Raining on Sergeant Len Matthews’ Parade

This post by  Zkharya is cross-posted from Harry’s Place.

OK. It’s late, and I have little better to do than sleep or watch 30Rock. This is my officially popping my HP cherry. Something simple, easy and relatively difficult to fuck up (famous last words).

You’ve all heard of this Wikipedia thing? The universal encyclopaedia, that is open to all to edit or contribute towards? It turns out that in can be surprisingly hard to do either.

Take this The Promise, for instance. The subject of accolade from critics of film and television. Yet critically excoriated by such as Professor David Cesarani, Howard Jacobson and, you may not have heard, Jonathan Freedland.

Cesarani is, so far as I can see, the only academic historian of this or any period to have reviewed The Promise. He is not a fan. Jacobson is probably the highest profile author or novelist to have written on it, and he places it in the same bracket as Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, a work he regards as antisemitic, at least in part, in effect, if not authorial intention. So too, you may be surprised to hear, does Jonathan Freedland, who hitherto has only said so on audio-visual recording during Jewish Book Week 2011.

I do not here give particulars of their critiques, since that follows below. But I also wish to give insight, to those that have not, into the process of editing on Wikipedia.

Now, we are told, its “in house” editors are strictly neutral. When one thinks about it, it was always going to be the case that this could never be quite so. Anyone who designs and creates a site on a subject, for instance, will naturally wish to protect certain features, or even agendas, and may vigorously suppress dissenters. In my experience, this is often called by said editors “vandalism”. But one man’s vandalism, they say, is another’s adornment.  Who decides? How or why?

In the case of the site of The Promise, the relationship between original director, site designer and “neutral” wiki editor was most illuminating. James Heald is such an editor, and, or but, he was appointed by Kominsky to create, and police, the site for The Promise. Many or most of you may know this already, but this information is openly available to anyone who inspects the “edit” and “talk history” accessible on Wikipedia to those who register themselves as editors (a simple process involving submitting an email address). Some portions of these from The Promise are pasted below.

Bear with me, since this becomes, I think, more interesting. I noticed on the Wiki entry on The Promise: Reception, that the quotations from Cesarani were rather skimpy, and looked, in my view, like exercises in damage limitation. I very moderately expanded them (far less than my final version below). With the result that Peter Kominsky himself left a message in the Wiki threads, requesting that James Heald “look at” i.e. delete my contribution.

When I tried to resubmit my expansion, I was accused of “vandalism”, and threatened with being banned, with Kominsky returning to keep an eye on things (see below). Heald made some reasonable criticisms (that I exaggerated Cesarani’s stress on oil, for instance), but, in my view, the rest (from him and his colleague, Nick Cooper) were mostly spurious: their primary intention, was to blunt the thrust of Cesarani’s argument as much as possible, while giving the appearance of airing his sharpest comment. All under Heald’s pretextual claim to neutrality and disinterest (see below the mutual approbation between Kominsky and Heald).

In the end, fulfilling Heald’s rigorous criteria entailed my having to expand the section further, and I would be grateful for any constructive criticism. I think it is basically sound. Heald’s/Kominsky’s version hardly do Cesarani justice, and since the professor from Royal Holloway and Bedford is the only academic thus far to have written such a piece, I think, as one of the universal editoriate, that his critique merits more.

I have also added a transcription of the major criticisms of Jonathan Freedland’s recording, alas only with their precise times, since no transcription of the whole interview is yet available. Is this evidence, linked to the video online, acceptable on Wikipedia? And if not, why not?

I do not hold out much hope of either surviving the “neutrality” of James Heald (or his colleague Nick Cooper). But while Kominsky may be keen that nothing cloud the BAFTA on his horizon (the winners are declared May 22nd), I fancy I may direct a light, refreshing rain on Sergeant Len Matthews’s parade.

The current Wikipedia account of David Cesarani by James Heald/Peter Kominsky:

Jewish academic historian of the period David Cesarani criticised the series for not bringing out underlying selfish geopolitical motives behind British policy, saying that Kosminsky had “turned the British, who were the chief architects of the Palestine tragedy, into its prime victims…Ultimately, Kosminsky turns a three-sided conflict into a one-sided rant”.

And my extended version:

British academic historian of the period (and the only such to have reviewed The Promise hitherto) David Cesarani accuses Kominsky of having perpetrated “deceit” and “a massive historical distortion. Although The Promise is insufferably didactic, no one mentions the Balfour declaration…’the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’. This was the only promise that mattered because it had the force of international law.” Further, contra Kominsky, “The paratroops were not sent to separate Jews and Arabs”. Regional geo-strategy, oil, access to Egypt (i.e. the Suez canal), India and southern Russian aerial targets were “why the British beefed up the garrison there”. Cesarani then accuses Kominsky of having “turned the British.. the chief architects of the Palestine tragedy, into its prime victims” Yet, “someone must be responsible, though, and the way he (Kominsky) rewrites history that can only be the Jews. Ultimately, Kosminsky turns a three-sided conflict into a one-sided rant.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/04/the-promise-peter-kosminsky

Also my account of Jonathan Freedland’s criticisms:

In a filmed conversation with Howard Jacobson during Jewish Book Week 2011 (see link), Jonathan Freedland, Guardian editor, journalist, author and BBC presenter, first of all says Kominsky panders to antisemitic tropes, such as that of wealthy Jews (00.52.50-58). He then brackets The Promise with works such as Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, which he and Jacobson consider antisemitic (00.55.58-00.56.00). In an extended discussion with Howard Jacobson (01.13.28-01.14.18), Freedland makes three fundamental criticisms of The Promise:

Jacobson: ..how many you would think educated journalists still talk about Israel as though it’s a consequence of the Holocaust. Which was The Promise, wasn’t it?”

Freedland: The premise of The Promise, so to speak (it lost me first of all at the girl on Business Class), but also these very long, lingering pictures, archive footage from Belsen, I felt three things about that.

One, you don’t have the right to use those pictures, you haven’t earned the right to use those pictures artistically.

Second, I just know looking at that that you’re making a down payment on what you want to say attacking Jews later on in this series. And you’re doing that as your insurance policy, to say, well, look, I was sympathetic on that.

Third, and it was actually explicitly said by a character, a brigadier, briefing the British troops in Palestine -you knew they were saying this was the premise of all Zionism-, the Arabs were here minding their own business for 2000 years, and suddenly, after the Holocaust, Jews arrive…

Jacobson: We drop in out of the clear blue sky, bang, we’ll have that!

http://vimeo.com/22086132

http://www.jewishbookweek.com/2011/last-words.php

Exchanges between Peter Kominsky and wiki editor James Heald, over yours truly and other matters:

Hi James

Just wanted to thank you, (though I know this isn’t why you do it), for the really stunning job you have done on the “Development” and “Character” sections of this page. Beautifully written, very accurate and wonderfully well referenced, (if you don’t mind me saying so). Thank you for all the hard work. Really impressive.

I have some French national press cuttings, if that would be helpful.

Best wishes

Peter Kosminsky (talk) 23:10, 25 March 2011 (UTC)

I wonder if you have seen the addition made to the The Promise reception section by this user? Peter Kosminsky (talk) 21:22, 27 April 2011 (UTC)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Jheald

Sorry not to have caught that recent edit on The Promise article, but agree with your call. (I’m away at the moment, with my laptop also in for repair, so internet access is a bit hit & miss).

Many congratulations on the BAFTA nom: good luck for the 22nd! Jheald (talk) 19:14, 28 April 2011 (UTC)

Thank you. Hope you have a lovely break. The guy in question seems to have been involved in some ‘warfare’ over edits in the past so we will need to see how he reacts to my taking down his contribution. Peter Kosminsky (talk) 22:10, 28 April 2011 (UTC)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Peter_Kosminsky

34 Responses to “Raining on Sergeant Len Matthews’ Parade”

  1. Censorship Or Stupidity, Wikipedia And The Promise. « ModernityBlog Says:

    […] Zkharya has a post on Engage concerning Wikipedia and the TV series, The Promise. […]

  2. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Well, Zkharya, there have always been suggestions that wikipedia is not as open or (after complaints) as carefully edited as it should be, given that it claims to be a “open source” encyclopedia. Thanks for your efforts to set the record straight.

    And, Mod, thanks for your link to http://en.citizendium.org/. It looks interesting, to say the least. Of course supposedly learned articles need to be subject to editing/correction, etc, so that non-truth doesn’t get peddled as truth. But _interpretation needs to be sacred!

  3. Brian Robinson Says:

    The current Quarterly Newsletter of the Association for Skeptical Enquiry (ASKE) features a critical article on Wikipedia by Ed Buckner (a former editor) in which he ends by advising sceptics not to edit Wikipedia. (I understand that Buckner is himself controversial within the Wikipedia ‘top brass’, but I find the reasons obscure.)

    I have copied the full article here — http://bit.ly/m4s8q3

    Buckner, writing mainly from a scientific perspective, but I think what he says probably has much wider applicability, witness the discussion we’re having here, alleges that there is a systematic bias on Wikipedia against scientific neutrality

    He writes that editors with a commitment to the truth “can make corrections, but the defenders of the page will generally reverse them later on. It is like policing local crime. The police can come and caution individuals in a neighbourhood, even make arrests. But they cannot maintain a constant presence. As soon as they go to another neighbourhood, crime will return. This makes the struggle uneven, and painful, and in the end the sceptical editors burn out, as has happened on a number of occasions”.

    He lists and discusses what he sees as some of the inherent structural problems concerning Wikipedia, and states that in his experience “removing bogus claims is a tedious, time-consuming and emotionally draining process”.

    He further claims that although the administration is supposed to be neutral, “it was long ago infiltrated both by members of the pseudoscience establishment and sceptic groups [with the result that] regular battles in the rank and file are mirrored by intense secret battles in the administration, including the powerful ‘arbitration committee’, who are the final court of appeal”.

    Buckner’s concludes by advising skeptics in particular “emphatically not to edit Wikipedia. It is painful and one-sided and stressful”.

    The issue of the Newsletter was followed by a lively correspondence on the Yahoo groups list, and the editor has invited responses for the next issue.

    (The ASKE website is at http://www.aske-skeptics.org.uk/ )

  4. Peter Kosminsky’s The Promise And Wikipedia’s Censorship. « ModernityBlog Says:

    […] a comment » I don’t think I did Zkharya’s post on Engage sufficient justice, after reviewing the links it is fairly clear that Wikipedia editors show bias. […]

  5. Zkharya Says:

    Thank you, Brians, for that information.

  6. Zkharya Says:

    Oh, and both entries were deleted.

  7. BobFromBrockley Says:

    I just left the following comment on Mod’s blog, so I felt it was courteous to leave it here too.

    I think Cesarani’s comments are spot on. I also share more or less Zkharya’s criticisms of the series, and respect the attempt to create a balanced Wikipedia page. Politically, I am probably on the same page as Z, whose Engage discussion contributions I generally enjoy.

    However, I don’t think the page is that bad actually. Of course it can and should be improved, and the open source nature of Wikipedia means it can and will be.

    And I think both Z’s edit attempts and the HP/Engage post, and to a lesser extent your response Mod, completely misunderstand how Wikipedia works.

    For example: a threat with being “banned” was not, as far as I can see on the talk page ever made: an editor cannot “ban” another editor: there is a complex process involving a number of people. Rather, one editor said they came close to warning of vandalism but didn’t – that’s a total different ballgame.

    Second, massive changes, as in deleting large chunks of text, should always be preceded with a proposal on the talk page, particularly if the page is in the process of being written: unilateral very major edits, especially major deletions, tend to be seen as hostile. That was what prompted the vandalism warning.

    Third, a Wikipedia talk page is not a blog comment thread, least of all an HP comment thread: people should aim to discuss calmly and reach consensus, as fellow editors.

    Fourth, the depiction [by Mod] of the two editors in question as “in-house editors” is inaccurate. JHeald, for example, has been barred for edit warring, as you can see from his/her talkpage. Headhitter has been there for a year, and is not a heavy editor. Nick Cooper is a rather heavier editor. RedDeathy is a very active, long-term editor, who actually made many of the changes incrementally that Z made in one go, if I’m following right. But none of them are “in-house”; they are, like Z or like me, ordinary folk who devote some of their time to wikipedia editing, a small amount or a big amount.

    • Zkharya Says:

      Bob, while I think you misunderstand some of the things I have said, I do appreciate a lot of your information about wiki. I am new to this, and I do find the pages very hard to follow some time.

      You might be interested that Kominsky has recently insinuated on the talk page that Jacobson had not actually seen the TP prior to his April-May piece in the Independent, because he admits to not having seen it in his interview by Jonathan Freedland in February-March. Nick Cooper was most anxious and willing to insinuate this into the wiki thread, largely, it seems to me, at the instigation of Kominsky, who created a special section for it:

      Second, could I draw editors’ attention to the fact that Howard Jacobson clearly states, in his discussion with Jonathan Freedland at Jewish Book Week, that he has not watched The Promise, (having been put off by the title). This remark is at approximately 1.09.25 into the discussion. Perhaps his robust criticism of the programme should be judged in this light. Peter Kosminsky (talk) 21:42, 5 May 2011 (UTC)

      One certainly would hope that someone reviewing a TV series would actually watch it before doing so, but then Jacobson’s Independent article is not a review, it’s an opinion piece. The series ran between 6 & 27 February, and Jacobson’s piece did not appear until 23 April – newspapers do not review TV series two months late.
      Jacobson made negative comments about The Promise more than a week after it finished, and then admitted that he’d not actually seen it. Nearly two months later he made further negative comments about the series. Maybe he watched the DVD in the meantime, but there’s no evidence whether he did or not. It would therefore probably be best to quote him from JBW, and state that he admitted he had not seen it at the time, and then cover his comments in The Independent. Readers can then make up their own minds. Nick Cooper (talk) 21:39, 6 May 2011 (UTC)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:The_Promise_(2011_TV_serial)#Jacobson.27s_comments

      The attribution of such bad faith Jacobson by Kominsky and Cooper is noteworthy.

  8. modernityblog Says:

    Bob,

    I’ve already giving you my reply on my blog, but the real test is when someone edits it, now, adds criticism or highlights the existing problems with this TV series.

    Then watch for the reaction.

    My bet is that it will be energetic, they will allow *some* criticism, but in such a muffled way that it would bear little relation to the original.

    So, if someone follows your procedure, adds criticism or expands on it, then it should, if you are correct, remain largely intact.

    If, however, the cynic in me has judged the goings-on correctly, then it will be removed or shorten considerably.

    Shall we see?

  9. modernityblog Says:

    The author of the Promise can’t shut up:

    “People said I was trying to reinforce old stereotypes, but if you watch a television show looking for prejudices, you are going to find them.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/08/kosminsky-makes-film-on-mandela

  10. Brian Robinson Says:

    Thus PK: “”My primary purpose for making The Promise was artistic”, but objections on grounds of historical facticity aside, for me it was precisely in terms of art that his project failed.

    The music was far too intrusive, largely banal and clichéd, much of the acting was wooden, the dialogue (when you could actually get past the mumbling to the words) was stilted and contrived, as was much of the plot.

    And the whole thing was too self-indulgently long by about a third.

    In the Q&A session on the Channel 4 website after, if I remember right, the first episode, Kosminsky was asked (by a former journalist on the Jerusalem Post) if he’d “made a moral choice” (implying, I think, that Kosminsky hadn’t) in choosing to contrast Caesarea, one of the wealthiest areas in Israel, with the poverty of Palestinians. PK replied that his film crew and he had been struck by the district’s close proximity (“metres away”) to “the poorest all-Arab village in Israel”.

    Taken together with the business class airticket and the “Would you hang up my coat for me?”, which jarred as much with me as it did with Jonathan Freedland, the whole thing inescapably brings to mind the word ‘tendentious’. Other words I leave to the imagination.

  11. modernityblog Says:

    Thanks, Brian, for pointing that out.

    This is the Channel 4 Q&A session which provides an insight into Peter Kosminsky’s point of view:

    http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-promise/articles/peter-kosminsky-episode-4-qa

    Make of this what you will:

    “Peter Kosminsky: What a great question Iman. It’s essential that you do. Having said that, I have no recollection of what I thought about this subject before I began the very lengthy research process with our six wonderful researchers. Since starting on this programme in earnest, eight years ago, I have read several hundred interviews, forty books, as well as literally thousands of notes and documents held at the various libraries and museums that protect this particular part of our national heritage. If I’ve learnt one thing as a result of all this study it is that there are no easy answers to what is undoubtedly the most intractable dispute facing the human race today. By the time I came to write the script for The Promise, my primary concern was to present the true complexity of the situation, not to fall back on any residual, personal opinions I might have held.”

  12. Brian Robinson Says:

    “Undoubtedly the most intractable …” One can check out the competition here http://www.crisisgroup.org/

  13. Zkharya Says:

    ‘ PK replied that his film crew and he had been struck by the district’s close proximity (“metres away”) to “the poorest all-Arab village in Israel”.’

    Could one say something similar about Islington? But what if you chose it to represent or say something about Britain in general?

  14. Zkharya Says:

    ‘I have read several hundred interviews, ‘

    Kominsky has already his primary intention was to honour the British troops who served in Palestine. That is the trouble, the narrative is skewed heavily by their personal experience and perception, but also reflects their on the ground ignorance and prejudices. They were in the thick of it. But their government was making the policies, such as the White Paper of 1939 which effectively abrogated/reneged on the promise of a Jewish national home, refusing entry to Jewish D.P.s from Europe, threatening to hand the Jewish minority to the rule and whim of the Arab majority etc which was provoking the Jewish insurrection which Kominsky depicts in the first place.

    Just because you liberated Auschwitz doesn’t mean you knew what was happening in Palestine before you came or why. What you were not there to do, as Cesarani says, was to ‘separate Jew from Arab’.

    Benny Morris says that contemporary documents are the best source. Decades old, in this case 50-60 years old, eyewitness testimony, post factum affected by all kinds of retrojected assumptions and agendas, is not necessarily the most reliable.

  15. Absolute Observer Says:

    “The Promise” seems to have started something of a trend; reminding the Brits that Jews/Zionists were at war with them.

    http://www.thejc.com/arts/theatre/48539/review-the-wall

    I do wish the anti-Zionists would be consistent. Either Europe “gave” Jews Israel out of moral guilt OR,
    Jews had to fight a war against an Imperialist power.

    PK, of course, wants it both ways. The Brits were sympathetic after the camps, but darn those Jews, were they grateful? Had they learnt nothing? How dare they bite the hand that fed them?

    (Interesting, of course, that when the liberal left produce a play about colonial wars, they tend to adopt an anti-British stance (which, to be fair, is the right thing to do (see what has recently come out about Kenya), but, when it comes to Israel and the Jews, then the sympathy is with the Brits, (hence no mention of the Balfour Declaration).

  16. Zkharya Says:

    There were riots in Britain in 47, assaults on Jews and Jewish property.

  17. Zkharya Says:

    On summer bank holiday weekend, Friday August 1, 1947, antisemitic violence and rioting began. News of the “cold blooded Irgun murders” spread across Britain through extensive coverage in the British media. The tabloid press reported the “Irgun murders” in graphic detail. The Daily Express carried a large picture on the front page, showing the victims as they were found with hands tied behind their backs, shirts wrapped round their heads and hung from eucalyptus trees under the headline: “Hanged Britons: picture that will shock the world”. The rioting started in Liverpool and subsequently spread across Britain’s urban centers from London to Glasgow.[5]
    Incidents were reported in West Derby, where a wooden synagogue was burnt down, in Glasgow, where “bricks were thrown through the windows of Jewish shops”, and in Liverpool, where “over a hundred windows belonging to Jewish owners were shattered”. The rioting was most intensive and long lasting in Liverpool: For over five days the city saw violence and looting, and Lord Mayor issued an appeal to the city “to assist the police in the prevention of attacks on property and shops supposedly owned by Jews”. In total over 300 Jewish properties were affected by the rioting in Liverpool, and the police made 88 arrests.[5]
    Synagogues and easily recognizable Jewish properties and symbols throughout Britain were targeted by attackers. In Hendon, London, windows of the Raleigh Close synagogue were smashed and a piece of paper was found with the words “Jews are sin”. Blackpool and St John’s Wood synagogues received telephone calls threatening that they would be blown up, and the walls of Plymouth Synagogue were attacked and marked with anti-semitic signs and slogans: “Hang all Jews” and “Destroy Judah”. In other attacks on Jewish targets, gravestones in a Jewish cemetery were uprooted in Birmingham, “Hitler was right” was daubed on properties in North Wales, and Jewish property in Halifax, Pendleton, Lancashire, Bolton, Holyhead and Southend were also attacked. In a further incident, the back door of the JC representative’s home in Cardiff was marked “Jews—good old Hitler”. On August 5, 1947, The Times and JC reported that in Eccles, Manchester, a crowd of 700 people “cheered each hit” as missiles pelted Jewish properties smashing their windows.[5]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sergeants_affair#Reactions_in_Britain

    • Zkharya Says:

      It would have been nice if Kominsky had included a snapshot of that too. It’s also interesting to contrast it with today and British reactions to Islamist terrorism.

      Islamophobic attacks and incidents have undoubtedly increased. Perhaps comparable to what happened in 1947.

      Kominsky says he was anxious to convey initial British sympathy with Palestinian Jews that rapidly ebbed, as though it signified.

      But the British had abrogated the Jewish national home and were going to leave the Jews in the lurch. As Jacobson says, while Palestinian Arab terrorism is seen as a response to Israeli actions, in what way is Jewish terrorism depicted as a response to which British actions. The law of equivalence doesn’t seem to apply to Jews the other way. The Jews are not actually depicted as reacting against any policy in particular, because Kominsky’s central ‘conceit/deceit’ is that the British are merely ‘the meat in the sandwich’.

      K. constructs his drama largely from Tommies’ testimonials. But, as I said, that reflects their ignorance and prejudices on the ground, too.

  18. modernityblog Says:

    Perhaps it would be a good idea to link the two pages? If the Wikipedia editors allow it.

  19. Absolute Observer Says:

    Z,
    Thanks for this (remember also that antisemitism was high in the UK during the war).
    I think that this latest turn in anti-Israel aesthetics is very troubling for Jews in the UK since, whether it wants to or not, it taps into a English nationalist populism (Cameronesque) that had preciously been lacking. As with “Midsomers Murders”, it is the anti-Zionism/antisemitism of those of the “school run and the village pub”.
    A true reflection of the times.

    • Toby Esterhase Says:

      Quite right Absolute.

      So the next step is that the Jewish left wing antizionist dinasours, the ones who got fucked over by Gilad Atzmon already, will now have to put right the little Englanders.

      They”ll have to “show” how “in fact” the English and the Jews were all in it together, and how the Jews were actually pro imperialist and not anti imperialist.

      The antizionist dinasours, clinging onto their own antiracist facade, will struggle impotently to direct the anger of the school run and the village pub at the Zionists and not at the Jews, blah blah blah

    • Zkharya Says:

      Kominsky says he read 40 books. For a piece of historical research, that’s not really all that many. And I’d be interested to know which ones.

    • Zkharya Says:

      ‘Thanks for this (remember also that antisemitism was high in the UK during the war).’

      My dad was in the RN during the war, based in Alexandria and he said, yes, antisemitism of the common or garden sort was certainly more common in those days, especially in the rank and file. Even his pals would talk disparagingly of Jews, albeit including ‘But not you, Jock, you’re alright’.

      Most of it was harmless enough. But it certainly came out 1946-1947.

      I think it needs to be stressed that this is Kominsky’s homage to the British soldiers stationed in Palestine, above all. If I may quote from wiki:

      Rather than aiming to present the totality of events in 1946-48, Kosminsky says that his overriding aim for the drama was to present the experience of the 100,000 British soldiers who served in Palestine in the period,[14][15] “to remind us all of what happened”.[16] After the exit from Palestine nobody had wanted to remember.[13][17] The veterans had been “shunned”; they had “returned home to find the nation that wanted nothing to do with them”, with no memorial, and been denied even “the right to march to the Cenotaph in formation”.[18] At the same time most of them had found it incredibly hard to talk about their experiences.[13] “I was determined that their story be told.”[19] This was always his aim for the drama, to “honour the original letter sent to the BBC”, so this was always going to be the path of Len’s journey.[14] Overwhelmingly, the veterans told a similar story: they had started out “incredibly pro-Jewish”;[12] but, almost to a man, they had shifted their allegiance and by the end of their stay “were feeling a great deal of sympathy for the Arabs”.[20] “A big change came in the final months, as they saw what would happen to the Palestinians, and realised both sides were to be abandoned to a war.”[14] “It was always going to be necessary for us to faithfully reflect this in our drama,”[20] “I either had to reflect it or abandon the project.”[21] The series was led by what had come out of the interviews, what the soldiers had said and felt, and what they had actually experienced,[22] rather than things such as British higher policy calculations, or the activities of the Haganah, with which the rank-and-file veterans had had little contact.[15] Of all the subsequent reactions to the series, according to Kosminsky what had meant the most to him was a letter from a veteran, now 85 years old: “You did what you said you would. Thank you so much.”[14]

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Promise_(2011_TV_serial)

      This is Kominsky striving for his BAFTA as unofficial historical filmographer of the British Army (in Ireland, the FY). Is he even attempting to show the two or three sides of this conflict?

      The zeitgeist is highly anti-Israel, and The Promise shows how the ordinary Briton was with Palestinian Arabs in spirit if not in action. Except Kominsky omits to mention that Britain’s abstaining from endorsing or implementing partition was precisely a concession to Arab nationalists. To that degree, Palestinian Arabs were victims of their own success.

      But for K. to show that, he’d have to allude to the 1936-39 revolt, which the British ruthlessly suppressed. But whose fruit was the 1939 White Paper, which effectively abrogated the Balfour Declaration. And was a major cause of Jewish insurrection, which K. depicts, to begin with.

      • Zkharya Says:

        I must say, I think this is rubbish:

        “The veterans had been “shunned”; they had “returned home to find the nation that wanted nothing to do with them”, with no memorial, and been denied even “the right to march to the Cenotaph in formation”

        I doubt the veterans were ‘shunned’ anymore than any soldiers’ returning from national service in 1946-47. Did my dad complain he was ‘shunned’ when he returned to Glasgow, after being demobbed? What were they expecting, a medal? I think that is a bit of retrospective, self-indulgent fantasy.

        As for complaining they were not allowed to ‘march in formation’, surely that right is reserved only for campaigns. Palestine was not a ‘campaign’, any more than British withdrawal from Aidan has a contingent marching in formation on Remembrance Sunday.

        ‘Palestine’ was a post-imperial, post-colonial withdrawal.

  20. Absolute Observer Says:

    And, one other point; the new play seems to link the treatment of the soldiers of an imperialist army with that of Palestinians.
    A new take on “we are all Hizbullah now”, perhaps?

  21. Brian Robinson Says:

    Eternal vigilance may indeed be the price of liberty
    but there’s such a thing as being hypervigilant. Antisemitism is still the light sleeper the late Conor Cruise O’Brien memorably said it was, but Avraham Burg (Ha’aretz 1 April 2011) http://bit.ly/hjpOCA wrote a thoughtful piece.

    His article includes the statement: “Fortunately, today’s anti-Semitism is very feeble in comparison with its former potency and possibly with its future potential”.

    He also asked this difficult question: “The time has come to take the next step and ask whether we can in fact exist at all without an external enemy, without anti-Semitism. Do we have the courage to take issue against the embarrassing, absurd conclusion of both these writers, [Sartre, and Yehoshua], which holds that we need anti-Semitism in order to define ourselves?”

    And he concludes by arguing that “we are obligated to prepare for … the post-anti-Semitic era in our lives. For the day on which our children will ask us why they should go on being Jews and we will have an answer that emanates from within …”

    Perhaps this is little more than a sophisticated version of the old simplistic notion that it was antisemitism that kept Jews Jewish. I still hear the comment from some anti-Israel quarters that Israeli governments secretly welcome antisemitism in the world — to justify its existence and promote aliyah. But that comment in itself, especially having regard to the tone and manner of its expression (often), could be seen, justifiably, as antisemitic.

    • Zkharya Says:

      It’s always welcome to hear mention of Conor Cruise O’Brien. I wonder if K. consulted The Siege. C C O’B surely depicted the British in all their imperial glory there.

      What I find odd is that K. admits he was not setting out to depict a two or three-fold conflict, only the Tommy’s eye view. But he then takes that one-dimension and extrapolates it to say something fundamental i.e. three-dimensional about the conflict, even today.

      To anyone who knows little about the events of the Mandate, that picture is most distorted, perhaps dangerously. And K. palpably has an agenda, despite his affecting to the contrary.

  22. Paul M Says:

    “we are obligated to prepare for … the post-anti-Semitic era in our lives. For the day on which our children will ask us why they should go on being Jews and we will have an answer that emanates from within …”

    The answer will be Israel itself, whose achievement in coming into existence, surviving, thriving, trying and largely succeeding in living up to high ideals against long odds gives value to the idea of a Jewish nation.

    The question is more reasonably and less often asked of the Palestinians, whose recent creation as a distinct people would never have occurred except in opposition to Zionism, and whose continued existence is impossible to predict whether their national struggle ultimately ends with recognition of Israel or its destruction. It is the uncertain reality of Palestinian identity that underlies comments like this, from the Lebanese politician Nayla Muawad:“Palestinian life in the camps is revolting, but if they don’t go through these terrible moments, they might be tempted to stay in Lebanon, and they’d end up losing their right and the will to return.”

  23. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    I commend the restraint of commenters who have, so far, refrained from noting that Kominsky overlooks the Haddassah Hospital massacre of 13 April, 1948, 1 month before the British withdrawal. (At least I assume he does; I didn’t watch the series, for all the reasons adduced in criticism of it here). To have done so might have fatally undermined his thesis.

    Not that writers of fiction have to worry about facts getting in the way.

  24. BobFromBrockley Says:

    Indeed Brian the hospital massacre was overlooked. On this, and the French broadcast of The Promise: http://www.crif.org/index.php?page=articles_display/detail&aid=24572&artyd=108 Reference there is to Yoav Gelber , Palestine 1948, Sussex Academic Press, 2006, P.311 and It Takes a dream. The story of Hadassah Marlin Levin, Esther Kustanowitz Hewlett, NY: Gefen Books, 2002 p 228

    Particularly relevant to The Promise because of British military presence at and failure to intervene in the massacre, which was a revenge attack for Deir Yassin. Dominque LaPierre: “Whether an incredible slowness to react, by a desire to punish the Jewish community for Deir Yassin, by sheer stupidity or complicity in any part of hierarchy, the English would be guilty of the enormous delay in the rescue convoy”.

  25. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    “Indeed Brian the hospital massacre was overlooked” is a _very_ polite way of putting it, Bob.


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