This week marks the 100th anniversary of the publishing of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which expressed British support for an eventual Jewish home in Palestine. As the world marks the centennial, controversy still rages among Britons, Jews and Arabs as to the wisdom of the declaration.
A full century after the its publication, and sixty-nine years after the founding of the State of Israel, many Palestinians continue to decry the Balfour Declaration. They view it as a means of advancing “British imperial conditions and self-interest,” and contend that the British merely wished to secure Jewish support during the First World War. As a result, the Palestinians believe that British denied the rights of the Arab majority and gave the Jewish minority disproportionate power in the region(1). As such, a plurality of Palestinians feel that the British are largely to blame for the establishment of the State of Israel and the ensuing conflicts, and many have demanded an apology from the British government(2).
In contrast, the declaration is celebrated by Israelis and their supporters. While they too view it as a catalyst for the creation for the State of Israel, they see the foundation of the Middle East’s only free democracy and the first Jewish homeland in two millennia as a great positive. They also see the Balfour Declaration as the beginning of the end of colonialism in the Middle East, which laid the groundwork for the making of the Arab nations(3). In other words, the State of Israel is far from a source of turmoil and conflict- it is one of Britain’s greatest foreign policy achievements. Israelis and their supporters believe that the British should not be asked to apologize—they should be thanked wholeheartedly.
This disagreement is reflected in Britain. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, an ex-kibbutznik, has expressed his appreciation for the declaration as one of the key factors in the creation of the “magic, the genius, the miracle of Israel”(4). However, Jeremy Corbyn, head of the UK’s leftist Labour Party and vocal Israel critic, refused to attend a commemorative event celebrating the declaration(5). This deep divide over past British actions permeates Britain, the Middle East, and the world.