Rafael Medoff: The 70th anniversary of the British White Paper

Source: Jerusalem Post, 5-14-09

Chaim Weizmann called it “a death sentence for the Jewish people.” David Ben-Gurion said it was “the greatest betrayal perpetrated by the government of a civilized people in our generation.” Seventy years ago this week, England declared a new policy for Palestine: Jewish immigration would be restricted to just 15,000 annually for the next five years, and after that would be permitted only with the agreement of Palestine’s Arabs.

Britain tried to limit Jewish... Britain tried to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine and set out to stop ships, such as the Exodus, from arriving.
Photo: Courtesy

Just six months after the Kristallnacht pogrom, with German Jews desperately seeking a haven and country after country shutting its doors, the British closed off the one land that offered the hope of refuge.

Weizmann rushed to London to plead his case before prime minister Neville Chamberlain. “The prime minister sat before me like a marble statue; his expressionless eyes were fixed on me, but he never said a word,” Weizmann later recalled. “I got no response. He was bent on appeasement of the Arabs and nothing could change his course.” Well, maybe not quite nothing.

The British were, after all, in a particularly vulnerable position in May 1939. Two months earlier, Hitler had completed his dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, leaving the Munich agreement in tatters. War with England seemed inevitable. “London was in such dire need of American support,” the historian Selig Adler has noted, “that a strong dissent from Washington would have probably forced a British reversal” of the White Paper…..

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