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Why The Balfour Declaration Didn’t Impress The Forverts Editor

The Forverts did not care much for the Balfour Declaration, the November 2 letter that pronounced British support for a Jewish home in Palestine, in the heat of World War One.

Forverts editor Ab Cahan discounted the Declaration, issued by Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to express his support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” in a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild dated November 2, 1917.

If the news of a Jewish homeland in Israel had been announced 50 years prior, Cahan would’ve had a different reaction, he said. But due to realities of the Diaspora, Cahan wrote that Jews had settled worldwide and would be unwilling or unable to uproot themselves and move to a newly established state.

“Currently, Jews have a strong sense of unity, and it seems to them that amidst brethren there is contentment to be found, class differences will seemingly vanish,” Cahan wrote. “But the Jewish past shows this to be a foolish expectation.”

Instead, Cahan proclaimed the Balfour Declaration a “victory for Socialist enlightenment” as Jews across the world would have to fight in their respective countries for class equality and equal treatment. Cahan valued Jewish integration amongst goyim.

Image by Forward Montage

Cahan wrote that the land of Israel still had class struggles, like any other place, so class differences would still arise.

“The finances of today’s Jewish colonists in the Land of Israel are such that they employ the affordable Arab gentiles in their colonies, and not their Jewish brethren,” he wrote. “Jewish workers’ parties there are engaged in a heated struggle against this practice, to no avail. Economic interests are a thousand times stronger than national fraternal bonds.”

The front pages of the Yiddish paper in 1917 instead delivered updates of the Russian Revolution to its concerned readers — the Balfour Declaration was hardly regarded as the top news after it was released.

Stories about local marches and parades covered the Forvert’s front page on November 3, 1917. A story announced a post office receiving 75 million 3-cent stamps the day after the Balfour Declaration was released — but not the Zionist news itself.

Zionism might’ve excited Jews decades prior, Cahan wrote, but his people were past such times of “mass-hysteria.” Cahan argued that socialism changed the mindset of working-class Jews because Zionism did not affect their class status in their home countries.

Cahan’s editorial made a bold prediction: “The Jewish masses, having to flee from all their diasporic countries, and remain there won’t be that content in the Land of Israel.”

Translated by Chana Pollack.

Contact Erica Snow at snow@forward.com or on Twitter @ericasnoww.

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