Balfour, Arthur James, Earl of°

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BALFOUR, ARTHUR JAMES, EARL OF° (1848–1930), British statesman, signatory of the *Balfour Declaration. In 1902, he became prime minister, but was defeated in the general election of 1905. He returned to Asquith's coalition as first lord of the admiralty in 1915 and served as foreign secretary in Lloyd George's coalition government, formed in December 1916. Balfour began to take an interest in the Jewish question in 1902–03, when *Herzl conducted negotiations with Joseph *Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary, and with Lord Lansdowne, the foreign secretary, regarding Jewish settlement in areas adjoining Palestine, such as the Sinai Peninsula. In 1906 he met Chaim *Weizmann in Manchester and was impressed by his personality. Balfour's interest in Zionism revived and grew more intense during World War i, when he became foreign secretary, in which capacity he signed the Balfour Declaration of Nov. 2, 1917. He was enthusiastically welcomed by the Jewish population when he visited Palestine in 1925 to attend the dedication ceremony of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, at which he delivered the opening address.

His anthology, Speeches on Zionism (1928), was translated into Hebrew. The motivation behind Balfour's attraction to Zionism has been the subject of conjecture. Being a rationalist it is doubtful whether religious tradition was a factor although his biographer Blanche *Dugdale introduces his Scottish ancestry with its Old Testament tradition. A more likely theory is that of Leonard Stein, who points out that Balfour had spoken out against the persecution of the Jews saying "The treatment of the race has been a disgrace to Christendom" and he saw the establishment of a Jewish state as an historic act of amends. Streets were named after him in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. There is also a Balfour Forest at Ginnegar, and a moshav, *Balfouriyyah, founded in 1922 in the Jezreel Valley. The Balfour family continued the tradition of interest in the Zionist movement. Robert Arthur Lytton 3rd Earl of Balfour (1902–1969), his nephew, supported *Youth Aliyah. In 1939 he offered the family estate and home, Whittingham, to a Jewish committee as a training school for refugee boys and girls from Germany. Balfour's niece and biographer Blanche Dugdale worked in the political department of the Jewish Agency in London as a close collaborator of Chaim Weizmann.


B. Dugdale, A.J. Balfour, 2 vols. (1939); K. Young, A.J. Balfour (1963); L. Stein, Balfour Declaration (1961).

[Encyclopaedia Hebraica]