Conservative Lords to contribute included: CFI Honorary President Lord Polak CBE, Lord Grade CBE, Baroness Altmann CBE, Lord Shinkwin, Baroness Redfern, and Lord McInnes CBE.
The Balfour Declaration was a letter from Conservative Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild (as a representative of the British Jewish Community and for passing on to the Zionist Federation) on 2nd November 1917 promising support for the creation of a national homeland for the Jewish people in Israel.
It was the first official expression of Britain’s historic commitment to a Jewish State, and stated support for Jewish self-determination in Israel.
CFI Honorary President Lord Polak CBE stressed how important the Balfour Declaration is to the Jewish community in his speech, and asked: “Will the Minister confirm, in the words of the Prime Minister, that we will be marking the 100th anniversary with ‘pride'”.
Former Chairman of the BBC Lord Grade CBE said in his speech that: “Zionism is the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and is right at the heart of the Balfour Declaration. However, sadly, in some quarters the term has become a proxy for antisemitism”.
Lord Grade accused the BBC of anti-Israel bias, highlighting a headline the BBC ran on its website after the fatal stabbing of an Israeli police officer last month.
The Former Chairman of the BBC said: “On 16 June two Palestinians, unprovoked, attacked Israeli police officers in Jerusalem with guns and knives, while a third stabbed to death Border Police Staff Sergeant Hadas Malka, aged 23. The BBC’s headline on its news website was ‘Three Palestinians killed after deadly stabbing in Jerusalem’. The BBC eventually changed its headline to ‘Israeli policewoman stabbed to death in Jerusalem’”.
He added: “The BBC accepted its mistake and subsequently changed it. Of course, I am not accusing BBC journalists of antisemitism but this example demonstrates the drip-drip effect of unqualified, un-contextualised singling out of Israel for criticism. If the BBC can get this wrong, it is little wonder that Israel finds it so hard to put aside the idea that some critics are motivated by something more sinister than political commentary”.
Lord Shinkwin said that the debate was an”important opportunity to celebrate the immense progress achieved since the Balfour Declaration was made”. He remarked: “How wonderful it is that our brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith once again have their historic home in an Israel that is prosperous, democratic and strong”.
He added: “In preparing for this debate, I reflected on how indebted I am personally to a fine Jewish gentleman without whose orthopaedic skill in rebuilding my broken bones as a child I simply would not be here. Little did I know then of his escape from the Nazis on the very last train to leave Prague before the borders were closed in June 1939″.
Lord Shinkwin underlined: “In contemplating the Balfour Declaration we should contemplate the alternative: a world without Israel. Celebrating this declaration is for me part of ensuring that the genocidal, anti-Semitic suffering of the 20th century is never again visited upon our world”.
Baroness Redfern said in her speech that the “centenary of the Balfour Declaration presents a unique opportunity to revive the Middle East peace process”.
She reflected on her visit to the country with CFI, and praised Israel’s democracy and “liberal and open society”. She said: “What I found invaluable was to hear at first hand from both Israelis and Palestinians their hope for peace to bring both sides together. Leaders will be have to be brave and go that extra mile, with no preconditions, to achieve that elusive peaceful settlement”.
Baroness Altmann said in her speech that her “fervent wish is that this centenary of the Balfour Declaration could somehow be the beginning of new moves towards peace in Israel and the Palestinian territories”.
She highlighted the strives that Israel had made towards peace: “Israel has shown its good faith and proved it wants peace. It returned huge swathes of land to Egypt in 1979. It has made peace with Jordan. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. It has dismantled settlements. It offered peace to the Palestinians several times since 2000, but sadly has had no reliable partner with which to negotiate peace”.
Baroness Altmann added: “The Palestinians keep trying to make war with Israel, not peace. If one side refuses to talk peace and does not even acknowledge the right of the other party to exist, how is a two-state solution to be achieved?”
Lord McInnes emphasised that “it was the Balfour Declaration that gave hope to many Jewish people throughout eastern Europe who faced pogroms and oppression and for whom there was no viable option other than emigration”.
He added that today, “without the Balfour Declaration the pluralism which defined the Middle East for 2,000 years would have been lost… There is pluralism in religion and sexuality and democracy in Israel that does not exist in a viable form anywhere else in the Middle East. For that, we should take immense pride in the Balfour Declaration”.
In her Ministerial response, Baroness Goldie said that “the United Kingdom is proud of its role in the creation of Israel, and we will therefore mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration with pride”.
She added: “The Prime Minister has extended an invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the UK as a guest of the Government in November, although the programme for his visit has not yet been finalised”.
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