On November 17, 1917 Sir Arthur James Balfour, acting for the wartime British cabinet of Prime Minister David Lloyd George, issued what has historically become known as the Balfour Declaration. Promising a national home for the Jews in Palestine, the declaration established an alliance between the Zionist movement and the British Empire. For the Zionists the end game was to turn Palestine into a Jewish state. Though the Zionist leadership probably did not initially intend it, an eventual consequence of this ambition was the transformation of institutional Judaism into an adjunct of Zionist state ideology.
Even before the Balfour Declaration was announced the danger to Judaism inherent in the Zionist state orientated ideology was sensed and criticized by insightful Jewish individuals. They would describe their anxiety in varied ways, sometimes using political, or moral, or religious argument. All of them, however, could draw on a tradition of Jewish tolerance and humanitarianism that, in its modern formulations, went back to the work of Moses Mendelssohn and the 18th century Jewish enlightenment. For instance, Ahad Ha-am (the pen name of the famous Jewish moralist Asher Ginzberg), noted as early as1891 that Zionist settlers in Palestine have “an inclination to despotism. They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, deprive them of their rights, offend them without cause, and even boast of these deeds; and no one among us opposes this despicable and dangerous inclination.” He warned that such behavior stemmed from the political orientation of the Zionist movement which could only end up morally corrupting the Jewish people.
Unlike Chaim Weizmann, who famously desired that the Jews become a nation like all other nations, Ha-am (who was dedicated to Jewish cultural revival in Palestine) believed that the return to Zion was worthwhile only if the Jews did not become like other nations. By 1913 Ha-am knew this was not to be, and he completely rejected the nature of Zionism as it was evolving. “If this be the ‘Messiah,’” he wrote, “I do not wish to see his coming.” In effect, critics like Ha-am were making a distinction between Judaism, with its moral values and cultural richness, and the ethnocentric, tribal Zionism that was now coming into being.