In Heidegger and the Jews, the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard points out that history claims to narrate the past but, in practice, what it does is conceal our collective shame. The Americans conceal slavery and imperial genocidal aggression, the Brits conceal their colonial blunders, the Jews turn their eyes away from anything that may have contributed to turning Jewish history into an extended shoah. The real historian, claims Lyotard, is there to unveil the shame. This week marks 100 years since the Balfour declaration and today I will try to touch upon your shame, my shame, our shame. We will try to figure out what the history of the so-called Balfour ‘Declaration’ is there to conceal.
Let’s first examine the document. Most noticeably the so-called ‘declaration’ is not printed on official British government letterhead. It is not signed by the British cabinet either. It is, instead, a letter from a sleazy British politician (Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour) to a very rich Jew (Lord Walter Rothschild). As such, the Balfour ‘declaration’ is actually a statement with somewhat limited significance. What it does is “declare[s] sympathy with Zionist aspirations.”
Yet, we must admit that the Jewish world has managed to squeeze quite a few drops of juice out of this watery statement. The Jewish world interprets this ‘sympathetic declaration’ as a commitment to their Zionist, racist and expansionist project namely the ‘Jewish State’. They claim to regard the vague statement as a license to ethnically cleanse the entire indigenous people of the land, i.e., the Palestinians.Balfour Declaration, History and Concealment