Senior UK Jewish Leader Criticizes British UN Diplomat Over Balfour Declaration Comments to UN Security Council
The top organization representing British Jews has lodged a complaint with the British government over remarks by the UK’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN suggesting that the absence of a Palestinian state represents the “unfinished business” arising from the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
In a speech to a UN Security Council debate on the Middle East on Tuesday, Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Allen underlined that the “UK is proud to have played a role in helping to make a Jewish homeland a reality” when it issued the declaration in November 1917. But Allen drew the ire of British Jewish leaders when he added, “let us remember, there are two halves of Balfour, the second half of which has not been fulfilled.”
“There is therefore unfinished business,” Allen said, a remark he repeated in a later tweet.
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In a letter to Britain’s senior diplomat at the UN, Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, Jonathan Arkush – president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews – invoked Prime Minister Theresa May when he asserted that it is “completely inconsistent with the United Kingdom’s declared policy to mark, commemorate and celebrate the Balfour Declaration (all terms used by the Prime Minister and other ministers in recent weeks).”
“In just a fortnight’s time a commemorative dinner is to take place to be attended by the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Arkush said. “It is deeply unattractive for the UK’s Mission to the UN to strike a critical note and exposes the UK Government to a charge of hypocrisy.”
The then British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued the “Declaration” in the form of a letter to Jewish leader Lord Rothschild in November 1917, in which he confirmed that Britain, the mandatory power in Palestine, viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The declaration added that the British government would “use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
With the centenary of the Balfour Declaration approaching next month, the current British government has continued to resist Palestinian entreaties to apologize for having issued it in the first place. A statement from the British foreign office in April said that the Balfour Declaration “is an historic statement for which Her Majesty’s Government does not intend to apologize.”
“We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel,” the statement continued. “The task now is to encourage moves towards peace.”
In his letter to Rycroft, Arkush argued out that from a historical perspective, “the Balfour Declaration was no more or no less than a British Government expression of sympathy. It came 30 years before the UN vote to establish a Jewish homeland.”
“If an Arab or Palestinian homeland was not established, that cannot be the fault of Israel, which did not exist, but would be a criticism of either the international community, or more fairly the Arab community who repeatedly rejected the notion of establishing their own country,” he continued.
In his speech to the UN Security Council, Ambassador Allen went on to say that Britain’s supported a peace settlement based upon a “safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a just, fair, agreed and realistic settlement for refugees.”