Jeremy Paxman – Sarah Agassi interview in ‘Empire’

This post is off-topic from this blog’s normal subject matter, for reasons explained below.



My father was a dispatch rider for the Royal Army Ordinance Corps, in Palestine, between 1946 and 1948. During that time a terrorist organisation called Irgun planted a bomb at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which was then the headquarters of the British Army and the Palestine government. It killed 91 people.

One of the perpetrators of the bombing was a lady called Sarah Agassi. On 27 February 2012, an interview with Ms Agassi (conducted by Jeremy Paxman) was aired on BBC1, as part of the series Empire. Mr Paxman conducted the interview in a way that outraged my father (who colloquially referred to Ms Agassi as “that dreadful little terrorist woman”).

Several weeks later, when he visited London, we discussed the interview. We then searched the internet to see if anyone else had approached the BBC to point out that the tone of the conversation between Mr Paxman and Ms Agassi had been innappropriate, but were unable to find anything.

I volunteered to write to Mr Paxman on my father’s behalf. He also asked me to put a copy of the letter on the internet, for the benefit of other British Army veterans stationed in Palestine at the time, who may have had similar feelings.

A link to a video of the Paxman-Agassi interview is at the bottom of this page.


The letter

A PDF copy of the letter can downloaded here: Letter to Jeremy Paxman re Sarah Agassi interview



Copies of the letter were sent to the producers of Empire at the BBC, to Jeremy Paxman via his agent, Performing Artistes, and to the Royal British Legion. One month later, neither Mr Paxman nor the BBC have responded.

We’re using my blog to host this open copy of the letter so other veterans of the British Mandate in Palestine, or those with an interest in the subject, can comment (below).

Anyone who wishes to contact by father can do so through me at: thejollypilgrim [AT] yahoo [DOT] co [DOT] uk.


Related links

Click here to see relevant the episode of Empire containing the interview with Ms Agassi on BBC iPlayer. The video was not working at the time of posting. Her interview was towards the end, at around 50 minutes.

Click here to see the Wikipedia page dealing with the King David Hotel bombing.

Click here  to see the website providing an overview of British involvement at the time, told from the point of view of its armed forces.

Click here to see the website giving the story of British Mandate in Palestine from 1945 to 1948.

Click here to see Wikipedia page giving the political background to the situation in Palestine at the time.


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17 Responses to “Jeremy Paxman – Sarah Agassi interview in ‘Empire’”

  1. aurora de la virtud Says:

    La Señora Agassi……¿Debería leer el libro “Tu conciencia” de Antonio María Lunardi? ¿Y los libros del canónigo Henri Pradel?

  2. Peter Baker Says:

    ¡Muy posiblemente!

  3. student Says:

    I read your letter but have not seen the interview,
    I would like to point out the responsibility of the hotel telephone operator and the editorial office of the Palestine Post. As i’m sure you know, they were alerted beforehand of the bombing by an Irgun member ( as was custom in many Irgun operations) but the errors in decision makings made that day by the receiving end were those that led to the massive loss of innocent people’s life.
    I would love to hear a british veteran’s thoughts about the subject.
    I do not believe that the results were okay, but in accordance to the timeframe I do believe that the members of the bombing had a good reason to do what they did.
    Yours Humbly,
    Israeli student studying the subject

  4. Peter Baker Says:

    Interesting thought, I will pass it on.

    Thank you for writing.


  5. Robert Loades Says:

    To Israeli student studying the subject,

    I have been told that there were many numerous occasions when Irgun would send in faults claims that they had planted bombs to course disruption and panic at that time.
    To send a late warning to the Palestine Post was a great propaganda trick, which was a Jewish Newspaper in English and probably supported Irgun, of course no warning was sent directly to the British Authorities, so when the warning was ignored, Irgun could blame the British for ignoring the warning and excuse the murder of 91 people including many Jewish workers.
    At the time of the attack of on the King David Hotel, the British were given a mandate by the United Nations to administer Palestine. This was just one year after WWII in which The British Empire had stood alone, (during 1940.), against the Nazi’s. The U.S.A. had kept out of the war until attacked by Japan, and only came into the war after NAZI Germany declared war on the U.S.A, (We note no American Jews pressing for war with NAZI Germany at that time).
    If the British people had just allowed the NAZI’S to rule Europe and kept to running the Empire in India, Africa, and the Far East as Hitler had wanted, many millions more Jews would have died in the Concentration Camps and Gas Chamber of Europe.
    At the time of the bombing, the British were in an impossible position of trying to keep the Palestinians and Jews apart as they fought over Palestine.
    When the U.N mandate was taken back and partition occurred most ordinary British Soldiers were pleased to be going home, although they knew that millions of Palestinians would be murdered and burnt out of their homes, using the same excuse, that’s in the Torah, we are Gods chosen people.
    Although using the excuse that; “We are Gods Chosen People” does not sound any different to using the excuse “We are the Master Race”…
    One of the legacies of Irgun is that other groups around the world soon learnt their tactics; the P.L.O for example quickly adopted these Terrorist tactics of attacking unsuspecting targets which they used to great effect at the Munich Olympics.
    To excuse the actions of a terrorist and try to shift the blame to the telephone operator and the editorial office of the Palestine Post, without even giving your name is the action of not a humble person

  6. Michael Says:

    Peter, I’m not sure if I can fully go along with your criticism. I think the way it was edited and the way Paxman treated her was perfect. It really said more about her, Israel and the Irgun than if he had been combative. I found the whole section on Palestine in the programme brief but well done. Your father may have been there, and I for one respect him for that, but he was not privy to the documents since disclosed and may not have felt able or wanted to read on the issue. The documents are pretty clear in that we essentially did “run away”.


    “To send a late warning to the Palestine Post was a great propaganda trick, which was a Jewish Newspaper in English and probably supported Irgun”

    The paper was sharply against the terrorists (the term it used), particularly after the Haganah and Irgun stopped working together. It was a pro-Haganah newspaper.

    “At the time of the bombing, the British were in an impossible position of trying to keep the Palestinians and Jews apart as they fought over Palestine.”

    The Arabs were quiescent at the time. It was a conflict between the British and the extermist Jews (well the Haganah were more mainstream than fringe) with the Arabs looking on impassively. There was a big Arab-Jew conflict in 1936-39 which you might be getting mixed up with the immediate postwar situation.

  7. Peter Baker Says:

    Hi Michael

    Thanks for writing.

    Which documents are you referring to? You may well know more about this than I do, but I’m not familiar with the documents you mention to, or what they disclose.

    You say that it is clear that ‘we essentially did “run Away”‘. What does that mean? The obvious assumption is that the British were interested in retaining control of Palestine in some way, post mid-40s? That isn’t consistent with my understanding of British post-War foreign policy, but I’m no expert?

    In addition, the idea that ‘the Arabs were quiescent at the time’ is absolutely not consistent with my understanding of the situation in Palestine in the ’46 – ’48 period. Arab-Jewish relations were extremely aggravated over that period. As it happens, my father witnessed a number of incidents first hand, including a bus full of Arab citizens being killed by Jewish militants (one of the experiences he personally found most affecting).

    I’m not sure where you get the impression that it was only a conflict between ‘the British and extremist Jews … with the Arabs looking on impassively’? I don’t think that is representative of what went on at all?

    Please note: I am not taking sides in the current problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I wish only for peace, for the sake of all concerned. However, the idea that the way Mr Paxman treated Ms Agassi was ‘perfect’ seems peculiar, given the specific criticisms set out by my father and echoed by Mr Loades above.

    I look forward to any further thoughts. Thanks again for writing.

    Best regards

    Peter Baker

  8. Robert Loades Says:

    I still believe it was just propaganda that a very late warning was sent, as to help gain support in the U.S.A, where other Jewish activists were more unguarded.
    I quote Ben Hecht,
    ‘Every time you blow up a British arsenal, or wreck a British jail, or send a British railroad sky high, or rob a British bank, or let go with your guns at the British betrayers and invaders of your homeland, the Jews of America make a little holiday in their hearts”
    “Let go with your guns” tell us the intention was to kill…[

  9. Elizabeth Jarratt Says:

    Dear Peter,

    I am doing my A-Level History coursework on the King David Hotel
    and be very interested in talking to your father about his experiences or your knowledge!
    I am particularly interested in the consequences of the attack.

    Thank you


  10. David Redfern Says:


    my Father In Law Lt. James Masson was in Palestine at the same time as your Father, serving with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. He attended the Palestine Railway Station on the 30th October when a report of a bomb was received. He requested to go and investigate the report with with Cpl. Smith and a Police Sergeant he had worked with on the 24th when they made safe roadside mines.

    All three walked into the station and retrieved one of the suitcases, took it out to the roundabout and opened it. They found a canister inside but with no fuse. The Police Sergeant insisted on going back in to retrieve the other suitcase because my Father In Law had taken ‘his turn’ on the 24th. Once he saw my FIL and the Cpl. to cover he entered the Station and was immediately killed when the second suitcase exploded, simultaneously the bomb on the roundabout detonated. Three terrorists were later identified as the culprits who placed the bombs, a female Sima Fleishhaker-Hoizman claimed as the first suicide bomber although she escaped on this occasion. One of her male accomplices was Meir Feinstein who was wounded trying to escape. He was tried and hanged for his involvement.

    The Police Sergeant was awarded the King’s Police Medal (posthumously) and my FIL was awarded the George Medal, I don’t know if the Cpl. received anything.

    I watched the interview with Sarah Agassi and did wonder if she was also responsible for the Railway Station bombing (it’s only since the interview I discovered the real identity of the female involved) and like you and your Father, was irritated that Agassi was given such an easy time. However, on reflection I suspect Paxman was instructed as to how the interview would go or she would likely have refused to participate in the first place or walked out during the interview.

    I now think we should be grateful to Paxman for having the courage and restraint to not grill her and actually demonstrate to the world the ruthless and callous nature of this vile woman who was quite evidently proud of her accomplishments, a fact I don’t think anyone failed to note, mostly with disgust and revulsion; a fact that would not pass Paxman by, and by his unusually ingratiating nature I think we can glean that the interview was conducted through gritted teeth.

    Whatever the circumstances of the situation, the fact remains that Allied soldiers fought, and died to ensure freedom for oppressed peoples during WW2 and yet, only a year later they were turned on by the very people they liberated.

    Please convey my regards to your Father.

  11. Bruriya Says:

    1. Irgun/ETsEL really warned about explosion that is in detail proved here: But English officials neglected this prevention. The same as before “Night of the beatings”; then the Jewish underground warned British: “if you lash our companions, we will lash your soldiers”. The English power neglected this prevention and received retallation:
    But then British at least didn’t lie: “we didn’t receive any prevention” ;-)

    2. Jewish “terrorists” in Palestine (aka Erets Israel, Country of Israel) fought against the British colonialism and occupation; that is were in any case more right than the enemies. British lost almost all the colonial empire, but to these continue to praise it and to slander her opponents :-/

    3 . During the Holocaust Britain very much tried not to let the Jewish refugees to the Country. Therefore million Jews which could move gradually here and survive, were killed by nazis (till 1941 Hitler wanted not to exterminate Jews and to expel them from Europe. But then he was convinced that the Aryan countries won’t accept Jews, and that to them to spit on death of Jews. )

    4. Britain in WW2 was at war ONLY FOR ITSELF, and the survival of the pity rest of the European Jews was result of its military activity collateral and unnecessary it. When British and Americans asked something to make for rescue of Jews, they heartlessly refused (for example, didn’t bomb crematoriums and gas chambers of camps of death, and the road to them, and it could rescue more than one million Jews! :( :( ) Therefore very silly and unscrupulously to reproach Jews: “England battled for your rescue, and you are ungrateful!”

  12. Peter Baker Says:

    Dear Bruriya

    Thank you for the link (to a website titled ‘The Irgun Site’) which you claim proves that Irgun gave warning regarding the King David Hotel bombing and that “The English power neglected this prevention …”

    I think ‘prove’ is a strong verb, given that the site you highlight is dedicated to the organisation which carried out the bombings. I’m aware of the various claims regarding phone calls made in advance of the bombing. Those on the site you highlight don’t seem particularly objective. I’m also not sure what point you’re trying to make.

    Your second bullet isn’t clear. I take it you are broadly against colonialism and occupation? On that basis, I imagine you find much to aggravate you, regarding the current situation in Israel-Palestine?

    I don’t understand what you are arguing with your third point. The theme seems to be that Britain was complicit in the Holocaust carried out by Nazi Germany (even though the two were at war at the time)?

    Please note that ‘Aryan countries’ doesn’t really mean anything. ‘Aryan’ was a 19th and 20th century word used in racialist thought and Nazi ideology. There is no contemporary definition, unless you mean a descendent of the prehistoric people who spoke Indo-European? (Do look it up.)

    It’s extraordinary that you claim Britain was at war in WW2 ‘only for itself’, emphasising the power of your argument by capitalising the words. The literature on the period, and the agenda of the various players, is extensive. To summarise Britain’s role in WW2 in that way appears simplistic, to say the least.

    I put it to you your comments regarding Britain’s role in WW2 are really about re-framing events in such a way that leaves you emotionally comfortable in justifying the mass murder carried out by Irgun.

    I further put it to you that the contribution of the British armed forces to the defeat of Nazi German were of critical importance to the world, the Jewish people and the entire human race, and that your attempts to dismiss that contribution as mere selfishness are both unbecoming and absurd.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    Be at peace

    Peter Baker

  13. Bruriya Says:

    Mr. Baker.

    “…I think ‘prove’ is a strong verb, given that the site you highlight is dedicated to the organisation which carried out the bombings.”————
    You “forgot” that the British – the interested party TOO ;) Why can to believe to the British colonialists, BUT to Jewish fighters against colonialism – no?

    “Those on the site you highlight don’t seem particularly objective.”———–
    Why do you think so? Explain, for example, why the French consulate opened the windows (and not affected by the explosion) if they did not receive a warning? Another argument – “Irgun” and even the Stern Group is generally not selected English CIVIL population in their goals, but rather, trying to avoid casualties of these (and even more so among the Jews, in the King’s David Hotel’s Bombing killed 16 Jews.)
    You will not deny that the Irgun clearly warned the British goverment before “Night of the beatings” ( ) Why do you think you are not warned before the bombing? The mass killing of people, including innocents, much worse than flogging occupiers.

    “I take it you are broadly against colonialism and occupation?”———-
    Not quite. For example, in India, you “Anglo-Saxons”, do something for its development, but caused more damage. In Australia and North America, you (and other Aryan settlers) killed most of the natives :( But we Jews – not colonizers in “Palestine”. We have lived here long before the Arabs (and before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxon colonialists in OUR Britain ;) ) and and lost it because of the Roman invaders, always going to come back.
    And even if we did have the colonizers in their new country – you, the Aryans, do not have any right to judge us. It’s because of your age-old anti-Semitism, persecution and mass murders – we needed State-shelter anywhere. How you have the cynism to talk about the “Zionist occupiers”?

    “On that basis, I imagine you find much to aggravate you, regarding the current situation in Israel-Palestine?”———-
    Read above ;-(

    “‘Aryan countries’ doesn’t really mean anything”————-
    I use this term because of the lack of a better (“Europeans” “Whites” or “Christians” approach is even less.) I mean by it, “the European nations except the Jews, Romas, Saami and Finno-Ugric and Turkic peoples of East of European Russia” . Perhaps you will understand.

    To be continued.

  14. Bruriya Says:

    Churchill’s promised land by Michael Makovsky, pg 174 — “In addition, there was a rise of anti-Semitism and xenophobia among the populace during the war, and these sentiments were outright rampant throughout the ranks of the Foreign Office, Colonial Office, military, and other branches of the bureaucracy. Several senior Cabinet ministers, such as Lord Moyne(Walter Guinness), who held various portfolios, and Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, disliked Jews and were anti-Zionist. These officials regularly communicated a cold indifference to the Jews’ fate in Europe and elsewhere, and a steely determination to keep them out of Palestine no matter the dire consequences. They did not believe that the Jews deserved a homeland in Palestine and did not wish to upset the Arabs for strategic and other reasons. [2]“

  15. The Truth Will Out Says:

    The interview you are looking for is here:

    BBC’s Empire S1 Ep1 (part 4 of 4)

    Download directly to your PC using this altered link

    Hope this helps
    God bless

  16. Robert Loades Says:

    Then using some of your arguments the land only ever belonged to Israel because you invaded it… First shock troops were sent in to commit genocide on the population that were already living there. Who were probably mainly farmer as the land is described as “flowing with milk and honey,” of course you excuse this as God told us to do it… It’s always been a good excuse to blame God for one’s own actions….
    We only know this because it is told us in the Torah…
    Look back far enough and everybody ancestors have been a colonist…

  17. Fjolla I Says:

    Hi Peter,

    I’m a Tv researcher working on a documentary about policing in Palestine. I would be very grateful if you could get in touch.


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