Is­rael con­cern that cen­te­nary is be­ing down­played by UK

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER BY DANIEL SUGARMAN

IS­RAEL BE­LIEVES Bri­tain’s For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice is de­lib­er­ately down­play­ing the cen­te­nar­ies of both the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion and a key First World War bat­tle by send­ing only ju­nior rep­re­sen­ta­tives to an­niver­sary events.

Se­nior of­fi­cials be­lieve mem­bers of the Bri­tish diplo­matic corps are act­ing out of con­cern over Pales­tinian and Arab protests, de­spite Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s pledge to com­mem­o­rate Bal­four “with pride and re­spect”.

The Is­raeli of­fi­cials point to the min­i­mal level of UK govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tion for Bal­four com­mem­o­ra­tions in Is­rael and at an event to mark 100 years since the Bat­tle of Beer­sheba.

Ear­lier this year there had been ex­pec­ta­tions that Bri­tain would take a more prom­i­nent role in both cen­te­nar­ies, rais­ing hopes that a mem­ber of the Royal Fam­ily would make an of­fi­cial visit for the first time since Is­raeli in­de­pen­dence in 1948.

Is­rael had been en­cour­aged by Mrs May’s warm re­marks on Bal­four and the fact that so many se­nior min­is­ters and roy­als have at­tended cen­te­nary com­mem­o­ra­tions of other First World War bat­tles since 2014.

The Bat­tle of Beer­sheba on Oc­to­ber 31 1917 marked the mo­ment Al­lied forces un­der General Ed­mund Al­lenby broke the Ot­toman army’s re­sis­tance in the Negev desert and be­gan a push through to Jerusalem, Am­man and even­tu­ally Da­m­as­cus.

But no UK of­fi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tives other than the am­bas­sador to Is­rael were ex­pected to at­tend an event in Beer­sheba this week or the forth­com­ing event to mark Bal­four in the Knes­set.

Mean­while this week’s Bal­four cen­te­nary din­ner in Lon­don, due to be at­tended by Is­raeli leader Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and Mrs May, is be­ing de­scribed as a “pri­vate” event.

The full ex­tent of the FCO’s of­fi­cial com­mem­o­ra­tion of Bal­four over­seas was a low-key re­cep­tion last Wed­nes­day at the Bri­tish am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence near Tel Aviv, with no ma­jor names in at­ten­dance.

A se­nior diplo­mat in Jerusalem said last week that, with dis­trac­tions over Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, it was “hardly sur­pris­ing” that Ms May did not have the time to push through a more high-pro­file pro­gramme of events. From left:

EMILY THORN­BERRY, the shadow for­eign sec­re­tary, has been crit­i­cised by a lead­ing aca­demic for ar­gu­ing that the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion should be “marked” rather than cel­e­brated, with her com­ments deemed to show “a lack of so­cial­ist moral­ity”.

Speak­ing on a panel as part of the of­fi­cial Bal­four cen­te­nary events, Colin Shindler, emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor at the School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies (SOAS), said: “If Emily Thorn­berry is go­ing to be in charge of the diplo­matic ser­vice, she has proved her­self al­ready to be no diplo­mat.”

Prof Shindler was re­act­ing to an in­ter­view given by Ms Thorn­berry to Mid­dle East Eye, in which she said: “I don’t think we cel­e­brate the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion but I think we have to mark it be­cause I think it was a turn­ing point in the his­tory of that area.”

She added: “The most im­por­tant way of mark­ing it is to recog­nise Pales­tine.”

Prof Shindler said that Ms Thorn­berry re­flected Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn’s view that the party “has no place as a me­di­a­tor” in the Is­rael-Pales­tine con­flict.

“Cor­byn over the last 30 years has been but a pro­pa­gan­dist for one side and one side only. This goes against all the talk about peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion — it doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said.

The aca­demic added: “She could have said: ‘the Zion­ists and their sup­port­ers will cer­tainly cel­e­brate the cen­te­nary of the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion. I quite un­der­stand that the Pales­tini­ans and their sup­port­ers will see it as a land­mark in the his­tory of their prob­lems. The past can’t be changed, but the fu­ture can be; and there­fore our role in the Labour party is to act as me­di­a­tors be­tween the two par­ties – and we’re very happy to do that.’

“That never hap­pened, and I think it’s a lack of so­cial­ist moral­ity on her part”.

Prof Shindler was dis­cussing the im­pact of the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion with Tim Mar­shall, the former for­eign and diplo­matic editor of Sky News, and Pro­fes­sor Sir Lawrence Freed­man, Emeri-

Of­fi­cials ex­pected Bri­tain to take more prom­i­nent role’

Pro­fes­sor Shindler, Pro­fes­sor Freed­man, JC editor Stephen Pol­lard who chaired the panel and Tim Mar­shall

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