln and Peterborough. Open debates between Jewish and Christian clergy about religious di erences were not uncommon, and conversions are attested in both directions, sometimes for reasons of intermarriage. As well as issuing a charter that protected the basic rights of Jews, Henry I also made sure that monks were sent to all the main towns with a Jewish population to defend the orthodox faith against Judaism. Towards the end of that century in continental Europe, the Tosafist rabbi Elhanan ben Yitzhak recorded concern ‘that in the land of the Isle [England] they are lenient in the matter of drinking strong drinks of the Gentiles and along with them.’ Christians were evidently going down to the local pub with their Jewish neighbours!

But the role of the Jewish community as financiers and therefore power brokers in the key political conflicts was not to end happily, and it led to the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 amidst much bloodshed. Three hundred years later, the Jewish people became important again in British Christian thinking with the translation of the Bible into English during the Reformation period.

In 1545, one of the first English Protestant Bible scholars, called John Bale, published a commentary on the Book of Revelation from exile in the Netherlands, haven also for Jews exiled from Spain and Portugal. He interpreted the 144,000 of Rev 14.1–5 literally as ‘the Iewes or Israelytes that shall in this latter age be converted unto Christ,’ also citing Old Testament prophecies. Among these, he cited (and thereby began to fulfil) Jer 31.10—‘Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare in the coastlands afar off, and say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him and keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.”’ Bale’s views were further popularized by his friend John Foxe, author of the hugely influential Actes and Monuments (ie Book of Martyrs, 1563). During Edward VI’s short reign, the continental Reformed scholars Martin Bucer in Cambridge and Peter Martyr in Oxford both taught that there would be a future national conversion of the Jews.

Recognizing that the Jews were promised a national spiritual restoration, through faith in the Messiah, was the first step toward also acknowledging their promises of a national physical restoration. Sure enough, in the first decade of the 1600s, the Cambridge scholar Thomas Brightman wrote his commentary on Revelation, and holds the distinction of being the first Puritan (thoroughgoing Protestant) writer to argue clearly that the Scriptures predict a physical return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. He proposed that the ‘kings from the east,’ who cross through the dried-up River Euphrates at the sixth bowl in Rev 16.12, are to be identified as the Jews. ‘But,’ he says, ‘what need there a way to be prepared for them? Shal they returne agayn to Ierusalem? There is nothing more sure: the Prophets plainly confirme it, and beat often upon it.’ He believed that this return, which would include the ten lost tribes, would finally defeat the Muslim Ottoman empire that had conquered Jerusalem in 1517 and now threatened Europe.

It is fascinating to see how these views, at first quite marginal, began to spread, and Patrick notes the way that this perspective gained wider support beyond this Puritan outlook.

Within Great Britain, expectation of Jewish spiritual and physical restoration had spread beyond Puritan evangelicalism into wider British consciousness. The philosopher John Locke assumed this in his 1707 Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans (paraphrase of 11.23). In 1721, the hymnist Isaac Watts urged his London congregation that upon seeing ‘one and another of the Jewish nation in this great city,’ zealous for their own religious traditions, then ‘we should let our eyes affect our hearts, and drop a tear of compassion upon their souls,’ and pray for the soon fulfilment of biblical promises for their spiritual and physical restoration (Sermon XIX, on Rom 1.16). In 1733, Sir Isaac Newton published posthumously a work on the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, which assumes that the Jews must return and rebuild Jerusalem. Reflecting on prophetic details in Dan 9.25, he wondered very practically whether the prophesied ‘“commandment to return” may perhaps come forth not from the Jews themselves, but from some other Kingdom friendly to them.’

This view continue to gather momentum during the eighteenth century, and led to serious political expression in the nineteenth.

The British evangelical machine that began to power the political movement for Jewish restoration, culminating 100 years later in the Balfour Declaration, was in fact designed by Jewish Christians and built out of German parts. Since mission was already well established in German Pietist and Moravian churches, at first they also supplied most of the missionaries for the new British missions. One of these, a German-Jewish convert called Joseph Frey, set up in 1809 a new London Society for the Promotion of Christianity amongst the Jews, commonly called the London Jews’ Society [LJS]. Rapidly drawing the attention of wealthy evangelicals, both Anglican and nonconformist, its first patron was the Duke of Kent (before his daughter Queen Victoria’s birth). Its headquarters were built on the edge of the largely Jewish East End of London in a campus called Palestine Place, modelled after Pietist missionary institutions in Halle, and staffed by gifted Hebrew-speaking scholars such as Alexander McCaul of King’s College London. Initially reaching out to the Jewish community in London, their attention soon turned to those on the continent and also throughout the Middle East, inspired by the remarkable travels of the Jewish-Christian ‘apostle’ Joseph Wolff.

The two most influential evangelical Anglican ministers in the first half of the nineteenth century were both tireless promoters of the LJS all around the country—Charles Simeon in Cambridge, and Edward Bickersteth. The same was true of their close friends (respectively), William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury, each in their turn also known as the moral voice of Britain for their fearless advocacy in Parliament on behalf of the poor and needy across Britain’s vast empire. In 1818, the financial benefactor of the LJS, Lewis Way, was invited by Czar Alexander I to present a well-received paper on Jewish emancipation to the crowned heads of Europe at the international diplomatic conference in Aix-la-Chapelle, following Napoleon’s defeat.

In the final chapter of his booklet, James Patrick traces the complex history of the outworking of the Balfour Declaration, and the current status of Israel in the light of that. Inevitably, this involves interpreting the facts in a particular way—and not all will agree with his interpretation. But the booklet demonstrates that the Balfour Declaration and British relations with the State of Israel are not mere modern phenomena but have deeps roots in British history. It is a fascinating read, and provides essential background for interpreting the events of 100 years ago.

British Christian History and the Jewish People can be ordered from the Grove website for £3.95 (post-free in the UK) or as a PDF ebook.

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39 thoughts on “How well has Britain treated the Jews?”

  1. Interesting.

    My understanding of Jewish history in the UK is too limited for a long and well-constructed comment, but my initial impression is that I think this is perhaps unreasonably fair to England.

    Certainly there is balance to be found, and this article does a good job; England has after all fluctuated between positions of friendship and animosity towards the Jews over its long history, but thankfully it have never really gone too far either way for extended periods. We haven’t experienced the (frankly mad) ‘Zionism’ of certain types of ‘modern’ American Evangelical culture, but nor have we experienced the same systemic and virulent antisemitism as characterised Eastern Europe over the previous 2 centuries.

    I think what understanding the Balfour declaration comes down to is simple sovereign pragmatism. It was in Britain’s interest at the time to act in the way it did, expanding it’s influence by planting a people sympathetic to its cause in an area within which it wanted influence.

  2. James Patrick has, I believe, written his monograph from a Messianic Jewish perspective, which is perhaps relevant information. Nearly all Messianic believers I know feel the need to be ‘more Catholic than the Pope’ when it comes to supporting the Zionist project, given its (relatively recent) connection with Jewish identity. But any theological rather than political assessment of the Balfour Declaration needs to address the question of why many Jews (including Edwin Montagu, the only Jew in the Cabinet alongside Balfour) were vehemently opposed to the Declaration, seeing it as fundamentally anti- rather than philo-Semitic in motivation. Personally, I believe the Balfour Declaration was driven by imperialist hubris, and it has proved to be a catastrophe for the indigenous Arab peoples of historic Palestine, who have faced dispossession, occupation and oppression over the last 100 years.

    • Yes, many Jews opposed it. But many Jews favoured it and the Zionist movement (and emigration) was thriving by 1917. They were very divided on the matter.

      On a political level it was a wartime strategic move on the part of Britain to gain favour with Jewish people (at least those who favoured it). But it was also the culmination of a movement that had been going on amongst Christians and Jews during the 19th century (and, for Christians, earlier). Britain was given the Mandate for Palestine by the victorious Allied Powers in order to carry out its promises for both a Jewish homeland and an Arab state (Jordan) in that region of the former Ottoman Empire so it must have been widely felt to be a valid and worthwhile move.

      Was it illegitimate imperialism, or was it a legitimate move by the victors of the war in response to a well-established religio-political movement to restore a people to their ancient homeland (from which the Romans evicted them in the 2nd century)? The Jewish people would seem to have as good a claim as anyone to that land, particularly in view of its connection with their culture, history, religion and identity. But there’s no doubt the interaction of those claims with the claims of the indigenous Arabs creates big political and ethical problems, particularly if there is a goal for an actual Jewish state and not merely a state which includes Jews.

    • In the matter of fulfilling prophesy, is it relevant, the motives of those involved in fulfilling them? Also, your usage of the word, “indigenous Arabs” is surely quite loose and implies you consider they are the natural inhabitants of the land, and not the Jews, who have been present in the land for well over 3000 years. I always thought the Arabs were indigenous to Arabia.

      • But what prophecy has been fulfilled here? I don’t think Biblical prophecy was fulfilled in 1948 and 1967, and nor (I suspect) does Ian Paul, as you can see from his previous endorsement of Rob Dalrymple’s book on Christian Zionism, from which he has quoted:

        “To suggest that 1948 is a fulfilment of prophecy…is to read the Old Testament as though Jesus Christ had not come into the world, and as though the New Testament had not been written, for the New Testament shows that these oracles of salvation find their fulfilment in Christ and his church.” (These Brothers of Mine, p135).

        • I agree.

          Whatever lens we look at the Balfour declaration through, the ‘theological’ one is what causes the most problems, and the most division. Clearly there was some expectation and discussion in the ‘religious community’ (both Jews and Christians, but foriegn Islamic power too) about the prophetic/fulfillment nature of the declaration, and what that meant in the grand narrative of Israel (as perceived by the Jews themselves), but I do not think this was a remotely significant motive for the British Government, which I feel viewed the whole thing with a detached callousness to everyone involved.

          RE historic ownership of the land I am not sure why it is so hard to grasp (and I am not aiming this at anyone directly) that BOTH Arabs and Jews have a connection to it and can call it, quite rightly, their home. One historical claim cannot supersede the other.

          To pretend that the area of the middle east we call Israel and Palestine has ever been indisputably Arab or Jew is mistaken, though I would hazard a guess that if you looked at demographics over the last few centuries it would be vastly in favor of the former.

          • Surely it was indisputably Jewish between Joshua (or at least Saul/David) and their eviction by the Romans in the 2nd century? Well – with allowance made for the exile and the loss of the Northern Kingdom. Prior to that it was Canaanite (being the land of Canaan).

          • So your point is what? That neither Jew nor Arab have a claim because it’s actually ethnically Caananite? 😉

            My point was not to say that there have never been periods where it has been clearly one or the other; that would be historically false. But rather it was to say that is has rarely been consistent, and more than one ethnic division has claimed the land we call Israel as their homeland, and all with some degree of legitimacy.

          • I was just responding to your point that ‘To pretend that the area of the middle east we call Israel and Palestine has ever been indisputably Arab or Jew is mistaken’.

            Surely Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people in a much stronger sense than it is the homeland of a subgroup of Arab people? It was the land they built their identity around once they had escaped from slavery (before which they were only one family). It’s fundamental to their national identity in a way that I don’t believe it is for other ethnic groups in the region. For Arabs isn’t it just one of many regions they settled within their imperial dominions? Is it their homeland in a similar sense? (This isn’t to question the rights of those Arabs settled in the land – questions of ‘national homeland’ are a different matter, I think.)

          • Sorry, point taken. Misuse of the word ‘ever’ on my part.

            I would agree with your other comment, but sadly I don’t think that carries much weight as an argument, true as it may be.

      • As for your comment about ‘indigenous Arabs’ it is so ill-informed and insulting to Arabs that it hardly merits a reply.

        • Yet informative replies can be welcome. Acts 2:11 springs to mind as a Biblical text attesting how ‘Arabs’ get around – whatever exactly is meant by ‘Arabes’ or ‘Araboi’, there, in terms of geography, language, ethnology, or faith.

          In Promise and Fulfillment (1949), Koestler follows the ‘quip’ quoted, with his explication of “the country of a third”: “It is true that the Arabs in Palestine lived under Turkish overlordship; but they had been living there for centuries, and
          the country was no doubt ‘theirs’ in the generally accepted sense of the word.” So, Ottoman Turks had been there – and in power – since (we read above) 1517, yet this – including these four “centuries” – (for whatever reasons) does not lead him to the conclusion “the country was no doubt ‘theirs’ in the generally accepted sense of the word.” I have not read the whole book, but, I would say, curiously, he does not here attend to any Jewish inhabitants who had equally been there “for centuries” “under Turkish overlordship”. Is “‘theirs’ in the generally accepted sense of the word” crucially a matter of numbers as much as anything else, for him? Majority makes “theirs”, and minority – what? Is it all or nothing for him? And, what of longevity and (apparent) continuity of habitation? And what of factors of ‘group identification’?

          Acts 2:5 speaks of “Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven” – does verse 11 mean ‘Jewish Arabs’?

          Perhaps Simon Cordingley had such considerations in mind.

          • Given the context, Acts 2:11 is surely speaking either of diaspora Jews from Arabia or of Arabic-speaking Jewish proselytes.

  3. Jeremy – You state that James Patrick has written his monograph from a ‘Messianic Jewish perspective’ and suggest this is relevant information? What exactly do you imply? Do you suggest that despite his holding multiple Cambridge & Oxford degrees including a DPhil in Theology we should be question his contribution or be concerned about his scholarship? Does anyone ever write anything without some conviction or commitment to their theme? Did you write that comment, implying bias in James’ monograph without bias?

  4. We held an evening exploring the Balfour Declaration last night and were fortunate to have a historian from Southampton University on the presenting panel. His doctoral thesis was on this period of history. An interesting fact that came out for me, was the many Jews that were opposed to the idea of a Jewish homeland, because they feared what it might mean for their rights as citizens of the countries where they lived at that time. Also his take on the main driving force behind the declaration was not the Zionist movement, but the general desire across Europe to limit immigration of Jewish people by sending them to a nation of their own. He said that the British attitude to Jewish people at that time was similar to the attitude to Muslims today. So hardly an ‘affectionate relationship’, quite the opposite.

    • That sounds like a skewed reading of the period. The Declaration says:

      I have much pleasure in conveying to you. on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet. His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

      The 1922 granting of the Palestine Mandate to Britain (in part to take forward this goal) says similar. Taken at face value there is no reason to assume wholly cynical motivations of Europeans aiming merely to limit their Jewish populations.

    • “He said that the British attitude to Jewish people at that time was similar to the attitude to Muslims today. So hardly an ‘affectionate relationship’, quite the opposite.” Did he perhaps mean by that, that there are widely varied attitudes of diverse ‘British’ people to diverse ‘Muslims’? Including both “affectionate relationship” and “the opposite” along the spectrum? That would seem to correspond to early Twentieth-century ‘British’ attitudes to ‘Jewish people’, as far as my reading goes. Who is he, by the way, that we may look up and read his publications, etc.?

    • The Southampton academic was quite right to make a connection between the Balfour Declaration and an antisemitic desire to slow down Jewish immigration into Britain. The Aliens Act of 1905 was largely targeted at stopping Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe, but there was a concern that continued antisemitism in Europe would increase still further the flow of Jews into Britain. This was the origin of the British Foreign Secretary’s bizarre plan in 1912-13 (briefly entertained by the Zionists) to allow unrestricted Jewish immigration into Uganda of all places, ie ‘anywhere but here’.

      • The Uganda Scheme was a 1903 offer to Herzl and the Zionist movement in response to their desire for a location for a Jewish homeland, which at that time hadn’t settled on having to be Palestine. There seems no need to attribute an anti-Semitic motive to this. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

        In 1903, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain offered Herzl 5,000 square miles in the Uganda Protectorate for Jewish settlement. Called the Uganda Scheme, it was introduced the same year to the World Zionist Organization’s Congress at its sixth meeting, where a fierce debate ensued. Some groups felt that accepting the scheme would make it more difficult to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, the African land was described as an “ante-chamber to the Holy Land”. It was decided to send a commission to investigate the proposed land by 295 to 177 votes, with 132 abstaining. The following year, congress sent a delegation to inspect the plateau. A temperate climate due to its high elevation, was thought to be suitable for European settlement. However, the area was populated by a large number of Maasai, who did not seem to favour an influx of Europeans. Furthermore, the delegation found it to be filled with lions and other animals. After Herzl died in 1904, the Congress decided on the fourth day of its seventh session in July 1905 to decline the British offer and, according to Adam Rovner, “direct all future settlement efforts solely to Palestine”.

        This isn’t exactly instilling confidence in your version of the history.

        • You are quite right about the year, which was 1903, not 1913. My mistake as I was writing from memory. But are you saying that the 1905 Aliens Act (overseen by Balfour, coincidentally) was not primarily directed at stopping Jewish immigration into Britain? Most historians agree it was antisemitic in inspiration, designed to bring an end to Britain’s previous ‘open door’ policy, and the Uganda and Palestine schemes were in the same spirit. British politicians did not want East European Jews coming to Britain in their thousands.

          • You’re probably right that behind their generosity in making the offer was, in part, a desire to limit domestic immigration. Was it antisemitism specifically though or just a more general desire to limit immigration?

            Is it not more likely to have been seen as a ‘win-win’ than a move motivated wholly by animus?

            It seems odd to try to cast European support for Zionism as motivated wholly by antisemitism. Particularly given the wording of the Declaration. Makes you wonder why people are pushing this idea. Is it part of trying to discredit it?

          • Don’t just take my word for the antisemitism behind Balfour. As I have posted elsewhere, read what Edwin Montagu, the only Jew in the Cabinet in 1917, had to say about it. He was a passionate assimilationist and saw it as an insult to be told that his ‘national home’ was not in Britain but in Palestine. As he wrote in one of his Cabinet memoranda against the Declaration: ‘I wish to place on record my view that the policy of His Majesty’s Government is anti-Semitic and in result will prove a rallying ground for Anti-Semites in every country in the world’.

          • Jeremy – but a passionate assimilationist Jew would be inclined to construe it in that way. We know though that Zionism was not primarily an antisemitic movement, so whatever he felt the charge doesn’t stick.

          • But we’re not debating here whether there was any antisemitic inspiration behind Zionism. That would be a nonsense. The issue is whether British SUPPORT for Zionism, as expressed in the Balfour Declaration and subsequent British policy, had an antisemitic element within it, alongside (perversely) romantic philosemitism, dispensational Christianity, colonial self-interest and (in the context of WW1) military imperative.

          • Whatever the political machinations of the British government and her self-interest and double dealing with Jews and Arabs over Israel/Palestine…. Dr James Patrick’s booklet is a brilliantly researched, fascinating and moving piece of Church/political history showing the long time commitment of Bible believing British Church leaders and their commitment to the restoration of Jews to their homeland.

          • Jeremy – when you speak of philo-semitism as ‘romantic’ and ‘perverse’ you do a disservice to some of the greatest names in British Church history. This is an emotive issue on all sides, but this blog that you are new to, is not the place for such insults. The long and distinguished list of Christian leaders including such luminaries as John Owen, William Carey, John Wesley, Shaftesbury, Wilberforce, Charles Simeon, Henry Martyn, CH Spurgeon, whose philo-semitic trajectory influenced the penning of Balfour deserve more credit than being described as perversely romantic philosemites.

          • Simon, I am not new to Ian’s blog and you are misquoting me. I was not suggesting for a moment that romantic philosemitism was perverse, but rather that it was perverse (perhaps counter-intuitive would have been a better word) that antisemitism should sit alongside philosemitism as a potential motivation behind British support for Zionism. I fully accept that many prominent Christians have been Zionists, and of course many other Bible-believing theologians (including, in the modern age, John Stott, John Piper and NT Wright) have seen no Biblical basis for Christian Zionism. My own sympathies are of course with the latter, but the place for this debate is not here but on the subsequent two blogs by Ian Paul, on which I should be glad to hear your views.

          • Jeremy – I don’t disagree that anti-Semitism will have played its part for some who supported the Zionist goals (this is the origin of Ken Livingstone’s ‘Hitler was a Zionist’ remarks). But there is no reason to think it was a dominant motive when other more benign and pragmatic motives are also clearly in evidence.

            Your original comment (Oct 31 7:35pm) appeared to be attempting to put the whole motivation of the British Government down to anti-Semitism – which I can only assume is in order to tarnish the movement with the stigma of prejudice. Otherwise why exaggerate a minor motive among some and portray it as the driving force? That’s really what we’re disputing about – and it seems to go hand in hand with your dismissive reference to ‘perversely romantic philosemitism’.

          • My use of the word ‘perversely’ has been misinterpreted, but my post clarifying the matter is still awaiting moderation.

          • Also, if I may say so, I didn’t start this debate about the antisemitism that may have had some influence on Balfour and I have never said that it was the ‘whole motivation’. Indeed, in one of my posts above I list a whole number of other factors. I was responding to the following quote by Barry Jackson from a Southampton academic: ‘…the main driving force behind the declaration was not the Zionist movement, but the general desire across Europe to limit immigration of Jewish people by sending them to a nation of their own’.

          • Jeremy – rather than saying the romantic philosemites were perverse, were you saying that it was perverse = strangely contradictory, to find philo-semites and antisemites driving Balfour? If so, then I did misunderstand you and apologise. I still would want to question the adjective ‘romantic’ and suggest they were ‘Prophetic’ 🙂

          • Jeremy – yes you appear to have been misunderstood. Your comments here seemed to be arguing for a primarily anti-Semitic motive, whereas higher up you say you attribute it primarily to imperialist hubris.

            However, while it may have been hubristic, people need motives beyond mere hubris actually to be moved to action.

            You do seem to have a fundamentally cynical agenda here, to attribute only the worst motives to those involved and downplay if not erase any good motives – presumably as part of an effort to discredit Zionism and British involvement as a legitimate or moral undertaking.

          • I’ve been interpreting Jeremy’s comments to be an honest attempt to hold together two seemingly incompatible statements.

            1. That the British Government’s attitude to Balfour was primarily pragmatic/distanced and not explicitly motivated by any sort of fleshed-out Zionist agenda: the government acted fully within it’s own interest, and arguably at the expense of the Jewish people rather than directly for their benefit.

            Is this anti-semitic? I wouldn’t go that far, but I certainly think, as Jeremy seems to as well, that an attempt to paint Balfour as philosemitic instead is equally mistaken.

            2. That there was nonetheless in the Britain at the time a strong prevailing pro-Zionist narrative within the church, espoused by people with a genuine and sincere desire to see good come to pass for a people who had suffered immensely in the previous century.

            The question really comes down to, how much influence did point 2 really have on point 1. I happen to think it fairly minor.

          • TS Eliot ‘Destiny waits in the hands of God, not in their hands of statesmen’.

            Whatever the political pragmatism woven into Balfour and its subsequent acceptance and activating with the British Mandate, it is perhaps worth noting that of the 10 in the British cabinet at the time Balfour was conceived, 7 of the 10 were Evangelical christians. It is definitely significant that Prime minister Lloyd George and foreign Secretary Balfour both ‘later explained that biblically inspired hopes had motivated their initiative.’ (James Patrick’s Grove booklet)

          • Perhaps, Mat, you’d like to revise your ‘fairly minor’ assessment in the light of Simon’s remarks, which seem to confirm a significant influence of philosemitism and pro-Zionism on the Balfour declaration and subsequent following through.

  5. Many thanks for this!

    Bibliographical question (not satisfied by following the Grove link or looking it up at how long is this clearly interesting book? And, does it have, in notes or bibliography, suggestions for further reading?


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