Sanremo, April 26th, 2022 – Most people have heard about the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and many have also read about the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 but why is it that so few people have heard about the San Remo Peace conference of April 1920 which affirmed both the conclusions from the Basel conference in 1897 and incorporated the Balfour Declaration into international law?
This was the major theme of a unique conference held in Sanremo, Italy over the weekend, to coincide with the dates of the San Remo Peace Conference of 19-26th April in 1920. In honour of this historic conference a commemorative plaque was presented to the 5th Earl of Balfour (picture), whose great-great uncle was the chief architect of the historical document which became international law in Sanremo. Presenting the award together with Eduardo Varese (picture), the owner of the Royal Hotel, Managing Director Marco Sarlo, and Gregory Lafitte of the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy, ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell reminded the recipients of the close relationship between the First Earl of Balfour and Chaim Weizmann, recalling that he was one of the last persons to see Lord Balfour on his deathbed. The other recipient of a plaque, Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Dror Eydar, noted the historic irony in that the same nation that now host the Arch of Hadrian in Rome, which commemorates the expulsion of the Jews from Judea in AD 70, would 1850 years later hosts the peace conference which gave birth to the modern State of Israel.
The San Remo Peace Conference of April 1920 was the last leg of the Paris Peace Conference which followed the First World War. It was the most important one for the Jewish people. Chaim Weizmann, who was later to become the first President of the modern State of Israel, called it “the most momentous political event in the history of our Zionist movement and, it is perhaps no exaggeration to say, the whole history of our people since the Exile.” Britain´s Foreign Secretary at the time, Lord Curzon referred to it as “the Magna Carta of the Jewish state.” In a recorded message from Toronto, Dr Jacques Gauthier explained that it was in Sanremo that title to Jerusalem and the Holy land was given to the Jewish people. In a separate message, the 11th President of the State of Israel, Isaac Herzog, affirmed the centrality of the San Remo Resolution to the rebirth of the Jewish state in 1948, saying that “This was a fertility of minds coming together”. Co-Founder of the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy, Dr Gregory Lafitte explained how the Jewish state was born, not by military means, but culturally, spiritually and intellectually through the forming of central Jewish institutions such as the Hebrew University in Jerusalem but also a number of Jewish literary periodicals, especially La Revue juive, to which members of the Zionist delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, such as Albert Cohen and André Spire would contribute, as well as many other notable Jewish intellectuals like Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud.
For the European Coalition for Israel, which organized the conference in Sanremo, this information is nothing new. Already in 2010 they brought delegates from Europe, North-America and Israel to Sanremo to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the San Remo Resolution with future UN Ambassador Danny Danon as the keynote speaker. Ten years later, at the 100th anniversary, world leaders, such as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, among others, contributed by sending letters affirming the significance of the San Remo Resolution for the rebirth of the Jewish state.
But as conference hosts Gregory Lafitte, Lord Reading and Tomas Sandell pointed out – In Jewish traditional events, such as the Passover seder, one is required to retell the Biblical stories year after year. “This should now also apply to the message from the Peace Conference in San Remo. It needs to be reiterated, time and time again.
“What happened in San Remo in 1920 can be compared to what happened on Mount Horeb, where the Jewish people received the Torah and were born as a people group before they entered the promised land. In a similar way Sanremo was a Mount Horeb experience where the Jewish people were given a national home in Palestine although for most Jews this citizenship was virtual until the modern State of Israel became a reality in 1948”, Lafitte noted.
The objective of the three-day conference was to consider the feasibility of an annual Jewish Culture Festival in Sanremo to mark the importance of the Peace Conference as a rebirth, not only of the Jewish state, but also of Jewish culture. Together with stakeholders from the region and senior Italian political leaders such as Senator Lucio Malan and MEP Marco Campomenosi, the participants agreed that this message needs to be shared with a broader audience. In a special recorded message the Vice-President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas commended the organizers for initiating the festival which also received support from the former President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani.
During the conference delegates also visited the historic Villa Devachan where the San Remo Resolution was signed on 25th April 2022. In a separate discussion with the Mayor of Sanremo, Alberto Biancheri, a proposal to transform the villa into an educational center for the study of the Peace Conference and its role in paving the way for the creation of the Jewish state was discussed. The idea received strong support from the conference delegates.
The cultural program consisted of a festive concert by the Berlin Diplomatic String Quartet, which on Saturday night played classical pieces by Jewish composers from the same time period as the San Remo Conference. Earlier in the day they had also performed on the steps of Villa Devachan. The Sanremo Philharmonic orchestra performed at the final event on Sunday in the Royal Hotel. Presenting the orchestra, the president of the orchestra Filippo Biolé, noted that since the orchestra was founded already in 1904, it is quite likely that they also would have performed in the same venue at the San Remo Peace Conference in 1920 as the Royal Hotel was the official conference hotel for the British delegation.
In his closing remarks Sandell quoted Chaim Weizmann from his autobiography, Trial and Error (1949) where he described the special spirit of rapprochement at the concluding dinner at the Royal Hotel where Jews and Arabs were happily dining together while congratulating each other on the results of the conference, which apart from creating a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, also granted statehood to Syria, Lebanon and Mesopotamia (Iraq). Weizmann summarized the essence of this spirit with the words: Everyone was kind in San Remo!