Sunday, October 21, 2012

"A Symbol of Political Hypocrisy": Yitzhak Ben-Zvi on the Passfield White Paper, October 1930

We don't know how much Sidney Webb, a lawyer, economist and member of the early Socialist Fabian Society, is remembered these days in England. But in the history of the Zionist movement and Israel, as minister for the colonies in the early 1930s under his title of Lord Passfield he plays quite an important role. This week sees the anniversary of the publication in October 1930 of the British White Paper on Palestine, known here as the "Passfield White Paper," which followed the Arab attacks on the Jewish community, the Yishuv, in 1929. The authors of the White Paper accepted the argument that dispossession of Arab tenant farmers had led to the riots and imposed severe restrictions on the development of the Jewish national home in Palestine.
Lord Passfield, courtesy of the Weizmann Archives, Yad Chaim Weizmann, Rehovot.
The Israel State Archives, as its name indicates, holds mainly documents deposited by government and other bodies since the founding of the state in 1948. But it also has a collection of material from the earlier governments of Palestine, including the Ottoman administration and the British Mandate. The personal archives of the first British High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, are here, together with the archives of prominent Jewish and Arab lawyers and other public figures from that period. You can see the angry reaction of one of them, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, a leader of the Yishuv, to the White Paper, on our Hebrew blog. He described it as "a symbol of politicial hypocrisy" which deprived the Mandate and the Balfour Declaration of their soul under the guise of preserving them.

The Archive also has 6,000 boxes of files from the Mandate administration, including the correspondence of the High Commissioners with the Colonial Office, the files of the Chief Secretary and department files on health, education, immigration, police, the Crown prosecution, land registry and more, serving as a rich source of information on this period.

In addition, the Archives holds photocopies of files from the National Archives in London of material from the British Foreign Office and Colonial Office dealing with Palestine (Record Group 174). We present here two documents: first, comments on a letter by British politicians Lord Hailsham and Sir John Simon, by Sir George Rendel, the head of the Eastern Department in the Foreign Office, defending the White Paper and arguing that most of its provisions were temporary and were not contrary to the provisions of the Mandate. The other is a letter by Lewis Namier, the eminent historian who was then the secretary of the Jewish Agency in London, to the Colonial Office on the resignation of the heads of the Zionist movement and their preparations for discussion of the White Paper by the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations.

After a storm of protest by the Yishuv and Zionists abroad, including supporters in Britain and the US, British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald entered into negotiations with Chaim Weizmann, the president of the World Zionist movement, and sent him a letter "reinterpreting" and undoing the harshest effects of the White Paper. But the view expressed there that the government had a "dual obligation" laid down by the Mandate towards the Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine continued to influence the policies of Britain.


  1. I wonder if the Jerusalem archive holds any papers that Richard Crossman said had disappeared. Post-war he reportedly made some comments concerning what Jews had been done out of but apparently no papers at this end bear that out.

  2. Hi Ariadne,

    I asked around. We're not aware of a collection of Richard Crossman's papers. Sorry.