Lot 217
  • 217

The Balfour Declaration

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Two original drafts of the Balfour Declaration, part of the highly important Zionist Archive of Leon Simon, which also includes a signed letter from Chaim Weizmann asking his colleagues to review the draft, and further documents concerning the formulation of the Balfour Declaration, and of the British Mandate in Palestine. Manchester, London, Palestine: 1917-1922, 1937-1944

33 autograph manuscripts and letters, signed (ca.112 pp.), and 33 typed letters (ca. 79 pp.), signed by Chaim Weizmann, Harry Sacher, Nahum Sokolow, Samuel Tolkowsky, Jacob Ettinger, Albert Hyamson, Israel Abrahams, Horace M. Kallen, Victor Jacobson, Herbert Samuel, Leonard Stein, Leon Simon,  and others; 57 typed or hectograph [early 20c office duplicating machine] position papers, essays and memoranda (ca. 319 pp.) issued by various individuals and organizations; 51 carbon or hectograph copies or retained copies of typed letters and telegrams (ca. 123 pp.); 4 hectograph newsletters (22 pp.); 11 clippings from British Newspapers of 1917-18. Various sizes (mostly 8 ½ x 11 inches or 8 ½ x 14 inches); occasional marginal fraying or creasing, a few spots and paper clip marks. An inventory is available; item numbers cited below refer to this inventory.


Sir Leon and Lady Ellen Simon — Purchased from the estate of Miss Aviva Simons (daughter of the above)


N. Sokolow, History of Zionism (1918); L. Stein, The Balfour Declaration (1961); I. Friedman, The Question of Palestine 1914-1918 (1973); R. Sanders, The High Walls of Jerusalem (1983)

Catalogue Note

Foundation documents for the State of Israel including the autograph memorandum of the text which would later be issued, with the war cabinet’s modifications, as the Balfour Declaration, made at the 17 July 1917 meeting of the Zionist Political Committee at the Imperial Hotel, on Hotel stationery, by Leon Simon, a key participant. This was the text sent to Balfour for his approval. If the Declaration of Independence can be viewed as the first formal political step in the foundation of the United States, then the Balfour Declaration can be so viewed in the history of Israel, and the present memorandum is the equivalent of an autograph draft of the text by Thomas Jefferson. Few documents can be owned that are more evocative of the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people for the formation of Israel, or that have had greater political impact on the present-day world.

Sir Leon Simon (1881-1965), English Zionist leader, Hebrew scholar and civil servant, responsible for much early Zionist pamphleteering, was part of the circle of Manchester Zionists around Chaim Weizmann. His papers bring us to an era of great upheaval, the penultimate year of World War I. Fighting in the western theatre was stalemated, an eastern front had recently opened against the Ottoman Empire, and the Imperial government in Russia (a British ally) was overthrown in February. The United States was not yet in the war and indeed, was never to declare war on Turkey, the power which held Palestine. Set amidst this maelstrom, the Zionist Organization fought to chart a course. Simon was a key participant in this effort; his archive offers documentation of that complex course, shedding light on the drafting of the Balfour Declaration (1917) and of the British Mandate for Palestine presented to the League of Nations (1919-21), providing weekly news of the British administration in Palestine during the uprisings of the Palestinian Arabs (1920-21), and “confidential” information on the views of Winston Churchill before his June 1921 speech in the House of Commons.

"an expression of sympathy"

The yearning for a return to Palestine had been a dream among Jews since antiquity, but the concept of Zionism as a political movement to establish a “home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law,” was a formulation of the First Zionist Congress organized by Theodor Herzl in Basel (1897). Leaders of the movement in Europe began to promote the idea to their governments, winning some unofficial expressions of sympathy, but the outbreak of World War I, and the widespread adoption of Wilsonian principles of national self-determination, provided the unstable diplomatic situation in which a single-minded movement could find support. The archaeological excavations of Warren, Bliss and Macalister as well as the British archaeological survey of western Palestine (1871–77), promoted a popular interest in the area among the British public. Britain had come to view Palestine as a useful base to protect Egypt (the Suez Canal), Mesopotamia, and the railroad to India from Turkish attack, while publicly adhering to the Sykes-Picot Treaty (May 1916) which shared the Turkish Empire, including Palestine, with France. The turmoil in Russia threatened her contribution to the Allied cause, while her persecution of Jews had alienated Jews in the United States and Europe. There was a good deal of support for Germany among American Jews, particularly among those centered on the east coast, also the center of President Wilson’s support. Many felt that a British expression of sympathy would galvanize support for the war in both the U.S. and Russia. The Zionists had begun to feel that Britain should annex Palestine, and provide the military power to protect a growing Jewish homeland until it could stand by itself. However, annexation was more than the British would commit to.

The indefatigable and charismatic Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952), having met former Prime Minister Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930) at a Manchester campaign rally in 1906, took advantage of this contact to seek a formal expression of sympathy from the British Government. Weizmann’s scientific gifts enabled him to render important services to the Admiralty and the Ministry of Munitions earning him the gratitude of David Lloyd George, who became minister of munitions in 1915. In 1917, Balfour, the new Foreign Secretary, was amenable and asked Weizmann for a draft declaration which would express the sentiments of the Zionist Organization. It was decided that this draft would be sent by Lord Rothschild to Balfour, whose response would be in a letter containing the Declaration. Weizmann assigned the drafting job to Harry Sacher and the British Palestine Committee.

Simon’s exceptional archive begins with the formation of the British Palestine Committee (items 1-7), the Manchester-based group formed from the informal circle gathered around Weizmann. Harry Sacher (1881-1971), a member of the editorial board of the Manchester Guardian, envisioned a detailed formulation that included the entire program, “I take the view that we have to set our demands very high for a variety of reasons” (item 12). Nahum Sokolow (1859-1936), General Secretary of the Zionist Organization, and Samuel Tolkowsky (1886-1965) argued for a simpler expression of sympathy along the lines of the letter issued by Jules Cambon on behalf of the French Government on June 4. The archive makes it clear that there was conflict within the Zionist Organization over tactics. In two letters, Tolkowsky expresses his desire to make the BPC conform to the policy of the London organization (items 5,7).

Weizmann and Sokolow formed a Political Committee in London (item 8) to continue the drafting. A meeting was set up at the Imperial Hotel on Russell Square for July 17, 1917 where the final details were hammered out. Sacher apparently brought to this meeting a typed draft, with his manuscript additions (item 17), which shows that he had substituted “National Home” for “Jewish State”, and was still including the concept of a “chartered company” that would empower the Zionists to purchase land and initiate development projects. When the final formulation was reached, Simon, who was present at the meeting, took a piece of hotel stationery to note the final wording and the names of the members present (item 18, cited in Stein, p. 469, n.29). The final formulation is stronger and more direct:

“H[is] M[ajesty’s] G[overnment] accepts the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the Nat[iona]l Home of the J[ewish] P[eople]. HMG will use its best efforts to secure the achievement of this object, and will discuss the necessary methods and means with the Z[ionist] O[rganization].”

This text was typed up and forwarded to Lord Rothschild with a cover letter from Sokolow on 18 July.This is the text which represented the final distilled view of the Zionist Organization, the text which Rothschild accepted and forwarded to Balfour. A note in the upper right corner: “Cowen Copy of no. 3 Lord Bryce W. Churchill” suggests that Joseph Cowen (1868 – 1932), president of the English Zionist Federation, was asked to send copies of the text, perhaps the third and final draft considered that day, to James Viscount Bryce (1838-1922) and to Winston Churchill (1874-1965) who had just been appointed Minister of Munitions. Bryce, former ambassador to the United States, was preparing a memorandum to the British government, to be sent on 8 August 1917, outlining a structure for the League of Nations and insisting on the participation of the United States, which became a key document in the Versailles negotiations. The people present at this historic meeting are listed at the bottom: “Sok[olow] Cowen Sieff Oettinger Simon Tolkowsky Sacher Marks”. An invitation to attend the next meeting of the Political Committee on August 1, signed by Weizmann (item 19), appends a typescript of the Draft Declaration for the perusal of the Committee.

In three divisive meetings, the War Cabinet incorporated the views of Edwin Montagu (1879-1924), the new secretary of state for India, and Lord Alfred Milner (1854-1925) who feared that supporting a Jewish state would endanger Jews in other countries wishing to remain in those countries, and would impose upon the Palestinian Arabs the rule of a foreign race. Their concerns are expressed in the final two clauses of the emended declaration, while the wording of the first two was made a bit less committal when compared to the July 17 draft. The final text reads (with emphasis to show the differences):

“His Majesty’s Government 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, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

While the leadership of the Zionist Organization was duly informed of the final outcome within a few days of its November 2 issuance, on that same day General Allenby and the Egyptian Expeditionary Force entered Beersheba and this occupied the headlines. The government was waiting for news of substantial British victories before publicizing the Declaration on November 9, when, on the 6th,  the Bolshevik uprising occurred, and news of Lenin’s election reached the London papers on the 9th, obliterating news coverage of the Declaration. In subsequent days the Declaration was widely hailed in the Press for its idealism, as European governments anxiously fell in line to express their support (the U.S. waited another 10 months). The Manchester Guardian (Harry Sacher’s newspaper) did not hesitate to interpret the Declaration with a vigorously Zionist point of view:

“What it means, is that, assuming our military successes to be continued and the whole of Palestine to be brought securely under our control, then on the conclusion of peace our deliberate policy will be to encourage in every way in our power Jewish immigration, to give full security, and no doubt a large measure of local autonomy, to the Jewish immigrants, with a view to the ultimate establishment of a Jewish State” [quoted in Sanders, p. 615-616].

british military and civil administration in palestine

In April 1918 Weizmann arrived in Palestine with a 9-man Zionist Commission appointed by the War Cabinet to begin coordinating Jewish affairs there, and to act as a liaison between the military government and the Jewish population, trying to establish links between the Jewish and Arab communities. Simon was a member of this commission and he kept a wonderful diary of his experiences (item 25), with high idealism, haughty disdain, and illuminating details:

[7th April, in manuscript:] "The strangest stories get about – or are spread about – among the Arabs. Somebody at Cairo (a man connected, I believe, with the Sultan’s palace) told  Ch[aim] that a member of the Commission had told somebody else that we had come with a letter from the British Gov[ernmen]t permitting us to demolish the Mosque of Omar and re-erect the Temple in its place. Again, two men who escaped the other day from Kafr Saba say that it is firmly believed on the other side that there is already a Jewish government in Jerusalem. No doubt some hostile agency is at work spreading these lies. …

"Ch[aim] reported today the gist of his conversation with Allenby. The General received him very cordially, and said that he was entirely in sympathy with us and would help us in very way, but he was responsible for the administration of Palestine and wanted to be absolutely impartial and to be able to hand over the country to the Peace Conference as a well-administered country. … Ch[aim] gave him an outline of our policy, and told him that in his opinion, the fate of Palestine would be decided not entirely by conquest but by self-determination, and that in this self-determination the Jews of the whole world would have a voice. … He also said that whatever might be the military value of the Arabs today, tomorrow they might be a liability, whereas a Jewish Palestine would be a permanent factor on the side of British Near Eastern policy. … Later, after dinner, they got talking about Picot. Ch[aim] said that so far as he could tell, Picot did not represent the policy of the French Government. Allenby said that he no longer received Picot, and had more or less told him that he (Allenby) was in charge, and if Picot didn’t like it he could clear out. (Picot, by the way, came to see Ch[aim] soon after our arrival here, and was very sweet and friendly.) …

"I saw today a short Memorandum which was passed to us by some Arabs in Cairo. It sets out proposed heads of an arrangement for harmonious co-operation between “Palestinians and Zionists”(!!!). One of the terms is that Arabic, as “the language of the country”, is to be the official language. (A copy of the document is to be sent to Sokolow, so I don’t go into further details.) The whole document represents a standpoint quite irreconcilable with ours and was only to be expected. I am trying to maintain in my own mind an attitude of sweet reasonableness towards the Arabs. But when one, on the one hand, reads these absurd demands, and on the other hand sees the Arabs who walk about here, it is not easy to prevent oneself from slipping into a pronounced anti-Arab frame of mind."

Other detailed views of the British administration are found in the set of 8 letters from the journalist David Israelstam in Jaffa which extend from May 1919 to July 1920. Israelstam discusses the economic situation in Palestine (item 58), the arrival of the Russian refugee ship from Odessa which was refused entry (item 65), and a report on the Arab procession in April 1920 which turned into a 3-day riot (item 75). Similar reports may be found in the set of 19 letters from Elias Epstein (1895-1958), who was in charge of the Zionist Commission’s Press Bureau in Jerusalem. These extend from March 1920 to December 1921 and include the May 1921 Jaffa Riots.

A few of the documents which demonstrate the diversity of opinion within the movement include correspondence with Horace Kallen and Israel Abrahams. Horace Kallen (1882-1974) was a political philosopher, then teaching at the University of Wisconsin, active in many Zionist organizations in America, and a confidant of Louis Brandeis (1856-1941). Kallen writes (item 29): “I am personally inclined to believe that the conversion of Palestine into an English crown colony, in which the [Zionist] organization will have certain charter rights, not unlike those of the British East India Company, with respect to all Jewish settlement and enterprises is the most hopeful eventuality that we can look forward to.” Abrahams (1858-1924), reader in rabbinic and Talmudic studies at Cambridge, writes (item 30): “You think of the Jews as a nation, I do not. … You accuse me of likening Palestine for Palestinians with England for English & America for American Jews. I certainly do. In fact this is the very point at issue. Politically Palestine has no claim whatever on me. Politically I place England far and away above Palestine. If I did not, I should feel bound to abandon my English nationality. … My love for Palestine is not expressible in national terms at all….”

formulating the mandate

The mandate for Palestine was awarded to the British at the San Remo Conference in April 1920, and civil administration over Palestine was established in June 1920 with the arrival of Herbert Samuels (1870-1963), the High Commissioner. The final version of the mandate (1922) was to include the Balfour Declaration in the preamble and many of its articles employ Zionist concepts. Negotiations over the terms of the Mandate occupied more than two years. At least four documents in the archive shed light on this process (67, 89, 101, 108). Item 67, titled “Proposals Relating to Palestine,” is marked in pencil in the left margin “Original Samuels Draft.” These proposals were probably an early draft (1919) prepared before the award of the mandate to Britain, as that is the first of two alternative proposals for sovereignty, the other being “to vest the suzerainty of Palestine in the hands of several powers, or in the hands of a League of Nations and to hold it in trust for the Jewish people, but only if the actual administration were entrusted to the British Government as the mandatory of the rest. A joint administration by two or more powers would be regarded as fatal to the successful development of the country…”[a reference to the Sykes-Picot Treaty]. The document proposes a “Jewish Council for Palestine” as the chief agency to implement the development of the National Home.

William Finlay (1875-1945), a judge acting as temporary advisor to the Foreign Office with respect to the peace conference, offers a legal opinion (item 89) examining “whether the terms of the draft Palestine Mandate, which is before me, conflict in any way with Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations ‘either by conferring special privileges on any nationality or body or otherwise.’” This copy had been forwarded to Samuel Landman, legal counsel for the Zionist Organization.

“Notes on conversation with Mr. Clauson, Middle East Department, Colonial Office, 9/5/21” marked “Confidential” (item 101), shows that we are coming close to the text as finally adopted. The Zionist Organization was proposing the insertion of a reference in Article 27 to Article 2 which would have the effect of reiterating the goal of “the Jewish national home” upon termination of the mandate, an insertion that Clauson found unnecessary.

A document marked “Second Version” (item 108) appears to be an early draft without much detail, having only 8 clauses, describes what appears to be a millet system [a political structure used in the Ottoman Empire] of internal autonomy within a larger state. It cites the Balfour Declaration as the basis of resettlement, and proposes that within Palestine the Jewish population is to be recognized as a nationality. It suggests that a royal charter should be granted either to a company or to the Jewish population of Palestine.

the colonial office - the churchill interview

The British Mandate transferred jurisdiction over Palestine from the Foreign Office to the Colonial Office in early 1921, and Winston Churchill was made Colonial Secretary. In May, another outbreak of rioting occurred against the Jews, in Jaffa and in Jerusalem. The High Commissioner saw this latest demonstration of Arab discontent as a direct result of the influx of Jewish immigrants, some 10,000 in less than a year, that had followed on passage of an ordinance allowing virtually free immigration. The government imposed a temporary ban on Jewish immigration, and this prompted a meeting between Churchill, Samuel Landman (1884 - 1967), secretary and legal counsel for the Zionist Organization, and Joseph Cowen (item 102, entitled “Notes of Interview with Mr. Churchill, 9/5/21”). At the interview Churchill “understood the difficulties under which the Zionists were labouring. In order to raise the necessary funds, they were obliged to appeal to the imagination of the Jewish people in all countries by informing them of their ultimate aim. At the same time this propaganda served only to increase the apprehensions of the Arab population. … He repeated that the Zionists must go slowly and cautiously and, as a measure of precaution, Jewish immigration had been stopped.”

Further discussion of immigration occurs in the document entitled “Notes of conversation at the Colonial Office, 14/5/21” (item 106) between Landman, and E. Forbes-Adam of the Foreign Office, as well as Major Young and Mr. Bullard of the Colonial Office. Here it is announced that immigration will be resumed but subject to restrictions: immigrants already in the country must be employed, the rate of immigration to depend on available work opportunities, and measure of control instituted to keep out “undesireable elements” [i.e. Russian communists]. There was also some discussion of the text of the Mandate and the possibility of modifying the article that made Hebrew the official language [in the end Article 22 made English, Arabic and Hebrew the official languages of Palestine].

Churchill was planning a public statement in the House of Commons which would take place on June 14. Item 143 is a hectograph Bulletin of the Zionist Organisation and Keren Hayesod reporting the speech and the ensuing debate in the Commons. Item 144 quotes from press reports on the speech.

Simon's Later Life

The archive breaks off after April 1922 and resumes in December of 1937 (items 154–174). During this period Simon had become director of Telegraphs and Telephones (1931-1935), and director of the Savings Bank (1935-1944), the service for which he was knighted in 1944. A leading exponent of cultural Zionism and of the Hebrew language and culture, Simon took an active interest in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The materials in this section deal almost entirely with his writings on Zionism.

No other monument of the formation of Israel of this magnitude and from this early period has been offered at auction. An artifact from three decades later, one of the commemorative pens used by President Truman to sign the official United States recognition of the State of Israel, made $280,000 in 2002.  The present collection is an exceptional opportunity to own a document of extraordinary historical significance, a document forged on the anvil of history.