History lecturer James Renton: “Britain should apologise for Balfour Declaration.”

Cross posted by the London based blogger, Richard Millett

James Renton and Deborah Maccoby of JfJfP at SOAS

James Renton and Deborah Maccoby of JfJfP at SOAS

A little known history lecturer is quickly becoming the new poster boy of the anti-Israel movement. Last night at SOAS James Renton detailed why he thinks the British government should apologise for the Balfour Declaration. He was invited to speak by Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

The thrust of Renton’s argument is that there should be such an apology because the Balfour Declaration lacked clarity on the meaning of “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, which, he said, unleashed an expectation of statehood amongst Jews that was never intended. He blames the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on this “misconceived, ill thought through policy of the British government”.

He also argued that the Declaration was based on the mistaken and anti-Semitic assumption that Jews had great power in America and Russia and that they were mainly Zionist. Therefore, such a declaration would encourage Russia and America against Germany during the Great War.

Renton thinks that there was never an intention to create a Jewish state and he quoted from a letter from David Lloyd George to the then Archbishop of Westminster, who told Lloyd George in 1919 that the Zionists in Palestine were “causing a stink and claiming that the country would soon be coming under their control”. Lloyd George replied to the Archbishop:

“If the Zionists claim domination of the Holy Land under a British protectorate then they are certainly putting their claims too high.”

Renton criticised Britain for advertising that it was a big supporter of Zionism while at the same time promoting national freedom for Arabs but without thinking either side really expected political independence in Palestine. This was because the British viewed both Jews and Arabs as “politically backward”.

You can read Renton’s thesis in Haaretz (contact me in you cannot access the link and I will send you the article).

However, his thesis is facile. For one he contradicts himself by saying both that the British thought the Jews had immense power but that they were also politically backward. Which is it?

For Renton the Balfour Declaration was mainly down to anti-Semitism. As he puts it “Balfour and Mark Sykes said nasty things about Jews” (Sykes was the government’s advisor on the Middle East at the time). And he downplays the role of Christian support for a Jewish state as well as Chaim Weizmann’s efforts in manufacturing ammunition for Britain during the Great War.

This campaign to have Britain apologise for the Balfour Declaration was dreamt up by the Palestine Return Centre. They launched a petition with the view to obtaining one million signatures in support of an apology by the time of the centenary of the Declaration in 2017. Unlike Renton, the PRC thinks the apology should be for the tremendous injustices” the Balfour Declaration has caused to the Palestinian people.

The PRC are now using the recent decision in the Mau Mau rebellion case, where Britain has been found guilty of complicity in the torture of victims in the Mau Mau uprising against British rule in Kenya in the 1950s and 1960s, to give their campaign a boost.

Renton spotted one difficulty with the PRC’s campaign though. He noted that there will be no one alive from the era of the Balfour Declaration to attest. So he suggested to a representative of the PRC who was in the audience last night that the PRC might have more success if they asked the British government for an apology for the Arab losses during the Arab uprising of 1936-1939.

The problem with that is that the PRC’s raison d’etre is the destruction of Israel via the so-called Palestinian “right of return”. They want an apology to undermine Israel’s existence. I doubt that Arabs were killed during that Arab uprising is of great significance to the PRC in the scheme of things. Renton might not know of the PRC’s politics, but there’s a good clue in their name Palestine Return Centre as to why they might want an apology.

Anyway, the wording of the Balfour Declaration is clear. What is meant by “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” if not a state? The clue is in the words “national home”.

Renton gave us a sheet of homework asking all 10 of us in the audience some questions:

1. Did today’s talk differ from your previous understanding of this issue?
2. Has Dr Renton’s talk affected how you think about the Balfour Declaration?
3. What aspects would you challenge, and why?

Maybe you could email him at james.renton@edgehill.ac.uk with your answers. He wants to hear from you.

192 replies »

  1. I don’t care what you had for breakfast today. What a strange comment!

    I do not dispute (and have not disputed) that the UN identify this number of “refugees”. I have raised 6 perfectly reasonable and common-sense points querying the logic of this situation. So far, you have entirely failed to address points 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. I remind you that I was prompted to make that comment in reply to your request to Gerald: “perhaps you can explain why, according to the UN, there are today over 4 million Palestinian refugees.”

    I have done the courtesy to you of answering your question. It is a pity that, so far, you have not done me the courtesy of addressing my response in any substantive way.

  2. Labenal – Any reasonable person would construe I have answered each one of your questions. You are not prepared to accept the answers. Palestinians are not unique in inheriting the right of return from their parents and grand parents. The Zionist argument on the law of return dates back 100 of generations ago. I have already said that. On the Jewish refugees in Israel, I support their right of return.

    Let me put to you what you put to me. Why do you think you are better placed to decide who is a refugee than the UN.? You are trying to white wash Zionist racism and human rights violations. It is not going to work.

    You have a great deal to answer for. House demolitions in Jerusalem. Illegal settlements in West Bank. The illegal siege of Gaza. The laws in Israel that discriminates against Palestinians. The destruction of Bedouin villages in Negev desert.

    Why should any country accept those who have been forced to seek refuge in their countries as permanent. They have first and foremost the right to return to their houses.

    Please do not keep repeating the mantra that I do not answer your specific questions. I have now answered each one at least twice if not more.

    • Jessy – I acknowledge that in your last post you have at least attempted to address my points.

      1. There is no comparison between the Palestinian “refugees” and the law of return to Israel for Jews. a) Jews in the rest of the world are not (and do not claim to be) “refugees” even though many could claim that status given their forced migration from many Arab lands. b) Any Jew who emigrates to Israel does so voluntarily with the full consent of the sovereign Israeli government. Your suggestion of the “return” of 4.9 million “refugees” would have to be forced on the country, which is against the basic principles of even the UN’s refugee policy. c) It is absolutely clear that these 4.9 million “refugees” are being used as pawns in the Islamic game, the end aim of which is the removal of Israel from the map, which is only possible because Israel is DEMOCRATIC, which means that the “return” would make Israel’s continuation as a Jewish state impossible. d) Jewish immigrants to Israel are not “given” some home that their ancestors may have once inhabited. They become normal members of society who have to (if they can) pay their way and only own a home if they can afford to do so. They do not usurp the homes of people already living there, which is what your blessed key-carriers wish to do.

      2. I am not better placed than the UN to decide who is a refugee. But I am absolutely entitled to question why, of all refugees who have existed since the UN’s formation, only one has its own dedicated agency, with billions of dollars budget, and why this agency has been so spectacularly unsuccessful at integrating and resettling the relatively small number of refugees that the numbers are, uniquely, growing rather than falling. You placed reliance on the UN, then slectively chose to define the rights of refugees according to your own special agenda. I question the consistency of that approach!

      3. I do not have a great deal to answer for. I am not a representative of the Israeli government. I do not accept your allegations (although I do not claim Israel is perfect or that it has never done anything I believe to be wrong). To respond to each of your allegations would take far too long for this one thread, which is why I have refused to be distracted from the main point which you originally raised – that of the refugee issue.

      4. I agree that in a perfect world, there would be no refugees, no wars, no conflict at all, but we do not live in a perfect world. How many of the 10s of millions of displaced persons from WWII returned to their original homes? Very few, I would suggest. How many of the Vietnamese “boat people” fleeing the communist regime have since been returned to Vietnam? How many of the Greeks fleeing the Turkish invasion of Cyprus have returned to Northern Cyprus? In each case, very few. Where are the German/Polish/French/Jewish/Vietnamese/Greek refugee camps?

      I repeat my basic premise. Why must Palestinian refugees hold such a uniquely privileged place in human history that nothing short of return to a place that they once lived in (some for a very short time) is the ONLY acceptable solution.

      Why do you (presumably a Westerner with no personal stake in this) condemn these 4.9 million people to a never-ending life of squalor and statelessness in refugee camps in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan etc rather than encouraging these countries to treat these poor people fairly and generously as nations around the world do when refugees sadly fall under their protection?

      Why do even those Palestinians who live in Gaza, under Palestinian rule, still live in “refugee camps”?

  3. In the Law of Return, the State of Israel put into practice the Zionist movement’s “credo” also expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and giving effect to the Jewish homeland purpose set out by the League of Nations in 1922, when charging Britain with the duty of establishing a Jewish National Home, and by the United Nations within the Partition Plan of 1947 which provided for establishment of Israel as a Jewish state.

    Jews go to Israel under the Law of Return – Almost all of them are returning after hundreds of generations. Palestinians are not accommodated under the same law even after two or three generations.

    Why is it not comparable? In fact the Palestinian right to return is much stronger because of the proximity of their claim in time and because they still remain refugees.

    Those who live in Gaza as refugees are the ones who were displaced from what is today, Israel. They are not originally from Gaza. It is simple to understand.

    I am not condemning the 4.9 million Palestinians to a refugee status. It is Israel’s racist laws that are preventing them to return to their lands that is condemning them to refugee status. The Palestinians themselves also want to return to their homes.

    I know you do not speak for the Israeli state but it is up to the Israeli state to end discriminatory racist laws and allow the Palestinians to return to their homes. That will end the plight of the Palestinians as refugees.

    • Yes – it will also end the state of Israel, condemning the Jews forever to live as a stateless people, subject to the whim of others. That’s worked out well for us over the last 2,000 years or so, hasn’t it?

      Or is that it? Your concern for the UNIQUE rights of the Palestinian refugees and their great-grandchildren supercedes (or perhaps coincides with) your total lack of concern for the security, lives and rights of the World’s Jews.

      So be it.

      Funny how it’s only Israel that has racist laws, and not the 22 muslim states. I daresay Ireland, Italy or Spain might be slightly miffed if you suggested the integration of enough Protestants to wipe out the Catholic nature of those states, and I wish you luck in persuading the Saudis to permit even the building of a church, let alone the citizenship of a Christian.

      But no – it is the one and only Jewish state that is “racist”, despite the fact that 20% of its citizens are not Jewish and enjoy equal rights. Despite the aid she offers to victims of natural disasters from Haiti, Japan, Bam etc etc (not regions best known for their massive Jewish communities). Despite the thousands of Palestinians (i.e. not Israelis) treated in her hospitals completely free and entirely equal to any Israeli (Jew, Muslim, Christian, Bahai or atheist) each year. Despite the laws OUTLAWING discrimination which not only exist in Israel but put the equivalents in many Western countries to shame. Despite the complete freedom to worship any G-d or none in Israel which is unique in the entire region where, in many countries, you can be lawfully murdered for worshiping even Allah in the wrong way.

      Yes, that’s the country we need to call racist and apartheid. That one – the Jewish one. That’s the country we need to isolate, boycott, destroy. The Jewish one.

    • Those who live in Gaza as refugees are the ones who were displaced from what is today, Israel. They are not originally from Gaza. It is simple to understand.

      Very simple to understand. Before they were in Palestine, THEY CAME FROM EGYPT.

      Abbas has stated that his family originates from Damascus.

      Arafat’s family hails from Egypt. Indeed, he was born in Egypt. (Not Palestine).

      The number of Arab Palestinians who can go back many generations inside Palestine is infinitesimally small.

      This whole conversation ignores the simple fact that Muslims world wide regard Palestine as Muslim Land. And, as such, can never be surrendered to the NON-Muslim.

      All talk about settlements, racism Apartheid, is just a smokescreen for the simple stated fact above.

  4. Now you are really losing your cool. I suspect you have no credible argument to support racism. Palestinians have done no wrong to the Jewish people. They do not deserve to be punished for the crimes of others.

    We need to call any country that practices racism, racist. Your claim is that Israel can only survive as a racist state is no defense of racism. It is a silly argument. Many racists in the past have used the same argument when implementing racist laws.

    I keep repeating there is nothing unique about Palestinians demanding their right to return to their homes. That is a right enshrined in International Law and various Human Rights conventions.

    As I said before Palestinian right of return is much stronger than the Jewish Right of Return.

    I suspect you know all this.

    • That’s right. Just ignore everything I said to pursue your own agenda. I’m done with you, just as you are done with any semblance of logic or reality.


  5. I will keep to my anti-racist humanitarian and pro justice agenda. You are free to peddle your racism under whatever guise you want. Incidentally, Protestants would not be returning to Ireland they will be returning from Ireland to Scotland and England. . However, just as I or Palestinians would not want the Jews to leave Palestine, the Irish do not want the Protestant to leave Ireland.

    • “Protestants would not be returning to Ireland they will be returning from Ireland to Scotland and England”
      Oh dear me ‘Jessy’ your religious bigotry is showing.
      Also on display is your ignorance, for if you knew anything about Ireland you would know that one of the founding members of the United Irishmen and looked on as founding father of Irish Republicanism was Wolfe Tone, who was also a Protestant.

      It is only the religious bigots and incurably ignorant who attempt to portray the struggle for the Irish Republic as a struggle between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

    • Please don’t insult actual anti-racist/humanitarian/pro-justice forces (who, just as a BTW, do not always share the same causes or interests, and are therefore not as amorphic as you appear to believe) by smearing them via association with your racist/lying/pro-violence pet Palestinian causes. Imagining that your ideals have value doesn’t make that reality, dear.

  6. Gerald that is true – Just as some of the best critics of the Zionist state and its racist attitude towards the Palestinians are Jewish organisations and individuals.(for example http://www.btselem.org/) the critics of the British colonization of Ireland were Protestants whose forefathers had come to Ireland as colonizers.

    You obviously lack comprehension. Try and read again what I said.

    You really should not portray the struggle for justice and independence, both in the Irish and Palestinian context, as religious. The fact that Protestants led the struggle for Irish freedom does not preclude the fact that Protestants came to Ireland primarily from England and Scotland.

    Bigots continue to insist that the right of return is not determined by the strength of the claim but by the faith of the person claiming the right. Zionist bigotry at its worst.

    • “It is only the religious bigots and incurably ignorant who attempt to portray the struggle for the Irish Republic as a struggle between Roman Catholics and Protestants.”

      ‘Jessy’ which part of that sentence supports your erroneous claim that I have attempted to portray the struggle for justice and independence in Ireland as religious?
      If you read my sentence you will see it is quite the opposite.

      As for Protestants going to Ireland from England and Scotland, yes but then so did the original Roman Catholics. Your ignorance continues to astonish me.

  7. In the end we all came from Africa – but do not tell the Zionists they would demand the right to return to Africa.

    • Hey Jessy. Notice the bit about the rule of law, and how the residents are making good use of it to prevent them being disadvantaged? That’s how a civilised society works, where individuals and groups get to hold the government and arms of the government to account for their actions.

      And this is an example of “Zionist bigotry”? Can you show me where the bigotry lies? Is the army proven to have chosen this place beacause it is prejudiced against Muslims/Arabs? Do you not think the Army needs firing ranges? Sometimes people will be disadvantaged because of this. That’s sad, but it’s true. Many people in Southern England were relocated for the construction of the High Speed rail link. They fought the plans under the law, but I don’t remember anyone screaming “bigotry”.

      If these villagers’ rights overpower whatever particular need the army has for its firing range in this location, then they will win in Court – no problem.

  8. If these villagers rights overpower the army’s needs they will live thank you thank you Labenal how very kind.

    Forget the fact that it is not even in Israel but in the occupied land under illegal occupation – I take my hat off in respect of the only Jewish and democratic state in the Middle East.

    • “If these villagers (sic – has your apostrophe key stopped working?) rights overpower the army’s needs they will live…”

      Erm. That’s not what I said, and nobody is threatening these people’s lives.

      Now please do what the disciples were told to do by Brian after he was forced to say “I am the messiah”. If you don’t know what that is, have a look here – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079470/quotes