On 20 October 1930, three days after the publication of the Passfield White Paper, Chaim Weizmann called a press conference of some 70 journalists and announced his resignation from the presidency of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization. He stated that the Government had displayed a complete misunderstanding of the purpose and meaning of the Jewish National Home, and that he saw no other option but to resign. Lord Melchett and Felix Warburg, two leading members of the Jewish Agency, followed suit, and Jews in Palestine, London, Warsaw, New York, and South Africa demonstrated against the White Paper. Moreover, non-Jewish members of both the Conservative and Liberal parties expressed their sympathy towards the Zionists, and sections of the Labor party even joined in the public protests against the White Paper.

Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald informed Weizmann it was not possible to retract the White Paper. However, aware of how shaky his political standing had become, he invited the Zionists to work out a solution. He appointed a cabinet subcommittee which would work together with Jewish leaders to consider the Palestine question. The Anglo-Zionist conference first met in November and held several sessions, ending in February of the following year. The British team was headed by Arthur Henderson, the Foreign Secretary. Among the Government’s representatives were Lord Passfield, the Colonial Secretary; Sir Walter Shaw, Secretary of State for War; and the Prime Minister’s son, Malcolm MacDonald, who played an important role in mediating between the British and Jewish delegates.

Weizmann, backed by the other Zionist representatives, presented the Jewish case in great detail and submitted the Jewish Agency’s criticism of the White Paper. Using these statements as a basis for the Government’s reply, Henderson produced a draft of what was later termed the MacDonald Letter. During the next few months Zionists and Government officials worked jointly on the document. Henderson, on MacDonald’s instructions, proved accommodating to the Jews’ requests.

In February 1931, after six sessions and five drafts, the letter was signed by MacDonald and was ready for publication. Its opening sentence defined its legal status as “the authoritative interpretation of the White Paper.”1 This formulation signified the understanding that although the White Paper was not officially retracted, the MacDonald Letter would replace it as the basis for the British Government’s policy in Palestine. The letter reaffirmed Britain’s obligation towards the Jewish people. Specifically, it denied the charges of the White Paper against Zionist settlement, certified the Jews’ rights to purchase land, and stressed the importance of Jewish labor. The letter expressed Britain’s intention to facilitate Jewish immigration to Palestine, recognizing the Jews’ right to strengthen their National Home.

On the Zionists’ request, the government addressed the letter to Weizmann as president of the Jewish Agency (despite his having resigned in October), announced it as an official document, and dispatched it as an instruction to the High Commissioner in Palestine. The MacDonald Letter signified a reversal of the policy expressed in the Shaw Commission, the Hope Simpson Report, and the Passfield White Paper. Admittedly, the Colonial Office and the High Commissioner did not warm to the change, and only a few months after the letter was issued the Zionists were complaining of official indifference to the letter. On the whole, however, Anglo-Zionist relations turned over a new leaf and in that respect the letter’s effect was of the utmost importance to the Yishuv. This was especially evident in the immigration figures, which rose to unprecedented heights by 1936, transforming the small Jewish community of 180,000 into a national entity of 400,000.


Weizmann, Chaim, The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, London- Oxford University Press, 1978, Series A, Introduction to vol. 15 (by Camillo Dresner), p. xiv.


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

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.

Rose, N.A., The Gentile Zionists, Frank Cass- London, 1973, chap. 1.

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

Weizmann, Chaim, The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, London- Oxford University Press, 1978, Series A, Introduction to vol. 14 & vol. 15 (by Camillo Dresner).