BBC ECU rejects complaints about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish hands’ remarks

Many people have written in to inform us of the response they recently received from the BBC’s Head of Editorial Complaints, Fraser Steel, concerning complaints they submitted about remarks made by Tim Willcox during BBC coverage of the rally in Paris on January 11th.

As readers will recall, the BBC initially responded to complaints by informing members of the public that Willcox had apologised for what he termed a “poorly phrased question” on Twitter. Members of the public who pursued their complaint further then received another generic response from the Complaints Director at the Editorial Complaints Unit, Andrew Bell, informing them that the BBC had decided to deal with the many complaints it had received on the issue as a single unit rather than as individual complaints. The communication most recently sent to complainants by Fraser Steel (see below – click to enlarge) summarises the provisional outcome of the ECU’s consideration of the points made in all the complaints against the relevant Editorial Guidelines of accuracy, impartiality and harm and offence.

BBC reply Willcox 1

BBC reply Willcox 2

BBC Willcox reply 3

BBC reply Willcox 4Let’s take a closer look at Steel’s interpretation of the most crucial part of the interview. As he notes, the initial question raised by Willcox raised the topic of the fears of the Jewish community in France in relation to the Muslim community in the same country.

TW: Do you ever feel threatened or frightened by the Muslim community here, because if you look at the figures more Jews in France seem to be leaving France than in other European countries, and yet France has the biggest population of Jews, as it does indeed of Muslims, in Europe.  Do you feel that fear?

His interviewee’s response noted that whilst Israelis like herself living in France feel less insecure because they have alternatives more accessible than those available to the non-Israeli Jewish population in France, nevertheless she – as an Israeli Jew living in France – felt less secure in recent days.

Chava: I didn’t feel this fear until last days, I have to say.  As I’m coming from…it’s not the same for Jews being born here and Israeli coming to here.  This is two different populations.  Israelis, when they come to France, they have something already inside them, they are not, we are not afraid, we know that every moment we can go somewhere else.  We have like a back very strong.  The Jews which were born here, they are coming from another culture, so it’s completely different.  But I can tell that since a few days I feel again not secure and not…It’s something which is very, and I was talking to Aziz also, I feel that now it’s like in 1930s, we are…the situation is going back to these days of 1930 in Europe.

Willcox then turned to the topic of possible solutions to that feeling of insecurity, with his interviewee expressing the opinion that the solution must include recognition of the fact that Jews living in Europe are being targeted.

TW: But do you think it can be rescued now with the right approach, with a more inclusive society addressing the problems that people have?

Chava: I didn’t understand completely your…

TW: Do you think that can be resolved, though, now, before it’s too late?

Chava: Yes of course – we have to, we have to not to be afraid to say that the Jews are being the, they are the target now.  It’s not only the…the…er…

At that point Willcox inserted an interruption with which he did two things: firstly he quickly diverted the topic of conversation away from the limited framework of French Jewish and Muslim communities previously under discussion by introducing the issue of conflict in the Middle East. He also cut short discussion of the topic of the targeting of Jews in Europe by inserting a false equivalence – evident in his use of the words “as well” – in the form of ‘Palestinian suffering’ which he attributed to “Jewish hands”. In other words, Willcox falsely implied that – like Jews in France – Palestinians are targets because of their religion and/or ethnicity.

TW: Many critics, though, of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.

Chava: We cannot do an amalgam…to…between…

TW: But you understand everything is seen from different perspectives…

Chava: Of course, but this is not my…er…

TW: No, I understand.

Fraser Steel’s claim that Willcox’s statement “was in effect a question put to Chava for comment” completely ignores the issue of why Willcox found it necessary to divert the conversation away from both the events in Paris and the topic of the targeting of French Jews by interrupting his interviewee.

“I think it’s clear from what I’ve quoted above that Mr Willcox’s reference to the Palestinians, though framed as a statement, was in effect a question put to Chava for comment.  I would accept that (as Mr Willcox has himself acknowledged) what he said was poorly-phrased, but what the Editorial Complaints Unit must decide is whether his words amounted to a serious breach of the BBC’s editorial standards.  That’s the question I’ll be keeping in mind as I address the particular points of complaint as summarised by my colleague.

That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the Middle East;

Nothing in the day’s coverage of events in Paris suggested a direct link between events in the Middle East and those killings, and I can’t see that such a suggestion can readily be derived from what Mr Willcox said.”

But that is exactly what Willcox did and it is inconceivable that Steel’s powers of English language comprehension are so limited that he cannot see it. Willcox’s statement clearly not only introduced the subject of the Middle East into the discussion but also misled BBC audiences in that it misrepresented events in the Middle East by means of the inaccurate suggestion that “Jewish hands” cause Palestinians to “suffer” because of motives identical to those of an Islamist terrorist who carried out a pre-meditated attack on identifiably Jewish targets at the Hyper Cacher supermarket.

Steel continues:

“That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that all Jews were responsible for the actions of Israel

Many complainants argue that the question must be regarded as anti-Semitic because it falls foul of a definition of anti-Semitism which includes “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”, and which they attribute to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).  That, however, seems to me an unduly harsh construction of what Mr Willcox said.  In the light of the opening reference to “Israeli policy”, it seems to me more natural to construe “Jewish hands” as referring to Israeli Jews (insofar as they might be responsible for the formulation or execution of Israeli policy), rather than to Jews collectively.  I would accept that it was inept to use a form of words which was even open to the first construction, but I would regard that as an aspect of the poor phrasing already acknowledged, rather than a manifestation of anti-Semitism.”

Steel’s obviously erroneous suggestion here is that “Israeli policy” is formulated and executed exclusively by “Israeli Jews”: he conveniently ignores the fact that among those formulating Israeli policy and those executing it are members of the non-Jewish communities in Israel making up over 20% of the country’s population. Hence, his transparent attempt to rewrite Willcox’s reference to “Jewish hands” to make it mean Israelis is obviously disingenuous. 

It is worth noting at this point that Steel’s rejection of the classification of Willcox’s statement as antisemitic is based on the following claim inserted as a footnote:

“In fact the phrase isn’t part of the EUMC definition, but is one of a number of examples provided of what might be considered anti-Semitic under the definition, subject to “taking into account the overall context”.  The EUMC definition was withdrawn in 2009 by its successor organisation, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which has published no definition of its own.”

This of course is not the first time that the BBC has exploited the fact that the European Agency for Fundamental Rights has not put out its own definition of antisemitism because its mandate does not include such activities. Whilst the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism was indeed removed from the FRA’s website along with other EUMC documents in 2013, it has not been “withdrawn”.  

But beyond the technicalities, more importantly what we see here is that the BBC apparently believes itself to have both the authority and the expertise to make pronunciations on what is – or is not – antisemitism. Clearly that arrogant assumption flies in the face of the MacPherson Report which recommended that racist incidents should be defined as “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”. Had Fraser Steel bothered to consult with expert bodies and/or representatives of the Jewish community (and there is no evidence in this document of his having done so) he might have been better placed to understand the essence of the complaints he was tasked with reviewing.

The issue of the BBC’s self-regulating complaints system is one which has been under discussion for quite some time and is likely to be raised again when the BBC’s Royal Charter comes up for renewal next year. Many people have become convinced by their experiences of navigating the system that it does not serve the interests of the corporation’s funding public and that it fails to ensure that the BBC adheres to its obligations to accuracy and impartiality.

Fraser Steel’s dismissive response to the high volume of complaints made about Tim Willcox’s statements can only further entrench the growing view that a self-regulating BBC is incompatible with the public purposes defined in its constitutional document. 

 

Comparing BBC Trending’s reporting on sexist abuse and anti-Jewish abuse

On February 17th the BBC News website published a report by BBC Trending titled “10 Hours of Walking in Paris as a Jew“.Trending 10 hrs Paris

The report relates to a video made by a reporter for the Israeli news website NRG who walked around the streets of Paris in identifiably Jewish dress, documenting the abuse from passers-by. Readers can find the English version of Zvika Klein’s article here (with links to Hebrew and French versions at the bottom) and the video here.

The BBC’s account of the video is as follows:

“Klein’s version takes place in the French capital. In the film he dons a kippah – the traditional Jewish skullcap – in front of the Eiffel Tower, and wanders the streets of the city. He appears to face significant abuse as he walks around. Residents are seen staring and spitting at him, while others apparently shout “Jew” and “Viva Palestine”.” 

As can be seen in Klein’s article at the above link, BBC Trending has refrained from reporting the more offensive comments.

So what did BBC Trending find it imperative to communicate to audiences about the video and the experiment in general?

“He appears to face significant abuse as he walks around.”

“It’s impossible for us to verify Klein’s video…”

” …there has been a large amount of editing – which critics say conveys a false impression”

“Could he be accused of deliberately seeking out negative comments?” 

“So are Jewish people confronted with this kind of abuse throughout the city? No, not everywhere, Klein tells BBC Trending.”

“With an apparently anti-Semitic murder among two killings in Copenhagen this weekend, and last month’s Paris attacks including four murders at a Kosher supermarket, some Jews in Europe are feeling vulnerable.”

“…Muslims and other minorities in the city can face similar problems.” [all emphasis added]

As the BBC article correctly points out, the inspiration for Zvika Klein’s report came from a video made by a woman who documented sexist abuse whilst walking in New York. BBC Trending also covered that video at the time of its release in an article titled “The video that shows what street harassment is like“.

Notably however, in that report the BBC did not inform audiences that it could not verify the video. Neither was it deemed necessary to tell readers that Shoshana Roberts ‘appears’ to face abuse or to suggest that “a false impression” had been created by editing. BBC Trending did not imply that Roberts was “deliberately seeking out negative comments” and the issues of whether or not women experienced sexist abuse in all districts of New York or whether other groups “face similar problems” were not raised.

Shoshana Roberts’ video was also covered sympathetically at the time by ‘Newsbeat’ – the BBC’s news platform aimed at younger audiences.

So perhaps BBC Trending would like to explain to its funding public the very obvious differences between its reporting on a video showing sexist abuse and its approach to a similar film showing anti-Jewish abuse? Having answered that question, BBC Trending may then be better placed to review its use of the phrase “apparently anti-Semitic murder” to describe the pre-meditated shooting of a volunteer community guard at a synagogue.

Related Articles:

Channel 4 News: Is walking in Muslim areas of Paris with a kippah a provocation?  (CiF Watch)

 

BBC promoted NGO supplying props for ‘Israel Apartheid Week’

One BBC-related issue which we find ourselves having to raise on these pages with disturbing frequency is that of the inadequate introduction of guests or interviewees linked to political NGOs. In our round-up of NGO contributors to BBC content in 2014 we noted that:

“In some instances an interviewee or contributor to BBC content was presented to audiences by name and with the title of his or her organization, but more often than not the political agenda of that organization and the interviewee’s resulting “standpoint” were not adequately clarified – as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. The same practice was evident when quotes were used from organisations’ press releases without being attributed to a specific person. […]

In other cases, interviewees or contributors were presented by name only and – again in breach of editorial guidelines – BBC audiences were not informed of their affiliations with campaigning organisations or of the fact that their contribution should be assessed within the context of a particular political agenda.”

On at least two occasions last year the ‘Senior Campaigns Officer’ for ‘War on Want‘, Rafeef Ziadah, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4. On one occasion – in a programme about Jerusalem – Ziadah’s employment at ‘War on Want’ and her activism in the BDS movement were not clarified to listeners at all, whilst on the other – in a programme about drones – her position at ‘War on Want’ was mentioned but the BBC did not bother to meet its own editorial guidelines by informing audiences about that organisation’s anti-Israel campaigning.

One recent manifestation of that political campaigning comes in the form of an offer from ‘War on Want’ to supply props to student groups organizing ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ events at UK universities. Students are encouraged to:WoW 1

“Organise an Apartheid Wall display on your campus to raise awareness about the ongoing destruction and human rights violations caused by the Wall. Props available to borrow are:

Six wall panels. Each panel measures approximately 2 metres x 1 metre and is heavy and must be supported. Your group may borrow some or all of the panels.

One watch tower measuring 2 metres by 70cm diametre. It is very heavy.

Four  cardboard/paper mache over sized guns measuring 1.5 metres each (new – not in picture)”

In other words, the BBC has provided audiences with information on Israel-related issues by means of a representative of an organization with a very clear political agenda which has been repeatedly concealed from listeners.

An additional aspect of this issue is the fact that among the bodies funding ‘War on Want’ is the UK charity ‘Comic Relief’ which is supported by the BBC.  This year’s annual fundraising drive – known as ‘Red Nose Day‘ – will take place on March 13th, with much BBC One programming devoted to the event. As we noted here two years ago:

“As a publicly funded body committed to impartiality, it is imperative for the BBC to ensure that – via its partnership with Comic Relief – it is not associated with organisations such as War on Want which demonise Israel as part of a racist campaign to deny self-determination to one specific ethnic group.” 

Unfortunately, not only has nothing changed on that front since those words were written, but BBC collaboration with the amplification of the ‘War on Want’ political agenda by means of inadequately introduced interviews with its ‘Senior Campaigns Officer’ appear to have become the norm.

If the BBC’s Director of Television is as concerned about antisemitism in the UK as his remarks last December suggest, a serious review of the activities of organisations funded via his programming is just as urgent as examination of the corporation’s failure (despite the repeated lip service paid to that issue) to adhere to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality when introducing guests and interviewees.  

Report of All-Party inquiry into Antisemitism adduces BBC content

February 9th saw the publication of the Report of the All-Party Parliamentary inquiry into Antisemitism which was commissioned by John Mann MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

In the view of this writer, the report is not without issues and perhaps one of the more obvious is the absence of clarification of the connections of boycott campaigns against shops in the UK to the parent body behind those individual actions – the BDS movement. The resulting failure to identify the antisemitic aims of the BDS movement as a whole as well as those it inspires in individual cases of harassment of retailers constitutes a serious omission from this report.

As readers who have already had a chance to read the publication will be aware, several references are made to the BBC.  In the chapter titled ‘Traditional and Social Media’ (page 49 onwards), section 151 includes the following:BBC building

“…there was an overwhelming consensus amongst those that submitted evidence or gave personal testimony at the regional meetings we held, that the media, and in particular the BBC, had a role to play in whipping up anger through emotive content in the news and analysis that was broadcast. There was certainly a significant focus on the conflict. Using various analytical tools, Dr Ben Gidley found that there had been particularly intense coverage of protests and demonstrations against Israel and the conflict in general when compared to other countries and conflicts. He argued that the excessive focus on Israel in the media allows for inappropriate language to be used, although we discuss this in a later section.” [emphasis added]

Section 154 notes:

“An antisemitic trope about Jewish control of politicians referenced by a BBC journalist”.

The chapter titled ‘The Role of the Media’ appears from page 78 onwards.

Part five of the report is titled ‘Addressing Antisemitic Discourse’. Under the sub-heading ‘Accusations of Dual Loyalty and Malign Influence’ (page 104 onwards), section 376 notes that:

“References to and interest in the ‘Jewish lobby’ was not only a feature of political debate.[…] We were warned however of “the capacity of this sort of article to generate troubling stereotypes” given a reference to ‘the Jewish lobby’ was made when the article was discussed on the BBC News Channel. We note that the language used to collectively describe Jews was raised again in this regard in early 2015.”

The appended footnotes show that the first instance cited refers to a statement made by the BBC’s ‘political advisor’ on November 8th 2014 and that the second instance refers to the remarks made by Tim Willcox in Paris on January 11th 2015. 

There is, of course, a case for differentiating between these two statements broadcast by the BBC. Whilst the first one definitely did tap into the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope (with Tim Willcox later adding another age-old stereotype about ‘rich Jews’), the second one was different in that it held European Jews collectively responsible for the perceived actions of Israel. However, it is interesting to note that the report goes on to state:

“Leading figures and commentators in public life must be clear that it is inaccurate to use the term ‘Jewish lobby’ which used in this context is antisemitic and that there is nothing disreputable about the existence of an Israel lobby. Sadly, antisemitic stereotypes of Jewish influence and dual loyalty, albeit not as prolific as in other periods of modern British history, were used during Operation Protective Edge and afterwards and as Professor Feldman put it, emerged “from all points of the political spectrum”.”

It worth remembering  that complaints made by members of the public about the first of those comments were dismissed by the BBC, whilst complaints made about the second statement were dismissed by Ofcom and are currently pending investigation by the BBC’s ECU.

The references to BBC content in this report (which relates to a defined period of time) do not of course provide a comprehensive picture of the issue of antisemitic discourse in BBC content and on the corporation’s public message boards. Nevertheless, the BBC should obviously be very concerned by the fact that it appears at all in this report. 

OFCOM’s response to complaints about remarks from BBC’s Tim Willcox

Less than a month has gone by since British government ministers vowed to do more to combat antisemitism in the UK following the Paris terror attacks.Theresa May

“The UK must redouble its efforts to “wipe out anti-Semitism”, Home Secretary Theresa May has said. […]

“I never thought I would see the day when members of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom would say they were fearful of remaining here in the United Kingdom.”

“And that means we must all redouble our efforts to wipe out anti-Semitism here in the United Kingdom,” she said. […]

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said that education was the way to tackle anti-Semitism.”

One of the places where such education is apparently lacking is the partially government-funded communications regulator Ofcom which recently addressed complaints concerning remarks made by the BBC’s Tim Willcox during coverage of the march held in Paris on January 11th.

In its initial response:

“The broadcasting watchdog ruled that the comments was “justified by the context in which they were presented.” “

Subsequently, Ofcom issued further clarification:

“…in a new statement issued a day later, Ofcom said it had “carefully assessed complaints about alleged antisemitic comments” and “decided not to take the issue forward for further investigation.”

It explained: “While the comments clearly had the potential to cause offence, Ofcom considered a range of factors, including the live nature of this coverage and the need for an appropriate degree of freedom of expression, especially in news coverage of such a significant event.” “

Clearly Ofcom is neither familiar with accepted definitions of antisemitism nor appreciative of the consequences of the propagation of pernicious antisemitic tropes beyond “the potential to cause offence”.

Common sense would suggest that Mr Pickles and his colleagues might find it effective to begin their education drive by remedying the ignorance obviously prevalent among the people responsible for regulation of the mass-media in the UK.

BBC bread and circuses on Question Time

As readers are perhaps already aware, the February 5th edition of the BBC One weekly debate show ‘Question Time‘ (made for the BBC by the independent production company Mentorn) was the subject of controversy even before it was recorded and broadcast. 

The decision to invite MP George Galloway – who is considerably more renowned for his anti-Israel agitprop, his support for terrorist organisations such as Hamas and Hizballah and his parallel career at media outlets financed by assorted repressive regimes than for his record of representing the people of Bradford West in Parliament – to join the panel at a location in a constituency with a particularly high proportion of Jewish residents was criticised, among others, by MP Mike Freer who described it as “deliberately provocative“.

Galloway’s presence on the panel and his entirely predictable derailing of the conversation to make it all about him detracted from any significant debate on the subject of the worrying report on antisemitic incidents in the UK published by the CST on the same day.

As ever, Galloway subsequently tried to frame himself as the victim of that debate and predictably, sections of the media collaborated with his antics.

The producers Question Time of course knew exactly what they were doing when they invited Galloway to appear in Finchley. Unfortunately, the mission to attract rating by means of the tawdry ‘shock factor’ provided by fringe figures such as Galloway was obviously deemed more important than the quality – or the subject – of the debate itself. And that (rather than Galloway’s inevitable self-indulgent showmanship) is the issue which should be the real cause of concern for the members of the public who funded this programme.  

Some background to Rabbi Rubinstein’s recent column about the BBC

Past BBC contributor Rabbi YY Rubinstein recently published a column in the magazine ‘Mishpacha‘ in which he asked “does the BBC have a Jewish problem?”.  Whilst the article does not appear to be available at the magazine’s website (a transcript is however available here), a scanned version has been circulated on social media and readers of its opening paragraphs may find some background information helpful.

“The question of whether the BBC suffers from institutional anti-Semitism is not a new one.

Historically, there is not the slightest doubt that it has been guilty in this regard. In fact the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation) admitted it when Radio 4, a BBC radio station, aired a documentary years ago about the corporations’s role in promoting anti-Semitism in World War ll. It found itself clearly having suffered from “the world’s oldest hatred.”

It is not so willing today, however, to confront the question with nearly the same honesty. Rather, the BBC has resisted, with every trick it can muster, revealing the contents of its own commissioned report, completed on 2004, that judged whether the broadcaster fairly reports on the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

The report to which the writer refers is of course the Balen Report. The prizewinning Radio 4 documentary he mentions (broadcast in 1993) was called ‘The Unspeakable Atrocity’ and The Independent published a review of the programme at the time which makes for spine-chilling reading.

The take-away message must surely be recognition of the fact that attitudes determine policies which then shape the news. And of course news, in turn, influences attitudes.

 The Tim Willcox affair has presented the BBC with the opportunity not only to address the specific points made in complaints, but also to tackle the broader issue of how attitudes within the organisation determine policies which, for example, shaped the news it produced during last year’s conflict between Hamas and Israel or result in racist comments being allowed to stand on its message boards – and to take responsibility for the results at the end of the chain which begins with those attitudes.

Let’s hope that the most will be made of that opportunity.

YY Rubinstein art 1

YY Rubinstein art 2

 

 

 

 

Update on the BBC’s response to complaints about Willcox statement

Thanks to all the many readers who have taken the time to keep us informed regarding the progress of their complaints to the BBC concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during coverage of the march in Paris on January 11th.editorial guidelines  

To recap, complaints were initially answered with a response stating that Willcox had issued an apology on Twitter. Those who pursued their complaint further have now received a response from the Complaints Director at the Editorial Complaints Unit, Andrew Bell.

Mr Bell writes:

“As you may be aware, however, we have received a very large number of complaints on this issue, and if we were to deal with them in the normal way, investigating each complaint separately, it would be many weeks before some complainants received a finding. In order to reach a speedy determination on the essential issues, as they are reflected in the totality of the complaints we have received, we propose to deal with them in a slightly different way.” 

The response goes on to explain that the ECU has summarized the editorial issues arising from all the complaints into the points below and that those points will be considered against the relevant Editorial Guidelines of accuracy, impartiality and harm and offence.

  • That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the middle east;
  • That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that all Jews were responsible for the actions of Israel;
  • That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that Jews were responsible for the murder of other Jews;
  • That the question was offensive because it trivialised the holocaust;
  • That the question displayed bias against Israel;
  • That Tim Willcox’s comment “But you understand everything is seen from different perspectives” suggested there was a justification for the killings;
  • That the interviewee was not treated with appropriate respect;
  • That the terms of the apology from Tim Willcox were inadequate and failed to address what was inaccurate and offensive about his remarks;
  • That posting an apology on a private Twitter account was inadequate and that it should have been published by the BBC.

Mr Bell further notes that he hopes to inform members of the public of the outcome of his unit’s investigation by February 23rd.

Obviously it does make sense for the ECU to avoid wasting public resources by streamlining the process of investigation and considering a high volume of similar complaints together. Particularly following the unsatisfactory initial replies received by members of the public, it is now good to see that Mr Bell’s department appears to be making a serious attempt to address the issue. 

This is why the BBC’s making do with Tim Willcox’s Twitter apology is pernicious

The January 20th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme contained a report by Sanchia Berg titled “Jewish school pupils trained to respond to armed attack“. The item includes the following:Sanchia Berg report

Sanchia Berg: “The headmaster said on several school trips pupils had been verbally abused by people who were angry about Israeli government policy and unfairly blamed British Jewish children. One child was threatened. Rabbi Efraimov:”

Rabbi Efraimov: “Nothing actually happened to the child but the child was told that he will be beaten up unless Palestine is freed.”

SB: “By other children? By adults?”

RE: “My understanding was that it was by young adults. The description was adults in their early twenties.”

SB: “And how old was the child at the time?”

RE: “The child was ten.”

One may of course ask where on earth young British adults would have got the idea that British Jewish schoolchildren – or British Jews in general – have anything to do with Israeli government policy, real or imagined.

And that is exactly why the BBC’s attempt to fob off criticism of Tim Willcox’s statement just after the Paris terror attacks (“…the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands…”) by claiming that an apology on Twitter is sufficient is so pernicious.

Precisely because of the fact there are people in the UK who make threats to British ten year-olds whilst invoking a fabricated connection between them and a conflict thousands of miles away, the BBC still needs to issue a prominent on-air statement clarifying that Willcox’s statement was not merely “poorly phrased”, but that the linkage he promoted based on the premise that Jews anywhere in the world hold collective responsibility for the perceived actions of the State of Israel is both false and antisemitic.

Likewise, the BBC needs to urgently address the fact that Willcox has not been alone in adopting and promoting a canard used – as we see above – by antisemitic bullies.

Obviously the BBC’s funding public would not tolerate its national broadcaster (which is of course committed by Royal Charter to the promotion of education and sustaining civil society) adding credence to racist or prejudicial notions about other groups within British society. Ensuring that the same standard applies to British Jews entails tackling the ignorance which causes racism to be passed off as political comment. 

BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine equates Israeli defence with Paris terrorism

h/t tb

One of the items appearing in the January 19th edition of the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show (available for a limited period of time from 36:57 here) was built around discussion of the following irrelevant – and frankly crass – question put by the host in his introduction.Jeremy Vine

“Now, is it more difficult being a Jew or a Muslim in the UK?”

After having presented the reactions of some British politicians to issues arising from the recent terror attacks in Paris, Jeremy Vine goes on to yet again advance the ridiculous notion that British Jews and British Muslims are engaged in some sort of competition for the title of ‘most suffering’.

Vine [38:43]: “So is it more difficult being a Jew or a Muslim in the UK right now? Let’s speak to Angela Epstein – Jewish writer, speaks to us from Salford – and David Cesarani is with me; the professor of history at Royal Holloway University of London; a particular expert on Jewish history as well. Angela, do you feel under pressure as a British Jew?”

Angela Epstein’s answer to that question includes the following statement:

“We are targets of Muslim terror because we are Jews and the same does not happen the other way round even in the face of heinous provocation…”

Vine quickly jumps in:

“You say it doesn’t happen the other way round – there will be people who say wait; when you look at the State of Israel and what it does in the occupied territories, that’s the…that’s the other side of the argument.”

In other words, Jeremy Vine apparently believes it justifiable to promote equation of actions taken by Israel to defend its civilians with those of terrorist organisations and at the same time implies that the motivation for any Israeli actions in “the occupied territories” is the religion of the people living there. He also apparently believes that it is legitimate to amplify the antisemitic canard that British Jews bear responsibility for the actions of the Israeli government. Although Angela Epstein protests Vine’s redundant analogy, he persists, asking David Cesarani:

“…does this stem from Israel’s actions and the way they’re perceived or is there something deeper afoot or is it actually not a problem, David?”

Cesarani does not provide a coherent response to that question.

 At 42:09 Vine downplays the nature of the terror attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris.

“And Angela, even if you look at the Paris attacks, what they went for first were the cartoonists. They were not going for French Jews. The kosher supermarket was secondary.”

Angela Epstein tries to correct Vine on that topic too, citing the murder of Ilan Halimi and the attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012. From 46:05 listeners hear David Cesarani making the dubious suggestion that British Jews who emigrate to Israel might be seen as ‘running away’ and ‘disloyal’.

“This is not the time to suggest the Jews are going to run away. The Jews are afraid, the Jews need special protection. We’re citizens of this country. It is our country and I’m going to stand shoulder to shoulder with people to defend that. And I’m not going to give the impression to anyone that Jews are not loyal to this country; that they really have their loyalty in Israel and at the least sign of trouble they’re all going to rush off to Netanya or Tel Aviv.”

One has to wonder whether Cesarani would suggest that Britons – Jewish or otherwise – emigrating to any other countries in the world might be perceived in a similar light.

After a break, Jeremy Vine purports to discuss the other side of his chosen subject matter (from 51:00) with two Muslim interviewees.

“So we were discussing whether British Jews are under threat; now we’re talking about British Muslims and whether things are better or worse for Muslims and Jews in this country in the wake of what’s happened in the last few weeks.”

If one wished to inform listeners on topics relating to terrorism and antisemitism, it would of course be beneficial to bring into the conversation an interviewee who has not shown public support for Islamist terrorism and for a notorious Holocaust denier and who represents a lobbying organisation previously banned from university campuses by the NUS because of antisemitism. Nevertheless, Radio 2 selected Asghar Bukhari from MPAC UK as one of its contributors to this discussion. Here is what the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism had to say about MPAC UK in 2006:

“The activities of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, MPACUK, have given cause for concern. Although its rhetoric is often extremist, MPACUK identifies itself as part of the mainstream British Muslim community, describing itself as “the UK’s leading Muslim civil liberties group, empowering Muslims to focus on non-violent Jihad and political activism”. Originally set up as a web-based media monitoring group, MPACUK’s declared first mission was to fight the perceived anti-Muslim bias in the media and to redress the balance. However, MPACUK has been criticised for publishing material on its website promoting the idea of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy, including the reproduction of articles originally published on neo-Nazi and Holocaust Denial websites, and is currently banned from university campuses under the NUS’s ‘No Platform’ policy. MPACUK are known to have removed an offensive posting from their website on one occasion, after complaints were made, but thereafter continued to publish similar material.”

Listeners already aware of the background to Bukhari and his organization would not have been surprised to hear him talking about Jihadist terrorism in the following terms:

“And I take exception….that this extremism is due to some sort of antisemitism – it’s not. Terrorism – every single act of terrorism against Western targets – has been due to the foreign policy of our government according to research and according to most of the experts out there. And the government is trying to blame the Muslim community and say oh it’s your problem. No: it’s your problem – the government has caused this problem. We cannot solve it unless you change your foreign policy.”

The trouble is, of course, that most listeners will not know who Bukhari and MPAC UK are or what sort of ideologies they stand for and Jeremy Vine made no attempt whatsoever to inform them on that issue when introducing him despite the existence of relevant BBC editorial guidelines. Notably too, the entire item avoids any real attempt to discuss the topic of Jihadist terrorism and its underlying ideologies.

At the end of the segment, Vine reads out a couple of e-mails from listeners and one of those picked out for promotion to listeners includes the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope.

“Aziz Najmuddin [phonetic] is in Southampton. He’s listening; he says I’m a Muslim man. I don’t feel threatened at all. British society is a fair society. But what I find disgraceful is that there’s no perceived threat to the Jews but there’s been so much police allocation to it. It is David Cameron playing up to the Jewish lobby in America.”

If the BBC aspires to provide its audiences with factual information and meaningful discussion on the topic of Jihadist terrorism of the type seen recently in Paris and the concerns of European Jews relating to that issue and rising antisemitism in general, one obviously basic requirement is to avoid contributors with a record of antisemitism.

No less crucial is that the corporation’s own presenters should understand the significance – and illegitimacy – of amplification (even with the ‘some might say’ caveat) of the antisemitic premise that terror attacks against Jews in Europe can be ‘explained’  by their being collectively responsible for the actions – real or imagined – of Israel. Obviously too, BBC content should be free from the promotion other antisemitic tropes such as the ‘Jewish lobby’ and ‘dual loyalties’. Unfortunately, what should go without saying is clearly not sufficiently understood by some BBC employees.

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