Why 'hook-nosed' Begin was denied entry to UK


Menachem Begin was refused a visa to enter Britain in 1955 after the Foreign Office warned that his admission could damage relations with the Israeli government.

The detail was revealed for the first time in documents released by the National Archive this week. They included a 1946 British passport control card for Mr Begin describing him as "thin faced, bad teeth, long hooked nose, may wear black horn-rimmed spectacles".

In 1955 Mr Begin was leader of the revisionist Herut Party and hoped to travel to Britain to meet supporters. It would be another 30 years before he became Israeli Prime Minister.

A file on Mr Begin, reviewed by MI5, recommended barring from the country because he was a "member of the extremist anti-Arab Herut Party and a fervent member of the Irgun". It would be "impolite to allow admission to a former head of the terrorist movement" states one document.

A Passport Control Department official at the Foreign Office wrote to the Home Office in 1954 stating: "It is the view of the Levant Department that Menachem Begin should not be allowed to enter the United Kingdom and I would be grateful for your authority to instruct the visa section to refuse a visa."

Max Seligman, a British lawyer in Tel Aviv, had written to the British Embassy in Israel to ask whether a visa would be available. Mr Seligman defended several Irgun members in the final years of British Mandate Palestine.

But the Foreign Office believed Mr Begin "should not be allowed to come here as he is the leader of the right-wing extremist party in Israel which advocates an aggressive policy towards the Arabs". In the Foreign Office view, "a visit by him would not do anything to improve our relations with the present moderate government of Israel."

MI5 said that he was "an extreme nationalist and chauvinist right-wing [sic] and is well-known as the former leader of the notorious terrorist organisation Irgun Zvei Leumi".

The Home Office had suggested that if Mr Begin were admitted, then Special Branch should be "informed immediately, since the security responsibility for Jewish terrorists rests with them".

Abraham Abrahams, chairman of the Zionist Revisionist Organisation in Britain, also wrote to the Foreign Office with a potential itinerary for Mr Begin's visit including a suggested meeting with Winston Churchill.

The files contain a clipping of a story from a 1971 edition of the JC, detailing plans for Mr Begin to visit Britain that year. A Home Office note suggested that Mr Begin was not considered a security risk by that point.

Mr Begin became Israeli Prime Minister in 1977 and later came to Britain to meet Margaret Thatcher, who found him the "most difficult" man she had to deal with in the early years of her premiership.

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