Prime Minister Theresa May celebrated the UK’s “pioneering role” in the creation of Israel in her speech at a dinner co-hosted by the current Lord Balfour and Lord Rothschild to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration yesterday.
Addressing the dinner, Prime Minister May said she believed the Balfour Declaration to be “one of the most significant letters in history. A letter which gave birth to a most extraordinary country. And a letter which finally opened the door to helping make a Jewish homeland a reality”.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed the guests at the dinner and was in London to mark the centenary “with pride” at Mrs May’s invitation.
Prime Minister May said: “Let us recognise the contribution of Balfour in fulfilling what was once little more than a two-thousand year old dream for a persecuted people. Let us take inspiration from the vision he showed as we work together for that future where Arabs and Jews can live in peaceful co-existence. And as we look to that future, let us mark with pride what has been achieved with the creation of the State of Israel and – in Balfour’s own words – “a national home for the Jewish people”.
The Prime Minister emphasised her commitment to strengthen the UK-Israel partnership: “As we mark one hundred years since Balfour, we look forward to taking that relationship even further. As Prime Minister Netanyahu and I discussed in Downing Street earlier today, we want to deepen our links in areas where Israel is leading the world – in areas like agriculture, health, science, technology and innovation. Israel is the true start-up nation and we are proud to be your partner”.
Reiterating the UK’s support for Israel’s right to self-defence, she said: “We also remain absolutely committed to Israel’s security. For it is only when you witness Israel’s vulnerability that you truly understand the constant danger Israelis face – as I saw on my visit in 2014, when the bodies of the murdered teenagers Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah were discovered. So I am clear that we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself”.
Praising Israel’s “thriving democracy”, Prime Minister May said: “I believe we should gather here tonight with a great deal of pride in all that we have achieved – and all that Israel stands for as a symbol of openness, as a thriving democracy; and a beacon to the world in upholding the rights of women and members of the LGBT community”.
She recognised the sensitivities of the letter to the Palestinian population, but underlined: “When some people suggest we should apologise for this letter, I say absolutely not”.
The Prime Minister said that “Sadly, Balfour remains unfinished business – as his fundamental vision of peaceful co-existence has not yet been fulfilled”.
Calling on “renewed resolve” to support a “lasting peace”, she said that a peace deal “must be based on a two-state solution, with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian State”.
The Prime Minister condemned the “new and pernicious form of antisemitism which uses criticism of the actions of the Israeli government as a despicable justification for questioning the very right of Israel to exist”.
She underlined: “This is abhorrent and we will not stand for it” adding, “that is why the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of an international effort to create a new definition of antisemitism which explicitly calls out this inexcusable attempt to justify hatred”.
Strongly condemning antisemitism under the guise of anti-Zionism, the Prime Minister said: “Criticising the government of Israel is never – and can never be – an excuse for hatred against the Jewish people – any more than criticising the British government would be an excuse for hatred against the British people. Put simply, there can be no excuses for any kind of hatred towards the Jewish people. There never has been – and there never will be”.
Click here to read the Prime Minister’s speech in full.