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The Biltmore Conference – a Zionist Turning Point

The Biltmore Conference, so named because it took place at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City from May 6-11, 1942, was a key turning point in the Zionist efforts to create a new Jewish state. The conference resulted in the issuance of what became known as the Biltmore Program, which affirmed and advocated for the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine with unrestricted Jewish immigration, and not just the achievement of a “Jewish National Home” as stated in the British 1917 Balfour Declaration. The Biltmore Conference was attended by some 600 delegates and Zionist leaders from 18 countries.Abba Hillel Silver

The major thrust at Biltmore was prompted by intense common opposition to the British White Paper of 1939, which limited Jewish immigration to British-mandated Palestine during a period in which Jews were seeking a safe haven from Nazi-dominated Europe.

The Biltmore Conference was convened as a substitute for the full (22nd) Zionist Congress which had been cancelled due to World War II. Attendees included Chaim Weizmann, as president of the World Zionist Organization, David Ben-Gurion as chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, and Nahum Goldmann as a member of the Executive of the Zionist Organization of America.

In its declaration, the Biltmore Conference stated that the British White Paper of 1939 “is cruel and indefensible in its denial of sanctuary to Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution; and at a time when Palestine has become a focal point in the war front of the United Nations…It is in direct conflict with the interests of the allied war effort.”

In its final clause, the Biltmore Program “declares that the new world order that will follow victory cannot be established on foundations of peace, justice and equality unless the problem of Jewish homelessness is finally solved. The conference urges 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. Then and only then will the age old wrong to the Jewish people be righted.”

The Biltmore Program was implicitly a rejection of the proposal for a binational solution to the question of Arab-Jewish co-existence in Palestine. After approval by the Zionist General Council in Palestine, the Biltmore Program was adopted as the platform of the World Zionist Organization.