The British Labour Party and Palestine, 1917—1948

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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 Conservatives 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 experienced. 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 politicians 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 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

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