On November 1, 2017, the official news agency of the Palestinian Authority wrote that the United Kingdom had perpetrated “the greatest crime in history.” What was London’s alleged offense? The signing of the Balfour Declaration, one hundred years ago.
Thankfully, we can read this atrocity for ourselves. After all, with only 67 words, the declaration is short enough to include here in full:
“His Majesty’s government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours 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.”
Behold, the greatest crime in history. Or at least what the PA thinks is the greatest crime in history.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly declared that he would bring a lawsuit against the UK because of this century-old document. Setting aside the ridiculousness of bringing a suit after a hundred years, we have to ask ourselves why the Palestinians view this document with such hatred.
The answer, of course, is Zionism. The Balfour Declaration was the first public statement made by an international power recognizing the Jews as a people with both historic and contemporaneous ties to the area. With only a few dozen words, the UK became the first world power to support the Zionist dream: to build a modern nation by rebuilding an ancient homeland.
The recognition of the Jews as a people lies at the heart of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Acknowledging this basic truth is untenable for the Palestinians, because in their view, the Jews have neither the right to a sovereign nation nor any ties to “Palestine” — or as we have called it for thousands of years, the Land of Israel.
The Palestinians’ vilification of the Balfour Declaration demonstrates that this conflict is not about settlements or the two-state solution. It is about their refusal to see the Jews as a people and their denial of the Jews’ right to a national home in the land that has borne their name for centuries.
The Palestinians themselves have made this point abundantly clear. The Palestinian National Charter states that “the Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void.”
“Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood,” the charter continues. “Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.”
Their logic, simply put, is that there is a Jewish religion but not a Jewish nation, as if the two are mutually exclusive. As journalist Eliot Jager points out, this logic is itself refuted by the Muslim world.
“Islam is also a religion and there are 56 countries that identify as Muslim and hold membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,” he writes in his latest book, The Balfour Declaration: Sixty-Seven Words – 100 Years of Conflict. “In other words, Islamic civilization and the Muslim religion merit dozens of states, but Jewish civilization and the Jewish religion do not merit a single country.”
For the Palestinians, the “greatest crime in history” is recognizing the Jewish nation and supporting its desire for a “national home” in the Land of Israel — the land from which the Jews have repeatedly been exiled and to which they have repeatedly returned, the land in which they have lived as an (often-imperiled) minority, the land for which they have always longed.
In a word, the Palestinians’ “greatest crime in history” is Zionism. By criminalizing Zionism, the Palestinians aim to separate the Jews from the rest of the world. And as we know from history, saying that the Jews are not a people is soon followed by saying that a Jew is not a person.
Criminalizing Zionism is criminalizing the act of being Jewish in geopolitics, and is therefore just one element in a more insidious, more wide-reaching offense: being Jewish in general.
This “crime” has existed in the Middle East for years. Hundreds of thousands of Jews across the region were expelled from their countries following the establishment of Israel. And they were the lucky ones. Before the expulsions, pogroms took the lives of thousands. After the expulsions, any Jews still in these countries had their citizenships revoked. Many were killed in state executions for the crime of Zionism.
The crime of being Jewish still exists in the Middle East today. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has himself said that any Palestinian state would be completely devoid of any Jews, mirroring the Nazis’ attempts to “cleanse” Europe with their Judenrein policies.
Of course, this “crime” is not limited to Arab countries. It has been present in the West for centuries, in one form or another. It was present at the UN in 1975, when it falsely declared that Zionism was racism. It was present in Germany in World War II, when the Nazis murdered millions for the crime of being Jewish. It was present in France when Albert Dreyfus was falsely convicted because he was a Jew. It was present in the Soviet Union and its precursor Romanov Empire, both of which put Jews to death merely because they were Jews. It was present in Spain during its Golden Age, when the only options for Jews were conversion, expulsion, or death. It was present in England during the Middle Ages, when it too gave its Jews a simple choice: leave or die.
The sentiment behind this supposed offense was present in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this year, when torch-wielding white supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us.” It was present in Charles Lindberg’s 1930s, during the days of the first America First movement. It was present in the US civil war, when Union Commander-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant ordered the expulsion of Jews “as a class” from western Tennessee. Union Col. John V. Dubois restated this order by declaring the forcible expulsion or conscription of “all cotton speculators, Jews, and other vagrants having no honest means of support except trading on the miseries of their country.”
The crime of being Jewish — reframed by the Palestinians for today’s world stage — is truly the “greatest crime in history.” It has spanned civilizations and is still going strong today. In the face of this truth, I can only offer one response.
If being openly, loudly, and proudly Jewish is a crime, then I am a criminal, and I’ll happily keep committing “the greatest crime in history.”