Britain’s prime minister during the First World War gave secret testimony to the 1937 Palestine Royal Commission that Jews were “a dangerous people to quarrel with” but “a very helpful people if you get them on your side”.
David Lloyd George, who signed off on the 1917 Balfour Declaration giving Jews a national homeland in Palestine, gave evidence in secret to the Commission chaired by Lord William Peel, with his testimony only recently declassified.
Israeli researcher Oren Kessler unearthed the remarks after transcripts were made available in a 500-page bundle at the National Archives at Kew in 2017. His essay on the subject is published in this week’s Fathom Journal.
The comments show that while the Welsh statesmen and war leader remained an unflinching Zionist in 1937, at the age of 74 and a full 15 years after he handed the keys to 10 Downing Street to his successor Andrew Bonar Law, he nevertheless held antisemitic views.
“They are a dangerous people to quarrel with, but they are a very helpful people if you can get them on your side,” he told Peel’s Palestine Commission. “They are a very subtle race and they have means of communicating throughout the world which nobody seems to know about.”
Kessler said: “It was a paradox that for many British gentile Zionists, philo-Semitism so often commingled with its antithesis. So too for Lloyd George, in whose mind Jews pulled the levers of both world banking and Bolshevism.”
Lloyd George claimed “Jewish financiers” in America stopped the US joining the war during its first three years, and said he sent Rufus Isaacs – who later became Lord Reading – to secure what was then the largest bank loan ever. “We sent a Jew over to negotiate our loan, Lord Reading. I do not think anybody else could have done it.”
The war planners, he said, had “wanted the help of the Jews” and decided they “could either hinder us or help us very materially, because they have communities all over the world”.
After the Armistice, thousands of Polish and Russian Jews fled the pogroms and the regional wars that followed the Soviet Union’s birth, and Lloyd said the “Germans took a great many of them and they caused trouble there,” in probable reference to Communist agitators.
Returning the idea that Jews have vast power, he told Peel: “There are two people I would not quarrel with if I was running a State. They are both international forces.” One was “the Jews,” he said, while the other was the Catholic Church.
The Palestine Royal Commission was appointed after a six-month Arab rebellion cost hundreds of lives and millions of pounds in damages, its report establishing the two-state solution as the template for settling the Jewish-Arab conflict.
Lloyd George was one of dozens of statesmen who gave evidence in secret, as did World Zionist Organization president Chaim Weizmann and Jewish Agency chair David Ben-Gurion. Arab leaders boycotted the proceedings after London refused to halt Jewish immigration.
Lloyd George said his decision to grant Jews a homeland in 1917 related to the war effort against Germany, saying public opinion in the US and Russia was crucial.
“We had every reason at that time to believe that in both countries the friendliness or hostility of the Jewish race might make a considerable difference,” he told Peel, before explaining how he felt it had helped.
“Jewish propaganda in Russia had a great deal to do with the difficulties created for the Germans in Southern Russia,” he said. “The Jews in their subtle way managed to place every obstacle in the way of the Germans.”
The last Liberal prime minister added that the Germans were “equally alive to the fact that the Jews of Russia wielded considerable influence in Bolshevik circles… The Zionist movement was exceptionally strong in Russia and America”.
BICOM, a London-based think-tank that produces the Fathom Journal, said Lloyd George’s testimony “centres on the wartime necessity of winning the backing of the Jews, a people he portrayed as wielding vast, inscrutable power”.