The British have a marred history in their relations with the Jews. They murdered and expelled them from their island in the 13th century, and they refused to allow ships filled with Jews in flight from Hitler to land in British "Palestine" in the 20th century.But if historically the British have been attracted to the Arab culture and people, there was a strong thread of interest in things Jewish in British history as well in just the 19th century.
Although Britain once colonized the entire Arab world, British poets and adventurers romanticized Arab men as nobly and sexily savage. British diplomats and businessmen overlooked Arab barbarism for the sake of oil. Politically correct British intellectuals romanticized Arabs in another way, as the "victims" of European colonialism—for which they blamed, you guessed it, the Jews and the Jewish state. Sometimes, such Stalinized and Palestinianized British thinkers managed to note that Arabs were ruled by cruel despots who impoverished and terrorized their own people—but they blamed it on the American CIA.
In The High Walls of Jerusalem, Ronald Sanders traces events leading to the Balfour Declaration. He starts off in the 19th century, when there was interest in England in the Jewish revival in Palestine [see pages 8-18].
During that time, Benjamin Disraeli wrote a trilogy of political novels: Coningsby, Sybil, and Tancred. According to Sanders:
among the many themes in the trilogy is a persistent, at times obsessive, concern with the Jewish "race" and its contributions to Christian civilization...In Tancred: or, The new Crusade, Disraeli goes a step further and suggests that Judaism is a major source of English civilization as well.Another sign of the British interest in the revival of Palestine was the establishment in 1865 of the Palestine Exploration Fund to research the background of the Bible. In 1867, the fund sent a team to find the exact location of the Temple and the Holy Sepulcher. Results of their findings were published over the following years in many volumes.
One member of the team, Charles Warren wrote a treatise in 1875 entitled The Land of Promise: or Turkey's Guarantee. In his treatise Warren proposed the colonization of Palestine:
Let this be done with the avowed intention of gradually introducing the Jew, pure and simple, who is eventually to occupy and govern this country...That which is yet to be looked for is the public recognition of the fact, together with the restoration, in whole or in part, of Jewish national life, under the protection of some one or more or the Great Powers.During this time, in 1876, George Eliot wrote Daniel Deronda, which also concerned a Jewish revival in Palestine. Sanders quotes from this book as well, from the character Mordecai who wants to see the Jewish national regeneration:
Revive the organic centre, let the unity of Israel which has made the growth and form of its religion be an outward reality. Looking towards a land and a polity, our dispersed people in all the ends of the earth may share the dignity of a national life which has a voice among the peoples of the East and the West--which will plant the wisdom and skill of our race so that it may be, as of old, a medium of transmission and understanding.In 1878, a journalist named Laurence Oliphant wrote to Disraeli's foreign secretary, that a Palestine development company be formed to seek land from the Turkish government for 25 years or more. The settlers of the land "will probably consist of oppressed Jews from Rumania and the South of Russia" Oliphant claimed his inspiration came from the publications of the Palestine Exploration Fund, though he may have been influenced by Daniel Deronda, which was published originally in the same magazine that published his own articles.
...the world will gain as Israel gains. For there will be a community in the fan of the East which carries the culture and the sympathies of every great nation in its bosom; there will be a land set for a halting-place of enmities, a neutral ground for the East as Belgium is for the West.
In any case, Disraeli lost to Gladstone, who had no imperial interests, although Sanders notes:
before long, they were to make a major stroke for empire in the Near East in spite of themselves. In the summer of 1882, Gladstone resolved a state of revolution and political crisis in Egypt by sending in the British army, which, in the sequel, was not to leave the country for seventy-four years.In the end it seems romanticism with the Arabs, and political considerations, won out--just as it has in Europe as a whole.
And they are just beginning to pay the price.