For 99 years, November 2 has been a special date for Israel. The 1917 Balfour Declaration, which communicated Britain’s aspirations to work to establish a national home for the Jewish people in the land of Israel, was the first document in modern times in which a superpower recognized the right of the Jews to their historic homeland.
The story behind the Balfour Declaration provides quite a few parallels to what is transpiring in our time. We should remember that in 1917, Britain was struggling to formulate a British position regarding the rights of the Jewish people in the land of Israel, and among those opposed to recognizing these rights there were also certain Jews. They expressed their anti-Zionist views to senior British officials and caused great damage to the cause as a result. Jews who speak out against their own people are always a popular commodity for the average anti-Semite. Want to know how popular? Ask the ones who invited representatives from B’Tselem to the U.N.
Conversely, more than a few senior British officials without Jewish roots worked for the Zionist cause. This phenomenon also exists today. Israel’s advocacy work receives a great deal of assistance from people around the world. They operate on the basis of a variety of motives, but support is always welcome, and we must learn how to harness it in a focused and effective manner.
But with all due respect, those actively opposed to the Zionist enterprise as well as those who actively support it are a small minority among the nations of the world. So it was in 1917, and so it is in 2016. Today, most of the world’s population — whether in traditional centers of power in Europe and North America or in emerging powers in Asia and Latin America — are simply not interested in Israel and its just struggle, because they are more worried about the issues that concern them. That is not to say this majority is unimportant. The opposite is true: This majority and its opinion on Israel’s right to exist can be critical under certain circumstances. The propaganda war, then as now, is waged for the hearts of the silent and uninvolved majority.
Ninety-nine years ago, Zionist leaders already understood the importance of global opinion. For this reason, they pushed to ratify the Balfour Declaration in a binding public forum, the kind that would be accepted by the public in most of the countries of significance. The San Remo Conference, which was held in 1920, anchored the Balfour Declaration in international law. Two years later, the decision to establish a national home for the Jews in the land of Israel was approved unanimously by the League of Nations, and based on the U.N. Law of Continuity, it continues to have binding status in international law today.
If you ask the citizens of France, Argentina or Britain itself, you will find that a majority of people are completely unaware of our righteousness. For a simple reason: Israel rarely speaks loudly and unapologetically about the right of the Jews to the land, a right that exists for no other nation. This must be corrected, and the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration is an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves, and the entire world that the State of Israel exists because of the power of our right and not because of the strength of our power.
The Balfour Declaration was the first brick in the wall of global recognition of the legitimacy of the future Jewish state; maybe not just a brick, but a cornerstone. The achievement of receiving the declaration in those days was enormous. It is clear that the wall of recognition is not yet complete. Our job is to continue to build it at this time.
Ariel Bolstein is the founder of the Israel advocacy organization Faces of Israel.