Balfour at 100: A Legacy of Racism and Propaganda

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin .... No. 1509 .... November 8, 2017
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Balfour at 100: A Legacy of Racism and Propaganda

Dan Freeman-Maloy

The coming months mark the centennial of Palestine’s forcible incorporation into the British Empire. In November 1917, British foreign secretary Lord Arthur Balfour declared his government’s support for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people"; in December, Jerusalem fell to British troops. One hundred years later, the effects of these events continue to reverberate. This should be a time of sombre reflection about international responsibility for the unfolding tragedy in Palestine.

This responsibility should weigh heavily on the West. Walid Khalidi put it well: "The Zionists were the initiators. But they were also, as they still are, the protégés of their Anglo--American sponsors and the emanations of their... power, resources, and will." The fact is that the Israeli state can’t be credited for much originality -- either in its brutality or in the hypocrisy deployed to cover it. And it is all too fitting that it was British imperialism that propelled the Zionist movement onto the world stage.

Palestine was occupied, after all, amid one of the British Empire’s last great scrambles for territory in the Afro--Asian world. The scramble was pursued amid an outpouring of imperial self-adoration. Balfour was not alone in proclaiming, wherever and whenever he could, "the extraordinary novelty, the extraordinary greatness, and the extraordinary success" of the British Empire, a system drawn together, he insisted, not by "the bonds merely of crude self-interest, but the bonds of a common belief in a great ideal." Freedom and justice marched with British troops. These may seem the banal platitudes of an imperial state. But during its "Great War," the British state deployed them as never before. Its propaganda set a new world standard in its scale, its organization, and its impact.

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