If you were told that the Jewish People stole the Holy Land from its original Arab inhabitants and that it was only because of the world’s guilt over the Holocaust that Western powers gave the land to the Jews in 1948, would you know how to refute that lie? If the answer is no, you’re not alone – and many Jewish students are no different.
When I took a Middle Eastern studies course as a student at Ryerson University in Toronto, I heard a lot of misinformation about Israel, including many easily disputable statements about how Israel came to possess the land. Rarely did I see such misinformation challenged in the classroom. This was at the same time that the Ryerson Student Union voted to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, and when thousands of students were being inundated with powerful lies about the Jewish state.
At times, the anti-Israel movement can seem almost insurmountable, but it has one major flaw: its premise that the Jewish People are alien occupiers of the land is a lie.
There are many arguments to be marshalled in favour of Israel’s legitimacy, but without directly addressing the argument that Israel has no legal rights to the land, advocates of the State of Israel will have a hard time changing hearts and minds. No matter how persuasive other pro-Israel arguments may be, if we cannot convince the undecided majority that Israel is the legal owner of the land in sits on, all other efforts will fall short. Israel’s democratic nature will not make up for its perceived theft of the land, just as an illegal squatter cannot claim that he is entitled to stealing a home because he renovated it afterwards.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, and even in the Middle Eastern studies course that I took at Ryerson, it’s something that was barely mentioned. In November 1917, Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary at a time when the U.K. oversaw Mandatory Palestine, promised the land to the Jewish People, as a reconstituted homeland.
The Balfour Declaration eventually led to the San Remo Conference, which passed a resolution establishing Israel’s rights under international law. In essence, it affirmed that the Jewish People not only had historical links to the land, but also the legal standing to reconstitute their historical homeland from which they had been exiled nearly 2,000 years earlier by the Romans.
‘Rarely did I see such misinformation challenged in the classroom.’
The entire foundation of Israel’s legal rights to the land, which is based on the Balfour Declaration, is a critical component in modern-day Israel advocacy, particularly on campus. It counters the scurrilous argument that the Jews stole the land from the Arabs who had previously been living there. The Balfour Declaration formally supported the recreation of a Jewish homeland, with its own governance, in the Land of Israel, without taking away the rights of any non-Jews living in the area.
The Balfour Declaration is not exactly easy reading – the text is dense and full of legal jargon. But Canadians who support the State of Israel – Jews and non-Jews alike – can use this anniversary as an opportunity to educate ourselves about this critical issue and the history behind it. The more we become familiar with the role and background of the Balfour Declaration – the text of which is widely available online – the more we can become educated and passionate advocates for Israel, the reconstituted homeland of the Jewish People.
Josh Socket is an Israel educational intern with Hasbara Fellowships Canada.