Lehi founder’s son denies plot to assassinate Churchill

Yair Stern responds to MI5 documents claiming that a Lehi member threatened to kill former British PM.

winston churchill 311 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
winston churchill 311
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
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” Stern.
“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 London.”
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 connection.”
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 officials.”
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 statesman.”
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.”
The 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 assassination targets.
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 investigation.”
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 1945.
The agents also carried cigarettes that caused headaches.
Once an Allied soldier would smoke the cigarettes, the Germans would give them Bayer aspirin tablets laced with poison.
They also carried poisoned coffee and chocolate.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.