Anson Laytner
Anson Laytner

Nothing to Celebrate on the Balfour Declaration’s Centennial

The centennial celebrations of the Balfour Declaration bother me.  The Palestinians are right to reject the Balfour Declaration. Other than being conqueror of the region, Britain had no right to apportion any land to anyone. The same holds true for the Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France that divided up the region into their spheres of influence.

The Balfour Declaration was a marriage of convenience between Britain and pro-British Zionists; each had something to gain from the arrangement.  Had the Germans won the war, other Zionist leaders would have pled their case with the Kaiser.  The real loser was the Arab nation, which went from Turkish to imperialist European rule.

A product of their European upbringing, most European Jewish Zionists preferred to make common cause with the European powers than to risk an alliance with the emerging Arab nation. While it is all well and good to acknowledge the opening that Britain gave to the Zionist movement, Israel and the Jewish people would do better to recognize the injustice done to the Arab nation by the Balfour Declaration, Sykes-Picot, etc.

Today, the Zionist cause is ill-served by harkening back to this alignment with the imperialist powers. Celebrating the Balfour Declaration’s centennial actually serves to undermine legitimate Jewish claims to a state in Palestine. Even if the United Nations were to somehow reverse its 1947 decision, which was based on the British Mandate and the Balfour Declaration, this would not undermine legitimate Jewish national rights because these are based on historical Jewish kingdoms in the Land and a continuous presence there down through the centuries to the present day.  Far better to make amends for how our nation reentered the Land by apologizing and endeavoring to rectify past wrongs and present injustices.

About the Author
Rabbi Anson Laytner of Seattle is currently president of the Sino-Judaic Institute and longtime editor of its journal Points East. He is the co-editor, with Jordan Paper, of "The Chinese Jews of Kaifeng." Before retiring, he taught at Seattle University and worked with the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. His most recent book is "The Mystery of Suffering and the Meaning of God."