Biltmore program

Entry in the Encyclopaedia of Zionism and Israel (ed. Patai), excerpts

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Eight-point declaration adopted by the Extraordinary Conference of American Zionists held at the Biltmore Hotel in New York, on May 9-11, 1942. It was the first official American Zionist pronouncement using the phrase 'Jewish Commonwealth' that is, explicitly advocating the establishment of an independent Jewish State in Palestine.

Background

In the years prior to the outbreak of World War II, Zionists in the United States had tended to concentrate on the practical tasks of rebuilding (sic) Jewish Palestine and on gaining the support of non-Zionists for this work rather than on formulating political programs. America's entry into the war, the news of Nazi atrocities, and plans for a new world order following a hoped-for Allied victory shifted the focus of attention to the ultimate political status of Palestine.

The Biltmore Conference was called by the Emergency Committee of Zionist Affairs for the purpose of discussing the future of Palestine, possibilities of cooperation with non-Zionist groups, and methods for obtaining a united representation of Jewry at the eventual peace conference. It was the first joint meeting of all American Zionist parties since World War I, with the four major organizations - the Zionist Organization of America, Hadassah, Mizrahi, and Poale Zion - participating.

Among the nearly 600 delegates in attendance, there were Zionist leaders from 17 foreign countries. The presence of these, and of World Zionist figures such as Chaim Weizmann [later first President of the State of Israel], David Ben-Gurion, and Nahum Goldmann, gave the conference some aspects of a World Zionist Congress.

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The Program

The Biltmore Program, which was to guide the future efforts of Zionism in the United States, was drafted on the urging of Ben-Gurion, to reaffirm the original intention of the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine, and of Abba Hillel Silver, who warned against making distinctions between 'political Zionism' and 'philanthropic humanitarianism'.

The declaration submitted by Judge Levinthal on behalf of the Presidium reaffirmed the devotion of American Zionism to the cause of freedom, sent a message of hope and encouragement to the Jews in Nazi-held Europe, commended the Jewish Agency and the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine), and expressed the readiness and desire of the Jewish people to cooperate fully with Palestine's Arab neighbors.

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The most important part of the declaration was contained in points 6 and 8. Point 6 reaffirmed the rejection of the [British] White Paper of 1939 and called for the fulfilment 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 form there a Jewish Commonwealth'. Point 8 declared that the new world order which would follow an Allied victory could not be established on foundations of peace, justice and equality unless the problem of Jewish homelessness would be permanently solved. It demanded 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."