Magdalene College Cambridge Notes: the Palestine connection

In the last years of British rule, two members of Magdalene College contributed to policy-making about the future of Palestine.

Their opinions form the central section of this Note, which is intended as an addendum to a longer essay, "Magdalene College Cambridge and British Jewry".[1] The main essay focuses upon the discrete existence of British Jewry – or perhaps, recognising their diversity, of Jewish communities in Britain –and especially of the gradual acceptance of their right to belong, as seen through the prism of the history of a single Cambridge college. It argues that, since the seventeenth century, the contribution made by Magdalene, both as an institution and through some of the notable people associated with the College, has generally been positive in welcoming and supporting Jews, both as citizens of the United Kingdom and, in the twentieth century, also as refugees from persecution overseas.

However, it would be impossible to deny that, for the past hundred years, the position of Jews in the United Kingdom – as well as in other countries where the Diaspora is represented – has been complicated by the fate of Palestine and, since 1948, the existence of the State of Israel. "Magdalene College Cambridge and British Jewry" was begun late in 2023, soon after the terrorist massacre that slaughtered over one thousand Israelis. It was completed in 2024, during the invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces that followed. In the United Kingdom, as in other countries, heightened public feeling against Israel sometimes manifested itself in anti-Semitic slogans and even attacks on individuals, to the point where many British Jews felt threatened in their own country. With its focus upon the right of belonging within the United Kingdom of British Jewry, the essay neither offers nor implies any comment or judgment upon the tragic events in Gaza. Nonetheless, it seems useful in the sketching of a broader picture to look at the final years of the British Mandate in Palestine as events there were viewed by two products of Magdalene, Sir Harold MacMichael, an easily caricatured proconsul, and J.S. Bennett, an iconoclastic bureaucrat.

Two interrelated points should be made about the material discussed here. The first is that the opinions and reactions of MacMichael and Bennett need to be placed within a much larger account of British attempts to discern, let alone impose, a Palestinian settlement. The second is that no purpose would be served in attempting to present their views as reflecting some sort of Magdalene College perspective. Although both graduated with First Class Honours – Harold MacMichael in Classics in 1904, John Bennett in History in 1936 – and, incidentally, both rowed for Magdalene, their Cambridge careers were a third of a century apart, and they studied within an institution that had changed considerably in the intervening period. Both had been educated at schools outside the magic circle of privilege, and each developed an enthusiasm for the Arab world, but MacMichael was the nephew of a Viceroy of India while Bennett was the son of a Romford vet. Hence the justification of this examination of their contributions to the debate on Palestine policy lies not so much in the intrinsic value of their insights, provocative although they sometimes proved to be, as in the wider relationship between their specific attitudes to Zionism and the larger subject of Magdalene and British Jewry. MacMichael and Bennett were educated within very different value systems, especially those that shaped attitudes to the Empire. Neither was Jewish, neither felt any sympathy for Zionism, but both came, however reluctantly, to recognise that the Balfour Declaration of 1917, discussed below, had helped to create an unavoidable Jewish fact within Palestine.

A national home for the Jewish people Despite its sentimental title, the "Holy Land", and its pervasive role as the location of the formative events of the Christian religion, Palestine was a remote land, and there is no evidence that any member of Magdalene College actually visited the territory before the late nineteenth century. Arthur Hastings Kelk, an undergraduate from 1882 to 1885, was the son and namesake of the Reverend A.H. Kelk, who had arrived in Jerusalem in 1878 as the representative of the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity Among the Jews. By the time Kelk senior left, in 1902, he was said to have baptised 199 converts – a reminder that there was a minority Jewish community in Palestine before the twentieth century, but one that was vulnerable and far from prosperous. The younger Kelk was Anglican chaplain at Beirut from 1889 to 1892.[2]

British forces occupied Jerusalem in 1917, and regarded themselves as having liberated the Arabs from the toxic rule of Ottoman Turkey. It was one of the last military campaigns to make extensive use of cavalry: posted to a veterinary hospital in Egypt, John Bennett's father was responsible for keeping the horses healthy. He would develop a romantic attachment to the Middle East that he transmitted to his sons, both of whom became brilliant historians at Magdalene. A member of the College, Second Lieutenant James Harter, was killed during the final advance upon the city. In their home village in Gloucestershire, his family erected a memorial honouring their son's death "essaying to deliver the Holy Land from the Infidels (for which an ancestor of his had also fought 1247-1260)".[3] Their grief was palpable; their precedent would not prove positive. Another member of Magdalene who served briefly in the Palestine campaign was Arthur Tedder, an officer in the newly formed Royal Air Force, who was posted there at the end of May 1918. He would remember Palestine for three things – fleas, flowers and flies.[4]

A few weeks before James Harter's death, the British government had made a significant gesture to the Zionist movement. On 2 November 1917, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, issued a statement which contained attempts at balance that merit quotation: "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." The convolutions and contradictions of the formula have often been discussed. Did "a national home for the Jewish people" imply a sovereign state, or merely that Jews would be welcome in the transnational space of Palestine? Given that the project was not intended to diminish their "rights and political status … in any other country" – a guarantee that the British government could hardly give and certainly could not enforce – it was to be assumed that the "national home" was not planned as a refuge for every Jew in the world. Even so, it was not explained how this was to be reconciled with "the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities". These mysteries are well known.

However, two other points about the document are worth noting. The first is that, on 2 November 1917, Britain had no right or standing to carve up Palestine, not even the de facto claims of military conquest. In the circumstances, the government's "best endeavours" might well prove to be distinctly limited. The second oddity relates to the announcement itself. Britain still took its system of parliamentary government seriously. When governments decided upon policy initiatives, ministers were expected to announce them from the dispatch box and subject themselves to questioning. Yet this initiative was contained in a typed letter, addressed from the Foreign Office but not even on headed notepaper, and addressed to a private citizen, Lord Rothschild, at his residence in London's Piccadilly, with no superscription that might identify the role in which he was the chosen as recipient. Rothschild was simply asked to "bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation". As the Honourable Walter Rothschild, the second Baron Rothschild had attended Magdalene between 1887 and 1889. The experience does not seem to have been a success.[5] The young man was fervently committed to the study of birds, and obviously wished to sit at the feet of Alfred Newton, Professorial Fellow of Magdalene and one of the creators of modern ornithology. Newton was an elderly and crusty bachelor don, probably mildly anti-Semitic – most Victorian gentlemen felt some measure of distaste for Jews, if only on class grounds – but he came to disapprove of his pupil because young Rothschild was too enthusiastic, in particular threatening (unintentionally) to dominate ornithological research by mobilising the extensive family fortune to which he had access to fund ambitious projects. After two years, the first Lord Rothschild, a domineering father, removed his son and compelled him to work in the family bank. The first Baron was a Zionist, a role that Walter inherited, possibly without much enthusiasm, along with the title in 1915. The family's wealth made him, at least unofficially, Britain's most prominent Jew, and it was no doubt a courtesy that he should be notified of the government's new political stance. This particular Magdalene connection with Palestine certainly represents a landmark in the history of Zionism, but Rothschild's role in it was largely accidental and confined to acting as a postbox.

The Palestine Mandate Palestine, part of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, was assigned to Britain in 1920, under a League of Nations Mandate, an International Law equivalent of tenure by long leasehold instead of absolute sovereignty.[6] (In practice, one of the few differences between this and outright colonial rule was that the Governor was styled High Commissioner.) The history of the next twenty-eight years is neatly summarised in the index to the Oxford History of the British Empire: "Palestine Mandate, consequences not foreseen". In the nineteen-twenties, British politicians and policy-makers envisaged the gradual creation of a single state under a joint Arab-Jewish authority, an aim still championed by idealistic critics of Israel a century later.  It soon became clear that Palestinian Arabs neither welcomed Jewish immigrants nor were willing to share power with them: D.K. Fieldhouse, former Professor of Imperial History at Cambridge, concluded that the Mandate had irretrievably failed as early as 1923.[7]

In line with the implied promise of a "homeland" in the Balfour Declaration, the British facilitated Jewish immigration in the nineteen-twenties, before attempting to slow the pace in 1930. However, the three years after Hitler came to power created a new influx which triggered the Arab uprising of 1936. In 1937, the British retreated to a desperate Plan B – the partition of Palestine between its incompatible populations. The Peel Commission, which advocated the solution, admitted that it would be a "difficult and drastic operation". Unfortunately, attempts to map the solution on the ground only highlighted the existence of a disparate patchwork of settlements, making it likely that any attempt to carve up the country would necessarily involve forced population movements. The onset of the Second World War sent British policy once again into reverse. As the conflict approached, the priority became the need to avoid goading Palestine's Arab majority into siding with the Nazis and hence threatening the security of the Suez Canal. It was during these immediate prewar years that John Bennett was settling into the Colonial Office as a junior official whose assignments included providing administrative support for the 1937 Royal Commission, which first recommended partition, and the 1939 London Conference, which demonstrated the intractability of the problem.

Two points stand out from Britain's 1939 White Paper. The first is that it denied any intention of making Palestine "a Jewish state". (It equally ruled out turning the territory into "an Arab state".) Although the wording might be interpreted as leaving open the possibility of establishing Jewish and Arab states within Palestine, the White Paper declared that the British aimed to establish "an independent Palestinian State", hopefully within ten years. The new entity would be bound to Britain by a treaty that "would provide satisfactorily for the commercial and strategic interests of both countries". The example of Egypt would have demonstrated that such a relationship would place severe limitations on independence, possibly rendering it little more than a façade. The White Paper glossed over the difficulty that the Arabs and the Jews hated one another with the vague suggestion that the Palestinian State would be "possibly of a federal nature". Since regional federations, each with a different internal balance of forces, had resolved problems in Canada, Australia and South Africa, the device had come to be seen as a magic solution to the Empire's chalk-and-cheese problems. In the second half of the mid-twentieth century, its success rate would decline. Versions of the federal principle worked in areas where there was already a high level of collaboration or unity, such as India (where it did not prevent partition), Malaya and Nigeria. But in Central Africa, the West Indies and South Arabia, it crashed, while in East Africa and Palestine, well-intentioned British hopes were never even put to the test. The other key element in the 1939 White Paper was its imposition of severe curbs on Jewish immigration into Palestine, which was to be limited to 75,000 over five years, with restrictions upon the purchase of land. These provisions were significant in two ways. The first was that the restriction of numbers clearly condemned the Jews to indefinite minority status within the territory that they identified as their Promised Land. The second was that the British could still regulate immigration by sea, and thus enforce their proclaimed quota. By 1939, the Mandate authorities had to a large extent lost control at local level, and it had never been easy to police the land frontiers of Palestine – but the Royal Navy still ruled the Mediterranean waves.

British policy-makers now faced the challenge of treading carefully between apparently clashing promises: in 1917, the Jews had been offered support for a homeland; in 1939 the Arabs had been assured that there would be no Jewish State. Drawing upon the highest traditions of British statesmanship, the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, laid down a new principle: it was impossible to please everybody in Palestine so "let us offend the Jews rather than the Arabs".[8] More high-mindedly, the Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, aimed "to act without fear or favour in an impartial way" in his dealings with both of Palestine's communities – as did MacMichael – but he was not surprised by the result: "I gained not the friendship of one or the other, but the implacable hostility of both". When he mildly pointed out to Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader, that Jews themselves had made mistakes, he received the stinging riposte: "our chief mistake is that we exist at all".[9] Jewish settlers, who had fought for Britain in 1936, now began to see the Mandated Power as their enemy, and some joined terrorist groups ready to take violent action.

Sir Harold MacMichael  In 1938, Britain appointed one of its most senior proconsuls, Sir Harold MacMichael, as High Commissioner in Palestine, where he would serve a fraught six-year term.  MacMichael was the son of a clergyman – a mathematics graduate from Trinity College, Cambridge – who had begun his career as a curate in Derbyshire, where he had wooed the Honourable Sophia Curzon, daughter of a peer and sister of the future Viceroy of India.[10] Although MacMichael would behave like a grandee (perhaps a result of his Curzon blood), his parents were probably not especially wealthy, and he had to make his career on merit. For instance, he was a product of Bedford, which ranked as a public school (young Harold won the public schools fencing championship in 1901), but was in origin a local grammar school that could afford to offer a classical education at low cost thanks to a sixteenth-century benefactor who had gifted land on the edge of London. When the fields of Holborn were developed to become Bloomsbury, the endowment made Bedford School fabulously wealthy.[11] (Magdalene received a similar boon at Aldgate, but the College was defrauded of the land in the time of Queen Elizabeth.) Harold MacMichael further eased the financial burden of his education by winning an Entrance Scholarship to Magdalene, where he achieved First Class Honours in Classics in 1904, a rare success at a time when the College was in the doldrums.

In 1902-3, the lowest point, Magdalene had only 28 undergraduates, although numbers picked up slightly with the end of the South African War, which had offered muscular young men a rival education of outdoor adventure. To keep College sports teams going, it was necessary for keen and energetic students – MacMichael was both – to double up: he rowed Stroke in the Magdalene Boat in the 1904 May races, during the Term in which he sat his Finals. The following year, he returned to Cambridge to take a course in Arabic and also became Captain of the Boat Club. Ever masterful, MacMichael was determined that all freshmen should be assessed as potential oarsmen through a session on an exercise machine, in a process called "tubbing", whether they wished to or not. He cornered one newcomer in First Court with the command: "I'm going to tub you this afternoon." Innocently ignorant of aquatic recreations, the young man asked in reply: "What in?"[12] MacMichael's habit of command would not prove well suited to the turbulent conditions of Palestine. He was, however, a great success in the Sudan Civil Service, where he showed the sensitivity to work through existing tribal authorities. Fluent in Arabic, he also established himself as a scholar of considerable note, publishing several influential works on the Sudan, including a massive two-volume history and ethnology of its peoples that appeared in 1922. (The definite article was used to indicate that the Sudan was a territorial muddle rather than a coherent country).[13] Magdalene elected him to an Honorary Fellowship in 1939.[14]

Knighted in 1932, Sir Harold MacMichael served a four-year term as Governor of Tanganyika, before his appointment in March 1938 as High Commissioner in Palestine.  "Immediately suspected by both Arabs and Jews, MacMichael found himself with responsibility but not authority, a lightning rod for a British policy with which he often disagreed." As an old Sudan hand, he was instinctively sympathetic to the Arabs, and often spoke Arabic in public.[15]  Nonetheless, he would become persuaded "that only partition offered long-term prospects of successful resolution of the Palestine question". At his death in 1969, The Times would call him "one of the last to survive of the great proconsuls of the British colonial empire in its heyday". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography insisted that he was not "a reactionary ideologue" but rather "conservative and pragmatic". But The Times resorted to a tactful formula: MacMichael "was intolerant of injustice and humbug and could express himself with trenchant wit. This made him a rather formidable figure to those who did not know him well".[16]  To the Magdalene historian, Piers Brendon, he was a toxic figure of fun, immaculate, cynical, aloof – his ability seemingly to ignore the developing chaos gave him the nickname "Simeon Stylites", after the sixth-century mystic who lived on top of a pillar.[17]   

In fact, MacMichael's intimidating magnificence provides a clue to the functioning of Britain's global imperial system. The Empire depended in large measure on the illusion of power. This was backed, whenever necessary and feasible, by the selective and economical use of force from the limited military resources available.[18] Generally, subject peoples opted to avoid risking imperial wrath and to swallow the humiliation of acquiescing in British rule, not least because it did bring undoubted benefits – the maintenance of order, incorruptible administration and even some development of infrastructure. The projection of omniscience and omnipotence by governors and officials formed a vital element in this posture.[19] As Viceroy of India, MacMichael's uncle, Lord Curzon, had taken the humourless splendour of the British Raj to new heights: Sir Harold MacMichael naturally displayed the required stiff upper lip. Yet, in practice, proconsuls ran their domains with a light touch: MacMichael himself had established and operated structures of "indirect rule" in the Sudan and Tanganyika. In Palestine, this puppet-master system did not work, since Arabs and Jews constructed rival authorities to control their own districts and increasingly ignored the Mandated Power. The whole imperial illusion was already crumbling in the face of Arab hostility before MacMichael arrived there. In September 1938, he reported: "The position is deteriorating rapidly and has reached a stage at which rebel leaders are more feared and respected than we are."[20] Fear and respect represented the intertwined foundations of Empire: without them, MacMichael's pomp was no more than pantomime. Once the conjuring trick of Empire was exposed, there was no alternative but to attempt to rule by military force – and Britain had so few soldiers (and so little money) that this was only feasible over a small area for a limited time. In 1943, MacMichael defended the decision to raze an Arab community as a reprisal: "the village had a consistently bad record", punitive action was "‘merited and indeed necessitated" and had produced "an extremely salutary effect".[21]   That kind of language had carried some meaning in the days when he had run Darfur, 150,000 square miles in Sudan. In Palestine, it merely stoked the hatreds.  The High Commissioner was increasingly irrelevant, and Britain's prospects of hanging on to any vestige of control were increasingly slight.

In any case, Sir Harold MacMichael was hardly his own master. In earlier times, when colonial governors communicated with London by ship, the 'man on the spot' could commit the Empire to annexations and frontier wars, safe in the knowledge that it would be weeks before the cabinet back home could consider his perhaps irreversible actions. But, by the twentieth century, imperial proconsuls were kept on a tight lead, subject to instructions that were cabled or radioed instantaneously across the globe. This was particularly true of Palestine as it came to be seen as a pawn in an emerging global crisis. "In 1937 it was still possible to make policy in the high commissioner's office. By 1938 the impact of events in Europe had removed the seat of all power to London."[22] This explains why MacMichael is mentioned so rarely in academic studies of the British Mandate in Palestine: for instance, in the detailed seventy-page study by D.K. Fieldhouse, he appears only twice, both times mentioned in passing. But if he was not much involved in the creation of policy, the High Commissioner did bear the burden of carrying it into effect, insofar as his waning authority permitted. His interventions were particularly resented by Jews, although he was mostly acting upon orders from London, for instance in enforcing new land purchase regulations that were designed to protect Arab occupiers. With Jewish immigration limited to 75,000 over five years, a permit system had to be in place. MacMichael dealt with the problem of illegal Jewish immigration – which could not be completely blocked – by deducting the number of those who entered without authorisation from the already restricted total. It is obvious that he was not at ease with Jews, although it is likely that his distaste was social rather than ethnic. He replied to an appeal in 1940 for special treatment of refugees  from the Balkans by suggesting that it would be more useful to keep the immigration permits in reserve until after the War, when a "better type" of Jew might become available.[23]

The greatest tragedy of Sir Harold MacMichael's term of office in fact took place over a thousand miles away. Once again, he came to bear symbolic responsibility for a decision that he certainly supported but did not originate. In December 1941, almost eight hundred Romanian Jews tried to reach Palestine aboard the Struma, once a luxury yacht but considerably battered by its subsequent use to transport cattle on the Danube. At Istanbul, British diplomats succeeded in blocking the further passage of the Struma, which was held in quarantine and in increasingly squalid conditions. A few passengers who had previously secured entry permits to Palestine were eventually allowed to travel onward overland, but the bulk were denied entry. The Turkish authorities eventually cast the ship adrift in the Black Sea, where it was torpedoed by a Russian submarine. There was only one survivor of the tragedy.

The fate of the Struma is still recalled with moral outrage in Israel. The episode posed the dilemma that mass immigration still causes in contemporary Europe: the claims of humanity balanced against the needs and the resistance of receiving societies. When the Romanian Jews set sail, the Eighth Army had just forced the Germans to raise the prolonged siege of Tobruk, regarded as the gateway to Egypt and hence the key to the defence of the Suez Canal. It was obvious that Rommel's Afrika Korps had fallen back to regroup: in June 1942 the Germans returned to capture Tobruk and were only pushed back at El-Alamein in November of that year. However harsh the decision to turn away the Struma, the admission of almost eight hundred Jewish refugees into a territory still smouldering from the uprisings of the nineteen-thirties would have risked a renewed Arab explosion on the flank of the Suez Canal. Although MacMichael's role in the tragedy was at best secondary, he became the target of extreme Zionist groups within Palestine. Posters were displayed, depicting him as wanted for murder. A violent fringe, the Stern Gang, planned to murder him. In August 1944, a month before the close of his term of office, their assassination attempt came close to success.

Much of MacMichael's work in Palestine was necessarily dominated by the short-term imperatives of wartime. However, the historian Lauren Banko has recently argued that one of the administrative decisions that he was ordered to promulgate contained important implications for the future. Essentially, British policy towards Palestine had assumed two collective categories of people, Jews and Arabs. Arthur Balfour, author of the 1917 declaration in favour of a Jewish homeland, made those assumptions clear three years later. He asked the Arabs, whom he flattered as "a great, an interesting, an attractive race", to remember that Britain had "freed them from the tyranny of their brutal conqueror", the Turkish Empire.  In return, he hoped the Arab people would "not grudge that small notch, for it is not more geographically, whatever it may be historically – that small notch in what are now Arab territories being given to the people who for all these hundreds of years have been separated from it".[24]  This kind of thinking saw Jews as possessing a special affinity with Palestine, while Arabs had a more general – and maybe even nomadic – allegiance to the whole of the Middle East, and owed a debt of gratitude to Britain. It lingered on into the late nineteen-thirties, and even beyond. "The Arab peoples generally have been treated generously since the [1914-18] war," Malcolm MacDonald asserted in a memorandum to the Cabinet in January 1939. "Palestine was a small strip of undeveloped country which – given guarantees of the sanctity of the Moslem Holy Places – they could well spare". Furthermore, "the Palestinian Arabs are rather a poor lot of people", whereas "[t]he conception of modern civilisation under Jewish inspiration blossoming on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean is a fine one". As late as 1944, the National Executive Committee of the British Labour Party endorsed a proposal to subsidise the transfer of Palestinian Arabs in order to make space for more immigrants, with the aim of creating a Jewish majority in the territory as a whole.[25]

However, in 1939, when the British were compelled by Arab pressure to curb Jewish immigration, the classic Imperial virtue of even-handedness seemed to require a similar promise to prevent illegal Arab immigration into the Mandate territory. MacMichael was instructed to issue the assurance, but officials in London were concerned that it represented a recognition that Palestinian Arabs were "a separate and distinct people from Arabs of other countries". As noted above, the Balfour Declaration had promised that "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine", but this could be taken as referring to disparate groups of people, and did not necessarily imply any specific shared national identity. In fact, the British had created a Palestinian citizenship as far back as 1925 but, arguably, by banning Arab immigration they had now taken a step further: if there were Arabs who entered Palestine illegally, then there must be Arabs who had a right to be there, however much Malcolm MacDonald might dismiss them as "rather a poor lot of people". Balfour's concept of a collectivity of people sharing the vast majority of the "Arab territories" stretching across the entire Middle East was in the process of being subdivided to produce a concept of Palestinian Arabs, whose right to live in that territory was defined by a specific localised nationality. Of course, it might equally be argued that the partition schemes that the British had tentatively embraced in the late nineteen-thirties had embodied the same concept, but it was not clear whether these envisaged a Palestinian state or the incorporation of the Arab fragments into nearby Transjordan. Dr Banko would seem to be correct in regarding the 1939 policy as at the very least the symbolic culmination of a process. Acting as he did on instructions from London, Harold MacMichael was more the messenger than the midwife of this emerging Palestinian national identity. Nonetheless, it is curious that an Empire functionary who was so easily caricatured as a proconsular dinosaur, should have been the instrument of forging a new concept among international identities.

When Harold MacMichael arrived in Palestine in 1938, the British government was examining the possibility of partition. That option was officially disavowed in 1939, but by the time he left office six years later, it was creeping back on to the political agenda. On the ground in Palestine, full-scale partition might be rejected, but some sort of demarcation was essential: indeed, as the territory disintegrated into local Arab and Jewish fiefdoms, the process became entrenched. Federation, if it were remotely feasible, would also require internal boundaries. As British policy-makers desperately fished for formulae in the Dead Sea of Palestinian intractability, the notion of "cantonisation" occasionally surfaced, a device that might create a new Switzerland out of the patchwork of armed camps.  It is possible that, for MacMichael, the basic idea behind partition never entirely went away. In 1938, he had been attracted to the possibility of establishing a Jewish State on the coastal plain. This would be so weak that it would require the continuation of British protection, under a modified form of the Mandate. The rest of Palestine, with the exception of various enclaves which the British would retain, would become an independent Arab State.[26]

In July 1944, two months before his departure, Sir Harold MacMichael floated a modified version of the scheme, this time in an explicit endorsement of partition and the creation of a Zionist State. His experience of five years of attempting to impose quotas and enforce permits had persuaded him that a Mandate authority could not indefinitely control Jewish immigration, and would probably cease to make the effort. An influx of refugees, such as the emerging horrors of the Shoah seemed likely to generate, would destabilise the region, and alienate the Arabs, "whose fear of a Jewish deluge is not without justification". The predicted human tsunami would even be to the disadvantage of the Jews themselves, "for whom a process of gradual percolation in an atmosphere of qualified receptivity offers a far brighter future than does the attempt to obtain by force what is not theirs to take nor ours to give".  MacMichael's reflections – he did not embody them in a formal dispatch but in a semi-formal review document – were of interest, if only because he seems to have been the first prominent figure among British administrators explicitly to propose partition and the creation of a Jewish state.  Closely examined, however, it may perhaps be interpreted as an unusually cunning example of a perfidious Imperial power seeking to turn the tables on its tormentors. MacMichael clearly implied a Jewish State that would embrace a very small area – precisely the outcome that many Zionist leaders feared and opposed. Possessing sovereignty, the new entity could of course determine its own immigration policy – but with the catch that it would rule over such a small area that it would have almost no room to accommodate newcomers. Thus the new State would do what the British authorities were finding increasingly difficult to achieve, and become the means of slowing down Jewish immigration. As Palestine ceased to be an attractive prospect for European Jews, MacMichael hoped that Arabs would gradually lose their fear of being swamped, although the chances that the severely reduced trickle would meet with "qualified receptivity" from the local majority were perhaps slight.[27] As in 1938, he evidently assumed that the tiny Zionist State would be relatively weak in the face of its larger neighbour, backed as it would be by the nearby Middle Eastern countries, and hence unable to seize more territory.[28] In the event, both the pressure of numbers and the balance of military force would bring about a larger Israel that would, perforce, establish itself as a regional power.

J.S. Bennett  In 1936, the brilliant young Magdalene History graduate, John Bennett, joined the Colonial Office as a junior administrator. A grammar school boy from Romford who had won a Scholarship in History, he had entered the College in 1933 and would achieve the remarkable feat of a starred First in both parts of the Tripos. Bennett was the key figure in a group of undergraduates who reacted against the conformist and public-school ethos of nineteen-thirties Magdalene, some of them middle class, others rebels against their own privileged backgrounds. They called themselves the Adullamites, after the Biblical cave of the discontented, and claimed to be members of a revolutionary organisation, STRACA, the Society for Tendentiously Resisting All Constituted Authority.[29] He came fifth in the Home Civil Service entrance examinations, high enough to choose his own career path, and opted for the Colonies in the hope of having opportunities to travel. To a calm backwater of Whitehall administration he brought not only a reputation for intellectual precision – a senior colleague soon remarked that he had "introduced a very dangerous element into this department – thought" – but also an early (and unusual) enthusiasm for the Arab world. As already mentioned, his father had been posted to a veterinary hospital in Egypt during the First World War. The task of keeping the cavalry horses fit involved travel around the region and he became fascinated by the Near East. This enthusiasm he subsequently communicated to his two sons through the books and maps that he had collected: young John could count up to ten in Arabic.[30] Childhood enthusiasms do not always endure into adult life, but John Bennett was further captivated by a Part II History special subject on the First Crusade and its aftermath. The Kingdom of Jerusalem, the State imposed by the crusaders, faced intractable problems of Muslim hostility and the lack of natural defensible frontiers. For Bennett, it did not inspire confidence in the Zionist project.[31] Nothing that he would see from his Colonial Office desk – and, later, from visiting the region himself – would dent his sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs.

It should be stressed that John Bennett never determined British policy towards Palestine. In the late nineteen-thirties, as the British government trod warily around the issue of partition, he was a very junior official. In the postwar period, he was to some extent marginalised in the Colonial Office, not least because his tendency to outspoken analysis led him to espouse radical solutions when political and military circumstances pointed to defensive adjustments. In the pro-Arab Foreign Office, his views would have been acceptable, but Colonial Office bureaucrats were paternalistically, if generally ineffectually, dedicated to the development of the territories under their tutelage.[32] Hence some of his senior colleagues sympathised with the Jewish settlers who – as the laudatory phrase had it – had made the desert bloom. Nonetheless, he did observe the increasingly futile British efforts to resolve their Palestine dilemma from a ringside seat, as an administrative assistant first to the 1937 Royal Commission led by Earl Peel – which first suggested splitting the Mandate territory between Arabs and Jews – and then to the 1939 London Conference, which failed even to persuade the participants to interact with one another.  

John Bennett had made a brief official visit to Jerusalem in 1940, which was followed by a longer assignment to Cairo, a vantage point from which it was natural to view the Middle East in Arab terms. When he returned to London after the war, he was certainly in a position to comment with authority on the "arduous, fascinating and hopeless" challenge of Palestine.[33]  Unfortunately, his incisive analyses formed little more than a commentary upon the problem that Britain could no longer control on the ground.  In October 1946, he penned a powerfully worded memorandum (the Colonial Office term was a "minute" but this was a lengthy and detailed paper) which focused upon the possibility of partition as a means by which Britain could ease its way out of an increasingly onerous responsibility.[34] As he told his superiors, "there are moments when one must state one's opinion quite frankly" and that he did so "on the strength of ten years' contact with the problem". He took his stand on the British government's 1939 White Paper which had declared "unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State". This promise had not simply been made to the Arabs living in the Mandate territory: "at various times during the war the most solemn assurances were given" to "various Middle Eastern countries" that the 1939 declaration was "definitive and would not be withdrawn or altered as result of Jewish pressure". The only way around that obstacle would be "to ask the Governments concerned to release us from any commitment involved by urging them to 'face realities', i.e. to say to them in effect that we are sorry but the Jewish pressure has been too strong and we are no longer able to resist it." He did not bother to point out that any such request would be not only humiliating but probably unsuccessful, but he did suggest such a climb-down would cast doubt on the reliability of any further British promises to the entire Arab world.

John Bennett also noted that the 1939 declaration had attempted to assure the Palestinian Arabs of British goodwill by specifically reminding them of previous assurances that they should not be "made subjects of a Jewish State against their will".  Partition would mean "that the Arab population of that part of Palestine allotted as the Jewish State would be made subjects of the Jewish State against their will".[35]  However, he wrote with some asperity, if British policy was to be determined by "what Zionism – backed by its sanction of armed force – will accept, then it seems to be a waste of time to examine further the question of what 'commitments' there may be in any other direction". But he included one grim warning: "whatever else partition may be, it certainly won't be final. The Jews will only accept it, if at all, as a step towards something further ... it will be no more final than Hitler's successive 'last territorial claims in Europe'". Bennett's comparison with Nazi aggression was intended to shock, and it helps to explain why he was often isolated within the Colonial Office. His intended parallel was with Hitler's insatiably expansionist foreign policy. He warned that consigning Arabs to the rule of a Jewish State would be, in itself, an injustice. He did not predict that the Jews would engage in ethnic extermination. In any case, his arguments were briefly dismissed: one bureaucrat replied that partition offered Britain "the only, or, at any rate, the best means of giving effect to the double obligation (towards Arabs and Jews)". The permanent under-secretary, the highest ranking mandarin, assured ministers that "partition is the only really satisfactory solution of the Palestine problem. ... It is impossible to remain in Palestine as we are now."[36]

Reflections Over the next two years, Britain withdrew (or scuttled) from Palestine, leaving behind the still-controversial conflict which saw the emergence of the State of Israel. As John Bennett had predicted, Zionist supporters in Britain were sharply critical of the inadequacy, as they saw it, of the share of the Mandate territory that they secured. From retirement in Kent, Sir Harold MacMichael dispatched a bleak comment to The Times, in which he emphasised the words of the Balfour Declaration quoted earlier: "in 1917 the Jews were not promised Palestine, with or without Transjordan, as a national home; they were promised a national home in Palestine, with the proviso that nothing should be done to 'prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine' (i.e., the vast majority of its inhabitants)".[37] This was a factually correct interpretation of the Balfour Declaration, although the terms of 1917 had been in practice superseded by the United Nations endorsement of partition. Perhaps more noteworthy was the fact that MacMichael felt it appropriate to intervene at all. Attempted murder rarely wins hearts and minds.[38] When he looked back on his career in 1982, John Bennett, like so many others, traced the problems of Palestine to the ambiguity of the original remit, the attempt "to favour Jewish immigration without prejudice to the indigenous inhabitants". "Diplomatic double-talk" at the best of times became "stark contradiction" when the Nazis drove thousands of Jews from Germany after 1933. "The Mandate might just have been workable in a peaceful world and if Zionism had remained primarily a religious and cultural ideal content to move slowly", and if there had been no violent disruption of the demographic balance. "But by the mid-1930s, Hitler refugees were transforming it into a political movement in a hurry, backed by much non-Jewish liberal sympathy".[39] For three centuries, Magdalene as an institution, and the people associated with the College, had predominantly shown a strong commitment to welcoming Jews as part of the British community. Its two intellectually brilliant members who were most closely associated with Palestine – MacMichael, the establishment figure and Bennett, the perennial rebel – showed little enthusiasm for the establishment of a Jewish State on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean.

Nor was there much sympathy from a third distinguished Magdalene figure, the head of the Royal Air Force, Lord Tedder. A popular and outgoing student between 1909 and 1913 and an Honorary Fellow since 1943, Tedder had been the air commander alongside Montgomery and Eisenhower in the Mediterranean region.[40] Tedder was very definitely no anti-Semite: he struck up an immediately friendly relationship with Solly Zuckerman, the South African-born Oxford don who was brought to study the effects of bombing on the Italian island of Pantellaria in 1943. Most Top Brass were suspicious of the strange phenomenon of a "boffin", but Tedder's warm personality and intellectual background – he had been Magdalene's first research student in History – quickly established a bond between them. It was Tedder who invented the title of "Chief Scientific Officer" for Zuckerman (with the honorary rank of Wing Commander), and the two enjoyed defying bureaucratic insistence upon acceptable precedent: they frequently and with relish quoted the alleged and legendary Whitehall motto: "Nothing should ever be done for the first time".[41]

As British governments contemplated withdrawal from Egypt and were keen to disentangle from Palestine, Tedder hoped to maintain an air base in Transjordan (later simply known as Jordan). He feared that this would become untenable if Transjordan were attacked by the emerging Jewish State. With regional boundaries still fluid, he favoured including the Negev desert within the Jordanian State as an indirect means of strengthening the position of the RAF. Following the withdrawal from Palestine, there were tense relations with what the Foreign Office described as "the Jewish authorities in Tel Aviv", since they were slow formally to recognise the new State. There was a brief crisis in January 1949, towards the close of fighting between Arabs and Jews, when Israeli air defences shot down five RAF fighters engaged on a reconnaissance mission from the Canal Zone. Faithful to his belief in the necessity of alliance with the Americans, Tedder privately accepted that it was right to bow to President Truman's call for restraint.[42]

Suez, 1956 There was one further twist to the story that belongs here. Britain recognised the existence of Israel in 1950. Within a few years, the Middle East seemed dominated by a new threat, of assertive Arab nationalism in Egypt, backed by Soviet support and weaponry. In 1956, the British and French governments decided to reoccupy the Suez Canal, from which Britain had withdrawn two years earlier, and a secret alliance was forged with the Israelis to launch an attack that would provide a pretext for intervention. 'Suez' is still a shorthand term for the humiliating debacle that ensued. The Foreign Secretary who negotiated the deal with Israel, much censured as discreditable, was Selwyn Lloyd, a Magdalene undergraduate of the nineteen-twenties.[43] The British government was widely denounced, both abroad and at home, for its confrontation with Egypt.[44] In the face of mass statements of protest from academics, support came from the Master of Magdalene, Sir Henry Willink, a Conservative politician until his appointment to Cambridge in 1948. As a junior minister in Churchill's wartime coalition, he had served alongside members of Sir Anthony Eden's cabinet, and he was keen to defend his former colleagues. "I am sure that they reached their decision to deliver this country's ultimatum with great reluctance," he assured readers of The Times. Willink sought to shift the argument away from the Suez Canal, where the joint action by Britain and France could easily be portrayed as an imperialist adventure, to wider questions of regional conflict. He was "equally sure" that ministers believed that attacking Egypt (which was seen by many as an expansionist power) "gave the best, perhaps the only prospect of achieving a settlement between Jew and Arab in the Middle East".[45]

Was this a reasonable defence? In his memoir on Suez written two decades later, Selwyn Lloyd insisted that the British government had pursued "some very definite aims". These included the assertion of international control over the Canal, the curbing of Egypt's nationalist leader, Colonel Nasser, "and we wished to create the conditions for an Arab-Israeli settlement". The order of priorities is hardly persuasive. Nor does this retrospective analysis square with Selwyn Lloyd's statement to the House of Commons on 30 October 1956, while the invasion was in progress, in which he denied that "we were trying to impose a settlement or a solution by this action that we have taken. Nothing is further from our thoughts." It was possible that "a solution may be facilitated" by the conflict – how was not explained – "but the question of a settlement between Israel and the Arab States will not come out of this particular situation".[46]  

Another Magdalene voice excoriated the entire Suez adventure. As former head of the Royal Air Force and a senior Allied commander both in the Mediterranean and in Normandy, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Tedder – a student at Magdalene from 1909 to 1913, an Honorary Fellow since 1943 and Chancellor of Cambridge University – was a respected voice. Willink had persuaded himself that "the day will come when both Israel and the Arab States will owe a debt to Britain and to France" for somehow sparing them "from a full-scale war of particular bitterness and cruelty" fought for every inch of Palestinian soil. But, in an hour-long speech to the House of Lords, Tedder coldly denounced the government for failing to define its objectives and for the "folly" of taking a divided nation into a campaign whose implications they had not thought through.[47] Although he made no mention of the collaboration with Israel, he certainly would not have trusted a country that had attacked his planes barely seven years earlier. Focusing specifically upon the logistical absurdity of attacking Egypt without foreseeing the risk of sabotage to the Canal and upon the diplomatic blunder of acting without the Americans, Tedder did not bother to allude to the mirage of achieving regional peace through local warfare.  Far from resolving the conflict between Arabs and Jews over the future of Palestine, Suez helped to ensure that it would be prolonged and recurrent.


I appreciate the friendly interest in the Magdalene material on shown by many members of the College, but (as always) I stress that my various narratives and speculations are the result of a personal interest in Cambridge history and are neither commissioned nor endorsed by the institution. Around thirty Internet essays and notes relating to the history of Magdalene College are listed on:   

[1] "Magdalene College Cambridge and British Jewry":

[2] Biographical information on Cambridge students comes from:

[3], endnote 74; Harter was 28 when he died in November 1917. He is buried in the Ramleh War Cemetery in Israel:

[4] V. Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command (London, 2012), 50-1.

[5] The episode is discussed in "Magdalene College Cambridge and British Jewry". For Rothschild, K. Jordan / V.M. Quirke, "Rothschild, Lionel Walter, second Baron Rothschild (1868–1937), zoologist", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  M. Rothschild, Walter Rothschild... (London, 2008), 70-9, is insightful about his time at Cambridge.

[6] Naturally, there is a massive academic literature on Palestine / Israel, some of which is cited below. Here I have mostly relied upon D.K. Fieldhouse, Western Imperialism in the Middle East, 1914-1958 (Oxford, 2006), 151-219, supplemented by the writings of two Magdalene historians, Piers Brendon and Ronald Hyam. Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997 (London, 2007), 460-80 is lively and (in the best sense of the word) opinionated. Hyam, Britain's Declining Empire ... 1918-1968 (Cambridge, 2006), 49-59, 123-30 is succinct and thematic.  C. Sanger, Malcolm MacDonald... (Liverpool, 1995), 159-75 shows how policy-making in the crucial period of 1938-9 was centralised in the Colonial Secretary himself. G. Alderman, Modern British Jewry (rev. ed., Oxford, 2008), 265-320 traces the impact of Palestine in Britain.

[7] D.K. Fieldhouse, Western Imperialism in the Middle East, 1914-1958 (Oxford, 2006), 199.

[8] Hyam, Britain's Declining Empire ... 1918-1968, 58.

[9] Sanger, Malcolm MacDonald, 160, 171. Weizmann made clear his contempt for MacDonald in his autobiography Trial And Error (London, 1949), 406-12.

[10] The Reverend Charles MacMichael (1854-1905) married Sophia Curzon in 1882. In 1890, he became rector of Walpole St Peter in the Norfolk Fens: the living was worth about £650 a year, comfortable, but school fees would have been a burden. Charles MacMichael's grandfather came from Kirkcudbrightshire, but there seems to have been no more recent connection with Scotland.

[11] H. Pelling, Social Geography of British Elections 1885-1910 (London, 1967), 112-13 discusses the political implications of this endowment.

[12] J.R. Tanner, ed, The Historical Register of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, 1917), 689. Even by Cambridge standards, the Classics Tripos at that time was bizarre. Students could graduate after three years by taking Part I. Very few proceeded to Part II, which seems to have been a prototype of a taught Master's degree. In addition, the Firsts were subdivided into three further classes: MacMichael was awarded Class I (iii). HIs activities on the river were chronicled in The Magdalene Boat Club 1828-1928 (Cambridge, 1930), 39, 76. In 1903, the Magdalene Boat was bumped on all four days, but the following year the tables were turned and they went up four places. Falling rents from farmland, which constituted much of Magdalene's endowment income, plus major capital expenditure, e.g. to connect with the new Cambridge sewerage scheme, caused a financial crisis in the 1890s. For a brief period at the start of the new century, the South African War provided a rival attraction for the type of young man who spent a vacuous year as an undergraduate before calling it quits. "There was a drop in the entry to all Colleges and we suffered more than most," A.S. Ramsey recalled in the 1930s. "But the 28 men in residence in 1903 were nearly all scholars or exhibitioners and a keen lot." Ramsey, "Bygone Days in Magdalene", 57 (typescript in Magdalene College Archives), 57; P. Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College Cambridge 1428-1988 (Cambridge, 1994), 214-19 (chapter by Ronald Hyam).

[13] In addition to his major works (which the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography criticised in 2004 as "seriously flawed and now long outdated"), MacMichael produced in 1913 Brands Used by the Chief Camel-Owning Tribes of Kordofán, which contained both a glossary and illustrations. Readers were advised: "Practice alone can enable one to determine the tribe to which a camel belongs by looking at its brands, and one will probably make many mistakes however much practice one may have had." It is not known how many copies Cambridge University Press sold.

[14] "To his delight" said the Dictionary of National Biography. (The article appeared in its 1961-70 Supplementary volume.)

[15] MacMichael was the only one of seven British High Commissioners during the Mandate who could speak Arabic. The spoken language varies considerably across the Arab world: I have not been able to discover how effective he was at communicating in Palestine and Transjordan.

[16] M.W. Daly, "MacMichael, Sir Harold Alfred (1882–1969)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[17] Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 469-70. MacMichael did not emulate the austerity of his lifestyle.

[18] In 1925, the British garrison in Jerusalem was so poorly equipped that the Army could only provide an Armistice Day salute by borrowing an antique cannon that was fired to announce the start of Ramadan. Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 465. Control over Palestine then was more effective than it was two decades later, with 100,000 troops on the ground.

[19] Thus Arthur Tedder had criticised General Allenby's low-key entry into Cairo in November 1918, in a small fleet of motor cars accompanied by two motor-cycle outriders: "for a native population – I can’t imagine a worse show. I thought that at least he would ride through, and perhaps have a squadron of cavalry with him – even an open carriage would have been better". Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, 53. Proconsuls were sometimes aware of the fragility of the Empire's pretensions to control. Lord Curzon banned the singing of the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers at the 1902 Delhi Durbar, not out of respect for Hindu and Muslim sensibilities but because it contained the lines "Crowns and thrones may perish / Kingdoms rise and wane". This admission made it "particularly inappropriate". Ged Martin, Past Futures... (Toronto, 2004), 116-17, 277.

[20] N. Shepherd, Ploughing Sand: British Rule in Palestine, 1917-1948 (London, 1999), 209-10.

[21] Shepherd, Ploughing Sand: British Rule in Palestine, 1917-1948, 213-14.

[22] E. Monroe, "MacMichael, Sir Harold Alfred", Dictionary of National Biography 1961-1970, 704-6.

[23] Monroe, "MacMichael, Sir Harold Alfred", 705-6; J.C. Hurewitz, The Struggle for Palestine (New York, 1976 ed., cf. 1st ed., 1950), 141.

[24] L. Banko, The Invention of Palestinian Citizenship, 1918-1947 (Edinburgh, 2016), 207-8; B.E.C. Dugdale, Arthur James Balfour ... (2 vols, London, 1936), ii, 221.

[25] Sanger, Malcolm MacDonald, 164-5; K.O. Morgan, Labour in Power (Oxford, 1984), 207-8. In December 1944, the annual conference of the British Labour Party approved a report from the National Executive Committee (and written by Harold Laski) which stated that "a Jewish National Home would be meaningless unless Jews are permitted to enter in such numbers that they would become a majority".  Mass immigration would be facilitated by the resettlement of Palestinian Arabs. The report advocated "the transfer of population, pointing out that the Arabs have many wide territories". "Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land, and their settlement elsewhere be carefully organized and generously financed."  It also suggested the "re-examination" of the boundaries of Palestine. Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman, later gruffly commented: "The Arab countries had done little to earn the gratitude of the Western Allies in the war". This document was approved without debate and seems to have attracted no attention in the national press. However, it was reported in some detail by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which provided an alternative news service to organisations such as Reuters and Associated Press. The JTA noted that, on Palestine, "Jewish majority, voluntary population transfer, and extension of the boundaries" would form "henceforth the official platform of the Labour Party". Chaim Weizmann, leader of moderate Zionism, was alarmed by this development. "We had never contemplated the removal of the Arabs", and these proposals "went far beyond our intentions". All such demographic engineering schemes seem to have rested on an unspoken assumption that Arabs were essentially a nomadic people. K. Martin, Harold Laski ... (London, 1953),  206; Jewish Telegraphic Agency report (20 December) in Sydney Jewish News, 22 December 1944 (via Trove, the National Library of Australia's online newspaper archive); Weizmann, Trial and Error, 535.  

[26] M.J. Cohen, "Appeasement in the Middle East: The British White Paper on Palestine, May 1939", Historical Journal, xvi (1973), 571-596, esp. 577. The idea of a coastal Jewish State had supporters, but it did not take account of the complication of a large Arab majority in the key port of Jaffa. Nor did it meet Jewish aspirations for access to Jerusalem which most partition schemes hoped to treat as an international city, without explaining how this could be made to work.

[27] In 1947, the socialist intellectual G.D.H. Cole argued for a similar solution, a Jewish State within severely limited boundaries. "If this area were small – as it would in all the circumstances have to be – its power to absorb immigrants would also be small. But the restriction on immigration would then come from the Jews themselves, and would be recognised as proceeding from causes beyond anyone's power to alter. It would not be possible, as it is now, to blame the alien ruling power for not doing what simply cannot be done". G.D.H. Cole, The Intelligent Man's Guide to the Post-War World (London, 1947), 948.

[28] M.J. Cohen, "The British White Paper on Palestine, May 1939. Part II: The Testing of a Policy, 1942-1945", Historical Journal, xix (1976), 727-757, esp. 744. I have been unable to consult two sources: Dr M.J. Cohen's book, Palestine: Retreat from the Mandate. The Making of British Policy, 1936-45 (1978) and G. Cohen, "Harold MacMichael and Palestine's Future", Studies in Zionism, ii (1981).

[29] The essay on J.S. Bennett in Hyam, Understanding the British Empire, 268-95 is a brilliant interweaving of institutional (Magdalene) and bureaucratic (Colonial Office) history, esp. 269-79.  See also MCM, 1967-8, 2.

[30] John Bennett's brother, Ralph (R.F. Bennett), had preceded him to Magdalene and became a History Fellow. His specialisation in the Middle Ages also stemmed from their father's enthusiasm.

[31] In November 1947, John Bennett pointed out that British plans to relocate troops from Palestine to Cyprus "might be compared with the withdrawal of the Crusaders to Cyprus after the last of the Latin kingdoms on the mainland had been regulated". However, "the parallel contains a warning": treating Cyprus as an Imperial strongpoint could be seen as threatening the Arab world with military intervention. Minute by J.S. Bennett, 14 November 1947, R. Hyam, ed., The Labour Government and the End of Empire (4 vols, London, 1992), iii, 84-90, esp, 87.

[32] A.S. Klieman, "The Divisiveness of Palestine: Foreign Office versus Colonial Office on the Issue of Partition, 1937", Historical Journal, xxii  (1979), 423-441 deals with interdepartmental conflict.

[33] Hyam, Understanding the British Empire, 273-4.

[34] Hyam, ed., The Labour Government and the End of Empire, i, 26-9.

[35] It is interesting to note that Bennett apparently did not foresee that partition would be accompanied by large-scale forced population movements, perhaps because it was written ten months before the trauma of Indian independence. However, his prediction that Arabs would become part of a Jewish State was borne out. In 1950, about 10 percent of the Israeli population were estimated to be Muslims; by 2009, the percentage was 16.5 percent. It is not always noted that, as a result of the complex interweaving of liberal and religious elements in the original Zionist programme, minorities have citizenship rights in Israel: following the 2022 elections, 10 of the 120 seats in the Knesset were held by Arab parties, both Islamic and secular. On 12 April 2021, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Jewish percentage of the population of Israel had fallen to its lowest level (73.9 percent) since the establishment of the State. (Around 1955 -60, it had peaked at 88.9 percent). These figures apply to Israel's legal (i.e. 1948) boundaries as recognised under international law and do not include the crowded populations of the Occupied Territories.

[36] Minutes by J.M. Martin, 31 October and Sir George Gater, 21 November 1946, Hyam, ed., The Labour Government and the End of Empire, i, 29-30.

[37] The Times, 22 November 1948.

[38] Some Jewish members of Magdalene supported the creation of the State of Israel, but there is in fact very little evidence bearing on the point. Brian Sandelson, an undergraduate immediately after the Second World War, was a vocal Zionist. 

[39] Hyam, Understanding the British Empire, 277.

[40] " Magdalene College Cambridge Notes: Tedder, Leigh-Mallory and D-Day":

[41] For Solly Zuckerman's appreciation of Tedder, see his Apes to Warlords... (London, 1978), 368, and J. Peyton, Solly Zuckerman... (London, 2001), esp. 63.  Many senior commanders were intrigued to learn that Zuckerman was an authority on the sexual behaviour of primates, a term that they associated with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Tedder honoured the bravery and commitment of Jewish servicemen and servicewomen, taking the salute at their Armistice Day parade in 1954. The Times, 15 November 1954.

[42] Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, 223-4,  322,  340-1. For the January 1949 incident, A. Bullock, The Life and Times of Ernest Bevin (3 vols, London, 1960), iii, 649-50. 

[43] J.S.B. Lloyd had entered Magdalene from Fettes in 1923 as an Entrance Scholar. He was active in the Liberal Club and became President of the Union. Perhaps as a result, his academic career went downhill, with Seconds in Classics and History and, eventually, a Third in Law. Magdalene took his Scholarship away after two years but made him an Honorary Fellow in 1971. By then, he was Speaker of the House of Commons, and hence could be regarded as having shaken off his controversial past. D.R. Thorpe, "Lloyd, (John) Selwyn Brooke, Baron Selwyn-Lloyd (1904–1978)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[44] Selwyn Lloyd published a defence of his role in the invasion of Egypt: Suez 1956...  (London, 1978). To the charge of collusion with Israel, he replied "it cannot be 'collusion' merely to have confidential talks with other Governments". He was accused of lying to the House of Commons when he insisted that there had been "no prior agreement" for joint action and "not foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt". His defence – "I was not certain right up the last minute whether the Israelis would attack when they did" – suggests that his denial was, at the very least, founded upon a very narrow basis of truth. Lloyd, Suez 1956, 247, 249; H. Thomas, The Suez Affair (rev. ed., Harmondsworth, 1970, cf. 1st ed. London, 1967), 171.

[45] The Times, 6 November 1956.

[46] Lloyd, Suez 1956, 260; Hansard, 30 October 1956, 1374.

[47] Hansard, 12 December 1956, 1081-94. "Few speeches in the Lords debate tonight on the Middle East made a sharper impact than the outspoken contribution of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Tedder." The Times, 13 December 1956.