On November 2nd we commemorated 100 years since the Balfour declaration.
The Balfour Declaration was published by the British government during World War I declared support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, which was then an Ottoman region with a minority Jewish population. The statement voiced support for Jewish self-determination:
‘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, 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.’
While prominent British Prime Minister Arthur James Balfour wrote the declaration, Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann is credited for bringing about the Balfour declaration. Weizmann was born in Belarus and from his early years was known to be an active Israel advocate. He was an influential academic in Chemistry and taught at a number of universities. In 1904, feeling as though his efforts towards Zionism and for the right of Israel’s existence were not ‘going anywhere,’ Weizmann moved to England. The first time Weizmann had the opportunity of speaking to Balfour about Zionism, he only spoke for five minutes, and Balfour reassured him that they would be able to speak at greater length next time. It wasn’t until a year later, in 1906, they got to speak about the issue at great length and over time they developed a sturdy relationship. This ultimately led to Weizmann’s earning a leading role in negotiations, where he advocated for British commitment to facilitating a Jewish homeland should they take possession of Palestine following World War I. After behind-the-scenes lobbying for and against the declaration, on November 2, 1917 Lloyd George’s war cabinet agreed on a policy which was relayed by Foreign Minister Balfour to Lord Rothschild for support for the goals of the Zionist movement.
Through his relentless political lobbying, statesmanship and personal magnetism, Chaim Weizman was able to bring about the Balfour declaration and act as the hero behind the scene. Weizmann would later become Israel’s first President.
Today, 100 years later, students still struggle with many of the same challenges as Weizman. In the face of hate and the risk of being ostracized on campus, standing up for Israel’s existence can feel like a truly daunting task. We might ask ourselves, “What can I do to change Israel’s image on campus?” We must believe in ourselves and learn that even small steps forward can and do make a difference. A 5-minute meeting led to the Balfour declaration, which helped establish led the State of Israel.
Chaim Weizmann believed passionately in the right of the Jewish people for self-determination in their ancient homeland. Through his actions, Weizmann set an example for every young leader who believes in Israel’s right to exist. Even a seemingly small step forward can lead to dramatic changes in how our communities perceive Israel.
Contributed by Kings College London CAMERA Fellow Hadar Langerman