The Lehi did not have any plans to assassinate former British prime minister
Winston Churchill or former labor minister Ernest Bevin, a former Lehi member
and the son of the Jewish underground group’s founder told The Jerusalem Post
Monday in response to declassified MI5 documents.
“It’s true that the
Lehi killed Lord Moyne [the British resident minister in the Middle East] in
Cairo and British police and army officers here in Israel, so [the British] were
panicking and thinking that maybe the Lehi could get to higher officials in
London,” said Yair Stern, son of Lehi founder and leader Avraham “Yair”
“They were taking precautions to defend British officials, but as
far as I saw in Lehi documents, there was no plan to go beyond Lord Moyne at
that time,” he said.
According to the MI5 documents quoted Monday in The
Daily Telegraph, a Lehi member arrested by the British authorities in April 1945
told Major James Robertson of MI5’s Middle East section that Lehi member Eliyahu
Bet-Zuri had threatened to kill Churchill.
Robertson wrote that “as soon
as [Bet-Zuri] returned to Stern Group headquarters he proposed to suggest a plan
for the assassination of highly placed British political personalities,
including Mr. Churchill, for which purpose emissaries should be sent to
However, Robertson also stated, “The above information does not,
as you will see, amount to very much. It does, however, I think, justify us in
assuming that the danger of attempts on the lives of important people here is
still one which we must reckon carefully.”
Asked about what Bet-Zuri
reportedly said, Stern responded, “Even if it was an honest suggestion of one of
the Lehi members, he was not the one who made the decisions. There were
commanders above him, and I looked at the Lehi documents and I didn’t find
anything that would go beyond this suggestion. Even MI5 doesn’t mention any
concrete evidence – it’s just hearsay.
“With Churchill, it’s a joke
because he ceased to be prime minister in 1945, when Labor won elections and
Clement Attlee became prime minister.”
Hanna Armoni, a Lehi member from
1942-1948 and a founder of the Lehi Veterans Association, also said there was no
plot to assassinate Churchill. “Maybe somebody said, ‘Maybe we could kill
Churchill,’ but it never came to any plan.”
Bet-Zuri and Eliyahu Hakim
assassinated Lord Moyne in Cairo on November 6, 1944.
They were hanged on
March 22, 1945.
As for threats against Bevin, the British foreign
secretary from 1945-1951, Armoni said she had heard “many wishes to kill Bevin,”
but no such plan ever came to fruition. Furthermore, she stated that after the
United Nations resolution partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states
passed the General Assembly on November 29, 1947, Lehi members abroad were
ordered to return to Israel, so there were no threats to Bevin or other
prominent British government officials after that.
The Telegraph reported
that in February 1946, the British defense security officer in Palestine wrote
in a coded telegram: “Stern Group are training members to go to England to
assassinate members of His Majesty’s Government, especially Mr. Bevin… Stern
further reported to be receiving practical sympathy from important Jews [in]
Palestine. A steady flow of recruits for Stern being received in this
Stern commented, “Bevin was in my mind a real good target
because he was an anti- Semite and a hater of Israel and Jews, but there was no
real plan or anything in the making to go and kill him. There’s no concrete
evidence that would prove it.”
Bevin was hated by Palestinian Jews
because of his policy of preventing Jewish refugees in post-Holocaust Europe
from entering Palestine.
“The whole world knew millions of innocent Jews
were killed, and hundreds of thousands who survived were spread throughout
Europe, and Bevin and others wouldn’t let them come to Israel,” said Stern. “It
was a vicious policy of the British government not to let them come here and not
to let Israel have a free and independent state, so there was great
justification to fight them, and not only from Lehi.
“At the end of World
War II, all the underground – Hagana, Etzel [Irgun], Palmach – they all fought
the British to kick them out of here. The British were panicking, so maybe this
is the basis for the assumption of MI5 to be careful and protect high government
In June 1946, Robertson wrote that a speech Bevin gave in
Bournemouth “is stated to have caused considerable bitterness among the Jewish
community in Palestine. A typical Jewish ‘man in the street,’ for example,
described the speech as the most anti-Semitic ever delivered by a British
After the Irgun bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem,
which housed the central offices of the British Mandatory authorities, on July
22, 1946, an MI5 memo stated that Bevin would face the threat of assassination
if he traveled to Egypt to sign a treaty.
According to the memo, “There
would obviously be considerable danger of an attempt on his life, either by
parties opposed to the treaty or by the Irgun or Stern… The fact was that if a
fanatic intended to carry out an assassination and was prepared to disregard his
own safety, there would be very little that he could not do.”
Telegraph reported that a secret telegram received by MI5 stated: “Likelihood of
terrorist attack on foreign secretary during proposed visit to Egypt is almost
household word in Middle East.”
Stern, who was born after his father was
killed by British police officers in February 1942 and is now chairman of the
Lehi Veterans Association, noted that the Lehi persistently pursued
The group tried to kill Harold MacMichael, the
British high commissioner in Palestine, and killed Tom Wilkin, one of the two
police officers responsible for the death of his father. Lehi tried to
assassinate the second police officer, Geoffrey Morton, two or three times
before he fled the country.
“When the Lehi wanted to kill someone, they
went after him,” said Stern. “With Bevin, there was nothing that I know of, or
that the British know of, except for things they heard in an
Another recently released MI5 file detailed strategies
the Nazis used to attempt to poison Allied commanders.
Female agents hid
microbes in handbag mirrors, The Telegraph reported, citing documents from the
interrogation of four German agents who parachuted into France in
The agents also carried cigarettes that caused
Once an Allied soldier would smoke the cigarettes, the Germans
would give them Bayer aspirin tablets laced with poison.
carried poisoned coffee and chocolate.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed
to this report.