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Letter: Balfour Declaration no cause for celebration

On Nov. 2nd, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Theresa May, the U.K. prime minister, will sit down with VIP guests to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the letter known now as the “Balfour Declaration.”

That letter, from Sir Arthur Balfour, foreign minister in the British government led then by David Lloyd George, stated that “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavour to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

We are used to the current almost complete lack of sympathy and concern in Canadian politics on the dire situation and prospects in Israel and the West Bank for its non-Jewish residents.

These few lines were written to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the Zionist movement towards the end of the First World War. At that time, Palestine was still part of the Ottoman Empire, and the League of Nations mandate for British control only came into effect in 1923. This declaration is feted as a key step leading to the establishment of Israel in 1948.

The international Zionist movement had been advocating and supporting Jewish settlement in Palestine since the 19th century. However, by the late 1920s, the future of Palestine was becoming an acute issue, not least due to Arab Palestinian uprisings. A 1930 report by the civil servant Sir John Hope Simpson on Palestine included criticism of the growing dominance of Jewish immigrants and their organizations and the consequences for the Palestinian Arabs.

As Newfoundlanders know, Sir John went on to be a respected member of the Commission Government of Newfoundland from 1934-36, with Port Hope Simpson named after him.

By 1947, Britain wanted out. Its forces were then battling Jewish terrorism. A United Nations commission to recommend the future of Palestine included Canadian Judge Ivan C. Rand, who played a decisive role in the proposal for the partition leading to the 1948 declaration of the State of Israel. Rand was greatly influenced by conversations in Jerusalem with Canadian clergyman-missionary William Lovell Hull, probably a Christian Zionist.

The dinner with May and Netanyahu, presided over by the current Lords Balfour and Rothschild, grandsons of the 1917 lords, is likely the most up-scale of many celebrations of the Balfour Declaration in the U.K. before and after Nov. 2. Christian Zionists (who, like the Rev. Hull in 1947, believe in the literal power of biblical prophecy) will be “remembering the Balfour Declaration and the Jewish-Christian partnerships that made it a reality” in the Royal Albert Hall.

There are also many events during the present period, far from celebrating the Balfour Declaration. We attended a passionate presentation in London to the British Solidarity with Palestine Campaign, The speaker was Canadian-Israeli journalist David Sheen, who grew up in Toronto and has lived in Israel since 1999. Racism, expressed at all levels of Israeli society, not least by its lawmakers, is a major concern to him. That concern includes the treatment of refugees in Israel from Eritrea and other parts of Africa, as well as towards Arab citizens of Israel, and West-Bank Palestinians.

Another major event was an all-day conference organized by MEMO (Middle East Monitor), held in a packed hall at the British Library, London. The keynote speaker was Oxford Emeritus Professor Avi Schlaim. He was born in Iraq. In 1948, the family escaped to Israel. He served in the Israeli army, followed by studies in England, where he has lived ever since. He married the great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George, the British prime minister at the time of the Balfour Declaration.

We are used to the current almost complete lack of sympathy and concern in Canadian politics on the dire situation and prospects in Israel and the West Bank for its non-Jewish residents. The current U.K. government, like ours, evidently has few, if any qualms over this. However, it was encouraging to us to learn that there are at least some politicians in the U.K., past and present, in the major parties, who are critical of Israel, including Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Is there hope that Canada can now work to undo the damage to Palestine, damage to which Canada has contributed at critical junctions?


Elke and John Molgaard

St. John’s

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