This Week in Israel’s History: The Passfield White Paper, Opposing a Jewish National Homeland, is Rejected by British Cabinet

British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald

On February 13, 1931, the Passfield White Paper, which threatened the development of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, was rejected by the British cabinet.

The Passfield White Paper, issued by the colonel secretary Lord Passfield (Sidney Webb) in October 1930, was a formal statement of British policy in Palestine (the Land of Israel) made in the aftermath of the 1929 violent Arab riots against Jewish communities.

The White Paper contained distinct threats to the geographic growth of the Jewish National Home, with possible application of restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchase restrictions. Both would have delayed building a Jewish national home in Palestine. Debate about the White Paper’s contents occurred in the British House of Commons the following month. The discussions were sharp and acrid. The proposed new policy, heavily influenced by the sitting British High Commissioner, Sir John Chancellor, was viewed ultimately as inconsistent with the policy of promoting the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Chancellor had made it clear to his colleagues in the Colonial Office that the Jewish National Home policy was wrong and that it had to be stopped.

The British Cabinet met and brought members of the London Zionist Executive into the discussion of the White Paper’s intention.

After intense discussion in London with Zionists, British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald sent a letter to Chaim Weizmann, the leader of the Zionist movement in Britain at the time, in which he virtually apologized for the threat posed to Zionism’s growth. He said in the letter that “the obligation to facilitate Jewish immigration and make possible dense settlement of Jews on the Land is still a positive obligation of the Mandate, and it can be fulfilled without jeopardizing the rights and conditions of the other part of the Palestine population.”

The about-face which the British took was well accepted by the Zionists in London and in Palestine. The Palestinian Arab community was angered. The Arab newspaper al-Hayat said that in one stroke, the British had destroyed Arab confidence in the British.

For the Zionists, preventing the Passfield White Paper from being implemented was crucial; the subsequent nine years saw Jewish demographic and physical presence grow in unprecedented numbers. Arab anger against Zionism grew as well. The ideas not implemented in the 1930 White Paper were, however, included in the 1939 White Paper policy statement on Palestine.

By: Center for Israel Education
(With files from Jewish Virtual Library)


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Source: United with Israel