Violent and anti-Semitic actions by the British during the Mandate period
reverberate today in the relations between Israel and the UK, two British
journalists said at an event on Sunday marking the 96th anniversary of the
The conference at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center
in Jerusalem featured the Hebrew premiere of a documentary about British policy
from the period between the publication of the declaration, on November 2, 1917,
In addition to speeches by British journalists, the
former speaker of the Knesset, Shlomo Hillel, and a professor at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem addressed the gathering.
The film screening and
speeches largely focused on British actions in the Middle East nearly a century
ago. The speakers also discussed how the British “betrayal” of Jews is portrayed
in the mainstream British press. While participants did not specifically
reference contemporary issues between Israel and the United Kingdom, the event
came at a time of increased tensions regarding Iran and accusations that the
former British foreign secretary made anti-Semitic comments in
“I can speak to you as a British citizen who represents tens
of thousands of Christians in Britain who have a very real sense of sorrow and
shame of our nation’s betrayal of the Jewish people during the mandate period,”
said Hugh Kitson, the producer of the documentary titled The Forsaken Promise.
“Our government needs to make a formal apology to the nation of Israel for the
handling of the mandate – or really I should say the mishandling of it – and the
wholesale suffering it caused to thousands and thousands of people,” he
The documentary argued that despite the Balfour Declaration’s
assurances of a Jewish homeland, the British government went to extraordinary
lengths to impede the creation of a Jewish state. The film accused the British
government of obstructing efforts by Jews to flee the Holocaust.
said the British did not try to stop massacres of Jews in Hebron and on the
convoy route to Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus.
In addition, the film
featured interviews with Holocaust survivors who were denied entry into
Palestine following the war. The narrator said that “Britain’s international
reputation was in tatters” after the military either detained Jews fleeing
Europe or sent them back.
Hillel called the film a
“The relationship between Great Britain [and] the British
people, and the Jews and Israel, have been very complex and very, very old. It
has its ups and downs,” Hillel said.
He paused and then added, “It
continues to have its ups and downs, I have to say.”
Melanie Philips, a
British author and publisher, said the film told the “story of the utmost
treachery and malice, as the British upended their international treaty
obligation” under the mandate. She argued that the British public is besieged
with anti-Israel propaganda that obscures the history of British action during
“It is essential that people understand this history, in
order to show them that, contrary to what they believe, Israel stands for law,
history and justice,” she said.
Robert Wistrich, a professor at the
Hebrew University, concluded the discussion, arguing that “Britain placed every
conceivable obstacle in the way of any relief of that suffering,” referring to
“I can only use a word very much avoided by historians: A
sense of ‘evil,’” he said.
“British policy – just looking at the facts
themselves and the documents and what we know – is increasingly afflicted by
kind of evil design. [It] wasn’t necessarily there at the beginning, but was an
absolutely cold and callous disregard for the most elementary human values,” he
MK Shimon Ohayon also spoke briefly at the event and noted that,
when he was in high school, “everybody was proud to learn [the Balfour
Declaration] by heart.”