On 2 November 1917, at the height of the First World War, Britain’s imperial voice expressed itself in a statement of intent from its Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, to Lord Rothschild – for passing on to the Zionist Federation. The message is known as the Balfour Declaration. The 30-year-long British occupation of Palestine that followed the allied World War One victory led to the unilateral Zionist declaration of ‘independence’ in 1948 and the establishment of Israel in Palestine. The Palestinian people had been encouraged to understand that, following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, they would be allowed self-determination in their homeland. They had been seriously misled. In 1919, Balfour admitted to the new Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon:
“The weak point of our position is of course that in the case of Palestine we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination.”
That same year, Balfour also wrote to Lord Curzon:
“in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country… the Four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land . . . In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate.” Ingram p.73. See Nutting
For 69 years the Zionist enterprise, with the collusion of its powerful Western allies, has continued to demonstrate utter disregard for the Palestinian people, denying them their culture, their history and even their humanity.
The Palestinian-American academic, political activist and literary critic, Edward Said (1935-2003) eloquently evaluated the Declaration as follows:
“What is important about the Declaration is, first, that it has long formed the juridical basis of Zionist claims to Palestine, and second, more crucial for our purposes here, that it was a statement whose positional force can only be appreciated when the demographic, or human realities of Palestine are clearly understood. For the Declaration was made (a) by a European power (b) about a non-European territory (c) in a flat disregard of both the presences and the wishes of the native majority resident in that territory, and (d) it took the form of a promise about this same territory to another foreign group, that this foreign group might, quite literally, make this territory a national home for the Jewish people.”
The Jewish academic Ilan Pappe, director of the European Centre of Palestine Studies at the English University of Exeter, has made the following observation:
“The natural Palestinian rejection of the notion of dividing their homeland with settlers, the majority of whom had arrived only a few years earlier, fell on deaf Western ears. Locating the Jews in Palestine, without the need to come to terms with what Europe did to them in World War Two, became the easiest corridor out of Europe’s ugliest historical moment. As is clear today from the documents, the Zionist leadership regarded the partition resolution as both international legitimisation for a Jewish state in Palestine, and the Palestinian rejection of it as a valid pretext for the ethnic cleansing of the native population.”
Ideology is distinct from culture, race and nationhood. Political ideologies may seize the loyalty of any people at different periods of history but while the people continue, ideologies inevitably fall from fashion over time. No ideology can claim to speak for a whole people and most Jews, particularly those who are religious, opposed Zionism at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Balfour knew this very well. Bernard Regan, author of the book The Balfour Declaration: Empire, the Mandate and resistance in Palestine. 1917 -1936 reminds us that one of the most “vociferous” opponents of the Balfour Declaration was actually the only Jewish member of the Cabinet, Sir Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India:
“He believed that support for the ‘principle’ of a ‘National Home for the Jewish people’ would legitimate the spread of anti-Semitism already rampant in parts of Eastern Europe.”
Montagu believed that at least half the Jews in Britain opposed Zionism and his was not the only Jewish voice raised against Balfour. Regan writes that Mr C. G. Montefiore, President of the Anglo-Jewish Association, was critical of political Zionism’s founder Theodor Herzl’s assertion that “anti-Semitism was eternal, and that it was hopeless to expect its removal”. The Zionist enterprise depends on anti-Semitism as a smokescreen to divert attention from the abuses of human rights committed by Israel’s leaders. Regan notes that “Mr L. L. Cohen, Chairman of the Jewish Board of Guardians thought that since a Jewish home in Palestine would in any case only be able to take a fraction of world Jewry it would not resolve the problem of anti-Semitism.”
Today, the news media and many of our politicians, influenced so powerfully by the Israel Lobby, continue to ignore Jewish and Palestinian voices that are united in legitimate and necessary protest against both Israel’s founding ideology and the human rights violations that it engenders. There is a universal right to freedom of expression and it is time for us to heed the voices of those Jews for whom Zionism is as far removed from Judaism as could possibly be conceived.
Many Jews deplore the Zionist ideology’s inhumanity. Here are just a handful: Anna Baltzer of Jewish Voice for Peace, Miko Peled, the son of a Zionist General, who also served in the Israeli Army. We ask people to read the works of Gideon Levy and the historian Ilan Pappe. There are many, many more – including celebrities from the worlds of science, art, music, drama and comedy. Jews and non-Jews alike have the right to individually and collectively protest in the name of justice and respect for international humanitarian law. There is nothing racist in that. In fact, these voices, reflecting the underlying humanity of Jews and Palestinians, offer the best hope of peace. All they ask is that we join them. Let us open our hearts and minds and put humanity before politics and ideology – it might catch on!