Holocaust survivor publishes doctoral thesis on Balfour’s “serendipity”


Paul Goldstein isn’t the oldest person to earn a doctorate, but he’s quite close. In September 2020, Goldstein received a doctorate in political science from Ariel University in Israel at the age of 87.

In September 2021, Goldstein’s thesis on the Balfour Declaration was published in book form by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, another achievement he could not have foreseen earlier in his life.

That Goldstein would have the opportunity to pursue higher education, let alone a doctorate, was far from certain. As a child, his schooling was abruptly interrupted while he was in hiding to survive during the Holocaust. As a young man, he had to make up for those lost years and find a way to support himself – first in his native Belgium, then as an immigrant to Canada.

After learning English and graduating with a BA in Political Theory from Sir George Williams University in Montreal (now Concordia University) in 1958, Goldstein worked for a packaging company. In an effort to be more financially independent and better able to support his Israeli-born wife and their three children, Goldstein entered the financial services industry in 1966. He has found success in the financial sector. domain and still retains some of its long-standing customers.

“It was only at an advanced age that I had the maturity and prospect to write this book,” Goldstein said of “The fortuitous development of the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917”.

The 315-page, yet accessible, scientific work unboxes the various twists and turns of Jewish and world history in the 18th and 19th centuries as they led – individually and jointly – to the publication of the Balfour Declaration, in which a great deal world power recognized for the first time the right of the Jewish people to a homeland in Palestine.

Arthur Balfour and the Balfour Declaration. (Wikipedia)

In a recent interview with The Times of Israel in Toronto, his home since 1970, Goldstein lamented the lack of knowledge about the Balfour Declaration, not only among the younger generation of Israel but also among academics.

“And those who write about the Balfour Declaration tend to do so only in light of the events that followed it, in terms of World War II and also the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein meticulously demonstrates how the national interests of the countries involved in World War I dovetailed, at least at the time, with aspirations to strengthen the Zionist movement.

Paul Goldstein (Courtesy)

Throughout the book, Goldstein likens the process to a precision clock.

“Each element, whatever its shape or size, played an essential role in the functioning of the whole, while the absence of one of them would have altered the result of the whole process”, writes it in the introduction to the book.

The author devotes chapters to each of the different plays, and delves into the motives – and secret machinations – of the British Empire as it competed for power in the Middle East with other European powers and the Ottomans.

“The Jews were squeezed between the two tectonic forces of the geopolitical interests of the British Empire and the Islamic world,” he said.

In his book, Goldstein, also shows how the entry of the United States into World War I in April 1917 turned the tide for the Allies and had a major positive impact on the diplomatic process ultimately leading to the Balfour Declaration.

On the Jewish side, Goldstein examines the effects of emancipation on Jews in Western and Eastern Europe as countries began to repeal discriminatory laws and allow Jews to integrate and gain citizenship, as well as development and complexity of Zionist political thought in the mid to late 19th century. .

“One of the hardest things was converting historical facts into something dynamic and visual,” Goldstein said.

A march in support of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, in front of the Parliament building in Toronto, Canada. The man in the shiny black top hat is Rabbi Yosef Weinreb, the Chief Rabbi of Toronto at the time. (Photographer unknown, via Wikimedia Commons)

He achieved this with graphic descriptions of the devastating persecution of Jews in Czarist Russia in the 19th century, many of which were taken from first-hand accounts by Simon Dubnow (1916-1920) “The History of the Jews in Russia and in Poland: From the earliest times to the present day. “

Goldstein said he was aware of the pitfalls of using secondary sources, so he relied as much as possible on primary sources in his research. He read the works of early Zionist thinkers such as Leon Pinsker, Peretz Smolenskin, Moshe Leib Lilienblum, and Theodor Herzl, widely recognized as the father of modern political Zionism.

“I have read the approximately 3,000 pages of Theodor Herzl’s diaries. It took me months, ”Goldstein said.

He said Herzl was “totally different” from the literature about him. The newspapers allowed Goldstein to understand the first impressions of the iconic figure and to “meet him more personally and find out what made him tick.”

Famous photo of Theodor Herzl on the balcony of Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland (photo credit: CC-PD-Mark, by Wikigamad, Wikimedia Commons)

Theodor Herzl on the balcony of the Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland, 1897. (CC-PD-Mark, by Wikigamad, Wikimedia Commons)

“You can’t understand him without reading his diaries,” Goldstein said.

The last part of the book deals with the various drafts of the Balfour Declaration that were presented by all parties concerned before a final version was reached. The various nuances reflect the political push and pull exerted by all parties.

Goldstein exposes the vehement disagreements between British Jewish Zionists and anti-Zionists that took place before the decision of the British War Cabinet (which incidentally included several powerful Christian Zionists) to issue the Balfour Declaration.

“To do this, I went through the minutes of every War Cabinet meeting in 1917,” Goldstein said.

The 80-year-old widower’s path to this doctoral thesis and this book began in 2013, when he decided to enroll in a master’s program in political science at the University of Toronto. With his professional commitments and his work representing Holocaust survivors in Jewish organizations slowing – but his physical and mental health intact – he knew it was now or never.

“I wanted to get back to the point of life,” Goldstein said.

‘The fortuitous development of the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917’ by Paul Goldstein (Cambridge Scholars Publishing)

After graduating with his master’s degree in 2015, he decided to pursue a doctorate, eventually studying under the guidance of Dr Eyal Lewin, an assistant professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science at Ariel University. (Lewin has co-authored credit on “The Serendipitous Evolution of the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917.”)

“Although I was accepted elsewhere, I decided to do the degree at Ariel University because I could do it all online,” Goldstein said of a premonitory decision that proved its correctness during the coronavirus pandemic.

Goldstein admitted that he did not know anything about the Balfour Declaration before embarking on his thesis. It was during a meeting and conversation with Lewin at an Association for Israel Studies conference at Brandeis University in June 2017 marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration that Goldstein focused on his subject.

Goldstein continues to reflect on the fortuitous nature of the Balfour Declaration – how it could have been derailed by the absence or modification of one of the elements of the “precision mechanism” of the events leading up to it.

“I feel the same about this as the fact that I survived the Holocaust. Both were against all odds, ”Goldstein said.

“The element of chance is so scary and intimidating. We see how little is due to human action. There is greater strength at work. Things we can’t control can turn things around we can control, ”he said.

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