This week in Jewish history | Passfield White Paper restricts Jewish immigration to Palestine - World Jewish Congress

This week in Jewish history | Passfield White Paper restricts Jewish immigration to Palestine

This week in Jewish history | Passfield White Paper restricts Jewish immigration to Palestine

On 20 October 1930, the British government issued the Passfield White Paper. The document was the second of three “white papers” issued by the British government detailing its policy in Palestine and severely limiting official Jewish immigration to Palestine.  

The first of these documents, known as the Churchill White Paper, was published on 2 June 1922. It reaffirmed Britain's support for the creation of a Jewish homeland and emphasized that Jewish immigration to the area would be allowed only in correlation to the land’s economic capacity. That document rejected the notion that Palestine would become a Jewish National Home but only asserted “that such a Home should be founded in Palestine.”  

The last White Paper was issued in the spring of 1939, on the eve of the outbreak of World War II. To the chagrin of Jews in Palestine and those seeking to leave Nazi Germany and other parts of Europe, it sharply curtailed Jewish immigration to Palestine. During the next five years, 75,000 Jews would be allowed to enter Palestine and thereafter Jewish immigration to the region would be subject to Arab “acquiescence.” Britain also promised to create an independent Palestine state in the next ten years, if possible. 

Forming the basis of the Passfield White Paper, which was issued shortly after the riots of 1929, were two royal commissions, one led by Sir Walter Shaw, and the other led by Sir John Hope Simpson.  The Shaw Commission, which investigated the causes of the riots, concluded that much of the tension was due to the Arabs’ view that “Jewish immigration [was] not only a menace to their livelihood but a possible overlord of the future.” Simpson’s commission accused Jewish immigrant of taking lands intended for Arabs and called for Jewish immigration to be limited by Arab unemployment levels. 

The report caused widespread outrage in the Yishuv (the Jewish community living in Palestine), as well as Zionists in other parts of the world who believed that the new policy violated the Balfour Declaration. President of the Jewish Agency (and future Israeli President) Chaim Weizmann argued that the new policy denied “the rights and [sterilized] the hopes of the Jewish people in regard to the National Home."

On 13 February 1931, British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald sent a letter to Weizmann, essentially nullifying the Passfield White Paper and calling upon Britain to live up to its commitments including the Balfour Declaration. The letter upset Arabs across Palestine, who would refer to the new letter as the “black letter,” despite the fact that MacDonald told Britain’s Parliament that he was "very unwilling to give the letter the same status as the dominating document (Passfield White Paper).”