On November 2nd 1917, 95 years ago today...

First published 2nd November 2012

On November 2nd 1917, 95 years ago today, a piece of history was made which has had a profound impact on world politics ever since.

Arthur James Balfour, Foreign Secretary of the UK at the time, wrote a letter (known today as the Balfour Declaration) to Baron Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish Community, granting the right of Jews to land in of their own. This was the first national and political recognition of the right of Jews to have a separate land they could call their own

Today, many would be critical of this declaration, but it is always easy to forget the context out of which it arose. A visit to many European cities today is a stark reminder of the fact that Jews were persecuted and murdered in their thousands over the centuries. It took over thirty five years for the State of Israel to be formed following the Balfour Declaration

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and some of it has attracted criticism from many western commentators in relation to Israel's treatment of the indigenous Palestinian population. Some of that criticism has been justified, some of it less so.

However, as with many contentious issues, the original context has to be understood and the persecution of Jews, which many people think began with the Nazis, has sadly a much longer history in Europe than the events of the Second World War.

In it's time the Balfour Declaration enshrined a motive which lies behind much of our understanding of basic human rights today. It sought to protect a persecuted minority from persecution and genocide.

Whatever your understanding of human rights is, it is important for all of us to respect and protect human rights wherever and whenever we see persecution and oppression.

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