March 2011
'The Promise' - Letter to Channel 4

This week the Board of Deputies wrote to Channel 4 to raise our concerns regarding ‘The Promise’, a drama series set in modern day Israel and mandate Palestine.

The full text of the letter follows:

Mr David Abraham
Chief Executive
Channel 4
124 Horseferry Road

CC: Ms Tessa Ross CBE

3 March 2011

Dear Mr Abraham

As President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative body of the UK Jewish community, I write to convey our grave concerns following the broadcast of the Channel 4 drama series, The Promise.

We recognise that there are widely divergent views on the situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories both among the general public and indeed within our own community. As the umbrella organization of British Jewry we welcome a plurality of opinions. However any dramatisation of this extremely complex conflict must be carefully balanced to reflect the suffering and narrative of both sides. Unfortunately, in this The Promise failed.

I wish to convey to you the depth of feeling and disappointment within the Jewish community about the way in which The Promise consistently demonised Jews, by using distasteful stereotypes and even comparing the actions of the Nazis during the Holocaust to those of Jews in mandate Palestine.

Throughout the series, almost without exception, an image was created of the callous, insensitive, disloyal Jew. By portraying only the Jews in this way, The Promise became a propagandist caricature. I draw your attention, for example, to the scene when Len was ambushed in his jeep in Haifa. As his men are shot in the head, evidently rich Jews continue to eat, drink and laugh in road side cafes. Few opportunities were missed to refer to’ Jews’ and the’ Jewish army’.

At the end of the series, we discover that the eponymous ‘promise’ was that of Len to Muhammad to return the key to his house in Haifa. Erin finally fulfils that ‘promise’ - loyally defending a suicide bomber’s home from demolition and returning the key to Muhammad’s grand-daughter. Meanwhile, every Jew that Len grows close to betrays him – from Clara to his Jewish army colleague.

Similarly, we witness countless Arabs and British soldiers being killed by Jews. On only one occasion in the four episodes of The Promise do we see a Jewish person die – shot by Len as he was protecting the Arab family he had befriended. Where for example were the Arab riots against the British army? Why is there no explanation towards the end of the series of the collusion of all surrounding Arab states, together with Iraq, to reject the UN mandate for a two state solution and drive the inhabitants of the nascent State of Israel into the sea?

Direct parallels are drawn between the bombing of the King David hotel in Jerusalem and a modern-day jihadist suicide bombing, similar to the one experienced by citizens in the UK in July 2005. What the programme fails to mention, for example, are the warning phone calls made before the King David attack and the fact that members of the Jewish mainstream group, the Hagannah, helped arrest the Jews responsible for the attack. The apology to the King of Jordan, issued by the Jewish mainstream in Palestine after the Deir Yassin massacre, receives no mention, just as the attack on a Jewish convoy four days later, killing seventy nurses and doctors, is simply ignored.

I include this limited list of inaccuracies by way of example only to demonstrate that the content of the The Promise clearly did not serve to inform or present a true picture of the situation at the time, but rather a very specific political agenda that unfortunately resulted in the demonisation and dehumanisation of the Jewish protagonists and, by association, all Jews, including in this country, who support Israel.

I refer you most particularly to the penultimate scene of the series, which depicted Len on his journey home. In his final diary entry he says,

“We’ve left the Arabs in the shit. But what about the Jews and their bloody state for which they fought so hard? Three years ago I would have said give them whatever they want, they deserve it after all they have been through. Now I’m not so sure. This precious state of theirs has been born in violence and in cruelty to its neighbours. I’m not sure how it can thrive.”

With this statement, The Promise draws a totally one sided conclusion. Instead of seeing the conflict as the result of the incompatible aspirations of two peoples in one land it becomes a function of the violence and cruelty of the Jews so extreme as to deprive them of the sympathy for their past suffering. The reference to neighbours skates over the fact that those neighbours invaded Israel the day after it declared independence with a view to wiping it off the map.

On behalf of our community, I would request that Channel 4 does some serious soul searching, as a responsible and respected broadcaster, and considers the serious ramifications of The Promise. As a minority group who already suffer from verbal and physical abuse, I fear that the effects of the dehumanization of Jews portrayed throughout The Promise will leave the Jewish community of this country feeling threatened and endangered.

I also request a meeting with you, at your earliest convenience, to address the points laid out above in order to find a productive way forward for Channel 4 to engage with the Jewish community on matters relating to the conflict in the Middle East.

Yours sincerely

Vivian Wineman