November 2 was the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, sent from Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community:
“Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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.
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour”
Of course the British government, in the middle of the Great War, was interested in Britain and not in justice, in Lord Palmerstone’s words: “Great Britain has no friends, only interests”. Yet I believe that Balfour himself indeed felt “much pleasure” in conveying to Rothschild “sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations”.
Balfour subsequently wrote: “Zionism… 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”. Balfour believed that the Christian world owed the Jewish nation a morale debt, which may be the reason that he told his niece, Blanche Dugdale, near the end of his days, that on the whole he felt that what he had been able to do for the Jews had been the thing he looked back upon as the most worth his doing.
Balfour probably felt great pleasure in helping to right an ancient wrong by recognizing the right of the Jewish nation to return home, as part of a historical process – that had already started a century before – that is greater than any of its parts, greater than any other mundane ideas that people fashionably think are worthy for a while, but in view of the eternal truths are no more than dust in the wind.
Another point of the Balfour Declaration that’s important to notice is that three types of rights were mentioned: civil rights, religious rights and political status. The Arabs would enjoy full civil rights – rights to property, life and pursuit of happiness – as well as religious rights, without having to pay any price for that – something basically non-existent in Islam. However no political rights, because the Arabs had none; they were subjects of the Turkish Empire, had never been independent and in reality had never constituted a distinct political body in the Holy Land which was just a backwater province or sub-province in the various Islamic empires over the centuries since the Islamic invasions in the 7th century.
The Arabs in Israel today are probably the only Arabs in the Middle East to enjoy full civil and religious rights, including freedom to speak against the state of Israel – something almost non-existent in the Middle East. It is no wonder than in recent surveys a majority of Arabs in Israel identify themselves as Israelis, whether it be as Israeli Arabs, Israeli Muslims, or just plain Israelis.
However I always think that the main significance of the Balfour Declaration wasn’t in any practical results for the Jews, who had started returning to the land and returning the land to its ancient productivity a century before. The main significance of the Balfour Declaration pertains to those who made the declaration and to the League of Nations who adopted the Balfour Declaration as international law. It was a step of the nations in the right moral direction – towards repenting the ancient sins of the nations against the Jewish Nation. Unfortunately it didn’t erase anti-Semitism, which still exists especially among so-called progressives and in the Islam practiced by many. Still, recognizing the moral debt to the Jewish people was a good first step, with many more that must follow, both by the Jews and by the nations of the world.
Happy Anniversary and raise a glass in honorable memory of Arthur Balfour!