Prince Williams Journey to Israel and a Journey Through History
By Eric Blatt
Britain and Israel - the land, the people and the state - have a tenuous history. Waves of acceptance of Jewish citizenry in England and Jewish nationalism were interspersed with trends of persecution, denial, and even the negation of Jewish rights. When Lord Balfour proclaimed the support of the reestablishment of a Jewish homeland in our ancestral land, it, too, was met with both delight and disdain by members of the government and population as a whole.
Yet even after finally being inaugurated in international law and affirmed with the birth of the modern State of Israel in 1948, no other British Royal has made an official visit or stepped foot on the soil of the Holy Land. So when the young Prince William arrived, Israel marked it as a historic visit worthy of all pomp and circumstance.
Regardless of the political aspects of the visit, the prince journeyed around the country meeting with key figures in the region and visiting several Jewish holy sites, witnessing first-hand the growth and development of a land his own countrymen had once recognized as barren wasteland of sorts. With international relations being strained with Israel and other key nations, it’s important to take the opportunity to recognize moments such as these.
Prince William, as a symbol of the British empire, came to the Holy Land not on a political mission but rather as an expression of the desire to gain a better understanding of the people and culture of the Israel. His priority was not to meet with members of the Knesset but rather to meet Israelis, the heart and soul of what makes Israel the beautiful place that it is and the force behind the State that developed after the Mandate for Palestine was dissolved.
The British had a major impact on the creation of Israel, the most significant being the issuing of the Balfour declaration, officially signed in November 1917.The timing of Prince William's’ visit coincided with the anniversary of the first draft of the Balfour declaration, the first major international affirmation of support for the Jewish nationalist endeavors.
While both of these events represent positive moves to embolden Israeli-British relations, they also coincide with an event that represents the opposite, the expulsion of British Jews from England on July 18th, 1290 following attempts of forced conversion and exorbitant taxes. As great strides are being made in the relationship between these two countries, we cannot forget the difficult past and the many obstacles placed on the Jewish people in realizing the promise laid out in the Balfour Declaration.
Could Prince William's visit be considered a key step in renewing and invigorating a more positive relationship with the British people? Could it be a part of preserving the historical significance of the Balfour Declaration and its importance in the garnering of international support for Jewish rights?
While neither the letter of Balfour nor Prince William’s visit were fundamental to the formation of the Israel that we know and love today, moments like these can transform the way Israel is viewed in the international spotlight and can become an opportunity to strengthen the relationship with the British community.
The Jewish people standing hand in hand with our British allies is a testament to the significance that Israel has in the world. Regardless of your religious background you can connect to the humanity, beauty, ingenuity and history of the Land - as Prince William did.
Eric Blatt is a student at Penn State. When he began college he knew one of the very first things he wanted to do was sign up for Birthright. Since his Birthright trip Eric has been to Israel four times through various programs and each time he deepened his connections to the culture and the people of this Israel.