W&Y reader Rowan Pilley responds to Wednesday’s article about UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn shunning Prime Minister May’s dinner marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration>
“The allegation that Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to attend a dinner marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration this week is demonstrative of his vain commitment to ideology and indulgent engagement in gesture politics is a simplification of the role which commemoration plays in propagating historical narratives.
Whilst criticisms of Corbyn’s fallible approach to the rife anti-Semitism within the Labour Party and his problematic relations with Hamas and Hezbollah are entirely justified, it is crucial not to conflate his complicity with anti-Semitic perspectives and his anti-Zionist stance. The argument that anti-Zionism ultimately stems from a place of anti-Semitism is reductionist, as his failure to adequately tackle issues of discrimination does not alone undermine his position on Israel.
It is also problematic to suggest that partiality is untenable in this context, particularly given that the Conservative Party demonstrates both bias and inconsistency when addressing the problem of Palestine.
Whilst Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has, this week, lauded the ‘Miracle of Israel’, his 2014 biography of Winston Churchill dismisses the Balfour Declaration as an ‘exquisite masterpiece of Foreign Office fudgerama’. The inconsistency of Johnson’s position cannot be argued to be demonstrative of a reasonable and considered pragmatism, but a perfect example of gesture politics. Essentially the mouthpiece for the popular sentiment of the day, Johnson’s lip service to the miraculous success of the Zionist project can hardly be seen to indicate any deep-seated commitment to building a relationship for the future.
In a similar vein, last year, at a dinner for the Conservative Friends of Israel the Prime Minister Theresa May described the centenary of the Balfour Declaration as ‘an anniversary we will be marking with pride’. This is more than commemoration of an event of historical significance, but a celebration of the success of the Zionist project and complicity in the marginalisation of the native Palestinian population.
It is narrow-sighted, to an extreme, to celebrate the creation of Israel on the basis of the ‘beacon of tolerance’ that it is today, as May did in December 2016. This is because the caveat of Lord Balfour that ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’ was never enacted. Even the Palestinian citizens of Israel have been consistently denied equality, epitomised by the fact that their right to citizenship is placed in the hands of the state, rather than being a birth right, as in the case of the global Jewish population. Furthermore, the Palestinian population is consistently denied the right to express a historical narrative, as demonstrated by the fact that the state of Israel withdraws funding from any institution that conceptualises the events of 1948 as al-Nakba or catastrophe.
Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to attend the dinner, therefore, does not mark a failure to engage with an important event in history but a refusal to engage with history that is narrated by the victors. It is not a refusal to engage in vital global diplomacy, but a dissent from a colonial historical narrative, which is not only prevalent in Israel, but both glorifies Britain’s imperial past and condones contemporary Western intervention in the Middle East. A celebration of the Balfour Declaration is the celebration of an event that ultimately enabled the settler colonialism of the Zionist project. Its commemoration propagates the Israeli historical narrative which continually justifies the creation of the state and the subsequent marginalisation of the Palestinian people. Surely that is something worthy of a political gesture.”