An account of the Guardian’s racist endorsement of the Balfour Declaration

Posted by: John Phoenix


jaffa mandate
Jaffa, 1898-1914. (Photo: Matson Collection)

‘The settler owes the fact of his very existence, that is to say his property, to the colonial system.’
-Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.

Imagine if China, for one reason or another suddenly replaced or supplanted the United States as Israel’s main diplomatic, financial and military supporter. That the Chinese then provided Israel with all it required to continue the occupation and usurpation of Palestine and to further consolidate its illegal undertakings…What would we then make of  American journalists or writers who then incessantly never fail to remind us of the culpable Chinese support for Israeli criminality while simultaneously totally ignoring, possibly even whitewashing the 40 years when the United States was Israel’s main supporter?

Between 1917 and 1948 Great Britain more than any other nation helped to lay the diplomatic, governmental, military and economic foundations for Israel yet if one were to peruse British writing on Palestine, especially the writings of the supposed pro-Palestinians, one would naturally presume that the Palestinian predicament only began on the 15th May 1948 when the British Mandate officially ended and the State of Israel was declared.

As it is known, the defining document or declaration which paved the way, indeed legitimised the Jewish colonisation of Palestine was issued by Imperial Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour. The “Balfour Declaration” announced that the British government would,

‘…view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object…’

What is rarely known, is the imperial jubilance which greeted the publication of the Declaration in the British media. In the vanguard of this euphoria was the liberal Guardian or the Manchester Guardian as it was more accurately known then under the editorship of Charles P. Scott. Cutting through the diplomatic verbiage and any possible obfuscation about the intention behind the declaration, it editorialised in November 1917 that some may speak of Palestine “as a country, but it is not a country…But it will be a country; it will be the country of the Jews. That is the meaning of…” the Balfour Declaration. The fact that in 1917 the population of Palestine was 80,000 Jewish and 700,000 Arab Palestinian literally meant nothing to the Guardian editor.

It further stated that the British government’s deliberate policy will be then “to encourage in every way in our power Jewish immigration…with a view to the ultimate establishment of a Jewish State.”

The urge to colonise Palestine with Jewish immigration was largely motivated by its proximity to Egypt. As the Guardian stated, “Palestine has a special importance for Great Britain because in the hands of a hostile Power, it can be made…a secure base which a land attack on Egypt can be organised…” Therefore, it is in Britain’s interest that “no Power should be seated in Palestine” that “is likely to be hostile” to British Imperialism.

The left-wing New Statesman too came out all guns blazing in support of the Balfour Declaration but was more specific about the nature of Palestine’s proximity to the Empire’s interests. It informed its readers that the “special interest of the British Empire in Palestine is due to the proximity of the Suez Canal.” The only obvious conclusion is then to imperatively “effect a Zionist restoration under British auspices.”

After all, the New Statesman added, the then position of Jews as “unassimilated sojourners in every land but their own can never become satisfactory…It is far better…to make a nation of them” in the interests of Empire.

The more populist Daily Express concurred with the above interpretation of the Balfour Declaration in that it is an “announcement of a Jewish State” and also added that Jews from all over the world will be included in what it perceived to be the “colonisation scheme.” The London Times declared “Palestine for the Jews” and reprinted a part of the cabinet approved declaration.

The Guardian‘s stance on the Balfour Declaration found congruence with the Empire’s first Military Governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs. He too emphasised, but in biological terms, the importance of Egypt in that it was the “jugular vein of the British Empire” and that the Jewish colonisation of Palestine would bring forth “for England ‘a little loyal Jewish Ulster’ in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.”

A prominent left-wing politician in this period, Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, opted for a geographical analogy to describe British interests in the Arab World. He argued that Palestine was the “Clapham Junction” of the British Empire. As such a “friendly and efficient population” is required to settle there. And because Egyptians do not want the British occupation of their country, Palestine should be settled with “men on whom we can depend, if only because they depend on us…The Jews depend on us.”

For Winston Churchill, the Zionist colonisation of Palestine would mean that Jews “would be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire.”
However, what distinguished the Guardian‘s unequivocal endorsement of the Balfour Declaration was not only the approval of Zionist colonisation, which would explicitly lead to a “Jewish State,” but also just as equally the contempt it had for the indigenous Arabs of Palestine or in the words of Storrs, the “present aborigines.” In the spirit of colonialism, the Guardian editorial racially degenerated and dehumanised the Arabs of Palestine as “at a low stage of civilisation” and that they contain within “itself none of the elements of progress…” In other words the Arabs of Palestine were in a state of perennial civilisational arrested development.

Racial belittlement as a justification for colonialism was not unique to Palestine. The insistence that natives of a particular land are at low level of civilisation and therefore that land is ripe for colonisation by European colonisers was also utilised in Africa and elsewhere. As Frantz Fanon was to argue, Western bourgeois, “racial prejudice as regards the nigger and the Arab is a racism of contempt; it is a racism which minimises what it hates.” C.P.Scott was merely confirming and endorsing the fact that “racism is the ideological weapon of imperialistic politics.”

Indeed, a former Guardian writer and Labour politician in this period, H.N. Brailsford claimed that the Arabs were incapable of developing Palestine because they were “degenerate semi-savages” who had no right to “exclude millions” of settlers. For Churchill, the indigenous Arabs of Palestine were tantamount to “dogs in the manger” and only because the dog had been lain there for a long period, the dog has no final right to the manger. Or as he elaborated, “I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia.”

It is quite clear from C.P. Scott’s Guardian and other editorials of November 1917 that the British Empire wanted Palestine colonised for its own interests or as an early settler would argue,

“…the British wanted Palestine – and very much so – for their own interests, and it was not the Zionists who drew them to the country…had there been no Zionists in those days the British would have had to invent them.”

The idea and will to plant Jewish colonisation in Palestine existed independently of the ideology of Zionism. The Empire had its interests, namely Egypt and specifically the Suez Canal. Much of the Empire’s “plunder” or the “treasures in India” was brought back to the imperial metropolis through the Suez Canal.
What distinguished this “colonisation scheme” from previous ones in Africa and Asia is that the British Empire utilised European Jews rather than its own subjects from the metropolis.

Maybe this is the reason why in the final months of the “Zionist Mandate” in 1948, Imperial Britain – the “greatest Empire in history” – watched by while seven hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs were expelled, directly and indirectly from the country and over 400 villages, towns and centres had been ethnically cleansed of their indigenous inhabitants..


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