Without any doubt, in my opinion and in the opinion of many thousands of others, our weakest point in world affairs is what we term “hasbara,” meaning “explanation” but used by our government to convey “information”.
In this area, I think we have failed in the past and are continuing in that trap. Our press and the media constantly release information either supporting or negating government policies with limited details on reasons. We could, for example, have come to a satisfactory agreement with the Palestinians some years ago. Conflicts within our multiple political parties negated it. It became “arguments versus agreements” and we failed in both.
We no longer have the golden voice of Abba Eban to mesmerize the political leadership of other nations to understand us and to agree with us. Now, one century after the 1917 Balfour Declaration being observed in London in four more days, the Palestinians are demanding a recall of that historic document which paved the road to our independence. They are 100 years too late. The Balfour Declaration was ratified in 1922 at the San Remo Conference of the League of Nations. It is an historic and legal document recognized by the nations of the world, including by the Emir of Syria who stated to Dr. Chaim Weizmann “the Arabs will gladly welcome the Jews home”.
Some welcome! We were greeted not with a display of fireworks but with a display of bullets and bombs.
There are two points in the Balfour Declaration which are subject to explanation… one that we have not given.
The first is one questionable word…. A national “home” for the Jewish people in Palestine. The Arabs interpreted “home” as a place where Jews could live within a majority Arab nation.
The Jews interpreted “home” to mean a “homeland”… a territory which would be uniquely ours.
The second point is the statement that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…….”
“The Declaration called for political rights in Palestine for Jews but rights for the Palestinian Arabs, who comprised the vast majority of the local population, were limited to the civil and religious spheres”, (Wikipedia).
Our hasbara has neglected to respond to both points. In the first instance, obviously we consider “home” to be our “homeland” as it had been for three thousand years before our forced exile. All but non-Zionist Jews within the Jewish world would whole-heartedly defend that statement and would fight to enforce it and support it. Insufficient historical evidence outside of the Bible weakens our position.
But in the second instance, hasbara has totally failed. We have given the Palestinian Arabs (Israeli Arabs) who live among us and who constitute roughly 20% of our national population full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote in all elections, the right to serve in our Parliament (Knesset) and the right to sit on the benches of our courts and Supreme Court.
But in daily life we have treated them as second-class citizens, similar to the way pre-war Poland treated its large Jewish population.
Budgets for Arab schools are far below budgets given to Jewish schools. Infrastructure in Jewish towns and cities get preference for building or repairing structures while Arab towns and cities wait for extended periods of time.
Jews are given permits to build upon their application while Arab requests often wait for years.
Our hasbara has not sufficiently attended to these concerns and they remain our nation’s weakest points.
As we celebrate 100 years of the Balfour Declaration let us remind ourselves of the obligation to do nothing “which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”…. Israel.
Happy 100th birthday to Lord Arthur James Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary in 1917.