Balfour Day: the dynamics that accompanied the famous statement still in play

On November 2, 1917, as World War I raged, and months after various drafts were presented and considered, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild to be transmitted to the Great Britain Zionist Federation. Britain and Ireland that electrified and transformed the Jewish world:

“Her Majesty’s government views favorably the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will do everything possible to facilitate the achievement of this objective, it being clearly understood that nothing will be done that could harm civil society and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. “

And so it began.

With a single sentence, at just 67 words, in the language of Twitter amounting to 285 characters, or a little more than a two-screen Tweet, the Balfour Declaration became the seminal document that ultimately led to the establishment of the State of Israel. . Those few words would mark the beginning of the end of the exile of the Jewish people that lasted almost 2,000 years.

In November 1930, when the acting British police commander in Mandatory Palestine banned Jewish national flags and Arab black flags to mark the day, the Haaretz editorial read: “The Balfour statement is not a piece of paper for Jews, and someday November 2 will make it a day of royal rejoicing for the Jewish people. “

The Jewish underground movement headed by Aaron Aaronsohn, seen on the back of this family photo, played a BIG ROLE in pursuing the Balfour Declaration. (credit: BEIT AARONSOHN ZICHRON YA’ACOV)

In the pre-state Yishuv, Balfour Day was celebrated by many as a public holiday, a custom overshadowed by Independence Day and the declaration of that state in 1948. Just as a person’s birthday is celebrated, not the day of conception, also the date a state came into being, not when it was conceived, is remembered for posterity.

Especially in the case of Israel’s birth, where many dates, in addition to the date the Balfour Declaration was issued, could be designated as Israel’s conception date: such as the convening of the First Zionist Congress in Basel on August 29, 1897 , or the UN vote in favor of the Partition Plan on November 29, 1947.

However, unlike what was written in the Haaretz editorial 91 years ago, November 2 has never become a universal day of “royal rejoicing for the Jewish people.” Most people, even those who are well acquainted with the content of the Balfour statement, would be hard-pressed to name the date it was issued on the spur of the moment.

Ironically, it was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who drew attention to Balfour Day by declaring in a speech to the United Nations in 2016, ahead of the 100th anniversary of the issuance of the statement, that he was demanding an apology from Gran Britain for the historic declaration.

“We ask Great Britain, now that we are approaching 100 years since this infamous declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and assume its historical, legal, political, material and moral responsibility for the consequences of this declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injustice that this declaration created and act to rectify these disasters and remedy their consequences, including through recognition of the state of Palestine, ”said Abbas. “This is the least that Britain can do.”

Abbas had his supporters in Britain and, as former UK Ambassador Mark Regev put it, there was an organic lobby in Britain that was pushing for a British apology.

In May of this year, The Guardian, which in 1917 endorsed the statement and whose editor at the time CP Scott was a staunch supporter of Zionism, listed his defense of the Balfour Declaration, along with other topics such as his support for the US Confederation. USA, since between the positions it was wrong.

In a May article titled “The Guardian’s Worst Misjudgment in 200 Years,” the newspaper wrote: “The Guardian of 1917 supported, celebrated, and even arguably helped facilitate the Balfour Declaration … Anything else that arguably, Israel today is not the country the Guardian envisioned or would have wanted. “

When a British apology for the statement was delayed in 2017, Abbas upped the ante, threatening that if he did not apologize, the Palestinian Authority would file a lawsuit against Britain. Britain made it clear that it would not apologize and, like so many other threats from Abbas, nothing materialized from that demand.

If many wake up on Tuesday morning not knowing that it is Balfour Day, many more are also likely to be unaware of two details about the statement that are illuminating in light of the current debate surrounding Israel in various parts of the world, including the United States.

The Balfour Declaration was the product of a British government where evangelical Zionists, Christians who believed that Israel had been promised to the Jews by God and that the return of the Jews there heralded the Second Coming, ruled. As British journalist Melanie Phillips has pointed out, seven of the 10 war cabinet men who produced the Balfour statement had an evangelical background.

Why is this relevant today? Because of the often-voiced arguments that Israel should distance itself from evangelical support, especially in the US, as it is alienating Liberal Democrats, including Liberal Jewish Democrats, and that making common cause with Evangelicals places Israel firmly on the Republican side of the partisan divide. .

If Chaim Weizmann, Nahum Sokolow, and other Zionist leaders who pressed the issue at the time had adopted that line of thinking, the Balfour Declaration would likely never have emerged. The Balfour Declaration shows how instrumental evangelical support has been for the Zionist cause.

And secondly, Jewish voices against Zionism and Israel are not something new or invented by Jewish Voices for Peace, IfNotNow, or the two Jewish Google employees behind a recent effort to get Google and Amazon to pull out of a $ 1.2 billion contract with Israel.

The loudest voice that was raised against the Balfour Declaration when it circulated among Lloyd George’s cabinet in July 1917 came from a Jew, Edwin Montagu, an ardent anti-Zionist who was the Secretary of State of India.

Montagu’s vehement opposition led to Her Majesty’s government draft that viewed favorably the establishment of ITALS of END ITALS Palestine as a national home for the Jewish people and called for free Jewish immigration there, to the final text where the government he viewed the establishment favorably. ITALS in END ITALS Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, not to mention immigration.

Thanks to the intervention of Montagu, a Jew, the statement was toned down and became much more equivocal.

The Balfour Declaration may have been issued 104 years ago, but in light of the debate revolving around Israel today, the dynamics that accompanied its publication demonstrate the axiom that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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