Samuel, Herbert Louis, Viscount

(1870–1963)
   British statesman and first high commissioner for Palestine. When Sir Herbert Samuel was appointed high commissioner for Palestine in 1920 at the outset of the British mandate, he became the first Jew to govern the Holy Land since the Romans two thousand years earlier.
   He was born in Liverpool of a distinguished Anglo-Jewish family, his father being a partner in Samuel, Montague and Company, the gold bullion brokers. From an early age he was active in the Liberal Party, and was elected to the House of Commons in 1902 for a York-shire constituency. After his party came into power in 1906, he held several ministerial posts, including those of home secretary and postmaster-general. Samuel was the first professing Jew to hold Cabinet rank in a British government. With a strong interest in social reform, he was responsible for a work-men’s compensation act and a ‘children’s charter’. In 1915, he circulated a memorandum on Palestine to his Cabinet colleagues. On the assumption that Turkey would be defeated, he advocated a post-war British protectorate over the country, with encouragement for Jewish settlement, and institutions that would eventually lead to an autonomous Jewish majority of maybe three million persons. The proposal attracted the attention of LLOYD GEORGE, but Prime Minister Herbert Asquith was unimpressed by it, and surprised that such a lyrical vision, echoing DISRAELI’S novel Tancred, should come from the methodical and well-ordered mind of Samuel. In 1916, Lloyd George took over from Asquith as prime minister. Samuel was unwilling to serve under him, but helped Dr WEIZMANN to obtain approval for the BALFOUR Declaration in 1917.
   At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, he actively supported the granting of a League of Nations mandate for Palestine to Britain, and visited the country to survey conditions for the government. The following year he accepted Lloyd George’s offer of the post of high commissioner, though he was fully aware that the appointment of a Jew was bound to arouse hostility among the Arabs. Samuel proved an able administrator. He was, however, dismayed by the vehement Arab opposition to the Jewish National Home policy, and by the riots of 1920 and 1921. Among the measures taken to pacify Arab opinion were the exclusion of Transjordan from Jewish settlement; the control of Jewish immigration by the criterion of economic absorptive capacity; and the appointment of a young and extreme Arab nationalist, Haj Amin el-Husseini, as Mufti of Jerusalem and head of the Supreme Moslem Council. Samuel at this time tried to set up a legislative council consisting of British officials and representatives of the different religious communities, but it was abandoned when the Arabs refused to co-operate. The Zionist leadership was also critical of Samuel, and accused him of leaning over backward to show he was being impartial. Nevertheless, during his period of office the Jewish population and the number of Jewish settlements doubled.
   After leaving Palestine in 1925, he retained an active interest in the yishuv, particularly as chairman of the Palestine Electric Corporation and as a governor of the Hebrew University. He was an outspoken critic of the British White Paper of 1939, and of BEVIN’S anti-Zionist Palestine policy after World War II. He was created Viscount Samuel in 1938 and from 1944–55 he led the Liberal Party in the House of Lords. To mark his fifty years as a privy councillor, he was awarded the Order of Merit in 1958.
   In addition to leading a remarkable political career, Samuel made a considerable contribution to philosophical literature, and in particular to Liberal ideology. Among his philosophical works are Liberalism (1902), Practical Ethics (1935), Belief and Action, an Everyday Philosophy (1937, 1953), Creative Man (1949) and In Search of Reality (1957).
   His son Edwin (1898–1978) served as an official in the Palestine administration. After the State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, he was active in moulding the civil service and in teaching public administration. He succeeded his father as the second Viscount Samuel.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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