The Centenary of the Balfour Declaration

On 5th July 2017, Rabbi Lord Sacks participated in a House of Lords debate on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. You can watch or read a transcript of his speech or read the full debate in Hansard here.

My Lords, the Balfour Declaration in 1917 was a significant moment in history for three reasons
First it was a momentous reversal of imperialism. It gave back to the Jewish people the home that had been seized by empire after empire, the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and the Christian and Muslim empires that fought one another for centuries for control of the Jewish land.

Second, what eventually became the state of Israel was the only non-artificial creation among a host of artificial states, among them Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Libya that had never been states before and thus still exist in a state of ethnic, religious and tribal strife. Only Israel had previously existed as a nation state, which it had done 3000 and 2000 years ago.

Third, it was a brave, if failed, attempt to prevent what later became clear at the Evian Conference in 1938, when the Jewish people, facing what Hitler called vernichtung, extermination, had not one square inch it could call “home” in the sense defined by the poet Robert Frost as the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in. No people should lack a home, not Palestinians, and not Jews. Which is why it is tragic that a century after the Balfour declaration, significant groups still seek to deny the Jewish people a home, among them Iran, and Hezbollah and Hamas, two groups that the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition has in the past called “friends.” Friends of violence and terror, yes. Friends of humanity, no.

My Lords, it is shameful that the Jewish people still has to fight for the right to exist in the land that for 33 centuries it has called home. Yet constantly threatened though it is by missiles, terror and delegitimation, it has achieved so much in science, medicine, technology and humanitarian aid, that I urge Her Majesty’s Government to acknowledge the State of Israel as living testimony to the power of hope to triumph over hate.