Science, Strategy and Vision
in the Inauguration of the
(university of sydney)
Palestine, great as is the place which it occupies in the history of the world, is but a small and petty country looked at as a geographical unit…. But what are the requisites of such development in Palestine as may accommodate an important section of the great race I am addressing? … One is skill, knowledge, perseverance, enterprise; the other is capital, and I am perfectly convinced that when you are talking of the Jews you will find no want of any of these requisites… 1
With these words, Arthur Balfour, Britain's foreign secretary, addressed a meeting of the English Zionist Federation at the Albert Hall in London in July 1920—three years after the publication of the declaration that bore his name, and five years before he would help inaugurate the new Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In this brief passage are summarized the principal sentiments that infused his vision of Palestine, the prospects of a Jewish homeland and his respect for the Jewish people and its culture. Between the lines can be read his understanding of the geopolitics of the region, its place within a larger political framework and its need for economic and technical development. Balfour's grasp of the central issues that day was as firmly in mind as his recent experience of the Versailles Conference, when the “Balfour Declaration” became indelibly associated with the British Mandate in Palestine. At the same time, his grasp of the region he had yet to visit remained deeply limited, and his understanding of the existing inhabitants of Palestine, almost nonexistent.
Coming to Jerusalem to open the university was to be a climax for Balfour—both the culmination of his keen sympathy for Zionism and a moment of cultural and philosophical synthesis as he preached the need for the organization and application of knowledge in the country for the betterment of all who dwelt therein. His views, which were framed by conventional European political interests and the doctrines of practical imperialism, were to survive unchallenged and possibly even reinforced by his visit; yet in retrospect, there arise a series of reflections that speak more clearly to our own time.