Young Jews are unafraid to confront the realities of Balfour

Earlier this month, on the night of the 2nd November, a banquet was held in London to mark the hundred year anniversary of the Balfour declaration.

At the same time, a group of 40 young Jews met in North London to hear from one of Israel’s leading human rights organisations, Yesh Din.

This event was organised by the New Israel Fund, an organisation which enables diaspora Jews to engage with Israeli organisations working to advance democracy and equality in the Jewish state.

These two events were steeped in symbolism for the Jewish community today.

At one, the leadership of our country and community – both of which claim to support a two-state solution – celebrated with a prime minister who has repeatedly claimed he will never allow the creation of a Palestinian nation.

At the other, a new generation of Jewish leaders unflinchingly confronted the Balfour centenary by listening to an Israeli activist fighting systematic human rights violations in the occupied territories.

I was one of the 40 people in that room, and the sense of anger, disappointment and frustration with the state of affairs in our community and Israel was palpable.

Although we feel a strong connection to Israel and have reservations about much of the Palestinian solidarity activism which takes place in the UK, we are not prepared to look away from the human rights violations that the occupation embodies.

The questions to our speaker were direct, addressing apathy in Israeli society and the slippery, anti-democratic path the Israeli government appears to be following without concern.

The lack of space in the Jewish community to talk about Palestinians and the occupation was a burning issue for many of those present. One person spoke about the incomplete picture of Israel children are given as part of their Jewish education, while others shared how uncomfortable they often feel in Jewish spaces where any empathy for Palestinians seems taboo.

Everyone was dismayed to hear about the shameful recent incident of the Board of Deputies criticising the UK’s ambassador to the UN when he suggested that more work needed to be done to fulfil the Balfour declaration’s commitment to Palestinian civil rights.

It’s clear that change is afoot in the Jewish community. There is a new generation which maintains a deep and meaningful relationship with Israel, but is not prepared to ignore its woeful record on human rights.

We feel a sense of responsibility when Palestinians are systematically oppressed, supposedly in our name and for our benefit, and it’s a responsibility we will not abdicate.

The Jewish community has a choice. It can acknowledge the Balfour declaration in its entirety, and demand that both the British and Israeli governments take long-overdue action on upholding the basic rights of Palestinians.

Or it can be complicit, and continue to turn a blind eye to a brutal occupation perpetrated in our name.

The latter option may be easier in the short term, but it risks alienating an entire generation of Jews away from Israel and their community.

In amongst the sombre content of the evening, there were some indicators of hope.

One person noted that in some ways the Balfour declaration was pioneering document worthy of being acted on a century later, in that it recognised the rights of both Jews and Palestinians to the land.

We also reflected on the fact that the declaration was the result of a small group of Jews going against the grain of the wider community, and persuading the British government to intervene for the benefit of an oppressed population in the Middle East.

To those of us who were in the room, energised by hearing from each other and from a leading Israeli activist, it certainly seems about time that the same was done again.

About the Author
Tommer is a PhD student and anti-occupation campaigner.
Related Topics
Related Posts