What is the Balfour Declaration?

The land of Palestine was ruled by many nations over the ages. Just before Israel became a state, it was ruled by the British Empire. On November 2, 1917, Lord Balfour of Great Britain wrote a letter promising a “Jewish home” to the Jewish people in the land of Palestine. This declaration was later ratified by the League of Nations in 1922 and was the guiding document for the administration of the land until the UN voted for partition in 47 and the British mandate was no longer. Why is this document so important? What are the ambiguities in the text? What is the backstory and how did it come to be? Why was it so controversial?

  1. To whom did Lord Balfour write his famous letter?
    • Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild
    • Theodor Herzl
    • David Ben-Gurion
    • Prime Minister David Lloyd George
  2. Who named the Land of Israel “Palestine”?
    • The Turks
    • The Romans
    • The Jews
    • The Ottomans
  3. What were two major issues with the declaration?
  4. Who was Chaim Weizmann, and what was his role in this story?
  5. What do the Balfour Declaration and nail polish remover have in common?
  1. Given the ambiguities you see discussed in the film about the Balfour Declaration, do you think the ambiguity was intentional? If so, why do you think it was ambiguous?
  2. One of the important features of the Balfour Declaration is that it was the first time an international superpower and authority gave formal support to establishing a Jewish home in almost 2,000 years. In your opinion, why should the Balfour Declaration continue to matter now, more than 100 years later?
  3. In considering the history of Israel, what ultimately put Israel on the map: Zionist visionaries and activists, or diplomatic, international support? Is it a combination, or one more than the other?
  1. Where do you rank the Balfour Declaration among the most influential diplomatic events in Israel’s history? Use the following five events in your deliberations:
    • First Zionist Congress in 1897
    • Balfour Declaration in 1917
    • Establishment of the state in 1948
    • Peace with Egypt in 1979
    • Peace with Jordan in 1994
    • other
  2. After President Donald Trump came out with his peace plan to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Palestinian Authority referred to Trump as “A New Balfour”. Why might they say this? Do you agree or disagree with their assertion and why?
  3. Engage your students in an experiential learning activity around the theme of Self-Determination, a theme found in the accompanying video.
  4. Give your students our Kahoot on the Balfour Declaration!
  1. Imagine you were a young adult in 1917. How do you think you would have felt upon hearing the Balfour Declaration? Describe the emotions you would feel when hearing that this declaration was made.
  2. Ben-Gurion stated 20 years after the declaration: “I say on behalf of the Jews that the Bible is our mandate, the Bible, which was written by us, in our own language, in Hebrew, in this very country. That is our mandate. It is only recognition of this right, which was expressed in the Balfour Declaration.” After watching this video, do you agree with Ben-Gurion? Explain. Is the right to a Jewish state more due to international law or the Jewish people’s history and Biblical rights?

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Experiential Learning is a proactive way to educate with a focus on reflection and can take place in any academic setting: day school, supplementary school, camp, youth group, synagogue, college campus or university. 

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