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BerandaNewsPolice Will Investigate Pro-Palestine Activists’ Defacement of Arthur Balfour Portrait at Cambridge

Police Will Investigate Pro-Palestine Activists’ Defacement of Arthur Balfour Portrait at Cambridge

Police are investigating an incident of vandalism at Cambridge University in which pro-Palestine demonstrators defaced a portrait of the late British politician Arthur Balfour, who in his lifetime helped formalize UK support for Israel in the early 20th century. No arrests have been made, per a statement from Cambridgeshire authorities. gemarqq

On March 8, the organization Palestine Action, posted a video to X (formerly Twitter) showing an unidentified protestor defacing the 1914 painting by Philip Alexius de László with red spray paint and then slashing the canvas in several places. The work is housed at Trinity College, a school that is part of the University of Cambridge. Two activists with Palestine Action also doused a memorial to Balfour at the UK House of Commons in November 2022 with ketchup. The Art Newspaper reports that the pair were acquitted by a jury at Southwark Crown Court.

Sally Davies, master of Trinity College, said in a statement, “I am shocked by [the] attack in our college on our painting. I condemn this act of vandalism. We are cooperating with the police to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Balfour is a controversial figure in modern Middle East political history. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was a public pledge by Great Britain declaring support for the establishment of “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. The pledge was in the form of a letter from Balfour, then the country’s foreign secretary, and was addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a prominent figure of the British Jewish community. That declaration formed the basis for the British Mandate for Palestine and paved the way for the establishment of the state of Israel after World War II. 

Since the October 7 attack by Hamas, which killed 1,200 Israelis and took over 200 hostages, more than 31,000 Palestinians have been killed amid airstrikes and a ground invasion by Israel, per the local health ministry. Demonstrations have grown increasingly common at major museums and galleries worldwide, where powerful art world figures have been accused of failing to condemn the destruction in Palestine.

On March 11, a group of 158 employees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art delivered an open letter to the museum’s director and CEO, Max Hollein, demanding he publicly call for a ceasefire and release a statement about the destruction of Gaza and Palestinian cultural heritage. gemarqq

Last month, hundreds of protesters gathered inside the Museum of Modern Art and outside of the Brooklyn Museum, brandishing banners that read “Ceasefire Now” and “Cultural Workers Stand with Gaza.” Protesters have also accused several members of the MoMA’s board of trustees of funding “genocide,” “apartheid,” and “settler colonialism.” Pro-Palestine protests have also disrupted operations at the British Museum, San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Canada.

The painting of Balfour has been linked to a more recent controversy involving the University of Cambridge and Israel. In February, Middle East Eye reporter Imran Mulla published an investigation on the university’s investment in defense companies with contracts in Israel. Trinity College, the university’s best-known college, has invested approximately $80,000 last year in Israel’s leading arms company, Elbit Systems, according to the report. 

In an online statement, Palestine Action wrote: “Arthur Balfour, then UK Foreign secretary, issued a declaration [in 1917] which promised to build ‘a national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine, where the majority of the Indigenous population were not Jewish. He gave away the Palestinians’ homeland—a land that wasn’t his to give away. … Britain’s support for the continued colonization of Palestine hasn’t wavered since 1917.” gemarqq