Alumni letter to Vice-Chancellor of Manchester University, ahead of planned Balfour celebrations

Dear Dame Nancy Rothwell

I write as a graduate of Manchester University (1985-88) and as a British Jew to express my disappointment that the University is willing to hire out its facilities for a celebration to mark the Balfour anniversary this coming Tuesday (31st October) .

I fully appreciate the strong historical connections between Manchester University and the Balfour Declaration through the work of Chaim Weizmann who taught in the Chemistry department at Manchester in the years leading up to Balfour. I’m also aware that the city itself has a strong Zionist tradition typified at the time by support from the Manchester Guardian. So it does not surprise me that an approach was made to hold a significant celebration in the University buildings this week by the Israeli Embassy and the Zionist Federation.

However, the University authorities should also have been aware and mindful that the historical consequences of the Balfour Declaration were a catastrophe for the Palestinian people. In fact Balfour is still not ‘history’ it is very much current affairs. Go to Israel/Palestine today and it is clear to see that Balfour is very much “unfinished business” as an official from the UK’s Mission to the United Nations recently tweeted.

To accept the booking for the event has caused great anger and upset from Palestinian and other Arab students studying in Manchester today, and, as you will know, the news of this has been reported nationally and internationally.

It is too late for you to cancel this booking now and in some ways this has become a good thing. Your action has prompted a counter reaction organised by your own students and Tuesday night will see a demonstration against Balfour which will receive media attention around the world. It will highlight to the British public Britain’s complicity in an on-going tragedy and explain why celebrations of this kind are entirely inappropriate.

As for making some recompense for your original decision to let the event go ahead, I suggest the University organises a conference on Israel/Palestine next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (‘catastrophe’).

Yours sincerely

Robert Cohen, BA Hons Politics & Philosophy 1988