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Balfour anniversary drives a wedge into British consensus on Israel

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This past week Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn snubbed a dinner invitation from the Jewish Leadership Council while Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, sent an angry email to the UK Ambassador to the United Nations.

Arthur Balfour and his infamous Declaration are to blame for both incidents.

It doesn’t sound like much to get worked up about. But you should do. As the Balfour centenary year approaches its climax on 2 November, we’re witnessing in Britain the fracturing of decades of mainstream political consensus over Israel and the gradual isolation of the Jewish communal leadership as it becomes ever more intolerant of Palestinian solidarity.

Labour Party conference

Three weeks ago at the annual Labour Party conference, Corbyn’s biggest applause line was not about Brexit or austerity but for this:

“Let’s give real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people, the 50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion and move to a genuine two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

It wasn’t only because the 4,000 party members in the hall endorsed the sentiment that they applauded for so long. It was because they were fed up with the intimidation from the Israel lobby in the UK that attempts to turn every expression of Palestinian solidarity into an investigation about antisemitism. See Jamie Stern-Weiner for a forensic take-down of the most recent attempt to make Labour toxic on this issue.

Hardly surprising

Corbyn has been a Patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for many years. So it was hardly surprising that he refused the JLC invitation to celebrate Balfour when Palestinians view the document as an historic betrayal of their rights. It would have been astonishing if the Labour leader had said “yes”. And the JLC would have known that.

That didn’t stop the JLC Chair, Jonathan Goldstein, from using the dinner refusal to accuse Corbyn of more anti-Jewish sentiment. But that was likely the plan all along.

“I do think it will not have been amiss for Mr Corbyn to understand that the Jewish community will have taken great heart and great comfort for seeing him attend such an event because it recognises the right of Israel to exist.”

You can be sure though that Tony Blair or Gordon Brown would have accepted the invite if either of them had still been leading the Labour Party today. So times have certainly changed.

The Board gets mad but not even

Meanwhile, over at the Board of Deputies, there’s been plenty of pointless bashing and feigned upset going on too in the last few days.

The whole story turns on a tweet sent by a member of the UK’s UN Mission in New York which said:

“Let us remember, there are 2 halves of #Balfour, 2nd of which has not been fulfilled. There is unfinished business. @AmbassadorAllen #Israel”

Whoever composed and sent the tweet was referring to the second half of the Balfour Declaration which follows the promise of a Jewish “national home” with this reassurance:

“… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…”

The “existing non-Jewish communities” were of course the 90% plus indigenous Arabs living in Palestine who were not considered even worthy of the slightest consultation on the matter.

Also worth noting is that this anonymous majority of non-Jews were only being promised “civil and religious rights” while the Jews were being promised national and political rights.

President Arkush was furious though. He wasted no time in dashing off an apoplectic email rebuking the UK Ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, and conveying his “deep disappointment”. Arkush described the tweet as: “unworthy, hostile, unbalanced, negative and evidently intended as criticism of the State of Israel”.

It’s worth a moment to examine Arkush’s tweet critique because it turns out that: “unworthy, hostile, unbalanced, negative” is a better description of the Board President than the UK’s Mission to New York.

The standard Zionist history lesson

Arkush is keen to give Ambassador Rycroft the standard Zionist history lesson in which all blame for the last 100 years of conflict rests squarely, and exclusively, with the intransigent and rejectionist Palestinians.

“First, the ‘civil and religious rights of all existing non-Jewish communities in [former] Palestine’ (the terms used in the Balfour Declaration) are fully protected.”

Well, that’s hardly true in the 60% of the West Bank under total Israeli control for the last 50 years where the lives of Palestinians are administered under an apartheid regime. Nor can it be true for the 1.8m Gazans besieged by Israel by land, sea and air. And while the Palestinian citizens of Israel itself (20% of the population) have freedom of movement and democratic voting rights, they are still discriminated against in a host of other ways.

Arkush attempts another line of attack:

“Secondly, the United Nations offered the partition of Palestine between the Jewish and Arab communities more than once.  The Jewish community accepted, the Arabs rejected it outright.” 

But why would the Palestinians have voluntarily offered to partition their land when they were still the majority in numbers and ownership but were being offered less than half the territory?

Arkush tries again:

“Thirdly, the Balfour Declaration was no more or no less than a British Government expression of sympathy.  It came 30 years before the UN vote to establish a Jewish homeland.  If an Arab or Palestinian homeland was not established, that cannot be the fault of Israel, which did not exist, but would be a criticism of either the international community, or more fairly the Arab community who repeatedly rejected the notion of establishing their own country.” 

But the original tweet (if you can remember that far back) doesn’t mention Israel at all. It simply talks about “unfinished business”.  The responsibility to fix this does not rest solely with Israel or the Palestinians. The problem, as Arkush admits, was created internationally. It will need to be solved internationally too. And if the Balfour Declaration was nothing more than an “expression of sympathy,” why has its celebration become the touchstone of support for Israel and criticism of it a mark of antisemitism?

Arkush then blames the Palestinians for all on-going rejection and violence.

“At Camp David the PLO was offered recognition of a Palestinian state on 95% of the West Bank.  Yasser Arafat rejected it and responded by starting a cycle of violence which continues to this day.”

Much has been written about the so-called “generous offer” made to Arafat at Camp David in 2000. It was no such thing. Check it out if you want to know how to challenge this perennial distortion of recent history.

Hypocrisy or accuracy?

Finally, Arkush shows what’s really bothering him.

It’s the mismatch in attitudes between the British Conservative government, on whom he can rely on for support to Israel, and the career diplomats in New York who actually understand what’s gone on and have studied a bit of history and read the occasional book on the subject.

“… the tweet is completely inconsistent with the United Kingdom’s declared policy to mark, commemorate and celebrate the Balfour Declaration (all terms used by the Prime Minister and other Ministers in recent weeks).  In just a fortnight’s time a commemorative dinner is to take place to be attended by the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Netanyahu.  It is deeply unattractive for the UK’s Mission to the UN to strike a critical note and exposes the UK Government to a charge of hypocrisy.”

Well, President Arkush, God forbid anyone should be leaving themselves open to a charge of hypocrisy.

The problem for our Jewish leaders in the UK is that they have put all their Israeli eggs into one Conservative shaped basket. And the current chaos of Brexit negotiations hardly makes the Tories look like the ‘natural party of government’.

However, in truth our Jewish leadership’s mistake goes back much further. Signing up to be the puppets of the State of Israel’s Foreign Ministry is where it all went wrong.

The JLC, the Board, and indeed the Chief Rabbi, now look like nothing more than local adjuncts to the Israeli Embassy. Years ago they should, and could, have taken on the role of critical friend to Israel and developed a nuanced Jewish diaspora position that held Israel to account for its excesses and campaigned for a genuine 2-state solution. But instead they opted to be local sub-contractors for Israeli propaganda. And now it’s too late to turn back.

A landmark year

So the Balfour anniversary year is turning out to be more revealing and significant than I imagined 12 months ago.

At a national political level there is now no agreement over Israel at Westminster.

Meanwhile the formal Jewish leadership in the UK are painting themselves into a blue and white corner and looking ever more out of touch with a general public which is beginning to understand that Israel/Palestine is a conflict about human rights and not about terrorism. As for bullying national politicians and career diplomats over Israel that does not look like smart communal politics and certainly nothing like the Jewish tradition championing justice and compassion.

The final two weeks of the Balfour anniversary year will show up further divisions on Israel across British public life. There are numerous speeches, rallies, marches, celebrations and protests planned across the country. They will prove that Britain no longer has a consensus on Israel.

This article was originally published by Patheos here on October 22, 2017.

Robert Cohen

Cohen is a British writer. He blogs at Micah's Paradigm Shift.

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28 Responses

  1. annie on October 24, 2017, 1:40 pm

    love it. things are heating up.

  2. Brewer on October 24, 2017, 3:07 pm

    Wheels within wheels:
    “British Colonial Secretary Lord Cavendish also wrote about this agreement and its result in a 1923 memorandum to the British Cabinet, stating: “The object [of the Balfour Declaration] was to enlist the sympathies on the Allied side of influential Jews and Jewish organizations all over the world… [and] it is arguable that the negotiations with the Zionists…did in fact have considerable effect in advancing the date at which the United States government intervened in the war.”Former British Prime Minister Lloyd George similarly referred to the deal, telling a British commission in 1935: “Zionist leaders gave us a definite promise that, if the Allies committed themselves to giving facilities for the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, they would do their best to rally Jewish sentiment and support throughout the world to the Allied cause. They kept their word.”[xxiv]

    Brandeis University professor and author Frank E. Manuel reported that Lloyd George had testified in 1937 “that stimulating the war effort of American Jews was one of the major motives which, during a harrowing period in the European war, actuated members of the cabinet in finally casting their votes for the Declaration.””

    • Elizabeth Block on October 25, 2017, 10:32 pm

      (1) Nothing in the Balfour Declaration about a Jewish state. I’m sure Balfour never envisioned Palestine becoming anything other than a British colony.
      (2) Giving away something you don’t own – i.e. the land in Palestine – is like a band of robbers divvying up the money they have stolen. What legal weight should it carry?
      (3) I quote Ilan Pappe, Israeli historian: “There is no reason why a native population would ever volunteer to partition its homeland with settlers.”

    • john_manyjars on October 26, 2017, 4:41 am

      IIRC Chaim Weizmann was instrumental in helping the Brits fight WWI, by inventing a process to make acetone for artillery shells- the payment for which was the establishment of a ‘Jewish Homeland’.

  3. Maghlawatan on October 24, 2017, 4:06 pm

    No light between Israel and UK Jewish leadership. Squeaky bum time. Israel has torn the arse out of procrastination. Israel has nothing to offer UK voters.

  4. amigo on October 24, 2017, 4:28 pm

    Who would have thought that Nigel Farrage,s decision to call for a referendum on BREXIT , would possibly lead to the UK Gov voting in favour of a Palestinian State.

    Given the present state of turmoil within the Conservative party vis a vis the Brexit negotiations and the likelihood of a leadership change , Jeremy Corbyn,s stock has risen exponentially and he is on track to be the Next Pm.

    I sure would not want to be a soldier in the Friends Of Israel army (Labour or Conservative) when he takes up residence in number 10.

    These people are rightfully going to be at the top of the list of pay back for their treasonous activities on behalf of a foreign Government.

    Off with their heads Jeremy and never mind the accusations of Antisemitism.

    • echinococcus on October 24, 2017, 7:15 pm

      Off with their heads, who in his right mind wouldn’t agree?
      As to their being at the top of the payback list for treasonous activity on behalf of a foreign Gov., I wouldn’t take that to the Bank of E. You see, guv’nor, they are Zombies. Real, honest-to-Jehovah Zombies. They’ll buy a way out if not enough people keep shrilly demanding their heads on a platter.

      • ErsatzYisrael on October 25, 2017, 10:03 am

        echinococcus said on October 24, 2017, at 7:15 pm:

        Off with their heads, who in his right mind wouldn’t agree?

        Yep, these treasonous British Jews should be deprived of their British nationality and have their heads posted to Palestine on platters, and pronto.

    • JeffB on October 25, 2017, 10:16 am


      I suspect you are going to be sadly disappointed in Corbyn’s wrath. Momentum is a majority of Labor party primary voters, it is not a majority of MPs nor Labor Party voters. More importantly Momentum oriented MPs will a definitely minority within Commons. Corbyn needs to get majorities to pass his agenda regardless of whether he is PM or not. The whole antisemitism thing is a symptom of the bigger problem for Corbyn that the Blairite Labor party does not agree with Corbyn’s policies and are not going to want to see them enacted into law. If he tries to govern the way he has led all that happens, even with the title of PM, is bill after bill just gets voted down and potentially other legislation takes its place. Corbyn to get policies through either needs to compromise or horse trade. He can only compromise or horse trade to his right. The enthusiasm for Momentum will fall off as Corbyn ends up passing bills far to the right of what his supporters expect. The numbers just aren’t there for a strong Corbyn and will never be there. PM Corbyn needs to avoid all of:

      1) A Blairite faction that negotiates and compromises with the Tories to pass alternatives to the official Labor Party agenda.
      2) An outright party split.
      3) Constant erosion as MPs and moderate Labor voters defect to the Tories.

      #3 is the reason he can’t intimidate himself a majority. Deselection is a serious threat in an environment of a strong Conservative party. In a weaker environment the Conservative party will be actively recruiting Blairite MPs to switch. Unless the Blairites are in the Cabinet and actively making decisions what is he going to threaten them with?

      Getting specific to Jews there is even less he can do. 75% of Jews are Tory. The remaining 1/4 mostly float between Labor and Lib-Dems with little attachment to either party. The purge you think is going to happen already happened a generation ago. An anti-Israel Tory PM combined with Corbyn would be threatening to Jews interests. Corbyn alone not so much.

      Sure Corbyn can crack down on Jewish Friends of Labor and watch his Jewish support fall below 3%. If Labor has 3% or less Jewish voters are considering Labor, the view of Labor as an openly antisemetic party is going to be mainstream opinion. What Jewish Friends of Labor allege now the British public would be saying openly as simple fact after they are purged. There wouldn’t be a debate. This gets compounded because some of the public might would like having a mainstream antisemetic party. You better believe the Tories and Blairites are going to have lots of televised interviews with voters who talk about how much they love PM Corbyn and voted for him because he is finally standing up to and sticking it to the Jews. So Corbyn in your crackdown world is not going to be having subtle debates about when anti-Zionism turns into antisemitism like leftist like. The whole define antisemitism so narrowly that no actual person qualifies trick won’t work for a PM.

      You think Corbyn doesn’t like the pressure now when the conversation is about antisemitism in Labor. He would like it far less when the conversation is Labor’s antisemitic platform and policy. The Daily Mail or the Sun writing about antisemetic incidents is trouble. Those are mean papers. But wait until in your crackdown world it the USA State Department in an official report. PM Corbyn likely will need to fight desperately to keep the problem at only the current level of heat. So sorry. Your revenge fantasy ain’t going to play out.

      If anything I mostly suspect much the opposite happens. Momentum is where Corbyn is strongest. It is going to be far easier for him to moderate Momentum on Israel than to effectively do anything about British policy or politics on the issue. Corbyn will drag Momentum to the right, because he has to on Israel and many other issues.

      • Misterioso on October 25, 2017, 11:21 am

        Face reality. You and your fellow Zionists are steadily losing ground in Britain (as well as Europe and America.) The entity known as “Israel” is increasingly seen for what it truly is, i.e., an historical anachronism, an abomination, racist, an illegal/brutal occupier, an ethnic cleanser, a serial violator of had won international law, a rogue and a pariah.

        Jewish News:
        June 22/17
        “[British] Government acted unlawfully over council boycott restrictions, High Court rules”

        “Activists herald a ‘victory for Palestine’ after court rules that attempts to prevent local government ‘ethical’ boycotts of Israel are unlawful.”

        More From Britain re High Court’s decision:

        “Judge tells Government: allow BDS” by Mike Cushman June 22/17

        “A High Court judge has ruled that the Government was exceeding its power in trying to direct Local Government Pension Funds to ignore calls for BDS and abandon ethical investing. The Government, he said: ‘has acted for an unauthorised purpose and therefore unlawfully’.“

        “Jamie Potter, Partner in the Public Law and Human Rights team at Bindmans LLP said: ‘This outcome is a reminder to the Government that it cannot improperly interfere in the exercise of freedom of conscience and protest in order to pursue its own agenda.’ This goes beyond a welcome victory for BDS campaigners. All supporters of the right to free expression and the right to oppose Government policies will welcome this push back against executive over-reach.”

      • Mooser on October 25, 2017, 1:06 pm

        . “Corbyn will drag Momentum to the right, because he has to on Israel and many other issues.”

        Thank you, Dr. Panglossowitz. It’s always the best if all possible worlds for Zionism.

      • amigo on October 25, 2017, 3:14 pm

        Jeff , go see a taxidermist.

      • Bumblebye on October 25, 2017, 5:11 pm

        Point 1) Momentum is a private company.

        Point 2) Labour Party membership is over 560,000. Momentum membership isn’t even one tenth of that.

        Point 3) Jon Lansmann (owner, chief exec) has been and continues, cosying up to Jeremy Newmark of JLM, passionately pro-israel right or wrong, failed parliamentary candidate for Finchley during the last election.

        Point 4) People passionate about justice – even in Palestine – can be found throughout the party.

      • amigo on October 25, 2017, 9:33 pm

        Jeffy boy again shows he hasn,t a clue what he is talking about.

        “The 24,000-member group didn’t deserve those dismissive pre-election labels, but it has certainly earned the more recently positive ones. Credited with mobilising the youth vote, Momentum’s snappy social media campaigns gleaned millions of shares. The group also sent scores of campaigners – some of them first-time canvassers – into the country’s most marginal constituencies, helping to drive up support for Labour, house by house and street by street.”

        These people are not moving to the right and 300,000 british Jews do not decide elections in the UK. Zioniist infiltrators , (spys) and british traitors wont decide it either, even if they succeed in “taking down ” democratically elected British Ministers.

        Read the article and come back with more nonsense or use your usual go to excuse and claim your response got the thumbs down by the moderators when you run out of excuses.

        Just as with Irish politics you know sfa about British politics.

    • ritzl on October 26, 2017, 1:10 am

      “Jeremy Corbyn,s stock has risen exponentially and he is on track to be the Next Pm.”

      Hope so.

      IF so, he will have shown a path for any who follow on how to navigate the fake-but-still-potent “anti-semitism” tool/canard.

      Unfortunately, Corbyn may be unique in his consistency and perseverance about rights and justice generally. I don’t see any other leaders out there who are equally committed. Even Sanders.

  5. Keith on October 24, 2017, 6:07 pm

    ROBERT COHEN- “… the Jewish tradition championing justice and compassion.”

    Here we go again. Another liberal Zionist wrapping himself in the proclaimed Jewish values. You and Suzanne Nossel. So, why do so many Jews support Israel and Zionism if it offends their traditional values?

    • Mooser on October 24, 2017, 7:04 pm

      “… the Jewish tradition championing justice and compassion.”

      Well, mostly for us, but that’s a start, anyway.

    • ritzl on October 26, 2017, 1:11 am


  6. Bumblebye on October 24, 2017, 7:06 pm

    Jamie Sternweiner’s article (linked in the piece) really was an excellent take down. But long!

    As for the BoD, they should rename themselves the BoZ!

  7. ErsatzYisrael on October 25, 2017, 10:23 am

    Years ago they should, and could, have taken on the role of critical friend to Israel and developed a nuanced Jewish diaspora position that held Israel to account for its excesses and campaigned for a genuine 2-state solution.

    Shut your Zionist cake-hole, Cohen, British Jews don’t owe Zionism or “israel” any kind of favor, period. And there’s no such thing as a “Jewish Diaspora”, nor is there a need for “a nuanced” approach to ideological cancer.

  8. Vera Gottlieb on October 25, 2017, 10:35 am

    How tiresome to have to put up with the Zionists’ never ending arrogance and demands.

  9. RobertB on October 25, 2017, 12:55 pm

    Who wrote the Balfour Declaration and why: The World War I Connection

    By Alison Weir

    October 24, 2017

    “While Americans today are aware of many of these facts, few know that Zionism appears to have been one of those factors. [Zionism was a political movement to create a Jewish state in Palestine. When this movement began, in the late 1800s, the population of Palestine was 96 percent Muslim and Christian. The large majority of Jews around the world were not Zionists.]

    Diverse documentary evidence shows that Zionists pushed for the U.S. to enter the war on Britain’s side as part of a deal to gain British support for their colonization of Palestine.

    From the very beginning of their movement, Zionists realized that if they were to succeed in their goal of creating a Jewish state on land that was already inhabited by non-Jews, they needed backing from one of the “great powers.”[vii] They tried the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Palestine at the time, but were turned down (although they were told that Jews could settle throughout other parts of the Ottoman empire and become Turkish citizens).[viii]”

    “In 1917 British Foreign Minister Lord Balfour issued a letter to Zionist leader Lord Rothschild. Known as the Balfour Declaration, this letter promised that Britain would “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and “use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

    The letter then qualified this somewhat by stating that it should be “clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The “non-Jewish communities” were 92 percent of Palestine’s population at that time,[xiii] vigorous Zionist immigration efforts having slightly expanded the percentage of Jews living in Palestine by then.

    The letter, while officially signed by British Foreign Minister Lord Balfour, had been in process for two years and had gone through a number of edits by British and American Zionists and British officials.[xiv] As Zionist leader Nahum Sokolow later wrote, “[e]very idea born in London was tested by the Zionist Organization in America, and every suggestion in America received the most careful attention in London.”[xv]

    Sokolow wrote that British Zionists were helped, “above all, by American Zionists. Between London, New York, and Washington there was constant communication, either by telegraph, or by personal visit, and as a result there was perfect unity among the Zionists of both hemispheres.” Sokolow particularly praised “the beneficent personal influence of the Honourable Louis D. Brandeis, Judge of the Supreme Court.”[xvi]

    The final version of the Declaration was actually written by Leopold Amery, a British official who, it came out later, was a secret and fervent Zionist.[xvii]”

    Click on link below for the rest of the story:

  10. mcohen.. on October 25, 2017, 3:49 pm


    labour party is compromised.pakistani IT “experts” are being purged from american governmemt and the Democrat party.the same will happen to labour in britain

    so why pretend that this is about the labour party and Britain. it is simply a muslim country pakistan siding with muslims in the middle east.political influence peddling to sway british politicians to tear up past agreements.

    i like this reexamination of documents.especially the balfour never know what else could pop up from the past

  11. Mooser on October 25, 2017, 5:42 pm

    “to tear up past agreements”

    So the Zionists can blow up the King David Hotel, and fight Britian for its “independence”, but the “Balfour Letter” has the force of law?
    Ho-kay. Shall we go flying down to Remo now?

  12. just on October 25, 2017, 5:55 pm

    “From the West Bank to London The Palestinian Plan to Protest the Balfour Declaration’s 100th Anniversary

    The Palestinian Authority is planning a major demonstration in London and will request the British government to recognize the State of Palestine…”

    read more:

  13. jon s on October 28, 2017, 4:54 pm

    This week the streets here in Be’er Sheva are decorated with with the flags of Australia and New Zealand, in anticipation of the event commemorating the ANZAC cavalry battle:

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