The Biltmore Program (May 11, 1942)
Reprinted in The Arab States and the Arab League
Edited by Muhammad Khalil
Published in 1962
"The Conference declares that the new world order that will follow victory cannot be established on foundations of peace, justice and equality, unless the problem of Jewish homelessness is finally solved."
Ever since 1917, the year that Britain had pledged in the Balfour Declaration to "use [its] best endeavours to facilitate the ... establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people," Jewish supporters of this idea, called Zionists, looked to Britain to defend their cause. Throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s, the British government, which controlled Palestine, allowed Jewish immigrants to enter Palestine where they helped build farms, businesses, and communities, thus creating a distinct Jewish society that existed alongside—but separate from—the Arab community in Palestine. British support for the Zionist cause weakened considerably in the late 1930s, however, after protests, riots, and violent attacks by Arabs on both Jews and British officials made it clear that Palestinians, Arabs living in Palestine, did not intend to give control of Palestine to the growing Jewish population. In 1939 the British released a new statement of policy, called the White Paper, that placed numerical limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine and promised Arabs the leading role in a future independent Palestine.
The White Paper enraged Zionists, who charged that the British had abandoned their support for a Jewish national home in Palestine. After 1939, Zionists began to look beyond Britain for support for their ultimate goal of making Palestine a secure site for the development of a Jewish homeland. European countries were out of the question, for most of them were caught up in the fighting of World War II (1939–45; war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan). Increasingly, Zionist leaders looked to the United States for support. The United States had a sizable Jewish population, including many wealthy supporters of Zionist causes, and it did not have a history of persecuting Jews. Moreover, the entry of the United States into World War II late in 1941 placed that country in a position to speak out against those countries who did persecute Jews, such as Germany.
During World War II, Germany was controlled by the Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), who in the 1930s had increased anti-Semitism (hostility toward Jews) in Germany, including laws restricting Jewish activities. By 1939, German soldiers began to round up Jews in Germany and in conquered territories and send them to concentration camps, places where prisoners of war are held and often made to work. By the early 1940s, rumors began to circulate that Jews were being killed in great numbers as part of Hitler's plan, known as the "Final Solution," to rid Europe of Jews. At the time, however, these remained rumors; it was not until November of 1942 that hard evidence of mass killings began to emerge. Still, these rumors contributed to the sense that something must be done to open Palestine to greater immigration of Jews.
Under these circumstances, about six hundred American Zionists and numerous Zionist leaders from Europe and from Palestine itself gathered at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City from May 6 to May 11, 1942. The result of their meeting was the creation of the Biltmore Program, an eight-part statement of goals for the Zionist movement.
Things to remember while reading the "Biltmore Program"
- Zionists had long spoken of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, but the political status of that homeland was often left unstated. Some Zionists felt that a homeland could exist in an independent, non-Jewish nation that recognized and accepted Jewish immigrants. Others believed that the only safe homeland would be in an independent Jewish nation.
- Among the participants at the conference were Dr. Chaim Weizmann (1874–1952), the head of the World Zionist Organization and a moderate who wanted to seek cooperation with the British, and David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973), the leader of the Jewish Agency (the government-like organization of Jews in Palestine) who wanted to break decisively with the British and seek an independent Jewish state.
The Biltmore Program (May 11, 1942)
1. American Zionists assembled in this Extraordinary Conference reaffirm their unequivocal devotion to the cause of democratic freedom and international justice to which the people of the United States, allied with the other United Nations, have dedicated themselves, and give expression to their faith in the ultimate victory of humanity and justice over lawlessness and brute force.
2. This Conference offers a message of hope and encouragement to their fellow Jews in the Ghettos and concentration camps of Hitler-dominated Europe and prays that their hour of liberation may not be far distant.
3. The Conference sends its warmest greetings to the Jewish Agency Executive in Jerusalem, to the Va'ad Leumi, and to the whole Yishuv in Palestine, and expresses its profound admiration for their steadfastness and achievements in the face of peril and great difficulties. The Jewish men and women in field and factory, and the thousands of Jewish soldiers of Palestine in the Near East who have acquitted themselves with honor and distinction in Greece, Ethiopia, Syria, Libya and on other battlefields, have shown themselves worthy of their people and ready to resume the rights and responsibilities of nationhood.
4. In our generation, and in particular in the course of the past twenty years, the Jewish people have awakened and transformed their ancient homeland; from 50,000 at the end of the last war their numbers have increased to more than 500,000. They have made the waste places to bear fruit and the desert to blossom. Their pioneering achievements in agriculture and in industry, embodying new patterns of cooperative endeavor, have written a notable page in the history of colonization.
5. In the new values thus created, their Arab neighbors in Palestine have shared. The Jewish people in its own work of national redemption welcomes the economic, agricultural and national development of the Arab peoples and states. The Conference reaffirms the stand previously adopted at Congresses of the World Zionist Organization, expressing the readiness and the desire of the Jewish people for full cooperation of their Arab neighbors.
6. The Conference calls for the fulfillment of the original purpose of the Balfour Declaration and the mandate which "recognizing the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine" was to afford them the opportunity, as stated by President Wilson, to found there a Jewish Commonwealth.
The Conference affirms its unalterable rejection of the White Paper of May 1939 and denies its moral or legal validity. The White Paper seeks to limit, and in fact to nullify Jewish rights to immigration and settlement in Palestine, and, as stated by Mr. Winston Churchill in the House of Commons in May 1939, constitutes a "breach and repudiation of the Balfour Declaration." The policy of the White Paper is cruel and indefensible in its denial of sanctuary to Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution; and at a time when Palestine has become a focal point in the war front of the United Nations, and the Palestine Jewry must provide all available manpower for farm and factory and camp, it is in direct conflict with the interests of the allied war effort.
7. In the struggle against the forces of aggression and tyranny, of which Jews were the earliest victims, and which now menace the Jewish National Home, recognition must be given to the right of the Jews of Palestine to play their full part in the war effort and in the defense of their own country, through a Jewish military force fighting under its own flag and under the high command of the United Nations.
8. The Conference declares that the new world order that will follow victory cannot be established on foundations of peace, justice and equality, unless the problem of Jewish homelessness is finally solved.
The Conference urges that the gates of Palestine be opened; that the Jewish Agency be vested with control of immigration into Palestine and with the necessary authority for upbuilding the country, including the development of its unoccupied and uncultivated lands; and that Palestine be established as a Jewish Commonwealth integrated in the structure of the new democratic world.
Then and only then will the age-old wrong to the Jewish people be righted.
What happened next ...
Despite the fact that the group assembled at the Biltmore Hotel had no official status and did not represent a single identifiable organization, the Biltmore Program had a significant impact on events in the United States and, eventually, in Palestine. As a means of increasing American support for Zionism, wrote Charles D. Smith, author of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, "the Biltmore declarations were extraordinarily successful, especially once news of the Holocaust [the mass killing of European Jews and others by the Nazis during World War II] began to spread in the latter half of 1942. Membership in Zionist organizations increased substantially. Publicity for the Zionist cause was pursued, including books published and distributed with Jewish financial aid." As a result, American politicians and the public became increasingly sympathetic to the idea of increasing immigration to Palestine and creating a Jewish commonwealth. In 1944, according to Smith, both major American political parties endorsed the ideas contained in the Biltmore Program. Thus the United States was well on its way to becoming a major supporter of the Zionist cause in Palestine.
The publication of the Biltmore Program also represented a victory for radical Zionists in their internal battle with moderate Zionists. Moderate Zionists had always advocated gradual diplomacy and placed faith in Britain's efforts to protect Jewish interests. Radical Zionists believed that Britain was too eager to please Arabs, and that Zionists must distance themselves from Britain and pursue independent statehood. The Biltmore Program thus satisfied the radical Zionists, for it announced for the first time the goal of creating a Jewish commonwealth (a kind of independent state) and also directly challenged British policy as contained in the White Paper of 1939. As world opinion shifted to support the Zionist cause announced in the Biltmore Program, Britain became even more determined to remove itself from political control over Palestine. It was able to succeed in 1947, when Palestine was handed over to the United Nations (an association of countries set up in 1945 to promote peace, security, and cooperation between nations). In 1947 the United Nations fulfilled one of the goals of the Biltmore Program when it announced a plan to create a Jewish state. It would take several years of fighting, however, to make that state, known as Israel, a reality.
What the Biltmore Program could not do, however, was solve the crisis facing Jews in Europe. The Biltmore statement drew some attention to German violence against Jews, and attention grew even more intense after the appearance in August 1942 of a document called the Riegner Cable. The Riegner Cable provided the first clear evidence of the German plan to exterminate European Jews. But governments were slow to react to the news. Neither the United States nor Britain opened its doors to Jewish refugees from Europe, and Britain continued to limit immigration to Palestine. It was not until 1944 that widespread efforts to aid Jewish refugees from Europe were undertaken—too late to save several million Jews who were killed in German concentration and death camps.
Did you know ...
- The Biltmore Program was one of the key documents used to build support for the Zionist cause in the United States, support which grew large enough that the United States used its power to convince the United Nations to authorize the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine in 1947.
- David Ben-Gurion, one of the authors of the Biltmore Program, wrote the final draft of Israel's Declaration of Independence in 1947 and went on to become the first prime minister of the state of Israel.
Consider the following ...
- Zionists were in a difficult position when it came to British policy. They hated the parts of the White Paper that limited Jewish immigration to Palestine and granted Arabs the power to deny the formation of a Jewish state. Yet they supported British efforts to defeat Germany in World War II. In what ways is this conflicting position reflected in the text of the Biltmore Program?
- The tragedy of the ongoing extermination of Jews that was under way in Germany was part of the reason for creating the Biltmore Program. In what ways is this tragedy reflected in the document?
- One of the troubling questions of World War II is why the British and American governments acted so slowly to address the problems of the Holocaust. As a way of understanding their inaction, research what was known about the Holocaust at the time of the Biltmore conference. Did policy makers have enough information to act? What should they have done?
For More Information
Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East. 4 vols. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1996.
Khalil, Muhammad, ed. The Arab States and the Arab League: A Documentary Record, Vol. II International Affairs. Beirut, Lebanon: Khayats, 1962.
Pasachoff, Naomi. Links in the Chain: Shapers of the Jewish Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Raider, Mark A. The Emergence of American Zionism. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
Shpiro, David H. From Philanthropy to Activism: The Political Transformation of American Zionism in the Holocaust Years, 1933–1945. New York: Pergamon Press, 1994.
Smith, Charles D., ed. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents. 4th ed. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.
Urofsky, Melvin I. American Zionism from Herzl to the Holocaust. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.