No, University of Edinburgh hasn’t publicly apologized to Palestinians for the Balfour Declaration

By: Annet Preethi Furtado
December 20 2023

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No, University of Edinburgh hasn’t publicly apologized to Palestinians for the Balfour Declaration

Screenshots of the viral claim that a letter shows an apology from the University of Edinburgh to the Palestinian people for the 1917 Balfour Declaration.


The Verdict Misleading

A fictional letter associated with a performance lecture is being shared as a genuine apology from the University of Edinburgh to Palestinians.

Claim ID 59c39cc2

What's the claim?
An image of a letter has circulated online, with claims it is an "official" statement from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, apologizing to the Palestinian people for the "colonial legacy" associated with the Balfour Declaration.

The Balfour Declaration was a statement issued by Arthur Balfour, British Foreign Secretary, to Lionel Walter Rothschild on November 2, 1917. In the declaration, Balfour expressed the British government's support for establishing a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine. The declaration had a significant impact on the political landscape in the region. Arthur Balfour also served as Edinburgh University's chancellor from 1891 to 1930 and acted as British prime minister from 1902-1905.

The letter in question, dated December 14, 2023, prominently displays the university's name, emblem, and address at the top. It includes an apology addressing its colonial legacy and outlines a decolonial reparations process for Palestinians. 

It lists five actions: offering a foundational course on the university's colonial history, suspending the IHRA definition of free speech on Israel/Palestine, committing to divestment from companies profiting in Palestine, providing scholarship resources, and supporting knowledge exchange projects with Palestinian universities. Advocating a one-state solution, the university promotes a new political order based on principles of one person, one vote, compensation, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

The letter was shared on Facebook with captions like "The British University of Edinburgh in Scotland apologizes to the Palestinians for the Balfour Declaration in which Palestine was granted as a national homeland for the Jews.. Too late. What's an apology supposed to accomplish? If you can get Israeli forces to leave Palestine for good and grant Palestinians their freedom and rights, then we might consider your apology!!!!" An archived version of the post can be found here.

Similar posts were also shared on the X platform. Archives of such posts can be found here and here

Screenshots of the viral posts. (Source: X/Facebook/Screenshot/Modified by Logically Facts)

The viral letter was part of a dance theater piece by Farah Saleh, a Palestinian dancer and choreographer based in Scotland, not an official statement from the university.

What we found 
In response to multiple posts on X, the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), University of Edinburgh, clarified that the viral letter is a fictional text created for a private performance of a dance theatre piece set in 2043. Emphasizing that this is not an official statement, the institute provided a clarification.

In response to a now-deleted post on X, the institute referred to a release titled "Dr Farah Saleh: "Balfour Reparations (2023-2043)," an IASH Work-in-Progress seminar delivered by postdoctoral fellow Dr. Farah Saleh at the university. Although the performance occurred on December 14, 2023, it is set in 2043 and delves into the "fictive apology letter that the University of Edinburgh will have issued in 2023 to the Palestinian people promising them reparations," according to the release.

(Source: X)

Furthermore, we found that Saleh also posted on X: "To clarify, the apology letter below is fiction. It is part of my performance lecture 'Balfour Reparations (2023-2043),' which was developed during my post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Edinburgh."

(Source: X)

While the letter is fictional, the staff of the university has issued a statement on the situation in Palestine, expressing their concern over "the climate of increasing intimidation and escalating restrictions on free speech within British higher education institutions on the topic of Israel/Palestine." As explained by Saleh on X, the viral letter builds on and transforms this statement, published by the Edinburgh Race Equality Network on November 14. It garnered signatures from various groups within the university.

Concluding her statement on X, Saleh further expressed hope for the day when real apology letters from universities and states reckoning with their colonial legacy and responsibility in Palestine would be read.

Logically Facts contacted the University of Edinburgh and Saleh for a comment. Saleh told us, "I confirm that the letter is fiction and part of my performance." A University spokesperson told us: "This is not an official statement from the University of Edinburgh. It is a fictional text that was created for a private theatre event."

The verdict
A viral letter shared widely as a "public apology" from the University of Edinburgh to the Palestinian people for the 1917 Balfour Declaration is not genuine. It was created as part of a performance piece set in 2043, and the University of Edinburgh has not issued any such letter.

(Update: This story has been updated to reflect a response from the University of Edinburgh.)

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