August 30, 2019
The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann
July 1933 – August 1935
Volume XVI, Series A
Introduction: Gabriel Sheffer
General Editor Barnet Litvinoff, Volume Editor Gabriel Sheffer, Assistant Editor Bella Stern, Transaction Books, Rutgers University and Israel Universities Press, Jerusalem, 1978[Reprinted with express permission from the Weizmann Archives, Rehovot, Israel,
by the Center for Israel Education www.israeled.org]
It was the style of Weizmann’s leadership rather than his politics that came under fire at the 17th Zionist Congress held in Basle in July 1931. His policies, to be sure, were much criticized, but his displacement from the presidency of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency at that Congress did not alter the basic strategy of the movement.
Officially, Weizmann remained in the wilderness for the ensuing four years, until his re-election as President at the 19th Congress in Lucerne in August 1935. Nevertheless, he would not allow his political judgment to relax, nor would he abdicate from his role as a Jewish statesman of international rank. For January, 1933, saw the advent of Adolf Hitler to power.
Immediately, the Nazi Government enacted laws to exclude all those classed as non-Aryans from various economic and commercial spheres. Tens of thousands of Jews thus found themselves deprived of the means of livelihood, compelling many to leave Germany and seek asylum in countries where they were in no measure welcome, given the mass unemployment caused by the world economic crisis. Palestine, on the other hand, did not fall into this category. It had not suffered from the slump, for Jewish immigration was accompanied by the inflow of capital from private and public sources, and by increased economic activity. But there were counter-balancing complications in plenty, arising from Zionist tensions, British rule, and the Arab factor.
The assassination of Chaim Arlosoroff, head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency Executive in Jerusalem, in June 1933, was commonly regarded as a symptom of self-mutilating internal Jewish conflict, and attributed by various groups in the yishuv (as the community in Palestine was termed) to Brit Habiryonim, an extremist and clandestine off-shoot of the Revisionist movement. As a consequence, the most determined antagonist of that organization, the Palestine Labour Party (Mapai) greatly enhanced its standing. Together with its affiliated parties in the Diaspora, it won a decisive majority in the elections to the Congress which opened shortly after Arlosoroff’s violent death, and thereafter remained the dominant trend in the Yishuv and the Zionist movement. This development had a close connection with Weizmann’s political status, as he was backed by the Labour movement. He too attributed the murder to the Revisionists, and saw in it the culmination of their efforts to gain control of Zionism through means similar to those employed by Fascist movements in Europe.
This was the period of General Sir Arthur Wauchope’s tenure as High Commissioner in Palestine. Wauchope endeavored to pursue a balanced policy towards Jew and Arab, and was thus amenable to the Jewish Agency’s call for the admission of refugees from Germany. Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, appreciated Wauchope’s abilities, and supported his efforts to switch the centre of policy-making on Palestine affairs from the Colonial Office in Whitehall to Jerusalem. The process suited the political interests of the Palestine Labour movement, and as a result relations between Wauchope and the Jewish Agency exercised a salutary influence over British policy.
On the Arab side, the Husseini faction, led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin el-Husseini, veered between an anti-British, anti-Zionist position and studied moderation. But their main adversaries, the Nashashibi clan and the Istiqlal (independence) party, sought to break the Husseini hold on the Palestine Arab community. The ensuing internecine Arab struggle led to violence against the British authorities in October 1933, and to the Arab rebellion in 1936.
In London, the formation of a National Government in 1931 under Ramsay MacDonald brought back Conservatives and Liberals (the latter for a while under Sir Herbert Samuel) and reinforced Weizmann’s standing. Here were men with whom he enjoyed long-established ties, as had not been the case when Lord Passfield was Colonial Secretary. He could turn this development to advantage despite his own lack of an official position. He was not sulking in his tent, and although he had little faith in the new leadership of the World Zionist Organization (especially in its President, Nahum Sokolow) and in its effectiveness to carry out the policy which he deemed desirable, he continued his own intensive political activity and to mobilize funds for Zionism among world Jewry.
Weizmann had considered the desirability of convening an all-Jewish Congress after his non-election to the presidency. A significant reorganization of the Zionist movement without his hated adversaries, the Revisionist Union, did not seem possible, so he turned to his supporters in the U.S.A., Great Britain and Palestine, urging them to band together in an attempt to find an alternative to the existing organization. The plan for a new Congress did not materialize, however, and Weizmann’s efforts to convene it ceased in 1933. Interestingly, his chief political opponent Vladimir Jabotinsky later carried out precisely such a move. Weizmann was not ready until 1935 to return to the formal leadership of the movement, or to any official activity. He made this clear to his colleagues in the sharpest terms by stating his unwillingness to participate in the 18th Congress at Prague in 1933: ‘I am bound to say that I’m horrified to be identified in any way with this Congress. Whatever the actual legal outcome of the inquiry into poor Arlosoroff’s murder will be, there is no gainsaying the fact that the world, particularly the Jews, the British, are convinced where the guilt lies. To sit with those people in Congress is in my humble opinion tantamount to political suicide, apart from the abhorrence which I feel—and which you must feel—to breathe the same atmosphere with the Revisionists and their supporters.’
Another reason why Weizmann would not attend the Congress of 1933 was his categorical condemnation of Sokolow: ‘In the past two years his influence has been that of an obscurantist and opportunist of the most ordinary kind. He was a deadweight! He would naturally also take part in another Executive, it makes no difference at all to him! But for the movement it does make a difference.’
By contrast, he displayed a more positive approach toward the work of the English Zionist Federation, of which he became President in 1932, retaining the office until 1939. While there are few references in this volume to that post, nor much indication on his part of any particularly energetic political action in that capacity, he evidently regarded it as carrying a certain political importance; it enabled him to coordinate the first moves undertaken on behalf of Jewish refugees from Germany, particularly in the raising of funds.
An examination of Weizmann’s fund-raising drives throws light on his standing among the Jewish masses in these years. As the leadership was well aware, his popularity could not be ignored as an internal political factor. The new Executive needed his services: he was invited to undertake special campaigns abroad, including drives for the J.N.F. and Keren Hayesod. It was apparent to the movement’s prominent figures that such a personage alone could stir these campaigns in a period of world-wide economic depression.
In line with Weizmann’s conception of the most desirable way to consummate the goal of Zionism, namely, the creation of a Jewish power base in Palestine, he regarded the mobilization of financial and other economic resources as of at least equal importance with political action. He condemned Jewish Agency leaders and other prominent personalities for not taking as active a share in fundraising as he did. He considered this passivity, especially on Sokolow’s part, as a further sign of the impotence of the new leadership.
His involvement in fund-raising also enabled him to assist the Zionist cause without directly intervening in the actions of the Zionist Executive, or bowing to its authority. Moreover, it enabled him to consolidate his ties with various communities, a factor that helped him preserve his political strength within the movement and maintain his image as its foremost leader. He further contended that centralization in fund-raising would facilitate political control over the course and tempo of the yishuv’s development, specifically by maintaining intact the settlement projects in Palestine.
Throughout the period 1933-35 Weizmann’s most energetic efforts on the general Jewish level were focussed on tackling the problem of Jewish refugees from Germany. Besides fund-raising, this activity involved planning and administration, and political action. As always, his motivating guidelines were a sense of identification with the Jewish people; primacy of Palestine for Jewish settlement; a recognition of his strength transcending official status; and his standing, likewise unaffected by his withdrawal from office, among world statesmen.
The exodus of Jews from Germany began in April 1933, when `non-Aryans’ were forbidden employment in state services, medicine, law, and virtually all other professions. The Government also imposed a boycott on their commercial concerns and banks, and Jewish economic life was in effect paralyzed. These measures were accompanied by active antisemitic propaganda, so that Germany’s 600,000 Jews found themselves living under the shadow of both economic catastrophe and individual and collective intimidation. By the end of 1933 some 48,000 had left the country.
The refugees turned first to countries bordering on Germany, with France granting temporary asylum to about 30,000 of them. Only small numbers emigrated to countries beyond the Atlantic. To increase their distress, most of the refugees came from specific social strata and were difficult to integrate elsewhere. Many of the emigrants were of the white-collar professions—clerks and officials, merchants and the like. Fully 25 per cent were highly-trained professionals. In other words, the refugees from Germany created a professional conspectus of the type that had in any event been severely affected all over Europe under the impact of the economic depression.
It became clear that only massive, well-organized aid could solve the problem of the rehabilitation of the homeless. Various Jewish communities and charitable institutions, led by those in Great Britain, began to take action accordingly. But governments lagged behind. As far as England was concerned, Weizmann’s involvement in local Jewish political life served as a solid basis for the launching of expeditious action within that community, and subsequently elsewhere.
Two bodies were set up in the United Kingdom early in 1933—the Jewish Refugee Committee, which dealt with the fugitives who had already arrived there, and the Central British Fund for German Jewry, whose object was to help in the absorption of refugees reaching Palestine, and of which Weizmann was the dominant figure until his resumption of the presidency of the Zionist Organization. The German tragedy demanded most of his time and energy.
From the beginning Weizmann realized that only a concentrated and well-planned endeavor by the whole of the Jewish people would contribute meaningfully to the solution of the colossal problem confronting them. As he described it, ‘The whole situation demands an effort on a different scale and an approach from a different angle […] I am looking at it all not from a Zionist point of view but as a Jew who feels deeply that his own position and the position of his fellow Jews in the world has been deeply affected by the happenings in Germany and who feels that the reply which we are giving—charity, philanthropy—is unworthy and ineffective!’ Within a short while these attitudes indeed became the principal guidelines of the Jewish Agency’s Central Bureau for the Settlement of German Jews, which Weizmann was also destined to lead.
This Bureau was set up by the 1933 Zionist Congress, and it was proposed by David Remez, of Mapai, that Weizmann be elected its head. The motion was adopted by 172 votes to 11. Weizmann wrote: `I could not see my way, for strong moral reasons, to accept the Presidency under the conditions that prevailed in Prague. I have gladly undertaken to do an important and difficult piece of work—perhaps the most important piece of work in the movement today—and I do not want to be bound and shackled by the day-to-day routine work of the Zionist Organization, or to be a butt for the critical attacks by people who are blinded by party animosities.’ This emphasis on the importance of the problem constantly recurs. It is clear that he appreciated how activity in this field would help preserve his political power within the Jewish world. It is, however, equally clear that this was only an ancillary consideration. Further, he had the assurance he wanted: as he wrote his wife Vera: ‘My work is completely independent and has nothing in common with Sokolow, who gave an undertaking that he was not going to interfere.’
Between March 1933 and June 1935 about 25,000 Jewish refugees from Germany settled in Palestine. Although only one quarter of the total Jewish immigration in that period, they transformed the social structure of the yishuv. They were mainly middle-class; about 60 per cent settled in the cities (Tel Aviv alone absorbed some 10,000) with the remainder in pioneer settlements. About four-fifths were under 30.
The functions of the Palestine office of the Central Bureau, under Arthur Ruppin, were: responsibility for the professional adjustment of the refugees, including their absorption in the higher echelons of agriculture and industry; housing; settling groups of refugees in agricultural villages; founding settlements for middle-class groups and people with their own capital; extending loans to artisans and tradesmen; Youth Aliyah (immigration of children and young people): social work; and placing academics in institutions of higher learning and research.
The last objective naturally commanded the special interest of Weizmann, who regarded the harassment of Jewish scientists in Germany as a threat to universal spiritual values. He personally negotiated with universities and research institutes in various countries, but especially with the Daniel Sieff Research Institute at Rehovot (which he headed) and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Many letters omitted from this volume (for reasons of repetition) deal with this subject, which was linked with Weizmann’s preoccupation lest the institutions in Palestine fail to make progress on the strength of local scientific manpower alone. Altogether, some 1,200 `non-Aryan’ scientists left Germany in 1933. They included distinguished research scientists who had won international recognition, among them Nobel Prize laureates, whose re-adjustment was a particularly complicated problem.
Weizmann believed that Palestine was not only a haven of safety for every Jew, but could offer these scientists new challenges compensating to some extent for the loss of their status and employment in Germany. Yet, in spite of his assurances of appropriate conditions for continued work, he encountered opposition among eminent academics, most of whom preferred more developed countries and universities, or were opposed to Zionism as a principle. Weizmann’s frustation in this regard (the number of scientists
choosing Palestine was less than 40) is expressed in this volume: ‘During the last six months I have been personally devoting all my energies to securing for Jerusalem a few of our really good people. But I find my efforts complicated by the fact that so many of our best men prefer America, or England, or France, and are reluctant, when it comes to the point, to undertake the harder task of pioneering in Palestine in a University that still has to make its name.’ At the same time, he did not withhold aid in arranging for their absorption in other countries.
Most of the funds raised by the relief committees throughout the West were transmitted directly to the Central Bureau in London and thenceforward to Jerusalem. The Keren Hayesod forwent its own campaigns in a number of countries and reached agreement with the Central Bureau whereby the local relief committees guaranteed it a fixed income out of the general proceeds, in accordance with its average of previous years. This was the first attempt at a united appeal drive, based on the assumption that this would succeed in raising larger amounts than sub-divided and competitive campaigns. Contributions during 1933 included £6,000 from Argentina, £200,000 from the United Kingdom, and $200,000 from the U.S.A.
The fact that in a time of economic depression an undertaking of such magnitude could derive the main part of its budget from voluntary donations can be explained not only by the compassionate feelings of the Jewish people towards their refugee co-religionists, but also by the fact that it was Weizmann who headed the entire project. The classic illustration was his arrival in Chicago, at the invitation of Meyer W. Weisgal, for ‘ Jewish Day’ at the Chicago World’s Fair. Weisgal had promised $100,000 for the German fund if Weizmann consented to be the speaker. What ensued was a remarkable demonstration: a great multitude of American and Canadian Jews arriving by the train-load. No world figure but Weizmann could have produced such a response, and Jewish Day’ assumed the proportions of a national event. The $100,000 was the first substantial sum received for this cause. (For the complete account, see Weisgal, So Far, London 1971, pp. 110-12.)
Weizmann jealously guarded the autonomy of the Central Bureau not only in financial and budgetary matters but also in political action. With London as the capital of the Mandatory Power, and Britain being a pillar of the League of Nations, he could exercise his dominance in this field. Representations to British and foreign statesmen in connection with Jewish refugee matters were either personally conducted or planned by him.
In spite of his Palestine-centered outlook, his approach to the refugee problem had a certain ambivalence. On the one hand, he remained faithful to the basic postulates of his concept, and argued that Palestine was the only place where refugees could build their lives anew; yet he also thought that it was not a solution for all Jews, that political and economic conditions there dictated the need for selectivity in immigration. Following a visit to Palestine in the spring of 1934, he informed the relief committee in Belgium: ‘The number of [immigration] certificates depends […] on whether there really are suitable candidates for Palestine among the refugees […] a great number of people have come to Palestine who were unsuitable for life there.’ And, further, ‘I am perfectly aware of the extraordinarily difficult situation in which the relief committees find themselves. They simply do not know what to do with the refugees and how to resolve the refugee problem.’ This situation was recognized by Weizmann in more extreme terms in a letter to the South African writer Sarah Gertrude Millin: ‘Even Palestine is not free from grave dangers. The development there is prodigious; since last year the progress has been enormous. I fear, however, that we are going too quickly. The Jewish masses have been finding their way into Palestine, and they are bringing with them all the centrifugal forces of the Diaspora, which, transferred to Palestine, are finding a free outlet. Sometimes they look like disrupting the organism which we have built up with so much pain and struggle. I hope we shall not be destroyed and that in time things will consolidate and settle down again, but I cannot help admitting that I have returned full of anxiety.’
The alternatives, however, were forbidding. As he wrote to Felix Warburg: ‘The world is gradually, relentlessly and effectively being closed to the Jews […] and unless we hurry up to make out of Palestine and some of the surrounding neighbourhood a powerful Jewish centre I would advise every Jew not to marry and not to increase the race. It is all inescapable, and every ounce of my energy […] is going towards the consummation of that end. Everything else is a palliative, a half-measure.’
This ambivalence was not of course conveyed to foreign representatives. He consistently attempted to persuade them of the exclusive role of Palestine as a haven for Jews fleeing from other lands, and indeed the principal political task confronting Weizmann and the Zionist bodies was to convince the British Government to allow settlement there in numbers exceeding the ordinary immigration quotas, and if warranted by circumstances, they would go over the head of the High Commissioner to this end. The ordinary quota, known as ‘the Schedule,’ had been prepared by the Immigration Department of the Palestine Administration on the basis of the semi-annual lists received from the Jewish Agency which specified the branches of employment for which manpower was needed, and the estimated number of working hands required. The Schedule also covered persons with means of their own, members of the immigrants’ families, and secular and theological students. Thus refugees expelled from France and refused admission to Palestine were ultimately granted immigration permits—largely a personal achievement on the part of Weizmann.
As a step toward the absorption of German-Jewish refugees, Weizmann planned the acquisition of lands in Syria and Lebanon for settlement, and to this end maintained extensive contacts and correspondence with both the British and French authorities. He sought consent for the purchase of two areas particularly, around Lake Huleh, and at Ptecha on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, involving some 400,000 dunams. The French Colonial Ministry and the British were amenable, but not so the French High Commissioner in Syria, Henri de Jouvenel, and the proposal came to nothing.
In spite of the unflagging efforts of the Central Bureau, only 50 per cent of the refugees who left Germany between March 1933 and June 1935 came to Palestine. Either out of personal choice, or because of restrictions preventing their entry into Palestine, the remainder pressed for admission to other countries, where antisemitism, stimulated by the depression and Nazi propaganda, was on the increase. The refugees’ situation thus developed from a Jewish problem into an international humane and political one, requiring the League of Nations intervention, and Weizmann’s responsibilities assumed a correspondingly broader frame. He envisaged France and the British Dominions as particularly suitable for refugee settlement, but his efforts met with determined resistance in each case. An approach to Turkey likewise proved abortive. In fact, plans for placing a substantial number of refugees failed in the case of one country after another when put to the test, and those refugees who found domicile in them did so of their own initiative and through Jewish agencies rather than through international action.
Weizmann was simultaneously involved in efforts to influence the German Government to change its attitude towards the Jews, holding that Germany attached importance to public opinion. He accordingly arranged meetings with, amongst others, Mussolini, in April 1933 and February 1934. There is no full record of the earlier meeting (see Vol. XV), nor does Weizmann describe it in any of his letters.
In the wake of the second meeting Weizmann wrote to the Duce, requesting that he raise the problem of the German Jews in his conversations with Hitler: ‘I hope I am not overstating the facts when I say that the problem of German Jewry is today an issue of more than merely German internal significance. The problem of German refugees is already today a grave burden on many European Governments […] As I told your Excellency in Rome we cannot negotiate with the German Government in any way as long as it remains in the present mood with regard to its Jewish citizens. […] But it may be within the power of enlightened friends to achieve at least some measure of mitigation of this truly atrocious policy against a defenceless minority.’
As a result of pressures exerted by philanthropic agencies dealing with refugee aid, the League of Nations appointed in October 1933 a High Commissioner for German Refugees. The man chosen was James Grover McDonald, an American career diplomat closely acquainted with European problems. To assist him two bodies were set up, the first being a Governing Body to which member-states in the League sent delegates. This body co-opted representatives of Jewish and non-Jewish philanthropic organizations, such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee ( J.D.C.) and the Jewish Agency’s Central Bureau for the Settlement of German Jews. The second body was the Advisory Council, in which philanthropic organizations handling refugee affairs likewise participated.
Though the High Commission for German Refugees was intended to deal with the problem in general, it soon became evident to its founders that as four-fifths of its wards were Jewish, its main concern would be with their problems; moreover, the bulk of the budget for the High Commission’s activities was supplied by Jewish organizations. It transpired, therefore that they would have a major influence on the policy of the High Commission and on the recruitment of its personnel. Weizmann, as a member of the Governing Body, did not hesitate to intervene actively in the staffing of the various units, in the work of the High Commission in general and of McDonald himself. Yet he doubted whether the Commission would be able to find solutions for the Jewish refugee problem: only the Jews could help their brethren in distress. It was in this spirit that he wrote to Felix Warburg: ‘You may think that the High Commissioner will perform the above mentioned functions [fund-raising, contacts with governments, etc.] “for” the Jews, but that again would be a serious mistake. He can help, he can negotiate with Governments sometimes better than we can do ourselves, but on the whole, only a diplomacy conducted by Jews for Jews can really be successful and agreed to by Jews.’ The ideological purport of Jewish self-help in order to accomplish Jewish and Zionist purposes, which was integral to Weizmann’s political thought and deeds, is here given clear expression. Despite his uneasiness over the tendencies and interests of the High Commission, however, and his lack of enthusiasm for McDonald, Weizmann saw the advantage of the appointment.
He wanted Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, the British statesman and a Zionist sympathizer, for the post, and tried personally to persuade Cecil to accept it, but without result. His efforts to influence the composition of the Governing Body, the Advisory Council and the Permanent Committee bore greater success. McDonald understood that, in order to enlist the sympathy of Jewish organizations sharing of necessity in the work of the High Commission, he would have to meet them halfway, and this especially applied to Weizmann by virtue of his international standing and eminent position in the Jewish world. It was for this reason that he was prepared to accede to most of Weizmann’s requests in regard to the staffing and basic policies of the High Commission.
Once the League of Nations Assembly had decided upon formation of a Governing Body, Weizmann again approached Cecil to join it as the British representative. To this Cecil agreed. Weizmann was also successful in securing the appointment of Norman Bentwich, the prominent Anglo-Jewish figure and experienced jurist, to membership of the Permanent Committee. He was also influential in the composition of the Jewish representation on the Advisory Council.
His hand was in evidence also in determining the objectives of the High Commission, for the Foreign Secretary Sir John Simon had asked Weizmann for a memorandum on his proposals as to its functions. The document, prepared by Bentwich according to Weizmann’s directives, outlined his conception as: centralization of financial means for Jewish refugee settlement and other constructive projects; systematic examination of those places where refugees could be settled individually or in groups; conduct of negotiations with governments of countries with a potential for refugee absorption, in order to overcome difficulties of integration; centralized recording, collection and processing of statistical data concerning refugees with special emphasis on their professional ability and previous vocations; professional adjustment of refugees unable to resume their former occupations in their new countries; regulation of the civil status of stateless refugees and of those unable to renew their exit permits from Germany. When the High Commission’s duties were approved at the first meeting of its Governing Body in Lausanne towards the end of 1933, they largely conformed to these proposals.
Weizmann had frequent meetings with McDonald. Although differences emerged, their cooperation was fairly fruitful. Difficulties arose in connection with the perspective of Palestine as contrasted with other possible solutions to the refugee problem. Weizmann’s Palestine-centered viewpoint conflicted with the broader concept of refugee settlement of the British Government and of McDonald himself. They did not visualize Palestine as. the major solution to the tragic plight of the refugees. Thus, for example, when McDonald co-opted to the Advisory Committee in 1934 representatives of various non-Zionist Jewish bodies, Weizmann deemed this to be a measure aimed against the Zionist movement and the yishuv in Palestine, and called the policy domineering and hostile. He expressed the hope that McDonald would change his position after it had been proved that the sole effective remedy for the refugees was indeed their settlement in Palestine. He wrote to Ruppin in Jerusalem: ‘I am convinced that McDonald will soon be forced by circumstances to pay a great deal of attention to Palestine and will, correspondingly, come into closer contact with us.’ His efforts were in vain; and in July 1935, a short while before his resignation from the post as High Commissioner for Refugees, McDonald wrote Weizmann that his disappointment with the Jewish people, and especially with wealthy Jews, mounted every time he met and talked to them.
The most striking feature of Weizmann’s efforts towards achieving a solution of the refugee situation outside Palestine was the absence of any single formal plan. Whilst the settlement of refugees in Palestine was conducted on the basis of a central blueprint, the handling of such matters outside Palestine was marked to a large extent by the exploitation of opportunities as they occurred, and sadly, they mostly proved abortive. The lack of coordinated action stemmed from two main reasons. In the first place, the deeply-rooted Palestine-centered standpoint which Weizmann held (though somewhat shaken during his visits to Palestine) prevented his taking a broader view of a possible solution outside that country. Secondly, a solution to be attained through absorption of refugees outside Palestine was in the hands of foreign governments, and there the Zionists were largely unable to exert influence. Even if the European Governments were on the whole sympathetic towards the plight of the Jewish refugees, they were precluded from offering any solution both by the widespread slump and by the prevalent political atmosphere, leading to appeasement of Germany.
Weizmann was particularly well-placed in the years 1933 to 1935 to foster Zionist aspirations in Palestine because of his standing in government circles. He was better acquainted, and had a long record of association, with the Conservatives and Liberals now predominating in Whitehall than was the case when Ramsay MacDonald presided over a wholly Socialist Cabinet, with Lord Passfield as Colonial Secretary. Also, he enjoyed the confidence of the High Commissioner. He could speak frankly, and freely, on all the issues affecting the yishuv, the Jewish Agency, and the past conflicts with the Mandatory authorities.
One of the main issues on which his help was needed was the Legislative Council. This had been a subject of controversy- between the Jewish Agency and the British since 1931, and more particularly after the publication that February of what the Arabs called the `Black Letter’—Ramsay MacDonald’s celebrated communication to Weizmann (see Vol. XV). Other topics which heightened differences related to the general development of Palestine, immigration and land purchase.
Wauchope believed he was committed to a Legislative Council, and regarded its establishment as the main policy line that Great Britain should adopt. It also fell in with his desire to create a balance between the Arab community and the yishuv. From the standpoint of the British Government, the Council was meant to regulate Arab claims and thus serve as a brake upon their growing radicalism. The Zionists saw the Legislative Council as a formidable danger which might perpetuate the minority status of the yishuv. They fought to achieve parity on the Council, or at least to defer its creation until the Jewish population had substantially increased. Weizmann himself advocated the parity thesis and argued that it was a formula he had produced. Discussions on the Legislative Council proposal proceeded throughout 1932 and the beginning of 1933, Weizmann’s recommendation being that the Jewish Agency should not reject the idea outright because this might alienate Wauchope and the MacDonald Government altogether.
Arlosoroff’s successors in the Agency Executive in Jerusalem, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Shertok, had established good relations with the former President and often availed themselves of his services. At their request, Weizmann approached leading M.P.s to urge their intervention for postponement of the Legislative Council. He argued that its creation would prejudice the negotiations then being conducted with Arab notables. He also claimed that raising the issue during the period preceding the elections to the Zionist Congress would cut the ground from beneath the feet of the moderates, facilitating control of the movement by the Revisionists, and in his judgment this would not be in the British interest.
Nevertheless, in May 1935 the Jewish Agency Executive learned that Wauchope intended to begin talks in June with Jewish and Arab representatives on the creation of the Council. Weizmann acted swiftly, and in addressing the new Colonial Secretary, his young admirer Malcolm MacDonald, employed arguments which had been raised in previous years. He repeated them to the permanent officials at the Colonial Office. As a consequence, the talks were postponed until after the 19th Zionist Congress, which met in Lucerne in the latter part of 1935. By then a new situation had emerged: Weizmann resumed the presidency, the Arab rebellion was shortly to erupt, in 1936, and the Legislative Council was shelved forever.
True to his undertaking to help but not to intervene in the formation of the ‘foreign policy’ of the Yishuv, Weizmann took no independent initiative prior to his re-election, merely responding to requests from the Executive in London and Jerusalem. The Labour bloc in the Jewish Agency were in effect maintaining the Weizmann policy: coordinating vigorous action to develop the yishuv with representations to the Government to reduce friction. In this way Weizmann played a decisive if discreet role in shaping the external relations of the Agency Executive. At the same time, the adoption of the traditional Weizmann policy by the Labour leaders in the Agency apparently contributed not a little to Weizmann’s readiness to return to the leadership of the movement.
His activities in regard to scientific research and higher education revolved around two institutions, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the Daniel Sieff Research Institute in Rehovot formally opened on 3 April 1934. His concern with both involved fundraising, attempts at reorganization, and enlistment of staff. These pursuits were linked both to long-term development and to the day-to-day conduct of these institutions.
He was nominally President of the Hebrew University. But he felt those in immediate command there were by-passing him. As he wrote to Warburg: ‘I should like, if I may, to remind you that the office of the President has been progressively and deliberately attenuated to such an extent that it has now become merely a machine for calling meetings of the Board of Governors once a year or once in two years […] Well, all I can say is that in all these years that I have been “President” I have never yet received any reports from the Palestine Executive, other than those circulated to all members of the Board of Governors. Nor have I ever been consulted about plans for future development or budgets […] Moreover, whenever I did try to intervene, I was made to feel that my intervention was not desired.
It will be recalled that he had resolved to return to science after his surrender of the presidency of the Zionist Organization in 1931, but his application to establish a research laboratory on Mount Scopus had been turned down on the grounds that the financial straits of the University prevented its enrolling additional scientists.
He continued to help the University nevertheless. Its income mainly depended on donations by American Jewish benefactors, and this had been so gravely affected by the depression as to threaten the institution’s collapse. Thus it was that the University authorities asked Weizmann to undertake a fund-raising tour. In the United States in 1933, he succeeded in enlisting the aid of various organizations, such as the American Jewish Physicians’ Committee, the Z.O.A. and the J.D.C., to save the University. He also won Wauchope’s support for a grant of some £3,000 per annum for the University out of Government funds.
Beyond the University’s financial troubles, Weizmann also showed concern for its academic and administrative structure and operations. He was deeply conscious of the need to raise its standards, and considered that it should devote itself not solely to teaching and producing graduates, but also to developing its scientific research. He outlined this concept as follows: ‘The University should, I feel convinced, have taken up its stand as a research institute, and should not have engaged in undergraduate teaching with all its concomitant complications and difficulties and financial obligations. As a research institute it could have acquired a name, it could have built up its departments methodically, one by one, and could have done really useful work both for itself and for the country as a whole. But at present it falls between two stools.’ His examination in 1933 of the academic and administrative position of the University convinced him that the institution was still not sufficiently established to enable it to engage in teaching. Weizmann also held that the University must be strengthened in the natural sciences and not solely in the humanities. It should be noted that until the 1930s the University had developed mainly in the domain of the humanities and Jewish studies, but he was determined to change the situation, seeking special funds for the purpose. In his view the time had come for a complete reorganization of the University. His ideas won support especially among the British members of the Board of Governors, and a committee had been established to amend the University statutes, under the joint chairmanship of himself and Sir Philip Hartog, with Weizmann taking the major share of the work.
With Jewish academics in Germany deprived of a livelihood, Weizmann saw the possibility of combining a solution to the University’s straitened position with an answer, albeit partial, to the problem of the German scientists, and at the same time infusing the institution with a highly-qualified intake of personnel. It happened that in April 1933 Albert Einstein publicly referred to alleged irregularities at the University, and the failure of the Weizmann-Hartog committee to amend the constitution. Weizmann demanded the appointment of a special Survey Commission to refute the allegations. It seemed to him that Einstein’s criticism, accompanied ‘by his withdrawal from the Board of Governors, would damage the recruitment of scientists of world repute.
Against a background of growing tension between Judah Magnes, Chancellor of the University, and Weizmann, the Survey Commission was appointed, with Hartog as its head and Dr. Redcliffe Salaman and Prof. Louis Ginsberg as its members, Dr. Leo Kohn serving as secretary. Weizmann had to find its expenses. He followed the progress of the Commission closely, and encouraged it at all stages. It completed its work at the beginning of 1934, and submitted its recommendations to the Board of Governors. But to Weizmann’s displeasure the resulting reforms were only minor. This added to his personal disappointment over the unwillingness of the University authorities to enable him to carry out research within its walls, and he considered resigning as its President.
However, a number of scholars and scientists from among the refugee newcomers received positions and began to make notable contributions to the University’s development and standing. It may also be noted that Weizmann was able to push through certain constitutional amendments and other changes as a result of the Hartog Survey Commission’s recommendations, so that his efforts in this direction were not entirely fruitless.
He was able to draw greater satisfaction from the Daniel Sieff Research Institute, on a site adjoining the Agricultural Experimental Station at Rehovot. It comprised modern laboratories for research in chemistry and biology. Its purposes were defined by Weizmann as the promotion of science in its relation to the problems of the country’s development, as well as problems of interest in pure science. In this way he determined the character of the present-day Weizmann Institute of Science as long ago as the early thirties. Weizmann’s motives in setting up a separate research institution were as always a combination of personal and national factors, as letters reproduced in this volume testify.
Weizmann’s conception of the inter-relationship between basic and applied research was evidenced in his desire to establish as part of the Hebrew University a School of Agriculture. It was intended to base this on the existing Agricultural Experimental Station, and he broached the idea to the University’s Board of Governors as early as June. 1932. A number of its members, Hartog included, favored the plan. Another committee was formed (Hartog, Weizmann and Sir John Russell, the British agrarian authority). Weizmann again requested the Government’s help. Wauchope consented to explore this possibility (to be executed through financial grants to the Agricultural Experimental Station), and Weizmann was chosen by the Board of Governors to head the proposed Faculty. But the plan had to await better times.
A further reason for the founding of the Sieff Institute related to Weizmann’s wish to reorganize the Hebrew University so as to emphasize research in the natural sciences. As a means to this end he wished to establish research institutes for chemistry, physics and mathematics which would cooperate with the University but not become dependent upon it, and he saw as model the operation of the Lister Institute in London and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Moreover, as he had written Einstein, he desired to replace aging University professors by young scientists of promise. This he now hoped to achieve at his new institute in Rehovot, which would serve in this respect as an alternative to the University.
The establishment of the Sieff Institute was a unique, one-man task in both its preliminary and later phases. Weizmann collected the funds for building and equipping the research laboratories; gathered the requisite staff; supervised the successive stages of construction, and procured equipment; and he was responsible for the payrolls and ensuring good living conditions for its personnel. Scores of letters, including a lengthy correspondence with Dr. Ernst D. Bergmann, the first Scientific Director of the Sieff Institute, concern matters important and trivial relating to the modest new campus and its activities.
His determination to provide a suitable scientific home for refugees sometimes aroused the ire of local specialists, who asserted that Weizmann was discriminating in favor of scientists coming from Germany. In fact, the policy reflected his dedication to a solution of the refugee problem, and contributed vitally to the reputation ultimately established by the Sieff Institute in the world of research.