The Balfour Declaration Anniversary
The statement which became known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917 is seen as the starting block for the birth of the State of Israel. It was by no means uncontroversial at its conception. There were some good intentions in the Declaration, alongside stark political and naïve romantic aspirations. These included the right of Jews to a national homeland where they could be safe from persecution, together with a commitment to safeguarding the rights of ‘existing non-Jewish communities’ in the region. Political worries about the Ottoman Empire inclined key members of the government to take notice of lobbyists for a Jewish homeland. Alongside Lloyd George, for whom the mention of Biblical place names in Palestine touched a chord, other sympathetic ears included those who had witnessed antisemitism and Jewish poverty in London’s East End.
The anniversary of the Declaration has led to what is sometimes bitter division in the UK between those who see the creation of the State of Israel as a betrayal of the Palestinian people and those who are eager to celebrate its inception and achievements. However, some general themes resonate more widely:
· The responsibility which Britain has to engage with and support those in Israel and Palestine, acknowledging innate prejudices, indifference to Palestinians and centuries of anti-Judaism;
· the right of people to dignity, self-determination and freedom from persecution – both Israelis and Palestinians – and the imperative to prioritise their needs over political expediency;
· the acknowledgement of one’s history and heritage, but balanced with a commitment to address fearlessly the shortcomings of the present and our hopes for the future.