Great TV series on Palestine and Israel - The Promise

Peter Kosminky's The Promise is a 4 part mini-series that provides an outstanding look at one aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Sadly, a smear campaign is being directed against it. The following is my letter of support to SBS TV Australia for this fine production. 
It would be great if you could contact your own TV stations to see if you can get it on air.
The Promise, Trailer

The Promise “British Palestine Betrayal 2011

The Promise (Kalanyot scene) – hunting for Kind David bombers

The Promise, Behind the scenes – description by Peter Kosminsky, uploaded 8 March 2011

Meet the 1940s Cast

Meet the 2005 Cast

15 January 2012


Michael Obeid

Managing Director

SBS Locked Bag 028

Crows Nest NSW 1585


Dear Mr Obeid,


Congratulations to SBS TV for airing Peter Kosminsky’s: The Promise


I am writing in full support of Peter Kosminsky’s The Promise aired on SBS1 TV on 27 November and 4, 11 and 18 December 2011.  This series first aired on Britain’s Channel 4 between 6-27 February 2011 and was the winner for best drama for One World Media, nominated best drama serial for BAFTA and nominated best mini-series for Banff World Television festival.  In one month February 2011, Channel 4’s website for The Promise received 750,000 visits and almost 2 million page views.[1]           


I am deeply disturbed but not surprised that a smear campaign is being launched against SBS for airing this highly insightful TV drama.


1. Ofcom’s rejection of antisemitic claims (SBS Code of Practice 1.3)[2]


I reject any claims that The Promise has breached any of the SBS Codes of Practice such as SBS Code of Practice 1.3 as alleged by Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry[3] (“ECAJ”) and Labor MP Glenn Sterle[4]. Britain’s Ofcom has similarly rejected any claims of The Promise breaching any of Ofcom’s code of conduct[5].  Ofcom has said “[j]ust because some individual Jews and Israelis were portrayed in a negative manner does not mean that the programme was, or was intended to be, antisemitic.”[6] On an appeal by the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland Ofcom’s executive director said there was no grounds to review its previous decision.[7]


2. Jewish personalities speaking in support of The Promise


Laurie Penny writes in the New Statesman:


“[A]s a woman of Jewish descent with many family members living in Israel, I find this sort of reductive bollocks [antisemitic claims about The Promise] personally offensive. In point of fact, The Promise is not a piece of propaganda. Rather, it is a reflective and excruciatingly well-researched series that throws light on a segment of British wartime history that most Brits prefer to ignore – namely, our own involvement in the creation of the state of Israel and our complicity in the decades of bloody conflict that followed.


It's hard to understand how anyone can accuse a drama that opens with five gruelling minutes set in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, cutting in segments of real footage from the mass graves, of ignoring the tragic nuances of Jewish history. For Burchill, though, since the series stops short of declaring all Palestinians criminal trespassers, it's just more "Jew-baiting". The sort of self-deception that calls all temperate inquiry "Jew-baiting" is just dogged, ahistorical worship of the politics of bullying.”[8]


Anthony Lerman[9], former director of Britain’s Institute for Jewish Policy Research:


“British television viewers are currently being treated to a 4-part dramatised lesson in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. And so far, there has been virtually none of the knee-jerk complaints of anti-Israeli and even anti-Jewish bias usually levelled at such programmes by over-sensitive elements in the Jewish community….Kosminsky’s series is a contribution to that more reflective atmosphere and this is something Britain’s Jews should warmly welcome.”[10]


Miri Weingarten, Jewish-Israeli, formerly a human rights and peace activist for Israeli groups Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Ta’ayush, and now Director of London-based media initiative JNews, said Kosminsky’s:


“…enactment of the 1948 displacement of the Palestinians, known as the ‘Nakba’ (Arabic for ‘Catastrophe’) is very powerful. I can’t recall any other realistic enactment of this sort in a drama before…. I found your depiction of the power relations between Israelis and Palestinians extremely persuasive, sophisticated and well-researched, and your tracing of the story of repeated displacement and dispossession of the Palestinians, enacted with increasing violence three times in three different places - from ‘Ein Houd in 1948, to Hebron in the occupied West Bank, to Gaza today - very compelling, and perhaps the most important message of The Promise.”[11]


3. The Promise far from being antisemitic was inherently a Jewish and Israeli production


The ECAJ claims “the basic concept of the Promise and the premise on which it rests… falls squarely within…the Working Definition of Antisemitism.[12]  The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (formerly called European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia - EUMC) working definition of antisemitism may be summarized as “hatred toward Jews”.[13]  An objective review of the series does not support this allegation that The Promise condoned or promoted hatred for Jews and the ECAJ claim should be rejected.


Certainly it can be said that The Promise offered a critical approach of the State of Israel and its continued occupation of the Palestinian people and of the violence used by the ultra radial Jewish nationalist group Irgun in the creation of Israel.  However, criticism of Israel and antisemitism are not synonymous.  A responsible democratic society welcomes criticism to ensure governments are held accountable.  The practical guide to the working definition of antisemitism clearly states “criticism of Israel to that similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”[14]. Peter Kosminsky says as much in relation to accusations of antisemitism:


“One of the difficulties that faces a programme-maker when attempting to make a considered and realistic programme about the current situation in Israel is that that programme-maker is almost immediately accused of anti-Semitism.


I do think one has to be careful to avoid always seeking to equate any criticism of the domestic or foreign policy of the state of Israel with racism. Israel is a country, and it acts as a country as part of the community of states. Jews are a race and many live in countries other than Israel. If criticism of Israel becomes entirely synonymous with anti-Semitism it becomes almost impossible to attempt any kind of reasoned analysis of what is clearly one of the saddest and most intractable conflicts facing the human race today.”[15]


In a similar vein Lev Luis, Israeli political sociologist, author of Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine highlights the danger of over-reaction by leadership within Western mainstream Jewish communities and of the danger this presents to Israel and to the Jewish community:


“I am completely amazed by the reactionary attitudes of pro-Israeli Jewish communities…I see criticism as an essential element of democracy, and also Jews criticizing Israel's repressive policies are patriot Jews concerned with Israel and rescuing the moral values of Judaism, namely don't do to the others what you hate others do to you…


Netanyahu is much more popular in the US Congress than in Israel. This is the effect of the silencing of critics of Israel by reactionary Jewish communities. The US support of Israel is a disaster for us, the Israelis, but in the long range might lead to real antisemitism. This reminds me the story of the kid and the wolf. After calling every critic antisemitism, when real antisemitism will come no one will believe them.”[16]


The Promise’s exploration of the story of Len during the time of the establishment of Israel and Erin’s story of the present situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories are no less critical than films that look at Australian history and contemporary events. 


I struggle to understand how any objective person would call The Promise antisemitic.  The writer and director of the series Peter Kosminsky is Jewish a fact of which he is “proud”[17].  His grandfather was a Polish-Jewish immigrant and his grandmother an Austrian refugee from the Nazis.  Kosminsky has previously written and directed a number of TV dramas relating to British soldiers in various conflict zones including Bosnia, Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands.[18] Continuing his theme on the experience of soldiers in conflict he has made a documentary on Soviet conscripts in Afghanistan and he was “marooned on a rocky mountainside for days as shells whizzed past his ears”.[19] 


The Promise was an opportunity to look at the lives of the forgotten British soldiers who served in Palestine prior to the creation of Israel.  The idea for the series arose after a former British soldier in Palestine who after watching Kosminsky’s drama on the Warriors (which was about British soldiers in Bosnia) wrote to Kosminsky to tell of his experience in Palestine.[20]


How could the The Promise be antisemitic, prejudicial or the like?  It was filmed in Israel and its cast included well-renown Israeli actors[21] like Itay Tiran (who plays Paul Meyer the son of an Israeli general).[22]  Kosminsky sought to have every Arab character played by an Arab and every Jewish character played by a Jew.[23]  Kosminsky spent a year in Israel in preparation and shooting of the film having an apartment in Tel Aviv[24]


Kosminsky writes about the extensive research involved in developing the story including use of a team of 6 researchers over 4 years trawling through British archives and speaking directly to former Irgun fighters, current soldiers and to Israeli academics who had interviewed Jewish women used to befriend British soldiers to covertly extract intelligence from them.[25]


The Promise looked at a spectrum of perspectives within the Palestinian-Israeli conflict within the Jewish community both within Israel and beyond– ranging from ultranationalists - who sought for a Greater Israel - to those favouring two states Israel and Palestine.  Kosminsky said:


"One does a disservice to a complicated situation by presenting easy or pat solutions. So I have tried to show right and wrong on both sides, and by showing the characters not as cardboard goodies and baddies but as people who change their positions and contradict themselves." [26]


The series first episode began with graphic imagery of the brutality of the Holocaust as seen in Bergen Belsen death camp.  This episode ended (and the second episode began) showing the horrific and indiscriminate nature of a suicide attack on Jewish-Israeli’s in a café/bar.  The Promise documented the 1929 massacre of Jews in Hebron and it helped counter stereotypes of both Arabs and Jews by showing how one Arab family protected a Jewish family during this violence.  The Promise continued in this vein of showing harmony between various Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli’s by showing the relationship between the peace movement of former antagonists who saw the best future was peace between the peoples; and that dialogue was a first step to this.


Viewers are still reminded that despite the best of intentions for peace Paul still is Jewish- Israeli and because of this is threatened by certain groups who choose to use violence against Israel.  Paul is not a pacifist and we watched as he helps his comrades when they are under attack from Palestinian militant groups.  Though some may have been surprised by Paul’s response (as Erin was) in the larger scheme of things it reminds the viewer of the existential threat that Israel still faces.


Kosminsky based Paul on IDF soldiers from the Israeli peace group Breaking the Silence that is primarily made up of IDF soldiers who had served in Hebron which had a transformatory effect on their experience.[27]  Peter Kosminsky recounts that The Promise "is probably the thing I am most proud of. I knew it would raise hackles with some people, but the thing I have found most difficult, as a Jew, is the suggestion that the criticism of Israel is racist."[28]


4. The Promise: diversity of views as a means to counter discriminatory views towards both Palestinians and Jews (SBS Code of Practice 1.2 and 1.3)


Far from promoting prejudice, racism or discrimination The Promise has ensured there has been a “diversity of views and perspectives” (SBS Code of Practice 1.2) about a highly controversial topic and as such is a step in the direction towards helping counter prejudice, racism and discrimination (SBS Code of Practice 1.3). 


In a period of time where the wider Australian audience has been subjected to years of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian stereotyping[29] (with SBS in general being a clear exception) it is refreshing to have such a sophisticated drama series that shows the nuances in this highly complex conflict.  Having watched enthusiastically all 4 episodes I am affirmed in my belief that there are many people of good will in the Jewish, Palestinian and international community working together to bring about peace, but are being met by violent resistance (or the threat of violence) from those within each of these respective communities.


5. Historical drama as a genre – The Promise vs Preminger’s Exodus (1960)


The Promise is a historical drama and should be viewed as such.  The EACJ attack on The Promise is frequently concerned about historical accuracy and stereotyping as if this was to be grounds to censor the film from SBS audiences. I wonder if the same energy would be used to attack Otto Preminger’s Exodus (1960) based on Leon Uris’s novel?  Would the ECAJ (if they took an objective approach) argue the Exodus was a one-sided and highly polemical portrayal of historical events, the negative portrayal of each of the principal Arab characters is a further means by which these forms of Anti-Arab views are conveyed?[30].   


Edward Said argued the Exodus was the most influential source for public opinion concerning Israel and Zionism in the USA.[31]  Would the ECAJ agree that television viewers were misled into thinking Preminger’s charcaterisation of Exodus was authentic history[32] as it is suggesting with The Promise?  For example where do we find in Exodus a story that accurately portrays the story of the Palestinian people[33]?  Apart from the tokenary Taha there is little to inform the audience that Palestinian Arabs only 30 years before held a near 90 per cent majority of the population.[34]  


In Exodus whilst it indeed explored the concept of the Jewish community as being an integral part of the region for thousands of years did not explore that there had been no Jewish majority for over two thousand years.   There was no exploration in to the reality that less than a hundred years before i.e. in 1851 the Jewish population was just 4%[35] of Ottoman held Palestine[36].


It is argued by some that Preminger’s take on Exodus softened the anti-British and anti-Arab view of Uris’ novel.[37]  However, it also could be argued that the film failed to address fundamental reasons for Palestinians struggle for self-determination.  In a twist of irony both the film and novel fail to tell of the Palestinian exodus (the Nakba “catastrophe”) that resulted from the establishment of the modern state of Israel.


The late Hilda Silverman a member of Jewish Voices for Peace, Boston[38] writes about the Exodus:


“I am personally deeply moved by the story of the desperate attempts by remnants of the Shoah to reach the shores of Palestine. But think the price for another people–who surely didn't have major responsibility for the Holocaust–was simply too high. The Leon Uris version would serve to deny (or possibly in some instances justify) that hideous price.


When I first read and saw Exodus, I was not aware of the anti-Arab racism embedded in it (and I certainly didn't identify with the Palestinians!). But decades later, when I read Uris's "The Haj," I had learned enough to recognize a deeply malevolent work, one steeped in hatred of and disrespect for Arabs, and especially Palestinians.”[39]


6. Response to specific claims of antisemitism


(a) Did Kosminsky use negative stereotypes of Jews as materialistic, immoral, treacherous ruthless and murderous?


The ECAJ claims Kosminsky used “negative stereotypes of Jews as materialistic, immoral, treacherous, ruthless and murderous”.[40]  This is an outrageous characterization that lacks any reasonable basis. The opening scenes of the series of episode 1 show the horror that Jewish people faced under Nazi brutality.  Certainly for many viewers this may have been the first time they saw bulldozers pushing 100s of bodies into mass graves.  This scene shot with original footage is a clear reminder to the unbearable suffering that Jews experienced under Nazism.


The closing scene of episode 1 showed the immense trauma that Jewish Israelis still face with the barbarity of suicide bombings.  One could only feel shock, remorse and anger at the mindless and callous act of persons intentionally entering a café with the purpose to blow themselves up and cause as much damage and death to those around them.  This emotion of horror was heightened because the audiences our connection with Paul (the peace activist), and the cruel irony if Paul was killed by a Palestinian in such a way.


Was the characterisation of a wealthy Jewish Israeli family promoting anti-Jewish stereotypes or demeaning?


The Executive Council of Australian Jewry claim that the series “panders to stereotypes about Jews being immoderately wealthy”[41].  Evidence for this claim is the fact that Erin’s best friend Eliza Meyer’s parents own a salubrious home in Caesearea with a beautiful pool. The question to ask critics is what else would you expect from the family of a general?  Why should a family of a former general not have a beautiful house in Caesarea?  Who is to say that all families of generals live like this?  But equally who would suggest that this is not a realistic setting for a general’s family.  This is not a very convincing claim by ECAJ and should be rejected.


The appearance of one wealthy Jewish family in a film (i.e the Meyer family) is certainly not grounds for claims of negative stereotyping.   The Meyer family was an important link between Erin and her experience in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories.    Erin came from a modest background who did not have the means to just leave on a whim to spend time with her best friend while she undertook military training.  The family was a vehicle for Erin to visit Israel (without her mother’s consent).  Living with the family of a former general, Erin was able to see the complexity in the debate about how people saw what was in the best interests of Israel.  The fact that Max was a former general allowed Erin to be speedily released after being detained by IDF in Gaza when she was found at the home of a suicide bomber.


In the same way in Exodus Kitty Fremont’s (the American nurse) experience in Cyprus and Palestine was very much benefited by her friendship with the British General Sullivan.  Her connection with the general allowed Kitty (and the audience of the Exodus) to experience life within a Jewish refugee detention centre, she was able to board the cargo ship with refugees and travel to Palestine.  Kitty was able to use her friendship with the general to have the Danish Jewish refugee (Karen Hansen) freed from the refugee detention centre.  This was highly irregular (as in the case when Erin was released when she was detained), but it is a typical way a writer or director allows an audience to encounter a particular experience.


Erin’s experience with the Meyer family remind the audience of the beauty of the region.  The beautiful house, the glorious pool, the sand, surf and sun, what a wonderful experience it was for Erin to be in such a place away from all her troubles in England.  Erin describes her image on the beach as being “like heaven”.  On a personal note I felt the same emotions because of my own experience in Israel.  I did not stay with the family of a general but I certainly enjoyed the pleasures of life in Tel Aviv - a coastal city on the Mediterranean - that allows people to enjoy the best of the outdoors, water sports and night life.  But it does not take you long to be shocked out of the bubble that is Tel Aviv (or Caesarea) from the situation of Palestinians living under military law just 30 kilometres away.


Miri Weingarten describes Kosminky’s depiction of Paul and Eliza’s family also rings very true, and is made up of types recognizable to Israelis”[42]. Kosminsky explained in his interview with Weingarten how he created his Jewish Israeli characters:


“I met a man very like Immanuel Katz and drew the scene with Eliza’s grandfather from that conversation. We interviewed men very like Paul. His evolution from pro-Army to anti-Zionist, (apparently in part to annoy his father), came straight from the research. Max as a co-signatory to a military letter criticising the occupation is also from the research but I was interested in how a liberal man like Max might react to having a son who becomes far more extreme than he is, (so their debate is not between left and right but between shades of liberalism). Leah’s character also flows from individuals I met or read about – but is also created dramatically as a response to the idea of being the child of a strong, celebrated but also traumatised father such as Katz. She is not as politically liberal as her husband. Earlier in their relationship, when they met in London and first moved to Israel, this difference between them wasn’t so important. But, with the writing of Max’s letter and with his constant clashes with Paul over politics, Leah is moving closer to her political roots – which are right wing.”[43]


(b) Was the image of the ‘greedy Jew’ reinforced?


The ECAJ claims the series “shamelessly and persistently utilises the Antisemitic motif of the greedy Jew”.[44]  The example used was when Len was invited for dinner at Mohammad’s home.  Mohammad complained that all the problems began when European Jews arrived claiming they wanted “everything”.  The ECAJ’s claim that this represents antisemitism is another baseless characterisation of a scene and should be rejected.


An objective look at the demographic change of the Jewish community from 1850 to 1948 will show the Jewish community transformed from one dominated by the ‘oriental Jew’ (as described by Baedeker)[45], to the colonist or pioneer from Eastern Europe. That is there was a transition of the old Yishuv community by the new Yishuv.  The Palestine Royal Commission in 1937 (The Peel Commission) talks about the new Jewish settlements verse the old established Jewish communities of Hebron and Safad.[46]


The Shaw Report (1930), the British Commission of Inquiry that sought to explain the reasons for violence between Arabs and Jews in Palestine in 1929 said as much:


” In pre-war days [i.e before the First World War] the Jews in Palestine, regarded collectively, had ‘formed an unobtrusive minority; individually many of them were dependent on charity for their living, while many of the remainder in particular the colonists - brought direct and obvious material benefits to the inhabitants of the ‘area in which they settled. The Jewish immigrant of the post-war period, on the other hand, is a person of greater energy and initiative than were the majority of the Jewish community of pre-war days. He represents a movement created by an important international organization supported by funds which,[47] judged by Arab standards, seem inexhaustible. To the Arabs it must appear improbable that such competitors will in years to come be content to share the country with them. These fears have been intensified by the more extreme statements of Zionist policy and the Arabs have come to see in the Jewish immigrant not only a menace to their livelihood but a possible overlord of the future.” “[48]


The Peel Commission (1937) explained the difficulty of creating a binational state with the advent of modern Zionism:


“If the Jews had come to Palestine willing to fuse their life and culture with Arab life and culture, to accept the language of the majority, to contemplate the possibility of being some day ruled by that majority, then it is conceivable that they might have been as welcome and successful in Palestine as their ancestors in ‘Iraq or Egypt or Spain in the early days of the Diaspora. But it would have been wholly unreasonable to expect such an attitude on their part. It would have been the direct negation of Zionism, both on its social or political and on its cultural side. The Zionists came back to Palestine, on the one hand, to escape from an alien environment, to shake off the shadow of the ghetto, to free themselves from all the drawbacks of ” minority life “.  Necessarily, therefore, the Hebrew language had to be the language of the National Home: necessarily Jewish nationalism was intensified by its foundation. Enlightened immigrants might take a highly sympathetic interest in Arab life and culture: but there could be no question of a Jewish fusion or ” assimilation ” with it, still less of a subordination.. The National Home could not[49] be half-national. Nor, it need hardly be said, was the idea of the Arabs acquiescing on their side in a fusion of Arab with Jewish culture more imaginable, To quote the Arab delegates of 1922 again ‘Nature does not allow the creation of a spirit of co-operation between two peoples so different’”[50]


ECAJ’s claim is an example of one group seeking to push the Jewish nationalist narrative whilst minimizing the place for the Palestinian nationalist narrative.  In the battle of narratives, is the ECAJ asking for the Jewish nationalist narrative to obfuscate or trump the Palestinian narrative in all films?  Is there only one version of the struggle for self-determination of Palestinians and Jews that SBS audiences are allowed to see?  Why cannot SBS audiences be granted the maturity and respect to be able to watch one interpretation of the events occurring in Palestine and Israel in 1948 and 2005?  Especially when that interpretation is made by someone of the caliber of Peter Kosminsky.  If Kosminsky’s own Jewishness and the fact the film was created in Israel by Israelis is not enough to convince the ECAJ of the legitimate place The Promise has within a spectrum of films in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli-Arab conflict then what film will be satisfactory? Democracies work best where diversity is respected not squashed into a one-dimensional lens of the world.  SBS Code 1.2 in part reflects this need for diversity in a pluralistic society.


(c) Were all ‘Arab’ character portrayed favourably? And the subjective experience of drama


ECAJ claims “all of the Arab characters, are portrayed favourably and in a way that evokes the audience’s sympathy for them”.[51] To use Kosminsky’s own words [as he responded to another group of critics] this is another example of a “categorical statement”[52].


Perhaps the clearest Arab character who was seen in a negative light was the suicide bomber.  Erin makes it clear in the home of the bomber in Gaza how “morally reprehensible”[53] she found the acts of the suicide bombing. Despite still condemning the actions of suicide bombing Erin’s experience staying with the family was an opportunity for Erin to see the humanity of the other.


Further, the Palestinian attack on the Israeli military outpost in Hebron was seen as destructive and counter productive.  What good would come to Palestinians by shooting at Israelis especially as you could see in this scene you were jeopardizing he safety of people who were working towards building reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis.


To admit my own prejudice I personally distrusted Omar Habash.  If I was pushed to answer what it was I did not trust about him, I would say it was his finely trimmed beard…his eyes…it was just a sense (as illogical, irrational and racially prejudice a sense this was).  Objectively, speaking I would realise that what I was experiencing was a reaction to years of anti-Arab images that had created an unfair stereotype equating Arabs and terrorists.  This personal reflection (though embarrassing for myself who for years has strived to confront racism as a teacher in both high school and primary schools) highlights how subjective our perceptions are from watching a film such as The Promise.  What past experiences (or traumas or fears) we have had shape the way we perceive the drama.  That is why it is so important to allow some objective distance when attempting to make judgment on this series.


(d) Does the series show moral outrage at any Arab actions?


The Promise identifies moral outrage or identified a moral dilemma or inconsistency at various levels.  Within the Palestinian narrative there film very clearly showed the senseless, carnage that is caused by a suicide bombing.  Erin condemned the act and questioned the  morality of  the suicide bomber.  Within the British narrative the morality was questioned of the British soldiers chastising Mohammad – that typified colonial arrogance/ignorance of the period.  Also within the British narrative was the morality of detaining Holocaust survivors.  The images of the Jewish refugees in the first episode abandoning ship was very disturbing.  Lens encounter with the Jewish refugee woman at night on the beach (and the feeling of helplessness and compassion); his experience seeing Jewish refugees interned in the wire fences; and the comment by Len’s comrade that “doesn’t this remind you of something we have already seen before” ie their experience in Bergen-Belsen death camps.  All these experiences identified examples of moral outrage on one hand but on the other hand an awareness of the immense complexity to the problem.


(f) Is there a degree of comparison between The Promise and Nazi Propaganda?


The next claim to consider by ECAJ is that The Promise “bears a degree of comparison with [the] Nazi propaganda film…Jud Suss”.  This is quite a nonsensical and ludicrous claim. It is almost beyond belief.  In what moral universe does someone compare The Promise to a Nazi propaganda film like Jud Suss?  It is actually quite depressing to think that the national representative body of the Jewish community in Australia would support such nonsense.   I expected criticism of the Promise but to resort to Nazi slurs to build an argument against The Promise is crossing the line.  It sadly typifies a totally irrational, out-of-touch and hypersensitive reaction that sees antisemites “under every bed” to use a McCarthyism era metaphor. 


Bizarrely enough the criteria used by ECAJ to compare The Promise to Jud Suss could be used to compare the Exodus.  That is the Exodus:


(i) was a fictional drama set against real historical events;

(ii) interpreted those events not only as a human tragedy but as a tale of “British/Arab wrongdoing”;

(iii) featured negative portrayals of its principal British/Arab characters;

(iv) made liberal use of anti-Arab/anti-British stereotypes (ruthless, amoral, betrayer, usurper, thief);

(v) was, at the time, acclaimed by critics and also achieved great popularity.


I use this example not to really make a comparison with the Exodus and a Nazi propaganda film, but to make the point that use of Nazi comparisons must be based on solid ground, lest the concept be cheapened and there will be loss of the real sense of the word.    That is why the practical guide of the Working Definition of Antisemitism states “Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifest itself with regard to the state of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:… drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” [emphasis added].  That does not mean a critic cannot make such a comparison - but it does mean that if such a comparison is made then the criteria used to judge if it is antisemitic will depend on the overall context. In the overall context The Promise is about providing a lens into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict the many facets, complexities and contradictions of the Jewish and Palestinian experience both positive and negative.  So any claims about similarities with Nazi propaganda film are illusory.


(g) Implying antisemitism (as opposed to expressly stating it), the self-hating Jew ploy and the Holocaust card


The ECAJ does not expressly state Peter Kosminsky the writer and director of The Promise is antisemitic, lest they be made open themselves to a defamation action.  Instead the ECAJ’s process of deduction is to bring two truths together and then attempt to sow doubt in the mind of the read…that perhaps Kosminsky is antisemitic [why else would someone make a film so critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestinians?]  The first truth ECAJ stated was Peter Kosminsky is Jewish and the second truth was - being Jewish does not mean you are not antisemitic.  This is suppose to lead the reader to conclude (without expressly stating it) that Peter Kosminsky is antisemitic (or isn’t he – the sophistry is coy in its approach).[54] This is very a very blatant and unsophisticated attempt at character assassination and a typical example of how smear campaigns work against those who dissent from the mainstream modern Jewish narrative.


To rub salt in the wounds the ECAJ introduces the concept of “self-hating” Jews[55].  The self-hating Jew is a description that is often applied to Jews critical of Israel and who show public Palestinian sympathy. It is a process of ostracism, of choosing who is in and who is out.  It is a ploy used to enforce community homogeneity and a means to punish dissidents instead of allowing persons to have a diversity of views. It has extremely damaging effects on the personal life of an individual.  Richard Goldstone, the chair of the 2008 UN Fact Finding Mission into Gaza who found potential war crimes committed by both Israel and Palestinians was labeled a self-hating Jew and was subjected to enormous personal hate mail (and undoubtedly death threats).  In an attempt to punish Goldstone for being seen to be critical of Israel attempts were made (including by the South African Zionist Federation) to stop Richard Goldstone seeing his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah.[56] Such was the pressure on Goldstone it would appear that it led him to try and recount his role in the Goldstone report as a means to be admitted back ‘within the fold’.


What the ECAJ fails to make clear is that in the context of Peter Kosminsky’s life work it cannot be established that he is antisemitic. Such a statement would be a blatant untruth and indeed grounds for defamation.  The ECAJ by its attack on Kosminsky and attempts to allege some form of antisemitism is a clear misuse of what is an abominable act or ideology i.e hatred of Jews. 


If that is not enough the ECAJ plays the “Holocaust card” as if the Nazi slurs and antisemitic claim were not enough.  The ECAJ in its conclusion stated “The Promise caused considerable distress to Holocaust survivors and other members of our community who complained to us about it”.[57]  Now I am not doubting that there were indeed Holocaust survivors who were offended by the program.  The Shoah is a blight on humanity as a result of events of fascism in Europe and centuries of persecution and discrimination.  However, despite the great trauma survivors of the Holocaust have suffered this is not the only consideration to be taken into providing other Australians the opportunity to experience dramatic works set in the Middle East.  And secondly when the ECAJ invokes the name of the Holocaust as grounds to censor a program (which effectively is what is happening – because which other station will show it in Australia?).  Is the ECAJ cheapening the


Are not Palestinians entitled to have their story of Nakba told (The ‘Catastrophe’ i.e. the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians)?  Can we not see the various competing narratives within both the Jewish and Palestinian communities? Israel journalist Anschel Pfeffer demonstrates a mature approach can be taken in relation to understanding the Holocaust, the Jewish and Palestinian struggle for self-determination, the creation of Israel and the Nakba:


We don't have to give up on the Holocaust - it is our history and holds central lessons for all human beings - but we have to stop using it as a justification for Israeli policies. And we don't have to be afraid of the Nakba. Injustices were carried out by both sides in 1948, but if Israel would have lost, there is no question that the atrocities would have been of a totally different order. But anyway, that is history and bringing the Holocaust into the equation only forces Israel to opposing historical claims. Despite all our failings, Israel is enough of a success story to argue its case based on today's realities. [58]


7. SBS’s programming right to take on controversial topics (SBS Code of Practice 1.1)


SBS should be congratulated for taking on a controversial topic such as the Middle East. Inline with SBS Code of Practice 1.1: “SBS’s programming can be controversial and provocative and may at times be distasteful or offensive to some.”  Certainly any drama on the Palestinian-Israeli-Arab conflict will cause offence to one section of a community or another.  This should not dissuade SBS from airing such programmes as the Code of Practice clearly states “[n]ot all viewpoints presented will be shared by all audience members” (SBS Code of Practice 1.1).


8. What are critics of The Promise really concerned about? (SBS Code of Practice 1.2)


I am disturbed that pressure groups like the Executive Council of Australian Jewry are attacking this drama.  If such groups were so concerned about prejudice and racism why then would they not want the broader Australian audience to be aware of the violence used by certain nationalist groups (like Irgun) against the British in the 1940s. Such knowledge would help audience members counter the ‘Arab/Muslim/Palestinian as a terrorist view’ that is part and parcel of Western views of the Middle East.  How many Australians were aware of the massacre of Deir Yassin?  This massacre[59] drove the likes of Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt to publish a letter in the New York Times castigating those complicit in the attack as terrorists.[60]  How many Australians knew about the King David Hotel bombing or the terror tactics used by certain Jewish nationalist groups against the British? 


The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not one-dimensional.  Audience members cannot just see only Palestinians as the sole antagonist. Peter Kosminsky described the challenge of keeping a balanced perspective but also one that accurately reflected his personal interviews:


“I've tried as hard as I can not to suggest that there are any easy answers to such a complex problem. There are no good guys and bad guys in this sad situation and we have tried very hard to show pluses and minuses on both sides. Having said that, our research with veterans of 1940s Palestine clearly showed that.”[61]


Kosminsky went on to say:


"Most of these guys [the British veterans] arrived incredibly sympathetic to the Jewish plight, but at the end of three years of the kinds of incidents dramatised in The Promise, their attitudes had changed…This was so strong through the research that I either had to reflect it or abandon the project. The moment you decide to dramatise that change, you have a story which starts with a guy who is pro-Jewish, and ends with a guy who is pro-Arab. I believe that is why some people feel the show is pro-Palestinian.”[62]


SBS by showing The Promise was fulfilling its duties under Code of Practice 1.2 for which it should be congratulated.   A diversity of views and perspectives is what is required to understand the many intricacies of the Middle East.  SBS is for all Australians and The Promise is one way to expand our often-blinkered view about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.


It is a rare for a TV drama to portray the violence used by ultranationalists within the Jewish community in the creation of Israel.  And this is not to be used to denigrate or stereotype the Jewish community, but to provide a representation of what was experienced by British soldiers that Kosminsky and his research team interviewed.  In order to esnsure a fair representation Kosminsky sticks to the principle of exploring the good and bad in all communities and of the contradictory nature of and within various personalities and groups. 


The Promise provides a powerful window into the complexity of the struggle of Jewish and Palestinian people (between and within themselves) for the land we now call Israel and the Palestinian Territories.


10. Conclusion


I would like to thank again SBS for its contribution to airing Peter Kosminsky’s The Promise. The Promise was a highly stimulating and refreshing drama about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Promise far from being antisemitic was inherently a Jewish and Israeli production that helps counter discriminatory views towards both Palestinians and Jews (SBS Code of Practice 1.3) The Promise was controversial as it challenged established norms by its particular take on the Palestinian and Jewish narratives.  The Middle East excites passions from various sectors within the Australian community.  In this instance critics argued Palestinian bias (some going to the extreme to argue antisemitism) in other instances critics will argue Jewish bias. Thankfully it is SBS’s programming right to take on controversial topics (SBS Code of Practice 1.1).  SBS is for all Australians. No one community (or element of that community) has a right to deny broader Australia from experiencing diverse perspectives especially in highly controversial topics.


The Promise is an important contribution to ensuring a diversity of views and perspectives are provided.  Programs are not required to present every viewpoint or all available material relating to a particular issue or equal time to different viewpoints (SBS Code of Practice 1.2).  SBS should be congratulated for continuing to present the various elements of the Jewish and Palestinian narratives despite the highly controversial and emotive subject and the inevitable backlash.


Even though The Promise was a historical drama and should be viewed as such it does provoke an interest in discussing the history of the conflict.  I have included an interim response in the appendix to balance other claims made by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry about historical inaccuracies or bias.


Again thank you SBS and well done!  I look forward to a reply to acknowledge this letter.


Yours sincerely,



Stewart Mills

[2] SBS Codes of Practice 2006 (incorporating amendments as at August 2010)

[3] Peter Wertheim, Formal Complaint re: The Promise, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, 5 January 2011
Peter Wertheim, Comment on jwire, 14 December 2011

[4] On the 9 December the Labor Senator for WA wrote a letter to the SBS Ombudsman alleging that the Promise “provides an illustration of the Jewish people that is at the very least derogatory and would be viewed as anti-Semitic by any reasonable person.”

[5] Ofcom, “Other Programmes Not in Breach up to 21 February 2011, Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, Issue 178,,  21 March 2011

[6] Simon Rocker, “Ofcom: no second look at The Promise”, The Jewish Chronicle Online. UK, 8 July 2011.
Robyn Rosen, “Broadcaster reject every complaint on The Promise”, The Jewish Chronicle Online, UK, 21 April 2011

[7] See fn 6

[8] Laurie Penny, “Julie Burchill’s imperialist froth over Israel”, New Statesman, UK, 13 February 2011

[10] Anthony Lerman, “A sensitive drama on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”, 17 February 2011, Jews for Justice for Palestinians

[11] “The Promise: Interview with Peter Kosminsky J News: Alternative Jewish Perspective on Israel- Palestine”, UK, 24 March 2011.

[12] ECAJ letter, p. 7. See fn3.

[13] EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, 16 March 2005  Also see the Council of Europe Definition ECRI General Policy Recommendation N°9:
The fight against antisemitism 
Adopted by European Commission against Racism and Intolerance antisemitism (ECRI) on 25 June 2004

[14] ibid.

[15] Peter Kosminsky comment to “Leia”, Episode 4 Q&A, Channel 4, (11:31) 27 February 2011

[16] Lev Luis, Israeli political sociologist, author of Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine, personal email sent to the author, 12 January 2012.

[17] Rachel Cooke, “Peter Kosminsky: Britain’s humiliation in Palestine”, The Guardian, 23 January 2011.

[18] “Interview: Peter Kosminsky”, The Jewish Chronicle Online, 3 February 2011.

[19] ibid.

[20] See fn 17.

[21] Smadar Wolfman plays the mother of Paul (Itay Tiran).  Smadar is Israeli born and lived in Israel until 20 years of age.  Ali Suliman is a well renowned Israeli actor, he played (Abu-Hassan Mohammed). Hassan - Amir Najar, Ringleader (demonstration) - Mati Atlas, Yaakov Maazel - Eyal Rozales, Immanuel Katz - Yair Rubin, Staff nurse - Naama Amit, Owner (Op Bulldog House) - Ilan Ganani, Woman (Op Bulldog House) - Michal Rubin, Hamid - Loai Nofi, Nursery teacher - Michal Warshaei.

[22] Professionally Itay has achieved various awards within Israeli film and theatre including nominations for best actor and best support actor in the Israeli Film Academy Awards and has won the best actor an best supporting actor in the Israeli Theater Awards.

[23] “Interview: Peter Kosminsky”, The Jewish Chronicle Online, 3 February 2011.

[24] See fn 18.

[25] Peter Kosminsky, “A film-maker’s eye  on the Middle East”, The Guardian, 28 January 2011.

[26] See fn 18.

[27] See fn 18.

[28] Marcus Dysch, “Promise director Peter Kosminsky and Israeli ‘apartheid’”, The, 12 May 2011,

[29] Mazin Qumsiyeh “100 years of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotyping”, The Prism, USA, December 1997.  Qumsiyeh a Palestinian American Christian writes about various films including Patriot Games (1992) and Demi Moore’s GI Jane (1997).
Scott J Simon, “Arabs in Hollywood: An undeserved image”, Latent Image, USA  Simon looks at various films ranging from action like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s True Lies (1994) to Disney’s Aladdin (1992).

[30] Cf to ECAJ response, p. 8. See fn 3.  Exodus only included one principal Arab character, Taha.   The Exodus at one level did try and establish respect for Mohammedans, the good relations between Taha’s father and some of the Jewish protagonists and a spirit of hope for Arabs and Jews.  However, the Palestinian Arab narrative was almost absent from the story and apart from the tokenary Arab input of Taha,  with more than a fair share of association between Arabs with reference to the Muftis gangsters and extremists.

[31] Said, The Politics of Dispossession, 101 as cited in Ibrahim Abraham and Roland Boer, “God doesn’t care: The contradictions of Christian Zionism”, 2009 Religion and Theology 16(1-2) 95.

[32] Cf ECAJ response, p. 18.  See fn 3.

[33] Rachel Weissbrod, ‘Exodus as a Zionist Melodrama, Israel Studies 4, no. 1 (1999): 129-152 as cited Ibrahim Abraham and Roland Boer, “God doesn’t care: The contradictions of Christian Zionism”, Religion and Theology 16 (2009)  2009, p. 96, fn 20.

[34] See Appendix.  Jewish Virtual Library states there were 60,000 Jews to 600,000 in 1918 Non-Jews (i.e Palestinian Arabs).  This figure rose to 543,000 Jews and 1,267,037 Jews in 1946.  That is the Jewish community increased tenfold whereas the Palestinian Arab community only doubled (in less than 30 years). “Jewish and Non-Jewish Population of Palestine-Israel (15-17-2004), Jewish Virtual Library, USA
as cited in Israel in the Middle East: Documents and Readings on Society, Politics, and Foreign Relations, Pre-1948 to the Present, Ed. by Itamar Rabinovich and Jehuda Reinharz, Brandeis University Press, Waltham, Mass., 2008. (pp.571-572)

[35] McCarthy states there were 13,000 Jews to 327,000 non-Jews in 1851. McCarthy, Justin, The Population of Palestine: Population Statistics of the late Ottoman Period and the Mandate, Columbia University Press, 1990. The pre-aliyah Jewish community was in the main “oriental”, what might be termed today as Arab Jews. This was to change from the 1860s onwards during the large scale immigration with the first aliyah (1882-1903) following persecution within the Russian empire and anti-Semitism within Europe; see K Baedeker (ed), Palestine and Syria” Handbook for Travellers 3rd edition, Leipsic, Karl Baedeker publisher, 1898, p. xxxiii.
“The First Aliyah”, Jewish Virtual Library,

[36] Ottoman held Palestine was known administratively by the names :Independent Sanjak of Jerusalem, Sanjak of: Nablus and Acre.  These sanjaks were part of Bilad el-Sham (ie Syria).  The attempt to deny Palestinian nationality (including Newt Gingrich’s infamous comment) often uses this Syrian connection as a way to imply the concept of Palestinian is ‘invented’.  At best this is historically, socially and culturally misunderstanding of the development concept of national and political and personal identity.  At its worst it is blind propaganda to legitimize the continued occupation of Palestinian people (as in the West Bank and Gaza). “Effective control” in the case of Gaza is occupation as pointed out by the ICJ’s 2004 Advisory opinion Israel’s separation barrier [wall].

[37] Matthew Silver, Our Exodus: Leon Uris and the Americanization of Israel's founding story, Wayne State University, 2010.

[38] Alice Rothchild, “Hilda Silverman: Peace and Social Justice Activist 1938-2008”, Jewish Women’s Archive, Brookline USA

[39] Hilda Silverman, Comment on blog by Philip Weiss, “Does Paul Newman owe a spiritual debt to Palestinians?” Mondoweiss: The war of ideas in the Middle East, USA, 9 November 2007

[40] ECAJ response p. 19.

[41] ECAJ response 5 January 2012, p. 1.

[42] “The Promise: Interview with Peter Kosminsky J News: Alternative Jewish Perspective on Israel- Palestine”, UK, 24 March 2011.

[43] “The Promise: Interview with Peter Kosminsky J News: Alternative Jewish Perspective on Israel- Palestine”, UK, 24 March 2011.

[44] ECAJ response, p. 17

[45] McCarthy states there were 13,000 Jews to 327,000 non-Jews in 1851. McCarthy, Justin, The Population of Palestine: Population Statistics of the late Ottoman Period and the Mandate, Columbia University Press, 1990. The pre-aliyah Jewish community was in the main “oriental”, what might be termed today as Arab Jews. This was to change from the 1860s onwards during the large scale immigration with the first aliyah (1882-1903) following persecution within the Russian empire and anti-Semitism within Europe; see K Baedeker (ed), Palestine and Syria” Handbook for Travellers 3rd edition, Leipsic, Karl Baedeker publisher, 1898, p. xxxiii.
“The First Aliyah”, Jewish Virtual Library,

[46] Peel Royal Commission 1937 p. 67

[47] Shaw Report (Cmd. 3530). p. 64. as cited in Peel Royal Commission, 1937, p. 68

[48] Ibid p. 69

[49] Peel Royal Commission P. 61.

[50] Ibid. P. 62.

[51] ECAJ response 5 January 2012, p. 8.  See fn 3.

[52] Interview with Peter Kosminsky, “'The Promise' Q&A”, The Fabulous Picture Show (interviewed by Amanda Palmer), Al Jazeera English uploaded by AlJazeera English, 19 May 2011. 

[53] cf with ECAJ response 5 January 2012, p. 16. See fn 3.

[54] ECAJ response, p. 18. See fn 3.

[55] See the SHIT list Self Hating and/or Israel Threatening List. Which includes Rabbi Michael Lerner , Noam Chomsky

[56] Letty Cottin Pogrebin, “The Un-Jewish assault on Richard Goldstone, Tikkun, 29 December 2010.
“Success: Richard Goldstone writes he now can go to the barmitvah,” Tikkun, 23 April 2010

[57] ECAJ response, p. 20.

[58] Anschel Pfeffer, “Israel must stop overplaying the Holocaust card”, Haaretz, 27 May 2011.

[59]Matthew Hogan, “The Red Cross Report: Translation of Dr. Jacques DeReynier’s Memorandum on Deir Yassin”.
Daniel A McGowan & Matthew Hogan, “The Saga of Deir Yassin: Massacre, Revisionism and Reality”

[60] Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt et al. letter to the editor of the New York Times, 2 December 1948.
Einstein letter, April 1948

Einstein – NYT, 2 December 1948

[61] Peter Kosminsky comment to “Fredi”, Episode 4 Q&A, Channel 4, (11:22) 27 February 2011

[62] Marcus Dysch, “Peter Kosminsky says he kept Promise”, The Jewish Chronicle Online, 31 March 2011

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