Film: Relations between Israel, UK tarnished by Mandate period

Anti-Semitic actions by British are subject of documentary film.

November 5, 2013 02:59
3 minute read.
Former speaker of the Knesset Shlomo Hillel mark at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

Hillel Shlomo 370. (photo credit: Joy Marshall)


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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 Balfour Declaration.

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, to independence.

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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 Parliament.

“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 added.

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.

And it 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 “masterpiece.”

“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 the mandate.

“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 the Holocaust.

“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 added.

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.”

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