The Balfour Declaration: Activity
The Balfour Declaration, issued on November 2, 1917 by Lord Arthur Balfour was a historic statement that recognized the right of the Jews to a homeland in the Land of Israel.
Short Summary of Activity
This activity focuses on the reactions to the Balfour Declaration by both Jewish and non-Jewish groups.
This activity is suitable for high school students.
History teachers could use this activity when teaching about the Zionist movement, pre-state Israel, Jews in the Diaspora, and Arab-Jewish relations.
English teachers could use this as a springboard for a writing exercise in which students have to respond to a statement and support their arguments with facts.
If creating a poll using checkthis.com, do the following before class:
*Optional - Register for an account using Facebook, Twitter, or Google. Registration allows you to edit your post once it is published. If not registering, go to checkthis.com.
Creating a new post
Create a new post and write a title such as:
"The Balfour Declaration: How did different groups react?"
Click on the green plus sign, choose apps and choose poll from the dropdown menu.
To add more text/images/a poll – click on the green plus sign.
Writing a question
In the question field, write the name of the group (e.g.: the Zionists). In the answers field, write: for, against, and neutral.
Do this for each group.
You can add images for each group by clicking on the green plus sign and importing an image from your computer or pasting an image URL.
To edit each block, click on the settings and the pencil icon.
Designing the poll
When you have finished creating polls for each group, you can use the design bar on the top right of your screen to change the style and design of your poll. You can even download your own background image.
Preview your poll before you publish it.
Make sure to keep the visibility public if you want to share it.
Once published, click on share, copy the link, and share it with your students. You can send the link via email or students can paste the link into their browser during class.
Click here to see an example.
Students will need either computers, phones, or tablets.
A smart board or computer with a projector may be necessary if the teacher wants to show the students the completed results of the poll on a larger screen.
As part of a class discussion, think of the various groups who may have responded to the Balfour Declaration and compile a list.
(Jews living in Israel, Zionist Jews, Jews living in the Diaspora, Arabs around the world, Muslims living in Israel, Christians, Christians living in Israel, religious Jews, secular Jews, the British public, etc.)
Draw a table such as this one, and put each group into a category. How do you think each group would have responded?
Alternatively, create a poll using checkthis.com and ask students to vote on the poll.
*As a bonus activity, using checkthis.com, students can comment on other students' responses and discuss why they voted the way they did.
Students should read the following two short paragraphs:
"We have noticed yesterday a large crowd of Jews carrying banners and over-running the streets shouting words which hurt the feelings and wound the soul. They pretend with open voice that Palestine, which is the Holy Land of our Fathers and the graveyard of our ancestors, which has been inhabited by the Arabs for long ages, who loved it and died in defending it, is now a national home for them... We Arabs, Muslim and Christian, have always sympathized profoundly with the persecuted Jews and their misfortunes in other countries... But there is a wide difference between such sympathy and the acceptance of such a nation...ruling over us and disposing of our affairs.”
(Translation of the Arabic text handed to the British military governor in Palestine by a delegation of the Muslim-Christian Association in 1918)
"I need hardly say how we all rejoice in this great event and how grateful we all feel to you for the valuable and efficient help which you have lent to the cause in the critical hour ... Once more, dear Mr. Brandeis, I beg to tender to you our heartiest congratulations not only on my own behalf but also on behalf of our friends here -- and may this epoch-making be a beginning of great work for our sorely tried people and also of mankind."
(Letter sent by Lord Rothschild to the American Zionist Judge Louis Brandeis)
(Optional) Show this video excerpt from Steven Schama's Story of the Jews (from 4 minutes)
Hold a class discussion comparing how the students had imagined the various groups would react with how they actually reacted according to these sources:
Did all Jews support the Balfour Declaration?
Did all Arabs oppose it?
According to the video, how did Weizmann react? Why?
How did the Arabs react? How did Prince Faisal I of Iraq react? Why?
Stage 3: Analyse Primary Sources
Divide the students into groups.
Give each group one of the following resources, and ask them to answer the following questions:
Which group of people does this resource represent?
What was their reaction to the Balfour Declaration (for/against/neutral) and why?
What circumstances do you think influenced their reactions? Would their reactions have been different under different circumstances? Explain.
Stage 4: Optional Writing Task
While the Balfour Declaration received the wholehearted support of worldwide Jewry, the Arab world was united in its condemnation of the letter.
Based on the sources you have seen, do you think this statement is true?
Explain your answer in detail.
The Balfour Declaration, Wikipedia
Reactions to the Balfour Declaration, Balfour 100
Zionism and the Balfour Declaration, PBS Learning Media Resource (video – from 4 minutes)