New Statesman: Invoking Destiny, Circumventing History.

As the bombs rain on Gaza, the latest edition of the New Statesman magazine, Great Britain’s main weekly centre-left magazine, defined the Palestinian struggle against Zionist colonisation and aggression as a “conflict between two peoples destined to claim ownership of the same land.”

The editorial obviously doesn’t enunciate how and why it became the ‘destiny’ of Palestinians to have been ethnically cleansed from their land and killed in their thousands (i.e. “conflict”) in what was initially a British imperialist project. But the New Statesman’s editorial in November 1917 endorsing the Balfour Declaration certainly does shed an incredible dose of light on how this destiny materialised. For the first time in the digital era, here is the editorial in full:

“The British Government’s declaration in favour of Zionism is one of the best pieces of statesmanship that we can show in these latter days. Early in the war The New Statesman published an article giving the main reasons why such a step should be taken, and nothing has occurred to change them. The special interest of the British Empire in Palestine is due to the proximity of the Suez Canal. The present war has killed the idea that this vital artery ought to be used as a line of defence for Egypt, and there is a general return to the view of Napoleon (and indeed of history long before his time) that Egypt must be defended in Palestine. To make Palestine once more prosperous and populous, with a population attached to the British Empire, there is only one hopeful way, and that is to effect a Zionist restoration under British auspices. On the other side of the account it is hard to conceive how anybody with the true instinct for nationality and the desire to see small nations emancipated can fail to be warmed by the prospect of emancipating this most ancient of oppressed nationalities. The present position of the Jews as unassimilated sojourners in every land but their own can never become satisfactory. We know, of course, that a prosperous school of Jewish thought is in favour of treating Judaism as a religion only, and everywhere merging its nationality. But some of these very people are strongest in resisting on religious grounds the intermarriage of Jews with Gentiles, and we fail to see how the adherents of such a distinct religion can ever be really assimilated in other nationalities, so long as by non-intermarriage they keep themselves also a distinct race. It is far better – without prejudice, of course, to the retention of their existing status by those who prefer it – to make a nation of them.”

For the New Statesman in November 1917, the aim of British imperialism was to build a nation from European Jews, or rather “effect a Zionist restoration” in Palestine, for the sake of the defence of the Empire’s position in Egypt and specifically the Suez Canal. When this editorial was written Palestine was overwhelmingly Arab to the tune of 700,000 people, while Jews made up about 60,000. The Empire then spent the next 30 years denying representative democracy to the indigenous Palestinian population in order to effect this Zionist colonisation restoration.

In conclusion, it is not some disingenuous understanding of ‘destiny’ that has compelled two peoples to struggle over the same land but rather the interests of British imperialism. However, it maybe the ‘destiny’ of the New Statesman magazine to one day apologise for its endorsement of the Balfour Declaration and urge the British government to compensate the Palestinians for the tragedy that it initiated, engineered and executed.

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