Friday, July 6, 2012

Anyone Remember the Stern Gang's London Offensive?

Perusing a cross section of the obituaries for Yitzhak Shamir in the British press had me thinking how coddled Israeli terrorists and war criminals are, even when they're no longer with us.

Take, for example, the deaths of British troops, police and officials in Palestine at the hands of Shamir's Stern Gang and Menachem Begin's Irgun in the 40s. You'd think Fleet Street would perhaps give some consideration to their sacrifice in a Shamir obituary, some fleeting tribute or mention maybe, but no, I'm afraid this is about as good as it gets:

The Telegraph, Yitzhak Shamir obituary, 30/6/12: "After a dispute within the [Irgun]'s leaders, Shamir joined the even more radical Lehi, which carried out dozens of deadly attacks against British forces and Arab communities in the 1940s, earning it the nickname the Stern Gang." (NB: This is the obituary that appeared in the SMH.)

Financial Times, Unflinching supporter of greater Israel, 30/6/12: "As a leader of Lehi he approved the assassinations of Lord Moyne, Winston Churchill's representative in Cairo, and Count Bernadotte, the Swedish UN Palestine mediator who during the war had saved many Jews from the Nazis." (Miraculously, this obituary does contain the following: "In 1940 Irgun split. Shamir followed Abraham Stern, who created a new group called Lehi (known as the Stern Gang) which rejected Jewish calls for a truce in the anti-British struggle so long as Britain was fighting Nazi Germany. Shamir always claimed that he did not support overtures made by the Lehi to Hitler and Mussolini, but his devotion to Stern was absolute and he later named his son Yair, the nom de guerre of Stern.")

The Independent, Yitzhak Shamir: Member of the Stern Gang who became a hawkish Prime Minister of Israel, Eric Silver, 2/7/12: "After the Irgun split in 1940, Shamir followed Avraham Stern into a splinter group that rejected Jabotinsky's call for a truce in the anti-British struggle so long as Britain was fighting Nazi Germany. Stern was shot dead by the British police in 1942 and Shamir was one of a troika that took command; he was in charge of organisation... In 1944 Shamir sent two young fighters [?] to Cairo to assassinate Lord Moyne, Winston Churchill's resident minister in the Middle East."

The Guardian, Yitzhak Shamir obituary, Lawrence Joffe, 1/7/12: "While most Palestinian Jews upheld a wartime ceasefire with British mandate authorities, Shamir helped found an extreme Irgun breakaway faction called Lehi. He joined the leadership troika after Lehi's chief, Avraham Stern, was killed in 1942. Shamir plotted the assassination of Lord Moyne, British minister for Middle East affairs, in Cairo in 1944, and of the UN negotiator Count Folke Bernadotte, in Jerusalem in 1948." 

Now, if the British press's failure to meaningfully acknowledge the Sternist's and Irgunist's toll on British subjects (both high and low) is a legitimate cause for comment, what is one to make of the glaring absence of any reference at all to the fact that the Stern Gang once waged a sustained terrorist campaign on British soil during the same period?

Imagine, if you can, a British paper publishing an obituary on a leader of the Provisional IRA which made no mention of the bombing campaign waged by that group in Britain in the 70s and 80s.

So how is one to account for this degree of apparent historical amnesia? Are Western newsrooms (including our own) increasingly populated by historical illiterates? Has Orwell's memory hole now become more of a yawning abyss? Or is it just that Israeli terror masterminds receive a special dispensation? Either way, God help us!

OK, read the following two extracts from David Cesarani's book Major Farran's Hat: Murder, Scandal & Britain's War Against Jewish Terrorism 1945-1948 (2009) and tell me if we don't have a problem here:

"[F]or LEHI France was temptingly close to Britain and they were soon planning an attack on the British mainland. The first recorded attempt was made by Jacques Martinsky, a veteran of the French resistance who had lost a leg in the war. As a French citizen his request for a visa would not be subjected to the rigorous screening to which applicants from the Middle East were subjected. Bizarrely his prosthetic limb was another asset: [Ya'acov] Eliav [Lehi's head of operations in Europe] devised a way to smuggle explosives into the UK inside the artificial leg. The plan was for Martinsky to assemble the bomb once he was in the country and send it by post to the Colonial Office. However, Martinsky was known to MI5. When he attempted to enter Britain through London Airport on 6 March 1947, he was denied leave to land because he could not show good cause for his visit.

"But another member of LEHI got through. Just before 7 pm on 7 March 1947, an explosion blew out the doors and windows of the British Colonial Club, a recreational facility for British service personnel and students from the West Indies and Africa housed on the second floor of a building sandwiched between St Martin's Place and St Martin's Lane, just off Trafalgar Square in central London. Ambulances, fire engines and police cars converged on the site, battling through snow and skidding on thick ice. Several injured black servicemen were evacuated by ambulance to Charing Cross Hospital while others were given first aid on the spot. Although the blast was initially attributed to a 'gas pipe', police cordoned off the block and searched the building. Shortly afterwards LEHI issued a communique in France and Palestine claiming responsibility for the explosion: 'On Friday 7 March at 6:56 pm our fighters launched an attack on the centre of British power in London. Notwithstanding the defensive measures and numberless precautions our fighters were successful in penetrating 'Trafalgar Square' where they attacked and destroyed the 'British Colonial Club - one of the centres of imperialist intrigue. The enemy sustained damage. All our fighters returned to their bases safe and sound. The secret Jewish movement will continue and will strengthen the attacks against the enemy on his own soil and everywhere they will be vulnerable - until the occupier will be driven from our country.'

"The bomb was planted by Robert Misrahi, the son of Turkish Jews who had moved to Paris in the 1930s. Misrahi was a student at the Sorbonne where he was a protege of Jean-Paul Sartre. Some time in 1946 or early 1947 he befriended a delegation visiting from British universities and was, in turn, invited to Britain. This was the chance Eliav was waiting for. He equipped Misrahi with a 'coat bomb' that he was able to carry with him across the Channel and all the way to London... Eliav next launched Betty Knut..." (pp 85-6)

To cut a long story short, Knut's bomb, again targeting the Colonial Office, failed to go off. According to a Special Branch officer cited by Cesarani, this spared London the kind of devastation visited on Jerusalem's King David Hotel by Begin's Irgun. But other forms of terror were to follow:

"On 5 June 1947, 8 letter bombs containing gelignite were found in the mail of Ernest Bevin, Stafford Cripps MP, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Anthony Eden MP, the shadow Foreign Secretary, and other political figures. The first one to be discovered was intended for Arthur Greenwood MP, a former leader of the Labour Party, but it was accidentally mailed to the owner of a laundry in Gypsy Hill, South London, with the misfortune to have the same name. It was he who raised the alarm. The chancellor's secretary had a narrow escape after she started to open the letter and noticed it getting hot. With great presence of mind, the messenger who delivered it grabbed the envelope and dropped it into a pail of water kept in readiness for such an eventuality. Eden was also lucky because he had slipped his letter into his briefcase and carried it around for a whole day. All the postal bombs were addressed with the same typewriter and sent from Turin. Given the clear indication that a campaign was now underway, Special Branch set up shop in the central London Post Office and brought in X-ray equipment to examine all mail sent to members of the government and the royal family.

"Eventually, a total of 11 letter bombs were intercepted. Any doubt about the motives behind this campaign was dispelled when LEHI issued a 'communique' in Tel Aviv claiming several successful detonations and crediting the effort to its 'European branch'. A warning letter was also sent to the British Consul General in Turin. On 7 June a third wave of bombs arrived, this time bigger and potentially more destructive. They were directed to Hector MacNeil MP, a Foreign Office minister, John Hynd MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, William Paling MP, Postmaster General Lord Citrine, a trades union leader who served on government committees, Winston Churchill and Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fraser, who commanded the Royal Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean in 1946-7. When one of these bombs was tested by Home Office explosives experts it blew a hole in a steel plate. Realising the scale of the assault the police now brought in Hugh Watts, the Home Office inspector of explosives, to assist the investigation and appealed to the Palestine Police Force for help." (pp 115-16)

Back to the British press. Is this a case of Don't mention the war or what?

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