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The British Labour Party and Palestine, 1917-1948

Cecil Bloom

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The British Labour Party and Palestine, 1917-1948* CECIL BLOOM Until just after its victory at the 1945 general election, the British Labour Party was regarded as being supportive of Zionist ambitions for a national home for Jews in Palestine, and many Party conferences from 1921 onwards passed resolutions in favour of such a home. Not that all leading Labour politicians were sympathetic to Zionism, and there were pro-Zionist Conser? vatives and Liberals, but prior to 1945-6 the Labour Party more than any other political party in Britain favoured a Jewish national home in the Land of Israel and was sympathetic to the aspirations of halutzim ('pioneers') in villages and towns there. The Labour Party was a coalition of trade unionists, many of whose leaders had little interest in left-wing ideology, with moderate socialists and social democrats. The Yishuv (the Jewish population of Palestine) was based primarily on a socialist/social-democratic system, and only in the kibbutzim (collective settlements) was true socialism ever experi? enced. Despite the lack of enthusiasm for socialism among many in the Party, there was certainly a great deal of admiration for the kibbutz way of life. The policy of the Party in 1944, which became a plank of its 1945 election plat? form, went out of its way to support a Jewish national home. That policy formed part of a statement the acceptance of which was moved by the Party leader, who in August 1945 became prime minister, and which was promin? ently paraded in constituencies with significant Jewish votes. But then came Bevin. This paper will review the policies of the British Labour Party on the issue of a national home in Palestine for the Jewish people, as reflected in decisions made at annual conferences and in response to events that took place outside these conferences. The roles and beliefs of leading Labour poli? ticians will also be explored. Left-wing support for a Jewish homeland had not always been assured. The British branch of Poalei Zion (Jewish Socialist Labour Party) became affiliated to the Labour Party in 1920, but Poalei Zion (hereafter PZ) had previously been refused admission to the Second International because it pos? tulated the existence of a national Jewish working class, and international Paper presented to the Leeds branch of the Society on 8 March 1999 and to the Manchester branch on 21 March 1999. i4i</page><page sequence="2">Cecil Bloom socialism was not then prepared to differentiate between national and ethnic groups. Before 1914 the socialist press in Britain was largely anti-Zionist. The New Statesman, founded in 1913, was sympathetic and responded enthu? siastically to the Balfour Declaration, but the Daily Herald, the leading Labour newspaper, was ambivalent, although it did publish some pro-Zionist articles. Later, Sir Herbert Samuel's policy as High Commissioner in Palestine won the approval of the Labour press.1 Left-wing attitudes began to change by 1918 when the social-democratic parties, but not those further to the left, started to acknowledge that Zionism might be the answer to the Jewish 'problem'. Labour Party policy on a Jewish national home, however, preceded Balfour. In August 1917 it set out proposals for its postwar political platform - the War Aims Memorandum - drawn up by Arthur Henderson, a member of Lloyd George's Cabinet and future Labour Foreign Secretary, and Sidney Webb (later Lord Passfield), a future Colonial Secretary. It included a significant statement on Jews and Palestine: 'The British Labour Movement demands for the Jews in all countries the same elementary rights of tolerance, freedom of residence and trade and equal citizenship. ... It furthermore expresses the opinion that Palestine should be set free from the harsh and oppressive government of the Turk, in order that this country may form a Free State under international guarantee, to which such of the Jewish people as desire to do so may return and may work out their salvation free from interference by those of alien race or religion.'2 Soon afterwards this policy was also adopted by the Conference of the Socialist Parties of the Allied Countries. PZ later arranged for two senior Palestine Labour spokes? men, David Ben-Gurion and Shlomo Kaplansky, to visit Britain in order to lobby the Labour movement.3 The Labour Party fully supported Balfour. In 1920, just before the San Remo Conference which formally recognised the United Kingdom as the mandatory authority, Labour and the British TUC (Trades Union Congress) in a letter signed by, among others, J. P. Clynes, J. H. Thomas and Arthur Henderson, all of whom became cabinet ministers in the 1924 and 1929 Labour governments, urged Lloyd George to accept the Mandate and thereby facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home.4 As soon as the implica? tions of the San Remo Conference became understood, the parliamentary party, the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party (NEC) and the TUC unanimously adopted a resolution urging the Mandate for Palestine to be conferred on Britain in order to allow a Jewish national home to be restored 1 J. Gorny, The British Labour Movement and Zionism 1917-1948 (London 1983) 12-24. 2 S. Levenberg, The Jews and Palestine (London 1945) 204-5. 3 Gorny (see n. 1) 25. 4 Levenberg (see n. 2) 206-7. 142</page><page sequence="3">The British Labour Party and Palestine, 1917-1948 without further delay,5 and this was followed during the November 1922 election campaign by a statement from Henderson confirming Labour's sup? port for the Mandate.6 A review of the proceedings of the twenty-six Labour Party conferences held between 1920 and 1945 shows the party was consistent in its commit? ment to a Jewish national home in Palestine. The subject of Palestine was either on the agenda or raised from the floor of the conference on no fewer than eighteen occasions between 1920 and 1948, and until the 1946 conference there was little opposition to the pro-Zionist stance taken by the Party. From 1946 onwards Government spokesmen defended their policy, although PZ was still active in trying to win Party support for its cause. In 1920 a PZ resolution asking the Government to remove restrictions on Eastern European Jews settling in Palestine was passed without discussion,7 and a year later, in 1921, a PZ resolution urging the development of a Jewish autonomous commonwealth in Palestine based on socialist principles was car? ried unanimously. The Government was also urged to put an end to the 'unnatural and harmful division of the Mandated territory' by unifying East and West Palestine.8 In 1928 two Palestine delegates, Itzhak Ben Zvi and Dov Hos, briefed Conference on labour developments in the country.9 While the following year, in 1929, the Foreign Secretary, Arthur Henderson, assured Conference that there was no question of reconsidering Britain's tenure of the Mandate and that the policy laid down by Balfour remained Labour policy, subject to the condition that the civil and religious rights of all inhabitants of the country must be fully safeguarded. In response to criticism from the left wing of the Party that the Government was supporting capitalist organizations against Arab and Jewish workers, Henderson stated that the Government would always continue to do its best as trustee under the Mandate. Hos, the Histad rut (Palestine General Federation of Labour) emissary to Britain, who became a very popular figure in Labour circles, warmly congratulated Henderson on his 'wonderful' statement. Herbert Morrison in his chairman's address also reaffirmed the Party's policy on the Mandate and the obligations it carried towards Jews and Arabs.10 In 1930, during a major debate on Palestine, Maurice Rosette of PZ, who later became the first Clerk to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), moved a long resolution of which the first paragraph read: 'This Conference reaffirms the 5 Jewish Chronicle (hereafter JC) 23 April 1920, p. 20. 6 The Times, 2 Nov. 1922, p. 14. 7 Report of the Annual Conference of the Labour Party (hereafter LP Conf) 1920, 176. 8 LP Conf 1921, 198-9. 9 LP Conf 1928, 310. 10 LP Conf 1929, 153, 206, 211-13. 143</page><page sequence="4">Cecil Bloom support of the Labour Party concerning the establishment of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, as declared in consecutive pronouncements and resolutions, and is of the opinion that the time has come for the Government to apply all the resources at their command in order to promote the policy of the Mandate by the development of the economic possibilities of the whole of the Mandated Territory and thus to encourage Jewish immigration and the close settlement of the land to its utmost capacity.' Rosette told Confer? ence that a Labour Government in London should counter the Palestine administration's lack of sympathy with labour ideals by encouraging the trade union and labour principles that the Jewish labour movement in Palestine was trying to introduce for the benefit of the working classes of both peoples. He reminded delegates that the Birobijan experiment showed that even Soviet Russia had accepted the Zionist thesis. Rosette's seconder pointed out that Jewish immigrants into Palestine were not the 'Whites' with the Arabs being the 'Blacks'. The resolution was accepted for the NEC by Hugh Dalton, who said he believed that Palestine would become one more of the Socialist Commonwealths of the world.11 In 1931, Conference Proceedings noted that, following protests against the 1930 Government White Paper from European and American Jewish socialist organizations, a subcommittee had been appointed to examine the implica? tions of that Paper. Delegates were told of a letter sent to a Palestinian Jewish labour conference in New York which emphasized that the present Govern? ment's policy was to secure a broader and more certain basis for the growth of the national home.12 In 1936, in view of disturbances in Palestine, the NEC put forward an emer? gency resolution. The Party's continued support for a national home and the continuance of the Mandate were reaffirmed and the Executive spokesperson, Susan Lawrence, was very positive. (Incidentally, the TUC had earlier passed a similar resolution.) One dissenting speaker who considered the Government was being told it could 'use force against the original tribes in Palestine' was against the Mandate because it gave capitalist countries the right to 'exploit all [those] countries in the world peopled by black people', but he was answered by Helen Bentwich (wife of a former Attorney-General in the Mandate Administration) who referred to Arab exploitation of Arabs and to the way Jewish achievements had improved life. The NEC resolution was carried by 'an overwhelming majority'. Another resolution on the agenda from the Furnishing Trade Union made similarly dissenting points. The Union asked Conference to express regret that Palestinian workers should 'allow themselves to be used as tools by their joint oppressors' and to urge them to unite to counter Jewish 11 LP Conf 1930, 221-2. 12 LP Conf 1931, 43. 144</page><page sequence="5">The British Labour Party and Palestine, 1917-1948 and Arab exploitation. It was claimed that most of the Union's Jewish members supported the resolution and that 'the whole Zionist conception of a national home for the Jews is from a socialist point of view reactionary' because Palestine was the national home for the Arabs. The Jews' national home was in the coun? tries in which they lived. This Union was clearly following the Communist Party line and was firmly slapped down by Miss Lawrence. Its resolution was defeated by an undisclosed majority.13 In 1937 the Party leader himself, Clement Attlee, replied to a debate on the NEC report which referred to Labour's successful efforts against the Peel Commission's proposals committing Britain to partition without full League of Nations discussion. Maurice Rosette was again prominent. Tom Williams for the NEC vigorously condemned the Mufti of Jerusalem's terrorist activi? ties and reiterated that Labour would always be watchful of Jewish interests in Palestine. This was endorsed by Attlee who assured Jews that Labour would always look at the Palestine situation with interest and take whatever action was necessary.14 In 1939 there was another important debate on an NEC resolution approv? ing the Parliamentary Party's stand against the White Paper of the Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald (the third such Paper), which was accused of imposing new and intolerable restrictions on Jewish immigration and of violating the pledges of Balfour. The Conservative Government was criticized for betraying world Jewry, and Conference was once more asked to reaffirm its support for a national home. Arthur Creech-Jones made a strong speech in support, and the resolution was carried with only two hands raised against it.15 In 1940 the MacDonald White Paper was again criticized and the parlia? mentary party's opposition to Palestine being treated as a colony and not as a mandated territory was endorsed. PZ put forward a far stronger and more detailed resolution than its previous one, and this was seconded by Ernest Bevin's Transport and General Workers' Union. There was opposition from two anti-Zionist delegates, but they were forcefully answered by a leading Zionist, Barnett Janner. The PZ resolution was carried 'by a large majority'.16 In 1941 the Jewish plight in Europe and the need to allow the Jewish national home to grow was raised in a speech by the PZ delegate.17 A year later, in 1942, Philip Noel-Baker moved a resolution on the international situation which referred to the need to promote the Jewish national home in Palestine by immigration. It appears, however, that no further speeches were 13 LP Conf 1936, 217-22. 14 LP Conf 1937, 95, 217-18. 15 LP Conf 1939, 253-6. 16 LP Conf 1940, 172-4. 17 LP Conf 1941, 160. HS</page><page sequence="6">Cecil Bloom made to this section of the overall resolution. The parliamentary report from the House of Lords referred to an allegation from the Labour benches that the Palestine administration was anti-Jewish and that resentment was caused because it had refused to allow a Home Guard to be formed.18 The following year, in 1943, there was unanimous agreement on a PZ resolution concerning the rights of Jews to a national home in Palestine. Harold Laski said that it was fitting that he, a Jew, was accepting the resolu? tion on behalf of the NEC, and he was happy to say that any appeasement on the subject of Palestine had disappeared from Labour's policy, perhaps indicating that there had previously been, under the surface, some disagree? ment on the issue. Conference also noted that a Labour delegation had met the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, in December 1942 to discuss steps that could be taken to secure a United Nations policy on the German persecu? tion of Jews.19 Palestinian labour leaders, despite the clear message of support given to Jewry, were, however, becoming wary. One week after this confer? ence, Ben-Gurion warned his Mapai (Palestine Labour Party) executive that Labour's commitment should not be regarded as a 'promissory note'. He shrewdly told colleagues that a conference resolution was no guarantee of implementation if the Party gained office. It is the view of Joseph Gorny, Professor of Modern Jewish History at Tel Aviv University, that Ben Gurion's comments reflected two schools of thought in Labour circles, one fully pro-Zionist and the other far more cautious. Gorny argues that a more influential group consisting of those in Churchill's Cabinet, plus the General Secretary of the TUC, Walter Citrine, were anxious to 'water down' the pro-Zionist statements.20 Early in 1944 the Party had produced a statement on its 'International Post-War Policy' which was presented to the conference. The section relating to Palestine, drafted by Hugh Dalton, was unequivocally pro-Zionist: There is surely neither hope nor meaning in a 'Jewish National Home' unless we are prepared to let Jews, if they wish, to enter this tiny land in such numbers as to become a majority. There was a strong case for this before the War. There is an irresistible case now. . . . Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews move in. . . . The Arabs have many wide territories of their own; they must not claim to exclude the Jews from this small area of Palestine, less than the size of Wales. Indeed we should re-examine also the possibility of extending the present Palestinian bound? aries, by agreement with Egypt, Syria or Transjordan.21 The statement, though welcomed by the Jewish Chronicle as a 'clear, precise, 18 LP Conf 1942, 59, 152. 19 LP Conf 1943, 39, 188-9. 20 Gorny (see n. 1) 177-8. 21 LP Conf 1944, 9. 146</page><page sequence="7">The British Labour Party and Palestine. 1917-1948 direct, wise and just' one which 'brought a welcome spirit of realism onto the subject',22 frightened Zionist leaders who had not been consulted on its preparation. Ben-Gurion announced that Palestine Labour had had no involvement in it and asserted that Jewish immigration and colonization must not be carried out at the expense of Arabs.23 But matters were not straightfor? ward in Labour Party support for Zionism. One of four pro-Zionist motions on the agenda referred to a 'free Jewish commonwealth', and prior to the conference, the Policy and International Sub-Committee asked the NEC to support this resolution provided its sponsor agreed to replace 'free Jewish commonwealth' by the term 'national home'.24 This does not appear to have been agreed and there is no reference to the motion on the order paper. Attlee moved the acceptance of the overall policy statement, which was carried by an overwhelming majority, but neither Attlee nor any other delegate made reference to the Palestine section or to matters connected to Palestine issues.25 Nevertheless, this policy statement went further than any previous one and much further than any Zionist could have hoped for. But Labour policy was to change substantially within sixteen months. Between the 1944 and 1945 conferences, in November 1944, Britain was stunned by the cold-blooded assassination by two young members of the Stern Gang of Lord Moyne, British Resident Minister in Cairo and a close friend of Churchill. Weizmann later declared that the murder was 'one of the greatest catastrophes that could have happened to [the Zionist movement]'.26 Although the Jewish Agency completely dissociated the Zionist leaders from the atrocity, Moyne's murder changed the thinking of many British politi? cians towards Zionism, even though on the face of it the assassination had, at that time, no effect on the Labour Party's position on Palestine as expressed by Conference. At the 1945 conference, which took place just before the historic election that swept Labour into office, Dalton made Party policy abundantly clear on Palestine: 'This Party has laid it down and repeated it so recently as last April. . . that this time having regard to the unspeakable horrors that have been perpetrated upon the Jews of Germany and other occupied countries in Europe that it is morally wrong and politically indefensible to impose obs? tacles to the entry into Palestine now of Jews who desire to go there. . . . We should facilitate their going by the provision of economic assistance. ... We 22 JC 27 April 1944, p. 10. 23 G. Kirk, The Middle East in the War - Survey of International Affairs 1939-46 (London 1953) 317. 24 Labour Party Policy and International Sub-Committee, 14 November 1944. Card 326 m Archives of the Labour Party. 25 LP Conf 1944, 131, 140. 26 The Times, 17 Dec. 1946, p. 3. H7</page><page sequence="8">Cecil Bloom consider that Jewish immigration into Palestine should be permitted without the present limitations.' Dalton referred to the hope for a free and prosperous Jewish State of Palestine. Conference proceedings noted the declaration of the Conference of European Socialist parties in March 1945: 'The time has come, moreover, when the civilized world must recognize the existence of Palestine as a fact and must guarantee to the Jewish people the full opportun? ity for the achievement of their national home'.27 This seems to have been a rare example of International Socialist policy on Zionism. In 1946, with Labour in government, the debate on Palestine was domin? ated by the Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, who urged patience. PZ put forward a motion specifically calling on the Government to remove the bar? riers both on immigration and on land acquisition, and its resolution declared that the setting up of the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry on Palestine did not absolve the movement from its responsibilities. Bevin replied that he would strive to meet the Jewish and Arab request not merely for a home, but for a Palestine State, but that patience was going to be needed. He was careful to emphasize the term 'Palestine State' in contradistinction to 'Jewish State', and he made it clear that he was not in favour of allowing 100,000 Jews to go to Palestine even though the Anglo-American Committee had recom? mended their immediate admission and he had agreed to implement a unan? imous report. He was not prepared to risk British 'Tommys' in keeping order and he referred also to the consequent financial burden. But he caused a furore across the Atlantic by accusing the Americans of not wanting too many Jews in New York, which he said was one reason for American agitation over the 100,000. He asked PZ to withdraw its resolution, which they meekly did. Its delegate stated that he believed his resolution was the expression of Labour policy, but would do as Bevin insisted in the hope that the Govern? ment would act swiftly on the short-term recommendations of the Anglo American Committee.28 Richard Crossman, a Committee member who later became a strong Zionist supporter, urged caution. He was in favour of restor? ing the rights of Jews to their national home, and reminded delegates that the committee of enquiry had confirmed the thirty-year-held Labour line that the spirit of the Mandate should be maintained, adding that at the present time support for a Jewish State would not help a difficult situation.29 Ben Gurion was cynical about this committee of enquiry, which he saw as a clever move to 'keep the Labour Party quiet'.30 In 1947 much Party policy was discussed and debated outside the confer 27 LP Conf 1945, 103, 169. 28 LP Conf 1946, 153-5, 165-6, 169. 29 LP Conf 1946, pp. 160-1. 30 N. A. Rose (ed.) Baffy. The Diaries of Blanche Dugdale 1936-1947 (London 1973) 226. 148</page><page sequence="9">The British Labour Party and Palestine, 1917-1948 ence, but Rosette made sure that Palestine was not set aside by Conference. He reminded the Party of its previous commitments and asked the Govern? ment to 'act in the spirit of [the] declarations'. There was a contrary speech from a Jewish delegate who did not want to see an independent Palestine ruled by one section of the community. He believed there was no real animos? ity between Jew and Arab and he was supported by Bevin who said he wanted the United Nations to take over the problem. Bevin claimed there was nothing in the Mandate or the Balfour Declaration which allowed uncontrolled Jewish immigration, but his speech contained no mention of previous Labour commitments.31 Laski was reported to have threatened to leave the NEC if the Government's intention was to retain 100,000 troops in Palestine.32 In 1948 the conference was held just as the State of Israel was born. The parliamentary report to the conference criticized the violence in Palestine, which 'had brought infinite harm and loss of goodwill to the Jewish cause', and the Jewish Agency was accused of being unhelpful by not cooperating fully with the Administration. The American and French press were blamed for abusing the British position. Rosette, however, was applauded when he said that he had waited 2000 years to make his speech, and pleaded with the Government to have the British-led and -subsidized Jordanian Arab Legion withdrawn from the conflict with the new State. Morrison, not Bevin, was the Government spokesman and claimed that the Party, including himself, had 'always been keen, sympathetic and enthusiastic in advocating the estab? lishment of a Jewish Home in Palestine. . . . We have worked for it, we have advocated it and we have no reason to think otherwise than what we formerly thought about it.' Referring to his 1930s visit to Palestine which had made a lasting and favourable impression, Morrison was anxious to show that, just because the Party believed in a Jewish national home, it was not anti-Arab. 'The story of Palestine is one of great and fine effort on the part of the Jewish community to build their home', and he added that he hoped 'the sad days of the recent past may evolve into better, brighter and happier days in the future.'33 In the light of his Government's policy on Palestine from when it took office in 1945, Morrison's comments were somewhat presumptuous, but he was presumably chosen to respond to the debate because of his former support for a national home. It is worth adding that in 1949 Bevin adopted a different line by saying that the Government was convinced there was a desire among Jews and Arabs to achieve a lasting peace, and added that Britain would give all aid to the 31 LP Conf 1947, 169-71, 177. 32 JC 30 May 1947, p. 5. 33 LP Conf 1948, 59, 164-5. 149</page><page sequence="10">Cecil Bloom UN on the Israeli-Arab truce. This conference was significant for Dalton's comments that 'it is best when speaking of Palestine today not to say much about the past but to turn rather to the future. . . . The last chapter had best be forgotten.'34 Dalton at least was more frank and open than his colleague Morrison. One can therefore conclude, on the basis of conference proceedings, that the Labour Party up to 1945 was fully committed to a pro-Zionist policy and that on the few occasions when delegates put forward contrary views, they were quickly put down. After 1945, however, Conference policy was equi? vocal. Over the period of this review the NEC was responsible for four motions on Palestine (all sympathetic to Zionism) and PZ six, but the subject was also raised at eight other conferences. The future of Palestine was clearly not ignored by the Labour Party, but it is also clear that apart from the official NEC spokesmen very few non-Jews spoke on the subject, and that the official spokesmen were usually prominent pro-Semitic figures such as Dalton and Morrison. Attlee spoke twice on the subject, while Bevin, of course, did so in order to defend his policies. Despite the lack of direct Labour Party reaction to Lord Moyne's murder, however, there is no doubt that terrorist activities post-1945 did influence Labour thinking, as they did that of politicians of other parties. The actions of the Irgun (a Jewish under? ground army) and the Stern Gang which resulted in the blowing up of the King David Hotel in July 1946, and the hanging of the two British sergeants a year later, cost the Zionist movement many friends. Some leading pro-Zionist Labour figures such as Dalton and Creech-Jones were appalled by these actions which in this way seriously hindered the Zionist cause. It is worth noting that TUC conferences also took an interest in Palestine. The 1929, 1930 and 1931 ones all reported on labour concerns in Haifa35 and, as we shall see, two important speeches were made at TUC conferences. The 1938 conference condemned persecution of Jews in Germany and urged the Government to fulfil its obligations to the Jewish people under the Mandate.36 The TUC also referred to the way 'Fascist' governments were fostering Arab opposition to the establishment of a Jewish national home. Gorny's comments on the lack of enthusiasm for a pro-Zionist policy refer to a later period. Let us now examine events that took place outside the Party conferences as well as considering the attitudes of leading Party figures. Already in 1919, the British Zionist David Eder had discussions with a number of leading Labour figures. He concluded that many were sympathetic to Zionism, but 34 LP Conf 1949, 60, 199. 35 Levenberg (see n. 2) 251-5. 36 JC 16 Sept. 1938, p. 22. 150</page><page sequence="11">The British Labour Party and Palestine, 1917-1948 that no Parliamentary support was likely because the Party was committed to an anti-imperialist policy.37 When Labour first took office in 1924 the Colonial Secretary, J. H. Thomas, reaffirmed its support for Zionism and announced that the Balfour principle would be adhered to. But he made it clear that the civil and religious rights of other Palestinian communities should not be prejudiced,38 and the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, confirmed this policy in his second (1929) administration, when he went further to emphas? ize that the rights and political status of Jews outside Palestine must not be prejudiced.39 MacDonald was in fact the Labour politician pre-1931 who most publicly praised Zionism and had, with his Labour colleagues Philip Snowden and Josiah Wedgwood, helped to organize a Palestine Mandate Society to disseminate pro-Zionist information.40 MacDonald visited Palestine in 1921 as a guest of the Histadrut, and wrote a pamphlet entitled 'A Socialist in Palestine' which gave a favourable impression of Yishuv life. He had great admiration for the pioneers, but was apprehensive about the various promises made to Jews and Arabs. He believed the Balfour Declaration was correct and capable of being implemented successfully.41 Once in the House of Com? mons he spoke with pride of his friendship with some of the halutzim and was enthusiastic in his praise of their achievements in turning bogs into cul? tivable land.42 MacDonald built up a good relationship with Hos following his visit to Palestine, and when Hos came to London in 1928 to spread Zionist socialist propaganda among the political left, MacDonald told him that a number of British politicians were anxious to court the Arabs and that there was a danger that Britain would abandon her Balfour obligations. Hos, never? theless, concluded that neither MacDonald, despite his pro-Zionist creden? tials, nor the Labour Party would go 'through fire and water' to fight for the Jews in Palestine.43 One non-Jewish Labour MP in the 1929 Parliament who became a con? vinced Zionist was Harry Snell, a member of the Shaw Commission of Enquiry sent by the Government to investigate the causes of serious Arab Jewish rioting in 1929. This Commission concluded that while the Arabs were directly responsible for starting the conflict, it was motivated by worry about the effects of Jewish immigration, and confirmed that there was no room in Palestine for large Jewish numbers. Snell dissented from the majority 37 Gorny (see n. i) 27. 38 Hansard Parliamentary Debates 5th Series, House of Commons (hereafter Hansard HC) CLXX 63. 39 Hansard HC CCXXXVII 1466. 40 J. B. Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet (London and New York 1961) 107. 41 Gorny (see n. 1) 31-5. 42 Hansard HC CCXXXV 116-20. 43 Gorny (see n. 1) 43. i5i</page><page sequence="12">Cecil Bloom report on a number of issues, believing that Arab leaders, for political ends, were responsible for the disturbances and rejecting their case against Jewish settlement based on the claim that there was a lack of land for cultivation. As an ex-farm worker he was certain that Arab farming methods were primitive and that more intensive cultivation would allow the needs of both peoples to be satisfied.44 MacDonald himself was not impressed with the Shaw Commis? sion's report, seeing it as too pro-Arab. Rather than accept it he sent a new commission to Palestine to examine the land question. In May 1930 he told Chaim Weizmann that he was standing firm against Arab pressure,45 and yet a few months later he allowed the Passfield White Paper, which would have weakened Zionism considerably, to be published, although he later took steps to neutralize it following pressure from his Foreign Secretary, Arthur Hen? derson, and from Weizmann. Henderson consistently supported the Zionist cause and was especially angry when the cabinet discussed the White Paper in his absence. It was at his instigation that MacDonald wrote to Weizmann to repudiate the White Paper.46 Lord Passfield (Sydney Webb), Colonial Secretary in the second Labour Government, was an enigma. Originally friendly towards Zionism, he had been joint author of the 1917 Labour programme which included support for a national home. Weizmann impressed him and he was sympathetic to agricultural settlement in Palestine. When he first became Colonial Secretary he favoured Zionism, but his views soon changed, influenced by the Shaw Commission and by reports from his High Commissioner in Jerusalem, Sir John Chancellor. Just after the 1930 Labour conference, which had accepted a PZ resolution, his White Paper was issued, indicating that there was no room for mass immigration. Arrivals should depend on the overall employ? ment situation, Jewish and Arab. Jews were also threatened with an embargo on further purchase of land. This White Paper (the second of three written on Palestine - the first, issued in 1922 when Winston Churchill was Colonial Secretary, had rejected Arab demands for the renunciation of the Balfour Declaration) was denounced by politicians of all parties and led to the first political conflict between the Zionist movement and a British Government. It also temporarily affected relations between the labour movements in Britain and Palestine, until MacDonald stepped in to make it harmless. Passfield had told Ben-Gurion only a few months before issuing the White Paper that there was room for only a few hundred more immigrants,47 but later told his wife that the Government had no intention of restricting Jewish immigration. 44 Report of the Commission on the Palestine Disturbances of August 1929. Cd 3530 (March 1930) 168-70. 45 Gorny (see n. 1) 79. 46 Ibid. 100-1. 47 Ibid. 70-1. 152</page><page sequence="13">The British Labour Party and Palestine, 1917-1948 Passfield's wife, Beatrice Webb, who was very influential in Labour and left wing circles, became highly antagonistic to Zionism even before her husband. Her diaries record how in September 1929 she described the Zionist move? ment as 'a gross violation of the right of the native [Arab] to remain where his father and grandfather had been born', and how for Jews to talk about returning to a land after a 2000 years' absence was 'sheer and hypocritical nonsense'.48 Webb's writings were full of invective on the ills of Zionism.49 In her view the responsibility for the debacle in the Middle East lay with 'the fatuous promise of a Jewish Home which if it meant anything worth having for the Jews meant a Jewish Palestine from which the Arabs would be gradu? ally extruded [sic] by economic pressure'. When the Jewish authorities came to realize the 'anti-God and communist character' of the new settlers they would 'gradually give up the idea of a Palestinian Jewish State and possibly even of a Jewish Cultural Home'.50 Few ministers in MacDonald's two Labour governments were positively anti-Zionist. Passfield, of course, became so, but the most radical was Lord Thomson, Secretary of State for Air, who perished in the R101 airship disas? ter and whom Weizmann identified as a 'deadly enemy'.51 On the other hand, a number of leading Labour personalities were positively pro-Zionist, such as Josiah Wedgewood. His book, The Seventh Dominion, published in 1927, was a convincing document of support for a Jewish national home, and it was also he who later in the House of Lords accused the Palestine Administration of anti-Semitism.52 Nevertheless, he was concerned about the interests of the Arab working-man and was not in favour of any system which distinguished between Jewish and Arab workers. Wedgewood was, of course, associated with MacDonald and Snowden in the Palestine Mandate Society. H. N. Brailsford, an important left-wing journalist, met Berl Katznelson, a Palestin? ian labour leader, in 1930, and made a great impression on him, publishing an article in Davar (the Histadrut Hebrew newspaper) stating that the right of the Jew to set up home in the Land of Israel was anchored in international law and morality.53 He visited Palestine later that year and took a great interest in its future. His book, A League of Nations, in which he expressed support 48 M. Cole (ed.) Beatrice Webb's Diaries, 1924-1932 (London 1956) 217. 49 Following the storm over her husband's White Paper, Webb wrote that nobody had consid? ered Palestine as the Holy Land of Christendom and Webb, a non-believer, was outraged that the killers of Jesus, who furthermore denied he was the 'Son of God' and who were not really Semites but Slavs and Mongols, followers not of Moses and the Prophets but of Karl Marx and the Soviet Republic, were gaining the upper hand. (Cole [see n. 48] 256.) 50 Cole (see n. 48) 257. 51 The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann [hereafter W Papers) xv 7. 52 Hansard Parliamentary Debates, 5th Series, House of Lords (hereafter Hansard HL) CXXII 210. 53 Gorny (see n. 1) 65. 153</page><page sequence="14">Cecil Bloom for a Jewish national home, had been issued before the Balfour Declaration was issued,54 and he published a number of articles favourable to Zionism in the British left-wing press over several years. Sir Norman Angell, the journal? ist, economist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was probably the only non Jewish Labour figure who fully supported Zionist aims. To him the Jewish question was a universal moral issue which could be solved only by Zionism.55 George Lansbury, Labour Party leader in 1931 after MacDonald deserted to form a National Government, held traditional left-wing intellectual attitudes, being in favour of Britain holding the Mandate. He supported the concept of a national home, but differentiated the Jewish masses from the 'egotistical rich Jews who were against the establishment of a Jewish kingdom'.56 On the eve of the 1935 election, Labour's new leader, Clement Attlee, spoke of the Party's pride in being associated with the concept of a Jewish national home, and reiterated his Party's determination to co-operate with the work of polit? ical and economic reconstruction being carried out in Palestine. Attlee also reminded his followers of successive annual conferences which had affirmed Labour's enthusiastic support for a Jewish national home in Palestine.57 Although never a parliamentarian, Harold Laski was for many years an influential figure in Labour Party politics, but his opinions on Zionism under? went several transformations. In the mid-1920s he had detested it, but this did not stop him from arranging for MacDonald to meet the leading Amer? ican Zionist, Judge Brandeis, when MacDonald was alerted to Zionist suspi? cions of Passfield,58 and he also helped Weizmann negotiate with Passfield on the White Paper.59 He then became a supporter of a binational state in Palestine60 which he believed would be a good example of socialism, but he gradually grew closer to Zionism. During the War he liaised with Aneurin Bevan, George Strauss and Dalton to try and ensure that postwar Labour would be committed to a national home that would eventually lead to self government. At Labour's 1943 conference he did, of course, speak for the NEC in support of the PZ motion. In February 1945 he told PZ that he was 'firmly and utterly convinced of the need for the rebirth of the Jewish nation in Palestine'. No other country would have any other meaning for Jews.61 Laski concerned himself a great deal with Zionism after 1945. Soon after Labour took office, the Cabinet's Palestine Committee, headed by Morrison, 54 H. N. Brailsford, A League of Nations (London 1917) 159. 55 Gorny (see n. 1) 83-4. 56 Ibid. 22. 57 Levenberg (see n. 2) 209. 58 M. Newman, Harold Laski. A Political Biography (Basingstoke and London 1993) 125. 59 W Papers xv 6-7. 60 Newman (see n. 58) 311. 61 I. Krammick and B. Sheerman, Harold Laski (London 1993) 476. 154</page><page sequence="15">The British Labour Party and Palestine, 1917-1948 concluded that immigration into Palestine should continue as an interim measure on the basis of the 1939 White Paper quotas (a policy, incidentally, opposed by Dalton, Arthur Greenwood and Aneurin Bevan). As Party chair? man, Laski arranged for a deputation to meet Attlee, Bevin and the Colonial Secretary, George Hall,62 and Attlee subsequently authorized Laski to tell the NEC that the Government agreed that the White Paper policy could not continue, and that proposals would be designed to ensure fulfilment of the Mandate. Since no clear policy had yet been formulated on Palestine this was mere talk on Attlee's part; his proposal was simply aimed at keeping the NEC quiet. The writing was on the wall for the Zionists.63 When the Anglo American Committee of Enquiry, which dealt a heavy blow to the Zionist movement, was announced, however, Laski praised Bevin's action as a 'great success' that would open the way for a long-term solution.64 It was Laski's plea at Labour's 1946 conference for 100,000 Jews to be allowed quickly to enter Palestine as recommended by the Anglo-American Committee that stung Bevin into his claim that America did not want too many Jews in New York. By 1947 Laski was criticizing Bevin's strategy, believing Britain was 'selling the Jews down the river' and 'backing the wrong horse'.65 Another incident demonstrated his growing attachment to Zionism. Bevin decided not to enforce the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) majority report which the Zionists accepted and the Arabs rejected, because 'it was manifestly unfair to the Arabs'. Laski spoke forcibly at the NEC against this decision and was strongly supported by Bevan and Emmanuel Shinwell.66 Laski once wrote of the 'Attlee-Bevin betrayal of the Jews',64 and was one of the few to criticize Attlee as well as Bevin. Together with Cross man and Michael Foot, he eventually viewed British policy towards Zionism as comparable to the betrayal of Czechoslovakia in 1938,67 and he once com? mented that the breaking of every Labour pledge made to the Jews about Palestine was 'one of the best-known examples of the imperialist pattern'.68 As for the Zionist movement, Weizmann's papers make it clear that he cultivated a relationship with several Labour politicians, and especially Dalton. He wrote to Dalton in September 1938 to remind him of an agree? ment to meet the Labour NEC, and although he saw Attlee and others soon 62 LP Conf 1945, 26. 63 Gorny, who has perused contemporary Cabinet papers, formed the impression that the Labour Cabinet took some time to formulate a clear policy on Palestine, but that a short-term one which rejected large-scale immigration had been developed by the beginning of Sep? tember 1945. (Gorny [see n. 1] 204.) 64 Krammick and Sheerman (see n. 61) 553. 65 Ibid. 557. 66 Newman (see n. 58) 334-5. 67 Ibid. 340. 68 Krammick and Sheerman (see n. 61) 557-8. i55</page><page sequence="16">Cecil Bloom after, he does not say what transpired.69 Even at this stage, Zionist leaders were unsure of Labour's commitments on Zionism despite all the conference resolutions, and after Labour joined Churchill's Coalition Government a lead? ing Mapai figure, Moshe Shertok (Sharett), evaluated some of the Labour leaders. Morrison was considered to be untrustworthy, but might help because of 'political calculations', while Greenwood was assessed as the only Labour minister unmistakably a supporter. Shertok judged Bevin to be a man who 'might be helpful'.70 This assessment of Bevin was not all that strange, because he had many positive contacts with Palestinian labour leaders and had an especially good relationship with Hos. He was always keen to learn of the Yishuv's problems, sometimes offering advice. For a while, Bevin had friendly meetings with Weizmann, and it was after one such meeting that Creech-Jones, Bevin's Parliamentary Private Secretary throughout his term as Minister of Labour, wrote a Party paper which assessed Palestine as the only possible sanctuary for homeless Jews, concluding that a Jewish State was essential for this. Creech-Jones could not have written this paper without Bevin's knowledge and approval.71 But Zionist doubts intensified soon after the 1945 general election. Rumours that George Hall rather than the sym? pathetic Creech-Jones would become Colonial Secretary so worried the Zion? ists that Berl Locker, then head of the political bureau of the Jewish Agency in London, spoke to Greenwood to see whether the latter, as a senior Labour figure, could influence Attlee's choice. It was taken for granted that the For? eign Office was not supportive of Zionism, and the hope was that a pro Zionist Colonial Secretary would compensate for and perhaps neutralize For? eign Office policy. Greenwood was unable to intervene successfully. At the World Zionist Congress held in London in August 1945, Weizmann optimistically remarked that Winston Churchill had been a sincere friend of Zionism and that 'it is with singular gratification that we recall the unequi? vocal support given to us in our struggle by the leaders of the Labour Party, the solid vote of the Party against the White Paper of 1939 and the recent resolutions of the Labour Party Conference endorsing our political aims'.72 Nevertheless, he must have had some qualms because, when it soon became evident that decisions were about to be taken by the new Government affecting the future of Palestine, Weizmann wrote to Attlee to express his concerns and to remind him of his Party's commitments.73 He also wrote to Morrison to ask for a meeting,74 but it is not known whether this was granted. 69 W Papers xviii 456-7. 70 Gorny (see n. 1) 167-8. 71 Ibid. 168-70. 72 JC 3 Aug. 1945, p. 7. 73 W Papers xxii 54-5. 74 Ibid. 56 i56</page><page sequence="17">The British Labour Party and Palestine, 1917-1948 Weizmann also made contact with Leon Blum, the French socialist, and per? suaded him to raise the Palestine issue with Bevin, but he received an obscure reply in September 1945.75 Weizmann also saw Bevin's Deputy, Hector McNeill, who gave him the impression that Zionism would be supported, but Blanche Dugdale, Lord Balfour's niece and biographer and someone close to the Zionist leaders, doubted McNeill's sincerity, believing it was a ruse to create a rift between the radical Shertok and the moderate Weizmann.76 Ben-Gurion was less optimistic than Weizmann. In 1943 he had, of course, voiced caution about Labour's intentions and just as the war was coming to a close he told PZ that Labour leaders were just as responsible as Churchill for attempting to perpetuate the White Paper policy (he was a little unfair to Churchill). He urged PZ not to 'rest satisfied with nice declarations', adding that Zionists were not going to be as naive as they had been in 1918 on the 'eve of a new world of universal fraternity'.77 At the London Congress he returned to his theme and warned Zionists not to be too reliant on the Labour Party. 'What a party says in opposition is no indication of what it will do when in power. In many countries it is not only the Government but the Civil service that decides. . . . We shall judge the new Government by whether it maintains the White Paper or establishes a Jewish state'.78 Ben-Gurion went straight to Hall for, according to Crossman, 'a disastrous interview',79 in which he demanded the immediate admission of 100,000 Jews into Palestine as well as a declaration of the country as a Jewish State. Hall offered 2000 certificates, with a further 1500 per month if the Arabs agreed.80 Eliezer Kaplan, Israel's first Minister of Finance, was another who was very unsure of Labour's plans from the start, and under no illusions about the seriousness of the situation. He returned to Palestine from the London conference to warn that Zionist hopes could be disappointed, and he told the Mapai Secret? ariat that some of Labour's leaders were unfriendly. Mapai was advised to 'reduce their [Labour's] promises and resolutions to practical policies'. Kaplan said they had started badly in failing to speak to the important minis? ters such as Bevin and Morrison.81 The record of specific members of Attlee's Government will now be examined. Herbert Morrison had been an enthusiastic pro-Zionist since he had been impressed by his visit to Palestine in 1935 to see the kibbutzim and 75 Ibid. 42. 76 Rose (see n. 30) 225. 77 JC 15 June 1945, p. 7. D. Ben-Gurion (ed.) The Jews in their Land (London 1946) 139. 79 R. H. S. Crossman, Palestine Mission (London 1946) 201. 80 A. Bullock, Ernest Bevin. Foreign Secretary 1945-51 (New York and London 1983) 173. 81 Gorny (see n. 1) 203. 157</page><page sequence="18">Cecil Bloom the work of land reclamation. He stated kibbutzim to be 'one of the most wonderful demonstrations of the moral capacity of the human race in the whole of the civilised world', and accused the Conservative Government of appeasing the Arab population.82 After May 1948, Morrison, who was chair? man of the Cabinet Committee on Palestine, maintained contact with a number of Zionist leaders and also with those Labour backbenchers (100 of them) who rebelled against Government policy in January 1949, making their views known to the Cabinet.83 In Cabinet, with Bevan and Dalton, he did make some attempts to challenge Bevin, but whatever the strength of their pro-Zionist sympathies it did not make an impact when it mattered. As chair? man of the Palestine Committee, Morrison was involved in some of the nego? tiations. He was co-author of the July 1946 Morrison-Grady plan rejected by President Truman, proposing a federal system of two autonomous provinces, one Jewish and one Arab, with a strong central government supervising immigration and controlling the religious centres of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Morrison may not have had much influence on events in Palestine from 1945 onwards, but he often showed where his sympathies lay. Laski, however, was not so sure of Morrison's position, believing him to be 'uneasily neutral' on Palestine even though he had fully committed himself publicly to Zionism before the War.84 Hugh Dalton, one of the most pro-Zionist of non-Jewish Labour politi? cians, had drafted the Palestine section of the Party's 1944 Post-War Settle? ment, with its key sections that Jews should be allowed to enter Palestine in such numbers as to become a majority and that Arabs should be encouraged to move out and accept compensation. Dalton wrote that he had long been in favour of partition and that on several occasions he had unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the Cabinet to accept such a policy. Had he been Foreign Secretary, he claimed, he would probably have acceded to President Truman's request for 100,000 immigration certificates, but he confessed that he did not support that request in Cabinet and regretted his failure to do so.85 In January 1947 he wrote that 'the present state of things cannot be allowed to drag on. There must be a Jewish state - it is no good boggling on this - and, even if it is quite small, at least they will be able to get lots of Jews into it which is what they madly and murderously want.'86 Dalton comes over in his writings as a man who retrospectively showed contrition for not acting differently in office, indeed one of the very few who made such a 82 Hansard HC CCCXIII 1385-8. 83 B. Donoghue and G. W. Jones, Herbert Morrison: Portrait of a Politician (London 1973) 434-5 Gorny (see n. 1) 220. 85 H. Dalton, High Tide and After (London 1962) 150. 86 Ibid. 189. 15?</page><page sequence="19">The British Labour Party and Palestine, 1917-1948 confession. He thought very highly of Weizmann, but went 'absolutely cold' towards the Yishuv after the two British sergeants were hanged by the Irgun, and