Fathom 18 | Jewish votes and British foreign policy: The 1930 Whitechapel by-election

At the Whitechapel and St. George’s by-election on 3 December 1930 Jewish voters directly influenced British policy on Palestine, effectively ending the Labour Government’s hopes of implementing the Passfield White Paper, which outlined plans for the Palestine Mandate over the next decade. Labour won the by-election primarily because Poale Zion, the Jewish labour movement, had obtained concessions from the Government with regard to their proposals in return for mobilising the Jewish vote in support of the Labour candidate. Ronnie Fraser, author of a forthcoming study of the British trade union movement and Israel, tells the story.


The Passfield White Paper was the Labour government’s response to the Shaw inquiry into the August 1929 disturbances in Palestine. Shaw recommended that the government issue a clear statement of the policy they intended to pursue in Palestine, revise immigration policy ‘with the object of preventing a repetition of the excessive [Jewish] immigration of 1925 and 1926’ and announce an enquiry into the possibilities of land development in Palestine.

The White Paper stated that while the British government did intend to fulfil its obligations to both Arabs and Jews, treating them both equally in Palestine, the development of a Jewish national home in Palestine was not considered central to the British Mandate. It also proposed that in future the Jews would need the approval of the British authorities before purchasing any additional land.

The Arabs saw the White Paper as vindication for their demands to halt Jewish immigration and land sales whilst the Jews viewed it as the British government reversing their support for the Balfour Declaration and the aims of the Mandate. There was an immediate international outcry which claimed that the proposals in the White Paper flouted the Mandate and demanded its withdrawal. The Zionists considered that the tone of the White Paper was decidedly anti-Jewish as it criticised both the Histadrut and the Jewish Agency for promoting the employment of Jewish-only labour. The primary aim of the Histadrut was the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine and all its activities were executed with this goal in mind. As the Histadrut was responsible for bringing Jewish immigrants to Palestine and finding work for them it promoted from 1928 onwards a Jewish-only labour policy. When it lent money or leased land for agricultural enterprises, it often inserted clauses insisting on the hire of Jewish labour only. With the booming economy in Palestine in the early 1930s this policy was only partially successful, but became more effective after 1936 when the political situation changed with the Arab general strike and rebellion. READ MORE.

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