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Jews Outside Palestine

Lord Balfour speaking during the opening ceremony of Hebrew University, Jerusalem, April 1925 (National Photo Collection of Israel)

President Trump's current fixation on American Jews’ duty of “loyalty” to Israel is not an oddity out of the blue. It is inherent in the Zionist achievement of recognition of Jews as a nationality. Until now American Jews have indulged in a rather charmed existence, able to both boost our “home country,” the State of Israel, and proclaim our Americanness.

Until now American Jews have indulged in a rather charmed existence, able to both boost our “home country,” the State of Israel, and proclaim our Americanness.

In August 1917, Lord Edwin S. Montagu, Secretary of State for India, wrote a provocative memorandum to the British Cabinet, warning, as the only Jew in cabinet, ofthe Anti-Semitism of the Present Government” that had just committed the UK to a Jewish “national home” in Palestine.

Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour had written a statement, the “Balfour Declaration” (publicly released in November 1917) that

His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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.

Montague wrote the “declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet” would damage the status of Jews in Britain and every other land outside of Palestine.

He said the British assignment of Palestine as a Jewish homeland was a “conclusion which makes aliens and foreigners by implication, if not at once by law, of all their Jewish fellow-citizens.”

Montagu warned that after the declaration of a “Jewish national home,”

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...the Jew will have the choice, whatever country he belongs to, whatever country he loves, whatever country he regards himself as an integral part of, between going to live with people who are foreigners to him, but to whom his Christian fellow-countrymen have told him he shall belong, and of remaining as an unwelcome guest in the country that he thought he belonged to.

Montagu also noted the unfairness to non-Jews in Palestine of the plan:

It is quite true that Palestine plays a large part in Jewish history, but so it does in modern Mahommendan history, and, after the time of the Jews, surely it plays a larger part than any other country in Christian history. The Temple may have been in Palestine, but so was the Sermon on the Mount and the Crucifixion. I would not deny to Jews in Palestine equal rights to colonisation with those who profess other religions, but a religious test of citizenship seems to me to be the [sic] only admitted by those who take a bigoted and narrow view of one particular epoch of the history of Palestine, and claim for the Jews a position to which they are not entitled.

Montagu identified the twin damages contained in the Palestine Jewish home plan -- injustice to Palestinians, and damage to Jews’ citizenship. We seem to have reached the point where the contradiction of Jew as citizen and “Jew” as a national designation has emerged.

For some American Jews, anti-Zionism has been motivated by recognition of damage to the rights of Palestinians. The place of Jews in America is finally being impacted by the question of whether the State of Israel, the “Jewish state,” is in any sense our country.

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The bell that Donald Trump has rung cannot be unrung. And we should not wish it to be.

Abba Solomon

Abba A. Solomon is the author of “The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein's Speech ‘The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews.’” His website is abbasolomon.com

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