Countdown to the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration, 2nd November 1917

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Last November 25th, the Balfour Project set out its case for Britain to apologise to the Palestinians for not implementing the second part of the Declaration, which promised to protect the rights of the indigenous Arabic-speaking population. The historian Dr Peter Shambrook asserted that successive British governments set out to deceive the Palestinians as to their true objective, agreed at the outset with the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, which was to establish a Jewish state, not just a homeland as set out in the Declaration. Britain had failed to own up to this deception, something Shambrook vividly contrasted with the German Chancellor (Willy Brandt) falling to his knees during his visit to the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970, and the Queen’s reconciliation visit to Ireland in 2011.

Robert Cohen pointed out, that unlike Weizmann, most British Jews at that time were uninterested in Zionism, but were more aspirational, seeking to get on in British society. A number of key Jewish figures, including Sir Edwin Montagu and Claude Montefiore, were utterly opposed. Cohen used this to question recent statements by contemporary Jewish leaders that Zionism is axiomatic to Jewish belief and that criticism of Israel was anti-Semitic.

Edwin Samuel Montagu

Edwin Samuel Montagu, Secretary of State for India
July 1917 – March 1922

To Theresa May, all this is like water off a duck’s back. The Times of Israel reports her describing the Balfour Declaration as one of the most important letters in history, in a speech overflowing with praise and support for Israel as a beacon of tolerance, and she promised to raise the bilateral trade relationship to new heights. She showed no empathy for the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Theresa May

Benjamin Netanyahu and Theresa May

Notwithstanding, Balfour’s great-grandson Roderick has spoken out in a letter to the New York Times objecting that the second part of his ancestor’s 1917 Declaration had not been fulfilled. He went on to say that the increasing inability of Israel to address this condition, coupled with the expansion into Arab territory of the Jewish settlements, are major factors in growing anti-Semitism around the world. It was time for Israel to give Palestinians their own state.