10 Things You Need to Know About… Herbert Louis Samuel

1.  He was born in Liverpool in November 1870 and raised in London in an Orthodox Jewish home.

2.  The son of a prosperous banker, he was educated at Balliol College, Oxford.

3.  In 1902, he became a member of Parliament and in 1909 was appointed a cabinet minister, the first unconverted Jew to serve in such a role. He was not an observant Jew, but neither did he spurn his religion.

4.  World War broke out. Britain declared war on the Ottoman Empire in November 1914. Two months later, Samuel circulated to the cabinet a memo on “The Future of Palestine;” in it, he suggested that Palestine, then under Ottoman rule, become a home for the Jewish people. He also put forth the idea of establishing a British protectorate.

4.  In his memo he wrote, “The Jewish brain is a physiological product not to be despised. For fifteen centuries the race produced in Palestine a constant succession of great men – statesmen and prophets, judges and soldiers. If a body be again given in which its soul can lodge, it may again enrich the world. Till full scope is granted, as Macaulay said in the House of Commons, ‘let us not presume to say that there is no genius among the countrymen of Isaiah, no heroism among the descendants of the Maccabees.'”

5.  In 1920, before the League of Nations had even approved the British Mandate, Samuel was appointed High Commissioner of Palestine and continued to serve in that capacity until 1925 – thus becoming, as he said, the first Jew in 2000 years to govern the Land of Israel.

6.  He recognized Hebrew as one of the three official languages of the land.

7.  He tried to support Jewish immigration while at the same time mollifying Arab objections – a policy that ultimately won him the praise of neither Zionists nor Arabists. Even today, what he saw as an even-handed policy continues to be a bone of  contention.  Generally, it has been argued that his policies slowed the pace of immigration, but a book published in 1999 takes the Palestinian view, arguing that his policies paved the way for the establishment of the State of Israel.

8.  Upon his return to Britain, he remained active and powerful in politics.  In 1938, he supported the Kindertransport movement to bring Jewish refugee children from Europe by appealing for homes to take them in.

9.  In 1939 he was granted the title Viscount Samuel and later became leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords.

10.  He died in February 1963.Herbert Samuel

“It is easy to be tolerant of the principles of other people if you have none of your own.” – Herbert Samuel

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