Promising The Right of Reply

March 30, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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The executive director of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Peter Wertheim, has been denied the right of reply to an article written by New South Wales University Emeritus Professor of Law Hal Wootten.

Peter Wertheim - ECAJ Executive Director

The ECAJ complaint to the SBS Ombudsman dated 5 January 2012 appears as a separate document on this website.

Professor Wootten’s article as published on Inside Story on 16 February 2012 can be accessed here.  It contains a link to a longer version.

Peter Wertheim’s response as published on Inside Story on 15 March 2012 can be accessed here.  The longer version appears as a separate document on this website.

Professor Wootten’s further comments as published on Inside Story on 20 March 2012 can be accessed here.

Inside Story declined to publish Peter Wertheim’s response dated 26 March 2012.  J-Wire publishes it below.




The Managing Director of SBS has publicly conceded that if any of the complaints concerning The Promise had been upheld, SBS would have been obliged to cease marketing the series, including the DVD, whether any of the complainants had expressly sought that outcome or not.  As most of the complaints alleged that SBS had  breached its own code prohibiting the promotion of “discriminatory stereotypes”, it is difficult to see how anyone could have made such a complaint without being condemned by Professor Wootten for attempting “to use the smear of antisemitism to suppress access to this film”.

The ECAJ complaint was made after the entire series had gone to air, so it makes no sense to suggest that the making of the complaint was an attempt to limit the number of people who would know about The Promise.   As for the “effort” required “to import a DVD from overseas”, it is no more onerous to make an online purchase from Amazon than from SBS.


The 62 people who lodged formal complaints, and many others who complained informally, had every right to do so.  Professor Wootten has not the slightest evidence that the complaints were anything other than sincere and deeply felt, whether he agrees with them or not.  He demonstrates his ignorance of the Jewish community when he suggests that its representative bodies could or should influence people not to exercise their right to protest about perceived antisemitism, especially in connection with portrayals of Israel and Israelis.

Professor Wootten continues to insist that I have misrepresented The Promise by attributing “conjured up” racist stereotypes to its portrayal of Jewish characters, and continues steadfastly to ignore comments posted on the SBS website and elsewhere online, like the one I quoted,  which defend the series by embracing those very stereotypes.  He ignores also the startling excuse proffered by SBS in dismissing the complaints that “it is quite common to portray individuals, groups or even nations in a negative light as a part of a dramatic work.

Posted comments by supporters of the series also expressly endorse what they see as its condemnatory portrayal of Israel’s birth. Yet in the face of these statements, Professor Wootten continues to maintain that the series is “not making or inviting judgments about events in the past”.

A harsh judgement is also behind the program’s portrayal of Israel, falsely, as an ongoing occupier of Gaza, using the device of back-dating Erin’s story to June 2005, immediately before Israel dismantled its settlements and withdrew its civilians and military forces from Gaza.

The character of Avram Klein is based on the historical figure of Dov Gruner.  Although Gruner was never accused of killing or wounding anybody, the overtly antisemitic British GOC in Palestine, Evelyn Barker, was determined to see Gruner hang at all costs.  Gruner accepted the fate imposed upon him and was a genuine martyr, even though Professor Wootten dishonours his memory and refers to him as bombastic.  The fictional Avram Klein, in contrast, is offered an honourable way to save himself and refuses.  Klein is portrayed as cynically choosing death to make himself a martyr for political ends.  For Professor Wootten, this constitutes a sympathetic portrayal. .

It is true that Len and Avram Klein are shown to be on cordial terms.  This occurs in the first half of Episode 3.  It is only one stage in the shift of attitudes away from the Jewish side that is the driver of the story, both its 1940s and 2005 components, and the narrow and distorted lens through which the series portrays history. Viewers learn nothing of the moving story of Gruner’s bravery that ended with his hanging and left his British guard dissolved in tears, but not one shocking detail of the reprisal atrocities against two British sergeants by Klein’s comrades is omitted.  The egregious one-sidedness of this rendition of history eclipses any positive impression of Klein arising from the portrayal of Len’s sympathy for him.

No reasonable viewer can overlook the fact that, by the end of the series, the central British characters, Len and Erin, are depicted as profoundly alienated not only from the Jewish/Israeli side in the conflict but also from each Jewish character with whom they were closest.  As The Promise was made primarily for a British audience at a time of rising antisemitism in the UK, and in Europe, it is hardly far-fetched to conclude that Kosminsky is seeking to impress this same alienation of sympathies on the viewer.



3 Responses to “Promising The Right of Reply”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    Some 30 years ago I was madly organising demonstration after demonstration of the Jewish community in front of the Soviet consulate for the release of the Russian Jewish refusniks.
    Hundreds came and it contributed to the strengthening of our charcater.

    HOWZ ABOUT a few of us organise a demo in front of SBS. Peter Wertheim my come if he can find a minute to put down his letter writing pen.

    Toooo much and, then again, it is not an official initiative so why not treat it with a smile of benevolence and then forget it and concentrate on the legitimate and formal frustrations at the top and the subsequent justified letters….

  2. Liat Nagar says:

    I posted the following comment on the ‘Inside Story’ link provided:

    ‘I, too, submitted an objection to the SBS Ombudsman in relation to the four part series ‘The Promise’. My complaint was along the lines of the ECAJ’s written by Peter Wertheim, in regard to lack of balance, and an unalleviated negative portrayal of Jewish characters in both time frames depicted, that in its general implication was stereotypical and racist. I’m a published writer with arts knowledge, and also commented on the lack of quality of some of the acting and dialogue. I, too, received the SBS decision rejecting my claims, saying that the film series was highly qualitative and making the comment that, as fiction, it could not be judged in this light anyway.

    I’m wondering then why so much of Mr Hal Wootten’s discussion and concern lies with his perceptions of the ‘facts’ of the Zionist history of the past and the Palestinian situation of today. My concern was voiced in my submission to SBS that this ‘fiction’ and how it was presented would be assumed as fact by viewers of the program, and Mr. Wootten’s focus and comments bear that out.

    This then shows the damage it has done. For nowhere does it document or imply the many opportunities, rejected by the Arab people, for a separate independent Arab state in former Palestine: 1947; between 1948-1967; 2000 and 2008. Nowhere in that film set in contemporary Israel, was the full force of the second intifida and its murderous effects shown – only one incident of a suicide bomber in a cafe in Tel Aviv, dealt with at a distance.

    Mr. Wootten, I think, needs to stand back from his comments and examine them objectively and decide for himself where they’re coming from exactly.’

  3. Betty says:

    Only Jewish concerns and complaints are belittled as special pleading. Any other religious or ethnic group is treated with extreme political correctness, One need only pose the question as has already been done “what if the characters portrayed were of any other ethnic group or of the muslim faith would this program have been even made, let alone aired?”

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