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Herbert Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel
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Herbert Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel

Herbert Louis Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel (1870-1963) was a British politician and diplomat. In 1920 he was appointed the first High Commissioner (essentially the governor) of the British Mandate of Palestine and served in that office until 1925. As such, Samuel was the first Jew to govern the historic land of Israel in 2,000 years.

Samuel had been a Member of Parliament representing the Liberal Party and was appointed to Cabinet in 1910 by Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, as Postmaster General and later Home Secretary, the first unconverted Jew appointed to the British cabinet. He put forward the idea of establishing a British Protectorate over Palestine in 1915 and his ideas influenced the Balfour Declaration.

When the Liberal Party split into Asquith and Lloyd George factions in 1916, Samuel sided with Asquith and was left out of cabinet when Lloyd George became Prime Minister.

When Britain conquered Palestine (which had been part of the Ottoman Empire) in 1917 during the course of the First World War. Samuel lost his seat in the election of 1918 and became a candidate to represent British interests in the territory . He was appointed to the position of High Commissioner in 1920 once the British Mandate was granted by the League of Nations.

As High Commissioner, Samuel was at pains to demonstrate his neutrality and attempted to mediate between Zionist and Arab interests acting to slow Jewish immigration and win the confidence of the Arab population. Islamic custom at the time was that the chief Islamic spiritual leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, was to be chosen by the temporal ruler, the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople, from a group of clerics that were nominated by the indigenous clerics. After the British conquered Palestine, the Sultan was no longer the secular ruler. This led to the bizarre situation where a Jew, Herbert Samuel, was to appoint the Islamic leader, in this case Hakk Amin Al Husseini, who later proved a thorn in the side of the British administration in Palestine.

On his return to Britain in 1925, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin asked Samuel to look into the problems of the mining industry. The Samuel Commission published its report in March 1926 recommending that the industry be reorganised but rejecting the suggestion of nationalization. The report also recommended that the Government subsidy should be withdrawn and the miners' wages should be reduced. The report was one of the leading factors that led to the 1926 General Strike.

Herbert Samuel returned to the House of Commons following the 1929 General Election. Two years later he became leader of the Liberal Party (the first unconverted Jew to lead a major British political party) as well as Home Secretary in the National Governments of Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. He led the Liberals (except the small National Liberal faction of Sir John Simon) out of the government in 1932. He remained leader of the Liberal Party until he again lost his seat in 1935.

In 1937 he was granted the title Viscount Samuel and later became leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords (1944-55).

Succession

Preceded by:
The Lord FitzMaurice
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
1909-1910
Followed by:
Joseph Albert Pease
Preceded by:
Winston Churchill
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
1915-1916
Followed by:
Edwin Samuel Montagu
Preceded by:
Sir John Allsebrook Simon
Home Secretary
1916
Followed by:
The Viscount Cave
Preceded by:
John Robert Clynes
Home Secretary
1931-1932
Followed by:
Sir John Gilmour
Preceded by:
David Lloyd George
Leader of the British Liberal Party
1931-1935
Followed by:
Sir Archibald Sinclair

Preceded by:
New Creation
Viscount Samuel Followed by:
Edwin Samuel