UK–Israel relations: 100 years since the Balfour Declaration

Today we are also secured by our ties in trade, investment, security, cooperation, technology and science, for the benefit of the peoples of both countries.

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September 10, 2017 02:31
4 minute read.
UK AND Israeli flags together at a march in London.

UK AND Israeli flags together at a march in London.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A hundred years ago, British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a short letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland.

The Balfour Declaration was a seminal moment in the long history of Zionist activity and Jewish dreams of a return to their indigenous and ancestral homeland.

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Great Britain has played a long and varied, yet vitally important role in Jewish history and the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Today, Britain is no longer an imperial power, nor an international super-power, yet it retains influence on the global stage proportionally far beyond its size or population.

Regarding Israel, the UK, as it straddles Europe, the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere is a vital bellwether in how much of the international community views its relations with the Jewish state.

Additionally, according to London and Partners, 40% of the world’s top companies with a regional or global HQ in Europe are in London, making it one the world’s most important financial hubs.

Much of what begins in the UK creates ripples across land and sea.

On the negative side, while the Arab League originated the boycott on Jews in Mandatory Palestine in 1945, the UK is considered the birthplace of the modern Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The first academic boycott occurred in April 2005 when the Association of University Teachers (AUT ) Council in the UK voted to boycott the University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University, and the first university to publicly back BDS was the SOAS University of London. Additionally, many of the BDS movement’s most prominent supporters are British.

However, the British government has acted appropriately against this malicious and antisemitic movement by stating that local governments and publicly funded institutions in the United Kingdom will be banned from participating in Israel boycotts. Publicly funded bodies affected by this ban include universities, councils, and National Health Service trusts.

On the positive side, the UK was one of the first countries to notice and invest significantly in Israel’s budding R&D industry. The pairing of Israeli technology and innovation and British investment has provided an important synergistic boost to both countries in the increasingly fierce international commercial and trade arenas. It also bolsters each country’s bid for global influence and recognition, both of which are integral to their respective economic successes.

This has resulted in many collaborations at the highest levels including agreements to create the UK Israel Tech Hub and the UK Israel Tech Council that have resulted in bringing together hundreds of companies from both countries resulting in dozens of business partnerships.

While both of these phenomena, BDS and the “start-up nation,” are well known to most Israelis, few understand the formative role played by the UK in these and many other areas which affect day to day activities in the Jewish state.

Furthermore, the British government was the first in the world to officially adopt a definition of antisemitism as agreed last May at a conference of the Berlin-based International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). This definition importantly includes examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel, something on the increase around the world.

So, while the umbilical cord established by the British government’s support for the birth of a modern Jewish homeland was cut 100 years ago, the symbiotic relationship between our two nations lives on.

This is why we are inaugurating The Sir Naim Dangoor Center for UK-Israel Relations at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in memory of my father, who while a British citizen, had a great and enduring love for the State of Israel. He supported many projects in the fields of medicine and education in Britain and other countries around the world, including Israel.

Above all, he understood that the UK and Israel are two nations bound by common goals and a strong commitment to democracy and liberty.

However, today we are also secured by our ties in trade, investment, security, cooperation, technology and science, for the benefit of the peoples of both countries.

While Britain gave Israel its parliamentary system and invests heavily in its technological industry, Israel’s security industry saves British lives while its innovation is making Britain more healthy and advanced, affecting almost every aspect of our lives.

We should celebrate the centenary since the Balfour Declaration, an event that British Prime Minister Theresa May and many members of the opposition said they will mark with pride.

This is why I see an increasingly blossoming relationship between our two nations as we begin to look forward to the next 100 years.

The writer is a British businessman and philanthropist, president of Jewish Renaissance Magazine and until recently president of the board of The S&P Sephardi Community, the oldest Jewish community in the UK, spanning over 350 years. He will be inaugurating the Sir Naim Dangoor Center for UK-Israel Relations at Mishkenot Sha’ananim during an upcoming conference titled “From Balfour to Brexit.”


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