A Broken Promise

December 13, 2011 by  
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West Australian Labor senator Glenn Sterle has written to SBS questioning the multicultural channel’s decision to screen “The Promise”… a drama series focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Senator Glenn Sterle

In his letter Senator Sterle wrote: “I write to express my concern about the airing of the four episode series “The Promise” which was produced by the UK’s Channel Four with the first episode airing on SBS1 on Sunday, 27 November 2011.
I understand that the situation that exists between Israel and the Palestinian territories is a complex one. However, it is because of this that depictions of this relationship, whether in a historical or contemporary setting, must present a balanced and well informed representation of the issue.
During the series’ original airing on Channel 4 in the UK there was considerable criticism of the manner in which the program portrayed Jewish people both during the 1940’s and in 2005, the two eras depicted in the series.
The UK regulator, Ofcom, received more than 40 written complaints regarding alleged anti- Semitic depictions in the series, with many Jewish groups expressing grave concerns at the way in which Jewish individuals and the Jewish community are represented. The Board of Deputies of British Jews described The Promise as follows:
“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 have been contacted by representatives of the Friends of Israel (WA Branch) who also wish to make clear their concern towards SBS’s decision to broadcast this program, despite the controversy it created upon its original airing in the UK.
I would ask you to review the decision made by SBS to broadcast this program in line with your organisation’s Code of Practice. I believe that the program 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.”

He awaits a reply from the station.


18 Responses to “A Broken Promise”
  1. Liat Nagar says:

    I wrote to the SBS Ombudsman on 16th December expressing both my distress and concern regarding screening of ‘The Promise’ and received a letter in response dated 21/12, acknowledging my complaint and saying, among other things, that SBS is required to adhere to its Codes of Practice which are designed to ensure high standards of public accountability. And, ‘Your complaint raises an issue which is covered by the SBS Codes of Practice’.//Therefore the SBS Ombudsman will now assess whether the episodes of ‘The Promise’ broadcast on 27/11/2011, 4/12/2011 and 11/12/2011 meet the requirements of Code 1 (General programming) including Code 1.3 (Prejudice, Racism and Discrimination).//If you consider any other code is relevant to the assessment of the complaint please let me know as soon as possible. The Codes of Practice can be viewed on the SBS website at http://www.sbs.com.au by following the link at the bottom of the home page.//You will receive a final written response informing you of the outcome of this investigation within sixty days from the date of receipt of your complaint. …’

    Here is my letter for those interested:

    SBS Ombudsman
    Special Broadcasting Service
    Crows Nest, NSW 1585

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    I am writing to express my distress and concern regarding the four episode series ‘The Promise’, the first episode of which went to air on SBS1 on Sunday, 27th November, 2011. this film series is purported to be drama, based on fact, and was produced by U.K. Channel Four, advertised each week on SBS as ‘the drama of the year, The Times’. As someone with comprehensive knowledge of Jewish history that encompasses the timeframe represented in the drama, British overseeing of Palestine in the 1940s and contemporary Israel, I am aware that many historical facts are missing in Channel 4’s production. This, of course, can be done if fiction is introduced to the creation of a ‘drama’, however good drama will have a reliably researched historical background informing it.

    Bearing all this in mind does not excuse the vilification of a people. And that is what this series does in its representation of the Jewish people, both in the 1940s depiction and most certainly in the contemporary Israel setting. It is obvious that the drama has been put together to a political agenda that favours the Palestinian people unequivocally and demonises the Israelis. Within the current Israeli/Palestinian situation, which is complex to say the least, this kind of film only serves to add fuel to the flames and does not assist in any way a balanced understanding of the history that went before and the history being lived now.

    In its prejudice ‘The Promise’ adds to past pieces of fiction touted as fact, such as ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, the latter being not only a fiction, but fraudulent. ‘The Promise’ might not infer global domination, as this document did, however it bestows upon the Jews it illustrates many of the stereotypical images as a given. Everything is there to paint the picture of the evil Jew: the Israeli protagonist disturbed by the plight of the Palestinians (and the barbarity of his own people) and full of anguished guilt at being Israeli, inhumane Israeli soldiers, stone-throwing murderous Israeli children (yes, it was articulated they would kill someone while Israeli soldiers passively watched on) — where are the stone-throwing Arabs?, the cold, conniving, well-off Jews depicted during the 1940s and the ‘terrorists’ that make up the Irgun (called ‘freedom fighters these days if they’re Palestinian, or ‘militants’ on SBS News). ‘The Promise’ is unrelenting in its negative portrayal of Israelis and Jews.

    As SBS’s Codes of Practice cover issues that include prejudice, racism and discrimination, accuracy and balance, I wish to complain vehemently at the decision to screen this film, as, after viewing three episodes of it, I am of the opinion that it is markedly prejudiced in its depiction of Jews, that it discriminates and is racist, that it makes no effort to provide balance and is inaccurate with historical background it includes by omission of facts, thereby presenting its storyline out of context. The fact that ‘The Promise’ might be deemed to be fiction is of no moment. Viewers are influenced by it as if it were purely factual, as evidenced by a Preview in ‘The Age’s Green Guide’ to television viewing, inciting viewers to watch the last episode on SBS1 on Sunday, December 18 – see below:

    “As comment on modern Israel, it’s hard to look past the wire mesh installed above the Palestinian markets in Hebron’s Old City to catch rubbish hurled down by the Jewish settlers from the apartments above – dirty nappies, broken glass, rocks. Try to talk to the Palestinians who live there, as Erin Matthews (Claire Foy) does tonight, and there’s every chance you’ll wear a bag of warm urine; Mazel tov! This excellent four-part series sees young Erin travel to Israel to explore the role of her soldier grandfather, Len, in the postwar British Mandate of Palestine. The Len-Erin dynamic is highly effective, establishing a parallel narrative that allows director Peter Kosminsky to explore Len’s conflicted experience while opening a window into contemporary Israel. Tonight, in the loaded final episode, Erin commandeers former Israeli soldier and part-time lover Paul to help find the family of Mohamed, a Palestinian Arab whom Len befriended 60 years ago.”

    Looking at the Preview closely you can see the ‘previewer’, Tim Elliott, is confusing fiction and fact. His comments embrace both the fictional narrative of the film and facts ‘assumed’ to be there that somehow in his mind transfer to truth. Consider the written reaction to ‘a bag of warm urine’ being thrown on anyone trying to talk to Palestinians: Mazel tov! (Hebrew for ‘good wishes’/’congratulations’), the previewer’s sarcastic innate response. Is this, and perhaps more virulent responses, something that SBS wants to incite with its programming. I view SBS programmes with admiration and enjoyment on the whole, however I do need assurance after this that SBS as a body is not silently anti-semitic.

    Yours sincerley,
    Liat J Nagar (Ms)

    There have been other letters to The Age newspaper articulating words to the effect that this program is a timely reminder of what’s going on in the State of Israel and the history attached to that. It’s a dangerous situation when lies become truths in the minds of people. Omitting full context of events creates a lie. The more people protest this the better. On the whole Jewish people do not do a good job of exposing their truths to the general public and that’s what’s required for fuller understanding and possible empathy.

  2. otto waldmann says:


    for future reference, diner parties, weddings, barmitzva etc., I stopped asking just “anyone” about the science of history once I entered a certain university and then another one and another one, all told some ten years of studying …history. My little bubele, Felix is doing his own PhD in HISTORY at Cambridge and, thus, we are both happy that your definition of the study of history is incredibly off the planet.

    I was going to send you, again, some other text instead, about one of my neighbours siamese cat and its adorable litter, but I shall use that relevant item at the next opportunity, otherwise feel free to be considered abused.

  3. Gabrielle says:

    I complained to channel 4 UK about this series. Their answer was:

    ‘We thank you for your comments regarding this programme. The programme is not a documentary or meant to be perceived as such, it is a work of fiction based on the authors own experiences.

    Please be assured your complaint has been logged and noted for the information of those responsible for our programming.

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate all feedback from our viewers; complimentary or otherwise.’

    The author was not even alive at the time. So I don’t understand their justification. I think more people should register their criticism of the series.

  4. Otto Waldmann says:

    Listen Gabrielle, you wont believe it, but the other day I was in Double Bay and, I swear, I saw Ita Buttrose. How awesome is that !!!??? I was going to go up to her and say ” Why Ita I am the greatest fan !!” but I didn’t. I was suddenly overcome by a bout of timidity. Just as well, I was wearing a light blue T shirt and beige shoes. Can you imagine what Ita would have said – to herself -, like ” How ghastly !!” or even ” Ohhh, my gosh, those colours !!!>

    Dolce & Gabana 23% off @ DJ/BJ. How cool is that !!??

    Anyway, I have obtained some thirty years ago a Master of Arts degree in History at UNSW after rubbing my tuches on university benched for some TEN YEARS. My Son, Felix, is doing his PhD in histoty at Cambridge (UK) and the little bubele is only 24. What about you, darling !!???

  5. Otto Waldmann says:

    Mindless, erratic, simply mentally deficient postings must be ignored, but that Humanity clown is an exception. Out of mere humanity I suggest he/she does NOT abandon the radical medical treatement prescribed and then abandon ANY postings on this site or any other !!!

    • Gabrielle says:

      Otto, I don’t think you should post personal abuses. No other site would allow it, but it looks like this site does not have a moderator.

      Regarding definition of History – anybody would tell you it is not an exact science. It is not Physiscs where the answer to a problem can be verified and often measured. History is based on bits of evidence, diggings, manuscripts which are linked by stories (often biased) and put in some context. Now you can abuse me too.

  6. Pro Humanity says:

    How do you know if something’s merely showing another point of view or if it’s just anti-Semitic? That’s the question on my mind… If you can’t take every uttering a word of criticism you’d have to be extremely arrogant… Do you think you’re a master race or some sort of “gods chosen ones”. Pull your blood heads in and move on with the rest of humanity.

  7. Otto Waldmann says:

    Gabrielle, history is, in fact, quite a science and SBS, while exercising their rights, the right policy of avoiding incitement should prevail.
    Larry Stillman, your penchant for aestetics seems to cloud any sense of necessary contemporary perspectives.
    The British production has been known for some time now and criticism of its contents has started while its production was carried out.
    As a drama it is not a precise acount, not a historic document. It is a seriously tendentious exercise in inflating anti Israel sentiments EVERYWHERE and RIGHT NOW !!
    Its value and intent is strictly politically propagandistic and here is the crux of SBS’ function, or, in fact, malfunction.
    It has to do with the “legitimacy” of violence and the TV series’ emphasis on the Jewish “disposition” from the nascent Israel of pursuing its goals through violence. This is the clear message and intent. It give cudos to all advocates of a palestinian entitlement to an equitable policy of retort to a Zionist entity defined by opression, colonisation, apartheid and, obviously, unmitigated terror. Thus, Larry and his mates now have images and “real” drama to complement his otherwise perfect distortions and put the grin of dramatic accomplishment on his disdain for all things Jewish.

  8. Gabrielle says:

    Apparently this TV drama was made to show what happened to the British soldiers in Palestine. According to Peter Kosminsky the writer / director they have done a great deal of research for the film but my impression is that they just interviewed many old soldiers who unsurprisingly were not very sympathetic to Jews. Unfortunately Kosminsky adopted entirely their point of view.

    While the two attacks are based on historical facts one can get the impression that they happened all the time. Unless I slept through some of it, there was no mention of the Hagana. With the exception of a couple of instances most of the British soldiers are presented positively, the Arabs are peace loving warm people including the young man who was an al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade member. Jewish kids are throwing stones. And with one exception there are no positive compasionate Jews in this drama.

    SBS has the right to present this series. It is considered the best TV drama of the year if not the decade, by the Guardian which has a very good name. Pity they short of people with critical thinking. And if the Guardian cannot pick up the inconsistencies and the bias, the one sided History, what chance has the average person? What will he take away from this series. This drama worries me. For many people it will be a justification for their anti Israel and anti Jewish feelings.

    There is clearly a need for a documentary on the subject. From a knowledgeable, unbiased point of view. I wonder if that’s possible, either in Israel or outside it. History is not science, it seems to be a collection of biases from one side or another.

  9. You can see an interview with Menachem Begin talking about the Hanging of two British Sergeants here:

  10. Shirlee says:

    I can’t give an opinion, as I made a conscious decision, after reading about it in the British Jewish media, not to. I also had advance warning from the NSW JBD and the ECAJ

    However, can I please suggest that those of you who have watched it, write to the SBS and your Federal MP and express your disgust at the series and for SBS screening it..

  11. Rita says:

    Privatise SBS NOW, and completely! I deeply resent my tax dollar to go to a service which is a propaganda chanel for anti-semitism, broadcasts the Aljezeera and, in addition to the tax dollar is allowed commercial advertising.

  12. Robert Eichel says:

    Larry Stillman,
    It is surprising that you regard an attack on the British Military HQ ( with warnings) in Palestine a terrorist attack.
    By extension are military conflicts to be classified as terrorist operations. ?
    Where does that leave the Hebron deliberate targetting and massacre of defenceless Jewish civillians by the Arabs and the British reluctanceto get involved?
    The Promise was made by a known Jewish anti Israel activist and his portrayal of the Jews and the contrast with the Arabs could not be more negative.
    “Historian, Professor David Cesarani, accused Kosminsky of “deceit…massive historical distortion”: omitting the Balfour Declaration’s promise of a Jewish national home; downplaying selfish British geo-strategy; and exculpating the British, “chief architects of the Palestine tragedy…making responsible…only the Jews”; turning a tricorn conflict of British, Arabs and Jews “into a one-sided rant.”[65] ” Wikipedia

  13. Liat Nagar says:

    I have been both horrified and irritated by the drama series ‘The Promise’. The kind of stereotyping of Jews endemic to the film is typical of the UK’s Channel 4 and far from being “the best British drama of the century” (or words to that effect), pronounced by The Times and flashed onto the screen during advertising of the show and at the beginning of each episode, it’s appallingly bad for its poor acting, lack of dimension of characters and blatantly obvious ‘agenda’ – yes, it’s been put together with the agenda of the intellectual left in Britain and it shows. Everything’s there: the Israeli disturbed by the plight of the Palestinians and full of anguished guilt at being Israeli, the monstrous, inhumane Israeli soldiers, the right-thinking Israeli Jews protesting at the barriers between West Bank and Israel, the stone-throwing murderous Israeli children! (where are the stone-throwing Arab children?) the cold, conniving, well-off Jews depicted during the 1940s and the ‘terrorists’ that make up the Irgun (called ‘freedom fighters these days if they’re Palestinian). As for the character of the English girl supporting her girlfriend in contemporary Israel, she’s the big irritant, for her banality, her lack of real curiosity about where she actually is (except of course where the West Bank is concerned) and her complete naivety. Never mind that she’s young – she’s young young, and what in God’s name is she doing there, running around and poking her nose in everywhere if she’s young young? And how is it possible with her lack of anything remotely attractive that Arab and Jewish young men want her so. She radiates nothing. It’s not so much her physical attributes or lack thereof – she has nothing inside that is radiating, no inner soul or spirit irradiating the flesh. What are the film-makers thinking in casting and producing this nasty, badly researched propaganda? Well, we know the answer to that, don’t we. Shame on you SBS – find something really worth screening, that should be your agenda.

  14. To characterise Glenn Sterle’s carefully worded complaint as ‘malicious’ is itself malicious. Australia is still a democracy an we have every right to express our views as a community if we believe we have been treated unjustly. Here is my preliminary take on the series.

    1. In direct violation of paragraph 1.3 of the SBS Codes of Practice, the series promotes, endorses and reinforces demeaning stereotypes about Jews collectively. In particular it portrays all of the principal Jewish characters (and by implication all Jews) in one or more of the following ways: ruthless, unfeeling, amoral , treacherous and obscenely wealthy.

    The incident portraying the kidnapping and hanging of two British sergeants in the last episode is a case in point. Although the incident did actually occur in 1947, The Promise presents a highly propagandised version of it. (It is not simply telling th story of a terrible period). The Promise leaves out all the ‘before and after’ events that provide the context necessary to explain the motivations of the people involved eg the Defence Emergency Regulations introduced by the UK in September 1945 which suspended Habeas Corpus, established military courts and imposed the death sentence merely for carrying weapons; the Night of the Beatings of Jews by British forces; the previous incidents in which British officials and military personnel had been kidnapped and then released when the death sentences of Jewish prisoners had been commuted; the hanging of Jewish activists for less serious offences; the role played by the Haganah in assisting the British to try to locate and release the sergeants; the condemnation of the incident by the entire official Jewish leadership; the rampage of British soldiers in Tel Aviv after the sergeants were hanged in which British troops murdered 5 Jewish civilians at random and wounded many more, for which no-one was ever punished. And one of the hanged British sergeants, Clifford Martin, was Jewish. Years later, Menachem Begin wrote Martin’s and Paice’s families a profound apology (as indeed he should have – the hangings were an appalling act of barbarity, as were the hangings of Dov Gruner and other Jewish militants by the British).

    In addition to the omission of all of these facts, other ‘facts’ are invented. A principal Jewish female character is shown to be party to a ruse in which she is tarred and feathered by Jewish militants to make it appear as if she is pro-British. She thereby lulls her British lover into trusting her and giving away intelligence which is used to kidnap the 2 British sergeants. The character and the role she plays in the incident are a fiction invented out of whole cloth.

    These omissions and the fabrications go well beyond mere artistic licence. Cumulatively their effect is to make derogatory statements about all the Jewish characters and, by extension, about Jews as a group. SBS would never dare screen a series in which all the principal characters are identifiably Muslim and are either ruthless, heartless terrorists or ruthless, heartless people who sympathise or co-operate with terrorists. Yet this is precisely the way all the principal characters who are identifiably Jewish are portrayed in The Promise.

    2. In direct violation of paragraph 1.2 of the SBS Codes of Practice, SBS has screened numerous programs which are critical of israel but has not for many years screened any program which is sympathetic to Israel and to Zionism as the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination. SBS has had available to it for about 2 years the series ‘The Forgotten Refugees’ which is about the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries after 1948. There are other programs it could have screened in a similar vein but has failed to do so.

    And I am only getting started…

  15. Larry Stillman says:

    This complaint is malicious, spurious, and a complete over-reaction

    The worst act of terror in the history of Palestine to this date has been the bombing of the King David Hotel. People forget that. “We” cannot get away from that despite all the excuses that are made about the Irgun’s intentions. It was not just a tactical error, it was a political disaster.

    Dealing with the moral dilemmas and contradictions in people’s lives then and now is not anti-Semitic, in the same way that looking at the moral and contradictions and dilemmas in the lives of Palestinian is not anti-Palestinian. It is educative about one of the most difficult conflicts in the 20th century.

    When espisode 2 shows holocaust survivors being rounded up by the British in Tel Aviv, with nasty anti-semitic remarks, it is a clear pointer to the terrible work the British were involved with. Should complaints be made that it is anti-British? No, it’s telling the story of a terrible period.

    The one failing with the series is that I find the acting a bit wooden, some of the set reconstructions, costuming and other depictions unconvincing and the music annoying.

    • Danny Ginges says:

      What people forget is that the King David Hotel bombing was preceded by three warning phone calls, none of which were taken seriously. But if you are measuring terror by lives lost, a far, far greater act of terror was Britain’s refusal to allow any Jewish immigration during WWII, in direct violation of the mandate. The turning back of the Struma alone resulted in over eight times the number of casualties as the bombing of the King David.

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