This week Israel’s judo team was harassed and discriminated against by UAE officials when they tried to board a flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul, en route to Abu Dhabi to participate in the Judo Grand Slam competition.
Apropos of nothing, UAE told the Israelis they would only be permitted to enter the UAE from Amman. And once they finally arrived at the competition, they were prohibited from competing under their national flag. Lowlights of the UAE’s shameful bigotry included forcing Tal Flicker to receive his gold medal under the International Judo Association’s flag with the association’s theme song, rather than Israel’s national anthem playing in the background and the sight of a Moroccan female judoka literally running away from her Israeli opponent rather than shake hands with her.
The discrimination that Israel’s judokas suffered is newsworthy because it’s appalling, not because it is rare. It isn’t rare. Israeli athletes and performers, professors, students and tourists in countries throughout the world are regularly discriminated against for being Israeli Jews. Concerts are picketed or canceled. Israelis are denied educational opportunities and teaching positions.
Israeli brands are boycotted and Israeli shops are picketed from Montreal to Brooklyn to Johannesburg.
The simple act of purchasing Israeli cucumbers has become a political statement in countries around the world.
And of course, there is the world of diplomacy, where the nations of the world seem to have flushed the news of Israel’s establishment 70 years ago down the memory hole. The near-consensus view of UN institutions and to a growing degree, of EU institutions, not to mention the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, is that the Jewish exile should never have ended. The Jews should have remained scattered and at the mercy of the nations of the world, forever.
In the face of the growing discrimination Israelis suffer and rejection Israel endures, how are we to look at the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, which we will mark next Thursday? One hundred years ago, on November 2, 1917, Arthur Balfour, foreign secretary of Great Britain, detonated a bomb whose aftershocks are still being felt in Britain and worldwide.
That day, Balfour issued a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, the leader of the British Jewish community.
The letter, which quickly became known as the Balfour Declaration, effectively announced the British Empire supported an end of the Jewish people’s 1,800-year exile and its return to history, as a free nation in its homeland – the Land of Israel.
In Balfour’s immortal words, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.”
The Palestinian Arab leadership at the time rejected his statement. Shortly thereafter the Arabs initiated a terrorist onslaught against the Jewish community in the Land of Israel that has continued, more or less without interruption, ever since.
Indeed, for the Palestinians, nothing has changed. They have not moved an inch in a hundred years. PLO chief and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas now demands that Britain officially renounce the Balfour Declaration and apologize for having issued it as if Lord Balfour was still foreign secretary and David Lloyd George was still prime minster.
Their growing chorus of supporters at the UN, throughout the Islamic world, and in Europe is similarly stuck in 1917.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t believe that the enduring Arab and international rejection of Israel’s right to exist mitigates the significance of the Balfour Declaration. Next week he will travel to London to participate in the centennial commemorations of the Balfour Declaration at the side of British Prime Minister Theresa May.
May said on Wednesday that she is “proud” to commemorate the declaration. In her words, “We are proud of the role that we played in the creation of the State of Israel and we certainly mark the centenary with pride.”
This was certainly nice of her. But May also felt it necessary to tip her hat to the Balfour haters. So she added, “We must also be conscious of the sensitivities that some people do have about the Balfour Declaration and we recognize that there is more work to be done. We remain committed to the two-state solution in relation to Israel and the Palestinians.”
This bring us back to the Palestinians, and the UAE, and the protesters who will be screaming out against Balfour and David Lloyd George from one end of Britain to the other next week demanding their declaration be withdrawn and history rolled back.
These people are not fringe elements. They have lots of people in positions of power in Britain who agree with them.
Britain’s main opposition party is being led by an ardent Israel-basher. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced Monday that he will not be participating the Balfour centennial ceremonies. And that makes sense.
It would be awkward for a man who was elected and reelected after calling Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists his “friends,” to be celebrating Britain’s role in establishing the state his friends are working to destroy.
Corbyn’s boycott, and his very rise to power, are clear signs that Balfour’s legacy is a mixed bag.
Except that it isn’t a mixed bag.
At a very deep level, Israel owes its existence to the Balfour Declaration. This is true not because the Balfour Declaration changed the way the world viewed the Jews. It manifestly did not – not in its own time, and not today.
In fact it is richly ironic that the Palestinians and their supporters blame the British for the establishment of Israel. Shortly after the Balfour Declaration was issued, British authorities, particularly on the ground in the Middle East, did everything they possibly could to cancel it.
In 1920, British military officers asked the local Arab strongman Haj Amin al-Husseini to incite a pogrom in Jerusalem over Passover. Husseini’s thugs murdered four Jews and wounded many more. The purpose of the pogrom was to convince the British Parliament to cancel the Balfour Declaration.