Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Channel 4's landmark TV series 'The Promise' is built on a serious historical falsehood about Israel

Channel 4 TV in the UK is currently broadcasting a 4 part documentary series “The Promise”, a dramatisation of the founding of Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today, which is attracting 1.5 million viewers. The organization Beyond Images www.beyondimages.info has issued a briefing to counter many of the statements and claims made in this inaccurate and misinformed documentary.

We, at BIG, feel that this information should be circulated as widely as possible.

Channel 4's landmark TV series 'The Promise' is built on a serious historical falsehood about Israel

British TV channel Channel 4 has been broadcasting 'The Promise'. And it is a landmark piece of television. 'The Promise' is a four-part, six-hour dramatisation of the founding of Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today.

We have been watching it. And it is gripping. We are not surprised that it has been receiving very good reviews, and is a likely candidate for future broadcasting awards. Over 1.5 million viewers in the UK have been watching its two episodes to date, including - we assume - most people with an active interest in the conflict: politicians, academics, students, members of human rights groups, writers and intellectuals, diplomats and civil servants.

The production is superb. The acting is excellent. It is meticulously observed and staged..And it is also built on a major historical falsehood. A falsehood so severe that it undermines the credibility of its messages. Its director Peter Kosminsky claims that he "told both sides of the story". But episode 1 reveals that he does not even know what the Israeli side of the story is......

'The Promise' describes the events of 1945-8 through the eyes of Len, a British sergeant who had witnessed the liberation of the Jews at Bergen-Belsen, and is later posted with British forces to Palestine. At a crucial moment in that first episode Len, together with other British army officers, receives a briefing from their British army commander on the purpose of their mission in Palestine, and the history behind it. This takes place shortly after the second world war.

The commander's words are not intended as a partisan speech. It is the moment at which the British soldiers (and by extension 1.5 million viewers) are provided with the background to the conflict, and indeed the subsequent episodes of 'The Promise'. Indeed it is the only piece of the script which endeavours to tell the story of how the Jews, the Arabs and the British found themselves in three-way conflict.

Here is what the British commanding officer in The Promise says:

"The Jews and Arabs have been living here in relative harmony for thousands of years. But our victory over the Germans has turned the trickle of Jews coming to this land into a flood. You must understand, the Jews see it as their holy land. But the Arabs, who have been here for over a thousand years, see them as stealing their land. Our job is to keep the two sides apart....."

There you have it. The historical narrative of Israel. And it is a narrative which does not operate to resolve the conflict, but to perpetuate it. Ever since World War Two, the Arabs have seen the Jewish national enterprise as the consequence of Nazism. Without indigenous roots. And without historical legitimacy.

They build their sense of victimhood on the argument that they are "paying the price" for European fascism. Far from challenging this mindset, Kosminsky's so-called 'balanced' narrative has reinforced it. Kosminsky makes no mention of the steady return to Palestine of Jews which had been carrying on since the 1880s. Kosminsky does not hint at the Balfour Declaration or other international commitments to support a Jewish national home.
Kosminsky does not recognise that Jewish national life had existed thousands of years ago in the land of Israel, and that the connection is a national connection.

Kosminsky does not pay any attention to the Jews' state-building efforts in the period before the Second World War. And Kosminsky perpetuates a complete falsehood that the Jews and Arabs had been living in "relative harmony". Kosminsky reportedly researched The Promise for over a decade. But has he heard of the Arab riots against the Jews of the Yishuv in the 1920s or 1930s?

Has he heard of the incessant violent assaults upon Jews building up Palestine? Has he heard of the Hebron massacre of 1929?

The idea that there was "relative harmony" in Palestine till World War Two is a fiction. It's a fiction which Hamas and other rejectionists and ideologues readily embrace.

Meanwhile, the claim that the Arabs had been living there for a thousand years is also a massive over-simplification. Even the most partisan historians have to admit that Palestine under the Ottomans and then the British was not exactly a hub of Arab nationalism, or a focal point of Arab pride and economic endeavour.

While 'The Promise' is brilliant drama - and we will be highlighting its strengths as well its weaknesses in the future - there are plenty of other major flaws in its so called 'balanced' narrative and in its framing of the conflict. In subsequent weeks we will be explaining them. For now, here is a link to the programme website. We have quoted just one short extract from episode one. See for yourself:
http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-promise/4od (Not available outside the UK)

And by the way, here are two other examples of the damage which is caused when the narrative of Israel is artificially started at World War II:

Barack Obama made this error in his major speech to the Arab world in June 2009: click here:
'How President Obama got it wrong on Israel's history... and why it matters for future peace' (Beyond Images Briefing 242)

And The Economist made this error in an obituary of Yasser Arafat published in 2004: see
The Economist Magazine's obituaries: misleading accounts of Israel's history' (Beyond Images Briefing 124)

Key messages:

Delegitimisation of Israel is not just a matter of outrageous, flagrant denial of Jewish national rights.

It is happening in drip-drip style, as ideas which call the history of Israel into question are steadily absorbed into liberal discourse, into respectable mainstream thinking. Click here for
The Beyond Images Report on Delegitimisation which provides many examples of this.

Elements of Channel 4's 'The Promise' are a classic instance of this phenomenon. The Promise is doubtless being viewed by almost everyone in the UK who passionately believes in the Palestinian cause.

In building its drama on the basis of an explicit historical fiction, it is not contributing to peace and understanding. It is fuelling the falsehoods on which the delegitimisation of Israel thrives. There are many many other falsehoods: we will be highlighting some in future emails.

No amount of great acting and brilliant direction can obscure that fact.

By the way, we have not seen a single syllable uttered about The Promise in public by any of the central Jewish organisations which claim to be fighting delegitimisation in the UK, in the two weeks since its broadcasts began..... Are we on Beyond Images missing something.... or - just possibly - are they?

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

Wednesday, 9th February 2011

Melanie Philips


I have previously noted (here, here and here) that the Cameron government is shaping up to be one of the most hostile towards Israel in living memory. David Cameron himself and Foreign Secretary William Hague have consistently treated Hamas propaganda about casualty figures in any war with Israel as reliable, even though they are invariably a pack of lies, and have furthermore astoundingly replicated the Arab strategy of turning Israeli self-defence into aggression at every opportunity. While he was in opposition, Hague infamously condemned Israel’s behaviour during the 2006 war in Lebanon as ‘disproportionate’; Cameron himself condemned Israel for its ‘attack’ on the Turkish terrorist boat the Mavi Marmara and designated Gaza a ‘prison camp’.

Now Hague is at it again. With the Arab world convulsed by the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt and with the acute danger that such instability will result in the region lurching even further into Islamic theocratic tyranny, the British Foreign Secretary’s response is – to bash Israel. Never mind that the uproar in Egypt and Tunisia, along with the nervousness in Jordan and Saudi Arabia that their regimes may also be swept away by rising extremism, demonstrates the utter absurdity of the claim that regional tranquillity depends on resolving the issue of ‘Palestine’. Hague makes a point of declaring that the casualty of the unrest will be... the Middle East peace process.

Never mind that this process has stalled because Abbas and co won’t even negotiate. Never mind that even these so-called ‘moderates’ insist they will never accept Israel as a Jewish state, and thus refuse to renounce their nine-decade long war of extermination against the Jewish presence in the land. Never mind that they continue to incite their people and their children to hate Jews and murder Israelis. Hague knows that Israel is to blame. As the Times (£) reports:
The Middle East peace process is in danger of becoming a casualty of the revolutionary tidal wave sweeping the Arab world, and Israel is putting itself at risk by failing to compromise, William Hague told The Times yesterday. Speaking on an emergency peace mission covering five countries in three days, the Foreign Secretary issued a blunt instruction to Israel to tone down the belligerent language used by Binyamin Netanyahu, its Prime Minister, since the uprising and protests, which have spread from Tunisia to Egypt and beyond.

... Mr Hague responded to increasingly militaristic pronouncements by Mr Netanyahu, who has been urging his nation to prepare for ‘any outcome’ and vowing to ‘reinforce the might of the state of Israel’. The Foreign Secretary said: ‘This should not be a time for belligerent language. It’s a time to inject greater urgency into the Middle East peace process.’

Belligerent? Israel is currently petrified that, if Islamists come to power in Egypt and tear up its 30-year old peace treaty as the Muslim Brothers have said they will do, it will face the nightmare of a renewed threat of war from the south as well as from Iran/Hezbollah in the north and Iran/Hamas in Gaza. It will be thus encircled by truly ‘belligerent ‘ enemies. It will have to turn its entire military and strategic thinking upside down in order to defend itself against such a grim prospect – and yes, of course it will have to reinforce its defences. Even more young Israelis will have to be called up to army service and face the risk of death to prevent their country from being wiped off the map. For William Hague to represent the warnings by Israel’s Prime Minister that his country must now prepare itself for this terrifying eventuality as ‘belligerency’ is simply obscene.
Let us hear no more nauseating hypocrisy from Cameron or Hague about how they are Israel’s staunch allies.

With ‘friends’ like these, who needs enemies?

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Guardian's Assault on Peace in the Middle East

Ron Prosor - Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom

Posted: February 3, 2011

Never has a British broadsheet so openly served the agenda of Middle Eastern extremism. The Guardian must be commended for its transparency -- readers can no longer doubt its affinity for Hamas. Al-Jazeera, Qatar's equivalent of the BBC World Service, appointed the newspaper as its western gatekeeper for a cache of leaked Palestinian Authority documents. The self-appointed guardian of Palestinian truth has maximized its opportunity to pledge allegiance to the hard-line, national fantasies which have crippled the Palestinian cause for decades.

The Palestinian Authority is under attack. Middle Eastern extremists and western armchair revolutionaries are lambasting the PA leadership for, even in private, budging an inch towards the concessions needed to achieve peace. For one newspaper, the Palestinian leadership is not Palestinian enough.

From his London salon one senior columnist bemoaned the "decay of what in Yasser Arafat's heyday was an authentic national liberation movement." For him, it seems, Palestinian authenticity can only be achieved through the massacre of athletes at the Munich Olympics, the hijacking of planes or the suicide bombing of civilians in shopping malls and pizza parlors. In his eyes, negotiations are an affront to the romanticized fetishism of "resistance."

Mahmoud Abbas admonished such an outlook in a speech in 2006, but which is just as apt today. "They are sitting in comfortable places and have not got the dust of this homeland on their shoes," said the Palestinian president. "They give orders from afar, and reject offers from afar. Give orders to yourselves! Talk about yourselves. The people here will make the decisions."

The Guardian's first post-leak editorial described the concessions supposedly offered by Palestinian negotiators as "craven." Readers might struggle to notice a substantive difference between the paper's editorial line and the opinion piece by a Hamas spokesman splashed across its pages two days later. In fact, the newspaper's criticism of the Palestinian negotiators was so severe it risked out-Hamasing Hamas.

Sections of the western media have long failed to expose damaging myths about the Middle East. It transpires that the failure is willful, rather than naive. WikiLeaks already blew apart the false logic that places Israel and the Palestinians at the heart of every conflict in the Middle East. Arab governments have sleepless nights over Iran, as it pursues nuclear weapons and meddles in their affairs. The ups and downs of the Palestinian cause are less likely to keep them up at night.

Throughout the region, tensions are erupting without the slightest connection to Israeli-Palestinian relations. The eyes of the world are now firmly fixed on the unrest in Egypt, which erupted after revolution swept Tunisia. Yemen is disintegrating. In Lebanon an Arab state has fallen into the hands of a non-Arab power and is now officially, not just practically, under the control of an Iranian proxy. Hezbollah has successfully deposed Saad Hariri, whose own father was murdered in all likelihood by the Shia militia, Syria or a combination of the two. Its puppet is now the prime minister. It reads like the plot of a gangster movie. Certain commentators must be swooning at the "authenticity" of it all.

Blaming Israel comes naturally in this region. When a shark attacked a tourist in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, the local Egyptian governor suggested that Mossad were using sharks to harm Egyptian tourism. The Saudi police recently arrested an itinerant vulture as an Israeli spy. We fear that in interrogation, the bird sang. But even the most vivid imaginations would struggle to blame Israel for recent upsurges in regional instability.

Hamas and its Iranian backers hope the unrest will spread to the West Bank. A media axis between Doha and London seems determined to grant their wish. As David Landau, a commentator way on the left of the Israeli spectrum put it, the Guardian and Al-Jazeera "intended to poison the Palestinians against their leaders." Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, is in the firing line of the poison dart. He confided to the BBC that he fears for his life.

The leaks have made it less likely the Palestinians will loosen their current strategy of blocking talks. PA negotiators already needed to sell concessions to the Palestinian street. We didn't realize they also needed to sell them to Fleet Street.

Yet the leaks reveal that the negotiations taking place were more serious and productive than many realized. The commentators today attacking the Palestinian leadership dismissed the negotiations following Annapolis as a glorified photo opportunity. What is forgotten is how far Israel is prepared to go. They choose to overlook Ehud Olmert's final offer, the most "crystallized and detailed" ever offered by an Israeli prime minister.

The Hamas Charter states that, "Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors." The most destructive aspect of the Guardian's assault on the peace process is to concur, and suggest that in 19 years, negotiations have achieved nothing. The perfect resolution eludes us but progress has been made. Boosted by Israeli security concessions on access and movement, economic growth in the West Bank tops 8 per cent. In the last three years the PA has built 1,700 community development programs, 120 schools, three hospitals and 50 health clinics. Someone, it seems, might have finally concluded that building the infrastructure of a Palestinian state is more productive that attempting to destroy the State of Israel. Anyone with a sincere interest in peace must encourage further progress, and that can only be achieved at the negotiating table.

Flotilla Report: BBC Plumbs the Depths

January 24, 2011 by Simon Plosker,


Turkel Commisssion of inquiry into the events surrounding the May 31, 2010 Gaza flotilla has published its findings. Some of the main points include:
The maritime blockade of Gaza complies with international law.

Israel’s policies towards the Gaza Strip comply with international and humanitarian law.

The takeover of the Mavi Marmara was carried out in compliance with international law.

Israeli soldiers only took action in self-defense after being violently attacked by the ship’s passengers and their actions complied with international law.
BBC’s coverage of the Turkel Report, however, graphically illustrates all that is wrong with its reporting of Israel.

Rather than address the actual findings of the report, which vindicated Israeli actions, the BBC immediately begins by attempting to discredit the report by focusing on Turkish criticisms. The screenshot above is indicative of the BBC’s anti-Israel bias:

The headline, which sets the tone for the story, is about Turkish criticism and not the findings of the report itself.

This focus continues in the opening paragraphs of the story, which also highlights a negative quote against Israel from the UN.

The choice of photo and the accompanying caption – the photo fails to demonstrate any direct link to the story contents while the caption highlights that “one activist was shot four times in the head”.

The article continues by extensively quoting Turkish PM Erdogan who states: “To my judgment there is no value, nor credibility to this report.”

As if to drive the point home, the BBC article continues with a well-placed and visible sub-heading ‘Banditry and piracy’

The BBC is notorious not only for what it includes in its reports, but also for the vital context that it omits. Referring to the makeup of the inquiry commission, the article simply states:

"The panel of inquiry was headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, working alongside five Israeli members and two international observers."

Were the BBC interested in providing relevant context, it would have included the information that those two international observers were:

Lord David Trimble, the (joint) Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 1998 and a member of Britain’s House of Lords. He won the Nobel for his contribution to achieving peace in Northern Ireland. He served as professor of law at Queen’s University in Belfast. Upon being elected to Parliament in 1990, he left the teaching profession. Lord Trimble became leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and was First Minister of Northern Ireland from 1998 to 2002. He has published numerous articles and books on law.

Brigadier-General (Ret.) Ken Watkin who served for 33 years in the Canadian army. His last position was Judge Advocate General; in that capacity he served among other things as legal advisor for the Governor General of Canada, the Defense Minister, the Department of National Defense and also supervised the military justice system of the Canadian Forces. Watkin was a legal advisor on the military/civilian board of inquiry investigating Canada’s military actions in

Somalia, as the government advisor on inquiries and investigations following the Rwanda genocide in 1994. He received the Maritime Commander’s Commendation and is a member of the Order of Military Merit. Brigadier-General Watkin has published many articles on law, including international humanitarian and civil rights law. He is expected to receive a professorship in international law at the US Army’s Naval War College.

The commission also included two international legal experts from outside Israel. Indeed, Trimble and Watkin publicly stated: “We have no doubt that the Commission is independent.” But since when did this stop the BBC from sowing the seeds of doubt? Instead, readers are treated to an accompanying box of “Analysis” from the BBC’s newest member of its Jerusalem bureau, Jon Donnison, who writes:

The problem Israel is going to face is that many of its critics will see it as a whitewash. This was an Israeli government-commissioned inquiry and people will say it simply wasn’t balanced.

Donnison might wish to consider the role of the media, particularly the BBC, in promoting this view. Donnison adds:

"The findings of this report were in stark contrast to the views of 600 pro-Palestinian activists aboard those ships."

Donnison and the article fail to mention that the “600 pro-Palestinian activists” included a number of well-organized and violent members of the Turkish Islamist IHH organization who were fully prepared to assault Israeli soldiers boarding the Mavi Marmara. Despite the fact that the Israeli commission of inquiry was headed by a supreme court judge and included legal experts and independent observers, Donnison still presents the “views of 600 pro-Palestinian activists” as somehow the equal of the Turkel Report.

Why does the BBC actively cast doubt and aspersions on the credibility of an Israeli inquiry while treating “pro-Palestinian activists” with a moral equivalence, as if they do not have a vested interest and a high level of ideological belief that is pushing their hatred and criticism of Israel. Not to mention that a number of these so-called “activists” were members of the Turkish Islamist IHH organization who came fully prepared to assault IDF soldiers – another piece of context omitted from the BBC report.

The BBC has plumbed the depths in its coverage of the Turkel Report and has clearly demonstrated its anti-Israel bias. Send your considered comments to the BBC Complaints website. For more on how to navigate the complaints process, click here for our guide on how to make a complaint to the BBC.