Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 6 November 2016. © Richard Kemp
This week we enter the centenary year of the Balfour Declaration. This document, signed on November 2, 1917 by the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, was the first recognition by one of the world’s great powers – in fact at the time the greatest power in the world – of the right of the Jewish people to their national homeland in Palestine.
It was the single most significant step taken in restoring Jewish self-determination in their historic territories. Under the San Remo Resolution three years later, the Balfour Declaration was enshrined in international law, leading inexorably to the 1947 UN partition plan and ultimately to the proclamation of the State of Israel by David Ben Gurion on May 14, 1948.
As Britain, Israel and the free world begin to mark this monumental anniversary, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas demands an apology from the UK.
The man whose constitutional tenure as Palestinian leader expired seven years ago, yet remains in place. The man who raised funds for the 1972 massacre in Munich of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes. The man who misused millions of dollars of international aid intended for the welfare of his people. The man who dismissed as a ‘fantastic lie’ the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
This man demands an apology. Of course he does. And in demanding that Britain apologise for a 99-year-old statement supporting a national home for the Jewish people, he exposes his true position, and the true position of all factions of the Palestinian leadership: that the Jewish people have no right to a national home; the Jewish State has no right to exist. According to Abbas, Palestine, from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, belongs to the Arabs and only to the Arabs.
At a dinner held by the Zionist Federation in London on April 12, 1931, Sir Herbert Samuel, British High Commissioner in Palestine from 1920 to 1925 and the first Jew to govern the historic land of Israel in 2,000 years, said: “In time the Arabs will come to appreciate and respect the Jewish [standpoint]”.
Unfortunately, as Abbas’s demands demonstrate only too clearly, he could not have been more wrong. It is sometimes claimed that Arab violence towards the Jews began with the Balfour Declaration, which created in their minds a feeling of betrayal by the British and an apprehension of Arab subjugation under Jewish governance.
This ignores the murder and massacre of Jews by Arabs in the Middle East, including in Jaffa and Jerusalem, throughout the 19th Century and in the 20th Century in the years before 1917 – just because they were Jews.
Arab Jew-hatred certainly did not start with Balfour. But it did intensify after Balfour. It was this intensification, with its accompanying slaughter, revolt and rioting against both British and Jews, that caused Britain to falter and fail over her 1917 declaration of support for a Jewish national homeland. It caused the British government to introduce White Papers in 1922 and 1939 that sought to appease Arab violence and resistance by imposing restrictions on Jewish immigration into Palestine and the development of the millennia-old Jewish presence in their historic homeland.
It caused Britain to deny Jewish immigration into Palestine even as Jews were being butchered in the millions in Europe. It even led Britain to send survivors of Auschwitz back to the lair of the Nazi murderers. And it caused Britain to behave in a way that precipitated agonizing Jewish violence against the British in Palestine in the 1940s, when it was the last thing the Jews wanted to do.
It caused Britain to abstain from the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution that brought about the re-establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. And even to appoint a British general – Sir John Glubb – to lead the Arab Legion’s invasion of Israel immediately afterwards.
It has caused Britain up to the present day to sometimes fail to condemn Arab aggression against Israelis, and to find excuses for their violence. All in the name of appeasing the Arabs and their supporters in the Muslim world and even at home.
Despite all of this, with Britain sometimes sinking into moral weakness over its subsequent failure to support the state that it incubated, the country can be intensely proud that Britain alone embraced Zionism in 1917. And it was the blood of many thousands of British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers that created the conditions that made the modern-day State of Israel a possibility.
These men fought and died in the Palestine campaign to defeat the Ottoman Empire that had occupied the territory for centuries. One month after the Balfour Declaration, on December 7th, the British Empire forces under General Allenby drove the Ottomans from Jerusalem. The day the last Turk left the Holy City was the first day of Hanukkah, the celebration of the Maccabean liberation of that city 2,000 years earlier.
Those soldiers were above all the instrument of the will of one of the greatest Prime Ministers in British history: David Lloyd George. There are many arguments about the motives for his actions over Palestine. But not only was he the true motivating force behind the Balfour Declaration; he also ordered and drove the defeat of the Ottomans in Palestine that breathed life into his Foreign Secretary’s words to the Zionist Federation.
Thirteen years later, at the Zionist Federation dinner in 1931, mentioned earlier, David Lloyd George was present as guest of honour. He said:
The Jews surely have a special claim on [Palestine]. They are the only people who have made a success of it during the past 3,000 years. They are the only people who have made its name immortal, and as a race, they have no other home. This was their first; this has been their only home; they have no other home. They found no home in Egypt or in Babylon. Since their long exile they have found no home as a people in any other land, and this is the time and opportunity for enabling them once more to recreate their lives as a separate people in their old home and to make their contribution to humanity as a separate people, having a habitation in the land which inspired their forefathers. Later on it might be too late.
Later on it might be too late. These prophetic words became a devastating reality for millions of Jews in the years to come. Within five years, the Arab Revolt had begun, in protest at the influx of Jews into Palestine, desperate to get out of Europe before it was indeed too late. The Arab Revolt in turn led to the White Paper of 1939, severely curtailing Jewish immigration into Palestine at their hour of greatest need, as the British government attempted to appease the Arabs.
The White Paper was described by Lloyd George in Parliament as ‘an act of perfidy’ and by the Manchester Guardian as ‘a death sentence on tens of thousands of Central European Jews.’ The words of the Peel Commission, which investigated the Arab unrest, apply as much today as they did in 1937 when they were written: ‘The hatred of the Arab politician for the Jewish national home has never been concealed and… it has now permeated the Arab population as a whole.’
The Arabs rejected the British proposals for partition of the land in the 1930s and again rejected the 1947 UN partition plan. Since then they have had numerous opportunities for the creation of a Palestinian state. All have been rejected. They have preferred to attempt Israel’s annihilation by terrorism and war, rather than find an opportunity to live side by side in peace.
Depending on his audience, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Abbas claims to desire a two-state solution. But his actions speak louder. How can it be possible to bring about peace with a country or a people that you constantly vilify and attack? Hatred of Jews and denial of their rights permeate PA speeches, TV shows, school-books, newspapers and magazines. Murderous terrorists are glorified by naming football teams and sports stadiums after them. They are incentivised to violence by salaries and payments to their families – funded of course by the American and European taxpayer. Everywhere there is incitement to hate. Only a few days ago we saw the consequences of failure to hate for four hapless Palestinians who dared to fraternise with the ‘Zionist enemy’ when they entered the Mayor of Efrat’s succah.
As we know only too well, the violent attacks against Jews, seen so frequently in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, continue unabated to this day. The latest just last week when three Israeli soldiers were shot and wounded by an Arab gunman near the Jewish town of Beit El. In recent weeks, we have seen the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to expunge Jews and Judaism from any connection with their undeniable history and holy places via grotesque and nonsensical resolutions at UNESCO.
Nothing has changed in the Arabs’ attitudes and actions from Balfour’s day to our own. Yet we have seen a miraculous and untold transformation over those 99 years within the State of Israel. Even as far back as that dinner in 1931, years before the re-creation of the state, Lloyd George was able to declare:
Zionism has brought to an old land, a renowned but a ruined old land, new wealth, new energy, new purpose, new initiative, new intelligence, a new devotion and a new hope. Zionism has not finished its task, far from it, but it has already accomplished so much as to demonstrate that the land flowing with milk and honey was no baseless legend.
Even he would be astonished to see just how much further Israel has ascended in the intervening 85 years. But despite Israel’s seemingly boundless progress, she remains under attack not just from the Arabs of the Middle East but also in the West, in Europe and in the UK.
Despite a myriad of their own dire problems and the ongoing bloodbath in the Arab world, the Europeans, led by the French, seem hell-bent on trying to impose the so-called 1967 borders on Israel through the UN Security Council – lines described by legendary Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban as the ‘Auschwitz borders’.
Flying in the face of the long-standing US bipartisan policy of rejecting these borders, there is increasing concern that President Obama’s parting shot at Israel might be to either endorse such a resolution or fail to veto it. Such actions would have incalculable consequences – not least a flare-up in violence and the prospect of global sanctions against Israel, which would rightly be unable to accept such a resolution.
In the home of the Balfour Declaration the pressure is also on. Increasing anti-Semitic abuse is directed against the Jewish community in the UK and against those who dare to support the State of Israel, including politicians. Abuse aimed of course at undermining their support and isolating the Jewish State.
Only a few days ago we saw despicable scenes of anti-Semitic hatred and lies at an event in the House of Lords in support of Abbas’s absurd demand that we apologise for Balfour. In the same week, we witnessed another vicious outbreak of anti-Semitic abuse at University College London, where Jewish students were forced to seek refuge in the face of an aggressive effort to shut down their freedom of speech by so-called supporters of Palestine.
Even 99 years after the world-changing Balfour Declaration, we still have our work cut out for us in supporting the Zionist project, which owes so much to the unequalled historic backing of Great Britain.
But as Lloyd George said of this great venture: ‘Can you recall any movement worth prosecuting that has not encountered obstacles? Can you recall one persevered in with courage and faith where such obstacles have not been overcome in the end?’
David Lloyd George, as in so much else, was of course right. And the words of this Welshman who saw so much in common between his own tiny country and the homeland of the Jews, whose nonconformist upbringing gave him a feeling of familiarity with the Holy Land, are words that should guide those of us who support the State of Israel today: ‘This Mandate [for the Jewish national home] must be carried out not nervously and apologetically but firmly and fearlessly.’