Simon Schama’s Balfour Centenary Lecture hails Israel as the perfect “retort” to the Holocaust

Acclaimed historian and documentary maker Simon Schama has delivered the Balfour Centenary Lecture at the Royal Society. Closing the lecture, Schama celebrated Israel as a “living, breathing, thriving democracy” [sic] of “six-million Jews who are nothing short of a crushing retort to Hitler and the Shoah.”

The event was the centrepiece of the UK Jewish Community’s Balfour celebration which has included over 160 events up and down the UK.

During his lecture Simon Schama laid bare the persecuted history of the Jewish people throughout Europe and Russia. He emphasised the fact that a “first Holocaust” had already taken place the world over before the events of the Second World War, and detailed the “mythology of treason” that seeped into peoples’ opinions of the Jewish community in the early twentieth century. 

He said:

“Israel still stands as a living, breathing, debating, thriving, rejoicing democracy. Israel’s six million Jews are the ultimate retort to the number that Adolf Hitler exterminated. The life of Israel is Hitler’s failure. But it’s also to hope against all the odds that somehow the vision set out by Yitzchak Epstein or that for which Yitzchak Rabin […] sacrificed his life to a murderous bunch 22 years ago this coming Shabbat will not be entirely and forever in vain. I myself see the small vindications of it. Schools like Yad Ve’Yad where the governing bodies, both Israeli and Palestinians, work together.” 

The evening was opened with a short film, of extracts from an interview of Lord Rothschild by former Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub filmed at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, with Lord Rothschild citing the declaration as “One of the most extraordinary moments in the history of the Jewish people.” 

The lecture took place in front of a capacity crowd of 300 and was also streamed live to locations across the UK including JW3 in London, and venues in Bournemouth, Leeds, Glasgow, Belfast, Brighton and Barnet. The Royal Society was chosen due to its reputation as the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. 

Simon Johnson, on behalf of the Balfour 100 steering committee, said:

“We were delighted to host this Balfour Centenary Lecture and wish to extend thanks to all those involved. Simon Schama gave a mesmerising and thought-provoking talk on the Declaration’s significance. It is vital that inspiring, educational events like this lecture exist to engage the wider public, and preserve the integrity of the events in history that matter most.”