Britain will celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration with pride, a senior government minister has told a group of Jewish leaders from around the world.
Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said the government would always stand up for the Jewish community, and pledged ongoing support for Israel.
“Someone said we should apologise for the Declaration, to say it was an error of judgment. Of course that’s not going to happen,” he said. “To apologise for the Balfour Declaration would be to apologise for the existence of Israel and to question its right to exist.”
Mr Javid added: “Here in Britain we will not merely mark the centenary, we will celebrate it with pride.”
He was speaking at a gathering of the World Jewish Congress ahead of the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration later this year.
In a blistering attack on those who promote a boycott of Israel, Mr Javid said: “I’ll be 100 per cent clear. I do not support calls for a boycott, my party does not support calls for a boycott. For all its bluster, the BDS campaign is most notable I think, for its lack of success.
“Trade is booming, tourism is soaring. The media campaign is full of sound and fury, but to the majority of Britain today it signifies nothing.
“As long as I’m in government, as long as I’m in politics, I will do everything in my power to fight back against those who seek to undermine Israel.”
Outlining measures taken by the government in recent years, he highlighted efforts to counter academic boycotts, and to stop local authorities “running their own mini foreign policies, dividing the communities that they seek to serve”.
The Westminster event, Balfour, Bias and Boycotts, was organised by the Board of Deputies, WJC and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews.
Mr Javid said rising antisemitism in Britain was “deeply disturbing” and he was personally committed to dealing with it.
“Let’s be honest, we are talking about antisemites, however many times they claim they are opposed to Zionism,” he said.
Ronald Lauder, president of the WJC, said the global Jewish community “treasured” Mr Javid as a staunch friend of the Jewish people.
Jonathan Arkush, Board president, told the group of around two dozen delegates from countries including Russia, France, Israel and the United States about issues affecting British Jews.
The importance of the Balfour Declaration was not that it had “given” Jews the right to a national homeland, Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador to Britain, said, but that it had “recognised” that right in 1917.
“For that we should celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration,” Mr Regev said. “For some people the Balfour Declaration is not something to celebrate. The Palestinian Prime Minister called for Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration, and the Palestinian Foreign Secretary put out a statement where he said he wants to take Britain to the international court if it doesn’t apologise.
“The British government has not accepted that opinion, and that is why they have invited my Prime Minister to come here to mark the centenary. Theresa May has said Britain is proud of the role it played in helping Israel to be recreated as a state.
“That is the correct position. Britain did the right thing [in issuing the Balfour Declaration], and it can be proud of that.”
Wes Streeting, co-chair of the All-Party group, said the efforts of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement were “counter-productive” to the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and said he did not believe that was its intention. Instead, he said, the BDS campaign was part of the demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel.
Mr Streeting, a Labour MP, told the delegates he was proud of the contribution made by his Jewish constituents and the “vibrant” Jewish community in Ilford North.
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s former Shadow Home Secretary who now chairs the Commons’ Home Affairs Select Committee, outlined what she said was the “hugely important” joint work being done by Jewish and Muslim groups to challenge hate crime, whether it was antisemitic or Islamophobia.
She repeated previous calls for social media companies to do more to challenge and remove racist abuse on their platforms.
Mr Lauder said the Board had put on a “sensational, spectacular” event.