Zionist Commission

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ZIONIST COMMISSION (Heb. Va'ad ha-Ẓirim ), a commission headed by Chaim *Weizmann and consisting of Jewish representatives from Great Britain (Leon *Simon, Montagu David *Eder, Joseph *Cowen, and I.M. *Sieff as secretary), France (Sylvain Lévy) and Italy (Angelo *Levi-Bianchini), which proceeded in 1918 after the issue of the Balfour Declaration, with the approval and authorization of the Allied governments, to British-occupied Palestine. The commission arrived in Palestine on April 4, when the northern districts of the country were still in Turkish hands. It was accompanied by Major W. Ormsby-Gore (later Lord Harlech, colonial secretary in 1936–38) as political officer on behalf of the British government, assisted by Major James de Rothschild and Edwin Samuel to serve as liaison with the British military authorities. The commission was to act as "an advisory body to the British authorities in Palestine in all matters relating to Jews, or which may affect the establishment of a National Home for the Jewish people." It was concerned specifically with coordinating relief work, assisting the repatriation of Jews exiled by the Turks, helping to organize the Jewish population and establishing friendly relations with the Arabs, as well as investigating the possibility of the early establishment of a Jewish university. Thus Weizmann then made his first contacts with Emir Feisal and laid the cornerstone of the *Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. On the other hand, the commission encountered an uncooperative and even hostile attitude from the British military authorities, which studiously refrained from officially publishing the policy embodied in the Balfour Declaration (until May 1, 1920) and practically prevented any Jewish settlement work. The commission had to send strong representations to London against this attitude but achieved little in changing it until the military' administration was replaced in 1920 by the civilian regime under the first high commissioner, Sir Herbert *Samuel.

The idea of dispatching such a commission to Palestine was broached by Weizmann as early as November 1917 in his correspondence with the leading Zionist in the United States, L.D. *Brandeis. At first, no American Jew was attached to the commission, because of American neutrality in the war with Turkey, and no Russian Jew could take part in it because of the revolutionary upheaval in Russia. However, two Palestinian Jews, Aaron *Aaronsohn and Zalman David *Levontin, worked with it. In the autumn of 1919 Menahem *Ussishkin became the head of the commission (following a brief tenure by M.D. Eder), which was the sole representative of the Zionist Organization in Palestine until September 1921, when it was replaced by the Zionist Executive established in Jerusalem after the 12th Zionist Congress. Thus the Zionist Commission was the predecessor of the *Jewish Agency.


Ch. Weizmann, Trial and Error (1949), 265–99; I. Cohen, The Zionist Movement (1945), 116–7; Zionist Organization, Reports to the xii Zionist Congress, Political Report (1921); A. Friesel, Reshit Darko shel Weizmann be-Hanhagat ha-Tenu'ah ha-Ẓiyyonit 19171921 (Ph.D. thesis, Jerusalem, 1970), 15–35, includes a comprehensive bibliography.

[Daniel Efron]