World War II and Zionism
In May 1939, the British published a White Paper that marked
the end of its commitment to the Jews under the Balfour Declaration.
It provided for the establishment of a Palestinian (Arab) state
within ten years and the appointment of Palestinian ministers
to begin taking over the government as soon as "peace and order"
were restored to Palestine; 75,000 Jews would be allowed into
Palestine over the next five years, after which all immigration
would be subject to Arab consent; all further land sales would
be severely restricted. The 1939 White Paper met a mixed Arab
reception and was rejected by the AHC. The Jewish Agency rejected
it emphatically, branding it as a total repudiation of Balfour
and Mandate obligations. In September 1939, at the outset of World
War II, Ben-Gurion, then chairman of the Jewish Agency, declared:
"We shall fight the war against Hitler as if there were no White
Paper, and we shall fight the White Paper as if there were no
Ben-Gurion's statement of 1939 set the tone for Jewish Agency
policy and operations during World War II. In May 1940, however,
when Winston Churchill, a longtime Zionist sympathizer, became
prime minister, it appeared that the 1939 White Paper might be
rescinded. A brief period of close British-Jewish military cooperation
ensued, and there was talk (which never came to fruition) of establishing
a Jewish division within the British Army. The British trained
Jewish commando units, the first elements of the famous Palmach
(Pelugot Mahatz--Shock Forces--see Glossary)--the strategic reserve
of the Haganah--and they also gave Jewish volunteers intensive
training in sabotage, demolition, and partisan warfare. Ironically,
this training proved indispensable in the Yishuv's efforts after
the war to force the British to withdraw from Palestine.
The entry of Italy into the war in May 1940, which brought the
war closer to the Middle East, convinced Churchill and his military
advisers that the immigration provisions of the White Paper needed
to be enforced so as not to antagonize the Arabs. Thus, the British
strictly enforced the immigration limits at a time when European
Jewry sought desperately to reach the shores of Palestine. Despite
rising British-Jewish tensions, thousands of Jewish volunteers
served in the British army, and on September 14, 1944, the Jewish
Brigade was established.
The event that did the most to turn the Zionist movement against
Churchill's Britain was the Struma affair. The Struma,
a ship carrying Jewish refugees from Romania, was denied entry
into Palestine, after which the ship sank in the Black Sea leaving
all but two of its passengers dead. In the aftermath of the loss
of the Struma in April 1942, young Menachem Begin, then
a soldier in the Polish army-in-exile, first came to Palestine.
Begin was a disciple of Jabotinsky, but he rejected Jabotinsky's
pro-British sympathies. Upon entering Palestine, Begin immediately
set out to draw together the whole underground, including Lehi,
in preparation for a Jewish war of liberation against the British.
By 1943 as news regarding Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe
increased, the Irgun and Stern Gang stepped up harassment of British
forces in an attempt to obtain unrestricted Jewish immigration.
In November 1944, Lord Moyne, the British ministerresident in
Cairo and a close personal friend of Churchill, was assassinated
by Lehi. Lord Moyne's assassination alienated the British prime
minister, who until then had supported a Jewish national home
in Palestine. Subsequently, no British government considered setting
up a Jewish state in Palestine. The assassination also led the
Jewish Agency's clandestine military arm, Haganah, to cooperate
with the British against the Irgun.
Another result of the anti-Zionist trend in British policy was
the Yishuv's increasing reliance on the United States. In May
1942, Zionist policy and objectives were clarified at a conference
of Zionist parties held at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City.
This conference was called at the initiative of Ben-Gurion, who
had come to solicit the support of American Jews. Ben-Gurion was
determined to seek a resolution that Jewish immigration to Palestine
and the establishment of a Jewish state would proceed despite
British opposition. Weizmann, who objected to the idea of severing
ties with Britain, was outflanked at the conference. The Biltmore
Program adopted at the conference and approved by the Zionist
General Council in November 1942 called for unlimited Jewish immigration
to Palestine and control of immigration by the Jewish commonwealth,
the word commonwealth thus replacing homeland.
Data as of December 1988