British Jews Blast Guardian Article Listing Its 1917 Support for Creation of Israel Among ‘Worst Errors of Judgment’ in Paper’s History
Leading Jewish groups and Israeli officials were outraged on Friday at the The Guardian listing its past editorial support for the 1917 Balfour declaration — which announced the British government’s support for the establishment of a Jewish state — as one of the paper’s “worst errors in judgement over 200 years” in a bicentennial feature article.
“A daily newspaper cannot publish for 200 years without getting some things wrong. This one has made its share of mistakes,” the article began, in an ongoing series marking the publication’s 1821 founding. After regrets including its editorial column’s past support for limiting suffrage to male taxpayers and its animosity towards Abraham Lincoln, the Guardian listed its support of the 1917 decision by Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to back a national home for the Jewish people in then-Palestine.
Balfour’s “words changed the world,” the article continued. “The Guardian of 1917 supported, celebrated and could even be said to have helped facilitate the Balfour declaration. [Former chief editor CP] Scott was a supporter of Zionism and this blinded him to Palestinian rights. In 1917 he wrote a leader on the day the Balfour declaration was announced, in which he dismissed any other claim to the Holy Land, saying: ‘The existing Arab population of Palestine is small and at a low stage of civilization.’ Whatever else can be said, Israel today is not the country the Guardian foresaw or would have wanted.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews President Marie van der Zyl called the article “breathtakingly ill considered” in a statement Friday.
“In its eagerness to disassociate itself in any way from its early support for Zionism, the Guardian chooses not to focus on the simple fact that had such a national homeland existed even a decade earlier than 1948, many millions of Jews — our close relatives — murdered in the Holocaust might still be alive,” she wrote.
“Alongside a safe and secure Jewish State, the Board of Deputies supports the creation of a Palestinian State, something the Balfour declaration does not negate. The Guardian would be best advised to advocate for this as well rather than its current position, which seems to be to do everything it can to undermine the legitimacy of the world’s only Jewish state,” van der Zyl continued.
The Guardian also reproduced an image of its November 9, 1917 editorial on the Balfour Declaration, which called the announcement “the fulfillment of an aspiration, the signpost of a destiny … Never since the days of the Dispersion has the extraordinary people scattered over the earth in every country of modern European and of the old Arabic civilization surrendered the hope of an ultimate return to the historic seat of its national existence.”
“By expressing regret for supporting Zionism, alongside regret supporting the Confederacy & British imperialism, @guardian traffics in the blatantly #antisemitic view that, of all people, only Jews lack the right to self-determination in their homeland,” the Anti-Defamation League commented on Twitter.
Ohad Zemet, spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in the United Kingdom, tweeted, “So we are not up to the @guardian’s standard. More interesting is what CP Scott would have thought about The Guardian’s shameful coverage of Israel today.”
“This explains everything!” quipped Itay Milner, spokesperson of the Consulate General of Israel in New York. “Now we see that The Guardian wishes it could go back in time and erase the very idea of a Jewish state.”
Avi Mayer, Managing Director of Global Communications at the American Jewish Committee (AJC) called the comments “a shameful and repulsive statement that must be withdrawn.” He asked about the paper, “If a Jewish state had been born then, in 1917, there may never have been a Holocaust. Would they have regretted that too?”
“Imagine Jewish survival depended on the ‘kindness’ of @Guardian editors and their ilk. Such bigotry only underlines the importance of Israel as a safe haven for Jews. No doubt, the 1917 Guardian editors would consider their successors as the ‘worst errors’ in the paper’s history,” commented Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the AJC’s Transatlantic Institute.