Was Zionism Set Up By The British To Serve Their Imperialist Ambitions? Exploring The Views Of The BDS Movement Part 3

Recently a few of us decided to attend a weekly protest that take place on Oxford street every Thursday evening organised by the BDS organisation “Victory to the Intifada,” known as the Picket.

We spoke to a number of people who were in attendance who were willing to be interviewed by us and share their views on why they were boycotting Marks and Spencer for trading with Israel and against Zionism.

There is an ongoing argument as to whether or not anti-Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism, and ones freedom to voice legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies. This is very vague, so we wanted to know what these people believe, what their criticisms are and here we will explore their claims and ascertain how legitimate such voices are.

You may view our interview below.

This is the third post responding to views made by those at the protest. One of the people we interviewed claimed.

Israel was set up by the British Mandate as part of a Colonial settlement, as a state in the Middle East that is friendly to the West. 

In the previous post we highlighted the goals of Zionism as set out by those who founded the movement at the First World Zionist Congress held in Basle in 1897, that Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz ­Israel secured under public law.”

At the time of the movements founding, the land was under the rule of the Ottoman empire. These aims to create a home and refuge for the Jewish people preceded any involvement with British Imperialist interests. Jewish settlement in Palestine occurred in a few waves of immigration including under the Ottoman rule. It would be very difficult to create a Jewish home in Palestine without the support particularly of the power ruling the land.

The president of the World Zionist Organisation, Theodor Herzl, first sought approval and support from the Turks, but after five years of unfruitful efforts, in 1902 turned his diplomatic efforts to the British. The situation of Russian Jewry suffering from pogroms was getting dire, the British were concerned about large immigration to Britain from Jews from Eastern Europe but felt something had to be done for them and were becoming increasingly interested in the idea of establishing a Jewish colony somewhere under British control.

Of the most famous proposals to the Zionist movement was a homeland in Uganda, offered by the British. The Zionist movement almost unanimously rejected it as a final settlement, some believed the offer should be considered as serving as a temporary shelter or a national training ground but that the final goal could only be territory within the land of Israel, their ancestral homeland. The British were pushing for the Zionists to accept somewhere else, preferably in East Africa. Sir Clement Hill, Chief of the Protectorate Department at the Colonial Office, sent a message to Herzl, that the British was willing to offer facility to a Zionist study commission which should go to Africa to ascertain whether there were any suitable vacant lands.

A major turning point came after WW1. During WW1, the Zionist movement was as it always was composed of Jews who lived in a number of different countries and attempted to remain neutral. But this was much easier said than done. Berlin remained very important to Zionists in Germany, whereas London was important to Zionists in England. It was believed that the Turks should not be antagonised as this might endanger the Jewish community in Palestine as well as to safeguard the large numbers of Eastern European Jews as sections of them had passed under German rule.

Chaim Weizmann, was a Zionist in London, who in an unofficial position, in defiance of the the policy of neutrality held by the Zionist Executive in Berlin, was convinced that Britain would win the war, and that Palestine would come under the sphere of the British empire. He made diplomatic efforts with British statesman who had growing sympathies for Zionism going back to Herzl’s days.

The British were concerned for their post war interests and how creating a Jewish state in Palestine would serve their interests. If a state could be established in Palestine it would serve as a buffer between the Black Sea and the Suez Canal from any hostility. Preceding along this mutual interest, the British would have protected trade routes for example and the Jews would have their own state. Weizmann’s key ally was Herbert Samuel and Lloyd George, but the prime minister was not attracted to the idea at all, seeing it as just another unnecessary responsibility for Britain.

Britain began to take Zionism more seriously as the movement grew amongst American Jewry, and the Balfour declaration was according to the memoirs of Lloyd George, a reward for the important work Weizmann had done in producing acetone, and Britain’s victory in WW1.

Amongst British politicians there were still divided opinions on whether or not to support Zionism, for a number of reasons, some simply believed it was impractical, that the Jews would not go there in large numbers anyway, and did not see any value in it to Britain. Others believed in it either out of sympathy for the cause, less so due to political interests for Britain but more due to their own religious faith in the Bible, Balfour and Lloyd George were amongst this group. But also for the reasons mentioned earlier that they believed Palestine would be important for the security and future of the British empire.

Meanwhile, in Britain there were other plans being considered for Palestine with the Arabs. Palestine is not a land that contains any oil or natural resources that Britain or others are dependent on. Many British politicians believed that appeasing the Arabs who would control the lands with oil in the future should take priority and believed that the establishment of a Jewish state would antagonise them. Opinion was divided, but in December 1916 Asquith resigned and Lloyd George became Prime Minister and Balfour the Foreign Secretary and in 1917 issued the Balfour declaration supporting the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine.

“Dear Lord Rothschild,

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.

“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.”

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

Yours sincerely,
Arthur James Balfour”

It might be argued that Britain supported Zionism because it believed it could use the Jewish state to maintain its empire, but that all began to change by the time of the second world war. By this point the British were beginning to believe that the war effort would bankrupt Britain, and that it would not be able to afford to maintain the empire at all. So sympathy with Zionism began to wane. The Arabs were not happy about Jewish immigration to Palestine, which began to increase as Nazism spread throughout Europe causing thousands of Jewish refugees to flee to Palestine. In response to Arab objections and violent disturbances, the British issued the White Paper, which imposed a limit of Jewish immigration at a time where Jews needed somewhere to go the most.

The British had made promises to both the Zionists and the Arabs, which was a disaster waiting to happen. But as events progressed, the British came to favour appeasing the Arab worlds interests over the Jews. This is evident in their policy of the White Paper. Ships of Jews that were arriving in Palestine from Europe with Holocaust survivors were turned away, some to a British run displaced persons camp in Cyprus, others sent back to Nazi occupied Europe to be sent to Concentration camps.

The British by this point had betrayed the Jews, groups like the Irgun and the Stern Gang emerged amongst the Revisionist Zionist movement led by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. These groups rejected the White Paper and believed that the British had caved into appeasing the Arabs due to violence against the Jews and the British in Palestine and that the only way to achieve statehood and a change in policy would be through the use of terrorism, in retaliation against both the British and the Arabs.

The mainstream Socialist Zionist movement, led by David Ben Gurion, later to be Israel’s first prime minister continued to work with the British and opposed the actions against the British of the Revisionists. This went so far as handing over members of the Irgun to the British, who were hung. The Hagana was the official Jewish defence force that later became the IDF that protected the Kibbutz communities in Palestine. Whilst he opposed the Irgun and other groups, this eventually came to an end when they too came to agree that the British were selling them out to the Arabs. This led to their collaboration in the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The Hotel was used as the British headquarters.

Following the war, knowledge of the Holocaust and its horrors became known to all, and the question of Palestine was unresolved by the British, who then handed the matter over to the league of nations. Various proposals were put forward to resolve the issue by partitioning the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Zionists accepted the proposal but the Arabs rejected it, refusing to accept a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.

In 1947, the United Nations voted in favour of partition. Britain however, abstained in the vote. If Israel were set up to serve Britain’s imperial interests, why would they have abstained rather than voted for a Jewish state? Before the British left Palestine, they trained the Jordanian army, who were planning to attack the Jewish state at its inception.

Israel did not win the war of independence in 1948 as a result of military or financial aid from the West or any of the Imperial or Colonial powers, it won in spite of an arms embargo imposed on the region by the US. The British refused to provide arms to Israel, but made efforts to increase arms to the Arab states who used those weapons to attack Israel. This forced Israel to smuggle weapons to defend herself from Czechoslovakia.

In Israel’s early years, Israelis were very bitter towards the British, and consequently did not teach English as a second language in their schools. French was favourable, and military support to Israel did not come from Britain. In fact military support for Israel did not come from its number one ally today, the US. This relationship between Israel and the US did not begin until the mid 1960s. Israel was a small socialist country, who received most of its support from France, largely for ideological reasons. Yet France, was never an influential power in support of Zionism.

Israel received support from the United States, primarily as a result of the US effort to fight the Cold war, where the Arab world had chosen to side with the Soviet Union. Today the relationship between Israel and the United States has many facets to it ranging from a shared effort to fight Islamist extremism, counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation, economic and trade relations, similar shared political ideals as part of the western, democratic world and more.


Zionism is a national liberation movement, its goals were to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine. In order to do so, it sought support from whoever it can. World powers had a variety of their own reasons for supporting Zionism, in order to serve their own purposes and interests. We see from the early days, Herzl was offered proposals by the British to settle the Jews elsewhere, this did not serve the interests of the Jews but was convenient to the British. The Jewish people could not accept anywhere other than the land of Israel, because it was the only place that they could rightfully claim as their own. Uganda belonged to the Ugandans, the Jews have no history in Uganda and no right to it. Zionism was an attempt of restoring justice, a people who remembered their homeland that they lost, Jerusalem their capital, and prayed and yearned for the day they would return.

The Zionist movement, lobbied for support from the empires and found favour for a while with the British. Zionism enjoyed support from Colonial powers and made diplomatic efforts for them to help them achieve Zionism’s goals. The goals of Zionism were not to serve British Imperialism, unless doing so could advance its own goals. By WW2 it was already apparent that this was not so, if ever it truly was. In a world where there is no longer a British empire for a Jewish state in Palestine to provide support for, it is the Arab countries in possession of oil, who are of greater importance to Western interests in the region.

See Uncovered: U.K. Intel encouraged Arab armies to invade Israel in 1948, Intelligence obtained by the French secret services in the Middle East sheds new light on Britain’s role in the Arab-Israeli War of Independence By Meir Zamir,  Sep. 14, 2014 


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