Benjamin Disraeli

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Benjamin Disraeli.

Benjamin Disraeli (21 December 1804 – 19 April 1881) was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He is the only British Prime Minister to have been of Jewish birth. He was Queen Victoria’s Prime Minister from 1868 to 1869, and from 1874 to 1880.

Family and Conversion

From a family of Portuguese Marranos who converted back to Judaism in Venice, Benjamin's grandfather had moved to London in 1748. Benjamin’s father, Isaac d’Israeli, was born at Enfield in Middlesex, England, in May 1766,[1], and was the author of the book A Portraiture of Judaism. He subsequently publicly renounced Judaism and had his whole family baptized into the Church of England when Benjamin was twelve. It has been said by detractors that this was for purely mundane reasons — administrative careers were then still closed to Jews. According to Hannah Arendt, Benjamin Disraeli was a "race fanatic" and defined himself as an "Anglican of Jewish race".


By the mid-1830s, English Jews led by the Cousinhood began to press for the removal of Christian oaths in Parliament and this for their ability to enter the legislature. [...] A remarkable but quite unsurprising detail about this time concerns the complicity of Benjamin Disraeli [...] who never ceased to support Jewish ethnic interests, and became notorious for espousing a repugnant Jewish supremacism in his novels Coningsby (1844), Sybil (1845), and Tancred (1847). [...] The diaries of Louise de Rothschild, sister-in-law to Lionel, further reveal that Disraeli had become a regular dining companion with members of the Cousinhood, and that during one evening with the Rothschilds in November 1847, Disraeli had argued that "we must ask for our rights and privileges, not for concessions".[2]


Disraeli has been called the true inventor of British imperialism, since it was he who, by introducing the Royal Titles Act in 1876, had Queen Victoria proclaimed Empress of India by Parliament. In 1875, Egyptian financial troubles compelled the new Ottoman Viceroy, Ismāʾīl Pasha, to sell his holding of 176,602 shares, which (at the instigation of Disraeli) was at once bought by the British government through funding from his friend Lionel Rothschild (an operation that also consolidated the Rothschilds’ control over the Bank of England). Disraeli can also be considered one of the forerunners of Zionism: Well before Theodor Herzl, Disraeli tried (but failed) to add the "restoration of Israel" to the Berlin Congress agenda, hoping to convince the Sultan to concede to Palestine the status of an autonomous province.

Conspiracy theories

Some have asked what was Disraeli’s motivation behind his foreign policy? Did he believe that the fate of the British was to conquer the world? Or did he see the British Empire as the instrument for the Jewish nation’s fulfillment of its destiny? In mooring the Suez Canal to British interests, did he just seek to outdo France, or was he laying the foundation for an alliance between a future Israel and the Anglo-American Empire? No one can answer these questions with certainty. But his contemporaries pondered them. William Gladstone, his longtime competitor for the Prime Ministry, accused him of "holding British foreign policy hostage to his Jewish sympathies".

See also


  1. Isaac was educated at Leyden, in The Netherlands. He went blind in 1841, and died in Buckinghamshire in Jan 1848, barely a year after his wife. They had three sons and a daughter.
  2. Jewish Emancipation and the Anglo-Jewish Cousinhood, Part 1.