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The Justice of the Balfour Declaration

Today is Balfour Shabbat in Great Britain, when synagogues all over the United Kingdom will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. What was this declaration and why are Jewish people around the world remembering it?

Last Thursday was the actual anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a decision that was foundational in the ultimate establishment of the modern State of Israel. On November 2, 1917, the British cabinet under the leadership of Prime Minister David Lloyd George, endorsed the idea of a Jewish National Home in what was then called Palestine, or the biblical land of Israel. Issued by Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, it took the form of a letter to a member of the British House of Lords and a leader of Great Britain’s Jewish community, Lord Walter Rothschild. Years later, both Lloyd George and Balfour testified that the meaning of the phrase, “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” was intended to express the government’s approval of a state for the Jewish people.

The Balfour Declaration was issued at the height of World War 1, at a point when Great Britain had yet to conquer Palestine. Yet at that time, Great Britain had secured support for their declaration from all their allies including France and the United States. Once they conquered Palestine, the League of Nations formally approved the Balfour Declaration, writing its words into the Council of San Remo in 1920 and the 1922 League of Nations Mandate to Great Britain. With these two actions, the League of Nations granted the British the mandate to govern Palestine only on the condition that they use their governance to create a state for the Jewish people. These were significant actions because they gave, what had been the policy of the British nation, the force of international law. In the next 22 years, every time the British tried to renege on the Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations intervened and forced the British government to honor its commitments.

The Balfour Declaration has become controversial in recent years, with anti-Israel activists questioning its justice. They frequently cite Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice and only justice, you shall pursue.” Here are several reasons the Balfour Declaration was just.

First, the Balfour Declaration recognized the need to provide the Jewish people a sanctuary from hatred. Jewish history in Europe had been tragically filled with anti-Semitism and Lloyd George and Balfour wanted to provide a place where Jewish people could live without persecution. Sadly, World War 2 and the Holocaust demonstrated how necessary this was. Had their vision been fulfilled, perhaps 6 million Jewish people would not have been murdered.

Second, the Balfour Declaration allowed the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland. In fact, the League of Nations mandates commission cited this as one of their bases for adopting the Balfour Declaration. It was an act of justice to return the Jewish people to their land from which they had been forcibly removed. This was the land God promised the Jewish people in the Abrahamic Covenant, “I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you. And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing–all the land of Canaan–as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.” (Gen 17:7-8).

Third, the Balfour Declaration was just because it was guided by biblical prophecy. Both Lloyd George and Balfour believed that Bible foretold the restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. As Christian restorationists, they believed they were fulfilling the biblical prophecy of Ezekiel 36:24, “For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries, and will bring you into your own land.”

Fourth, the Balfour Declaration provided justice for all the inhabitants of Palestine. Although Palestine was sparsely populated when the Balfour Declaration was issued, the declaration was still concerned with the rights of the Arab populace. So in 1922, Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, took the Eastern 2/3 of the Palestine mandate and created Transjordan (today’s Jordan) as an Arab State. Then in 1947 and several times subsequently, the land was partitioned to provide yet another Arab State, a state which the local Arab population has repeatedly rejected. Moreover, all the Arab citizens of Israel have full and equal citizenship rights in the State of Israel, the nation that was established as a result of the Balfour Declaration.

It’s miraculous today to see what was accomplished through the vision of two political leaders who understood the Scriptures and cared for the Jewish people. It’s right that Jewish people are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and that British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that Great Britain is “proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the state of Israel.” All of us should celebrate the Balfour Declaration as an expression of God’s faithfulness to His covenant people.

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