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Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930)


Arthur Balfour

  • Full Name: Arthur James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour
  • Profession: Foreign Secretary/Chief Secretary for Ireland/First Lord of the Treasury/Leader of the House of Commons/Prime Minister
  • Nationality: British
  • Relevance to Palestine: As Foreign Secretary of Great Britain, Balfour created the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The declaration was a public statement of British support of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Arthur James Balfour was born in Scotland to James Maitland Balfour and Lady Blanche Gascoyne-Cecil. His father was a member of parliament in Scotland and his mother a member of the Cecil family descended from Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury. Balfour’s uncle was Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil,3rd Marquess of Salisbury also known as Lord Salisbury (Prime Minister of Britain from 1895-1902).  Balfour was educated Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge after which he was elected to Parliament as a Conservative member for Hertford.  He was appointed as Chief Secretary for Ireland from 1887–1891 then later First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Commons in 1891. After Lord Salisbury had retired on 11 July 1902, Balfour succeeded him as Prime Minister from 1902-1905. Later in 1906, Balfour became Foreign Secretary in Lloyd George’s cabinet.

As Foreign Secretary of Great Britain, Balfour created the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The declaration was a letter from Balfour to Lord Rothschild (a leader of the British Jewish community) promising “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The letter came after negotiations between Zionist leaders in London: Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow with Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour. It was however a disappointment to the Zionists who expected nothing less than an outright pronouncement of British support for a Jewish state. Nevertheless the declaration brought hope to the Zionists and seemed to fulfill the aims of the World Zionist Organization founded in 1897 by Theodor Herzl. The British hoped the Balfour Declaration would rally the United States in favor of the Jews and would ensure British control over the Suez Canal in Egypt with a pro-British Jewish population in Palestine.




Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Sir Winston Churchill

  • Full Name: Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill
  • Profession: Secretary of State for the Colonies/Chancellor of the Exchequer/Prime Minister
  • Nationality: British
  • Relevance to Palestine: As Secretary of State for the Colonies, Churchill issued The British White Paper of 1922 also known as The Churchill White Paper to outline British position towards Palestine and to clarify the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

Born in late 1874, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician most famous for his wartime rule as Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II. Churchill is the only British prime minister to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature and was the first person to be made an Honorary Citizen of the United States. He was born into an aristocratic family as the grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s father, was a politician himself who in the height of his career served as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Winston’s mother, Jennie Jerome, was an American socialite and heiress. After being educated at Harrow Primary School and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, Churchill began his political career as a young army officer in India and then later Sudan and the Second Boer War. He became popular for his correspondences on British war campaigns. Churchill had written five books by the age of twenty six. After escaping from a Boer Prison Camp in 1899, Churchill was seen as a national hero and was elected into the House of Commons.

In 1921, Churchill became Secretary of State for the Colonies the following year he issued The British White Paper of 1922 or The Churchill White Paper the main provisions of which reaffirmed that Britain does not aim to create “a wholly Jewish Palestine”. It then goes on to formally recognize the Jewish community in Palestine and asserts that “the existence of a Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed, and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection.” Having identified this as an objective in Palestine, the White Paper outlines measures to assist in attaining this objective by stating: “For the fulfillment of this policy it is necessary that the Jewish community in Palestine should be able to increase its numbers by immigration. This immigration cannot be so great in volume as to exceed whatever may be the economic capacity of the country at the time to absorb new arrivals. It is essential to ensure that the immigrants should not be a burden upon the people of Palestine as a whole, and that they should not deprive any section of the present population of their employment. Hitherto the immigration has fulfilled these conditions. The number of immigrants since the British occupation has been about 25,000.”

Henry McMahon (1862 – 1949)

Henry McMahon

  • Full name: Sir Arthur Henry McMahon
  • Profession: Diplomat/Commissioner
  • Nationality: British
  • Relevance to Palestine: Signed Hussein-McMahon Correspondence.

McMahon was commissioned Lieutenant in the Indian Staff Corps in 1880. By 1897, he was appointed and promoted as captain and a Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the Star in India. He was also a major in the army by 1901. In 1906, he was knighted and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1909. In 1914, he was appointed as High Commissioner in Egypt.  In 1920, he was awarded the Order of El Nahda from the King of the Hejaz.

McMahon is known for the McMahon line in Afghanistan and Baluchistan but more importantly for signing the Hussein-McMahon agreement, which implies British support of independent Arab states in return for an Arab rebellion.The vagueness and ambiguity of the correspondence caused tensions and controversy between Arabs and British as McMahon was not clear on how much land was to be given to the Arabs.

In 1919, he attended the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles as British commissioner on the Middle East International Commission.




Herbert Samuel (1870-1963)

Herbert Samuel

  • Full name: Herbert Louis Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel
  • Profession: 1st High Commissioner of Palestine from 1920 – 1925
  • Nationality: British
  • Religion: Jewish
  • Relevance to Palestine: Suggested that Palestine should become a home for Jewish people under British Rule in his memorandum: “The Future of Palestine”.

Herbert Samuel was a British statesman, philosopher, and one of the first Jewish members of the British cabinet but he is most notably known as the first British high commissioner for Palestine.

In his early years, he was brought up in a religious Jewish family, but renounced his religious beliefs in Oxford, where he received his education. However, he maintained his roots in the Jewish community. Samuel was a social worker when he was elected to the Liberal House of Commons in 1902. He worked to establish juvenile courts and training and detention systems for juvenile criminals. He also nationalized telephone services throughout Great Britain. He was appointed “Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1920.

As high commissioner in Palestine, Samuel faced some turmoil because of Jewish and Arab tensions.  As the first Jew to rule the region, he recognized Hebrew as one of the three official languages of the mandate. Furthermore, Samuel acted to decrease Jewish migration to win over the Arab population. His policy towards Arabs was subtle, as he wanted Arabs to guard their rights without giving them any authority to halt Jewish migration and land purchase. For example, Samuel appointed Haj Amin al-Husseini as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, although he became an enemy of the British instead of an asset.

In 1922, the White Paper was published, which supported Jewish immigration and defined Palestine as the Jewish national homeland.

Zionists in Palestine welcomed Samuel, while others like the military government disagreed as they stated that Samuel’s position was “highly dangerous”. Many predictions of violence were aroused because of Samuels appointment.