Most people reading this will be aware of Channel 4’s 4-part drama The Promise, of which two episodes have been aired so far. The programme is set in two eras: it follows a British teen who spends the summer in Israel in 2005, whilst reading her grandfather’s diary who was a soldier in the Palestinian Mandate in the 1940s.
As a drama, it’s effective, yet it will be hard for some people to remember that although it is based on true events, it’s actually fiction – and of course, biased against Israel and full of distortions and omissions.
And I’m not going to not say that just because there’s a risk I might be told I’m imagining it, there is no anti-Israel bias, Israel really is all-evil.
Which seems to be the view of the New Statesman’s Laurie Penny, who mocks Julie Burchill’s criticism of The Promise as “bonkers”, exaggerating and at the same time condensing her concerns as accusing the programme of “foaming anti-Semitism, borne out of Gentile resentment that Jewish people are good at science”.
There is no known reason for antisemitism but now that Burchill mentions it, it’s hardly implausible that antisemites would feel resentment that the Jews as “such a small, persecuted tribe can keep surviving, thriving and achieving”.
Penny throws in an “as a Jew I’m offended” remark, calls the programme “a reflective and excruciatingly well-researched series”, and then gives her laughable defence of why this is the case and it can’t possibly be biased: because it “opens with five gruelling minutes set in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, cutting in segments of real footage from the mass graves”.
Done with the Jews-as-victims part, Penny finally reveals her true agenda as she turns to the Palestinians and describes the IDF “penning your family behind gun-bristling checkpoints, cramming your friends and neighbors behind apartheid walls, bombing your home, machine-gunning your grandchildren.”
Because Israel does that all the time of course, and all just for fun with no reason. Because even though the Jews were victims in the Holocaust, now they’re not allowed to defend themselves.
And that pretty much sums up the message of The Promise. Jews are no longer victims, in fact Jews are the oppressors, and any time you might think a Jew is a victim, it’s their own fault.
For example, at the end of Part 1, Lefty-Israeli-Brother tells impressionable British girl Erin that the fence is not to prevent terrorism; it’s just to humiliate the Palestinians. Two minutes later there is a suicide bombing, the implication being that the brother is right. But there is no counter-argument that suicide bombings decreased by over 90% after the fence was built.
In Part 2 the brother (who was injured in the bombing) discovers that Erin’s grandfather was in the 1946 bombing of the King David hotel by the Irgun. He states that the two cases are “exactly the same; people blowing up buildings because they can’t make their point any other way”. It’s amazing that he can call it exactly the same, yet on the one hand the programme seems to defend suicide bombings and blame them on Israel; and at the same time leave out all the context of the King David hotel bombing – such as that the Irgun gave three warnings for the hotel to be evacuated, which were ignored, and that Jewish groups condemned the Irgun, Ben Gurion calling them “the enemy of the Jewish people”. Suicide bombers, on the other hand, don’t give warnings because their aim is to cause maximum civilian casualties, and in the Arab world, rather than condemnation, people who kill Israeli civilians are usually considered heroes.
It is made clear in The Promise by the exaggerations and lack of context of the Irgun that it is not just what they did but also why they did it that is the director’s problem. As the Israeli grandfather explained, after the horrors of the Holocaust in which his whole family had been killed, the Irgun aimed to ensure nothing like that would ever happen again by securing Israel as the Jewish homeland. The means were wrong, but that does not take away the right of Jews and Israel to self-defence.