A letter included in a new exhibit at the British Library has raised eyebrows in the Jewish world by revealing a Jewish request for the foundation of a Jewish state – only weeks before the Balfour Declaration was made.
The detailed plan was outlined to the British ambassador to France in September 1917 by an unknown Russian Jew called Dr. M. L. Rothstein, who was living in France at the time.
In it, he proposed that the British send forces to help him set up a Jewish state in exchange for his establishing a Jewish fighting force, writing: “I undertake to assemble, for next spring, a Jewish fighting troop, a force of 120,000 strong men.”
These men, Rothstein said, would fight alongside the British to conquer Bahrain and Al-Hasa, a desert oasis in what is now Saudi Arabia but then part of the Ottoman Empire, against whom Britain was fighting. It was here that Rothstein proposed establishing a Jewish state.
His proposal was reviewed by the British Foreign Minister, Arthur James Balfour, but Bertie was instructed to reject the plan (pictured, right) which he did with the words: “His Majesty’s Government regret that they cannot give effect to his proposals.”
Yet only a month later, in November, Balfour wrote to Lord Rothschild, famously declaring that he was in favour of creating a national home for the Jewish people in what was then Palestine.