Tobias Ellwood: UK will take ‘measured approach’ for Balfour celebrations

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here
Jewish News Israel conference #UKIsrael2016

Tobias Ellwood: UK will take ‘measured approach’ for Balfour celebrations

The Middle East Minister said Britain should be aware of regional 'sensitivities' around the document, which stated British support for a Jewish homeland

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Tobias Ellwood MP speaking at the Jewish News UK-Israel Strategic Challenges Conference in Westminster (Marc Morris Photography)
Tobias Ellwood MP speaking at the Jewish News UK-Israel Strategic Challenges Conference in Westminster (Marc Morris Photography)

Britain’s Middle East minister, Tobias Ellwood, sent out a clear signal to Israel this week that despite Israel’s hopes for a mutual celebration of the Balfour Declaration centenary, Britain would be taking “a measured approach”, mindful of sensitivities in the region.

Mr Ellwood was the first keynote speaker of the day in the UK/Israel Shared Strategic Challenges policy conference, jointly convened by the Jewish News and Bicom.

And the Foreign Office minister spoke in response to a punchy, upbeat address by Israel’s ambassador Mark Regev, who outlined all the reasons that the two countries had for an enthusiastic celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration, on November 2 2017.

But if Israel had expected equally enthusiastic remarks from Mr Ellwood in relation to Balfour, disappointment lay in store. Though he was keen to tell his audience that nothing would change in terms of Britain’s relationship with Israel in the wake of the Brexit vote — in fact, he said, Brexit gave Britain the opportunity to be “flexible, free and agile” — he was much warier when it came to discussing Balfour.

The minister prefaced his remarks about Balfour by insisting that Britain considered Israel “to be an important and critical ally in the Middle East. The friendship between our two countries is a great asset to the UK”. Prime Minister Theresa May, in her first conversation with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after she took office in July, had emphasised Britain’s intention to use leaving Europe “as an opportunity to be even more active internationally and to strengthen our relationships with other countries, including Israel.”

The bedrock of the bilateral relationship between the two countries, said Mr Ellwood, “is our shared values. We are liberal democracies.” Tourism and business interests flowed in both directions: “Israeli pharmaceuticals are being used in the NHS and we are putting British Rolls-Royce engines in El Al planes”.

The minister then said, carefully: “The UK’s ties with Israel will come under the spotlight next year”. Though Britain welcomed “the fact that we played an important role in the creation of the state of Israel. We continue to support the principle o a Jewish homeland, just as Balfour did nearly a century ago.”

But, Mr Ellwood went on: “At the same time the UK government must be aware of the sensitivities around the Balfour Declaration, its legacy, and the events that have taken place in the region since 1917. The Balfour Declaration was a product of its time”; its 67 words had been pored over and analysed endlessly in the years since. “Millions, we should recognise, are still affected by the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians — and therefore our perspective should be a measured approach.”

The lesson he took from Balfour, Mr Ellwood said, “is that continents should not be carved up by foreign powers as they were in Balfour’s time.” For the peace process to go forward, he believed, it was necessary for the two parties to negotiate directly, with the support of the international community.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: