'MI5 Believed Jewish Underground Wanted to Assassinate Churchill'

British military intelligence records reveal that officials feared that pre-state Zionist militia Lehi was plotting to murder the prime minister of the U.K.

A member of one of the Jewish underground militant groups that sought to end the British Mandate in Palestine and establish the State of Israel suggested that then-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, should be assassinated, according to the British newspaper Telegraph.

Records of the British military intelligence unit MI5 reveal that a member of the Lehi pre-state militia confessed when captured by mandate authorities that a fellow Lehi member wanted to assassinate high-ranking British politicians, including Churcill and then-Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin.


Before the State of Israel was established in 1948, several Jewish underground military organizations operated in what was then mandatory Palestine, includimg the Hagana, the Irgun, and the Lochamei Herut Israel, also known by its Hebrew acronym Lehi, and often called the Stern Gang after its leader Yair Stern.

The underground groups conducted military campaigns against symbols of British power and are partially credited with convincing the British government to withdraw its troops from Palestine and hand responsibility over to the United Nations, who then voted in 1947 to partition the country into Jewish and Arab states.

Eliyahu Ben-Zuri, the Lehi member that the Telegraph reports is said to have desired Churchill's death, was executed for the murder of another British official in the region, Lord Moyne, the U.K.'s minister resident in the Middle East. Ben-Zuri killed Moyne, a close confidant of Churchill, in Cairo.

The encrypted reports were sent by a British military officer - a Major James Robertson - to his superiors in London only after Ben-Zuri was hung in 1944. In a 1946 telegram, a major in the British armed forces wrote, "Stern Group are training members to go to England to assassinate members of His Majesty's Government, especially Mr. Bevin."

The Lehi confessor, said Robertson, passed along the following information: “As soon as he [Bet-Zuri] returned to Stern Group headquarters he proposed to suggest a plan for the assassination of highly placed British political personalities, including Mr Churchill, for which purpose emissaries should be sent to London."

Robertson noted, however, that: "The above information does not….amount to very much. It does, however, I think justify us in assuming that the danger of attempts on the lives of important people here is still one which we must reckon carefully."

In a separate telegram sent home by Robertson later that year, he explained that a surge in terrorist activity in Palestine at the time was partly due to a speech made by Bevin in Bournemouth.

He wrote: "This speech is stated to have caused considerable bitterness among the Jewish community in Palestine. A typical Jewish 'man in the street', for example, described the speech as the most anti-Semitic ever delivered by a British statesman."

Following this warning, it is clear British officials feared an assassination attempt on Bevin's life, and were focused on a planned visit to Egypt to initial a diplomatic accord. "If a fanatic intended to carry out an assassination and was prepared to disregard his own safety there would be very little that he could not do," an MI5 memo stated.

The records reported on in the Telegraph reveal that the concerns held by British officials over Jewish nationalist suicide-assassins are not entirely dissimilar from the fears of Israeli government officials over the threat of Palestinian suicide bombers.

The documents also revealed how Nescafe and sugar were also contaminated, and Allied troops were warned about Nazis wearing swastika-shaped belt buckles that contained a mini-pistols capable of firing two shots.