The following speech was given by Socialist Alliance Sydney branch organiser Peter Boyle to the 100 years since the Balfour Declaration symposium organised by the Palestine National Corporation in Australia, in Lakemba on November 3.
I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this land and pay my respects to elders, past and present. This was and always will be Aboriginal land.
This acknowledgement is, of course, very relevant to the symposium today on the Balfour Declaration, which served, for all intents and purposes, as a licence issued by a colonial authority for a Zionist colonial settler state on the land of the Palestinian people.
It is a dirty deal that accompanied other colonial deals of that era, including the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement of the year before, in which European colonial powers divided up the Middle East between themselves.
As socialists in Australia – another European colonial settler state – we are sharply aware of the brutal and genocidal consequences such projects have for the indigenous people of the stolen land such “settlement” is foisted on.
Just as the First Nations people in this continent have been driven from their lands, robbed of the resources they depended on, massacred, criminalised and treated as racial inferiors, so too have the Palestinians suffered as a result of the Zionist colonial state licensed by the British.
Until the British issued the Balfour Declaration, the idea of a Zionist colonial settler state in Palestine remained just another Zionist scheme. The “Father" of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, had been sounding out British colonial authorities about establishing such a settler state in Argentina or Uganda.
The idea of a Zionist state in Palestine found more supporters after the Zionist Basle congress of 1897. A small section of (mainly Eastern European) Jewish people saw this as a solution to anti-Semitism and a way to return to the land where Judaism, as well as other religions, had its roots.
Other sections of the Jewish people in Europe chose to reject Zionism and fight anti-Semitism at its source. They joined the revolutionary movement that was liberating Russia at the time and hoped to free the world from colonialism and capitalism.
Zionism as a “solution” to anti-Semitism in Europe was a retreatist response, a conservative response.
Anti-Semites could see that and sought to take advantage of it. Even Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime signed an agreement with the Zionists to help rid Germany of Jews via emigration to Palestine.
This conservativism at the core of Zionism also expressed itself clearly in the racist behaviour of the European Zionists who started to move to Palestine even before the Balfour Declaration.
The late Jewish anti-Zionist Hanna Braun recounts in “A Basic History of Zionism and its Relation to Judaism”: “Max Nordau, an early Zionist, visited Palestine and was so horrified that the country was already populated that he burst out in front of Herzl: ‘But we are committing a grave injustice!’
“Some years later, in 1913, a prominent Zionist thinker and writer, Ahad Ha'am, wrote: ‘What are our brothers doing? They were slaves in the land of their exile. Suddenly they found themselves faced with boundless freedom ... and they behave in a hostile and cruel manner towards the Arabs, trampling on their rights without the least justification ... even bragging about this behaviour’…
“The Zionist slogan of ‘a land without people for a people without land’ prevailed and within a matter of a few years the European immigrants became ‘sons of the land’, whereas the inhabitants became the aliens and foreigners.”
This reminds us here in Australia of the infamous term “terra nullius” (nobody’s land) that remained recognised in law until the Mabo High Court decision in 1992 as a justification for the theft of Aboriginal land.
The British had their own motivations for the Balfour Declaration. They wanted to win the imperial war for colonial spoils (World War I) and they were making promises left, right and centre to get the help they needed.
They made promises to the Arab people in return for help against the German-Ottoman forces. But these promises were soon to be broken.
As the 19th century British “Lord” Palmerston famously said: "England has no eternal friends, England has no perpetual enemies, England has only eternal and perpetual interests”.
Indeed. Dirty, greedy, brutal, anti-people, colonial interests.
Later, when colonialism gave way to neo-colonialism, the imperialist powers sought to impose surrogate regimes in their former colonies and the Zionist colonial settler state of Israel offered its services as local enforcer for imperialism in the region.
The Zionist colonial settler state continues to serve the "perpetual interests” of the imperialists today.
As socialists we totally oppose the legitimacy of the Zionist colonial settler state.
We recognise the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and freedom from the brutal Israeli occupation and apartheid system. We call upon the Australian government, and all other governments, to recognise Palestine.
The British government must revoke the Balfour Declaration, apologise to the Palestinian people and pay reparations for all the suffering and damage they have endured.