Paul Monk's review of Jonathan Schneer's new book, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, in last weekend's Australian, is one of the dodgiest book reviews I've ever read.
As I'm wont to say: Only in The Australian.
Monk, described as "founder of Austhink Consulting," kicks off How the dragon's teeth were sown thus:
"The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was the foundation stone on which, with British support, the Zionist movement was able to set about creating what would become the state of Israel in 1947 [sic: 1948]. It consisted of two simple but pregnant sentences: 1. His Majesty's government accepts the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the National Home of the Jewish people. 2. His Majesty's government will use its best endeavours to secure the achievement of this object and will discuss the necessary methods and means with the Zionist Organisation."
Except that that is NOT the text of the Balfour Declaration. For the record this is:
"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
Monk has simply plucked his two "pregnant" sentences from p 335 of Schneer's book and ignored completely the full and final text of the declaration quoted on p 341. What he claims to be the Balfour Declaration is actually only one of several drafts cobbled together by Zionist lobbyists which were rejected by their British interlocutors until pared down to the final, more deceptive, and so more marketable, version. This would have been abundantly clear to anyone who'd been paying attention.
Several questions therefore arise: Did Monk actually read, as opposed to merely skim, Schneer's book before writing his review? Was he even familiar with the text of the declaration in the first place? If not, why was he chosen to review the book? Did he, perhaps, deliberately choose the earlier draft to fit with his own Zionist prejudices, prejudices which become clear as one reads on? And what does all of this tell us about the knowledge base and/or political prejudices of the editor of The Weekend Australian's Review who had engaged Monk to review the book in the first place?
Monk goes on to write that:
"The more important questions... are why did the British government see fit to make such a declaration and why were the Arabs so opposed to it then and ever after?"
I'll deal with the second question later. In answer to the first, Monk construes Schneer thus:
"Above all, what Schneer shows... is that the British decision to support Zionism was due much less to the lobbying of the Zionists than to the opportunism of British statesmen in the increasingly desperate struggle against the Central Powers and their illusions regarding the true global power and influence of the Jews. He remarks that 'the Balfour Declaration sprang from fundamental miscalculations about the power of Germany and about the power and unity of the Jews'... Schneer argues the idea would never have gotten up had it not been for the British establishment forming the erroneous opinion that the Jews carried enormous influence in world finance and the secret counsels of government and that this should be brought to bear against the Central Powers before the Central Powers themselves exploited it."
Monk would have us believe that, for Schneer, the Zionist lobbyists who argued for, and drafted, successive versions of the declaration before finally 'getting it right' were almost innocent bystanders in the process. But what does Schneer actually say? Certainly he acknowledges British misconceptions:
"Implicit here is the wildly unrealistic estimate of the power and unity of 'world Jewry' that we have seen such British officials as Hugh O'Bierne and Sir Mark Sykes to have displayed. Let an infamous notation, jotted down by Robert Cecil... stand for all such miscalculations: 'I do not think it is possible to exaggerate the international power of the Jews'. In his memorandum... Montagu had discounted 'the anti-Semitism of the present government'. But stereotypical thinking about Jews did play a role in the War Cabinet's decision to issue the Balfour Declaration." (pp 343-344)
Hm... a role, eh? What Monk omits entirely from his review is Schneer's acknowledgment that the Zionists played on these stereotypes for all they were worth:
"It is a further irony that British Zionists had done everything in their power to foster such thinking. The inimitable Harry Sacher wrote long afterwards: 'Many... have a residual belief in the power and the unity of Jewry. We suffer for it, but it is not wholly without its compensations. It is one of the imponderabilia of politics, and it plays, consciously or unconsciously, its part in the calculations and the decisions of statesmen. To exploit it delicately and deftly belongs to the art of the Jewish diplomat'. During 1917 the Zionists did just that. Starting in June 1917, they began warning that Germany was courting Jews. Usually they did not say, indeed it was better left unsaid, that if Germany won Jewish support, then the Entente would lose it - and possibly the war. British officials were capable of reaching the conclusion themselves. On one occasion, however, Weizmann went even that far. The Germans had 'recently approached the Zionists with a view to coming to terms with them', he warned William Ormsby-Gore on June 10. 'It was really a question whether the Zionists were to realize their aims through Germany and Turkey or through Great Britain'. He [Weizmann], of course, was absolutely loyal to Great Britain'. Meanwhile the British Jewish press had taken up the issue. Lord Rothschild repeated it to Balfour: 'During the last few weeks the official and semi-official German newspapers have been making many statements, all to the effect that in the Peace Negotiations the Central Powers must make a condition for Palestine to be a Jewish settlement under German protection. I therefore think it important that the British declaration should forestall any such move'. Thus did the Zionists indirectly play 'delicately and deftly' upon the ignorance and prejudice of British officials..." (p 344)
Monk's omission of the above seriously misrepresents Schneer's account.
With regard to his second question - 'Why were the Arabs so opposed to [the Balfour Declaration] then and ever after?' - Monk's real agenda emerges. He complains that Schneer "nowhere digs down into the roots of Muslim or Arab anti-Semitism, confining his explanation of Arab grievances to the double and, indeed, triple dealing in which Britain engaged during World War I. This, I think is a weakness in an otherwise fascinating work of history."
It is obvious that Monk's disappointment in Schneer is simply because the historian hasn't parroted the usual Zionist dogma. It doesn't occur to him that Palestinian resistance to the Zionist takeover of their homeland arose for exactly the same reason every colonised people has resisted the colonial invasion and settlement of its homeland. But then most Zionists baulk at acknowledging their colonial-settler roots.
In his concluding paragraph, Monk writes that:
"The prospect in 1917 was a Middle East made up of new nations. There were hundreds and thousands of Jews in the Islamic world. Why should they not have been a welcome, constructive part of the Semitic world? That question goes to the dark heart of Islam. There Schneer does not venture."
Monk's Zionist frame of reference aside, his ignorance of the matter at hand is truly astonishing. Those pushing for a Jewish state in 1917 were European Jews, not Arab Jews who, at the time, wouldn't have known Theodor Herzl from T E Lawrence. Then there's his arrogant assumption that Arab Jews were not a "welcome, constructive part of the Semitic world," and could only be so providing they were first uprooted from the homes in which they'd lived for centuries and relocated to Palestine.
So who is Paul Monk? Austhink Consulting's website, austhinkconsulting.com, hypes him thus:
"Paul Monk is a founder, Director and Principal Consultant. He is a polymath and widely known as a public intellectual. He worked for a number of years in intelligence, where he rose to head China analysis for the Defence Intelligence Organisation. Dr Monk may well be unequalled in Australia for intellectual breadth and depth, and his ability to rapidly apply that profound resource to challenges in the broad area of human affairs."
If Monk's review is an example of the application of "unequalled intellectual breadth and depth" to the Palestine/Israel problem, then God help us.
As I say: Only in The Australian.