In a recent letter to the New York Times, the current Earl of Balfour, Roderick Balfour, argued that it is Israel’s fault that there is “growing anti-Semitism around the world.” Balfour, who is a descendant of Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary who wrote the Balfour Declaration a hundred years ago, wrote the following: “the increasing inability of Israel to address [the condition of Palestinians], coupled with the expansion into Arab territory of the Jewish settlements, are major factors in growing anti-Semitism around the world.” He argued further that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “owes it to the millions of Jews around the world” who suffer antisemitism, to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This well-intentioned but benighted view is particularly ironic in light of the fact that the Balfour Declaration had, as one of its purposes, to end antisemitism around the world by creating a homeland for the Jewish people. But now the scion of Lord Balfour is arguing that it is Israel that is causing antisemitism.
Roderick Balfour’s views are simply wrong both as a matter of fact and as a matter of morality. Anyone who hates Jews “around the world” because they disagree with the policy of Israel would be ready to hate Jews on the basis of any pretext. Modern day antisemites, unlike their forbearers, need to find excuses for their hatred, and anti-Zionism has become the excuse du jour.
To prove the point, let us consider other countries: has there been growing anti-Chinese feelings around the world as the result of China’s occupation of Tibet? Is there growing hatred of Americans of Turkish background because of Turkey’s unwillingness to end the conflict in Cyprus? Do Europeans of Russian background suffer bigotry because of Russia’s invasion of Crimea? The answer to all these questions is a resounding no. If Jews are the only group that suffers because of controversial policies by Israel, then the onus lies on the antisemites rather than on the nation state of the Jewish people.
Moreover, Benjamin Netanyahu’s responsibility is to the safety and security of Israelis. Even if it were true that antisemitism is increasing as the result of Israeli policies, no Israeli policy should ever be decided based on the reaction of bigots around the world. Antisemitism, the oldest of bigotries, will persist as long as it is seen to be justified by apologists like Roderick Balfour. Though Balfour does not explicitly justify antisemitism, the entire thrust of his letter is that Jew hatred is at least understandable in light of Israel’s policies.
Balfour doesn’t say a word about the unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to accept Israel’s repeated offers of statehood to the Palestinians. From 1938 through 2008, the Palestinians have been offered and repeatedly rejected agreements that would have given them statehood. Even today, the Palestinian leadership refuses to accept Netanyahu’s offer to sit down and negotiate a final status agreement without any pre-conditions. Nor does Balfour mention Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups that constantly threaten Israel, along with Iran’s publicly declared determination to destroy the state that Lord Balfour helped to create. It’s all Israel’s fault, according to Balfour, and the resulting increase in antisemitism is Israel’s fault as well.
Roderick Balfour ends his letter by essentially joining the boycott movement against Israel. He has declared his unwillingness to participate in the Centenary Celebration of the Balfour Declaration, until and unless Israel takes unilateral action to end the conflict. So be it. I am confident that the author of the Balfour Declaration would have willingly participated in this celebration, recognising that no country in history has ever contributed more to the world – in terms of medical, technological, environmental and other innovations – in so short a period of time (69 years) than has Israel. Nor has any country, faced with comparable threats, ever been more generous in its offers of peace, more committed to the Rule of Law, or more protective of civilians who are used as human shields by those who attack its civilians.
So let the celebration of the Balfour Declaration go forward without the participation of Roderick Balfour. Let Israel continue to offer a peaceful resolution to its conflict with the Palestinians. And let the Palestinians finally come to the bargaining table, and recognise Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish people in the way that the Balfour Declaration intended.
Professor Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard University. He has published more than 1000 articles in magazines, newspapers and journals and blogs and is the author of 30 fiction and non-fiction works, including Rights From Wrong; The Case For Israel; The Case For Peace; Blasphemy; Preemption; Finding Jefferson; and Shouting Fire. © 2017 Gatestone Institute, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.