Why the 1947 UN Partition Resolution Must Be Celebrated

tags: Balfour Declaration, 1947 UN Partition Resolution

Martin Kramer teaches Middle Eastern history at Shalem College in Jerusalem and is the Koret visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His most recent book is "The War on Error" (2016).

Earlier this month, the governments of Britain and Israel marked the centenary of the Balfour Declaration with much fanfare. From London to Jerusalem, prime ministers, parliamentarians, and protesters weighed in. The world’s major media outlets ran extended analyses, while historians (myself included) enjoyed their fleeting few minutes of fame.

In comparison, notice of this week’s 70th anniversary of the 1947 UN partition resolution, the first international legitimation of a Jewish state—and the subject of my essay, “Who Saved Israel in 1947?”—will be subdued. Why?

A centenary is certainly a rarer thing, and the Balfour Declaration makes for dramatic telling. But the vote over the partition resolution had plenty of drama, too, and some of us, or our parents or grandparents, still remember the suspense that attended it and the elation that followed.

The Israeli novelist Amos Oz is one of them. In an autobiographical passage, he recalled that night in Jerusalem as his father stroked his head in his darkened bedroom:

“From the moment we have our own state [said Oz’s father], you will never be bullied just because you are a Jew and because Jews are so-and-sos. Not that. Never again. From tonight that’s finished here. Forever.” I reached out sleepily to touch his face, just below his high forehead, and all of a sudden instead of his glasses my fingers met tears. Never in my life, before or after that night, not even when my mother died, did I see my father cry. And in fact I didn’t see him cry that night, either. Only my left hand saw.

For those of us who are too young to remember the tears or the dancing in the streets, something of the excitement of the vote is easily retrievable. The balloting at the United Nations occurred in the presence of cameras, and anyone can see it spring to life on YouTube, along with the joyous celebrations that ensued. By contrast, the ecstasy prompted by the Balfour Declaration seems remote. Some 100,000 reportedly turned out in the streets of Odessa, but not even one photograph attests to it.

So why, one asks again, did the Balfour Declaration centenary resonate, while the partition-vote anniversary doesn’t? ...

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