A Time to Celebrate Israel

“His Majesty’s Government,” British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour wrote a century ago in a 67-word paragraph that changed the course of history, “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

The 100-year anniversary of the “Balfour Declaration” of Nov. 2, 1917, which paved the way for Israel’s creation, should be a time of unbridled celebration, an occasion to honor the region’s lone democracy and most dynamic economy. Instead, it has also become an opportunity for critics of Israel to relaunch their misguided, often dishonest, attacks that seek to undermine the country’s global legitimacy.

It is, then, important that Israel’s supporters not only celebrate this anniversary proudly but also remind the world of how the Balfour Declaration – enunciated in a letter from Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leading British Jew – came to be, what it represented and what followed in its wake.

Already, Thursday’s anniversary has stoked controversy. British Prime Minister Theresa May said her country should celebrate it “with pride,” invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to London to mark the occasion at a formal dinner and rejected Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ requests that London apologize for the declaration that, he suggests, fueled Palestinian suffering.

On the other hand, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – who calls leaders of the Jew-hating terror groups Hezbollah and Hamas his “friends” – turned down an invitation to attend that dinner. At the same time, Gwyneth Daniel, a great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George, Britain’s prime minister at the time of the declaration, calls May’s decision to celebrate “completely outrageous” and plans to protest outside that event.

The anniversary also comes at a time of rising global anti-Semitism as well as mounting attacks on Israel from global bodies and governments, universities and other nonprofits and grassroots movements.

The United Nations and its entities condemn Israel for alleged “crimes against humanity” while ignoring the actual horror perpetrated by Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, Riyadh and many other governments. Meanwhile, public and private bodies ban Israeli products and shun its intellectuals, athletes, entertainers and other citizens.

In the last week, Israeli athletes at a judo tournament in Abu Dhabi were barred from displaying any symbols that identified their country – in contrast to athletes from any other country. When Israeli judoka Tal Flicker won gold, event officials refused to play Israel’s national anthem or display its flag. Though Emirati officials later apologized, the UAE again targeted the Jewish state days later when it provided gifts to all delegations at a UNESCO conference in Paris except for Israel’s.

So, in the midst of all this ugly Israel-bashing, what should we remember about the Balfour Declaration?

For starters, it didn’t seek to impose a Jewish homeland in an Arab region out of thin air. It sought instead to empower Jews to return to their historic homeland, a place where they maintained a presence in the nearly two millennia after the Romans drove many into the diaspora in 70 A.D. After that expulsion, Jews nevertheless continued to practice their faith in Jerusalem and other cities.

Nor, despite what critics often suggest, did the Balfour Declaration reflect the sentiments solely of one nation. It was endorsed at the time by such influential nations as the United States, France, Italy and Japan. It soon became a part of international law, endorsed by the Allies at their post-World War I San Remo Conference and incorporated in the League of Nations’ Mandate for Palestine in 1922, which recognized “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” as the grounds for “reconstituting their national home in that country.”

Most importantly, the Balfour Declaration has never stood in the way of Palestinian statehood, neither in its language nor in the global community’s response to it. “[N]othing,” it states, “shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” – and, arguably, nothing has been.

That’s because the United Nations in 1947 proposed the two-state solution, one for the Jews, the other for the Arabs, but the surrounding Arab states rejected the idea and instead launched a war against Israel upon its creation. In recent decades, Palestinian leaders have rejected repeated offers of a state, opting instead for a “resistance” that seems far more designed to destroy Israel than make peace with it.

The obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace is not a British declaration of a century ago. The obstacle, instead, is a Palestinian side that can’t stomach the idea of living side by side with a Jewish state.

Lawrence J. Haas, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, is the author of, most recently, Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.



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