What the Balfour Declaration Means

One century ago, in the middle of the First World War, British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour issued a declaration that paved the way for the establishment of a Jewish state.  The declaration was ambiguous in some respects because the British aimed not only to win the support of Jews around the world, but also to bring Arabs into more direct conflict with the Turkish Ottomans, who ruled both Jews and Arabs in the Middle East.

The Turks had dealt savagely with both the Jews and the Christians.  The genocide of Armenians is an overlooked holocaust, and Bat Ye'or's book on the long persecution of Christians by the Ottomans is a vital, but often missing, part of the history of the region. 

The creation of a Jewish state had less to do with religion – many of the Jewish immigrants to Palestine after the First World War ended were agnostics or even atheists – than with race.  The Kurds, for example, had no specific religious identity.  Many were Muslims, some were Christians, and some even were Jews.  The Kurdish experience has been one of persecution and division. 

What Jews wanted was simply a place, in fact a very small place in global terms, in which Jews were not hounded and hated for being what they were by birth.  The Dreyfus Affair decades earlier solidified feelings that Jews could never be fully safe anywhere.  Theodore Herzl after that ghastly miscarriage of justice founded a formal Zionist organization committed to the establishment of a Jewish state.

The idea was simple: let Jews live in their historic homeland in peace and friendship with whoever would be peaceful and friendly toward them.  The migration of Jews into Palestine between the wars was wracked with violence: Arab attacks on Jews that were supported by both the Nazis and the Soviets (which gives some idea of the nature of the enemies of a Jewish state), with the Soviets actually arguing that the Jews in Palestine were tools of the Nazis.

After the Second World War and the horror of the Holocaust, the impetus for establishing a Jewish state gained critical mass.  While there was still uncertainly about what exactly the Balfour Declaration actually meant – was it support for a Jewish state or support for a state to which Jews were welcome to immigrate? – Auschwitz and Treblinka made chilling and absolute arguments that unless they had their own nation with their own self-defense forces, Jews would never be truly safe again.

The attitude of Arabs after the war provided another reminder of the helplessness of Jews in a land controlled by others: throughout North Africa, Jews whose only crime was being Jewish were persecuted by Arabs.  The rest of the world did nothing to help these Jews except, in some cases, for help from the caudillo Francisco Franco, who made it his business to help Sephardic Jews.

In 1948, when the State of Israel was founded, all citizens of that nation, including Arabs, Muslims, and Christians, were granted equal civil and political rights, which state of affairs has remained to the present time.  Israel became the second functioning democracy in the Middle East, after Lebanon, whose Maronite Christian majority working in collaboration with moderate Muslims created in Lebanon the "Switzerland of the Middle East."  Today, after Muslim genocide against Lebanon's Christians, that nation has descended into misery and hopelessness.

Israel is a success in the sense that Lebanon was once a success.  The promise of the Balfour Declaration and the Zionists who pushed for that declaration has worked.  Jews now have a homeland determined to resist those who would destroy Jews and Israel, and the flourishing diversity of politics and opinion in Israel is a magnificent expression of those ideals the West professes to embrace.

The Balfour Declaration was the turning point in the struggle for a Jewish state.  It is a turning point of which Jews and Christians alike can be proud.  It is a clear affirmation of all that is good in Western civilization and all that can grant hope to all peoples desperate for their own homelands, whose aspirations we ought to embrace as strongly as we embrace the meaning in the Balfour Declaration a century ago.