In a parliamentary statement on the Balfour Declaration and its legacy on Monday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson underlined that a 100 years on, “the Balfour Declaration paved the way for the birth of a great nation”.
The Foreign Secretary’s statement was followed by numerous Conservative MPs voicing their support of Israel.
He emphasised that “the State of Israel has prevailed over every obstacle, from the harshness of nature to the visceral hostility of its enemies, to become a free society with a thriving and innovative economy and the same essential values that we in Britain hold dear”.
Praising the Jewish State for its democracy, Foreign Secretary Johnson said: “Liberty, democracy and the rule of law have found a home in Israel—more so than anywhere else in the Middle East”.
Speaking of the persecution of Jews and the necessity of the Balfour Declaration, he said: “Most of all, there is the incontestable moral purpose of Israel to provide a persecuted people with a safe and secure homeland. We should not brush aside how the pernicious extent of antisemitism in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—decades before the holocaust—created the necessity for the Balfour declaration”.
The Foreign Secretary said that the moral case for establishing a “national home for the Jewish people” was to “provide a haven” from the horrors of persecution.
He concluded his statement by reaffirming the Government’s commitment to peace and a two-state solution, stating: “I believe that a just peace will be a reality when two states for two peoples co-exist in the Holy Land, and that is the goal we must strive to bring about”.
He underlined: “A century after the Balfour declaration helped to create the state of Israel—an achievement that no one in this House would wish to undo—there is unfinished business and work to be done. We in this country, mindful of our historic role, and co-operating closely with our allies, will not shirk from that challenge”.
Numerous Conservative MPs contributed to the debate, following the Foreign Secretary’s words.
Jonathan Djanogly MP asked the Foreign Secretary whether he agreed that the Balfour Declaration can be regarded as “an act of great diplomatic skill on the part of his illustrious predecessor, Lord Balfour, in so far as it triggered a process leading to the creation of Israel, thus providing a strong, stable, democratic and non-sectarian ally for the UK in the heart of the notoriously unstable Middle East?”
In his response, Foreign Secretary Johnson said: “the Balfour declaration was an historic event that led to a giant political fact: the creation of the State of Israel, which I believe to be one of the most stunning political achievements of the 20th century”.
He underlined: “Nobody looking at Israel—a democracy and a liberal, tolerant society in the Middle East—could seriously wish away that achievement. We should celebrate the existence of the state of Israel—we certainly celebrate our relationship with the state of Israel here in this country”.
Dr Andrew Murrison MP asked the Foreign Secretary whether he agreed that “centenaries can be a powerful way to draw people together, thoughtfully and respectfully, even where, as here, the history is complex and nuanced?”
The Foreign Secretary said that he strongly agreed, and added that “It was vital to find a homeland for the Jewish people, and history can be grateful that Balfour made the decision he did, though we have to understand at the same time the injustice and suffering occasioned by that decision”.
Jack Lopresti MP asked the Foreign Secretary whether he agreed that “not only is Israel a beacon of hope and democracy in the Middle East but that our strategic partnerships in the fields of security and defence are vital to the safety of both our nations and should be enhanced and developed?”
In response, the Foreign Secretary said Israel is “a country at the cutting edge of high technology of all kinds” and spoke of the importance of cooperation in all fields with Israel.
Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden asked the Foreign Secretary whether he agreed with him and “many of my constituents that this anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate modern Israel, its vibrant economy, its liberty and diversity, its democracy and, above all, the fact that at a time of rising antisemitism, it still provides a safe home for the Jewish people?”
Philip Hollobone MP said that while he believed that residents of the Palestinian Territories “do not enjoy the full civil rights promised to them in the Balfour Declaration”, it is also true that “neither do the more than 800,000 Jews expelled from countries in the Middle East and North Africa”. He said: “We must remember that 21% of the population of the current state of Israel are Arab Palestinians, whereas there has been wholescale ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab and north African countries, starting in 1948″.
CFI Officer Andrew Percy MP asked: “Is it not the case that the rights of non-Jews in the state of Israel are 100% protected as per the Balfour Declaration?” He additionally said: “Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that it would be wholly inappropriate and wrong for anyone to seek to use this centenary to perpetuate the myth and falsehood that the failure to establish a Palestinian state is wholly the responsibility of Israel, because to do so would be to deny the role of neighbouring Arab countries in 1948 in attacking Israel and preventing the existence of an Arab state, and also the failure of the Arab leadership to grasp peace plans as they have been offered?”
Michael Tomlinson MP said that last he had “the privilege of visiting Israel and the West Bank with members of Conservative Friends of Israel”. He asked the Foreign Secretary whether the centenary commemoration presents an opportunity for the resumption of peace talks and the UK to encourage the fulfilment of a two-state solution.
Colin Clark MP asked whether he agreed that it is “deeply disappointing that the Leader of the Opposition will not attend a dinner to mark the centenary of the Balfour declaration?”
Foreign Secretary Johnson said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s absence is “disappointing”, adding that “one would have thought that the Leader of the Opposition would at least be interested in trying to achieve a solution to a problem that has bedevilled the world for so long, and would not, by his absence, be so blatantly appearing to side with one party and not the other”.
Kevin Foster MP said that a “prosperous democracy where people can freely practise their religion in Israel is part of what we want to see ultimately in the Palestinian state as well”. He asked the Foreign Secretary whether he will use “every opportunity of this centenary of the Balfour declaration to push forward that long-term goal?”.
Click here to read the full transcript of the statement and debate.