Blast 8: Thoughts on The Balfour Declaration
Leo Adler is a Canadian lawyer and one of the founding members of Canadians for Balfour 100. As we approach the 100th Anniversary of the Balfour Declaration this November 2, 2017, we thought it appropriate to share some of Leo's deliberations on the meaning of this historical watershed. It is a most interesting piece and we hope you enjoy it!
Goldi Steiner and Irving Weisdorf
Canadians For Balfour 100
Thoughts on The Balfour Declaration
Approximately 1½ years ago, like many others around the world, I realized that the centenary of the Balfour Declaration was looming and that something should be done to commemorate this historic event.
However, as we know all too well, the Declaration was only the (then) latest step in the Jews’ 2,000 year effort to return to Eretz Israel en masse – remembering that, even after the Roman Dispersal, Jewish survivors continued to live there.
To put it into the modern perspective, we are familiar with the story of how Theodor Herzl, an assimilated Jewish journalist covering the treason trial of another assimilated Jew – Alfred Dreyfus – was shocked by the cries of “mort au juifs”, or “death to the Jews” spewed by the Parisian crowd in the very home of the French Revolution.
It galvanized him – and he ultimately became recognized as the voice of modern Zionism.
In 1896 he published “Der Judenstaat” (“The Jewish State”), and in 1897, in Basel, Switzerland, at the first World Zionist Congress, Herzl was instrumental in seeing to it that a resolution was passed setting the goal “to create for the Jewish people a home in Eretz Israel secured under public law.” Furthermore, he predicted that this could and would be achieved within 50 years.
He was ultimately proven right.
Herzl then set off visiting numerous political figures, such as the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, as well as other Kings, Emperors, Kaisers and public figures – at a time when the world was filled with powerful colonial powers dominated by Kingdoms, Empires and other Domains.
This is notable. He was not seeking a violent revolution. He was not inciting a coup d’etat. Rather, what he was doing was inspiring immigration, political action and the Rule of Law as a way to found a modern Israel.
Despite the opposition that Herzl faced from Establishment Jews, and despite his brief flirtation with the British offer of Uganda as a temporary “Jewish home” – Herzl never faltered in his ultimate goal of reasserting Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, in what was then Ottoman-ruled Palestine.
Herzl continued these efforts until he died on July 3, 1904. Then, his attempt to revitalize the Jewish State, “secured under public law,” was picked up by Dr. Chaim Weitzman and others. They finally achieved success on November 2, 1917 – only 20 years after the Basel conference – when Lord Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, wrote his famous one-paragraph letter to Lord Rothschild in “…favour [of] the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people...”
The world in 1917 was incredibly different from that of 1897. The concept of self-determination was in full bloom, as was the Russian Revolution, the rise of Bolshevism and the beginning of the end for colonialism, as Empires and Kingdoms collapsed during the First World War.
Yet realpolitik was also in full bloom. And that meant having to deal with the winning Allied Powers.
And that also meant that any and every people / ethnic group / tribe or nationality that wanted its own territory for purposes of establishing their own State, would have to negotiate with the Allies – and in the Middle East, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, that meant France and the United Kingdom in particular.
Thus, the Balfour Declaration was simply the next step – and a logical one – in order to implement the Basel Resolution “to create for the Jewish people a home in Eretz Israel secured under public law.”
My proposal was that the commemoration of the Balfour Declaration was to be the start of thirty years of tributes, memorials and remembrances culminating in the celebration, on November 29, 2047, of the United Nations Resolution that led to Israel’s Declaration of Independence in May, 1948 – and thereafter observing her centennial in 2048.
In short, the idea was that after the Balfour Declaration’s 100th anniversary in 2017, there would be follow-up remembrances in April of 2020 and on August 10, 2020 of the San Remo Conference and the Treaty of Sevres for their acceptance of the Balfour Declaration. Similarly, on July 24, 2022 and September 22, 2022 there would be tributes to: firstly, the League of Nations’ endorsement of the Balfour Declaration and the creation of the British (and French) Mandates as preparatory to the establishment of the numerous new States (all Arab, Muslim – save for the one Jewish State) in the Middle East; and, secondly, to the United States Congress’s resolution endorsing the Declaration.
In other words, the next 30 years plus, should be years of almost continuous celebrations of the numerous political events and legal decisions that paved the way for Israel’s exceptional re-birth, uniquely and distinctively secured under irrevocable international public law.
And there is no need to do this alone. There are groups throughout the world who are preparing a similar commemoration of the Balfour Declaration. We should all unite in this effort and, to the greatest degree possible, pool our ideas, our resources and our talent as Israel approaches its centennial.
After that – God willing – future generations will start planning celebrations for Israel at 200.
Leo Adler LL.B. is a criminal lawyer at Adler Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman.