In the comments to another question another user of History:SE made a remarkable, if unbelievable, claim:

Actually, Germany was shocked when the US declared war and entered on the side of Great Britain. The entry of the US quickly brought an exhausted Germany, but not as exhausted as England, France, and Russia, to its knees. The Germans wouldn't find out why the US had suddenly and inexplicably entered the war until they were sitting around the table at the Treaty of Versailles. And, yes, WWII began at that table. What the Germans discovered was so shocking that it shocks us still. Indeed, if I know my StackExchange, I'll bet their discovery was so shocking the mods will ban you for repeating it

Naturally, I was intrigued. Having studied those peace negotiations I wondered what it was that could possibly have shocked that German delegation and this user. The reply was:

Well, I'm talking about the Balfour Declaration, of which the Germans had no knowledge until Versailles, wherein the British, who controlled Palestine at the time, promised a group of Jewish financiers (including German Jews) the land of Palestine in return for bringing the US into the war against Germany. Viola! My source is Benjamin Freedman, who claims to have been involved with the Versailles negotiations, from a speech he gave in DC in 1961.

In essence, Benjamin Freedman claims that America had been 'tricked' into joining World War One on the side of the allies by Zionists in return for the promise of Palestine, and that the Balfour Declaration was a kind of 'receipt' for services rendered.

I suggested that the user post a question, citing his source, and asking whether there was any evidence to support Mr Freedman's claims. Unfortunately, rather than doing so, the user posted something rather different.

Nonetheless, the question has been raised and – as historians – we should endeavour to answer it.

So, is there any evidence to support the claims made by Benjamin Freedman in his 1961 speech, and repeated in comments here on this site?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – MCW
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 14:52
  • 3
    Just one question: who's Viola? And while we're on it - who's Benjamin Freedman? Commented May 11, 2019 at 3:43
  • 2
    @BobJarvis Assuming you're serious, viola here is a somewhat common misspelling of "voilà". Benjamin Freedman was a Holocaust denier in addition to being an anti-Zionist.
    – Law29
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 21:48

5 Answers 5


tl; dr

Is there any evidence to support the claims made by Benjamin Freedman in his 1961 speech?

No. The United states entered the First World War in response to the exposure of the proposed military alliance between Germany and Mexico in the Zimmerman telegram, and Germany's stated intention to resume unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic.

Of course, in 1961, people had much less access to information than they do now.

In fact, the only truly shocking thing about these claims is that anyone still believes them in the 21st century, when we have such easy access to the information and resources needed to disprove his assertions!

Is there any evidence for the claim that the Balfour Declaration was

a kind of 'receipt' for services rendered?

No. In fact, the correspondence leading up to the issue of the Balfour declaration has been in the public domain since the 1930s. That correspondence shows that the question of the future of Palestine had absolutely not been settled when the United States entered the war on 6 April 1917.

Were the Germans really "shocked" by the Balfour declaration?

Let's deal with the subsidiary claim first. Were the Germans 'shocked' when they found out about Balfour Declaration at Versailles? Is it possible that the Germans really had "no knowledge until Versailles"?

If they really were shocked, it was presumably about how appallingly bad their intelligence gathering must have been.

The Balfour Declaration was issued in November 1917. It was addressed to to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland.

The British were then so determined to keep the document secret that they published it in The Times newspaper on 9 November 1917:

Balfour Declaration, The Times, 9 November 1917 Click to enlarge

EDIT 12 May 2019

A comment by @jamesqf below asks a very good question:

Why should the Germans have cared about the Balfour declaration?

The answer is simple.

In 1917 Palestine was still an active front in the war. The Battle of Jerusalem was also being fought in November 1917. German intelligence would have been very interested in any and all intelligence relating to Palestine at that time. At the most basic level, a division in Palestine was one that couldn't be on the Western Front. That sort of thing really matters in a war of attrition!

Germany was also just as aware as the British of the propaganda value of the declaration for Zionist groups around the world. Indeed, Chaim Weizmann's autobiography, Trial And Error, refers to negotiations between Zionist groups the German government in late 1916 (p185).

The idea that the Germans were shocked when they found out about the declaration at Versailles is simply not credible.

Background to the Balfour Declaration

The correspondence leading to the Balfour Declaration has been in the public domain for decades (UK National Archives reference CO 733/347/7). Not only that, but the correspondence relating to the proposed publication of that correspondence is also in the public domain (UK National Archives reference CO 733/248/19) (bureaucracy can sometimes be the best friend of historians).

In addition, some Foreign Office correspondence relating to Palestine in the period 1916-1918 is also available from the UK National Archives (reference FO 800/176). This is part of the digital microfilm records collection which is currently free to download.

Given past Russian treatment of its Jewish population, it is perhaps unsurprising that many Jewish communities around the world viewed the Triple Entente with suspicion. It is also unsurprising that the allies recognised the importance of the Jewish lobby - particularly in the United States, but also elsewhere.

Of course, Russia was not the only country to have persecuted its Jewish population, and a letter in FO 800/176 makes the explicit point that Romania (another member of the Allied Powers):

"... has never carried out the provisions of the Treaty of Berlin of 1878 in regard to her Jews. Perhaps public opinion prevents her from doing so."

Wikipedia page on the Treaty of Berlin (1878)

In early 1916, the Jewish 'aspirations' for Palestine, had been presented by Lucien Wolf as follows:

"Great Britain and France, in the event of Palestine at the conclusion of war coming within the sphere of influence, to take account of the historical interests of the Jewish community in that country. The enjoyment of equal political rights with the rest of the population, of civil and religious liberty, of such municipal privileges as may be essential in towns and colonies inhabited by Jews and of reasonable facilities for colonization and emigration to be secured for the Jewish population"

At the same time, the British government was looking to get assurances from Russia,

"... for the proper treatment of Jews in Russia.

But explicitly asked the question:

"Could or would Russia keep any promises that she might make for the betterment of the Jews in Russia and what could England and France do to keep her to her engagements?"

So, there is no doubt that the Balfour Declaration was the end product of a long process attempting to encourage Jewish communities around the world to support the allies.

The problem for Mr Freedman's assertion, is that it is clear from the documents that Britain and France had by no means agreed a future position on Palestine when the United States entered the war on 6 April 1917.

Letters dated 16 April 1917 and 22 April 1917 in FO 800/176 show that no decision had yet been made about whether Palestine should be a protectorate of Britain or France (or even the United States), never mind the future of the region. The letter of 22nd April states:

"... Lloyd George's view seems to be that we shall be in Palestine by conquest and shall remain and that the French will have to accept our Protectorate; and - which is quite true - that we are the only people fit to rule a mixed population of Mahomedans, Jews, Roman Catholics and all religions ..."

So Mr Freedman would appear to be completely wrong about the nature of the Balfour Declaration.

The Zimmerman telegram

Since the individual who posted the comments (and, apparently, Benjamin Freedman!) seems unfamiliar with the Zimmerman telegram, and its importance to the entry of the United States into World War One, it is perhaps worth presenting a summary of the salient facts here.

In January 1917, the German Foreign Office sent a secret diplomatic telegram proposing a military alliance between Germany and Mexico. The telegram was intercepted and deciphered by British intelligence. The British then sent copies to President Wilson.

Zimmerman telegram Click to enlarge


We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain, and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President's attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace. Signed, ZIMMERMANN

President Wilson revealed the existence of the telegram to the press on 28 February 1917 and the press published the story the following day, 1 March 1917.

At this point, many Americans thought the telegram might be a British forgery, but on 3 March, the German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann publicly admitted the telegram was genuine. The reasons for this have been dealt with in another question here on History:SE.

As you might expect, this caused outrage in America. Furthermore, Germany's stated intention to resume unrestricted submarine warfare brought back memories of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915. The result was a groundswell of popular opinion in favour of America declaring war against the German Empire on the side of the allies.

(That is not to say that there weren't still many who still opposed the war. Both sides wrote to their senators and congressmen to express their opinions - see below)

Benjamin Freedman's speech

Moving on to the cited source, which is a speech given by Benjamin Freedman in 1961. Wikipedia describes Mr Freedman as:

... an American businessman, Holocaust denier,and vocal anti-Zionist.

So my expectations were fairly low to begin with.

There is nothing in that speech to challenge Wikipedia's description of Mr Freedman, and even though my expectations were low, his speech failed to meet them. Indeed, when it comes to historical veracity, that speech managed to plumb unexpected depths.

Among other nonsense, Mr Freedman claims that:

"... [the United States] were suckered into -- that war merely so that the Zionists of the world could obtain Palestine. Now, that is something that the people in the United States have never been told. They never knew why we went into World War One."

going on to claim that:

"... the newspapers had been all pro-German..."

but "the Jews" somehow persuaded all the American news media to change how they wrote about Germany in response to a deal over Palestine, and

"... shortly after that, Mr. Wilson declared war on Germany."

He claims that the Balfour Declaration was a form of 'receipt' saying:

"The receipt took the form of a letter, and it was worded in very cryptic language so that the world at large wouldn't know what it was all about."

He then states that at the Paris Peace Conference:

"... they produced, for the first time to the knowledge of the Germans, this Balfour Declaration. So the Germans, for the first time realized, “Oh, that was the game! That's why the United States came into the war.” And the Germans for the first time realized that they were defeated, they suffered this terrific reparation that was slapped onto them, because the Zionists wanted Palestine and they were determined to get it at any cost."

Conspicuously absent from Mr Freedman's speech is any mention of the Zimmerman telegram, or the German resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic in early 1917, but perhaps that is not surprising!

So, let's deal with those points in turn.

Was the Balfour Declaration written in very cryptic language so that the world at large wouldn't know what it was all about?

No. We have the text and it is hardly what most English speakers would call 'cryptic'. German intelligence had fluent English speakers on their staff (much as British intelligence employed fluent German speakers).

We can probably assume that more of his audience in 1961 had never heard of the Balfour Declaration, and that fewer still had read it. However, in the 21st century we have the advantage of the Internet so we can check (and the actual text can be read in The Times article above).

Did the German delegation really see the Balfour Declaration for the first time at the Paris Peace Conference?

It seems highly unlikely, given that it had been published in a newspaper. The idea that German intelligence had failed to notice the announcement frankly beggars belief!

Did Woodrow Wilson declare war on Germany?


Under article 1, section 8, of the United States Constitution, it is the United States Congress which retains the authority to declare war, not the President.

In fact, Woodrow Wilson asked that a Special Session of Congress be convened to declare war on the German Empire. That session convened and debated the President's request and the issues surrounding that request, before formally declaring war on 6 April 1917.

So, the big question. Was the United States "suckered" into the First World War so that "the Zionists of the world could obtain Palestine"?

Well, no.

As we saw above, the key reasons were the exposure of the proposed military alliance between Germany and Mexico in the Zimmerman telegram, and Germany's stated intention to resume unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic. But do we have to rely on secondary sources like history books or tertiary sources like Wikipedia to confirm this? Can't we go to the original records and check the primary sources.

In fact we can. The records have been released to the public and many are available online. So, if we are to discover the reasons why the United States actually declared war on Germany, the obvious place to look would be the records of that debate.

Special Session of the US Senate

The record of that Special Session, which ran from 5 March 1917 to 16 March 16 1917 can be found in the Congressional Record, Volume 55, Part 1 (March 5, 1917 to April 24, 1917). Copies can be downloaded in PDF form from the US Government Publishing Office, archive.org, and several other sites, but be aware that the file sizes are very large - especially if you are working from a mobile device.

The records include a lot of administrative detail which is not particularly relevant to the central matters for which the Special Session was convened, but the business of government still had to be dealt with.

After that, a number of representations to Congress are included. Many, especially from German-American and pacifist groups, were opposed to American involvement in what they describe as a 'European war'. Many more were in favour of the United States declaring war on the German Empire, and it is fascinating to read about the wide variety of people who had written to express an opinion.

Almost nobody who has ever read anything about the events leading up to America declaring war on Germany will be surprised to discover that the two issues that dominated the debate were the Zimmerman telegram, and Germany's policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic.

I shall quote just one example to illustrate the point.

Republican Senator Lawrence Y. Sherman from Illinois was no fan of Democrat President Woodrow Wilson. During the debate he remarked:

"[President Wilson] said other nations had a right to spill as much blood as they pleased, and that it was no concern of ours. He called for absolute neutrality. The destruction of the Lusitania, the policy of unrestricted submarine frightfulness, created in his bosom no horror; it shocked no sensibility; it caused no proclamation, no convening of Congress in special session, or attack upon the rules of the Senate. He viewed it with indifference and dismissed it without apology or regret."

and yet he expressed his willingness to vote in favour of a declaration of war on the German Empire. He gave his reasons as follows:

"Two things have decided me on that course. One is the danger zone created by an arbitrary decree at Berlin some time ago, in which the open sea was withdrawn as a way of commerce for the neutral world. The open sea has been made a theatre of war involuntarily to peaceful nations. so that no ship, belligerent or neutral, can navigate it. I regard it as indefensible, as utterly without right as to neutrals in either peace or war. It is destructive of our maritime rights.

Again, the admitted effort of Zimmermann, in charge of foreign affairs for the German Imperial Government, who has undertaken to involve Japan and Mexico against us, is an indication of deliberate hostile intent. Whether it would have come to any practical end or not, we need not inquire to-day. It is sufficient that it is admitted that this was done, and I regard that alone as an act of war against us. It justifies us in the passage of such a bill;"

The text of the resolution was a follows:

WHEREAS, The Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America; therefore, be it

Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government, which has thus been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared; and

That the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.

On 4 April 1917, the Senate voted on the resolution. it passed with 82 votes in favour and 6 votes against.

The resolution came before the House of Representatives on 6 April 1917, with 373 votes in favour and 50 votes against.

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    +1 and thank you for the detail and completeness. I still find it hard to believe the same anti-semitic garbage from forever ago keeps getting tossed around in the Internet age.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 3:14
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    One question: Why should the Germans have cared about the Balfour declaration? They had, AFAIK, no interest in Palestine or any of the other possessions of the Ottoman Empire. If Germany (along with their Ottoman ally) had won the war, it would have been irrelevant; if they lost, they'd have other things to worry about.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 4:19
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    wiah I could give a second +1 for this "The British were then so determined to keep the document secret that they published it in The Times newspaper on 9 November 1917:"
    – user31561
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 8:22
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    @jamesqf Why should the Germans have cared? In 1917 Palestine was still an active front in the war. The Battle of Jerusalem was in November 1917. German intelligence would have been very interested in any intelligence relating to Palestine. A division in Palestine was one that couldn't be in Flanders. They were also just as aware as the British of the propaganda value of the declaration for Zionist groups around the world. Commented May 9, 2019 at 9:52
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. All further comments that are conversational in nature, rather than centered on improving the answer, should be put in that chat, or they will be deleted.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 19:29

Are we dealing with a conspiracy here? Apparently a big one, to be sure? So big that most actions seem to have been carried out so openly, as to be hidden in plain sight? But what is the content of those theories of motivations and events, and where do the theories expressed here diverge from the facts and evidence as historical research has 'uncovered' them?

Unfortunately, the Freedman speech is so full of blunt inventions that the grains of truth in it are like homeopathic plutonium: so diluted as to be no longer really in there but all the more powerful, especially for those who believe in the principle.

We cannot dissect all that in an SE answer, but highlight the most important points.

Q Germany was shocked when the US declared war and entered on the side of Great Britain.

Yes, they were shocked. But it was taking a calculated risk as the US had significant sympathies for Germany and the trade that went with it, only more so with Great Britain and France. How the war was conducted led to more antagonism between Germany and the US. The military and the political leaders in Germany were fully aware of that development, and, on Ludendorff's insistence, they took the plunge. That is far from "inexplicable". Better propaganda from the British in America, the way the war at sea went and was received, the Zimmermann telegram and plain wilful ignorance on the German side ('They cannot cross the pond') were some of the more important reasons for the American entry into the war, that became ever more foreseeable for the Germans. So they were shocked by that, but not really surprised, and it was even explicitly explained to them, in an era when the US still had the decency to formally declare a war.

Q The Germans wouldn't find out why the US had suddenly and inexplicably entered the war until they were sitting around the table at the Treaty of Versailles. […] What the Germans discovered was so shocking that it shocks us still.

[…] talking about the Balfour Declaration, of which the Germans had no knowledge until Versailles, wherein the British, who controlled Palestine at the time, promised a group of Jewish financiers (including German Jews) the land of Palestine in return for bringing the US into the war against Germany.

That begs the question: 'The Germans had no knowledge of the Balfour declaration'? That is the pound of flesh in a zionist secret cabal, invisible to the Germans until 1918/19? And was it that what shocked the Germans in Versailles? The German delegates at Versailles were surely shocked by a lot that went on there, pertaining to the treatment of Germany in the future

Well, as sempaiscuba wrote: "The British were then so determined to keep the document secret that they published it in The Times newspaper on 9 November 1917"

But the need for an intelligence service would have gained the Germans just a few days in this case. The content and its implications for Palestine were widely discussed within Germany.

And why exactly would the Germans be 'shocked' by the 'news' of official British support for a Jewish homeland around Jerusalem? Because the Germans wanted to keep the German Jews within Germany, opposed a Jewish state in general, didn't want to possibly offend its Ottoman ally? I could try to list more subquestions to this essential technique of conspiracy theory thinking: "Ask yourself: cui bono!" Or other fallacies that essentially boil down to appeal to consequences. Unfortunately, not a single subquestion to this seems to be answerable with anything approaching fact or common sense or even remote plausibility.

Proclaiming to be an international Jewish movement the Zionist Actions Committee moved to neutral Copenhagen, Denmark. In December 1914 it announced that Zionist organizations on both belligerent sides were to adhere to the principles of strict neutrality at all times.

This neutrality was breached by the activities of Chaim Weizmann in Great Britain, whose admitted Anglophilia and Germanophobia earned for him the strongest censure of the Copenhagen Bureau. Formation of a Jewish Legion, an organic link between the Zionist war effort on the British side in Ottoman Palestine and the conquest of Palestine by Lord Allenby, certainly represented a most serious violation of Zionist neutrality, and its creation hence called forth strong denunciation by the Zionist Bureau in Copenhagen. Weizmann, who was co-responsible for the Jewish Legion, ran counter to the directives of his Russian Zionist and other confreres on the Continent and elsewhere who fully believed and hoped for victory of the Central Powers. "Weizmann's chief external Zionist support derived from some American leaders: Stephen S. Wise and Justice Brandeis, whose antagonism towards Germany by 1917, led that circle to the pronouncement: "Better no Jewish Palestine, than as a gift from the Turkish assassinocracy ynd its German ally."

Historically, Jewish nationalist ambitions may have briefly revolved around the person of Kaiser Wilhelm II, whom Theodor Herzl had in mind as Grand Protector of his plans. However, the Grand Duke of Baden's interventions on behalf of Herzl's visions were countermanded by Chancellor Buelow. Buelow emphatically reduced the Kaiser's enthusiasm for Zionist ambitions. Per contra, it may be noted that British statesmen had evinced considerable interest in the prospects of substantial Jewish settlement in Palestine as early as the middle nineteenth century, a concern which was assuredly not shared by German leaders. Thus, Chancellor Bismarck, in his capacity as presiding officer of the 1878 Congress of Berlin, prevented any discussion of a petition for the establishment of a Jewish State, terming such petition "as obviously deriving from madmen".

For more than fifty years political leaders in Britain and Germany were repeatedly in favour or against such ideas, petitions and calls for support.

Presumably so as to avoid any compromise of the Central Powers Zionists, the Balfour Declaration was addressed to a private individual, not to the Zionist Federation itself. Significantly, therefore, the British Government did not officially deal with the Zionist Federation of Great Britain, a posture not lost on British Zionist leaders, who had aspired to some direct governmental recognition of their role as partners in negotiation. Understandably, British Zionists were less than content at this indirect slight to their status. German Zionists, however, were immensely pleased that the Balfour Declaration,(however its intrinsic, indirectly British-orientated policy may have been noted) left open any specifics with regard to future political sovereignty over Turkish Palestine. This is not to deny that the German Zionists expressed satisfaction that a major power had finally indicated a measure of concurrence with the aims of their general movement. Indeed, German Zionist leaders who served in the German army rather conspiratorially celebrated within their own circle this British pronouncement.
Klaus J. Herrmann: "Political Response to the Balfour Declaration in Imperial Germany: German Judaism", Middle East Journal, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Summer, 1965), pp. 303–320. (jstor)

Seeing that in the course of the war Germany also supported a somehow Jewish Palestine, it gets ever weirder to accept any of the basic premises of Freedman's speech.

In April 1917, Djemal Pasha ordered the deportation of the Jewish population of Jerusalem, thus sentencing about fifty thousand people to the same hunger and death inflicted on the Armenians. However, following strong objections raised by the German chief of staff of the 8th Corps of the 4th Army, Colonel Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein, Berlin intervened directly with the Turkish minister of war, Enver Pasha, who lifted Djemal’s order, who, in turn in October 1917, wanted to conduct an espionage case against Palestinian Jews, a proceeding linked to clashes with citizens of Petah-Tikvah, one of the first Jewish settlements (east of Tel Aviv). Hundreds of Jews were to be forced out and sent to Damascus; people spoke of an ‘attempted genocide’. The Foreign Office responded, summoning the Turkish envoy and informing Ambassador Count Bernstorff (who until April 1917 had been ambassador to Washington) on 17 October: ‘It is feared that public opinion throughout the entire world could fall back into turmoil, whereby the encounter with the Kaiser’s visit [Wilhelm II was in Constantinople in October] will, of course, be interpreted as evidence of our joint guilt or authorship’. Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha responded reassuringly that, although great suffering had been inflicted on the Armenians, the Jews would not be harmed. Bernstorff wrote in his memoirs: ‘Talaat was willing to promise me anything I wanted if Palestine remained Turkish after the war, but he kept repeating, at every opportunity, the words: “For your sake, I am willing to build the national home for the Jews, but I am telling you, the Arabs will kill the Jews”’.
The Germans’ desire for the Jewish national home mentioned by Bernstorff must be understood in light of the Entente’s efforts to gain the Zionists’ support by meeting their demands for an independent state in Palestine. On 2 November, exactly sixteen days after the 17 October 1917 directive from the Foreign Office, an assurance of the British government’s support for the Zionists’ creation of a ‘national home in Palestine’ was published. Composed of only 117 words, the famous Balfour Declaration, named after the British secretary of state, James Balfour, represented an unprecedented diplomatic victory for Judaism and significantly influenced world politics, especially the history of the Middle East. Diverse reasons motivated this undertaking. The British believed that support for the Zionists might lead Russian Jews to pressure Russia to continue the war. In this regard, it was also important to win over the American Jews, who, it was hoped, had sufficient influence on President Woodrow Wilson to convince him to accept Britain’s occupation of Palestine. The British may also have intended to pre-empt the Germans’ promise to the Jews of Middle and Eastern Europe.27
Wilhelm II now wanted to respond to the British decision with something along the lines of an ‘Ottoman Balfour Declaration’. In a 12 December interview between Vossische Zeitung correspondent Julius Becker and the grand vizier, brokered by Ambassador Bernstorff, the grand vizier declared in principle what Bernstorff later reported – namely, that Turkey was sympathetic to the repopulation and colonization of the Jews in Palestine. Talaat assured free immigration and settlement ‘at the natural boundaries of the current capacity of the country’, the right to free economic development, and free development of Jewish culture and self-government within the framework of existing laws. He did not, however, extend any political autonomy to the Jews. On 5 January 1918, the Foreign Office received a delegation of the Zionist Organization in Germany, headed by Otto Warburg and Arthur Hantke, and a statement was handed to them, which was published the next day:

We acknowledge those wishes that are directed to the development of their culture, as well as the specific characteristics of the Jewish minority in those countries where Jews have a highly developed quality of life, show full understanding, and are prepared to support their concerns referring to this. With regard to the aspirations pursued by the Jewry in Palestine, in particular by the Zionists, we appreciate the statements recently issued by Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha. In particular, we appreciate the intention of the imperial Ottoman government, in accordance with the exhibited friendly action towards the Jews, to support the flourishing Jewish settlement in Palestine by granting free immigration and settlement within the limits of the country’s capacity, local autonomy in accordance with state laws, and free development of their cultural identity.28
Rolf Steininger: "Germany and the Middle East. From Kaiser Wilhelm II to Angela Merkel", Berghahn Books: New York, Oxford, 2019. (p27–29))

One of the prerequisites of the 'Freedman theory' has to be that Americans in 1917 would have been or were either pro-German or anti-British or anti-war 'enough' in their attitudes that they would not agree to declare war on Germany. On the one side. And on the others side that 'the Jews' were a monolithic entity of anti-German and pro-war pushers. Well, were 'they'?

Opinions and interests of factions within America differed quite a lot. Some supporting the idea to go to war, some opposing it, some favouring the Entente, some the Central Powers. That was not much different with Jewish groups in America.

The American entry into World War I came in April 1917 […] and Congress voted to declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

But in the centre of 'international financial Jewry' things looked a bit different:

Officials kept close watch on particular sections of the city. Though authorities and the mainstream press never identified them as such, Jews made up large percentages of the areas considered to be trouble spots. On May 30 the National Security League held a special rally in the congressional district that covered Jewish Harlem, an area believed “to contain many pacifists.” The Herald noted that Brooklyn’s U.S. marshal was focusing his attention on Brownsville, Williamsburg, and East New York, “which are strongholds of the socialist party, and where agitation against the selective draft act has been conducted since its passage.”29

The connection authorities made between dissent and Jewish neighborhoods was not without cause. Most of the persons arrested before registration day had Jewish names, being members of the No Conscription League or “rioters” apprehended after its ill-fated meeting in the Bronx.30 As in the union campaigns of the prewar period, Jewish women were prominent activists. Most of the crowd that filled Madison Square Garden for the peace conference rally “came afoot out of the lower East Side” and “fully a third were women.” On the night before registration, the Women’s Anti-High Price League, an organization made up primarily of eastern European Jews, held a demonstration on behalf of mothers whose sons were of draft age. After speeches near the Forward newspaper building the crowd of several hundred marched to City Hall to be dispersed by the police. On June 5, Brooklyn authorities took the most extreme precautions, dispatching a machine gun unit and a squad of motorcycle patrolmen to the Brownsville neighborhood.31

Many of downtown Jewry’s most influential figures and institutions opposed the war. Socialist politicians Meyer London, Morris Hillquit and Jacob Panken; Abraham Cahan’s Daily Forward; the Jewish Socialist Federation; the Workmen’s Circle; and the leaders of the United Hebrew Trades, Amalgamated Clothing Workers, and International Ladies Garment Workers unions were outspoken in their dissent. This position was not the sole preserve of downtown Jewry, nor of the left. Also taking antiwar stances were well-known progressives like Judah Magnes, the founder of the New York Kehillah, and social worker Lillian Wald. Although they distanced themselves from anarchists of Russian Jewish descent like Goldman and Berkman, these socialists and liberals were also very active in opposing mobilization.

No established politician or mainstream newspaper declared the city’s Jews to be disloyal. That type of slander was left to soapbox orators like Russell Dunne. Still, many Jewish leaders who supported the war feared that the charge would become more pervasive. This segment of Gotham Jewry was as vocal as its antiwar rivals. At its forefront were established figures like Jacob Schiff, Louis Marshall, Cyrus Adler, Oscar Straus, Joseph Barondess, Congressman Isaac Siegel of Harlem, and New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs. Also supporting intervention were such key institutions as the American Jewish Committee, the Educational Alliance, the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, and both the Anglo-Jewish and Orthodox Yiddish newspapers. They matched editorial for editorial, speech for speech, and rally for rally, and countered their opponents by asserting and inspiring Jewish loyalty to the United States.

The war and conscription issues inflamed what was always a sharply divided leadership. But even though the debate within the Jewish population was greater than in the city as a whole, most of Gotham’s 1.5 million Jews did not agitate for either position. In the weeks before registration day, the support of this not-so-silent majority, most of whom hailed from eastern Europe, was actively sought by both sides on the issue. In the midst of this war of words, New York Jews confronted the national draft with their own, ethnically specific loyalties and beliefs.

As in the case of the New Haven colonia, New York Jews focused attention on the conflict then raging through their homelands. From the outbreak of war until American intervention, Jewish opinion was more concerned with events on the eastern front, on the fighting in and near the Russian Pale, than with the crisis facing France and Belgium. This initially put them at odds with the pro-Allied direction in which the United States was moving. Between 1914 and early 1917 the vast majority of New York Jews wished above all else to see Germany crush the Russian czar and his army.

This was not so much a desire for German triumph as for Russian defeat. As historian Joseph Rappaport has claimed in his careful study of the wartime Yiddish press, “the pro-Germanism of America’s immigrant Jews was an inevitable consequence of their Russophobia.”32 The possibility of a czarist government reinvigorated by nationalist fervor and military victory, and the even grimmer prospect of a Russian conquest of new territories inhabited by Jews, were sources of tremendous concern to New York Jews. So great was the anti-Russian feeling that even the internationalist Jewish left faltered. Jewish Daily Forward editor Abraham Cahan compromised ideology within the first months of the European conflict. “All civilized people [must] sympathize with Germany,” he wrote. “Every victory she attains over Russia is a source of joy.”33

The Jews’ dark history of forced removal and pogroms in Russia blended with shocking contemporary reports from eastern Europe. The Jewish Pale of Settlement had quickly become the setting of a no man’s land that extended for hundreds of miles. The scorched-earth policy conducted by the retreating Russian Army increased the area’s devastation. Treated like a hostile population, at least 600,000 Jews were forcibly sent eastward by the czar’s troops, their property and livelihoods lost overnight. Packed into communities incapable of handling such a massive number of refugees, they faced starvation and epidemics of cholera and typhoid. Convinced that the czars’ reign would have to collapse if the welfare of Russian Jewry was ever to become secure, New York Jews gave generously to a series of relief campaigns.34

The tremendous casualties and domestic hardships of the Russian war effort finally forced Czar Nicholas II to abdicate on March 15, 1917. Gotham Jewry celebrated the news in mass rallies and wild street demonstrations. The allied powers were now all democracies, fighting the autocratic empires of Germany, Austro-Hungary, and Turkey. When the United States entered the war in early April, many American Jews had already swung their support to the much-admired French Republic, a Britain that would soon declare its approval of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and a fledgling Russian government that needed aid and protection to ensure its survival. This reversal in Jewish sympathies became so pervasive that within a year it absorbed most of New York’s Jewish left.
Christopher M. Sterba: "Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants During the First World War", Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 2003. P 61–64.

So, instead of 'suckering in' America into the war in exchange for getting Balfour's support, a big and vocal subgroup of American Jewish citizens were in fact a major obstacle after the declaration was given and after Amercia had declared war. The Balfour declaration and the exit of Tsarist Russia were factors that diminished longstanding Jewish opposition against the war other were already pushing for quite some time. I cannot help myself but to think of that as a detail of some significance.

So, who were the conspirators, and who are they now?

During the war the political leaders of both sides warmed up an old idea, and all tried to make 'the Jews' in form of members of the international movement of Zionism a kind of fifth column among the ranks of the respective enemy. The British conspirators were faster than the German conspirators, who also tried to incite the idea of Jihad in the Moslem world against the British.

The connection to any Americans in that story until 1917 is very weak and confined to antisemitic stereotypes. Most of the details asserted are even just the opposite

And that is all what's really left if we look at the Freedman speech, as almost all historical content in that is lost in favour of maximising the antisemitic conspiracy theory aspects.

The US–Balfour-connection seems to be made-up, the Germans were certainly not shocked at Versailles to 'learn' something 'new' they discussed from highest to lowest level at least a year ago. Of course that didn't stop some Germans to adopt a similar story, of "Jews plunging the peoples into another world war", but later.

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    +1 We all witnessed in the second gulf war, The United States doesn't need 1 reason to go to war. It typically has like 5 or 6 which speak to different constituencies and even then those might not contain the foundational motivation.
    – user27618
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 21:08
  • 1
    I think WWI was kind of like that. Germany wasn't surprised, Germany had resumed unrestrictive submarine warfare and the US had broken off diplomatic relations a month before declaration of war. Zimmerman Letter coming days before the declaration was a shove but wasn't the Casus belli.Banking loans, unrestrictive submarine warfare are also reasons given. On Germany's side there were about a million German American immigrants inside America in 1917. Ultimately though I think it came down to the US did more business with Britain and France and thus had more to lose from their defeat..
    – user27618
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 21:11
  • @JMS It's really hard to motivate people into dulce et decorum if the reason given is 'possible credit default'. That's not even denying that some believe in some higher motivations… Unfortunately, quite often, TVhistory and even textbooks stop exactly there. Commented May 13, 2019 at 21:11
  • @JMS A most excellent account from a certain perspective is Justin Quinn Olmstead: "The United States’ Entry into the First World War. The Role of British and German Diplomacy" (But of course the sheer internal machinations from within US and German political HQs complicate tha again; but the book has a superb flow to it ) Commented May 13, 2019 at 21:16

Is there any evidence to support the claim that the United States was “suckered into WW1” by Zionists, made by Benjamin Freedman in his 1961 speech?

Pointing out that this is the stuff of classic anti-Semitism and touches upon the roots of anti-Semitism in Europe and even Nazi Germany. Also given Benjamin Freedman doesn't appear to be a creditable nor unbiased source. This question could be transferred to conspiracy theory exchange. Still Mr. Freedman rooted his conspiracy in history and so history is where we should address it. The way the question is worded (any evidence), I thought I might demonstrate a possible origin of this association.

Short Answer
"Any Evidence", is a very broad net. Respond broadly, rather than "suckered" I would say scant evidence that Zionists assisted the United States entering WWI through pairing War with America's self interest. Basically Mr. Freedman picked the wrong bank. Mr. Freedman is transposing transaction taken by JP Morgan's bank and attributing to the Rothschild Bank.

Detailed Answer

**(1) In Benjamin Freedman's speech the Belfour Declaration is called British payment for Zionists assistance in getting the United States into the war **

The Belfour Declaration which telegraphed to Zionists that Britain would support the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine published November 2, 1917 and was originally presented by the British Foreign minister Arthur Belfour to Walter Rothschild whose family championed the Zionist cause in Britain. It is used in this conspiracy theory as the payoff by the British for "services rendered". The simpler and more established view is Britain was at least in part acting in her own best interest with the Belfour Declaration.

Part of the British motivation behind British Foreign ministry and Cabinet to issue the Belfour Declaration had to do with the War. The Belfour Declaration was a somewhat misguided attempt to gain favor with Jews. The British believed the declaration by proxy would strengthen the resolve for the war in two of her most vulnerable allies which Britain mistakenly believed were more heavily influenced by their Jewish populations than they were. Russia which was undergoing its Red Revolution in November 1917 and dropped out of the war signing a separate peace with Germany in December 1917, Britain mistakenly believed courting favor with the Zionists would also court favor with the Bolsheviks. It did not.

The United States which had entered the war April 6, 1917 but who's first troops would not be deployed until the following year is also believed to have been a target audience.

Belfour Declaration
Additionally, Britain’s leaders hoped that a formal declaration in favor of Zionism would help gain Jewish support for the Allies in neutral countries, in the United States and especially in Russia, where the anti-Semitic czarist government had just been overthrown with the help of Russia’s Jewish population.

The British believed the declaration would make their cause (WWI) more favorable in an important constituency in both countries. As I said mistakenly. Mistakenly not only because the influence of the Jewish minority in both countries was exaggerated but also most Jews in 1917 did not support the goals of the Zionists in 1917.

(2) In Benjamin Freedman speach, "services rendered", was actually the wrong bank.

A previous answer gave the Zimmerman letter, where Germany offered Mexico large swaths of the United States in exchange for Mexico attacking America as the explanation of why American entered into WWI. This letter was intercepted by the British and presented to the United States Ambassador Walter Hines Page by the British Foreign Minister Arthur Belfour February 28, 1917. Two months before the US declared war on Germany.

Another reason typically cited for popular support for WWI was the sinking of the Lusitania May 7, 1915 which killed more than 100 Americans and 1100 passengers in total. In early 1917 Germany again began to pursue unlimited submarine Warfare and this infuriated the United States.

A third reason for the United States entering WWI and one which some find the most influential was the fact that the United States through JP Morgan had been funding the British and French war efforts to the tune of more than 1 billion dollars. JP Morgan lead a consortium of 2200 American banks in this effort. These loans took the form of secured and unsecured loans. If France and Britain lost WWII U.S. banking industry stood to lose a lot of money. This brings us back to the Rothschilds who's family had the largest private fortune in the world in 1914 and it is claimed the modern world today. The Rothschild banking consortium was one of the largest banks in the world with important branches in London and across Europe. They were in fact so wealthy and famous their family is often used although mistakenly so, synonymous with the banking industry. Which is the only way one can make sense of Benjamin Freedman charges. Problem is claiming the Rothschild's bank is responsible for all global banking transactions is also classic Antisemitism as one would expect originating from Benjamin Freedman.

The Rothschilds are associated with many conspiracy theories such as this one.

The Rothschild family has frequently been the subject of conspiracy theories, many of which have antisemitic origins.

Their association with JP Morgan is distant and general. It is through business dealings as proprietors of large financial institutions and the Banking industry in general. I could find no creditable pairing the two specifically on the WWI loans outside of conspiracy sites. If Friedman had said the wealthiest man in America was involved in getting the U.S. involved in WWI to protect it's own self interest, his statement would have been plausible. At least their is evidence of that.

Over more than two centuries, the Rothschild family has frequently been the subject of conspiracy theories. These theories take differing forms, such as claiming that the family controls the world's wealth and financial institutions or encouraged or discouraged wars between governments. Discussing this and similar views, the historian Niall Ferguson wrote,

Without wars, nineteenth-century states would have little need to issue bonds. As we have seen, however, wars tended to hit the price of existing bonds by increasing the risk that a debtor state would fail to meet its interest payments in the event of defeat and losses of territory. By the middle of the 19th century, the Rothschilds had evolved from traders into fund managers, carefully tending to their own vast portfolio of government bonds. Now having made their money, they stood to lose more than they gained from conflict. [...] The Rothschilds had decided the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars by putting their financial weight behind Britain. Now they would [...] sit on the sidelines.

Many conspiracy theories about the Rothschild family arise from anti-Semitic prejudice and various antisemitic canards.



No, there isn't, this is just another anti-semitic conspiracy theory, the USA entered World War I because of the Zimmerman Telegram and of unrestricted submarine warfare, read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_entry_into_World_War_I.


Both sides in WW1 tried to enlist Jewish support

At the beginning of WW1, Jews in general were mostly on the side of Central Powers (Germany and Austro-Hungarian Empire). Reasons for that are numerous, but mostly stem from size and influence of Jewish population in those countries. For example, very influential Viennese newspaper Neue Freie Presse was connected with powerful Jewish Zionist figures like Theodor Herzl and Felix Salten. That same newspaper was very ill disposed towards Russia, and vehemently supported war against Serbia during July Crisis which eventually happened and evolved into WW1 . This latter led to allegations that Jews actually started the war. In Germany itself, wealthy Jews like Max Warburg and Walther Rathenau led economy both before and during the war.

Britain was of course aware of Jewish influence, both in financial sector and in press. Immediately at the start of the war British started negotiating with leading Jewish figures like Lord Rothschild about their support in the war. Balfour Declaration was some kind of price for Jewish services and payment for turning away from Germany and Austria-Hungary. It basically promised territory of Ottoman Empire (then British enemy, as one of Central Powers) for independent Jewish state. What were Jewish services that rendered such payment is still unclear as of today.

Now we come to the central question - US entry into the war. As is well known, things didn't look that promising for Entente in 1917 . Russian Empire was on the brink of collapse and late in that year was engulfed in Bolshevik revolution. It is speculated that Jews had their hand in that - Russian Empire was their ancient enemy, and famous Lenin's sealed train that brought him from Switzerland to Russia was organized with the help of German socialists, many of them being Jewish.

It was clear that without US help Allies had little chance of winning war decisively. Main method used to convince otherwise neutral US public to join the war was Zimmermann Telegram. Without going into the debate about authenticity of it, it must be said that at that time US already supplied Entente with abundance of material and already in February 1917 broke off relations with Germany after Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare (German ambassador Count Bernstorff being sent off on February 3rd, 1917) . Balfour declaration was made public only in November of same year, but there are document proving that contacts between British and Jewish side (regarding exact wording of resolution) started on February 7th, 1917 or few days earlier in January.

Therefore, in the period when German ambassador was expelled from US and before Zimmermann Telegram was discovered and made public, there was a possibility that certain influential Jewish elements in Germany could have helped British to obtain said telegram and in such matter "sucker" US into the war. Of course, there is no proof of such thing (at least not today) but in the world of realpolitik it is quite unlikely British suddenly decided to support Zionist claims on Palestine in the middle of the war without gaining something in return.

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    "there are document proving that contacts between British and Jewish side started on February 7th, 1917". No they didn't. There are documents showing that contact started over a year before that. See my answer, and particularly the link to FO 800/176 in the UK National Archives. Commented May 10, 2019 at 23:19
  • @sempaiscuba You are partially right, but contacts regarding final text of the resolution started in February 1917.
    – rs.29
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 6:49
  • Have you read the Outline of Program for the Jewish Resettlement of Palestine in Accordance with the Aspirations of the Zionist Movement, or are you just basing your claim on that slightly dubious article? Commented May 11, 2019 at 7:02
  • It is quoted in Chaim Weizmann's Trial And Error (p 186-187). The text appears to bear very little resemblance to the Balfour Declaration. Weizmann's quote that the memorandum "anticipated the shape of things to come" seems to have referred to the founding of the state of Israel, not the Balfour Declaration. In fact, the text of the Balfour Declaration is far closer to Lucien Wolf's 1916 'Aspirations' than Weizmann's 1917 memorandum! John Cornelius' article seems to be a little, er, ... disingenuous ... in its wording. Commented May 11, 2019 at 7:26
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    Note that Palestine was allocated to the British as part of the Sykes-Picot agreement along with Jordon and part of Iraq, as part of the general division of the Ottoman empire into new colonies of the Western powers and that the British didn't give away sovereignty to any group. So I think it's pretty obvious what the British were up to: getting land for themselves.
    – user15620
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 14:30

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