Friday, May 13, 2016

The Jewish National Council

In the early twentieth century, the land of Israel went from being part of the Ottoman Empire to being a holding of the British. As immigration was continuing to increase and strengthen the existing Jewish community, the Jews of Mandate Palestine decided to organize.

On April 19, 1920, the first Assembly of Representatives was established. The elected Assembly gathered once a year and voted for an executive body to oversee the community’s relationship with the Arabs, its interactions with the British and various other communal functions. That executive body was known as the Jewish National Council (JNC) or, in Hebrew, the Va’ad Le’umi. In addition to its local work, the JNC also participated in meetings of the Zionist General Council. It is interesting to note that the JNC was recognized by the British High Commissioner and even received limited financial assistance from the British.

The Va’ad Le’umi worked for the benefit of the Jewish inhabitants, but it did not, at first, have the Jewish community’s unanimous support. Agudath Israel, which represented the non-Zionist religious community, did not join the Council until 1935, and certain Sephardic communities waited until 1946 to participate.

Not surprisingly, the JNC was in the thick of the political activity leading to the declaration of the State of Israel. In March 1948, they began setting up the specific infrastructure in preparation for the May 1948 scheduled withdrawal of the British. On May 14th, under the leadership of David Ben Gurion, the Va’ad Le’umi met at the Tel Aviv museum and approved a proclamation of independence.

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