Birth: Russian Empire (Now Belarus), 1874
Death: Israel, 1952
Chaim Weizmann, who later became the first president of Israel, was a Russian Zionist and chemist who was arguably the most influential figure in procuring the Balfour Declaration.
While Theodore Herzl was referred to as the “father of political Zionism”, Weizmann was viewed as the one who put the plan into action.
After receiving a doctorate in chemistry in Switzerland, he went to England and took up work as a scientist with the British government during the first world war (WWI).
His contributions, mainly developing a process to produce synthetic acetone for explosives, made him well connected to the upper echelons of the British government, including former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, then foreign secretary Arthur Balfour and diplomat Mark Sykes.
In his autobiography, Lloyd George reportedly wrote that the Balfour Declaration was offered to Weizmann, who became a British citizen, as a reward for his contribution to the war effort.
At Balfour’s request, Weizmann and Lord Rothschild drafted the Declaration in a manner that would suit Zionist interests.
Weizmann lobbied hard for more than two years to publicly commit Britain to building a state for the Jews in Palestine. He argued that a Jewish state was in the interest of England.
In a 1914 letter to the Manchester Guardian, now known as The Guardian newspaper, Weizmann wrote:
"Should Palestine fall within the British sphere of influence, and should Britain encourage a Jewish settlement there, as a British dependency, we could have in 20 to 30 years a million Jews out there - perhaps more; they would develop the country, bring back civilization to it and form a very effective guard for the Suez Canal."
The colonial undertones in his views are evident. In his first visit to Palestine in 1907, he is quoted as describing the country as follows: “a dolorous country it was on the whole, one of the most neglected corners of the miserably neglected Turkish Empire … Neither the colonies nor the city settlements in any way resembled, as far as vigor, tone and progressive spirit are concerned, the colonies and settlements of our day.”
Weizmann is also credited with the famous quote in 1919 in which he said: “By a Jewish National Home I mean the creation of such conditions that as the country is developed we can pour in a considerable number of immigrants, and finally establish such a society in Palestine that Palestine shall be as Jewish as England is English, or America American."