This week, at the annual Balfour Dinner hosted by the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association, CFI’s Parliamentary Chairman in the House of Lords, Rt. Hon. The Lord Pickles, hailed UK-Israel ties and celebrated the 102nd anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. In a letter of support for the event, held in Herzliya, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he believed the Balfour Declaration was “indispensable to the creation of a great nation”.
In his speech, Lord Pickles reflected on his first visit to Israel almost 40 years ago, when he “fell in love with this wonderful country, its people and its destiny”. In the last 40 years, he added, Israel has “fulfilled its promise and more so”, pointing to Israel’s development from “agriculture to high-tech, kibbutz to Start-Up Nation”.
Lord Pickles said that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was “beautiful in its intent” and was later enshrined in law in the San Remo resolution of 1920, before being “further endorsed” by the League of Nations in its Mandate for Palestine in 1922.
CFI’s Parliamentary Chairman in the House of Lords expressed his view that the delay before the State of Israel was established in 1948 was a “terrible wait” and a “wasted quarter of a century”, describing how the Holocaust “ripped the heart of Europe”.
Lord Pickles said it was a “matter of some pride” that the previous Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, issued a public apology for the 1939 White Paper restricting Jewish immigration to the Holy Land – a “terrible mistake”.
The Conservative Peer told the audience that he had spent time in a bomb shelter in Tel Aviv this week. He said: “We were there because someone thought that the appropriate way to mark the death of a terrorist was to fire explosive rockets in the general direction of Israel. The rockets could kill a member of the IDF, a farmer, a school child, a pensioner, an Arab child. They are as indiscriminate as they are pointless”.
“As Israeli organisations are transforming life across the developing world, that change could come to Gaza and beyond if only the men of blood could put away the rocket and the bullet and embrace change. Revolution comes from shared prosperity not through the barrel of a gun”, the former Cabinet Minister added.
Lord Pickles expressed his concern that “Zionism has become a term of abuse” in the UK, explaining that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism includes modern examples of how antisemitic hatred manifests today.
Explaining how the term ‘Zionism’ in no way rejects “the idea of an Arab state existing alongside a Jewish state”, Lord Pickles emphasised that “the Jewish leadership in 1947 agreed to the UN Partition Plan, the first two-state solution with Israel living beside a Palestinian Arab state”.
Not only did the Arab leadership reject this proposal, the “Palestinian leadership has failed time and again to commit itself to a lasting two-state solution”, he said.
Lord Pickles added that he was “horrified” that the Palestinian Authority Minister of Culture, Atef Abu Saif, recently described the Balfour Declaration as a “mark of disgrace in the history of humanity”, underlining that “the Palestinian Authority continues to name schools, sports tournaments and roads after terrorists, and lifelong salaries are paid to Palestinian prisoners who have killed Israelis and visitors”.
He emphasised: “It is crucial that the international community urges the Palestinian leadership to seek the peace and prosperity that the Palestinian people have lacked for so long”.
Lord Pickles went on to examine the “neglected part of the Balfour Declaration”, which said that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice… the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.
He said: “The Jewish leadership upheld the first principle, accepting the UN Partition Plan of 1947 and absorbing 200,000 Arabs who remained in Israel after the War of Independence, when Israel was invaded by its Arab neighbours. The Arabs who did not flee became equal citizens and their descendants make up Israel’s 1.9 million Arab minority today, over 20% of the population”.
Yet while “Israel has certainly lived up to the highest ambitions of the Balfour Declaration, enshrining the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in law in its Declaration of Independence”, Lord Pickles highlighted that “neighbouring Arab states rejected the UN Partition Plan and persecuted their Jewish communities”.
He said that of over 800,000 Jews forced out from their homes in the Middle East and North Africa, nearly 600,000 were absorbed into Israel and “their children and grandchildren now account for more than 40% of Israel’s population”, while more than 200,000 Jews fled to Europe and North America.
Lord Pickles concluded by explaining that he supports Israel “because it is the right thing to do”, and quoted the Hatikvah – Israel’s national anthem.