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Jewish Tours Argentina



The Ben Gurion Years
Ben Gurion Centenary 1886-1986

The Making of the State - Five Historical Decisions

The White Paper of 1939

. Background

In 1929, the leaders of Arab nationalism organized a pogrom against the Jewish population of Palestine. The British reacted to this blood bath precisely as the Arabs had hoped: a British government White Paper was published which almost completely closed Mandate Palestine to Jewish immigration. As well as being a crisis for Zionism, this was a personal crisis for one individual:  Chaim Weizmann, who succeeded in  gaining the confidence of the British to the extent that they issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, offering him the land of his forefathers.

Weizmann had become a prisoner of his own gratitude, because the price for the fulfilment of Zionism was a chance to receive a peerage of the realm, which meant that he could not declare war on the Crown. To him, the White Paper was Britain's first betrayal, and he would be progressively broken by successive crises in the relationship between Zionism and Great Britain, together with the conflict between the love he felt for his country and his loyalty to those who had given it to the Jewish people through his hands.

The Zionists, nevertheless, saw him as a man of compromise - someone without the courage to rebel.

Ben Gurion, on the other hand, took a firm stand.

 The publication in 1939 of the new White Paper, which increased immigration restrictions, led him to declare war on the British.

However, the world was simultaneously becoming aware of another conflict: the Second World War had broken out. Throughout the struggle against Nazism, the Zionist leaders did not hesitate to fight alongside Britain, although they never forgot their own private war against the Crown. Ben Gurion defined his political stance in one of his most famous pronouncements which became the motto of the Yishuv for many years:


"We will fight the war as if there were no White Paper, and we will fight the White Paper as if there were no war."


The Zionist cause therefore needed new allies, namely America and her Jews. Those who opposed Ben Gurion's programme were:


    - Weizmann, because of his feelings of loyalty to the Crown;

     - The leaders of Hashomer Hatzair, left-wing socialists who provoked the uprising by the very Arabs with whom they were seeking friendship.

    - The members of the Stern Gang, an ultranationalist group. They decided to launch guerilla attacks exclusively against the British, believing that the British in any case were doing nothing to save Jewish lives from the Nazis.

However, on 12th May 1942, the 600 delegates of the American Zionist Congress voted in favour of the programme that Ben Gurion presented to them, known as the Biltmore Programme.


  • All-out war against both the White Paper and Nazism;


  • Free immigration to Palestine, under the supervision of the Jewish Agency;


The split between Ben Gurion and Weizmann was complete.

II. Activity


To contrast the views of two groups on the Zionist position in the Yishuv during the Second World War.


The British have just published the White Paper, which prevents Jewish immigration. The Allies are fighting Nazism in the Second World War. As a Zionist, fighting the British mandate, which side would you choose? Can one wage "war" against an ally?



    i) Show a slide-tape show on Ben-Gurion [or a suitable, short film extract].

    ii) Explain the above and what the White Paper was.

    iii) Form two groups of Yishuv Zionists while counselors play the role of the provisional government of the State of Israel.

    iv) Groups


      a) One group will therefore be against the British mandate and decide to remain neutral in the fight against the Third Reich.

      b) The second group will confirm its support for the Allies and therefore for the British, putting the Zionist struggle to one side.


    v) Selection of activities

    a) Each group designs a poster expressing its position. This could be made up of press cuttings, collages, etc.

    b) Each group sends people out tocommunity. Those who are from the war generation should say whether it was more important to fight the White Paper or to fight Nazism.

These accounts will be used to prepare two arguments. Each group will have to formulate 10 arguments explaining why their proposal is the the more suitable.


    vi) In both activites: The group must convince members of the provisional government who are going to vote for one or other of the solutions.

    vii) You could produce a short audio-visual "montage" explaining what Ben Gurion's decision was, namely, to fight both the White Paper and the Nazis.


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