Following the Shaw Commission, Prime Minister MacDonald faced a difficult decision. He wished to appease the Zionist leaders, as they held considerable influence in Britain and America; at the same time, the Colonial Office, headed by Passfield, advised him to satisfy the Palestinian Arabs’ demands, as they could undermine British authority in Palestine and in the rest of the Muslim world. MacDonald met with several Jewish leaders and offered, as a countermeasure to the detrimental Shaw Commission, to send a high-ranking one-man envoy to Palestine. The aim of this new commission was to revoke the harmful conclusions of the Shaw report. The initial candidate for this mission was Jan Smuts, a senior officer and a supporter of Zionism. However, the Jews’ concerns were soon renewed when Passfield informed them that Smuts was too pro-Zionist for the task. Instead, he appointed Sir John Hope Simpson, whose official status and attitude towards Zionism was far from what MacDonald had promised.

Hope Simpson arrived in Palestine in May 1930 and conducted a two-month inquiry into land settlement, immigration, and development. His report, published a few months later, was even more harmful to the Zionist cause than the Shaw Commission. His main conclusion was that there was not enough land in Palestine to support Jewish immigration. He claimed that there were no more than 1.6 million acres of cultivated land, a rather moderate figure in contrast to the Mandatory Government’s estimate of 2.6 million acres. Any free land, said Hope Simpson, should be distributed among the Arabs, for they were in desperate need of it- many of them had been dispossessed of their estates by Jewish land purchases. In addition, he claimed, the Government must begin to set strict limits to Jewish immigration and expel illegal residents, as there was no spare land to grant new immigrants. All in all, the Hope Simpson report advised on restricting Jewish settlement and immigration—the two most important goals of Zionism.

The report was issued simultaneously with the Passfield White Paper in October 1930. This was the third anti-Zionist statement. It was more harmful than its forerunners and further aggravated the tension between the Zionists and the British. In accordance with the Hope Simpson findings, the White Paper accepted that “there remains no margin of land available for agricultural settlement by new immigrants,”1 with the exception of reserves held by Jewish agencies. It severely criticized the principle of Jewish labor which it maintained was detrimental to the competing Arab labor force, and warned that Jewish immigration would be suspended if it diminished Arab employment.

The Passfield White Paper went beyond Hope Simpson’s conclusions to propose the establishment of a legislative council for the local population. In the months preceding the White Paper, an Arab delegation had approached the Colonial Office, proposing the establishment of a legislative council in which Muslims, Jews, and Christians would be proportionally represented. As the Arabs were an overwhelming majority, this would have been disastrous for the Yishuv, and Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald rejected this radical proposal; but the concept of a representative legislative council now resurfaced with Passfield’s statement. The White Paper was still far from fulfilling the Arabs’ expectations as it said nothing about proportional representation, but the very mention of the idea was clearly a gesture in their favor and against the Yishuv.

Further worrying components of Passfield’s White Paper were those pertaining to Britain’s general policy towards Zionism. The paper claimed that the Mandatory Government’s obligation was toward Arabs and Jews alike and that the idea of the Jewish National Home was not, in fact, the principle feature of the Mandate. This was a clear denial of the Mandate’s commitments, and, as such, an attack on the Zionist cause. The outraged responses that followed the White Paper soon led to its reversal.


The Passfield White Paper, Cmd. 3692, 1930.


סלוצקי, יהודה ואחרים (עורכים), ספר תולדות ההגנה, ירושלים- הספריה הציונית, 1954, כרך ב’, חלק 1, עמ’ 440–443.

Efron, Daniel, “White Papers- Passfield White Paper,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem- Keter, 1972, vol. 16, pp. 483–484.

Goldstein, Yaacov, “The 1929 Disturbances and their Impact on the Formulation of Zionist Positions Concerning the Palestine Problem,” Asian and African Studies, 24(3) 1990, pp. 234–238.

Sela, Avraham, “The ‘Wailing Wall’ Riots (1929) as a Watershed in the Palestine Conflict,” Muslim World, 84(1–2) 1994, pp. 71–72.

Sheffer, Gabriel, “Intentions and Results of British Policy in Palestine- Passfield’s White Paper,” Middle Eastern Studies, 9(1) 1973, pp. 43–60.