The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann
August 1935 – December 1936
Volume XVII, Series A
Introduction: Yemima Rosenthal
General Editor Barnet Litvinoff, Volume Editor Yemima Rosenthal, Transaction Books, Rutgers University and Israel Universities Press, Jerusalem, 1979[Reprinted with express permission from the Weizmann Archives, Rehovot, Israel,
by the Center for Israel Education www.israeled.org]
Major changes had taken place in the structure of the Zionist Organization during the four years between the rejection of Chaim Weizmann at the Seventeenth Zionist Congress of 1931 and his reelection in 1935. The most important of these was the secession of the Revisionists, who established the New Zionist Organization in September 1935. The second was the strengthening of the Labour groups to become the central force in the movement, with 45 per cent of the delegates at the Nineteenth Congress compared with 29 per cent in 1931. Finally, there was the continued decline of the two wings of the General Zionists. These factors both necessitated and facilitated Weizmann’s return to the leadership.
As we saw in the preceding volume, the Labour movement had desired Weizmann’s return at the Congress of 1933, but was not strong enough to achieve it. In 1935, it was determined to show that the Zionist Organization could develop without the Revisionists, and it needed Weizmann’s leadership. Nahum Sokolow, who had taken his place, could neither equal his prestige in London nor unite the movement and lead it in the external struggle. Labour insisted, therefore, on Weizmann’s re-election as a condition of their forming the Executive.
He was in no hurry to return, fearing this would interfere with his scientific work. He had been in Palestine during the early part of 1935, where he had begun prolonged negotiations which continued until the closing stages at Lucerne of the Nineteenth Congress. His conditions, presented to leaders of Mapai (the Palestinian Labour Party), included the right to select the London members of the Executive on a personal basis. He wished to entrust Lewis Namier with political affairs, bring in Leonard Stein, and transfer Selig Brodetsky from his political role to organizational affairs. He would exclude the religious party (Mizrachi), and the B group (right-wing) of General Zionists. He wished to be elected for a four-year period, instead of two years as previously, and to devote at least the first year of his term to urgent political questions without being distracted by organizational and financial problems.’
These far-reaching demands encountered stiff opposition from Mapai, which sought to establish a broad coalition of all parties (except the recently-formed Jewish State Party, an off-shoot of the Revisionists) and keep down the number of members.’ In 1921, when Weizmann was first President, he stood above party, and determined policy virtually alone: his election had been a matter of course. Now his re-election depended on the support of Labour, and on coalition arrangements outside his control. Namier was in fact kept out of the Executive, while others were elected who did not enjoy Weizmann’s sympathy and trust.
Despite his hesitations, he finally decided to accept, for the only alternative would have been almost complete retirement at a time when the halo-Ethiopian crisis was foreshadowing grave dangers. Furthermore, the recent expansion of the National Home seemed to offer great hopes for the future. This was the background to letters which spoke of ‘fate, which has been decisive’ and a feeling that `there is no escape.’
Only six delegates abstained from voting for Weizmann’s reelection, but his authority was threatened from the beginning by the enhanced status of David Ben-Gurion, who regarded the broadly-based Executive, which comprised Mapai, the General Zionists A and B, and Mizrachi, as an important achievement. Ben-Gurion’s election (in November 1935) as chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive was an expression of his position in the yishuv as ‘a leader of the movement and not only of his party.’ As head of the Executive in Palestine, Ben-Gurion’s position grew stronger the more the movement’s centre of gravity moved towards Jerusalem. This volume registers the birth of conflict between the two men.
Weizmann was returning at a time of mounting turmoil. Italy’s action in Ethiopia seemed to threaten the peace of the world, and of the Middle East particularly; Germany enacted the Nuremberg Laws; the yishuv feared constriction by Britain’s plan for a Legislative Council. The new Executive responded with a political offensive to influence the Government towards an active policy for the strengthening of the National Home. But, as Weizmann emphasized to the Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, ‘in cooperation between ourselves and the Government.
The war in Ethiopia began on 3 October. ‘The new Jewish year has begun catastrophically,’ the leader wrote. ‘The tensions which existed in the world […] have now—by the action of a single individual—been unleashed in the form of a bloody war, and who knows where all this will yet lead. Our work in Palestine—almost the only bright point in our sky—will be gravely affected, I fear […] We need peace even more than any other section of humanity.’
The work of the Daniel Sieff Institute at Rehovot never ceased to engage his attention during this period. He worked untiringly to fill its empty coffers, and solve its organizational problems. He also devoted much effort to the development of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the Hebrew University, of which he was appointed head in August 1935 following sustained controversy, discussed in earlier volumes, with its Chancellor, Judah Magnes. The controversy ended with Weizmann’s victory and a considerable diminution of Magnes authority, but his plans for expansion of the work in chemistry at the University encountered difficulties nevertheless.
Weizmann undertook an extended visit to Palestine, living at Rehovot where he had decided to build his home, from November 1935 to March 1936. His concern at the situation in the country was intensified. ‘One feels instinctively,’ he wrote to his confidante at the London Zionist Office, Blanche Dugdale, ‘that Palestine is surrounded by peoples seething with discontent—Egypt, Abyssinia, Syria—and this has its repercussions here; there is a tension, an uneasiness, in the air.’
The Arab Press conducted hostile propaganda against the Government and the Jews; there was a protest strike against the High Commissioner, Sir Arthur Wauchope, and his ‘pro-Zionist’ policy. Then the representatives of the Arab parties met the High Commissioner on 25 November and demanded the establishment of `democratic rule’ in Palestine, the immediate cessation of Jewish immigration, and legislation to prevent the sale of land to Jews.
Weizmann noted a nervousness in Government reaction, and indeed, steps were soon taken which were calculated to appease the Arabs by slowing down, if not actually halting, the development of the National Home. These included moves towards the establishment of a Legislative Council, a draft Lands Ordinance, and proposals to limit immigration.
The possibility of a Legislative Council in Palestine had occupied the Zionist leaders since publication, in October 1930, of the Pass-field White Paper, which stated that the question ‘of the establishment of a measure of self-government in Palestine must […] be taken in hand without delay.’ But it was only in July 1935 that the High Commissioner unofficially informed the Jewish Agency of the main outlines of a plan for its establishment. The High Commissioner intended negotiations with Zionist and Arab leaders to begin in November. These were delayed for some weeks by the appointment of a new Colonial Secretary, J. H. Thomas, who succeeded Malcolm MacDonald after the British General Election of 14 November 1935.
The proposal was for a minimum of 14 Arabs on the Council, as against seven Jews, plus five officials and two commercial representatives, with extensive powers reserved to the High Commissioner. The Council would thus have an entrenched anti-Jewish majority and the Jews would become a permanent minority in their National Home. The Zionist Congress had unanimously rejected the Government’s plan as incompatible with the spirit of the Mandate, where the future of Palestine was recognized as the concern not only of its present Jewish population but of the entire Jewish people. Nevertheless the High Commissioner pressed on, to be informed by Weizmann that the Agency would be compelled to oppose the proposal totally, though it would continue to cooperate with the Government on other matters.
His letters on the subject betray an apologetic tone, not lost on his critics. Weizmann was condemned especially among General Zionists and Mizrachi for not being sufficiently forthright, and for his assurance to the High Commissioner of the Jewish Agency’s cooperation in all spheres other than the Legislative Council. However, Ben-Gurion expressly declared that the President’s statements represented the policy and attitude of the entire Executive.
Weizmann wrote: ‘The soul goes out of our work if we are reduced here to the same minority position as anywhere else.’ The Legislative Council plan was ‘repugnant to the basic inspiration’ of the Mandate and the Balfour Declaration, the purpose of which was ‘to relieve the Jews of their age-long burden of homelessness and suppression, by enabling them to establish in Palestine a National Home where they could develop along autonomous lines, free from domination by any other national group.’
Weizmann recognized that a straight refusal to cooperate in the plan could give the impression that the Zionists were anti-democratic. He therefore suggested adoption of the principle of parity between Jews and Arabs on the Council, an idea endorsed in 1931 by Ramsay MacDonald, then Prime Minister. ‘I knew the dangers inherent in [this solution],’ Weizmann was to write in his Memoirs, ‘but I felt that we might find some compensation in the public opinion of the world.’
The parity proposal found support from some British politicians, notably L. S. Amery, but was vigorously condemned in the Zionist movement. No special stand was as yet required, as the Government had not raised the issue, but should it do so the Zionists intended convening the Actions Committee to consider the situation. Weizmann therefore raised the parity proposal in his own name, arguing the matter at length in frequent letters and thus indicating that his aim was not to provide an immediate solution, but to counter charges of Zionist intransigence. But the Executive thought it best to remain silent on the subject.
Meanwhile, a fresh struggle was forced on the Agency and on Weizmann when, early in 1936, the High Commissioner proposed a ban on sales of land unless the owner left himself a sufficient area for his sustenance (the lot viable). Further, he wanted to raise the property qualification for ‘capitalist’ immigrants from £1,000 to £2,000. Following so quickly upon the Legislative Council plan, these contemplated new restrictions clearly indicated that the Government was adopting ‘a new course’, designed to ‘placate the Moslem population.’ This conclusion is borne out by Wauchope’s messages to the Colonial Office stressing the danger of Arab violence, and suggesting the restriction of immigration to 44,000 during the coming year.
The Zionist leadership had no doubts about the matter. ‘That the Government had chosen this time of all to pass such legislation, looks like a studied attempt to crystallise the National Home,’ Weizmann wrote to Lord Melchett. ‘In essence I consider the situation worse than the time of Passfield. Things in Palestine are much more complicated now than they were before, and the hardship and bitterness which will be produced infinitely more serious.’
In Jerusalem, Weizmann personally warned the High Commissioner’ that his policy, which he regarded as a flagrant breach of trust at a time of great suffering for the Jews, would involve a break: he would resign, and the Jews would fight to the end against this attempt to strangle the National Home. It was one of Weizmann’s most telling performances, earning tributes from both Moshe Shertok and Ben-Gurion. The High Commissioner was impressed, but unmoved. He informed the Arabs of his intention to introduce the land law. The Agency decided to go over his head and take the matter up with Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, and others—it was believed that J.H. Thomas had little influence. It would not restrict itself to the defense of existing positions, nor make charges against the Government, but would present positive demands in all fields of Zionist activity. Weizmann’s colleagues in London begged him not to take drastic steps, such as resignation.
Given the position in Palestine, the international situation, and the Jewish plight in Germany and Poland, Weizmann devoted much thought to the question of more fundamental solutions. He believed that ‘now is the time to reopen the whole of our problem with much more force, because of our achievement in Palestine and because of the critical situation of our people, than we did in 1916.’ He hinted at the possibility of an exchange of populations, with the opening of Transjordan to Jewish immigration and ‘the establishment of some sort of organization which may be less than a State, but certainly more than what the Jewish Agency is now. Only if we possess a certain amount of executive power,’ he wrote, ‘shall we be able to conduct our business properly.’ He believed that such an approach could be defended before world opinion.
Back in London, in March 1936, Weizmann found British politicians pre-occupied with the German remilitarization of the Rhineland, and the question of Palestine receded into the background. Several Ministers received him, though not the Prime Minister. Two problems were, however, solved during his brief stay: the establishment of a Council for German Jewry, discussed below, and the Legislative Council question—the latter coming under heavy fire in debates in both Houses of Parliament. Weizmann and his colleagues were well satisfied. Of the Commons debate he wrote to his wife Vera: ‘It was a first class thing, better and bigger than in the Lords. Everybody thinks the Leg. Co. is killed and possibly there may be some resignations.’ The outcome strengthened his feeling that ‘I have ploughed some ground and have made people realize that things cannot go on as at present.’
Weizmann was much concerned during this period with the question of aid for German Jewry, of which he had been the coordinator since 1933 as Chairman of the Central Bureau for the Settlement of German Jews. The question had become much more acute with the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935. Other organizations beside the Agency were involved, and the subject again brought to the fore the old debate on the place of philanthropic activity in the building of the National Home.
In October 1935, discussions on projects for comprehensive assistance to the German Jews began in Palestine and London. Weizmann took the lead in the Jewish Agency’s plans to bring in more Jewish immigrants from Germany, and, in cooperation with other bodies, in the orderly liquidation of their property and its transfer to Palestine. At his recommendation, Namier was appointed the Agency’s representative to negotiate with the German Government.
Two plans were sponsored by Zionist and non-Zionist circles in London. Lionel de Rothschild proposed establishing a bank with a capital of millions to grant loans to German Jews on account of their property and help them to emigrate, while Simon Marks sought to create a fund with a similar capital for the settlement of such Jews in Palestine. The second plan made early progress, and a delegation headed by Lord Bearsted, Herbert Samuel and Marks was to visit America in January. The money they would raise there, and in Europe, would assist immigrants both to Palestine and elsewhere.
Weizmann and his colleagues feared this plan would compete with Jewish Agency settlement schemes, besides affecting the traditional Zionist funds. He was pained by a lack of prior consultation, and regretted the prominence of non-Zionists in the work. ‘It has recently become clearer to me, too,’ he wrote to Marks, ‘that we have not to count too much on the support of our non-Zionist partners. Not only have they done nothing remarkable during the past few years not only have they not risen to any real constructive effort; but they have shown jealousy of even our partial success in Palestine, and have seized upon the first suggestion of a set-back in order to discredit our efforts here and to injure the Zionist movement and its organs in the eyes of the Jewish people.’ He accused them of ‘continuing and completing [Hitler’s] work, by dispersing the remnants [of German Jewry] and scattering them to the four corners of the earth.’ He felt that ‘Palestine, small as it is, and great as are the difficulties, would still be able to receive a very large fraction of German and Polish Jewry.’ The Warburgs and the Rothschilds and their methods had failed, he declared; there was no reason why the Zionists should lend any support to their ‘fantastic undertakings’ in Russia and the Argentine.
In a memorable letter to Felix Warburg, he condemned the `philanthropic’ approach by citing the work of Baron. Edmond de Rothschild at the turn of the century: ‘Were it not for the life which has been brought into Palestine through Zionist endeavour [this] would have degenerated into a minor colonising enterprise, without a body to maintain and without a soul to lose.’
During the previous two years, the position of the Zionists in the Jewish Agency had been considerably strengthened. The ’50-50′ principle in the composition of the Executive had been abandoned; it now contained only three non-Zionists (of whom two were regarded as ‘semi-Zionists’) as against seven Zionists. Nevertheless, the Agency was not strong enough to do without the assistance of the non-Zionists, as his friends Simon Marks and Israel Sieff explained to Weizmann. He was somewhat mollified, particularly when he met the British delegation on its return from America: ‘Samuel is loyal, and his Palestinian sympathies are beyond doubt,’ he wrote. `Bearsted is quite objective […] and I feel sure we shall be able to work together.’ On 15 March 1936, the Council for German Jewry was established in Britain on a basis of parity between Zionists and non-Zionists, with Weizmann leading the Zionist representation, and henceforth there was close cooperation between the two sides in handling the problem.
Weizmann returned to Palestine in April in the belief that an invitation to an Arab delegation to visit London (following the debate on the Legislative Council) was merely ‘an expedient by the Government […] to put off the matter of the Legislative Council for the time being.’ Ben-Gurion wrote Brodetsky that in those days Weizmann was ‘full of optimism … and he believes that the Government will not dare to do anything against us now.’
However, violence erupted in Palestine immediately, to take both Jews and British by surprise, and to provoke new problems and challenges. The Arab Higher Committee proclaimed a general strike throughout the country and demanded the stoppage of Jewish immigration, the prohibition of sale of land to Jews and the creation of a ‘National Representative Government.’ These events marked the beginning of a long period of Arab terrorism which continued intermittently until 1939.
For most of the rest of the year (May–November), Weizmann and Ben-Gurion were in London. The President had little to do, therefore, with the complex security and economic problems that arose in Palestine, which were dealt with mainly by the Agency’s Political Department in Jerusalem headed by Shertok. Weizmann concentrated rather on questions of immigration, the future of the Jewish National Home in the light of the disturbances, and Zionist policy in connection with the Royal Commission, appointment of which the Colonial Secretary announced on 18 May. Substantial differences, both on tactics and on principle, were frequent between Weizmann and his colleagues, and he fought untiringly for his point, of view.
Both Zionists and Arabs regarded immigration as the crucial factor, while the Government vacillated. The great majority of the Zionists saw even a temporary suspension of immigration as a violation of a basic right and a danger to the future of the Jewish National Home, although at times Weizmann showed readiness for a tactical and temporary compromise on the question; Ben-Gurion and others were constantly on the watch against any sign of weakness on his part. Immigration continued, but at a vastly reduced rate than was requested by the Jewish Agency.
The Government failed to pursue a firm and consistent policy to suppress the riots or deal with the Arab strike, and the security position worsened. On 28 May, J. H. Thomas was succeeded as Colonial Secretary by William Ormsby-Gore, and the change-over left the initiative for a time with the High Commissioner. Reluctant to reveal weakness by surrendering to demands for the stoppage of immigration, the Government wished the Agency to help break the deadlock by voluntarily agreeing to a temporary suspension. This was repeatedly rejected in principle by the Agency’s representatives.
Weizmann, to the alarm of Ben-Gurion, showed some readiness for tactical concessions on the question of immigration in talks with intermediaries (the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Nuri Said, and Quaker circles in Britain) and with the Colonial Secretary. This led to a close supervision of Weizmann’s actions, including the drafting of some letters appearing in this volume.
Weizmann and Nuri met alone on 9 June, a time when the crisis was at its height, with growing concern in official circles at its effect on British interests in Egypt and Weizmann’s diplomatic work almost stultified by the change at the Colonial Office. No Minutes were kept, and the conflicting accounts of what transpired caused Weizmann considerable embarrassment. Nuri’s two accounts, to George Rendel of the Foreign Office and Sir Archibald Clark-Kerr, the British Ambassador in Baghdad, were not identical. Weizmann reported on the talk to his colleagues in London, and subsequently, in writing, to the Colonial Secretary and Clark-Kerr. His version refuted Nuri’s record. A comparison of these sources makes it almost certain that Weizmann’s was the correct one.
Nuri proposed the establishment of a pan-Arab Federation to include Palestine, intimating that the Arabs would make considerable concessions if the Jews helped them carry out this plan. In order to create a suitable atmosphere for negotiations, the Jews should, as a gesture of goodwill, propose the suspension of immigration (Nuri later claimed that a period of one year was considered) during the sittings of the Royal Commission. Weizmann was non-committal, but he later advised acceptance on his colleagues.
In the first of many confrontations between Weizmann and Ben-Gurion, the latter categorically refused, contending that it would endanger the future National Home and would never be ,accepted by the Jews in Palestine or by the Zionist movement. Namier and Mrs. Dugdale also opposed the idea. Ben-Gurion’s anxiety grew when a letter arrived from the Colonial Secretary implying that Weizmann had agreed in his talk with Nuri to the suspension of immigration for a year. Weizmann was immediately asked to deny this. He did so in the letters to Ormsby-Gore and Clark-Kerr referred to above. Both Ormsby-Gore and Wauchope accepted Weizmann’s denial. ‘The wish was father to the thought,’ the latter wrote to the Minister on 9 July, but this reaction was not known to Ben-Gurion.
Meanwhile, Weizmann had been in contact with Archer Cust, a former official in the Palestine Administration, who had mooted the cantonization of Palestine, an idea Weizmann did not reject out of hand but which Ben-Gurion and others regarded with extreme reserve. They carefully monitored the leader’s response to Cust’s initiative.
Weizmann was already considering another solution to the problem, suggested by Ormsby-Gore. This entailed the territorial separation of the two peoples, with limitations to Jewish settlement in certain areas reserved for Arabs alone. It was agreed that the Agency and the Government work out a plan accordingly, on condition that the Government help Jews to settle in the coastal area and put state land at their disposal. It was also agreed that there should be no change in policy until order had been restored in Palestine.
Weizmann was encouraged. This seemed ‘the first ray of light I have seen in many dark days.’ He felt that ‘we may at last get a chance to come down to the fundamentals of the problem, and perhaps to hack out some solution.’ While all sides would have to define their aims carefully, he thought this was all to the good, for the Government would have to abandon its ‘neutral attitude.’ He wrote in similar vein to the High Commissioner, expressing his hope that the new Secretary of State might, despite the difficulties, help to devise a just solution.
In this spirit, Weizmann began preparing a scheme for the solution of the land problem. It was based on a study of water resources prepared by Arthur Ruppin late in 1935, according to which a further 80,000 Jewish families could be settled on the land without dispossessing a single Arab in Palestine. Weizmann proposed acquisition by the Jews of a million dunams of the three millions in Arab hands, in the valleys and coastal strip, leaving the hill areas for Arab settlement. The scheme would enable the Jewish population to grow by 200,000 families, i.e., about a million souls, at the rate of some 50,000 immigrants annually for 20-25 years, while the Arabs, by irrigating their land out of the proceeds of sales to the Jews, would meet their own needs for generations to come.
Cust submitted the scheme to the Arabs and the Colonial Office, though in what final form is not absolutely known, for Weizmann, possibly at Ben-Gurion’s instigation, amended Cust’s version of a discussion on the subject. The Arabs received it without hostility, but refused to commit themselves. Ormsby-Gore on his side expressed certain reservations to Weizmann and Ben-Gurion on the figure of 50,000 immigrants a year. According to Zionist reports, he hinted at a departure in the future from the principle of economic absorptive capacity, with the of political considerations in fixing the immigration schedule (no such remark was contained in the Colonial Office report).’
In this regard Jewish records are at variance. According to the Minutes, both Weizmann and Ben-Gurion reacted sharply to this suggestion, but Ben-Gurion later wrote that the reaction was his alone, and that Ormsby-Gore ‘could not help noticing Chaim’s silence.’ Weizmann, says Ben-Gurion, was likewise non-committal on the proposal that the Jewish Agency agree to a temporary suspension of immigration during the work of the Royal Commission, while he himself vigorously rejected it. Weizmann seemed to Ben-Gurion to be ready to postpone the immigration schedule for the next half-year if order was restored, an attitude which profoundly disturbed him.
The Agency worked strenuously during July 1936 to prevent the suspension of immigration, fearing an early Cabinet decision. Zionist work in London was reinforced by the arrival of Stephen S. Wise and Felix Frankfurter, with Ben-Gurion and Shertok active in Jerusalem. While continuing to stress opposition to a political maximum for immigration, and vigorously resisting any departure from the principle of economic absorptive capacity as a violation of the Mandate and of British undertakings, Weizmann’s attitude was evidently not as uncompromising as that of his colleagues. In discussions with various intermediaries, including Cust, he accepted the proposition, in his own name only, that the Agency postpone its application for the next immigration schedule. He undertook to use his influence with his colleagues in this direction.
It is difficult to assess the effect Weizmann’s attitude ultimately had on the British Government’s decisions. In a memorandum, Ormsby-Gore informed the Cabinet that Weizmann had been more helpful than Ben-Gurion, but added that the suspension of immigration would encounter strong opposition from the Jews and their supporters in Parliament. The Cabinet on 9 July finally decided, following announcement of the Royal Commission’s composition and its terms of reference, not to suspend immigration. But the danger was to hang over the heads of the Zionist leaders for several weeks to come.
July had been a difficult month for Weizmann as leader and statesman. His ideas on immigration had not been accepted. His negotiations with Cust, and his plan for Arab ‘reservations,’ discouraged by Shertok and Ruppin, bore no fruit. In Palestine, Ben-Gurion did not express his anxiety about Weizmann’s attitude publicly, but he discussed it with his Mapai colleagues, while within the Agency Menahem Ussishkin and Isaac Gruenbaum among others objected to any formal ban on Jewish land purchases in the hill areas (though the latter was prepared for a gentleman’s agreement with the Arabs). Reports of Weizmann’s readiness for compromise over immigration required public denials both on his part and on the part of the Executive.
Weizmann was decidedly resentful of his colleagues’ opposition to his efforts at an accommodation. They had chosen a leader, he declared, and then they did not allow him to lead but wanted to lead him. He expressed contempt for the Actions Committee, which was due to meet to decide policy. ‘You know that I take a benevolent but very detached interest in the A.C.,’ he wrote. `… In reality I know what will happen. As soon as I have made my statement they will get a fit, the floodgates of eloquence will open, I shall be barged into […] In due course I shall be called a traitor. Being already hardened and immunised against such an appellation we shall part company on most affectionate but nevertheless decisive terms, each one of us trying for a better ‘ole.’
As Ben-Gurion wrote to Shertok on 30 July: ‘He has a feeling that he is a captive in our [Mapai’s] hands, and he expressed this jokingly, but with a sense of considerable bitterness, when he said at one of the recent meetings that ‘the king is absolute so long as he does what we want.’ In fact the Actions Committee, meeting in Zurich late in August, decided to form a ‘Smaller Actions Committee’ consisting of members residing in Palestine, to watch the situation. This was symptomatic of the growing transfer of the movement’s power to Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, with the encouragement of the Foreign Office and the High Commissioner, Nuri Said had been trying to mediate between Britain and the Arabs. His main condition was the suspension of immigration during the Commission’s work. Weizmann threatened to suspend cooperation with the Government if it agreed to Nuri’s terms. A campaign of protest was organized in Palestine and throughout the Diaspora, and in September the Government officially denied that Nuri had received any commitments as to the suspension of immigration. On the 2nd of that month the Cabinet decided to send troops to Palestine to suppress the disturbances. In a memorandum to the Cabinet, the Colonial Secretary had again pointed to the damaging results to be anticipated from a Jewish campaign against Britain, referring to the pressure of American Jewish leaders and such friends of Zionism as Lloyd George and General Smuts. While there were also other considerations leading to the Government denial, this was a classic example of the success of Zionist pressure and Weizmann’s influence.
Ben-Gurion and Shertok, however, were still apprehensive. They told a Mapai meeting of the need to convince Weizmann of the importance of continuing the struggle for each immigration schedule. Accordingly, it was decided to encourage him by a cable of congratulations on his success in countering Nuri’s efforts, and to send Berl Katznelson to London. The schedule, though reduced, was approved in November, bringing this stage of the struggle for the right to immigration to a successful conclusion. Weizmann’s main aim during this period was to submit positive proposals to settle the Arab-Jewish dispute to the Royal Commission, which was to start its hearings in Palestine in November. He wanted Arabs and Jews to meet at a conference under British auspices, an idea that Ormsby-Gore, though not the High Commissioner, favored. Weizmann was ready to visit Cairo to meet Arab leaders and investigate the possibilities of a settlement.
His colleagues in the Executive displayed no great enthusiasm for the idea, and at his own initiative and expense Weizmann engaged a French Zionist lawyer with the right contacts, Kadmi Cohen, to test the possibility of a cultural and economic agreement with the Lebanese Government, then anticipating a greater measure of independence from France. Weizmann also asked Leon Blum, the French Prime Minister, to have a clause on friendly relations between Lebanon and the Jewish National Home included in the Franco-Lebanese treaty. These initiatives came to nought, however, as did his efforts, begun before the disturbances, to acquire land in Lebanon in areas close to the border with Palestine.
Still in search of a Zionist solution to the dispute, Weizmann incurred the ire of Ben-Gurion and Shertok with his proposal for a public commitment to the principle of parity in Palestine, with the British Government as guarantor. The Palestinian leaders saw no great need for haste in giving such an undertaking, fearing fierce controversy when it came before the Smaller Actions Committee for approval, and perhaps leading to a split in the Agency Executive.
This reaction vividly revealed the weakness of Weizmann’s position. ‘I have had enough of this passive role both vis-à-vis the Government—and also my colleagues,’ he informed Shertok. ‘We are here being reduced to an Embassy; we are given orders to see this or the other man, but our suggestions remain unheeded.’ He indicated that, were it not for the gravity of the situation, he would resign. The subject of parity did indeed come before the Smaller Actions Committee in mid-October, and as expected, Mizrachi and the General Zionists fought strenuously against it, so that no decision was taken. Weizmann now decided that the time for such a declaration had passed, and he provisionally abandoned the idea, but without surrendering the principle.
His conviction that the movement must submit a positive political programme to the Royal Commission was unshaken. He wished to give evidence in support of parity, and against the suspension of immigration or a cantonization plan. As he told Shertok: ‘No amount of eloquence would shift me from this position […] If the Executive cannot support my point of view, which I thought is the accepted line, I go out at once and announce the reasons for it. It is becoming intolerable and undignified […] It is all democracy gone mad and it is a piece of hypocrisy worthy of Hitler or similar demagogues.’
The question aroused much heart-searching among Mapai leaders. They did not wish to cause a split in the movement, but Weizmann’s personal position was an important consideration. Ben-Gurion supported the parity concept before the Smaller Actions Committee but did not press for an immediate decision.
Weizmann continued to advocate the principle of parity. In a speech at Basle that November,’ he said that, although he believed that the Almighty had promised the Jewish people the whole of the Land of Israel, he advised every Zionist to carry this faith in his heart until the promise was realized in God’s good time. But they should understand that it was not practical politics to present this demand to the Royal Commission. As a practical statesman and not as a mystic, he was trying to solve political problems and find solutions to these questions in his own day and in accordance with the conditions of the time.
He battled the matter out that month at meetings in Palestine. Decisions had to be taken on two questions: What was Weizmann to reply if the Commission asked for his attitude to the principle of parity? Should the Jewish Agency include, in its memorandum to the Commission, the resolution of the Seventeenth (1931) Congress, which, while not using the term ‘parity,’ agreed to the principle that neither community in Palestine should dominate the other whatever the numerical relation between them?
At first, Weizmann’s attitude was uncompromising, but when he saw the strength of the opposition, with threats of resignation to precipitate a split in the movement, he agreed to Ben-Gurion’s proposal that the 1931 Congress resolution be included in the memorandum, with a formula agreed in advance for his reply to members of the Commission on the subject. The term ‘parity’ did not appear, and it was emphasized that the Jews would consider the proposal only if the British could bring about a comprehensive settlement safeguarding the vital interests of the Jewish National Home in regard to immigration and land acquisition. But Weizmann made it clear that, were he asked his personal opinion, he would support the principle of parity without binding the movement.
He testified in public on 25 November and on camera on several occasions—the last of them on 8 January 1937. Apparently he wrote few letters at this time, but his feelings may be gauged from his memoirs. He wrote,
‘that […] I would be speaking for generations long since dead, for those who lay buried in the ancient and thickly populated cemeteries on Mount Scopus, and those whose last resting places were scattered all over the world, and I knew that any error, however involuntary, would be mine alone but would redound to the discredit of my people. was aware, as on few occasions before or since, of a crushing sense of responsibility.’
He spoke without a written text, but from comprehensive notes, for over two hours, explaining the basic principle of the Zionist movement, the origins and the significance of the movement till the Balfour Declaration, the tragic situation of six million Jews in Europe pent up in places where they are not wanted, and for whore the world is divided into places where they cannot live and places which they may not enter, and the Jewish achievements in Palestine under the Mandate. This impressive address was widely acclaimed and restored the prestige of his leadership. ‘The heir of Herzl has demonstrated once again that he is the man destined and fitted to wear the mantle of the leader, bequeathed to him by the creator of political Zionism, Haolam wrote on 3 December.
The most difficult part of his testimony came in camera, under searching cross-examination. He was questioned on three main topics: What were the basic and contributory causes of the disturbances? To what extent had Britain’s undertakings under the Mandate been carried out? What were the possible solutions, within or outside the framework of the Mandate? On the last point, Weizmann was k very careful not to commit himself on behalf of the Zionist movement to proposals which it would not accept. He raised the idea of parity, without using the term, as agreed with the Executive, and rejected the cantonization proposal of Archer Cust.
The first suggestion of partition came during Weizmann’s evidence at a secret session of the Commission on 23 December, when Prof. Reginald Coupland hinted that a proposal ‘something a little more drastic than cantonization might conceivably be considered […] that instead of having a bunch of cantons you could have two areas developing the possibilities of self-government.’ He repeated the suggestion on 8 January 1937, this time referring to ‘partition on a federal basis,’ which might in due course lead to the establishment of two independent states. Weizmann explained that he could not commit himself before consulting his colleagues, but, as he wrote in his memoirs: ‘Something new had been born into the Zionist movement, something which had to be handled with great care and tenderness.’ The further development of this subject does not fall within the bounds of this volume, but the fact that the idea of a Jewish State, even if only in part of Palestine, had been raised, left him full of hope at the end of that year.