How the Balfour Declaration Became International Law Despite Attempts to Undermine It

A century ago, the victors of World War I met in the Italian city of San Remo to discuss how to divide up territories that had previously belonged to the Ottoman empire. It was here that Arthur Balfour’s famous promise effectively became international law. But things almost didn’t turn out that way. With support from British officers, Emir Faisal—son of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, promoted by T.E. Lawrence—was attempting to make himself the ruler of a Syrian kingdom that included the Land of Israel. Meanwhile, the French were poised to back away from their previous assurances regarding the Jews. Faisal had signed an agreement with Chaim Weizmann, the chief Zionist diplomat, in January 1919 pledging his support to the creation of a Jewish state, but, as Efraim Karsh writes, he “was speaking from both sides of his mouth.”

In his testimony to the Paris peace conference a month after signing the agreement with Weizmann, the emir refrained from mentioning, let alone endorsing, the Balfour Declaration, proposing instead to leave Palestine’s future “for the mutual consideration of all parties interested.” This phrasing gave the country’s non-Jewish population a veto power over the establishment of a Jewish national home—in contrast to the Balfour Declaration that rendered them “civil and religious rights” but no say over Palestine’s future.

[Moreover], no sooner had Faisal promised the French prime minister Georges Clemenceau “to use his efforts with the people to secure a French mandate for Syria” than he embarked on a spirited effort to tarnish this pledge by manipulating the King-Crane Commission, [convened by the U.S. to adjudicate the Franco-British dispute over the division of the Levant], against the French and the Zionists.

[W]hile feigning “a deep sense of sympathy for the Jewish cause,” the commission dismissed the millennia-long Jewish attachment to Palestine as valid justification for the establishment of a Jewish national home there. Effectively treating the Jews as a religious community rather than a nation, it recommended that “Jewish immigration should be definitely limited, and that the project for making Palestine distinctly a Jewish commonwealth should be given up,” thus relegating the country’s Jewish community to a permanent minority in Faisal’s prospective Syrian kingdom.

It was primarily through the efforts of Britain’s prime minister Lloyd George, and the continuous lobbying of Weizmann, that the diplomats at San Remo accepted the promise of a Jewish national home at all:

[I]t was an extraordinary feat of diplomacy that within less than five years of its issuance the Balfour Declaration had been endorsed by the official representative of the will of the international community: not in the “technical” sense of supporting the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine but in the deeper sense of recognizing the Jews as a nation deserving self-determination in its ancestral homeland. This is something that successive Palestinian leaderships have been loath to acknowledge to date.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Balfour Declaration, Chaim Weizmann, History of Zionism, International Law, Mandate Palestine, Treaty of San Remo

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus