Balfour meets Snapchat

A century after the famous declaration, the PLO is spearheading a social-media campaign against it.

The Balfour Declaration (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
The Balfour Declaration
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
We’ll be reading loads about the Balfour Declaration in the coming weeks and months – which is fitting given that November 2, 2017 marks the centenary of what is one of the most consequential letters of modern history.
Still, let’s not assume that just because pro-Israel activists – and their opponents – are exercised by all-things Balfour, everyone else is, too. Moreover, not everyone caught up in the Balfouria of the centenary knows as much about the declaration as they let on.
Crafted over many months while World War I was raging and Turkey still controlled Palestine, the letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to leader of British Jewry Lord Rothschild began a process by which the international community came to embrace the idea of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.
Alas, you don’t need to be Balfour Declaration literate to oppose it. Thus, some 13,637 Britons signed a petition calling on their government to “apologize to the Palestinian people for issuing the Balfour Declaration.” Thanks to the otherwise ill-timed snap elections called by Prime Minister Theresa May in June, the petition process was halted. This was a setback for organizers at the Palestinian Return Center (kissing cousins of Hamas). The center counts on the support of worthies such as Baroness Jenny Tonge (who infamously remarked that “the pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the Western world – its financial grips”); Lord Nazir Ahmed (who offered a £10 million reward for the capture of presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush for war crimes); and David Hearst (former chief leader writer at the Guardian). The PRC continues to plug its anti-Balfour propaganda on British streets, campuses and social media.
We’d like to think that if people of good will understood the declaration they would not fall prey to the anti-Balfour agitprop that is rife on YouTube, Snapchat, Reddit, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram. Indeed, these channels are being exploited by the anti-Zionist crowd to great effect, illustrating that the Internet truly is a form of pure democracy – where the passions of the mob can dominate.
Since Millennials commonly get their news from links their friends post on these sites, if some dolt shares a loaded posting like: “Why did Britain give Palestinian land away to European Jews?” (short answer: it didn’t), the distortion can easily metastasize. Few are likely aware of what was going on when the declaration was issued.
What will they make of the October 16, 2017, complaint by the Palestine Liberation Organization ambassador to the UK over the London bus and subway authority’s refusal to allow a PLO advertising campaign denouncing Britain’s promise to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine? Actually, Manuel Hassassian’s protest offers a learning opportunity. Hassassian is of Armenian heritage; in 1917 Armenians and Zionists were in London working in tandem diplomatically. There was also considerable Arab backing for Zionism at the time.
By opposing the Balfour Declaration in 2017, the PLO is admitting that the conflict is not about Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies, settlements, checkpoints or the security barrier (archly dubbed the “apartheid wall”) – rather, it’s about the Arabs’ implacable antagonism toward a national home for Jews. It shows the Arabs are uncompromisingly engaged in a zero-sum winner-take-all conflict.
The PLO also relies on Jewish anti-Zionists to engage in the cyber soul-snatching of Jewish Millennials, which hoodwinks innately optimistic young people to its cause by manipulating words like “peace” and “justice.”
PLO front groups don’t openly call for Israel’s destruction. Instead, they cunningly denounce “all forms of oppression” and call for an end to the “occupation.” They call for “confronting Zionism” and profess mendaciously to support self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians. They deceitfully claim to want a just solution for Palestinian refugees “based on international law.” And they pay lip service to denouncing violence against “all civilians.”
The Jewish anti-Zionists propose to achieve a nirvana of “peace, social justice and human rights” by means of a military and economic embargo (BDS) of the Jewish state. This requires a crafty bit of suasion that ultimately depends on its supporters remaining ignorant of the Zionist narrative and oblivious to the fact that today’s “BDS” is little more than a spawn of the old Arab Boycott of Israel. That boycott was a founding principle of the Arab League, which was established in 1945 in order to stymie a two-state solution in 1948.
It ain’t easy to be a Millennial. My Baby Boomer generation (and Generation X that came after us) had the benefit of moral clarity. There had always been Jews who opposed Zionism, but few were willing to get into bed with the Arab battle cry of “Push the Jews into the Sea!”
The 1967 Six Day War created a confusing and morally complex dynamic that the Palestinian Arabs exploited to rebrand themselves as David facing a Zionist Goliath. In Arabic, the street chants might be Itbah al-Yahud (slaughter the Jews) but, in genteel English, Arab spokespersons could now talk of “ending the occupation.”
For my bar mitzva in 1967, Cousin Nettie gave me Nathan Ausubel’s Pictorial History of the Jewish People (second printing, 1954) and there, on pages 305-7, was as much as a boy of 13 would possibly want to know about Balfour: It was World War I and Palestine was in Turkish hands. Captain Joseph Trumpeldor (1880-1920) and Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940) were trying to organize a Jewish fighting force in Britain that would help oust the Turks from Palestine. A British victory was seen as the best way to reconstitute the Jewish national homeland in Palestine.
There was a photo of Lord Balfour and beneath it a facsimile of his famous “Dear Lord Rothschild” letter. The wording seemed odd, stilted yet elegant. Only later did I discover the letter was crafted over many months by numerous authors before it was finally banged out on an old-fashioned typewriter. Ausubel explained that the phrase “national home” was purposely ambiguous. An indistinctness that served the British well in their subsequent efforts to backtrack on the declaration.
In 1967, around the time I was flipping through Ausubel’s book, Mahmoud Abbas was 32 and had earned his doctorate in Israeli Studies from Moscow Oriental College for a dissertation entitled, “The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and the Zionist Movement.” Back in the 1950s, and going by his nom de guerre, Abu Mazen, Abbas had cofounded Fatah, whose raison d’etre was “liberating” Palestine. This was before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza.
In 1964, Fatah was instrumental in establishing the Palestine Liberation Organization whose charter took note of the Balfour Declaration: “The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.” As Yasser Arafat’s top Jewish expert, Abbas headed the secret talks that ultimately led to the September 1993 Oslo Accords. To this day, the PLO charter’s anti-Balfour clause remains operative.
Today, at age 82, Abbas is president of the Palestinian Authority. In July 2016, he instructed his foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki to raise, at the Arab League summit in Mauritania, the prospect of taking legal action against Britain for having issued the Balfour Declaration. “We are working to open up an international criminal case for the crime which they committed against our nation – from the days of the British Mandate all the way to the massacre which was carried out against us from 1948 onwards,” al-Maliki said.
There was, of course, no massacre. If anything, in Israel’s War of Independence, a staggering 1 percent of the Jewish population was killed. The crimes against the Palestinians have been largely self-inflicted: the refusal – in 1947 and right through to Ehud Barak in 2000, Ehud Olmert in 2008 and Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009 – to take “yes” for an answer and make peace with the idea of a single Jewish state living in peace alongside 22 Arab states and 56 Muslim countries.
What would Balfour make of today’s orchestrated attack against the declaration in social media by the PLO’s fellow travelers? As a one-time president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, he would undoubtedly have been chuffed by the marvels of modern technology. We can only surmise what he would tweet to those who use social media to distort his legacy: “#Balderdash” perhaps?
Elliot Jager is author of ‘The Balfour Declaration: Sixty-Seven Words – 100 years of Conflict’ (Gefen Publishing House, 2017). A former editorial page editor at the Jerusalem Post, he is a senior editor at The Jerusalem Report. Twitter #JagerFile