Balfour, Arthur James Balfour, Earl of

(1848–1930)
   British statesman and Zionist. In 1906, Dr Chaim WEIZMANN, then lecturer in chemistry at Manchester University, was introduced to the Tory Opposition leader, Arthur Balfour. In explaining to him the historical roots of Zionism, Weizmann remarked that Jerusalem had been Jewish when London was a swamp. As prime minister from 1902 to 1905, Balfour had been familiar with the contacts between his powerful colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, and Dr HERZL that led to the abortive proposal for Zionist settlement in El-Arish and then the offer of a tract in East Africa - the controversial Uganda Project. It does not appear, however, that Balfour was himself involved in these matters to any extent. Weizmann saw him again in 1915, when Balfour was first lord of the Admiralty in Asquith’s wartime cabinet. Balfour remembered the previous meeting, and was willing to help promote the idea of restoring the Jewish homeland in Palestine if it was liberated from the Turks, as Turkey had come in on the German side. This sympathetic interest became more important the following year, when LLOYD GEORGE became prime minister and appointed Balfour foreign secretary. It was Balfour who on 2 November 1917 addressed to Lord ROTHSCHILD the historic declaration that pledged British support for a Jewish National Home in Palestine. It was again Balfour who in 1920 presented to the League of Nations the draft Palestine mandate, that contained the commitment of the Balfour Declaration.
   For the rest of his life he remained an ardent champion of the Zionist cause, which he defended in public statements and in the House of Lords, having been made a peer in 1922. In 1925, he visited Palestine to lay the foundation stone for the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus and eloquently reaffirmed his faith in the capacity of the Jewish people to overcome all difficulties on the road to renewed nationhood. The high commissioner, Sir Herbert SAMUEL (later Lord Samuel), described him at that memorable ceremony as ‘a tall silver-haired figure in the scarlet robe of his degree, outstanding in the midst of the vast assembly… He stood there in the evening of his own days, and spoke of the new day that he saw dawning in the life of a deathless people.’ Balfour seemed at first an unlikely convert of Zionism. His political contemporaries regarded him as a detached, even cynical man, and an exponent of rationalist philosophy, on which he had written several books in his earlier years. Yet his support for the Jewish National Home policy obviously had a deeper motivation than wartime expediency. Weizmann had stirred the streak of idealism in his nature, and a strong sense of justice for a small persecuted people. In justifying the mandate before the House of Lords in 1922, he spoke movingly of the great crimes against the Jews, and of the need ‘to wash out an ancient stain upon our own civilisation’.
   A two-volume biography of Balfour, published in 1939, was written by his niece Mrs Blanche (Baffy) DUGDALE, who for many years worked closely with Dr Weizmann and the Zionist Executive in London. Balfour’s name is commemorated on the map of Israel by the moshav of Balfouria in the Jezreel Valley, established in 1922, the Balfour forest in Western Galilee, and by streets in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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