One hundred years ago the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote a letter to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild expressing the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in the country that was under their mandate — Palestine.
Last month, in the Mishkenot Sha’ananim neighborhood of Jerusalem, this historic document and its importance were the focal point of a conference themed, “From Balfour to Brexit.” Many eager listeners attended the sessions at the Konrad Adenauer Center.
Guest speakers included the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Israeli historian Kobi Hubara and current Israeli Ambassador to Britain Mark Regev, among others. There were lectures, debates and discussions including participation from James Sorene, the CEO of the Britain-Israel Communications and Research Center, as well as senior foreign policy analyst Tim Marshall.
A guest of honor at the convention, and a direct link to the original author of the letter, was Lord Roderick Balfour, Fifth Earl of Balfour. He is the great-grandson of Gerald William Balfour who was the brother of Arthur who penned the famed declaration.
Arthur never married and had no children so, as is customary, the titles went to his brother who passed them down the family line. Lord Roderick, the 5th Viscount Traprain, of Whittingehame, East Lothian, inherited the titles from his father in 2003. Even though he is a Lord, he does not sit in the United Kingdom parliament’s House of Lords.
Lord Balfour has been commemorating the Balfour Declaration for the last 25 years. At the 75th anniversary gala dinner, the family discovered that they had been overlooked. At that point Lord Roderick contacted the Anglo-Israel Association and has been actively involved ever since.
Earlier in the year, Lord Balfour made a public statement about the Balfour Declaration and his ancestor. He said that he was proud of his family’s assistance to the Jewish people at that time.
“My family is very proud of the importance to Jewish people everywhere of this initiative by the British government of the day,” he said.
Speaking of the Russian pogroms at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, he said, “This is what we are most proud of, the declaration was first and foremost a humanitarian act trying to repatriate a talented but much-persecuted people to the land of the original Judaic roots.”
In Jerusalem, Paul Calvert of Focus On Israel-Radio conducted an interview with the Balfour to Brexit guest of honor to hear his thoughts on the iconic document. The Fifth Lord of Balfour replied that it was a very opportune time for him, as a representative of the family, to be in Israel for this conference given the reputation of the Balfour Declaration.
He said that he suspected that 100 years ago, the Balfour Declaration wasn’t historic or earth shattering. But Israel’s development since then has caused the controversy and the interpretation surrounding the declaration.
Calvert asked Lord Balfour if his great-great uncle was a religious man and if his religious beliefs played a part in the Balfour Declaration. Lord Roderick answered in the affirmative.
“The Scottish educational system was very much based on the Bible,” he explained. “So many people in Britain and Scotland, the missionaries for example went out into the world after being influenced by the Old Testament, hearing about the Covenant to the Jews, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah and Old Testament books and the return of the Jewish people.”
“Jesus was a Jew and so it was only natural to think that this is correct — that the Jews should be allowed to go back under the promise of the covenant to Israel,” he said.
When asked how it makes him feel to be a descendent of such a man, Lord Balfour replied, “He achieved a great deal, he was a great philosopher, I’m very proud of his legacy.”
On Nov. 2, 100 years will have passed since Lord Arthur Balfour composed the significant and consequential brief. His great grandnephew Lord Roderick concluded the interview by saying, “I would like everyone to coexist peacefully, pursue their own religions and live in peace.”