The First World War was a major watershed in modern Jewish history. Out of it came the Balfour Declaration, a first critical step in the creation of the State of Israel, but also a radical redrafting of the political map of eastern and central Europe, with dramatic and potentially tragic consequences for its dispersed but substantial Jewish minority.
In this lucid work, which was awarded the 1991 Fraenkel Prize for Contemporary History, Mark Levene approaches these developments through the diplomatic endeavours of Lucien Wolf, a British Jew who was both one of the chief proponents of the Balfour Declaration and co-architect of the Minorities Treaty that provided an internationally endorsed framework for Jewish existence in Europe after the First World War. Through an analysis of Wolf's diplomacy, Levene examines how Jewish interests throughout Europe were affected by the Great War and how they were perceived by the warring powers.
Levene shows how british support for Zionism was bound up with misconceptions about the Jewish role in Europe, notably that the revolutionary movement in Russia was Jewish-inspired and Jewish-led. Equally, however, he shows how the diplomatic activities of Wolf and his Jewish contemporaries heralded the entry of 'world Jewry' as a perceived force in modern politics, and how Wolf himself was preoccupied with eastern Europe and its jews at a precarious time. He also analyses how the war affected Jewish political self-perceptions, reviewing the context between assimilationists and Zionists in the broader framework of war, peace, and international diplomacy. His consideration of their conflicting claims says much that is of relevance to the contemporary discussion of Zionism as well as to the problems of ethnic and religious minorities in nation-states.