Cohen, Sir Robert Waley

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COHEN, SIR ROBERT WALEY (1877–1952), British industrialist and Jewish communal leader. He was the son of Nathaniel Cohen, who pioneered labor exchanges and university appointment boards in Britain, and of Julia, daughter of Jacob Waley. In 1901 he joined the staff of Shell Company under the future Viscount *Bearsted and represented the company in the negotiations which led to its amalgamation with the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company. For many years he was, in effect, second in command of "The Group." During World War i Waley Cohen played a vital part in ensuring the supply of fuel oil to the Allies and was knighted for his services in 1920.

He rose to high office in the Anglo-Jewish community and was in turn treasurer, vice president, and president of the *United Synagogue. His concept of the overriding role of the lay leadership brought him into constant conflict with the chief rabbi, J.H. *Hertz, who believed that the traditional authority of the rabbinate must be paramount. The conflict was exacerbated by the incompatibility of two dominant personalities. Waley Cohen was largely responsible for establishing in 1919 the Jewish War Memorial (later Jewish Memorial Council) for improving religious and educational conditions in the Anglo-Jewish community. In 1942 he was one of the founders of the Council of Christians and Jews. In spite of some collaboration with Chaim *Weizmann in the 1920s, he remained basically opposed to political Zionism, though he contributed to the economic development of Palestine as chairman of the Economic Board for Palestine and of the Palestine Corporation. It was he who selected the site for the Haifa oil refinery. His son sir bernard waley-cohen (1914–1991) was lord mayor of London 1960–61, when he was named a baronet. He was a vice president of the United Synagogue.


R. Henriques, Sir Robert Waley Cohen (1966). add. bibliography: odnb online.

[Vivian David Lipman]