How Anti-Semitism Helped Create Israel

At a desperate moment in World War I, British elites appealed to what they saw as the monolithic, all-powerful forces of "international Jewry" to turn the tide of the conflict -- and promised them Palestine.

On Nov. 2, 1917, the British cabinet promised to support "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." Today, we consider the Balfour Declaration, as that promise has been known ever since, to be the foundation stone of modern Israel. But the views and motives of the British politicians who approved the epochal document were hardly simple, let alone pure.

What British leaders wanted more than anything in November 1917 was to win World War I -- all other goals were secondary. Victory, however, seemed increasingly distant at the time. After three and a half terrible years of war, Britain's allies were shaky: French armies had mutinied, Italian armies had been catastrophically defeated, and the Russian Army stood upon the brink of total collapse. The United States had joined the conflict the previous June, but U.S. soldiers had not yet arrived in Europe in numbers sufficient to make much difference. Meanwhile, Germany was preparing to launch another great offensive on the Western Front.

In these circumstances, British leaders grasped at straws. They thought, for example, that they might bribe Germany's ally, Turkey, to leave the war. They offered territory and money. Turkey was interested but -- in the end, after numerous secret, back-channel meetings in Switzerland and elsewhere -- would not bite.

The British also sought new allies. In particular, they hoped to successfully attract to their side the one great power, as they mistakenly referred to it, that had remained on the sidelines: the forces of what they called "international Jewry." During the lead-up to the Balfour Declaration, Britain's leaders engaged in a sustained effort to woo Jewish support. With the declaration itself, they offered the engagement ring.

British leaders drew primarily on two anti-Semitic canards: that Jews simultaneously commanded the U.S. financial system and held the strings controlling Russian pacifism. In other words, they believed that American Jews could bring the United States into the war and that Russian Jews could keep their country from dropping out of it. They also believed that Jewish money could help finance the war effort. Moreover, they believed that all Jews were Zionists (which they weren't). That is why the bribe -- or rather, the engagement ring -- took the form of the Balfour Declaration.

One of the most influential true believers of these anti-Semitic misapprehensions was Gerald Henry Fitzmaurice, who had served before the war as a British dragoman, interpreting and translating Ottoman interests to his superiors at the consulate in what was then known as Constantinople. There he had formed the opinion that Jews and Dönmes -- or "crypto-Jews," whose ancestors had converted to Christianity, but who continued to practice the old faith in secret -- controlled the Turkish government. Their great goal, he thought, was to hand Palestine over to the Zionists. With the war on, Fitzmaurice had an epiphany: Britain should promise Palestine to the Jews right now. In return, the Dönmes would withdraw their support from the Turkish government, which would inevitably collapse.

Fitzmaurice, now attached to the intelligence division at the British Admiralty, lobbied Hugh James O'Bierne, an experienced and well-respected British diplomat. O'Beirne responded positively to the idea. On Feb. 28, 1916, he composed the first Foreign Office memo linking the fate of Palestine with both Jewish interests and British chances of victory in World War I.

"It has been suggested to me," he wrote to his colleagues, "that if we could offer the Jews an arrangement as to Palestine which would strongly appeal to them, we might conceivably be able to strike a bargain with them as to withdrawing their support from the Young Turk government which would then automatically collapse." O'Beirne went on to endorse this ridiculous plan.

As O'Beirne was penning his memo, another British Foreign Office figure was mulling the same issues. Sir Mark Sykes had just finished negotiating the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement, by which Britain and France divided up the Ottoman Empire between them, despite the fact that they had not yet defeated the Ottomans. Palestine, they stipulated, should be governed by an international consortium of powers -- except for its northern part, which would come under French control. In March 1916, Sykes and French diplomat François Georges-Picot visited Russia, their eastern ally, to acquaint officials there with the terms of their understanding.

Picot, however, found his mission complicated by O'Beirne's new suggestion that Britain should offer Palestine to the Jews. The British Foreign Office had just indicated to the Russians that it was favorable to this recommendation. The Russians had little difficulty with the new proposition -- so long as they got Constantinople, they were satisfied. But Picot, speaking for France, had serious issues with the proposal. His country had longstanding interests on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, which he feared were endangered by an agreement that did not give France direct control over parts of Palestine.

Sykes, however, had changed his tune. After reading O'Beirne's memo and some other materials, he concluded that the Zionists represented "the key of the situation," by which he meant the key to victory in the war. "With 'Great Jewry' against us," he warned, there would be no possibility of victory. This was because Zionism was a powerful if subterranean force in the world -- in his words, it was "atmospheric, international, cosmopolitan, subconscious and unwritten, nay often unspoken."

Sykes now painted a dire picture of what would befall the allies if they did not endorse a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It would mean "optimism in Berlin, dumps in London, unease in Paris, resistance to last ditch in C'ople, dissension in Cairo, Arabs all squabbling among themselves," he wrote.

Sykes was only expressing what most in the Foreign Office already believed. Back in London, Robert Cecil, the parliamentary secretary of state for foreign affairs -- who also happened to be the son of former Prime Minister Lord Salisbury and cousin of the present foreign secretary, Lord Balfour -- was writing to his colleagues at just this time: "I do not think it is easy to exaggerate the international power of the Jews."

As for the British government itself, philo- and anti-Semitism mixed uneasily in the minds of its principal members, most importantly Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Foreign Secretary Balfour. Lloyd George, who had been raised among devout Welshmen, once remarked during the war that he was more familiar with the geography of Palestine than that of Scotland and that the battles there interested him far more than the battles in France and Belgium. Yet this Christian Zionist, as scholars have sometimes termed him, once described his colleague Herbert Samuel as "a greedy, ambitious and grasping Jew with all the worst characteristics of his race."

Balfour also operated under similarly conflicting stereotypes regarding Jews. He had been moved to tears by British Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann's recital of the ills done to the Jewish people. Nevertheless, he told Weizmann that he shared the "anti-Semitic postulates" of the virulent Cosima Wagner, who would become one of the first patrons of Adolf Hitler. Balfour apparently did not believe that Jews could be assimilated into Gentile British society.

In fact, the sole Jewish member of Lloyd George's government, Edwin Montagu, strongly opposed the Balfour Declaration because he thought it would encourage anti-Semites throughout the world to expel Jews from their countries. "Palestine will become the world's ghetto," he warned.

Zionists did not take this argument seriously. However, they encouraged the British governing elite in its belief that Jewish influence was a global force. On June 10, 1917, Weizmann warned the Foreign Office that Germany was about to issue a Balfour Declaration of its own, and Zionists were increasingly beginning to question "whether [they] were to realize their aims through Germany and Turkey or through Great Britain," he wrote. While Weizmann declared that he was "absolutely loyal" to Britain, he implied that other Jews would not be so dependable.

In October and November 1917, as the British cabinet debated the declaration, ministers voiced this very fear. So they decided to issue their own statement of support for a Jewish homeland first. "Many [gentiles] have a residual belief in the power and the unity of Jewry," one of Weizmann's followers observed many years later. "We suffer for it, but it is not wholly without its compensations.… To exploit it delicately and deftly belongs to the art of the Jewish diplomat." Few exploited it more deftly than Chaim Weizmann.

Of course, British officials had other important reasons to favor the Balfour Declaration. They thought Britain must control Palestine because of its proximity to the Suez Canal, Britain's economic windpipe. They thought British control of Palestine would allow the construction of a railway that would run from the northern city of Acre through Iraq to the Persian Gulf, facilitating trade with India. For these reasons, an autonomous Palestine within the British Empire, along the lines of South Africa or Canada, suited these men very well. They were also cognizant of the skills that Jewish immigrants could bring into the region, and sympathetic to the ancient claim to Palestine that Zionists invoked.

However, an even larger portion of their minds was occupied by anti-Semitic prejudices and stereotypes. Paradoxically, these beliefs only caused them to embrace the Balfour Declaration more readily and served as a crucial ingredient in determining British support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. History has never been the same.

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The Billionaire Prince

Saudi Arabia's Al-Waleed bin Talal is back in the spotlight for allegedly being one of the financiers behind the planned Islamic center in downtown Manhattan. Here are 10 things that you should know about the colorful royal.

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is a man who wears many hats. One of the richest men in the world, he has recently been accused of being one of the financiers behind the planned Islamic center in downtown Manhattan by Fox News -- which is owned by a company in which, ironically, he is also a major stakeholder. Jon Stewart's Daily Show lampooned the incongruity of this earlier in the week, joking that the only way to stop Al-Waleed from funding the Islamic center was to stop watching Fox.

Given that the prince is the frequent subject of magazine profiles and even an authorized biography, it is strange that we seem know so little about him -- and get so much of it wrong. The following is a brief, irreverent, account of everything you need to know about Prince Al-Waleed.

How rich is he? Very -- but not as rich as he would like to be. The Forbes March 2010 listing valued his wealth at $19.4 billion, ranking him as the 19th richest person in the world. The wealthiest he has been in the last 10 years was in 2005, when he was worth $23.7 billion, making him the fifth-richest person in the world that year. At his lowest point in the last decade, he was ranked 22nd in 2009, when his wealth was valued at a mere $13.3 billion.

Two-thirds of Al-Waleed's wealth is tied up in Kingdom Holding Company, an investment vehicle. In 2010, Al-Waleed had a lucky break when, in the five weeks leading up to date Forbes uses to value the stocks of those it profiles, Kingdom shares rose 49 percent.

How reliable are the figures for his wealth? The prince took issue with the Forbes listing, which attempts to assess net worth in large part by valuing known stock holdings. In 2009, he invited a reporter from the magazine to his Saudi palace, with the objective of "setting the record straight" about his wealth. "For years, the prince has told us he was worth several billion dollars more than the conservative estimates we printed in our list," Forbes wrote.

How good an investor is he? In 2000, Forbes valued him at $20 billion; this year it was $19.4 billion. His wealth has been up and down over the years, but mostly hovers around $20 billion. His investments are now spread across banks, hotels, real estate, media and industry. Personally, I would expect better growth from my investment manager.

How did he become rich? Is it all his own money? In Saudi Arabia, it certainly helps if you are a prince. Al-Waleed started off with $15,000, which was given to him by his father, and initially grew his wealth by representing South Korean construction companies. He has always denied suggestions that he acts as an investment front for other Saudi royals who want to avoid a public profile. Forbes puts him in the category of "self-made" moguls.

How tall is he? Not very. A five-foot-six-inch reporter who interviewed him told me that they were approximately the same height. The question received renewed attention last week, when the Arab News, a Saudi English-language newspaper, carried a photo of him sitting round a conference table with executives of News Corp., which owns Fox News, in which he was head and shoulders taller than them. Perhaps the seat of his chair was pumped up, or he was sitting on a phone book, or News Corp. executives tend to be short -- in any case, the prince may have something of a Napoleon complex.

How conservative is he? Not very. While he largely abstains from Saudi Arabia's debates over how far to push its wahhabi religious doctrine, he has called for incremental liberalization of the kingdom's laws surrounding women -- notably coming out in favor of women's right to drive cars.

In private, however, he is believed to go even further: A friend of mine who visited Saudi Arabia last year found himself taken to a soiree at Al-Waleed's palace outside Riyadh. At lunch in Washington a few weeks later, my friend was still goggle-eyed by the luxury, the beautiful Lebanese executive assistants, the food, the refreshments...

How Saudi is he? Not enough to ever be king. His father, Prince Talal, was born to an Armenian wife of King Abdulaziz, who reigned from 1936 to 1953, which is decidedly the wrong pedigree. To ascend to the throne, princes should possess an entirely Arab family tree. Al-Waleed's own mother was Lebanese, which compounds the problem. He has hundreds of other cousins with better credentials for the throne.

How big an ego does he have? Gigantic. Al-Waleed likes to have his picture taken with heads of state or prime ministers. One high point for the prince was hosting U.S. President George W. Bush, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Jordanian King Abdullah, Bahraini King Hamad, and then-Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas at his Four Seasons hotel in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in 2003.

A group photo from the event appeared on the back cover of his biography -- AlWaleed: Businessman, Billionaire, Prince - which was penned by Al Jazeera English presenter Riz Khan. However, even this impressive collection of world leaders was not enough for Al-Waleed: Because the prince wanted to be front and center, the image of Jordan's King Abdullah II was shifted to the background to make room for the Saudi tycoon.

Last year, Al-Waleed's count of leaders he had met was 209, over 36 years. This month, he added Cypriot President Christofias to the tally.

How are his political instincts? Questionable. In the United States, his reputation never recovered from the uproar immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks, when he accompanied a $10 million donation to New York City with a note imploring the U.S. government to "re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance to the Palestinian cause." New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani returned the money.

Later contributions to establish Islamic centers at U.S. universities may have been gratefully accepted, but remain a source of academic contention. The Saudi government also once publicly slapped him down for suggesting that he had a role in Lebanon's politics due to his Lebanese heritage, a statement that muddled Saudi diplomacy. The proposed Islamic center in Manhattan is just the sort of project that he likes to support -- and he just might judge it to be payback time for the slight of having his check returned by Giuliani.

How will he respond to criticism on Fox News? Badly -- but, for the moment, privately. Few people take criticism worse than Saudi royals -- that's why they have bought so many major Arabic newspaper and television companies. But senior members of the House of Saud are probably advising him to remain quiet on this one.

They might even see all the fuss as a blessing in disguise. There are hints that some members of the royal family secretly resent Al-Waleed's high international profile -- the world's confusion over whether he is more important than other Saudi princes, his private Boeing 747, the A-380 double-decker being fitted out for delivery next year, and the other trappings of wealth and influence he has accrued over many colorful decades. Envy is not just a vice of the poor.

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