“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Peter Kosminsky’s The Promise And Wikipedia’s Censorship.

with 16 comments

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. It takes forever to wade through the talk sessions and contributions, but that’s the way it looks to me.

Not only bias, Peter Kosminsky sucks up to one of them, James Heald, with almost glee:

“The Promise

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)”

The other Wikipedia editor, Nick Cooper, seems to be using internal rules or his interpretation of them to remove contributions that he doesn’t like.

But these Wikipedia editors are, in themselves, inconsequential. Their particular biases and desire to muffle criticism of The Promise won’t be successful.

Below are links to Professor David Cesarani’s article and Howard Jacobson chat with Jonathan Freedland on this awful TV series.

An extract from The Promise: an exercise in British self-exculpation by Professor Cesarani:

“The series hinges on the story of a sergeant in the 6th Airborne Division, a veteran of Arnhem who saw the liberation of Belsen concentration camp, who arrives in Palestine in September 1945 with his unit. In the first episode a British intelligence officer explains to the new troops that Jews are flooding into Palestine in fulfilment of “a promise made by God”. This influx is troubling the Arabs who have lived in Palestine “since time immemorial”. The job of the British, he announces, is to keep the two sides apart. The paratroopers are like the “meat in a sandwich”.

But, hold on a minute. It was the British who promised Palestine to the Jews as a Jewish national home in 1917 and the British who flooded Palestine with troops to protect a vital piece of imperial real estate in 1945. Zionist aspirations, which the British had fostered, and Palestinian Arab opposition to them, were a problem only in so far as they complicated British planning for the cold war.

As the series unfolds, we see British soldiers torn between compassion for the Jews and sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs. Eventually, the Jews alienate them thanks to their relentless terrorist campaign. Kosminsky depicts the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and the hanging of two British sergeants by the underground army of the rightwing Zionists. In one scene he shows three off-duty tommies bleeding to death after an ambush, while Jews in surrounding cafes callously sip tea and eat cream cakes.

The sergeant, through whose eyes we see the debacle unfold, also witnesses the massacre of Palestinian Arabs at the village of Deir Yassin in April 1948. By this time his allegiances are with the Arab population. On the eve of the British evacuation from Haifa he pleads with his superiors to use the army’s firepower to prevent the Jewish forces from overwhelming and driving out the Arab inhabitants. He protests that Britain can’t just walk away after “we’ve been here for 30 years keeping them apart”.

This is the central conceit, and deceit, of Kosminsky’s epic. The British were in Palestine for their own interests and when it no longer suited them they left. To conceal this fact he has to perpetrate a massive historical distortion. Although The Promise is insufferably didactic, no one mentions the Balfour declaration. Yet it was the British foreign secretary, AJ Balfour, who informed the English Zionist Federation in November 1917 that “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object”. This was the only promise that mattered because it had the force of international law. It was subsequently incorporated into the mandate that the League of Nations gave Britain to authorise its possession of Palestine. In 1922 parliament voted to accept the mandate and all that went with it. “

The MP3 of Howard Jacobson in conversation with Jonathan Freedland at Jewish Book Week 2011.

Zkharya highlights the key bits:

“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: 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! “

[My emphasis.]

The video on vimeo, Howard Jacobson in conversation with Jonathan Freedland by Danny Bermant.

An extract from Howard Jacobson: Ludicrous, brainwashed prejudice:

“Myself, I wouldn’t bet heavily on there being good times ahead for Jews. Anti-Zionists can assure me all they like that their position entails no harm to Jews – only witness how many Jews are themselves anti-Zionist, they say – I no longer believe them. Individually, it is of course possible to care little for Israel and to care a great deal for Jews. But in the movement of events individuals lose their voice. What carries the day is consensus, and consensus is of necessity unsubtle. By brute consensus, now, Israel is the proof that Jews did not adequately learn the lesson of the Holocaust.

Forget Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is old hat. The new strategy – it showed its hand in Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, and surfaced again in Channel 4’s recent series The Promise – is to depict the Holocaust in all its horror in order that Jews can be charged (“You, of all people”) with failing to live up to it. By this logic the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn’t. “Jews know more than anyone that killing civilians is wrong,” resounds an unmistakably authorial voice in The Promise. Thus are Jews doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to the moral wasteland of having found no humanising redemption in its horrors.

It matters not a jot to me that the writer/director of The Promise is a Jew. Jews succumbing to the age-old view of them and reviling what’s Jewish in themselves has a long history. Peter Kosminsky would have it that his series is about Israel, not Jews, but in The Promise Israel becomes paradigmatic of the Jews’ refusal to be improved by affliction.”

So remember when you read The Promise’s entry on Wikipedia that you are only getting part of the story and the criticism of this flawed TV series has been deliberately blunted by Wikipedia’s editors.

16 Responses

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  1. 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 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.

    I also think your “small coterie of editors” image is completely wrong. There are a huge number of active editors, and an even huger number of occasional ones. Looking at the editors I just mentioned, I come across RedDeathy a lot, because we edit some of the same political pages; Headhitter might have some Ziocentric interests; the other two seem to be focused on TV dramas almost exclusively; and Z came on board for this one page. That kind of pattern is pretty typical.

    Finally, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Peter K sucked up to the editor; I think that’s rather nice.


    06/05/2011 at 15:53

  2. Can I semi-retract my last point? I don’t think it’s a bad thing to suck up to the editor, but I do think it’s bad for him to have prodded the editor with “Did you see Zkharya’s edits?” Btw, I’ve been doing some mild editing of the article, and Peter K came to my talk page to question my wording, although he didn’t make any changes. (Indeed, he appears to have completely refrained from editing the page himself, which is good. If I had made a TV series, I’d be tempted to edit the Wiki entry on it!)


    06/05/2011 at 15:58

  3. Sorry to come back again. Just skimmed through the HP comment thread, and saw Red Deathy there and his, in my view, very sensible contributions.

    As he said, Z’s edits gave undue weight to Cesarani’s position. There is a reason Cesarani should have a couple more words than TV critics, as he’s clearly an expert, but he should not dominate an article. Moreover, it gave massively undue weight to Howard J who, much as I love him, is no more relevant than the TV critics cited.

    On the other hand, I didn’t realise Nick Cooper had called Cesarani a “Jewish historian”, which is extremely dodgy.


    06/05/2011 at 16:12

  4. Finally, I see Headhitter and not just RedDeathy inserted critical material from Howard J after the edit war died down, making the reception section, in my view, pretty well balanced. Tell me what is wrong with the Wikipedia article.


    06/05/2011 at 16:19

  5. “to a lesser extent your response Mod, completely misunderstand how Wikipedia works.”

    Please, Bob, I have followed Wikipedia from it outset and could probably find old drafts which detail its internals failings from years back, which I meant to post but never finished off.

    But that’s all by the by my particular technical knowledge or grasp of issues is not at question.

    The point is, why does Wikipedia contain muted criticism of the Promise and what role did the editors play in toning it down?

    I’m not really interested in their motives, but the net consequence is that the entry doesn’t not represent the full breadth of criticism of the appalling TV series.

    Again, irrespective of the praise of this TV series I would have expected, not unreasonably, to see an in-depth entry which dealt with the criticisms and how this particular TV series is historically inaccurate and fosters prejudice by its faulty portrayal of events.


    06/05/2011 at 17:21

  6. Yes, we have disagreed about Wikipedia before. I accept it is flawed. But I think this article is actually a good example of why it is not so bad.

    What is actually missing that would represent the full breadth of criticism?

    The article should neither praise nor damn the TV series, but as accurately as possible reflect the range of views, especially expert views. I think it more or less does that. It could do it a little better, and when I have more time I will contribute to that. But reaching the accurate as possible position requires the triangulation of many views, and reaching a consensus. I think that’s possible.


    06/05/2011 at 17:43

  7. Just re-read last para of comment, and realise you start to answer my question already. Do you really think, tho, that the article should say “this particular TV series is historically inaccurate and fosters prejudice by its faulty portrayal of events”? I agree that the historical inaccuracies should be made clear – I don’t think that’s impossible to achieve. And if there is serious comment that says it fosters prejudice, this should be set out: and indeed the article does so, quoting two different Howard J pieces and Cesarani, the Israeli embassy and theJC. What else should it do?


    06/05/2011 at 17:46

  8. Bob,

    You seem to be misunderstanding me, I like Wikipedia.

    I think it is a very good idea, but having followed its history for years and years I can see the faults, I can understand why certain articles are as they are, I can understand that some of the editors have agendas (you might look at Cesaran’s entry, the authors and see why).

    I’m not surprised that these articles have bias, I would be astonished if that weren’t the case, it is run by very imperfect, limited individuals and it would be hard for it not to be that way.

    In fact, I wish there were a Wikiepdia of antiracism, that way we could point people to particular articles and not have too go over arguments once again.

    So, I *do* like Wikipedia, and when you come down to it it is as accurate as the people who write it and little more than an hyperlinked blog, quality control, bias and people’s prejudices along with their ignorance impede its progress.

    What should they do?

    Under reception have two (or more) entries approval and criticism then lay out in some detail the criticism, which as far as I can see is there as a token (just to say they’ve included some).

    That would be a start (and no, before you ask I don’t want to write it).


    06/05/2011 at 18:32

  9. Thanks for reply. I guess I pretty much agree with you then!


    06/05/2011 at 22:02

  10. Bob,

    The proof of the pudding?

    My bet is, that if someone tries to update the entry and put in more criticism, expand it or just make it more readable then it will be deleted in a few days, or largely revert to what it was.

    Want to prove me wrong?

    Please, get someone to make a few quality changes to the entry as above and see how people react.

    My bet is that they won’t suffer any significant criticism of The Promise.

    Care to take up that bet? Or doesn’t your trust in them go that far 🙂


    06/05/2011 at 22:43

  11. OK – good challenge. I’ll give it a go over the next few days.


    07/05/2011 at 20:32

  12. I’ve made a start now, so will keep you posted.


    13/05/2011 at 12:22

  13. So, now my shame deepens. To add to my mess-up over the Occupied Palestine link, Peter Kosminksy has congratulated me on making The Promise article accurate and balanced! Obviously, I need to work on reducing my subtlety… One more story of shame to come in the comments box at your EDL post.


    13/05/2011 at 17:35

  14. I haven’t made much progress on the Promise page, although I think it is now significantly more balanced, and my edits are not being reverted by other editors.

    However, I have run into much stiffer opposition in my attempts to, not even edit but simply comment on the talk page of the Counterpunch article where my comments are deleted (“redacted”) while Holocaust denial is left standing, so I am slightly persuaded to your perspective Mod.


    19/05/2011 at 17:25

  15. No, there isn’t much progress on the Promise page is there?

    “significantly more balanced,” ??

    You’d have to use a magnifying glass to see it.

    When you’ve made major changes to those pages, as I’ve outlined above, and make the criticism stand out on the Promise then you will see a difference in attitude, they will only tolerate your changes so far.

    I imagine that you are tolerated as a token on Wiki, step out of line and you will see their real tolerance, or lack of.

    “so I am slightly persuaded to your perspective”

    I do love middle-class understatement, it’s so much better than saying “Yes, I think you were right”, but then acknowledging the bleeding obvious shouldn’t win anyone a prize.

    I would much prefer if you reprimanded racists on your blog, like Skidmarx, in a firm tone, so that he might learn something and save the faint praise for other occasions.

    Again, unless you stated openly, clearly, unambiguously and directly to the individual concerned, Skidmarx.

    He won’t get the message. Direct is best. generalised statements about not tolerating racism on your blog fly completely over his head, he doesn’t get the message, he won’t get the message, unless you make it direct. Which you don’t want to because you don’t want to offend people… anti racism sometimes it’s better to forget gilded English liberalism and be direct, call it out as it is, not dance around it, erase it, forget it and then be surprised in six months when it comes up again.

    I take no pleasure in saying “I told you so”, I just wish you would listen more..


    19/05/2011 at 19:17

  16. I don’t see what the fuss is about. Everybody knows that all politically-charged articles at wikipedia are affected by systemic bias and endless arguments. A much better alternative is Scholarpedia. Check it out.


    29/07/2011 at 10:51

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