The years after World War I saw a period of political progress for the Zionist movement. Within five years the Zionists witnessed the Balfour Declaration (1917), the beginning of the British Mandate in Palestine and the transition from military to civil administration (1920), and the League of Nations’ confirmation of the terms of the Mandate (1922). These developments gradually created the foundations for building and strengthening the Jewish National Home. It was during this time that the Zionist leadership abroad and in Palestine initiated several important bodies and institutions, designed to facilitate and promote this enterprise.

The Zionist Commission

As early as November 1917, following the release of the Balfour Declaration, Chaim Weizmann began to plan a commission to Palestine which would advise the British authorities on the establishment of the Jewish National Home. Authorized by the British Foreign Office and supported by the Allied governments, the Zionist Commission (Va’ad ha-Tzirim in Hebrew) consisted of several Jewish delegates from Great Britain, France, and Italy. It was accompanied by Major William Ormsby-Gore and Major James de Rothschild, representing the British Government and military.

Headed at first by Weizmann, the Commission arrived in Palestine in April 1918, when the north of the country was still in Turkish hands and the south was under British military control. The Commission, which represented the Zionist Organization in Palestine, set about organizing the Jewish population, conducting relief work, establishing schools and hospitals, and laying the foundations for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It also served as a liaison between the local Jews and the British authorities, whose military administration gave way to a civil one in July 1920. In 1921, the 12th Zionist Congress (the supreme authority in the Zionist Organization) decided to set up a Zionist Executive in Jerusalem, which soon replaced the Commission.

The Va’ad Leumi

In April 1920, during the San Remo Conference, the League of Nations gave Britain the Mandate for Palestine. Two months later, on 1 July, the British civil administration began, headed by High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel. The Jewish community in Palestine decided that the conditions were ripe to establish their own body to administer the affairs of the Yishuv.

The official Jewish community in Palestine, called Knesset Yisrael, included all Jews above the age of eighteen, with the exception of several extreme orthodox groups. Knesset Yisrael elected Asefat ha-Nivharim (“Elected Assembly”), which included various parties, as well as ideological, religious, and vocational groups. In its first session in October 1920, Asefat ha-Nivharim elected its executive body—the Va’ad Leumi le-Knesset Yisrael (“National Council of the Jews of Palestine”). Though High Commissioner Samuel wrote a letter accepting it as a representative body, it was not until January 1928 that the British formally recognized it.

The Va’ad Leumi had several functions. First, it organized the Yishuv into municipalities, local councils, and community centers. Every four years it published a register of the adult Jews in Palestine; those registered—Knesset Yisrael—could vote for Asefat ha-Nivharim and were subject to Rabbinate jurisdiction. The Va’ad Leumi also drafted the constitution of Asefat ha-Nivharim, and drew up regulations regarding the appointment of rabbinical offices. It was in charge of internal matters such as health, education, and social welfare, and represented the Yishuv’s interests to the British authorities.

The Va’ad Leumi functioned until 1948, when it handed over its responsibilities to the State of Israel.

The Jewish Agency

On 24 July 1922, the League of Nations ratified the terms of the Mandate. Article 4 specified that a Jewish agency would advise and cooperate with the British authorities on all issues related to the Jewish National Home and the interests of Palestine Jewry. Article 4 also recognized the Zionist Organization as such an agency; however, Jewish leaders in the Zionist Organization understood from the start that they lacked both sufficient resources for realizing their goals and authority in their international dealings. Therefore the Zionists sought help from the many wealthy and influential Jews around the world, especially in the United States, who were not yet supporting them. These non-Zionists believed that settling Palestine was a solution for the suffering Jews of Europe, but did not agree with the Zionists’ political aspirations. It was not until August 1929 that the Zionists and non-Zionists overcame their disagreements and created the enlarged Jewish Agency, representing both sides.

Thus, between 1922 and 1929, the Zionist Organization was recognized as the Jewish Agency, and the Jewish Agency Executive was in fact the Zionist Executive. It was responsible for providing certain services to the Yishuv, including immigration, settlement, agricultural and land development, and afforestation. The Jewish Agency worked closely with the Va’ad Leumi, and the two bodies often joined in submitting political resolutions to the British authorities.


לבסקי, חגית, יסודות התקציב למפעל הציוני- ועד הצירים, 1918–1921, ירושלים- יד יצחק בן-צבי, 1980, פרק 1+2.

עילם, יגאל, הסוכנות היהודית- שנים ראשונות, 1919–1931, ירושלים- הספריה הציונית, 1990, פרק 1+2.

Editorial Staff, “Va’ad Le’ummi,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 16, Jerusalem- Keter, 1972, pp. 49–50.

Efron, Daniel, “Zionist Commission,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 16, Jerusalem- Keter, 1972, pp. 1163–1164.

Stock, Ernest, “Jewish Agency,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 10, Jerusalem- Keter, 1972, pp. 26–28.

Zwergbaum, A., “Jewish Agency for Israel,” New Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, Vol. I, edited by Geoffrey Wigoder, Madison- Herzl Press, 1994, pp. 750–751.