Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

British Library Publishes 1917 Letter Calling for Creation of Jewish State in Saudi Arabia (PHOTOS)

April 4, 2014 12:20 pm 3 comments

The letter from Britain's Ambassador to France, Lord Francis Bertie, turning down a proposal from Dr. M L Rothstein for a Jewish state in today's Saudi Arabia. Photo: Screenshot / British Library.

The letter from Britain's Ambassador to France, Lord Francis Bertie, turning down a proposal from Dr. M L Rothstein for a Jewish state in today's Saudi Arabia. Photo: Screenshot / British Library.

Weeks before the November 3, 1917, Balfour Declaration, in which Britain promised to help create a Jewish homeland in “Palestine,” how the land of today’s Israel and Jordan was known, an obscure, Paris-based, Russian Jew formally requested British support to equip an army for the “creation of a Jewish State on the Persian Gulf,” according to recently uncovered documents now on display at the British Library.

While the exhibit highlights much of the excitement Jews had about creating a Jewish state after World War I, a historian familiar with the period said the letter exchange was typical of the British response to many eager, and creative, Zionists of that time.

On Thursday, the British Library said on its website that, in the letter, in French, dated September 12, 1917, Britain’s Ambassador to France, Lord Francis Bertie, received this “unusual proposal” from the unknown Dr. M. L. Rothstein.

The saga was revealed in diplomatic correspondence between Bertie and British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, who weeks later published his eponymous declaration, in a letter to Lord Rothschild, expressing Britain’s support for the Zionist movement’s aim of “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Rothstein asked for British arms and support “for the conquest of the Turkish province of El Hassa,” an oasis on the east coast of present Saudi Arabia, that had been promised but not yet delivered to the Ibn Saud family.

Rothstein said: “I undertake to assemble, for next spring, a Jewish fighting troop, a force of 120,000 strong men” that could be doubled with soldiers provided by Britain and its allies. He admitted that the plan “may appear unrealistic,” but this would cease “as soon as the first thousand men have arrived on the scene.”

The British Library wrote that the plan called for the troops to gather at Bahrain and, as soon they reached 30,000, a “coup de main,” a swift attack, would ensue, taking the “Turkish province of Al Hassa, near the Persian Gulf” which “will become a Jewish State, ‘un État juif.'” Rothstein thought Turkey would respond with a “state of war,” and the Jewish troops would respond against Turkey with their own campaign.

“Besides his self-description as a ‘Russian medical doctor’ and a 1938 description by Juda Tchernoff, little is known about Rothstein,” the British Library said. “He prefaces his proposal with his family’s ‘moral qualities’ and refers to Maurice Barrès, who cites Rothstein’s son, Amédée, a young Russian Zionist, in his book ‘Les Diverses Familles Spirituelles de la France.’  Although Barrès was a famous anti-Dreyfusard and popularized French nationalism, he considered Amédée as exemplifying Jewish loyalty to France due to his patriotic death at the Battle of Verdun in 1916.”

The actual 'Balfour Declaration' declaring British support for "a Jewish homeland" in Palestine, the letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild. Photo: Screenshot / British Library.

The actual 'Balfour Declaration' declaring British support for "a Jewish homeland" in Palestine, the letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild. Photo: Screenshot / British Library.

Britain rejected the plan, after dismissing it as “wholly inappropriate.” Balfour’s private secretary wrote to Bertie on October 3, 1917 requesting that he reply to Rothstein, informing him that the British government could not give effect to his proposal. One month to the day later, the Balfour Declaration was announced.

The British Library said the Rothstein plan could be viewed in the light of other alternatives to Palestine mooted at the time for a “Jewish home” in Uganda, Argentina, Russia, Cyprus.

“Although Rothstein’s proposal appears obscure and has been almost entirely forgotten by history, it reflected an historical momentum for the establishment of a Jewish national home, ideologically grounded in European nationalism and seeking legitimacy from European imperial powers,” it said.

But the British Library said it also had a letter from the British India Office’s Thomas William Holderness, about the region, that showed Rothstein seemed to be out of touch with the reality on the ground.

“Hassa had ceased to be a Turkish province in 1913 with the conquest of Ibn Saud, a British ally, and Bahrain’s Al Khalifah rulers had been in treaty relations with Britain since 1820,” it wrote.

In the government’s reply, Rothstein, the unknown proposed Zionist warrior, was told, “His Majesty’s Government could not countenance… any proposal affecting their territorial rights or the status quo.”

Historian and author Edwin Black, in his book ‘The Farhud,’ wrote about the excited times leading up to the Balfour Declaration, and told The Algemeiner on Friday that in researching his book, he’d seen hundreds of similar letters, though none he could recall specifically referencing Saudi Arabia.

“At the time, Jews would send in letter, after letter to Britain, arguing the Crown should establish a Jewish state in one far off territory or another,” Black said. “In response, they’d always receive a very formal, but firm letter an official letterhead for their trouble.”

“I don’t believe that any other land, beyond Mandate Palestine, today’s Israel and Jordan, was ever seriously considered by Britain to become the Jewish state,” the historian said.


3 Comments

  • Julian Clovelly

    I am afraid, Ms Bacon, that the British did not really have big plans for anything, in the aftermath of the disastrous Great War. Elements in Government and the Foreign Office may well have had fantasies but “the British”, for the most part, were trying to survive the devastation that the Great War had brought. In the case of my own family that was the death of my own grandfather from Spanish Flu, a few days after the Armistice, as he awaited transport home to England. He is buried in Greece near the Turkish border.

    Britain did not become anything approaching a democracy until the full enfranchisement of women after the Great War. Disparity in prosperity and financial collapse was to lead to the General Strike of 1926 which nearly brought the entire British State down

    In a nation with such chronic class divisions, it is stretching a point to blame the “nationality” for anything. The majority of that nationality have no control even via the ballot box. All British Governments have broken promises, lied, and disappointed.

    As far as the world stage is concerned British Foreign policy has predominantly been one of disengagement – but the situation of particular territories made that difficult in the inter war period – in particular with the defeat and collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Britain might appear to have been in control but mostly that seems to me to have been by recognising and acceding to existing situations, and using such terminology as “granting independence” where in reality no such thing exists – you can’t “grant independence”, you can only leave people alone, in military terms “withdraw”

    Revisit the twentieth century in terms of “national blame” is often unhelpful, and really only confuses modern issues. Political History, especially, needs to be viewed in a more objective fashion if we are to learn from the past. What matters is the situation we find ourselves in now

    I can imagine the world I would have lived in had my grandfather survived and the family not been reduced to poverty. I can imagine the world we might have lived in had my family not been forced to flee Belgium in the sixteenth century as Huguenots. But I cannot live in that world, apportioning blame in every direction with the advantage of hindsight. We are where we are. What matters is not how we imagine past worlds to be, but how we improve the one in which we live now. Neither the situation of the Israelis, nor the situation of the Palestinians can continue as it is. A state of undeclared war almost always breaks out eventually as a real one. What is most required is de-escalation of the present process, with all sides removing deliberate annoyances that it is within their power to remove, and aiding the poor of the region on a humanitarian basis

    Compassion might well achieve what anger only worsens.

  • This is not as crazy as it seems. Before the advent of Islam, and even afterwards, there was a large Jewish population in the Hejaz (now Saudi-Arabia), the Khaybars, who fought Muhamad, though some converted to Islam. The British, however, had big plans for Saudi-Arabia after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and handed it over to a branch of the Hashemite family as a gift.

    • Mr bacon
      Why you stop 1500 years back with Islam?if you travel a little more you will learn it is
      Not anyone els but you who convert into pigs and monkies and you brother Darwin Was blind that he never found any similarity with pig,you are also blind can you look ,I am giving you a chalange,you can learn in five minuts and it is very common knowladge,you can
      Ask any fireman,colour,flesh,hair,habits,food,taste of meat,Evan smell after burning and that is the reason firemen must knows because they got spray of burning essence of pork,why not you claim that homosexual pig,monkey,instead your Darwin lied about monkies,it was simply other way around and that is in religious books from thousands of years,you have been cursed and your own book is forbidding you from any state unless a Messiah come,And
      Thats why your own Jewish scholars are againest Tha state of Israel,go online look at these facts yourself,put racism in a locker,just think you r not a Jew,then start digging facts and ask
      Yourself you are responsible for all the mischief in this world,because you always got power and people are suffering from thousands of years,look at the bombs you made and food parcels for needy,your bombs are billion time heavy and and spending on destruction is trillion time more then relief,and I tell you a fact everyone knows but you are in power you got the media and you are showing opposite picture,do not under estimate others,people watched your killings of un armed civilians and everyone agreed it is genocide but you think you can bring news in media and change people opinion but how long before another Hitler and no one exapt Muslims will give you refuge,no matter what you do to us we still consider
      Your children as innocent as our own and if some power is killing you we will give refuge,that is the first and last policy of Islam and under this policy you were allowed back in Palestinian
      In caliph ummer,s time after 500 years of exile by Christians,you spent your golden time under Muslim Spain and after Muslim lost you lost too and you seeked refuge in Muslim
      Lands in 1600,what next is coming ,do you know?

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    The first English-language trailer for Natalie Portman’s directorial debut — A Tale of Love and Darkness — based on Israeli author Amos Oz’s memoir, was released on Thursday. The movie, originally filmed in Hebrew, tells the story of Oz’s childhood in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate and the early years of Israel’s independence. Portman, who was born in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew, plays the lead role of Fania, the author’s mother. She struggles to raise her son as she deals with inner demons, a […]

    Read more →
  • Features As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    JNS.org – Sonnenallee, a street in Berlin’s Neukölln district, looks like it comes straight out of an Arab city — so much so that it goes by the nickname “Gaza Strip.” Kebab and bakery shops are advertised in Arabic; men sit in men-only coffee shops; and bridal shop windows showcase glittery, not-so-stylish gowns. But take a random turn, and you’ll find a swath of bars, burger joints, and Indian restaurants where hip Berliners announce that they have arrived to urban coolness. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot engages in fierce action sequences in the new Wonder Woman trailer, which Warner Bros. premiered during the San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. The nearly 3-minute trailer, the first to debut for the superhero film, shows scenes of Diana, princess of the Amazons, fighting alongside men in the battle against the world’s toughest enemies. The first shot of the video shows Wonder Woman discovering a man, Steve Trevor (played by actor Chris Pine), washed ashore. The clip then takes viewers to the all-female island where Wonder Woman was born. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →