A member of the House of Lords once asked Chaim Weizmann, “Why do you Jews insist on Palestine when there are so many undeveloped countries you could settle in more conveniently?”
Weizmann responded: “That is like my asking you why you drove twenty miles to visit your mother last Sunday when there are so many old ladies living on your street.”
On November 2, 1917 the Jewish people got public validation of our ancient hope and another step towards building a state of our own when British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent a letter to Lord Rothschild-the head of the Zionist Federation that expressed British support of a Jewish State in Palestine.
This was the first recognition by a world power of both a potential rebirth of the national home for the Jewish people, and their historical link to the land of Israel.
While this letter may have been the first political recognition of Jewish nationalism by a world power, it was a reflection of the long-standing philosophical, practical, historical and spiritual link of the Jewish nation to our ancient homeland.
“With one step the Jewish cause has made a great bound forward…a new epoch for our race…Amidst all that is so dark and dismal and tragic throughout the world, there has thus arisen for the Jews a great light. It is the perceptible lifting of the cloud of centuries, the palpable sign that the Jew-condemned for two thousand years to unparalleled wrong – is at last coming to his right.”Jewish Chronicle, 1917
This land that we call Israel today has changed names, rulers, and borders. But throughout the generations the historical link to the Jewish People has been remembered in some way by the nations and religions of the world even when we were scattered throughout the four corners of the universe. A connection established by history, perpetuated through prayer, and affirmed through archaeology, this land of “inconvenience” is the one land to which we as Jews can claim our ancestral lineage.
As with any historical event, there were many political influences and inferences surrounding the decision and its aftermath. More than just a reflection of imperialistic efforts of the British government (as some might claim), above all else, the Balfour Declaration was the outcome of years of struggle by Jewish and Zionist leaders for the right to establish a place where Jews would be free from the persecutions faced generation after generation, in every corner of the world.
Approved by the British cabinet, the Balfour Declaration laid the conceptual basis for international support for the creation of a Jewish state. “The Balfour Declaration was not an impetuous or sentimental act of the British government, as has been sometimes represented, or a calculated measure of political warfare. It was a deliberate decision of British policy and idealist politics, weighed and reweighed, and adopted only after full consultation with the United States and with other Allied Nations.”
“We are met on the most momentous occasion in the history of Judaism for the last eighteen hundred years. We are here to return thanks to His Majesty’s Government for a declaration which marked an epoch – for the first time since the dispersion, the Jewish people have received their proper status by the declaration of one of the great powers.”
Imagine the reaction of the world at that time. Imagine how this might have been received by Jews who had, for centuries, been persecuted, demonized, humiliated, downtrodden, divided.
With the good news of the “Balfour Declaration” the town dressed itself in its festival finery. The town was joyous with happiness. No words can describe the soul-uplifting feeling and raised spirits that gripped the Jews of Sokółka. The Land of Israel for the Jewish people! The Jews of Russia and Poland. Downtrodden, suppressed, a target for contempt and ridicule among the nations who saw them as a scapegoat, suddenly straightened their backs and stood up straight.
Today we are witnessing attempts to damage and even eradicate the legacy of The Balfour Declaration, to alter the historical truth by diminishing its importance at that time and in that place. There are naysayers who seek to ignore its importance as a stepping stone in the creation of a legal and internationally recognized state for the Jewish People.
In spite of these facts, historical truth is in jeopardy as even the reaction by some of the Arab world is erased and ignored.
“The Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. . . . We will wish the Jews a hearty welcome home. . . . We are working together for a reformed and revised Near East and our two movements complete one another. The Jewish movement is nationalist and not imperialist. And there is room in Syria for us both. Indeed, I think that neither can be a real success without the other.” Amir Faisal, the leader of the Arab revolt against the Turks, who later signed an agreement with Chaim Weizmann and other Zionist leaders during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.
Later affirmed by the San Remo Conference and then becoming part of The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine which specifically referred to “the historical connections of the Jewish people with Palestine” and to the moral validity of “reconstituting their National Home in that country,” it was these declarations and their supporters that indeed paved the way for the November 29 vote at the United Nations to establish the Jewish State of Israel that we cherish today.
Now there are attempts to demand of the British government to retract it, attempts that are being met with very little resistance. While the rights of the Jewish people to this land are much more fundamental than a British letter could ever be, we cannot afford to be apathetic and ignore the international proclamations that affirmed those rights.
As others seek to destroy historical truth through narratives conjured without any regard to the facts, it is our responsibility to declare our commitment to those facts. Just as the Declaration was heard and respected around the world at that time, so, too, its legacy should be preserved.
NOW IS THE TIME TO TAKE ACTION! Join us in our campaign to demonstrate that Israel was established with the full backing and support of the international community.
Dr. Elana Yael Heideman, Executive Director of The Israel Forever Foundation, is a dynamic and passionate educator who works creatively and collaboratively to create Israel-inspired Jewish identity, the connection to our people and our land, and a stronger voice for future Jewish leadership.Through her involvement with numerous programs, projects and lectures, Elana continually seeks to facilitate dialogue and build bridges between the past, present and future.