This is a real photo of Margaret Thatcher and Menachem Begin

27 September 2019
What was claimed

A picture shows Margaret Thatcher and Menachem Begin shaking hands.

Our verdict

Correct. He was the prime minister of Israel at the time, and it was taken during a visit to Downing Street in 1979.

What was claimed

Menachem Begin was a key organiser of the 1946 Irgun attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

Our verdict

Mr Begin did order the attack.

What was claimed

91 people died in the attack on the King David Hotel in 1946, including 28 British people.

Our verdict


What was claimed

Menachem Begin killed World War Two veterans and then booby trapped their bodies to kill those who found them.

Our verdict

Begin ordered the killing of the two British soldiers and their bodies were booby trapped.

A post on Facebook of Margaret Thatcher shaking hands with Menachem Begin has been shared hundreds of times.

The text surrounding the picture claims:

“Menachem Begin was a key organizer of the 1946 Irgun terrorist attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem which killed 91 people, including 28 Brits.

“Margaret Thatcher actually shook hands with him!”

It is a real picture from a meeting between Mrs Thatcher and Menachem Begin in 1979. However, there is some context missing: Begin was the prime minister of Israel at the time of the meeting. He visited the UK that year and the photo was taken at Downing Street.

Menachem Begin was the sixth prime minister of Israel, serving from 1977 to 1983. During the Second World War, Mr Begin joined the Irgun Tzeva’i Le’umi (Etzel), or National Military Organisation,  in what was then Palestine.

The defeat and collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War led to the British taking control of their holdings in Palestine  and the British controlled the region from 1920 to 1948. Etzel was opposed to this and, due to its paramilitary activities, considered a terrorist organisation.  

In 1946 Mr Begin, by then leader of Etzel, ordered the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which was also the headquarters of the British administration. 91 people died in the bombing, including 28 British people, 41 Palestinian Arabs and 17 Palestinian Jews.

The post also claims that Begin killed British World War Two veterans and booby trapped their bodies.

This appears to refer to an incident known as the Sergeants Affair in 1947. Contemporary accounts said Begin ordered the killing of two British soldiers as retribution for the execution of three Etzel members by British forces. The bodies were hanged and booby trapped.  

After Etzel was disbanded in the late 1940s Mr Begin turned to politics and founded the Herut Party, this went on to eventually merge with other parties to form the Likud Party.

The year before his UK visit Mr Begin had jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize with Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat (then-President of Egypt) for the peace treaty concluded between Israel and Egypt that year.  

The 1979 meeting between Mrs Thatcher, Mr Begin and the foreign secretary Lord Carrington did not go well. In his book ‘Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East’, Azriel Bermant describes it as a “disaster”, writing that Mrs Thatcher “had been unsympathetic towards Begin, at the outset, because of his record of violence during the British mandate. Nevertheless, the encounter instilled in her a strong distaste for the settlement policies espoused by the Likud party.” She would later tell the French president Giscard D’Estaing that she had “never had a more difficult man to deal with”.

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