MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: The Zionist Masquerade: The Birth of the Anglo-Zionist Alliance, 1914-1918

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The Zionist Masquerade: The Birth of the Anglo-Zionist Alliance, 1914-1918, by James Reston. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. xi + 155 pages. $69.95.

Reviewed by Alan Dobson

James Reston has written a powerfully argued and well-researched book that examines the progeny and impact of the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 and its mobilization of world Zionism.

He identifies two well-established explanations of the Balfour Declaration: "genuine idealism and religious sympathy" (p. 2) on the part of the British Government for the plight of the Jewish diaspora; and Leonard Stein's thesis that the Government was motivated by two key considerations, namely to secure a British Mandate in Palestine for strategic reasons and the need to mobilize Jewish support for the war in the United States and Europe and that thus, in this respect, the declaration was motivated by propaganda needs. Reston notes that subsequent scholarship, with access to primary documents, has focused much more on the strategic than on the propaganda motive, and he sets out to reverse the order of these priorities. He also claims that a main point of departure from previous scholarship is his concern with the working of the official British mind and why it believed that "Zionism was the key to the Jewish imagination" (p. 3).

The author's basic argument is pretty straightforward, but it is meticulously built up in the body of the book. Reston contends that the British foreign policy establishment held strong beliefs about the importance of language, national consciousness, and cohesiveness for racial entities. This led them to conceive of the Jewish diaspora in those terms and to work closely with the Zionist Movement, which shared that conception. Reston writes: "The belief in Whitehall that Jewry was a nation derived from a general imagining of ethnic groups as cohesive, racial entities that were driven by a profound national consciousness" (p. 4). The British foreign policy establishment also conceived of international Jewry as being very powerful and deemed it necessary to engage its support for the war effort in Russia (and Europe more widely) and in the United States. "The decision to issue the Balfour Declaration was not therefore driven by British strategic interests in the Ottoman Empire. The main concern for policy-makers in relation to Zionism was the conduct of the war in the USA and Europe, rather than the future of the Holy Land itself" (p. 5). Once the declaration had been issued, there needed to be strong follow-up in terms of projecting a powerful image of Zionism. Thus whatever Zionism actually became was largely constructed by the power of British propaganda: the thought was father to the later vigor of the movement and its aspirations.

The author demonstrates well how Zionism was represented as a "modernizing," Western movement that would bring progress to Palestine. …