SOAS University of London

SOAS scholar sheds light on the Balfour Declaration among Palestine's local Jews

31 October 2017

Dr Yuval Evri, postdoctoral researcher at SOAS Centre for Jewish Studies, has been researching the ambivalent reception of the Balfour Declaration among Palestine's local Jews ahead of the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

The Balfour Declaration was a formative moment in the history of Palestine and paved the way to the British Mandate on Palestine and establishment of the state of Israel 30 years later. Dr Evri, together with Professor Hillel Cohen of the Hebrew University, unearthed  Jerusalemite intellectual Yosef Castel’s records from the archives to bring to light alternative views regarding the Declaration itself and its implications.

In a forthcoming article, the scholars highlighted that Castel viewed the Balfour Declaration as an obstacle for any Arab-Jewish cooperation, and called for establishing a shared homeland in Palestine for Jews and Arabs, rather than an  exclusive Jewish National Home. 

The archival research unearthed new perspectives   among early 20th Century Palestine's Jewish communities regarding the Declaration and its implications for Jewish-Arab relations. These views did not register with the British authorities and the Zionist leadership in Europe.

The native Sephardi voices, had  lived in the region for centuries together with the Palestinian Arabs  and formed the backbone of the Jewish elite in Palestine. As the scholars reveal, Sephardi intellectuals, while supportive of a Jewish national and cultural revival in Palestine, viewed with concern the policies promoted by European Zionist leaders.

For more on Dr Evri and Professor Cohen’s research, see the story in Haaretz (Oct 30 2017) ‘The Alternative Balfour Declaration The Jews in Pre-state Israel Who Called for a Binational State’.