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Netanyahu celebrates Balfour Declaration, yet ignores its legacy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to London for the centennial ceremony of the Balfour Declaration, sidelining the essence of the declaration and its vision of peace with the Palestinians.
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A few days ago, I went to see the play "Herzl Said" at the Gesher Theater in Tel Aviv, produced to mark the birth of the State of Israel 70 years ago. The play is based on the utopian novel “Altneuland” ("Old New Land" in German) written by the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, some 120 years ago. In his book, Herzl envisioned Jews and Arabs coexisting and world leaders journeying to the country to learn about peace, tolerance, brotherhood and prosperity. Playwright Roi Chen brings Herzl back to life in 1949, shortly before his remains were brought from Austria, where he died in 1904, to be buried in the old new land (Israel). Herzl is disappointed by the religious nationalism he encounters in the Jewish state founded in 1948. He tries to convince the young Israelis he meets that if they wish, his vision of Jews and Arabs spending their vacations together on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and homosexuals being lovingly accepted by society would come true. As we know, political and social reality in Israel is turning his vision into a dream that comes true for few.

There’s no telling what Lord Arthur Balfour would have said to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were he sitting at his side during the Nov. 2 dinner thrown in honor of the Israeli leader by British Prime Minister Theresa May. The event marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration that announced British support for the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine. Judging by the op-ed penned this week by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who tried to imagine what his long-ago predecessor would have thought of the way things turned out, Balfour would not have taken part in the festivities. In the piece published in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth and the British Telegraph, Johnson noted that the man who 100 years ago sat under the same gilded ceiling stipulated in his declaration that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities,” a caveat that “has not been fully realized.”

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