Balfour Declaration to Be Displayed in Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall

Israel is in talks to borrow the document, which embodies a watershed moment in Zionism's diplomatic efforts to establish modern state, from the British National Library.

Ofer Aderet
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One of the drafts of the Balfour Declaration.Credit: GPO
Ofer Aderet

The Balfour Declaration, the founding document in which the British declared their support for the establishment of “a national home for the Jewish people” in 1917, will be displayed in Israel in two years, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser has told Haaretz.

The historic document will be loaned to Israel pending the consent of the British National Library.

The Declaration is to be displayed in the museum in Independence Hall in Tel Aviv where David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of State of Israel in 1948. The museum is being renovated and will reopen in two years.

Calling it an Independence Day holiday present, Hauser told Haaretz Sunday evening: “The document is the Archimedean point of the recognition of the Zionist movement, and led to the founding of the State of Israel.”

The British Library told Haaretz that it had received a formal request from the Israeli government to take the Balfour Declaration out on loan, and has made a preliminary response to the request, outlining its loans policy and indicating the issues that need to be considered in order to facilitate the process. "We await the response of the Israeli government, which we anticipate would lead to negotiations on the practicalities around such a loan," said Ben Sanderson, head of press, social media and internal communications at the British Library

The document was a letter signed by British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour dated November 2, 1917. It was addressed to Baron Rothschild, one of the heads of the British Jewish community to be sent on to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain. This was the first major diplomatic achievement of the Zionist movement and formed part of the basis for the British Mandate after the First World War.

Negotiations with Lord Rothschild

The Balfour Declaration was last loaned to the Knesset from October 27, 1987 to May 19, 1988, to mark both the 70th anniversary of the declaration and the 40th anniversary of the establishment of State of Israel.

The short letter in its entirety reads: “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The idea of displaying the Declaration in Independence Hall, which is located on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, was raised as part of the plans to redo the museum. Hauser, accompanied by Reuven Pinsky, the head of the Heritage project in the Prime Minister’s Office, met with Lord Jacob Rothschild in London, who aided them in the negotiations with the British Library.

Along with the Balfour Declaration, the new museum will also display Balfour’s original writing table, which has been in Israel for a while, and the original Declaration of Independence, which has been stored far from the public eye for years in the safe of the State Archives in Jerusalem. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Balfour Declaration will be displayed in a special case protected from light and air.

The Independence Hall renovation project will cost NIS 40 million, most of which is coming from donations.

Hauser said the arrival of the Balfour Declaration was the closing of a historic circle. “We will do everything in our power to give Israeli citizens the opportunity to see with their own eyes a piece of history that changed the reality for all of us,” he said.

Due to clarifications received from the British National Library, this article has been revised to reflect the following corrections: The Balfour Declaration had previously been displayed in Israel. The talks over the loan have yet to yield a conclusive deal. 

Independence Hall, Tel Aviv: a modest building at which the Jewish National Council held a secret meeting to declare the State of Israel.Credit: David Bachar