At Large  March 11, 2024  Rebecca Schiffman

Activists Slash Historic Portrait of Balfour at Trinity College

Palestine Action

A pro-Palestine protestor slashing and spray-painting a portrait of Arthur James Balfour on March 8, 2024

A pro-Palestine group slashed and spray painted over a portrait of Arthur James Balfour at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, on March 8. Balfour was a British Prime Minister perhaps best known for supporting a Jewish Homeland in Palestine. Though the defacement of art has become a popular protest tactic in recent years, most of these have not actually caused damage to the art, as this protest has.

Trinity College’s spokeswoman said in a statement that they “regret the damage caused to a portrait of Arthur James Balfour during public opening hours.” They have also confirmed they are in contact with the police. The New York Times reported that the Cambridge police said officers were investigating “criminal damage.”

The pro-Palestine group Palestine Action, according to their website, works against Israel’s arms trade in Britain, and in the war between Israel and Hamas, calls for the end of the “colonization of Palestine."

In the early 1910s, Balfour, then-British Foreign Secretary, was a major figure in the creation of the state of Israel through his Balfour Declaration of 1917, which supported a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. This declaration was significant as it marked the first time a major nation showed support for a Jewish state in Palestine, and he became a leader of the Zionist movement in England, leading up to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. 

In a news statement put out by the group, they wrote of their grievances with Balfour, saying, “He gave away the Palestinian's homeland – a land that wasn’t his to give away.” Palestine Action’s attack on the Balfour portrait was also part of their campaign to spread awareness of Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest arms supplier, who they claim work closely with the British government.

This attack on an artwork is among a number of political protests that have been carried out in recent weeks. At the end of January, protestors splashed soup on the Mona Lisa at the Louvre museum, and in mid-February pro-Palestine protestors held a massive demonstration forcing New York's Museum of Modern Art to shut down.

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