On November 6, 1917, the JC broke the news of a statement by the then foreign secretary. The publication of the Balfour Declaration, as it became known, was delayed by the government so that it could first be publicised through the pages of the JC. A messenger from the paper was despatched to the Foreign Office to collect a copy of the Declaration and bring it back to the paper’s offices. It was perhaps the most epochal front page story the JC has ever published. The Balfour Declaration changed not only the future of the region and the Jews but of the world itself. As Henry Kissinger puts it in this week’s JC, looking back 100 years later: “It became a founding document of an emerging world order” — a “hinge of history” at the core of the transformation of the twentieth century. It took a further 31 years, and the Holocaust, for Israel to be born. But Balfour marked the British government’s recognition of our homeland — and that echoed around the world.
It is wholly appropriate that we should celebrate the centenary; it is a moment in history of which Britain can be proud. The noises off from some politicians playing to the anti-Israel gallery should be treated with the disdain they deserve. But at the same time as we celebrate we should also reflect on the second part of the Balfour Declaration, that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The Palestinians themselves bear the greatest responsibility for the absence of a Palestinian state. But it is equally true that until there is such a homeland then Israel will not be able to exist in peace. And as we enter the second century after Balfour, nothing is more important than peace.