While the competition may be stiff, few mainstream periodicals in the English language distinguish themselves in their contempt for Israel to the extent of the Guardian. But it was not ever thus, explains Robert Philpot. C.P. Scott, who served as the British newspaper’s publisher from 1872 until 1929, was in fact a crucial supporter of Zionism:
That role began in November 1914 when Scott met Chaim Weizmann, a leading player in Zionist politics, by chance at a charity tea party to which the latter’s wife had been invited. Thus began the remarkable friendship and partnership between the publisher and Israel’s first president. . . . Weizmann instantly impressed the editor. For Scott, he was “extraordinarily interesting, a rare combination of idealism and the severely practical which are the two essentials of statesmanship.”
After their second meeting, Scott made Weizmann an offer: “I would like to do something for you. I would like to put you in touch with the chancellor of the exchequer, [David] Lloyd George.” He also reminded Weizmann that “you have a Jew in the cabinet, Herbert Samuel.”
Unbeknownst to Weizmann, Samuel was a committed Zionist himself, and, thanks to the favorable impression made by Weizmann, Lloyd George soon became one as well. Scott continued to provide the Zionist leader with advice and assistance, once at a highly fortuitous moment:
[I]n April 1917, Scott stumbled across a crucial bit of news. At a meeting with a French journalist he discovered that the French planned to assume control of northern Palestine—areas that the Zionists hoped would become part of a Jewish homeland under British protection—while the rest of the land would fall under international control. . . . Scott immediately tipped off . . . Weizmann and began making inquiries back in London. Weizmann, too, began frantic efforts to uncover more details, pushing at the Whitehall doors Scott had previously unlocked for him.
Critically, Scott’s discovery led the Zionists, in [the words of then-Guardian columnist Harry] Sacher, to realize the urgency of getting from the British government “a written definite promise satisfactory to ourselves with regard to Palestine.” In November 1917, in the form of that famous letter from Balfour to Lord Rothschild, they finally obtained it. Days later, Scott penned a Guardian editorial welcoming the Balfour Declaration.