Balfour Letter to Rothschild Sowed Dragon’s Teeth: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of "The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict" by Jonathan Schneer. Source: Random House via Bloomberg

About 300,000 Jews lived in Great Britain just before the outbreak of World War I. Most were recent refugees from the pogroms of Eastern Europe and Russia and worked in sweatshops and mills. Only 8,000 belonged to Zionist organizations.

Rich established Jews, or the “Cousinhood” consisting of a few interlinked families, among them the Rothschilds, Montefiores, Mocattas, Cohens, Goldsmids, Samuels and Montagus, were even less likely to yearn for a Middle Eastern homeland.

They identified themselves as Jewish Britons, not British Jews, and strongly disagreed with Zionists who argued that Jews constituted a separate people or nation.

When his father died in 1915, Walter Rothschild became the head of the family and the de facto leader of British Jewry. Ardent Zionist Chaim Weizmann won him over, as well as many others, including government officials.

On Nov. 2, 1917 Lord Rothschild received a letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour expressing formal support for a national home in Palestine for the Jewish people.

Since then, there has been nearly a century of conflict between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East.

I spoke with Jonathan Schneer, author of “The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” on the following topics:

1. Letter to Lord Rothschild

2. British Promises to Arabs

3. British Promises to Jews

4. Anti-Zionist Jews

5. Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth

To listen to the podcast, click here. To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)


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