Jewish Agency for Palestine

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Established in 1929 to enlist non-Zionist Jewish support for the national home in Palestine.

The League of Nations mandate for Palestine, awarded in the Treaty of Sèvres (1920), called for a Jewish agency that would be expected to provide Britain with advice and aid in discharging its duties in the establishment of a Jewish nation. Chaim Weizmann insisted that this agency be used to broaden Jewish support for economic development in Palestine, particularly among those ambivalent about Zionism's political aims. To mobilize that kind of support, Weizmann offered non-Zionists a measure of power over the development of Pales-tine's Jewish national home. Eastern European Zionists were reluctant to share power with those not fully committed to the Zionist political cause, so the founding of the Jewish Agency was delayed until 1929, when the World Zionist Organization (WZO) faced a severe financial crisis.

When the sixteenth congress of the WZO created the Jewish Agency, it accepted the principle of parity in membership between Zionists and non-Zionists on its three governing bodiesthe 224-member council, the administrative committee, and the executive. The president of the WZO was to serve as Jewish Agency head unless opposed by 75 percent of the council. Of the non-Zionists on the council, 40 percent were Americans, and many had international reputations. The nature of the agency's
economic and social mission allowed both non-Zionists and Zionists to participate without compromising or altering their divergent principles: Economic aid could be provided to Palestinian Jewry either on the grounds that it was a community in distress or as a means to building the infrastructure of a Jewish state. Parity in the agency was not sustained. Because the agency never created effective links with non-Zionist philanthropic organizations, non-Zionists continually lost positions to Zionists and the balance of political alignment shifted in favor of the Zionists.

The Jewish Agency initially opened offices in Jerusalem, London, and Geneva. During World War II, it opened an office in New York City. Its political department conducted negotiations with Britain, particularly over annual immigration quotas. Functioning as the equivalent of a foreign office, the political department established contacts with a number of Palestinian leaders and organizations. The agency supervised the transfer of Jewish capital from Germany to Palestine during the 1930s, as well as the emigrationlegal and illegalof thousands of Jews from Nazi-dominated Europe. The agency also assumed partial control over the Yishuv's defense forces.

At the end of World War II, the agency helped prepare Palestine's Jewish population for war (the Arab-Israel War of 1948) by uniting, at least for a short period, the Haganah, Irgun, and Lohamei Herut Yisrael (LEHI). During that time, members of the agency's executive served in the central ministries of what became Israel's governmentas prime minister and treasurer, and in the departments of Foreign Affairs and Defense. In the first years of statehood, the agency undertook primary responsibility for the settlement of Israel's immigrants from Europe and Islamic countries, and it later supervised the mass immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia into Israel.

Although a government ministry was eventually created to manage the process of immigrant absorption, the Jewish Agency retains significant control over organizing the rescue of diaspora Jews in danger. While some authority pertinent to agricultural settlement still resides with its offices, the agency's major tasks are now cultural and charitable. The agency expends a major portion of its budget on Jewish education and serves as the main fund-raising organization linking Israel to diaspora Jewry.

see also sÈvres, treaty of (1920); world zionist organization (wzo).


Arbel, Andrea S. Riding the Wave: The Jewish Agency's Role in the Mass Aliyah of Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry to Israel, 19871995. Hewlett, NY; Jerusalem: Gefen, 2001.

Dowty, Alan. The Jewish State a Century Later. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Elazar, Daniel J., and Dortort, Alysa M., eds. Understanding the Jewish Agency: A Handbook. Philadelphia; Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 1985.

Halpern, Ben. The Idea of the Jewish State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961.

Stock, Ernest. Partners and Pursestrings: A History of the United Israel Appeal. Lanham, MD: University Press of America; Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs/Center for Jewish Community Studies, 1987.

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Jewish Agency for Palestine

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