‘A GENERATION of young people may be almost entirely unaware of the context behind the Balfour Declaration – and why the British government’s pledge was a remarkably humanitarian gesture for its time.’.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Lord Arthur Balfour stands in history as one of Britain’s lesser known and perhaps less successful prime ministers. The reclusive Edwardian eccentric, who made a better academic than politician, is principally remembered for two things.
From the standpoint of British culture, Balfour is remembered for his cutting, patronizing wit: an endless array of bitter ironies, oozing with smugness, which merit an entire adjective: “Balfourian.” But more importantly for the Jewish people, Balfour is hailed for his 1917 declaration which pledged the British government’s support for a Jewish National Home in Palestine.
As the centenary of the Balfour Declaration approaches, a famous Balfourian phrase comes to mind: “I never forgive, but I always forget.” Today, Balfour’s legacy is being eroded by the twin millstones of millennials forgetting our collective past, and an international coalition of activists who cannot “forgive” the creation of the State of Israel.
Balfour is either forgotten or cannot be forgiven.
On November 4, thousands of anti-Israel activists will take to the streets in London, protesting a proclamation made a century ago. Tweeting the hashtag #MakeItRight, not only do these activists seek an apology for the Balfour Declaration – but they openly imply that Balfour’s promise was such a travesty that it may only be “made right” by complete reversal. In a nutshell, the protest exploits history in order to question Israel’s existence.
This comes in the wake of the Palestinian Authority’s own ludicrous attempts to sue the British government over the declaration. “Anti-Balfour” activity must principally be seen as part of a global campaign to delegitimize Israel’s very foundations.
Today, the anti-Zionist campaigns which exploit history (and simultaneously seek to reverse it) are preaching to a demographic which increasingly doesn’t know better.
The memory of the persecution of European and Middle-Eastern Jewry, only a generation or two away from us, reverberates much less – and consequently, the reestablishment of the Jewish homeland is no longer seen as a necessity.
A generation of young people may be almost entirely unaware of the context of the Balfour Declaration – and why the British government’s pledge was a remarkably humanitarian gesture for its time. Among Western millennials, such historical ignorance is increasing to epidemic proportions.
In November 2015, a survey conducted by Brandeis University found that the majority of young American Jews who attended Birthright programs lacked “the requisite knowledge to participate in productive conversations about Israel.”
To cite one example, not even half of the survey’s participants could name Yitzhak Rabin as the only Israeli prime minister to be assassinated. If most young Jews cannot even remember Rabin, who likely lived within their lifetime, it’s doubtful they even have a hunch who Balfour was – he likely died before their grandparents were born.
Such findings have certainly worried Jewish leaders.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, has angrily spoken out about how young Jews “don’t know the history and don’t [know] much better than non-Jews.”
This is cause for alarm. An array of NGOs, campus groups and obsessive foreign governments have equipped legions of young anti-Israel activists with the tools and “talking points” to dissect even the most obscure elements of Israeli history.
And while the president of the local Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) can wax lyrical on the colonial evils of the Balfour Declaration, it’s embarrassing that the average Jewish millennial might not have even heard of Balfour, or know why his declaration is such a towering moment in Jewish history. It is in this context that the Brandeis report commented that some Jewish leaders “lacked some of the foundational knowledge that would equip them to engage in Israel-related activity.”
Amid this dire situation, anyone invested in the future welfare of Diaspora Jewry – and the future diplomatic standing of the State of Israel – must prioritize Israel education, and develop its curricula beyond the communal infrastructure which already exists.
Some organizations have certainly recognized this.
Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), the international Jewish fraternity, has launched a worldwide campaign – led by students – which seeks to applaud the British government for the Balfour Declaration. In doing so, AEPi brothers are educating their peers across the world about a crucial moment in Jewish history. It’s educational initiatives like this which should be admired, emulated and repeated.
When the political adversaries of the State of Israel will never forgive the country for existing, the Jewish community cannot be allowed to forget its history. Only if young Jews are aware of their history, thoroughly educated in the facts and determined to educate others do we stand a chance of fighting back against the anti-Zionist narrative.
Jonathan Hunter founded and manages The Pinsker Centre – a London based NGO which advocates for Israel on British university campuses. Yoseff Shachor serves as its Israel director. Jonathan and Yoseff are brothers of Alpha Epsilon Pi, the International Jewish Fraternity. Follow them on Twitter @PinskerCentre and @AlwaysShachor.