The Balfour Declaration

On 2 November 1917, Lord Balfour, then Foreign Secretary, signed a short 67-word letter to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British-Jewish community, containing a statement which instantly became famous as the Balfour Declaration when it was released to the press seven days later. The Declaration began by stating that “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Boris Johnson published an article in The Daily Telegraph on 30 October to mark the centenary of the Declaration. The article contained a historical error, as Alistair Lexden pointed out in a letter printed in the paper on 2 November.

 

SIR---Boris Johnson imagines his great predecessor, Arthur Balfour, sitting at the desk he himself now uses in the Foreign Office, and dashing off his short letter to Lord Rothschild, as he himself would undoubtedly have done.

This is a fantasy. The letter was composed by Harold Nicolson, then a young rising star in the diplomatic world, in the bowels of the building. He recalled later that the Balfour Declaration “took weeks to draft, and every word was scrutinised with the greatest thought and forethought.” A colleague drew a brilliant caricature of him and a fellow draftsman “as failing octogenarians with long white beards, still grappling, in the basement of the Foreign Office, with the drafting and redrafting of the Balfour Declaration.”

What Balfour himself brought to the task was a passionate commitment to the Zionist cause. He said to Nicolson: “here is one of the most gifted races of mankind, which mankind has treated woefully. We can provide sanctuary for some of the most unfortunate from places such as Cracow and Galatz. They will acquire dignity.”

Lord Lexden
London SW1