Balfour Declaration 100th anniversary: celebration plans revealed

Detail from Arthur James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema [Wikimedia Commons]
Simon Schama, the prominent historian, will provide one of the key moments in the community’s celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration next year.

Professor Schama will give a lecture on the historical importance of the document – which expressed British government support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

The talk will take place on November 1 2017, almost 100 years to the day that the Declaration was made by then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour.

Plans unveiled today reveal a range of centenary events taking place up and down the country under the banner Balfour 100.

The first official celebration will take place in Manchester on October 31, details of which have yet to be confirmed.

The city has strong links with early Zionism – Chaim Weizmann, who became the first president of Israel was a lecturer at the Manchester University.

The following Shabbat, November 4, has been designated “Balfour Shabbat”, with synagogues from all the denominations hosting their own celebrations.

Other events are in the process of being organised, with most activities expected to take place from next autumn.

A steering group of 23 communal organisations have been working for almost a year on the preparations. Chaired by Lord Kestenbaum on behalf of the Rothschild Foundation Europe, the group includes the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Zionist Federation and the Israeli Embassy.

Simon Johnson, chief executive of the JLC, said: “The Balfour Declaration was instrumental in the creation of the state of Israel.

“As British Jews we are very proud of the role our government played and continues to play in supporting the country.”

He said the Balfour 100 campaign was the focal point for all the community to come together to celebrate the anniversary.

Prof Schama’s lecture will take place in central London in front of an audience 400 people – tickets will go on sale nearer the time.

“It’s great Prof Schama is doing it,” Mr Johnson said. “He adds real profile to the celebrations.”

The lecture will be livestreamed on the Balfour 100 website which launches today.

The site will be “the definitive digital resource about the centenary”, said Mr Johnson

As well as showing the various versions of the Declaration itself – describing it as “the 67 words that led to the creation of the state of Israel” – the site contains comprehensive timelines, biographies of the major figures involved and a complete history of the events that led up to the founding of Israel.

It also will feature uploaded details of Balfour 100 events as they are organised by communal organisations, individual shuls, student groups and others around the country.

Mr Johnson said: “It’s intended for everyone, from those who just want to dip in and learn something about the Declaration to students and scholars who are looking for educational materials.”

Noting that anti-Israel activists have launched their own campaign calling on the British government to “apologise” for the Declaration, Mr Johnson said: “People seeking an apology – they believe the state of Israel shouldn’t exist, therefore they are taking an antisemitic position.

“Anyone unsure about the Declaration should visit our website and make up their own mind.”

A poll for Bicom, the Israel and Middle East think-tank, has found that more than 40 per cent of British people back the aims of the Declaration today.

Quoted the text of the document, 43 per cent of people said they agreed that it was the right position for the British government to adopt, with 17 per cent disagreeing.

Some 2,054 people responded to the online poll which was conducted by Populus.

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