Prime Minister Theresa May has said the UK would “certainly” be celebrating the Balfour Declaration’s 100 year anniversary “with pride” at PMQs, as numerous Conservative MPs hailed the UK-Israel relationship at a Westminster Hall debate yesterday, ahead of the centenary of the letter on 2nd November 2017
In Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Robert Jenrick MP asked the Prime Minister: “We enter a week of commemorations around the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. Would the Prime Minister rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of justice and peace for both the Israelis and the Palestinians but celebrate with pride our small national contribution to the creation of a democracy in the Middle East, a sanctuary for those who have suffered from antisemitism and fear its rise again. And in the State of Israel, a true friend of the United Kingdom”.
Prime Minister May underlined in response: “We are proud of the role we played in the creation of the State of Israel and we will certainly mark the centenary with pride”.
She added: “I am also pleased at the good trade relations and other relationships we have with Israel and that we are building on and enhancing”, and emphasised that the UK remains committed to the two-state solution in relation to Israel and the Palestinians.
On Wednesday afternoon, Member of Parliament for Hendon, Dr Matthew Offord led a Westminster Hall debate on the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration, where he celebrated the landmark moment in the UK-Israel shared history.
20 Conservative MPs were in attendance in the debate, where Middle East Minister, Rt. Hon. Alistair Burt, reasserted that the UK will celebrate the centenary “with pride” and that the establishment of Israel was “the right and moral thing” for the UK to do.
Referring to the Balfour Declaration, CFI Officer, Dr Matthew Offord MP, said that “In a mere 67 words, the United Kingdom set in motion a chain of events that led to the historic birth of Israel, one of the world’s most vibrant democracies”. He welcomed the Government and Prime Minister’s repeated statements that the UK will be marking the centenary “with a sense of pride”. Dr Offord said: “It is particularly symbolic that our Prime Minister has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to London to share our celebrations for this very special occasion”.
He emphasised: “One hundred years on, the UK-Israel relationship is stronger than ever, with our shared commitment to the values of liberalism, democracy and freedom”.
CFI Parliamentary Chairman in the House of Commons, Rt. Hon. Stephen Crabb MP, drew on Winston Churchill’s words to say that it was “manifestly right” to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration with pride. Celebrating Israel’s achievements, Mr Crabb said: “Israel’s achievements since its establishment speak for themselves. It has one of the world’s most diverse societies, and its economic successes and commitment to the same values that we hold so dear in this country make it a close and vital ally”.
He added: “Israel’s commitment to liberalism and tolerance shine brightly in a region where, sadly, persecution and a denial of basic human rights are all too common. To celebrate the Balfour Declaration, therefore, is to celebrate everything that our nations have achieved together, and serves as a reminder of what two countries can accomplish if they embrace the shared principles of freedom and liberalism”.
Mr Crabb condemned the fact that “today, in 2017, more than 30 members of the United Nations still refuse to recognise or maintain diplomatic relations with the state of Israel, including 19 of the 21 Arab League states”. He emphasised: “I believe that that is an absurdity and a stain upon the international community”.
He spoke of the “successive failures of the Palestinian leadership to grasp opportunities” and called on the Government to “redouble their efforts in pursuit of the two-state solution”.
CFI Vice-Chairman John Howell OBE MP hailed the “record levels of trade, intelligence sharing and ever closer academic, cultural and scientific collaboration” between the UK and Israel. He underlined that “the bilateral relationship runs deep, and it all started as a result of Balfour”, adding that “Zionist” has become one of the most misunderstood and misused words in the English political dictionary.
CFI Vice-Chairman Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers MP spoke of the history behind the Balfour Declaration and underlined in her speech that “we in this country and in this Parliament should take pride in the role that the Balfour Declaration played in leading international opinion and promoting Jewish self-determination”. She added that on the eve of the centenary it is “heartening to know that the UK-Israel bilateral relationship is stronger than ever”.
CFI Officer Paul Masterton MP said “there will be many celebrating the centenary in my constituency of East Renfrewshire, which is home to more than 50% of Scotland’s Jewish population”. He said that Balfour Declaration “gave hope and opportunity to a people long-beaten, purged and exiled simply because of their religion”.
CFI Officer Mary Robinson MP drew attention to the Israel humanitarian contribution to the world, stating that the “Jewish state is at the forefront of providing effective and speedy life-saving relief to other countries, following natural or man-made disasters”. She also spoke about the work of Israeli NGOs Beit Issie Shapiro, Wheelchairs of Hope, and Save A Child’s Heart, who treat Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Former Chief Whip, Rt. Hon. Mark Harper MP said that Britain can be proud that the Balfour Declaration is “very balanced and talks about both the right of Jewish people to have a homeland and the rights of non-Jewish people”. He reiterated calls for a return to direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in order to reach a two-state solution.
Rt. Hon. Robert Halfon MP asked Dr Offord whether he agreed that “one reason for Britain being one of the greatest countries in the world is people like Arthur Balfour, who recognised that the Jewish people needed a homeland after hundreds of years of being denied one, and that Israel is a place of democracy, aspiration, scientific achievement and refuge?”
CFI Officer Andrew Percy MP spoke against the delegitimisation of Israel, emphasising that “we will not get to a peaceful situation if people attend events, for example, where individuals hold signs or sing, ‘From Jordan to the sea, Palestine will be free'”. He also highlighted the importance of marking pogroms of Jewish people in the Arab world between 1948 and 1972.
Jonathan Djanogly MP said that “the world has benefited from Israel’s development”, asserting that “In celebrating the Balfour Declaration…Britain can be proud to have played its part in creating a nation which rose out of the desert to become an innovator and world leader in many areas, including technology, agri-science, cyber-tech and medicine”.
CFI Officer Will Quince MP spoke of his visit to the first Palestinian planned city in the West Bank, Rawabi, stating that it “gives us a glimpse of what a future Palestinian state could look like and aspire to”.
Jack Lopresti MP underlined the importance of supporting Israel’s right to self-defence in the face of threats to its national security.
CFI Officer Paul Scully MP welcomed the Prime Minister’s commitment to the provision of “security, stability and justice to Israelis & Palestinians” through securing peace.
Minister for the Middle East, Rt. Hon. Alistair Burt MP, underlined in his concluding speech that “establishing a homeland for the Jewish people in the land to which they have strong historical and religious ties was the right and moral thing to do”.
He said that next week: “We will welcome the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guest of the Government on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration”.
Minister Burt paid homage to Israel as “a symbol of openness and a thriving democracy”. He said: “It is a beacon for upholding the rights of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The energy, innovation and creativity of Israel’s people stand out as an example to the world, and the existence of the state of Israel is not up for discussion”.
The Middle East Minister also reaffirmed the UK’s “unwavering commitment” to the two-state solution.