Jewish agency

  • Issue: August 1979
  • Designer: D. Cohen

The Balfour Declaration, issued in 1917, declared that "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". This Declaration was the basis for the mandate over Palestine granted to Britain in 1920 and approved by the League of Nations in 1922. Para. 4 of the Mandate called for the establishment of a "Jewish Agency" to advise and cooperate with the administration of Palestine on economic, social and other matters affecting the Jewish national home. The World Zionist Organization was granted the status of the "Jewish Agency" but Para. 4 laid down that that Organization should endeavour to set up a broadbased Jewish Agency with which all Jews wishing to contribute to the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine could collaborate.

The "Jewish Agency for Palestine" was established at a meeting held in 1929 at Zurich under the presidency of Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization. Fifty percent of the delegates were elected by the Zionist Congress to represent the World Zionist Organization and the other fifty percent were elected by various non-Zionist organizations. However the hopes of ensuring non-Zionist cooperation in the work of the Agency failed to materialize and in the course of time the Executive of the Jewish Agency and the Executive of the World Zionist Organization became identical and the Jewish Agency was transformed into the executive organ of the World Zionist Organization.

The World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency played a decisive role in encouraging the Jewish people to prepare themselves for a renewal of Jewish national independence by setting up bodies to deal with health, welfare and education. They also took care of the defence of the population by forming and taking over the "Hagana" - the Jewish Defence Force - and it was these two organizations which laid the foundations of the "State on the way".

Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the 23rd Congress of the World Zionist Organization redefined the aims and tasks of the Zionist movement as "working for the strengthening of Israel; encouraging the ingathering of the exiles to Israel and working to ensure the unity of the Jewish people". This programme was known as the first "Jerusalem Programme".

In 1952 the Knesset enacted the "Law for Defining the Status of the World Zionist Organization" and in 1954 an "Agreement" was signed between the government of Israel and the executive of the Jewish Agency under which the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency were granted special status whereby "the State of Israel sees itself as the creation of the Jewish people as a whole and its doors are open to every Jew wishing to enter therein; the State of Israel regards the World Zionist Organization as an authorized agency which will continue to work within Israel for the development of the country and its settlements, for the absorption of immigrants from all over the world and for coordinating the work in Israel of those Jewish organizations engaged in these activities".

From the very moment the State of Israel was declared there has been a strengthening of the ties between the State and the Jews of the Diaspora. Diaspora Jewry, without distinction of ideology or organizational framework, has worked hard to help finance the Jewish Agency in its work in the fields of immigration, absorption and settlement through its support of the United Jewish Appeal in the U.S.A. and the Keren Ha-Yesod in 60 other countries. Their identification with the State of Israel became even closer in the weeks preceding and following the Six-Day War when emergency appeals raised no less than 350 million dollars within a period of a few months.

These close ties between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry were given formal recognition in August 1970 when it was decided, in Jerusalem, to change the composition of the Jewish Agency and in 1971 there took place in Jerusalem the Founding session of the broadbased Jewish Agency which included the United Jewish Appeal and the Keren Ha-Yesod.

As the Jewish Agency celebrates its Jubilee, it has taken upon itself, in addition to its traditional work in the fields of immigration, absorption and settlement, the task of working towards closing the social gap in Israel and eliminating all remaining slums.

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Jewish agency jubilee