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The question is inspired by reading The Iron Cage by Rashid Khalidi. While the book provides many interesting insights, its arguments/findings essentially hinge on the claim that the British empire was staunchly committed to Zionism and creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Khalidi does little to justify this claim, beyond the following passages:

However, there were deep struc- tural factors of support for Zionism in Britain and for Israel in the United States that remained unchanged in spite of these measures, and that in the end prevented either of them from having any significant eƒect. An examination of how Britain’s handling of the Palestine issue helped to make it highly unpopular in the Middle East might shed light on a similar process that appears to be un- folding with regard to the United States.

and

Nevertheless, despite the fact that in the first part of the twentieth century Jews were a tiny minority of the population of Palestine, and the Zionist movement was as yet probably unrepresentative of mainstream Jewish opinion, Britain and the dominant institution of the international community, the League of Nations, were broadly faithful to that commitment. The reasons for this stand had primarily to do with the utility of Zionism to British imperial purposes, the sympathy of a major sector of the British elite for Zionism, and the skill of the Zionist leadership in cultivating those who might be of use to them.

(emphasis is mine)

It is hard to imagine that the British politicians, hardened in handling many colonies, acted merely out of sympathy for the Jews (even though some where definitely convinced Zionist supporters.) As for the utility of Zionism to British imperial purposes - I imagine that playing Zionists against the local Arab population could fit the bill just in the same way as playing against each other various Arab groups (Khalidi discusses the latter at length, but says nothing of the former.)

Were there other political reasons for supporting the Zionism?

Remark: I am not asking here for the reasons that led to issuing the Balfour declaration - these are well-known, as discussed, e.g., by Walter Laqueur's A history of Zionism, and not unlike those behind the simultaneous conflicting promises given to the Arabs (aka McMahon-Hussein correspondence) and French (aka Sykes-Picot agreement.) I am mostly interested in (alleged by Khalidi) continuous support over most of the pre-war Mandate period, i.e. from 1918 to 1939 (the year of issuing the White Paper that restricted the Jewish emigration.)

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    Will expand this into an answer if I have time but a review in the London Review of Books explains, Zionism "fits perfectly into the great European-American movement of expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries whose aim was to settle new inhabitants among other peoples or to dominate them economically and politically".
    – Brian Z
    Commented Mar 29 at 13:21
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    The British did not support zionism during the mandate period.
    – Alex
    Commented Mar 30 at 11:36
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    @Alex I would like to see references and quotes, whichever way the answer goes.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Mar 30 at 11:57
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica up to 1917 the immigrants were mainly Jews fleeing from the Russian Empire. Then mostly those from eastern Europe that didn't fall under the communist control - like Poland (since exit from the communist paradise was impossible.) in 1930s - the refugees from Nazism, which in that period were from Germany. After 1939 they would come from all of Europe, but by then the immigration was restricted... and it largely falls outside the period specified in the Q.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Mar 31 at 6:37
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    This seems an ill-posed question. Before asking why, ask if. And who are "the British"? Commented Apr 17 at 9:48

3 Answers 3

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The Balfour Declaration was the result of "strange combinations of romanticism and strategic reasoning, zealotry and altruism, pro-Jewish sympathy and professed anti-Semitism" (Gilmour, 1996). The resulting mandate included an imposibly self-contradictory dual commitment to Zionism on the one hand and Arab rights on the other. A lot can be said about all of this political complexity, but as I understand the question you're simply looking for an account or what rational interests and considerations the British were persuing with relation to Zionism, so I will try to focus narrowly on that.

First we should be clear about why the British wanted to rule Palestine at all:

The strategic interests behind British rule in Palestine remained constant throughout the Mandate. Palestine provided a foothold — the only one apart from Cyprus — in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was a buffer between the Suez Canal and enemies to the north. It was a reserve base near Egypt but independent of Anglo-Egyptian relations, and it provided an overland route to Iraq and its oil reserves. Developments during the Mandate — from the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 to the German North African campaign during the Second World War — underscored its importance as a military base. After the war, the British Chiefs of Staff strongly opposed any with- drawal from the country, which they saw as ‘vital to all Commonwealth defence strategy’. (Shepherd 1999)

Given that controlling Palestine was considered geopolitically strategic, the question remains as to whether, how and why supporting the Zionist project was helpful to that end--or at least may have appeared helpful from the perspective of London at certain times during the interwar period.

Part of the answer is economic and related to the fact that Palestine had no easily exploitable resources. Administration of Palestine wouldn't easily pay for itself, and the Treasury wasn't eager to take on the burden. The money and human capital that the Zionist movement would bring in to the territory was seen as a solution to the fiscal challenge, "an alternative to financing the development of Palestine at the British taxpayers’ expense." (Shepherd 1999)

The political leverage of the Zionist movement was also formidable. They had an organized voice in the halls of power in London, while Palestinian Arabs did not. The same was true in Washington and Geneva, and ultimately the British had to answer to the League of Nations to hold on to the Mandate.

The British would have very likely halted Jewish immigration to Palestine earlier and averted the great Arab Revolt were it not for the economic and political resources of the Zionists:

At no time was this financial dependence on Zionists more pronounced than in 1930, when the minority Labor government issued a new White Paper on Palestine. This would effectively have halted all further development of the Jewish national home—no more land sales to Jews, and no further Jewish immigration. The new policy represented the consensus of the Colonial Office establishment, both in London and in Jerusalem, following the so-called “Wailing Wall Disturbances” of August 1929. But one year after the Wall Street crash, with the British economy sinking into deep recession, no British government dared to offend “international Jewry” who, it was feared, were able to turn the White House against Britain. Further, the Conservative Opposition, and the Liberal rump led by Lloyd George (upon whose votes Labor depended) took the opportunity to vilify the government. In the parliamentary debate on the White Paper, the Opposition humiliated the government, accusing it of anti-Semitism and of betraying an international pledge. The White Paper was not even put to the vote and never became law. (Cohen 2014)

By that point, the British were increasingly losing control of the situation. When the full scale Arab Revolt finally came, British forces relied heavily on support from Jewish fighters to suppress it, just long enough to hold on to power a few more years. Meanwhile WWII and the Holocaust changed the whole global situation in favor of full Zionist victory. Perhaps ironically, Jewish fighters ultimately had a major role in kicking the British out.

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In reading A History of Israel - From The Rise of Zionism to Our Time, by Howard Sachar, I don't get the impression that Briton supported Zionism on purpose. Actually, during the Mandate, Briton was at best ambivalent toward Zionism and was actually more inclined to supporting the Arabs. Nazi Germany was more enthusiastic in supporting Zionism because the Nazis thought it was a way of getting rid of the Jews.

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    Your answer would be greatly improved by including some direct quotes from the book cited. Commented Mar 31 at 3:26
  • Sorry for the lack of specifics. It's a book over 1000 pages. I read it two years ago. British support for Zionism swayed significantly over the years since the Balfour Declaration among changes of the administration and international circumstances. So there are no quotes adequate enough to summarize accurately the British position. The Nazi position, can be found in the beginning of Chapter IX. Here is a brief quote: "By 1935, ..., the Nazi propaganda bureau was subsidizing a wide variety of Middle Eastern courses... these programs won a large and appreciative reception in the Arab world..."
    – Fred Liu
    Commented Apr 6 at 16:46
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I will offer a more unconventional answer (however which aligns with the excellent chosen answer here about various commercial interests related to Suez and Iraq oil).

The political clout of Merchantile Jews in European & world history (articles here, here & here) appears often understated because it is commonly regarded as a "trope". For example, from elsewhere:

The Norman Conquest prompted the arrival of Jews to England for the first time. William I needed to borrow large sums of money to consolidate his position as the King of England and he turned to Jewish merchants from Rouen, Normandy to provide him with this much-needed income. Lending money with interest or ‘usury’ was forbidden to Christians and considered a sin. As a result, the English king paved the way for Jewish individuals to migrate and settle across the Channel. Jews and Christians now lived alongside each other in settlements across the country.

Why did Jews settle in England after 1066?

The Magna Carta had two specific provisions (#10 & #11) about Jewish money lenders, who, as with all Jews in England at the time, were under the direct juristiction of The King.

While I cannot personally vouch the for accuracy of this book about Philip II of Spain, it offers detailed views about the political power plays (including Jewish) during this period.

In short, while I am not presenting any evidence due to non-research, it appears obvious the decline of the Spanish & Portugese Empires and the rise of the Dutch & British Empires coincided with the movement of Merchantile Jews from the former to the later, which included the Jewish funding of William of Orange and the official return of Jews to England.

There are countless recent historical events demonstrating the political clout of Jewish Oligarchs in Europe and the USA:

  1. Funding of William Of Orange (Haaretz article).

  2. Raising of international bonds to fund the arming of Japan and the subequent defeat of Russia in 1905.

  3. The domination of the world copper industry during WW1 by Daniel Guggenheim, who appeared to support Jewish settler schemes and whose close associate Bernard Baruch who was a close advisor to President Roosevelt, who was also investigated by the Nye Committee for profiteering from WW1 and who appeared covertly involved in Zionism (per accounts such as here and here). Wikipedia says of Guggenheim: "Daniel was a member of the National Security League, the driving force for moving the then-neutral USA into World War I, which was headed by J.P. Morgan."

The later above appears important for this question because a former Zionist insider named Benjamin H Freedman (who claims he was present with the Zionist delegation at the Versailles Conference) presented his account that the USA's entry into World War 1 was engineered by German Jewish Oligarchs in exchange for the Balfour Declaration (addressed to Lord Rothschild). An audio of Mr Freedman's speech is at this link: A Speech by Benjamin H Freedman 1961.

In other words, at least according to Benjamin H Freedman, England had a debt or obligation to repay the Zionists, which appears why the Zionist delegation was present at the Versailles Conference.

I cannot answer my own question now, but, what was a Zionst delegation doing at the Versailles Peace Conference if the Nation of Judea was not a belligerent party in WW1?

In conclusion, I think it is questionable that European & American governments supported Zionism out of "sympathy". I would speculate during these times of Western Christian cultural hegamony that Jewish political goals had to be undertaken in a more covert manner. In other words, the Jewish Oligarchs and Political Elite were not a separate phenomena from the Dutch, British & American Empires and their respective imperialist commercial interests. Instead, as exhibited by the Jewish status in Apartheid South Africa, the Jewish commercial & political elites were an inherent & integral part of the Dutch, British & American Empires.

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