Among the Jewish Agency’s (JA) files in the Central Zionist Archives, one comes across a peculiar series of documents titled »London Letters.« These short articles relate in detail the contents of a report by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform, which was published in the United Kingdom in November 1934. The report recommended the establishment of an all-India federation, in which the 11 provinces would each elect their own legislative assemblies, thereby allowing for greater self-government among local constituencies. One of these letters, the German-language »Londoner Brief,« is perhaps the most interesting, as it discusses generally the establishment of legislative councils across the British colonies, while testifying to their problematic nature. However, one cannot help but wonder what such a document has to do with the activities of the JA.
The signature at the end of this letter, as well as other substantial evidence, point to the identity of its author, which is revealing in terms of this archival riddle: Leo (Yehudah Pinhas) Kohn, a Frankfurt-born Jewish jurist, who as of 1919 held various important administrative positions in the Zionist Organization. Especially interested in constitutional law, in 1932 Kohn published a seminal book on the constitution of the Irish Free State and later penned numerous drafts of the prospective Israeli Constitution. The writing of the »London Letters« paralleled a significant shift in Kohn’s life, as he moved to Palestine and assumed the office of the political secretary of the JA, which drew him into the most critical junctures of Zionist activity from the mid-1930s and throughout the 1940s. After the establishment of the State of Israel, he worked as a political advisor to the Israel Foreign Ministry and in 1953 joined the Hebrew University as a professor of international relations, a dual career he pursued until his untimely death in 1961.
According to the »Londoner Brief,« while the transfer of legislative power to the population was usually considered a milestone in the gradual shift towards complete self-government, in reality it paralyzed the British administration, which still retained the executive capacity in its hands. The local legislative councils usually lacked any substantial power and tended to engage in unbridled and irresponsible criticisms of the British government’s actions, as well as to make unreasonable demands. Minority issues further complicated the situation, as local constituencies were divided along ethnic lines and the political dynamics were thus dictated by majority-minority relations. It was therefore crucial that the various ethnic groups reach a mode of cooperation and understanding.