UK drama series aired on SBS branded “anti-Semitic”

A controversial UK drama series aired on SBS in November has triggered a wave of complaints to the SBS ombudsman.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has branded the four part Channel 4 drama The Promise as being “in direct violation” of SBS’s own codes on prejudice, racism and discrimination.

It claims the series is anti-Semitic and demeans Jews as a group.

“They are cast as variously cruel, violent, hateful, ruthless, unfeeling, amoral, treacherous, racist and/or hypocritical,” said ECAJ executive director Peter Wertheim.

The synopsis of the show is described as: a love story that spans the ages, this four-part drama intercuts between the experiences of Erin, an 18-year-old Londoner in present day Israel and Gaza, and those of her military grandfather, Len, who was part of the British peace-keeping force in Palestine at the end of World War II.

Wertheim continued, “The Promise unrelentingly portrays the entire Jewish presence throughout the country … as an act of usurpation by Jews who, without exception, are aliens, predators and thieves and who enforce their usurpation by brutal, racist policies akin to those inflicted by the Nazis upon the Jewish people.”

When it aired in the UK in February it triggered a similar backlash.

Writing in The Independent, novelist Howard Jacobson said that “Just about every Palestinian was sympathetic to look at, just about every Jew was not. While most Palestinians might fairly be depicted as living in poor circumstances, most Israeli Jews might not be fairly depicted as living in great wealth… Though I, too, have found Palestinians to be people of immense charm, I could only laugh in derision at The Promise every time another shot of soft-eyed Palestinians followed another shot of hard-faced Jews.”

UK media watchdog Ofcom responded to 44 complaints saying: “Just because some individual Jewish and Israeli characters were portrayed in a negative light does not mean the programme was, or was intended to be, antisemitic… Just as there were Jewish/Israeli characters that could be seen in a negative light, so there were British and Palestinian characters that could also be seen in a negative light.”

But the series was also nominated for the British Academy Television Awards 2011, the Banff World Television Festival, and won Best Drama at the One World Media Awards.

An SBS Spokesperson told TV Tonight, “Not unexpectedly there was a strong audience response to Peter Kosminsky’s drama series The Promise and SBS has received a number of letters and e-mails – both positive and negative – regarding the series.

“All feedback is being considered as part of our long established complaints handling process.”

Source: Jewish News


  1. watched the series and read the ECAJ’s detailed complaint in full, including the attachment, accessible at I urge everyone to do likewise. The complaint is entirely justified.

    It is interesting that Channel 4 in the UK characterised the series as “a fictional story, set within a historical context”. Yet much of the promotion of the series by SBS, and many of the responses from viewers posted on the SBS website (and here), stress that the series portrayed “history” and was in some sense true and accurate. This is just downright dishonest. I hope Senate Estimates gets well and truly stuck into SBS about its use of tax-payers money to promote Jew-hatred. It violates everything SBS was set up to do.

  2. Jezza (the first original one)

    The complaint by the ECAJ makes my blood boil. This was a TV drama series that was superb and reflected the turmoil of the era and the modern difficulties faced by all sides. There is good and bad in all societies, but lets address the complaint…. The series started off with ‘Len’ being present at the end of WWII at a concentration camp and witnessing first hand the horror inflicted on Jewish people. Also one of the episodes showed what appears to be a Palestinian suicide bomber blowing up a cafe in a Jewish area killing many and injuring a key Jewish character who was heavily involved in bringing the 2 communities in modern Israel together. The British administration was portrayed as hapless, imperialistic and out of touch. Erin the young English girl was not a sympathetic character, but a bit of a meddling, ignorant fool…..At the end of the series there were no winners, but losers on all sides and IMO there is very little chance of reconciliation in the forseeable future…..

    How this could be described as anti-Semitic is ridiculous, it showed both modern and historical events in a balanced and fair way. It effectively highlighted the suffering and viewpoints of all sides, giving the audience an idea of just how difficult it will be to find a positive way forward.

  3. It was a great show. If anything it left me depressed that the problems faced in that country are insummountable with the seeds of hatred sowed many decades before.

    I am no historian, but I think it reflected actual facts on both sides of the dispute. I found it interesting to learn that the British first started blowing up the houses of jews for insurrection, a pratice the Isralies later took up when they gained nationhood.

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