Yisrael Medad
Analyst and commentator on political and cultural issues.

Balfour’s Declaration a la BICOM

James Sorene, CEO at the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (Bicom), penned an op-ed on the Balfour Declaration published in The Telegraph.  I quickly tweeted a reaction and now, I expand my thoughts.

As the Jewish Chronicle informed us last year, “eyebrows were raised when James Sorene was appointed as chief executive of research group Bicom” as he was a key adviser to Nick Clegg during the former Liberal Democrat leader’s time as Deputy Prime Minister, a time of a not very delightful relationship of that party with the Jewish community.  One excuse offered was that as “Clegg’s official spokesman and communications director, he was a senior civil servant, completely detached from party politics.”

Sorry, but that is, and I know from personal experience, well, let’s just say an exaggerated untruth.

He seems to have started his career in public affairs at the Israeli embassy in London.  So how did he arrive at the content he published?  Or should I actually write ‘it’s no wonder he wrote what he wrote’?

I don’t criticise necessarily his personal political outlook.  My experience in London taught me that.  I am disappointed simple historical narratives are either insufficiently detailed or a bit twisted.

For example, Exhibit One:

Britain was now in control of vast territories, including Egypt, Palestine and another new creation – Iraq. In addition, Britain offered the Arabs independence in return for fighting the Ottomans, but they also promised the Zionists a Jewish home in Palestine.

In which countries was that independence promised?  Not in Palestine.  That country was to be for the Jews.  In it, Jews were to be the primary national grouping whereas others, defined simply as “non-Jews”, and “Arabs” were not specifically mentioned in this context – not in Balfour, nor San Remo nor the Mandate.  A country, until July 1922, that included all of Transjordan, a country whose boundaries to the east were quite unclear at the time which is why Article 25 of the Mandate reads:

In the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined

In fact, the Arabs residing in the area that became Palestine demanded reunion with a Greater Syria as they considered themselves then, and for many years afterward, to be Southern Syrians, even into the 1940s.

Exhibit Two:

Winston Churchill, the colonial secretary, told Arab leaders the declaration was “manifestly right”, while assuring them the Jewish national home wouldn’t be created in all of Palestine, but without suggesting where it would be.

That, of course, is referring to the 1922 White Paper, formulated basically by Herbert Samuel, once a maximalist and now, a High Commissioner.  But to be correct, that policy statement was forthcoming because in April 1920, May 1921 and November 1921 Arabs rioted and killed Jews.  British policy didn’t alter do to a reassessment of Zionism’s value but the British were fearful.  And cowardly.  Samuel ‘helped’ matters by appointing Haj Amin al-Husseini as the Mufti.

That White Paper baldly reinterpreted the Balfour Declaration with hindsight born of fear and from quite some pressure from anti-Semitic British officials in Jerusalem and stated:

the terms of the Declaration referred to do not contemplate that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a Home should be founded `in Palestine.’

And let us not forget that Churchill already in March 1921 awarded a Saudi Arabian, who first came to Transjordan in November 1920 to assist his brother regain a throne in Damascus, that land mass as an emirate and later, a kingdom.

The White Paper, as an example, quotes a 1921 Zionist Congress resolution in its favor but in 1923, the Zionist Congress bemoaned the loss of Transjordan which the delegates viewed as

“one historical, geographic and economic unit” and “in accordance with the legitimate demands of the Jewish people”, the Congress expected that an expression of such will be achieved in Transjordan and eventually it will be carried out.

Exhibit Three:

Balfour’s declaration had great moral purpose, but was implemented without clarity, vision or the necessary resources. The sad truth is that British rule amounted to conflict management, when its focus should have been to design a two-state solution from the beginning.

But there was, from the beginning, however unfortunate I think that “solution”, a two-state solution: Jewish Palestine and an Arab Palestine.  Should there now be a three-state solution? Two Arab countries in historic Palestine and one Jewish one? Two Arab states with no Jews and one Jewish state with, at present, almost 20% Arabs?  Is that a moral political policy? Is that visionary?

I also would suggest there was much clarity of purpose and intent, and it was to minimize Jewish national aspirations and accomplishments.  It was to limit land purchases.  It was to prevent millions of Jews escaping Hitler’s clutches in Europe.  It was to to coddle the most racist and vicious terror master that was the Mufti.  It was to establish a discriminatory status quo at Jewish religious sites.  It was to accept separate seating of the Arab and Zionist delegations, on two separate floors, at the St. James Conference in early 1939.  It was to thwart the 1938 Evian Conference.

The Palestinian Authority’s dictator, now in his eleventh year since his election, demands Britain apologize for the Balfour Declaration.  As many have noted, Great Britain should apologize for not fulfilling the Balfour Declaration.

Some of the above could have been included in Sorene’s piece for after all, BICOM’s aim is

to increase understanding of Israel and the Middle East in the UK. We believe in the right of the State of Israel to live in peace and security”

even as it believes in

the right of the Palestinians to an independent state brought about through a negotiated agreement.

That aim does include beclouding historical truths.

About the Author
Yisrael Medad, currently is a Research Fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem and Deputy Editor of the English Language Anthology of Jabotinsky's Writings. American-born, he and his wife made Aliyah in 1970. He resides in Shiloh since 1981. He was a member of the Betar Youth Movement World Executive and is a volunteer spokesperson for the Yesha Council. He holds a MA in Political Science from the Hebrew University and is active is many Zionist and Jewish projects and initiatives.
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