Please join our community for its annual commemoration of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The day memorializes the millions of victims of persecution and mass murder during the Holocaust. Here in Portland – as in Jewish communities around the world – we will gather as a community on Wednesday, April 27 at 7:00 p.m. at Congregation Beth Israel. The program will include the participation of Holocaust survivors, their descendants, and the Oregon Board of Rabbis. The next day, on Thursday, April 28, join us at Pioneer Courthouse Square, between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., for the annual reading of the names of the men, women, and children confirmed to have been murdered at the hands of Nazi Germany and its European collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Thank you to the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education for leading this effort. More details can be found here.
April 24, 1920, 102 years ago on Sunday, is one of the most important, yet lesser-known dates in Jewish history.
In a small town on the Italian Riviera, the San Remo Conference was held April 19-29, 1920. The purpose of the meeting was to decide the future of the former territories of the Ottoman Turkish Empire following World War I. The prime ministers of Great Britain, France, and Italy attended, along with representatives from Japan, Greece, and Belgium.
More than that, this conference played an enormous role in the history of the creation of the Arab states and Israel. During the conference, two “mandates” were created out of the old Ottoman province of Syria: the northern half, Syria and Lebanon, was mandated to France, the southern half, Palestine to Great Britain. The province of Mesopotamia (Iraq) was also mandated to Great Britain. Under the terms of the mandates, the individual countries were deemed independent but subject to a mandatory power until they reached “political maturity.”
It is important to note that prior to the San Remo Conference there did not exist a single independent Arab nation state. All 22 Arab states that exist today (as part of the Arab League) became independent nation states either as a direct result of the San Remo conference or later.
For Britain, controlling Palestine was a strategic choice. Egypt and the Suez Canal were lifelines to its colonies in India and the Gulf. With Palestine under its control, the British Empire’s contiguous territorial link from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf was uninterrupted.
Of primary importance, the Mandate confirmed the intent of the 1917 Balfour Declaration to establish in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people. It was not a pro-Arab document in any manner. For example, the word “Arab” did not appear in the Mandate’s 28 Articles, only the word “Arabic” was found in describing one of the three official languages of British administration. Yet, it was understood that nothing should be done which "may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine." The same was to be true for the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in the other countries.
Several times during the Mandate’s operation– in the early 1920s, again in 1929-1931, and in the 1936-1939 period — British officials and lawmakers questioned whether the establishment of the Jewish national home as defined by the Mandate was appropriate and fair to the Arab community in Palestine. The Mandate’s articles were not altered, but Britain did periodically revise, sometimes dramatically, the manner in which it supported the Jewish national home. The most notable example was in 1939, when the British severely limited Jewish immigration and land purchases, contrary to the spirit and wording in the articles of the Mandate.
Professor Ken Stein of Emory University shared these insights about the Mandate:
The preamble of the Palestine Mandate included the Balfour Declaration. Article 2 called for the Mandatory to facilitate the development of the Jewish national home. Article 4 recognized an appropriate Jewish Agency, which at the time was the Palestine Zionist Executive which in 1929 took the name Jewish Agency. Article 6 stated that while the administration of Palestine was to protect the rights of the indigenous population, it would facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency…settlement by Jews on the land. Article 7 was framed to facilitate the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews who came to Palestine. Articles 22 and 23 recognized Hebrew as one of the official languages. In Article 25 of the Mandate, Britain reserved the right to separate the territory of Palestine, which eventually led to the establishment of Transjordan.
Until Israel’s establishment in May 1948, the Articles of the Palestine Mandate remained in force as an overarching framework for conduct of British policy in Palestine, including the support for a Jewish national home. The Arab community, for its part, found the Articles of the Mandate to be hostile to their interests.
The San Remo Conference is not as well-known as the Balfour Declaration in the history of key events leading to the birth of the State of Israel, but it may have been even more important. Jews had always lived in the region, including multiple large-scale immigrations to Palestine since the 1880s. Eventually, the Mandate from San Remo was ratified on July 24, 1922 (almost 100 years ago) by the Council of the League of Nations -- the postwar world organization and the predecessor to the United Nations -- confirming the legitimization of a national home for the Jews in Palestine.
On May 5th, we will celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut and Israel’s 74th birthday. Our community’s celebration will take place on Sunday, May 1 at 12:30 p.m. at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center. Join in Israeli music, dance, crafts, food, and more, including an incredible concert with the premier Israeli music cover band, TLV!
Shabbat shalom and continue to enjoy the Passover holiday.