(November 2, 2020 / JNS) Nov. 2 marks the 103rd anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration—then-British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s recognition, in the name of King George V, of the Zionist movement and its purpose to establish a state in the ancestral homeland of the Jews.
At the time, Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook (Rav Kook), who would become the first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel, was in London and worked with Chaim Weizmann, who would become the first president of the State of Israel, to persuade the House of Lords to support the Declaration. Rav Kook also mobilized Orthodox congregations across the British Kingdom to send statements of support for it. These statements of support were needed for two reasons: to counter fierce opposition to it on the part of the Reform community, and to show the Kingdom that the Jewish world supported it and would work to make it a reality.
Rav Kook’s activities for the Zionist movement were praised by the British Kingdom, which later awarded him a Knight of Honor on its behalf.
The Balfour Declaration made waves in the international community, and after the 1920 San Remo Conference, the British Kingdom received the international mandate to implement it.
And what about the United States?
In 1924, Rav Kook set out on a fundraising campaign for the benefit of the yeshiva world in Israel. He spent about six months in the United States, the first of which he devoted to diplomatic meetings. During this period, he traveled to various states, including Pennsylvania and New York, until he arrived in Washington, D.C., where he met Republican U.S. President Calvin Coolidge in the White House.
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which reported on the meeting, “He (Rav Kook) gave special thanks for the recent action of both houses of Congress in passing resolutions approving the creation of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, and the British mandate over it. Rav Kook expressed his hope and conviction that America will remain the center of liberty and idealism, and bestowed his blessing upon the President, excusing himself for being unable to speak in the English language. In reply, the President stated that he felt highly honored by the visit of Palestine’s Chief Rabbi, and assured Rav Kook that the United States Government would assist, in every way possible, the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisrael.”
Coolidge’s commitment from all those decades ago has been honored by U.S. President Donald Trump, thus strengthening Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship. A key component to being a good American president is understanding that a strong Israel and a strong alliance with Israel help make America a stronger country. As an American Jew who has made my homeland, Israel, my home, I always support candidates whom I believe will keep both countries secure. It is something that I keep in mind ahead of all U.S. presidential elections, all of which happen to virtually coincide with the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.
It is ironic that Britain gave birth to the Declaration, yet the U.K. embassy in Israel still is located in Tel Aviv. By moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, Trump actually implemented the Declaration’s intent.
Avi Abelow, CEO of 12Tribe Films, manages the Israel Video Network and IsraelUnwired.com.
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