October 31, 1917
War Cabinet approves final text (Alfred Milner-L.S.Amery version) for Balfour Declaration
You see, long before I became a politician and minister in various Conservative administrations, I used to be a kind of civil servant. I worked at the Cabinet Office in the First World War... The Balfour Declaration...was actually written by me on the back of an old memo. I wrote it in a great hurry... But I had no choice. There was no time for stylistic considerations.
A Conservative politician and diplomat, Amery was a Zionism supporter who as Cabinet Secretary crucially drafted the penultimate Balfour Declaration text. In the Cabinet, Parliament and the Government, Amery showed himself steadfast in his support for Jewish rights. Almost none of his contemporaries knew that on his mother's side he was of Jewish ancestry.
Wrote one of the drafts which ultimately became the Balfour Declaration
As Assistant Secretary to the War Cabinet (1917–18), Amery wrote one of the drafts which ultimately became the Balfour Declaration.
Just before the War Cabinet met on October 4, 1917, as Amery recalled in his diary, Lord Alfred Milner—Amery’s mentor, an influential force in the Cabinet and himself a pro-Zionist—asked him to draft “something which would go a reasonable distance to meeting the objections both Jewish and pro-Arab without impairing the substance of the proposed declaration.”
The resultant Milner-Amery draft, written under extreme time pressure, contained the essential points of the final draft though it referred to the Jewish “race” instead of “people” and had a slightly drawn-out formula regarding “the rights and political status enjoyed in any other country by such Jews who are fully contented with their existing nationality (and citizenship)” and would not move to Palestine.
Also in 1917, Amery had facilitated Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the Zionist leader, in gaining official British approval for the formation of the Jewish Legion.
Amery started out on the editorial staff of The Times (1899-1909) having been a correspondent for the paper during the Boer War (1899-1900).
A hard-nosed Conservative parliamentarian, he held Birmingham’s Sparkbrook constituency (1911-45) for 34 years. Amery frequently played the role of political powerbroker: he maneuvered the exits of three prime ministers, H.H. Asquith, David Lloyd George, and Neville Chamberlain. As Chamberlain, a Conservative, dithered over Hitler’s September 1, 1939 invasion of Poland, Amery led the criticism from within the party.
In a House of Commons speech in May 1940, Amery helped to bring Winston Churchill to power.
His political resume included First Lord of the Admiralty (1922-24) and Secretary of State for Dominions and Colonies (1924-29), which included jurisdiction over Palestine. In Parliament he worked against the anti-Zionist policies of successive British governments and opposed the 1929 White Paper.
For much of World War II (1940-45), he served Prime Minister Winston Churchill as Secretary of State for India.
In 1946 Amery took a pro-Zionist view in testimony before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine.
And fittingly, in 1950, Amery was one of the first senior British figures to visit the new State of Israel.
Amery was born on November 22, 1873 in Gorakhpur, India. He attended Harrow along with Winston Churchill, and then Oxford. He saw action during the Great War at Flanders.
Together with his wife, Florence, known as Bryddie, the Amerys ran an influential political salon at their Eaton Square home in London.
After Amery’s death in 1955 at the age of 82, researchers discovered that his mother, Elisabeth Leitner—her father was Leopold Saphir or Sapier and her mother Marie Henriette Herzberg; the family name became Leitner after Marie remarried—was Jewish and part of a well-known Hungarian family. Various relatives had converted to Protestantism around 1840 and later immigrated to Britain, starting in the 1850s.
Amery hid his Jewish lineage during his lifetime even as he championed Zionism against both Jewish and non-Jewish foes.
In a bizarre twist to the revelations about Amery’s Jewish heritage, his eldest son, John (1912-1945) lived in Germany during WWII as a Nazi propagandist broadcasting to Britain. Despite his father’s efforts to save him, John Amery was hanged for treason in 1945.
Another son, Julian (1919-1996), was a Conservative Member of Parliament from 1950 until 1992.
Learn more about Leo Amery
“Speaking for England: Leo, Julian, and John Amery – The Tragedy of a Political Family” by David Faber