The Balfour Declaration was a hugely important step in the creation of a Jewish nation, and it was with pride that I found myself speaking at its Centenary in the British Parliament. As the President and co-founder of the Israeli Jewish Congress, an organisation created to represent the Jewish nation on the world stage, this represented a great opportunity to address an audience comprised of senior British and Israeli politicians, Ambassadors, senior civil servants, and businessman.
This anniversary is hugely symbolic, as the State of Israel has faced innumerable obstacles on the path to a free and open society. The ideals of liberty, democracy and the rule of law have underpinned our evolution ever since our nation’s birth, and we now represent a bastion of security and innovation in what is a challenging regional environment.
A century after Lord Balfour penned his famous words – “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, it is remarkable how far we have come as a nation – and how important we have become as a player on the international stage. Our shared sense of dynamism, innovation and creativity has seen Israel and the UK form irrevocably close ties since the Balfour declaration.
Indeed, it is hugely reassuring to see the UK Government mark the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration in such a fitting way. However, just as we look to the past, we must also look to the future.
A path forward
This important milestone provides an opportunity for Britain and Israel to revaluate historically strong relations in a post-Brexit world. As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, it is crucial that our two countries reimagine, and strengthen, our relationship even further. This includes closer business and trade links, as well as security cooperation and intelligence sharing capabilities.
When Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to 10 Downing Street in February this year, the two leaders discussed many issues. Importantly, they announced the creation of a working group to prepare the way for a trade deal. So where do these opportunities lie?
Increased trade opportunities
Regarding strengthening business links between our two great nations, the UK is already Europe’s largest trading partner with Israel, with bilateral trade worth around £4.9bn a year. This relationship was cemented by the biggest every trade deal between our two countries, with Rolls-Royce winning a £1bn contract with the Israeli airline El Al.
The aerospace environment represents only one area of increased trade. Other exciting prospects can be found in the cyber-security field, where Israel is the undisputed world leader. The Jewish state is also one of the world’s leading dynamic start-up and tech-hubs, with Google, Facebook, Intel and Microsoft each having a large presence within the country. This represents an important area of trade, and will likely receive significant attention over the coming months when it comes to negotiating any future trade deal.
Israel as an ally in the War on Terror
Just as we see ourselves as an important business partner, we also see ourselves as a crucial ally in protecting democratic values globally. Israel understands what it means be on the front line in the war on terror, and our experience can prove vital for our European partners now grappling with this latest incarnation of radical Islamic terrorism.
The recent wave of vehicle attacks and violent assaults has also effected Paris, Nice, Berlin, Stockholm, Barcelona and most recently New York, as well as of course London. Although this is a relatively new phenomenon across Europe, the sober reality is that attacks like these occurred with frightening frequency in Israel in the past.
This considered, closer security ties with Israel are more pertinent now than ever before given the Israeli experience with attacks of a similar nature. The Israeli experience can therefore be of help to our European allies, including through the development of closer cybersecurity ties and improved intelligence sharing procedures.
Building on Balfour
The Centenary of the Balfour Declaration marks an important lens through which to view both the past and the future. Israel remains committed to being a responsible partner to the UK and Europe, and it is important to remember that our destinies are bound together.
A strong Israel benefits everyone.
This article is based on remarks by Vladimir Sloutsker, President and co-founder of the Israeli Jewish Congress, at The Jewish News/BICOM Balfour Centenary Conference on Thursday November 2nd in London