Royal indiscretion

This week it was reported in the Times that President Reuven Rivlin of Israel had invited the Royal Family to send a representative to the country this year to celebrate a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration.  There is intense speculation in the Israeli press now that the Royal Family might break its longstanding reluctance to visit Israel officially.  It would clearly invite controversy to visit a country in such flagrant breach of international law – defying the United Nations with its illegal settlements, child detention, blockade of Gaza and marginalisation of its ethnic minorities.  The Balfour Declaration, as well as promising a home for the Jewish peoples, also promised that the rights of the Palestinians must be protected.  This was ‘a sacred trust of civilisation’ under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations which Britain took on when it accepted the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. We betrayed that sacred trust and, until that trust is redeemed, the Balfour Declaration should not be celebrated.  A petition to the Queen’s Private Secretary to discourage such a visit is circulating.

The idea that the Royal Family would give any sort of endorsement or honour to the State of Israel this year sadly fits with a pattern of inadvisable steps that have been taken in the last couple of years.  The weekend before her infamous visit to the White House, Theresa May told Andrew Marr that it was up to the Queen whether President Trump was invited to Buckingham Palace this year.  Within days she had extended an invitation on the Queen’s behalf, which was of course accepted, to great public outcry in the UK.  American presidents crave the publicity that goes with a State Visit to the UK – remember Ronald Reagan on horseback with HM at Windsor.  Normally US Presidents must wait until their third year in office – if indeed they get one at all.  That gives them a chance to show that they are a good friend to the UK and frankly deserve it.  George H Bush never had one at all.  Donald Trump hasn’t done anything for the UK yet, and is a major potential threat to the world order.  His visit, if it happens anytime soon, will be highly controversial and will embroil the Royal Family in politics.  It was unwise of the Palace to go along with Theresa May in approving Trump’s visit in his first year.

The Royal Family’s associations with certain Gulf countries are also unwise.  Because of his interest in horse racing our Royal Family is close to the King and Crown Prince of Bahrain whose human rights abuses directed at the Shia majority in this Sunni minority country are appalling.  The UK government fawns over them because of military pacts.  The Crown Prince was in fact invited to the wedding of Prince William in 2011.  Within days of his name appearing on the guest list he withdrew because of the howls of protest in the UK.  It was really sickening to see his hard-line father the King  sitting in pride of place alongside the Queen at her 90th birthday celebration in Windsor Great Park in 2016. Ruling families of the UAE who also enjoy racing their horses in the UK while presiding over appalling human rights abuses receive the same royal approval.  These abuses are well documented by ICFUAE.

Her Majesty would do well to review the adequacy of the political advice she does receive from those around her.  It would be a shame if, at this stage, her reign were marred by political controversies that she has done so well to avoid in past decades.

* John Kelly is a member in Warwick District, Secretary of the Lib Dem Friends of Palestine, and a member of the Federal International Relations Committee.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • nigel hunter 14th Mar '17 - 10:13pm

    Hopefully, the Government( due to Brexit uncertainties) will not put pressure on her to accept.

  • Denis Mollison 14th Mar '17 - 10:41pm

    Agree strongly: the Balfour Declaration is an historical embarrassment to this country and we should certainly not be celebrating its centenary, let alone asking the Queen to officially endorse this.

  • Tony Dawson 15th Mar '17 - 9:19am

    The Balfour Declaration was one of the most shameful acts of the last hangovers of British imperialism. Partition of India on racial grounds was another. What we got up to in Kenya was another. To celebrate it would be an absolute scandal.

  • Joe Otten is right. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where minorities have freedom of religion – not to mention women’s rights and gay rights.

  • Jonathan Coulter 15th Mar '17 - 11:00am

    Joe Otten, I would encourage you to study the history, and you will see that non-Jews have suffered enormously in a process of ethnic cleansing which continues today – Illan Pappe’s famous book on this subject would be a good start. If you go back to the origins of the the Zionist project, at the end of the 19th century, you will find that the aim was to get the whole of Palestine. About the turn of the 20th century, the father of the Zionist movement, Theodore Herzl, spoke of the need to “transfer” the Arabs out of Palestine to make way for the Jewish homeland. This has remained the dominant Zionist doctrine, and you can see it in the writings and/or actions of people like Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Gurion and Benjamin Netanyahu. Many Zionist adherents have wanted much more than Palestine, i.e. parts of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and even Iraq. On the other hand, some Jewish Israelis would have liked to adopt a more conciliatory path towards the indigenous Palestinians, but they have been brushed aside.

    Your comparison with “Empire” is inappropriate, because actions of Imperial regimes have often been reversed since independence (e.g. Kikuyu reoccupying the “White Highlands” of Kenya from which British settlers dislodged them), and they often empowered local farmers (e.g. Britain’s encouragement of cocoa in Ghana). Imperial powers have at time shown contrition, that has been missing in the case of the Palestine. In this regard, I suggest reading the historian, Dr Peter Shambrook on Significantly he mentions the Queen’s moving gestures and words for the Irish, during her visit to Dublin in 2011; it would be a travesty of justice for her to undo this by lining up with the imperial dispossession that has occurred in Israel.

  • @Joe Otten – “That doesn’t sound so bad. And indeed the civil rights of non-Jews in Israel proper have fared rather better than civil rights in general in much of what was the Empire. What is the big outrage here?”

    The Balfour Declaration didn’t mention the rights of non-Jews in Israel. It did mention the rights of non-Jews in Palestine. Can you really not see any outrages in the occupied territories?

  • @ Joe Otten

    If you read the Wikipedia article – you might change your opinion.

    The phrase according to Leopold Amery “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people” was meant to lead to a Jewish state (not a Jewish joint Palestinian state).

    Balfour later enlarged on what his declaration meant – “we do not purpose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country (Palestine) …”

    The political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine were intentionally not included.

    During the 1948 War hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled (or were driven from) their homes ( and Israel first banned them from returning and now does not accept the right of the descendant of these dispossessed people to return to their traditional homes where their families have lived for hundreds of years (and possibly for over a thousand years).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Mar '17 - 12:12pm

    Words like ethnic cleansing used above ,in the comments ,are emotive and biased.Yet these are often used by the strongest critics of Israel , whereas some of us staunchly supportive of the right of Israel to exist , as well as being critics of its government , struggle at times to be heard, amidst such language. It can really irritate some of us the extent of just how one sided the criticism and anger of some is .

    Has John Kelly ever written of the treatment of gay Palestinians in Gaza and of womens lack of rights and respect by Hamas etc.? Has he or his group ever celebrated the rights of Muslim Israelis , and their political engagement in the State of Israel , a country that has a multi party system ?If he has, kudos, I must have missed it over several years reading and commenting herein ?!

    The article mentions the appalling human rights record in some middle east countries.

    All the odder that some cannot see that Israel is not uniquely a problem in the area.It has also been the only democracy in the region and thus the only country where Arab Muslims can , as citizens of Israel , stand in free and fair elections.

    Joe is correct in that the declaration reads as one with noble aims.Yes , so sad the reality has not been the fullfilment of them to the extent it should have . It is not all the fault of one side .

    How does being more positive about the intentions of people one hundred years ago mean something awful if their decency is now understood ?

    Sir Herbert Samuel, a fair and good man in the history of the era , became the leader of the Liberal Party. Are we ashamed of him on this matter ? No , I would say !

    Some regularly bring up the UN. Its failures to enforce its decisions are rightly criticised, including on Israel , as are its many other failures, on ebola , initially, a recent example and one of many .Does that mean there should be no commemorations soon, for the seventieth anniversary of the UN human rights declaration?

    We need a measured approach on so many issues , I am beginning to think so called centrist policies and , more so, values, are more needed than ever and are the true radicalism, rather than the knee jerk and the bias , some prefer and think of as their kind of Liberalism!

  • @ Lorenzo Cherin

    I recognise we are where we are with regard to Israel and Palestine. However I wouldn’t have started from here and the reason we do is because of the Balfour Declaration.

    The aim of the Balfour Declaration was to setup an exclusive Jewish State in Palestine without regard to the people who were living there in 1917.

    The Partition of Palestine and the setting up of a separate Jewish state was against the will of the majority of the population of Palestine. It should be remembered that only a third of the population of Palestine was Jewish in 1947. It should be remembered that the Zionists did not want a joint Palestinian-Jewish state but wanted one with very few non-Jews in it. It was only the Zionist’s refusal to accept a joint Palestinian-Jewish state for the whole of Palestine that meant that partition was put forward.

    According to the 1922 census only 83,694 people were Jewish, just 11%.

    I don’t understand how it could have been right for the British government after the First World War to encourage the setting up of an independent state for the 11% and people living outside of the area.

  • Matt McLaughlin 20th Mar '17 - 11:01pm

    Brits driving (1917) nonZionists east of the Jordan is the same as driving Irish west of the Shannon; damnable imperialism.

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