From Balfour to BDS: Is it ‘immoral’ to support the sanctions movement?

[UKPMHN mailing]

Earlier this year a petition was submitted to the Government asking that it apologise on behalf of the country for having issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, thereby giving some credibility to the Zionist plan to colonise Palestine.

The UK Government has responded to the petition. In the letter in which it refuses to apologise, it states that ‘HMG … are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel … it was the right and moral thing to do’. It does not explain how it came to this conclusion (full text below).

The letter accepts that the Declaration ought to have called for the right of ‘the non-Jewish communities in Palestine… to self-determination’ even though it was clear to everyone at the time that this was precisely what it was intended to prevent! In 1919 Balfour conceded that ‘the weak point in our position is that in the case of Palestine we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination’; he followed this in 1920 writing ‘in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country’. ‘Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad,… [is] of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land’.

Analysis of the Government’s letter helps clarify the case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The Government confirms its commitment to a negotiated peace, but specifically excludes the possibility of helping create a ‘level playing field’, in which the rights and aspirations of both national communities resident in Palestine can be given equal weight. ‘We believe that such negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between Israelis and Palestinians, but with appropriate support from the international community’. So: on one side a major world power with no reason at all to compromise, with the full backing of the United States, on the other, a battered, fragmented people represented by a clique of discredited and dependent politicians. An agreement made under such conditions could not be considered morally binding on the Palestinian people, nor could it lay the foundations for a meaningful peace.

The Zionist movement was and remains a movement of settler colonialism: this was explicit in the days before colonialism became a dirty word. The British Government knew their Utopian plans would visit catastrophe on Palestine’s existing inhabitants. The experience of settler colonialism the world over is that the thinking and behaviour of the dominant group follows ‘a logic of elimination’. See e.g. Patrick Wolfe’s ‘Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native’, here:

In this process, negotiated treaties have had one purpose: to give pseudo-legal cover to the theft of another people’s rights and land, a prelude to their withering away on decrepit Reservations (like Gaza?).

The official discourse of ‘democracy’, ‘negotiations’, etc serves to screen off a reality that cannot be named. Yet, in the full light of day and without fear of effective censure, Israel pursues a course consistent with its white supremacist ideology. Shoot-to-kill policies are in force against young Palestinians who pose no threat:

while killings by settlers are condoned and thereby encouraged. Follow Israel’s human rights abuses, with week by week reports, on this website:

Now a bill defining Israel as the ‘national home of the Jewish people’ has passed its first vote in the Knesset. Arabic is no longer to be one of the country’s official languages – a position that in practice was lost long ago. This, in a territory that for fifty years has been completely controlled by the Israeli State, ruling over a population only half of which is Jewish Israeli. Palestinian representatives within the Knesset know far better than Downing Street what is happening:

“The aim is to portray institutional racism in Israel as entirely normal, and make sure the apartheid reality here is irreversible,” Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, told Al Jazeera. “It is part of the right’s magical thinking – they are in denial that there is an indigenous people here still living in their homeland. We are not about to disappear because of this law.” Read more on this from Jonathan Cook at:

The British Government will absorb this new ultra-right step without a blink, just as it looks away from every other atrocity and abuse perpetrated in by Israel.

In response to this deep and ongoing ethical failure, a non-sectarian, non-violent, worldwide movement has now occupied the place that the United Nations and the international community have left vacant. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is providing moral leadership, establishing limits and consequences for the systematic abuses that necessarily flow from the attempt to create a Jewish State in an already-populated territory. The focus, of course, is on liberating the Palestinians from their stateless present, providing for a future in which they enjoy the civil, political and human rights that we take for granted. But BDS is also the only initiative aiming to end Israel’s pariah status by providing the principles upon which relations between the Jewish Israeli collective and its neighbours can be normalised.

Those receiving news from within the UK might think that BDS has been defeated by the offensive launched against it in the last couple of years. But this is not the case. See these links for news from around the world providing news of successes that we shall – hopefully – one day see supported by HMG!

Meanwhile, the hunger strike by 1600 Palestinian political prisoners enters its second month: it, and the measures taken against the strikers receive no coverage in the UK press. Her is the article published by Marwan Barghouti in the New York Times, followed by news of a vote in their support by the Portuguese Parliament!

Back in the UK, the Labour leadership has disgraced itself once again, succumbing to pressure from the Zionist lobby not to criticize Israel’s settlement programme and human rights record:

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has offered this election aid, asking that we challenge Parliamentary candidates to reveal their views on the struggle for Palestinian rights:


The full text of HMG’s reply to the Petition:

“The Balfour Declaration is an historic statement for which HMG does not intend to apologise. We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel. The task now is to encourage moves towards peace.

The Declaration was written in a world of competing imperial powers, in the midst of the First World War and in the twilight of the Ottoman Empire. In that context, establishing a homeland for the Jewish people in the land to which they had such strong historical and religious ties was the right and moral thing to do, particularly against the background of centuries of persecution. Of course, a full assessment of the Declaration and what followed from it can only be made by historians.

Much has happened since 1917. We recognise that the Declaration should have called for the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly their right to self-determination. However, the important thing now is to look forward and establish security and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians through a lasting peace.

We believe the best way to achieve this is through a two-state solution: a negotiated settlement that leads to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a just, fair, agreed and realistic settlement for refugees.

We believe that such negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between Israelis and Palestinians, but with appropriate support from the international community. We remain in close consultation with both sides and international partners to encourage meaningful bilateral negotiations. We do not underestimate the challenges, but if both parties show bold leadership, peace is possible. The UK is ready to do all it can to support this goal.”