(JTA) – A descendant of Lord Arthur Balfour said during a visit to Israel that his ancestor’s 1917 declaration about favouring a Jewish state was “humanitarian” in nature.
Roderick Balfour, the 5th Earl of Balfour, said Thursday at an event in Jerusalem celebrating British-Israeli ties and the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, in which the British government vowed to help establish a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel without jeopardizing the rights of other area inhabitants.
The declaration followed several drafts and extensive negotiations between Zionist leaders and British officials including Arthur Balfour, the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary at the time. But it did not say why the United Kingdom viewed favourably the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine.
This led to a still-ongoing debate on whether the declaration was a humanitarian gesture following pogroms in Eastern Europe, the result of a political calculus on Britain’s part during World War I or the expression of a scripture-based belief that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.
Favouring the humanitarian view, Roderick Balfour said: “I see it very much as a humanitarian gesture against the background of what was happening at the time.” But, he added, “As a reader of the Bible, it is axiomatic that there is a connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.”
Also attending the event, titled “From Balfour to Brexit,” was former British prime minister Tony Blair, who reiterated in a speech his hope for regional cooperation between Arab countries and Israel that in turn would facilitate the signing of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
“Changes in the region are creating new alliances and new opportunities,” Blair said. “There is an Arab leadership starting to formulate a view of their history which does not involve a demonization of Israel.”
David Dangoor, a British-Jewish businessman and philanthropist, said in a speech at the event that Anglo-Israeli ties have become particularly important and promising following the Brexit vote last year, in which a majority of referendum voters supported a British exit from the European Union.
Dangoor inaugurated the Sir Naim Dangoor Centre for UK-Israel Relations, a think tank that will operate under the auspices of the Mishkenot Shaananim cultural centre in Jerusalem.
Also in attendance were Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister of Israel, who said that despite disagreements between Israel and Britain, in the United Kingdom “we find a better understanding of our security needs” than in other EU member states.