Only a Letter, But One That Helped Change History

One of the landmark achievements of the modern Zionist movement was, after all, basically only a letter written 100 years ago from a senior British government official to a prominent member of the Jewish community there.

But that letter, which came to be known as the Balfour Declaration, has gone down in history as a turning point in the modern struggle to restore Jewish sovereignty in the historic Land of Israel. It was a courageous and unprecedented st

atement by the most senior British political leaders, who, in effect, were unhesitant in expressing in the most concrete way their Christian belief in the Bible and its promises to the people of Israel. Without doubt, the still emerging political Zionist cause of the early twentieth century received its biggest boost until that time with the Balfour Declaration

The declaration was actually a letter from the then foreign secretary of Britain, Arthur James Balfour, to Baron Walter Rothschild, one of the stalwart figures of British Jewry at that time, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. The letter promised the Jews a national home in Palestine, which was then a part of the Ottoman Empire but was soon to be ruled under a British mandate.

Balfour (1848-1930) was prime minister of Britain from 1902 to 1905 and then foreign secretary from 1916 to 1919 during World War I.  His letter to Baron Rothschild stated: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object….” The original document is kept at the British Library.

The Balfour Declaration is now marking its centenary and is being recalled to prominence in numerous lectures, conferences and other commemorative events in Israel and throughout the world. Historians are pointing to its crucial role in boosting the then struggling Zionist movement initiated by Theodor Herzl and others that began in the late 19th century.

Balfour had met and been impressed by Chaim Weizmann, the then Jewish leader of the Zionist movement, and came to identify himself as a Christian supporter of the Zionist cause. In the great Victorian struggle between science and religion, Balfour was known to be on the side of religion.

Balfour and his declaration provided the first political recognition of Zionist aims by a great power. His name has lived on in perpetuity in the modern State of Israel. One can see streets in Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem and in other cities in the country named in Balfour’s honor, as well as in honor of David Lloyd George, the British prime minister of that time, who supported the Balfour initiative.