Classic Podium: Plea for a Jewish homeland

From a speech in the House of Lords by the former prime minister, Arthur Balfour, calling for the Jews to be given their own territory (21 June 1922)
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The Independent Culture
MY NOBLE friend told us in his speech, and I believe him absolutely, that he has no prejudice against the Jews. I think I may say that I have no prejudice in their favour. But their position and their history, their connection with world religion and with world politics, is unique. There is no parallel to it, there is nothing approaching a parallel to it, in any branch of human history.

Here you have a small race originally inhabiting a small country - I think of about the size of Wales or Belgium, at any rate of comparable size to those two - at no time in its history wielding anything that can be described as material power, sometimes crushed in between great Oriental monarchies, its inhabitants deported, then scattered, then driven out of the country altogether into every part of the world, and yet maintaining a continuity of religious and racial tradition of which we have no parallel elsewhere.

That, itself, is sufficiently remarkable, but consider - it is not a pleasant consideration, but it is one that we cannot forget - how they have been treated during long centuries, during centuries which, in some parts of the world, extend to the minute and the hour in which I am speaking; consider how they have been subjected to tyranny and persecution; consider whether the whole culture of Europe, the whole religious organisation of Europe, has not from time to time proved itself guilty of great crimes against this race.

I quite understand that some members of the race may have given - doubtless did give - occasion for much ill will, and I do not know how it could be otherwise, treated as they were; but if you are going to lay stress on that, do not forget what part they have played in the intellectual, the artistic, the philosophic and scientific development of the world. I say nothing of the economic side of their energies, for on that Christian attention has always been concentrated.

I ask your Lordships to consider the other side of their activities. Nobody who knows what he is talking about will deny that they have at least - and I am putting it more moderately than I could - rowed their weight in the boat of scientific, intellectual and artistic progress, and they are doing so to this day. You will find them in every University, in every centre of learning; and at the very moment when they were being persecuted, when some of them, at all events, were being persecuted by the Church, their philosophers were developing thoughts which the great doctors of the Church embodied in their religious system.

And yet, is there anyone here who feels content with the position of the Jews? They have been able, by this extraordinary tenacity of their race, to maintain this continuity, and they have maintained it without having any Jewish Home.

What has been the result? The result is that they have been described as parasites on every civilisation in whose affairs they have mixed themselves - very useful parasites at times, I venture to say. But however that may be, do not your Lordships think that if Christendom - not oblivious to all the wrong it has done - can give to this race a chance, without injury to others, of showing whether it can organise a culture in a home where it will be secure from oppression; that it is not well to say, if we can do it, then we will do it.

I could defend this scheme of the Palestine Mandate from the most material economic view, and from that point of view it is capable of defence. I have endeavoured to defend it from the point of view of the existing population, and I have shown that their prosperity also is intimately bound up with the success of Zionism.

Surely, it is in order that we may send a message to every land where the Jewish race has been scattered, a message which will tell them that Christendom is not oblivious to their faith, is not unmindful of the service they have rendered to the great religions of the world, and that we desire to the best of our ability to give them that opportunity of developing, in peace and quietness under British rule, those great gifts which hitherto they have been compelled from the very nature of the case only to bring to fruition in countries which know not their language, and belong not to their race.

That is the ideal which I desire to see accomplished.