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MPs urge 'celebration' of Balfour centenary during Westminster debate

    Conservative MP Caroline Ansell
    Conservative MP Caroline Ansell

    British MPs have taken part in a "Centenary of the Balfour Declaration" debate in Westminster, with strong support expressed for the document that paved the way for the establishment of the State of Israel.

    Conservative and Labour politicians spoke of their continued support and admiration for the country – while stressing the importance of the 100th anniversary of Balfour commemorations in the wake of a rising tide of antisemitism at home and abroad.

    The debate, held in Westminster Hall this morning, was secured by Caroline Ansell, Tory MP for Eastbourne, in recognition of the beginning of events to mark the centenary of the letter which was sent on November 2, 1917.

    Mrs Ansell said: “It is particularly fitting that just a few days ago we saw the a launch of events to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration – one of the most defining moments in the UK’s shared history with Israel.

    “On that day, back in November 1917, it was a Conservative Foreign Secretary in Arthur James Balfour that gave approval to the Zionist movement’s aspiration for Jewish self-determination.

    “This paved the way for the creation of Israel in a historic homeland following centuries of exile and persecution. I am proud that our country supported the establishment of that national homeland. And I am proud of the strength of UK and Israeli relations.

    "Israel today is a multi-racial, multi-ethic democracy. An Arab judge sits in the supreme court. Elsewhere in the Middle East minority communities live in persecution and oppression.”

    Bob Blackman referred to last month’s staging of a Balfour Apology Campaign event at the House of Lords, chaired by Baroness Tonge who was suspended and subsequently resigned from the Liberal Democrats after an audience member at the event suggested Jews were responsible for the Holocaust.

    Mr Blackman, MP for Harrow East, said of the Lords event: “We should be talking about the celebration of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration but the reality is the meeting at the House of Lords sought to get Britain to apologise, and potentially sue the British government.

    “That is the context in which we have to consider this particular debate.”

    In a passionate address Ivan Lewis, Labour’s Bury North MP, spoke of the “morally right” case to support the 1917 Balfour Declaration and back a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

    Mr Lewis also warned of those in his own party who would relish the prospect of “a one state solution – and that state is not Israel".

    He was joined by Luciana Berger in reiterating how it had been the British Labour Party, under the leadership of Arthur Henderson, that paved the way for the Balfour Declaration and for the “Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their own State".

    Earlier this month plans were unveiled for a range of centenary events for next year’s anniversary of the Declaration.

    Leading historian Simon Schama will give a lecture on the historical importance of the document on November 1 in central London.

    The first official celebration will take place in Manchester on October 31, while the following Shabbat, November 4, has been designated “Balfour Shabbat” with synagogues of all denominations hosting their own events.

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