This is one stain that will never go away, nor should it, but not as something to rub the noses of the Brits in, but as warning to future generations that (a) anti-semitism is an unfortunate ongoing phenomenon, as well as (b) the moral responsibility of us all to help those who truly find themselves in desperate situations.
And before anyone jumps the gun to point out the TT’s sudden leap to hypocrisy, the current trend of multicultural tourism in Europe, which lands hundreds of thousands of Muslim welfare seekers, (many of them overtly anti-semitic and longing for Islamic law in Europe) on the continent does not come close in qualifying as ‘desperate situations’. KGS
Chaim Weizmann called it “a death sentence for the Jewish people.” David Ben-Gurion said it was “the greatest betrayal perpetrated by the government of a civilized people in our generation.” Seventy years ago this week, England declared a new policy for Palestine: Jewish immigration would be restricted to just 15,000 annually for the next five years, and after that would be permitted only with the agreement of Palestine’s Arabs.
Just six months after the Kristallnacht pogrom, with German Jews desperately seeking a haven and country after country shutting its doors, the British closed off the one land that offered the hope of refuge.
Weizmann rushed to London to plead his case before prime minister Neville Chamberlain. “The prime minister sat before me like a marble statue; his expressionless eyes were fixed on me, but he never said a word,” Weizmann later recalled. “I got no response. He was bent on appeasement of the Arabs and nothing could change his course.” Well, maybe not quite nothing.
The British were, after all, in a particularly vulnerable position in May 1939. Two months earlier, Hitler had completed his dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, leaving the Munich agreement in tatters. War with England seemed inevitable. “London was in such dire need of American support,” the historian Selig Adler has noted, “that a strong dissent from Washington would have probably forced a British reversal” of the White Paper.
American Zionists thought likewise. In the weeks before the publication of the White Paper, US Zionist leaders repeatedly urged president Franklin Roosevelt to intervene against the anticipated British action. The Jews closest to FDR, Justice Louis Brandeis and Rabbi Stephen Wise, begged the president to step in. Roosevelt tended to deflect these kinds of requests with a dose of charm. Calling Wise “Stevie” made the American Jewish Congress leader feel he was a personal friend of the most powerful man on earth. “The president glad-handed Zionist leaders,” Prof. Adler recalled. “He would pacify his Jewish visitors with promises… but then failed to put these pledges into the executive pipeline.”
TO BE SURE, Roosevelt was not happy about the rumored new British policy on Palestine. He instructed the State Department to inform London that the US hoped “no drastic changes” were in the offing. In a memo to secretary of state Cordell Hull on the day the White Paper was issued, FDR called it “something that we cannot give approval to.” But there is a huge difference between “not giving approval” and expressing forceful, explicit disapproval. The British took note of Roosevelt’s minimalist response and dug their heels in accordingly. More here.