Lord Balfour’s 1917 letter  Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“One of the most significant letters in history” – Theresa May, British Prime Minister

On 2nd November 1917, Arthur Balfour, then British Foreign Secretary, sent a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, as head of the Jewish Community. The letter, written “on behalf of His Majesty’s Government”, contained a “declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations.” The letter went on to detail this declaration of sympathy.

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object…”

Foreign Secretary Balfour then urged Lord Rothschild to “bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation”. That he did, and one hundred years later, the declaration still reverberates throughout the world, still ignites controversy, and still stands as an important voice of support for our right to a homeland – our one safe haven in the world for Jews.

The Balfour centenary was not lost on the British Government. In the first public statement of its kind by a British official in recent years, Prime Minister May stated that we (the British Government) will mark the declaration with pride and calling it “one of the most significant letters in history.”

The planning of events in Israel to commemorate the centenary of this momentous event, began well in advance. 

Already in 2015, ESRA chairman Baruch Tanaman, together with Glenis Bertfield, were invited to join The Balfour Centenary Committee of Israel, organized and headed by Alan Webber, Executive Committee Member and former Chairman of IBCA (Israel Britain and Commonwealth Association). Representatives from other English-speaking organizations in Israel also participated in the planning committee.

“The Balfour Centenary Committee of Israel, in association with its constituent organizations, is proud to be a part of the planning and implementation of an exciting range of events and programs to mark one hundred years of this monumental event in Zionist history” – Alan Webber

Among the most notable events was an invitation to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, arranged by Alan Webber together with Alan Schneider, Director of B’nai B’rith World Center.

On November 7th, many ESRA members, along with a throng of other English speakers, took part in a day designated “The Knesset Marks the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration”. Participants attended special Knesset committee meetings, followed by a symposium promoted by B’nai B’rith World Center, featuring an illustrious group of speakers, including Yuli Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset; Lord Jacob Rothschild OM GBE; Prof. Simon Schama CBE, Columbia University, renowned historian and author of Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel;HE David Quarrey, British  Ambassador to Israel; Daniel  Taub, former Israel Ambassador to the UK; and Prof. Efraim Karsh, Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

The day culminated in a plenary session of the Knesset dedicated to a discussion of the Balfour Declaration.

The IBCA Balfour Dinner was the ultimate commemorative event. Since its establishment in 1985, IBCA has held an annual Balfour Dinner. As this one was special, celebrating 100 years, the dinner was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel, Tel Aviv, and was attended by the great-nephew of the original recipient of Balfour’s letter. Lord Jacob Rothschild was joined at the dinner by many of his family members, and was also among the evening’s speakers, as was Yuli Edelstein; IBCA Chairman, Alex Deutsch; and former IBCA chairmen, Alan Webber and ESRA’s own Brenda Katten. 

A range of activities across the country have been planned for the centenary year, from public lectures, to educational initiatives and social gatherings.

ESRA’s program of eight lectures organized by Glenis Bertfield and running from November 17th to June 6th, includes fascinating lectures and talks from an impressive array of speakers at venues from Karmiel to Rehovot, and most points in between. For a comprehensive list of venues, speakers and topics, see the Balfour advert on page 84.

“All these activities,” says Alan Webber, “are geared to engage the broader community in Israel in a celebration of Balfour, the historical significance of the Declaration, and its relevance to current and future generations.”

May support for our precious little homeland continue and grow, and may our great-grandchildren happily celebrate the bi-centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

■Submitted by Mimi Tanaman, based on an article by Alan Webber

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About the author

Mimi Tanaman

In Israel since 1966, Mimi Tanaman studied toward her BA and MA degrees in Psychology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. While studying and raising a family, she toured the country with a bluegrass ba...
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