Celebrating Balfour

Many either discount the Balfour Declaration as less than pivotal in the creation of Israel or view it as an example of the perfidy of British colonialism.

The Balfour Declaration (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
The Balfour Declaration
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will leave for London at the beginning of November to take part in ceremonies that will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.
The events will, we hope, reflect the crucial importance of the Balfour Declaration as the first significant diplomatic success of the Zionist movement in its campaign to secure international recognition for the right of the Jewish people to a state in its historical homeland.
Unfortunately, many either discount the Balfour Declaration as less than pivotal in the creation of Israel or view it as an example of the perfidy of British colonialism and a standing injustice to the Palestinians which the British should apologize for, not celebrate.
Both positions are misguided. Although the document might seem to be nothing but a letter addressed by Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild for conveyance to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, in reality it is much more.
As noted in an essay by historian Martin Kramer for the online magazine Mosaic, the Balfour Declaration was the product of the prodigious diplomatic activities of Nahum Sokolow and reflects nothing less than a joint statement backed in writing and in public statements by the US, France, Italy and the Vatican.
As noted by Kramer, had the Balfour Declaration been nothing more than a secret letter to Zionist leaders that lacked the support of the Allied forces of World War I, it would never have entered the preamble of the British Mandate for Palestine created by the League of Nations in 1922; Britain would have completely disavowed it within a few years.
More pernicious, however, than the attempt to discount the Balfour Declaration’s importance or to claim that it was the product of a British government under the sway of Christian Restorationists (which has no basis in documented facts) is the ongoing attempt to discredit the declaration as a criminal act committed against the indigenous Palestinian people.
If 20th century history has taught us anything it is that the real “crime” committed by Britain was the postponing of the creation of the State of Israel. If Britain’s 1939 White Paper had not been issued as Nazi Germany prepared to articulate and implement its Final Solution, millions of Jews living in Europe at the time could have been saved. Six years later, when six million of them were dead, the British remained steadfast in their opposition to immigration.
And today, more than seven decades after the fact, when the full magnitude of the Shoah is well known, there are those who would have us believe that the Balfour Declaration is something to be ashamed of. For them apparently even the 600,000 Jews who made up the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine and thus were spared the fate of their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who remained behind were too many.
There are those who believe Britain should apologize for the Balfour Declaration, exactly because Britain helped facilitate the creation of a Jewish state in the Jewish people’s historic homeland.
Notably, under the leadership of Theresa May, Britain has made it clear that Balfour should be celebrated. In April, the official UK response to a petition signed by 13,600 people demanding an apology for Balfour, was that: “We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel. Establishing a homeland for the Jewish people in the land to which they had such strong historical and religious ties was the right and moral thing to do, particularly against the background of centuries of persecution.”
As for claims by Palestinians that the Balfour Declaration was a betrayal of the Palestinian people, the true betrayal was the Palestinian political leadership’s rejection of a pragmatism that would have led to the creation of an Arab state alongside the Jewish state as stipulated in the 1947 UN resolution for the partition of Palestine. Instead, Palestine’s Arabs, backed by all the Arab nations of the region, chose the path of war – and lost.
Palestinians’ disastrous choices and leadership failures have left them stateless, not the Balfour Declaration.
The only tragedy of the Balfour Declaration is that it was not implemented earlier. This should be remembered in London next week.