General Antisemitism

Did Jeremy Corbyn claim Balfour Declaration was ‘imposed’ by Jewish cabinet members? (UPDATED)


(See important update at the bottom of this post.)

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s address last night on his government’s plan to combat extremism included an argument which those who fight antisemitism would likely find quite compelling. Cameron, in speaking out against racist notions which incite some Britons to adopt radical Islamist ideologies, specifically called out the antisemitic narrative that “Jews exercise malevolent power” as an idea which creates a climate in which extremism can flourish. 

Enter Jeremy Corbyn MP, the candidate for Labour Party leadership who followers of this blog would know has an extremely troubling record of expressing sympathy towards antisemitic extremist organizations. 

CST, in an important post about the questions Corbyn must answer about his radical affiliations, argued that “the problem is not that Corbyn is an antisemite or a Holocaust denier – he is neither”. The problem, CST wrote, “is that he seems to gravitate towards people who are, if they come with an anti-Israel sticker on them”.

However, comments made by Corbyn at a Labour Party hustings last night at JW3 at the very least raise troubling questions about his own views about Jews.  The question, posed event moderator Jonathan Freedland, concerned the upcoming 100 year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration – a statement of support made by the British Government for the establishment of a national home for Jews in Mandate Palestine.

So, it certainly seems (based on the clip as well as several sources who reported these comments) that Corbyn said the Balfour Declaration was “imposed” by Jewish members of the British government. 

However, neither Lord Balfour, the foreign secretary for whom the declaration was named, nor the prime minister he served under, led by David Lloyd George, was Jewish. Further, the only Jewish member of George’s cabinet, Edwin Montagu, was an anti-Zionist Jew who actually opposed the Balfour Declaration!

Of course, even if there were in fact Zionist Jews in the government, the argument putatively advanced by Corbyn buys into the very same narratives about malevolent Jewish power cited by Cameron as among those toxic ideas which give rise to extremism.

Especially in the context of record levels of antisemitism recorded in the UK last year, anti-racists within the Labour Party need to hold Corbyn accountable for such an odious and historically inaccurate claim.

(According to a subsequent report in The Jewish Chronicle, Corbyn meant to say “opposed”, not “imposed”.)

25 replies »

  1. I was there. He definitely used the word ‘imposed’ apparently by ‘Jewish members of the government’.

    Not one member of the panel had a bad word to say about the Palestinian leadership. Apparently all the problems in the Middle-East can be blamed on Israel. All the other parties are completely innocent.

    I’m going to register as a supporter of the Labour party so I can vote for Jeremy Corbyn who, if he wins the election, will surely lead the party into oblivion. Mind you, so would any of the others. A totally uninspiring bunch.

  2. It does sound like he said ‘imposed’ but the context of his remark points to his having meant to say ‘opposed’. Apart from this being a ‘Freudian slip’, the only real issue here is that he exaggerates the Jewish presence in the Cabinet by using the plural when, as UK Media Watch has pointed out, the anti-Zionist Montague was the only Jewish member.

    • Corbyn is the master of the Freudian slip, as his interview with Krishna Guru Murthy at https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=195&v=hOZZF5XCDBM at about 3:15 about the “decision not to bomb Syria” which he fudged and changed into “decision to bomb or not to bomb.”

      Freudian slips are real give aways.

      And Corbyn, being under stress that Murthy had dared to stand up to his blustering, dropped the ball.

      I hadn’t realised that Corbyn had divorced his wife because she had decided to send their child to a grammar school.

  3. I clearly heard “opposed” – which is of course correct if one forgives the error of suggesting that there was more than one Jewish cabinet member at the time.

    Montagu didn’t just oppose the Balfour Declaration. Like many British Jews he was strongly ant-Zionist, believing that an imposed Jewish state in Palestine would be unjust to the indigenous people and would also have the effect of weakening the claims of Jews to British nationality. He said:

    “I assume that it means that Mahommedans [Muslims] and Christians are to make way for the Jews and that the Jews should be put in all positions of preference and should be peculiarly associated with Palestine in the same way that England is with the English or France with the French, that Turks and other Mahommedans in Palestine will be regarded as foreigners, just in the same way as Jews will hereafter be treated as foreigners in every country but Palestine.”

    He was certainly correct in his first assumption, although his second concern has proved unfounded.

    • How do you know “he believed “that an imposed Jewish state in Palestine would be unjust to the indigenous people” please provide alink. The jews were at the time a majority in Jerusalem so I think this is a figment of your imagination unless you provide proof otherwise.

      • @Norman Cohen –

        For evidence that Edwin Montagu believed “that an imposed Jewish state in Palestine would be unjust to the indigenous people” see https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Montagumemo.html (Memorandum of Edwin Montagu on the Anti-Semitism of the Present (British) Government – Submitted to the British Cabinet, August 1917):

        “… it seems to be inconceivable that Zionism should be officially recognised by the British Government, and that Mr. Balfour should be authorized to say that Palestine was to be reconstituted as the “national home of the Jewish people”. I do not know what this involves, but I assume that it means that Mahommedans and Christians are to make way for the Jews and that the Jews should be put in all positions of preference and should be peculiarly associated with Palestine in the same way that England is with the English or France with the French, that Turks and other Mahommedans in Palestine will be regarded as foreigners, just in the same way as Jews will hereafter be treated as foreigners in every country but Palestine.”

      • Miranda is right Norman. That in Jerusalem the majority population was Jewish at this time didn’t influence the contemporary Gerald Kaufmans thinking that leaving their fellow Jews to suffer the pogroms in East-Europe and the Middle-East would make them less despicable in the eyes of their Jew-hating colleagues.

  4. As a Labour member my nightmare is a having a Cameron who understands Jews’ concern opposed by a Hamas-supporting Corbyn.

  5. What gives Corbyn, a naive left-wing crusader and do-gooder, the right to pontificate about Israel-Palestine when he is self-taught layman without a scrap of first-hand knowledge or experience? He and Ken Livingstone, and Galloway are typical of today’s trendy Labour lefties who learned all they needed to know from decades of Guardian and Independent reading – rather than reading independently, objectively and more widely. He’ll never make it.

  6. Corbyn would ensure electoral defeat for Labour because his persona is so unattractive. Never mind what he says. He just looks old, shifty and evil.

  7. One of the concerns raised in Anglo-Jewish circles by the Balfour Declaration was that of supporting a charge of “dual loyalty.” This concern was one of the reasons that the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine expressly provided that the recognized fact that Palestine was the historic homeland of the Jewish People and in which they had a right to settle (memo to Palestinian Arabs: this is what an actual “right of return” looks like) did not impair any Jew’s current citizenship or residence status anywhere else in the world.

  8. I don’t care what he said at JW3 – I only care about the people he calls friends. The old saying is that you will know a person by the friends he keeps, and Corbyn’s friends are racists and genocidal fascists.

    • Sooner rather than later, citcya, those “friends” will start turning on each other, as is so often the way with the paranoid. May I be forgiven, but I am SO looking forwarding to witnessing that!

  9. How strange that Jonathan Freedland didn’t get up and leave when he heard that. Or perhaps, not strange at all. Still. Good to clearly heard boooos from some of the audience. Corbyn is taking the Left in the UK to a clear split. I welcome that split.

    • How strange that Jonathan Freedland didn’t get up and leave when he heard that.
      He is a Guardian staff member. Why should he be disturbed by the wildest antisemitic slurs?

  10. What an absolute charmer is Jeremy Corbyn!

    He should have been appointed as the Guardian’s Editor-in-Chief!

  11. I realise I’m a bit late here, but let’s be clear, this was his sentence: “…and it was imposed by the Jewish members of the government because of its confusion”. I can clearly hear “imposed”, but the context of the sentence makes it clear he meant “opposed”; it was a declaration of support for a Jewish national homeland, so clearly it wouldn’t gain Jewish support by being a ‘confused’ document. What’s more, we know that the only Jewish member of government opposed it. It’s a stretch to believe he was making an extremely oddly worded AND clearly historically inaccurate point here in the face of a far more obvious explanation: he was seeking to illustrate early Jewish opposition to Zionism that supports his wider beliefs.