British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the 1939 White Paper which blocked Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine a "black moment" in Britain's history during an address to the Conservative Friends of Israel Tuesday.
"There have been some black moments when we have done the wrong thing such as the 1939 White Paper which capped the number of visas issued to Jews wanting to go to the British mandate of Palestine,” Hunt said.
The 1939 White Paper limited Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine to just 75,000 people over five years, with even that number being subject to the approval of the local Arab leadership. In total only 51,000 Jews were allowed to legally enter the territory between 1939 and 1944.
Britain's policy of restricting Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine prevented hundreds of thousands of Jews from fleeing Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe immediately preceding and during the Holocaust.
Hunt's statement is believed to be the first of its kind by a British foreign secretary criticizing Britain's policy regarding Jewish immigration before and during World War Two.
Hunt praised Britain's current relationship with the State of Israel which emerged following the end of the British Mandate. calling it “on the whole very strong relationship” and citing the "mushrooming trade" between Israel and Britain.
He also reiterated Israel's "absolutely unconditional" right to defend itself and said that Israel was the only nation in the world surrounded by enemies who are committed to its “total destruction.”
Hunt told the audience that it was an “inspiration to see how you’ve thrived despite the challenges on the borders.”