IT’S CLEARLY no ordinary simchah when you bump into John Kerry coming out of the loos. Then again, I’ve never before been at a dinner where the British and Israeli prime ministers mingled with the likes of Simon Schama and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
But you only get to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration once, so it was fitting that, on the anniversary itself, Lord Rothschild, (whose great uncle Walter, the second Lord Rothschild, was the recipient of Arthur Balfour’s letter) should host a dinner in its honour.
“Dinner” hardly does justice to the occasion. Last Thursday, Lancaster House in St James’s played host to A place setting amid the grandeur
what felt like a hybrid simchah-cumstate banquet. It was, after all, an evening at which Israel — and our role in its creation — was both honoured and celebrated.
The cast list (the proper phrase might be “guest list” but it felt like being in some sort of ridiculously glamorous film) was a mix of the great and the good of British Jewry and some leading friends and supporters of Israel — such as Tony Blair and Alexander Downer, the former Australian Foreign Minister. Descendants of some of the key players in 1917 were also present, from the current Earl of Balfour to Christopher Sykes (grandson of Sir Mark) and Robert Lloyd George.
Lancaster House is both imposing and ornate and, as we entered the dining room, there were gasps at the splendour of the setting.
It was matched by a deeply emotional speech by Benjamin Netanyahu, who told of his personal connection. John Henry Patterson, legendary commander of the Jewish Legion in the First World War, was godfather to Yonathan, Bibi’s late brother. Two years ago, his remains were taken to Israel to lie with those Jewish fighters he so revered.
Theresa May also swatted away the idea we should simply mark, rather than celebrate, the Balfour Declaration — and the ludicrous notion that we should apologise for it.
One hundred years on, Israel is a reality. Now for the next century.
Imposing scene: the banquet at Lancaster House in London, where Theresa May gave a speech