Left Wing; Right Wing: Thoughts from the Politics Editor

Arthur Balfour was Foreign Secretary in 1917. [Image: Government Press Office of Israel]

100 years ago this Thursday on 2 November 1917 the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour signed a letter on behalf of His Majesty George V’s government declaring support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. It was the culmination of years of planning by the British government since the out-break of war in 1914.

The letter was addressed to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the Jewish community here in the UK, and was to be distributed to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. We know that national home today as Israel. This week the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to London on the invitation of Prime Minister Theresa May to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

The Balfour Declaration has been described by Mrs May as “one of the most important letters in history”. Whatever one may think of the current policies of the Israeli government, one cannot detract from the enormity of the declaration in world events. In 1922 the League of Nations granted the British Empire mandate over the territory of former Ottoman Palestine and the Balfour Declaration was enacted. With that centuries of Jewish diaspora across the world was ended.

The creation of the state of Israel is something in which we can all take pride. The British state was critical in returning a long dispossessed and horrifically persecuted people to their rightful ancestral homeland. As we reflect on these past 100 years and the brutality faced by the Jewish people through-out history, we can cherish the exceptional liberal democracy flourishing in a region consumed by tyranny and strife; all since Arthur Balfour committed his signature to that letter.

Israel has long struggled with its neighbours. This was always to be a challenge when those neighbours despise the very existence of a Jewish state. A condition stipulated by Balfour was that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Pales-tine”. Israeli governments have been guilty of defying this in the past as a result of existential fear. These challenges are ones which must be overcome to secure the region for the future. Nonetheless if there is such a thing as the ‘right side of history’, with the Balfour Declaration in 1917 we were firmly on it.

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