Silverman, Sidney

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SILVERMAN, SIDNEY (Samuel ; 1895–1968), British politician. Born in Liverpool, the son of a draper, Silverman was imprisoned in World War i as a conscientious objector, and, during the early 1920s, was employed as an English lecturer at Helsinki University. He then returned to London, becoming a solicitor. Silverman was elected to Parliament as a Labour member in 1935, retaining his seat until his death, and immediately established a reputation for independence and forthrightness. This led to numerous clashes with his colleagues in the Labour Party, of whose left wing he was a prominent member. During World War ii he was one of the first persons in Britain to campaign on behalf of Jews being killed in the Holocaust, and raised the plight of the Jews in Parliament. In the immediate postwar period he was vocal in opposing Labour's policies in Palestine. On two occasions, in 1954, when he opposed German rearmament, and in 1961, when he voted against a party decision on service estimates, he was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party. His great achievement, the result of 30 years of campaigning, was the abolition of capital punishment in 1965.

Silverman was an expert on procedure. He came to be regarded as one of the most accomplished debaters in the House of Commons, and his parliamentary skill and his courage won him the affection of members of all parties. A dedicated Zionist, he spoke passionately and knowledgeably on Jewish causes in Parliament and consistently opposed the Palestine policies of Ernest *Bevin, foreign secretary in the 1945–50 Labour Government. He was chairman of the British section of the World Jewish Congress (1940–50) and later member of the World Executive Council (1950–60) and vice president of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain (1947–50).


S.J. Goldsmith, Twenty 20th-Century Jews (1962), 115–9; E. Hughes, Sydney Silverman: Rebel in Parliament (1969). add. bibliography: odnb online.

[Vivian David Lipman]