Remembering Professor Robert Wistrich

The news of Professor Robert S. Wistrich’s sudden death was all the more difficult to absorb given that just last Thursday, those of us participating in the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism had the pleasure of hearing him speak – as eloquently and powerfully as ever. There can be no better account of that address than Professor Wistrich’s own – published in the Jerusalem Post as he requested, but not in time for him to see.

Many tributes have already been written in honour of Professor Wistrich’s life and work and as Ben Cohen observes:

“Robert’s death is an incalculable loss on many levels. At just the time that anti-Semitism has again become socially acceptable in Europe and elsewhere, we have been robbed of one of the few individuals whose voice on this topic underlined urgency, but not hysteria. Robert, moreover, was someone who intimately understood the historical provenance of today’s anti-Semitism, particularly in its insidious “anti-Zionist” guise.”

As readers may recall, Professor Wistrich gave the keynote address at CAMERA’s event examining the effects of UK media coverage of Israel on European antisemitism earlier this year.

May his memory be a blessing.

Related Articles:

In memoriam: Professor Robert S. Wistrich  UK Media Watch

Update on the BBC’s handling of the Tim Willcox case

As readers no doubt recall, back in February the BBC’s Head of Editorial Complaints, Fraser Steel, announced the provisional outcome of the Editorial Complaints Unit’s consideration of the collective points made in the many complaints concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during BBC coverage of the rally in Paris on January 11th 2015.Presentation Willcox b pic 1

Members of the public have now informed us of the receipt of a further communication from Fraser Steel following the presentation of comments on the provisional finding.

“Having had the opportunity of considering comments on the provisional finding, I’m now finalising it on the basis set out in my previous letter, apart from one modification.

It’s clear from a number of the comments I received that I understood the first of the summarised points of complaint (“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”) in a different sense from some who complained.

What I had in mind was a direct causal relationship between particular recent events in the Middle East and the Paris killings, and it was on that basis that I wrote “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”.

It has been put to me, and I have accepted, that Mr Willcox’s words suggested a broader link between perceptions of Palestinian suffering and the incidence of anti-Semitic incidents.

However, that doesn’t alter the outcome because I don’t think suggesting a link of that kind can be viewed as a breach of editorial standards (or even as particularly controversial, considering the correlation between anti-Semitic incidents and Israeli actions with an adverse impact on Palestinians which has been noted by organisations such as the Community Security Trust).”

As was noted here at the time, Steel’s misunderstanding of the essence of the complaints on that topic was plain to see. Unfortunately, he obviously still does not (or will not) comprehend the issue properly.

Willcox was not making some academic comment on the ‘epidemiology’ of antisemitic incidents. What he did – whilst interrupting a woman talking about the need for recognition of the targeting of European Jews – was to insert 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 and that European Jews can be held collectively responsible for the perceived actions of Israel.

The bottom line of this latest communication from Fraser Steel is that he stands by his earlier proposal to reject en masse the large number of complaints received about Willcox’s remarks. Complainants still have the possibility of appeal to the BBC Trust at their disposal for a limited period of time, but as Steel points out in this letter, “the Trust does not consider every appeal brought to it”.

Four months (and goodness knows how many publicly funded man-hours) on, the BBC has not budged an inch from its original classification of Willcox’s remarks as “poorly phrased”. As Steel wrote in his provisional findings which have now been deemed ‘finalised':

“I share Mr Willcox’s view that his comments were poorly phrased, but I think they were no worse than that.”

One cannot but recall the words of Nick Cohen at the time:

“…Willcox is not some isolated and aberrant racist; his views are the standard opinions of the European left middle class. I meet them every day in my political neighbourhood. They are the result of ignorance rather than malice. (Although I find that in time a dark alchemy can transform ignorance into malice.)

Willcox like so many others does not understand that anti-Semitism is not a rational, if regrettably bloody, critique of Israeli foreign policy but an insane conspiracy theory that has captured the minds of millions of fanatics, moved whole nations and led to uncountable deaths.

I wonder how many more bombs it will take to blow these people out of their folly. In my bleaker moments, I suspect they will take it to their graves.”

The BBC’s handling of this case has from the very beginning been characterized by a complete disregard for its social responsibilities as the publicly funded national broadcaster of a country in which less than a year ago antisemitic hate incidents reached record levels. As we noted here in January:

“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.”

Unfortunately for both the credibility of the BBC complaints system and the broader reputation of the corporation as a whole – those words still stand. 

 

Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism 2015

As noted previously, last week we attended the biennial Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism held in Jerusalem and participated in the working group on the issue of Antisemitism on the Internet and in the Media.GFCA logo

Once again the conference presented an excellent opportunity to hear first-hand from delegates from many countries around the world in both the panel discussions and informal conversations. As was to be expected, the attacks in Paris and in Copenhagen earlier this year were at the forefront of discussion.

Readers can view videos of the four panel sessions held on May 13th here and shorter videos of individual speakers can be found on Youtube. Of particular relevance to the working group in which BBC Watch took part was Panel 2 which included representatives from Google and Facebook who were presented with questions from the audience regarding their policies concerning the spread of hate speech and racism via social media.

Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism 2015

Later this week BBC Watch will be attending in the 5th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Jerusalem.GFCA logo

“The Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism (GFCA) is the premier biennial gathering for assessing the state of Antisemitism globally, and formulating effective forms of societal and governmental response. The GFCA is an active coalition of public figures, political leaders, heads of civil society, clergy, journalists, diplomats, educators and concerned citizens dedicated to the advance of tolerance towards the other in public life and the defeat of Antisemitism and other forms of racial and ethnic hatred. The Forum serves as an important meeting place for exchange of knowledge and for formulating the global work plan for combating Antisemitism.

The 5th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism will focus on two main themes:

The Oldest Hatred in the Newest Vessels: Confronting Antisemitism and Hate Speech on the Internet and in Social Media 

The information highway has proven an unprecedented tool for accessibility to knowledge, and the advance of free expression and global interconnectedness; but it also presents unique challenges to human dignity – in the form of unfiltered cyberhate, both antisemitic and other forms of severe hate speech, delivered ubiquitously to every multimedia device. How can we increase the decency of the web without harming its essential freedom?

The Rise of Antisemtism in Europe’s Cities Today: Means of Response

The summer of 2014 saw an eruption of mass anti-Jewish protests and attacks in major European capitals not seen in decades. Many Jews today feel limited in their freedom to identify openly as Jews in their manner of dress or political expression. In parts of Europe, Jewish religious practice is under legislative attack, and the return of Jihadi fighters with EU citizenship marks a security crisis, for Jewish communities first and foremost.  Why is this happening today in Europe? Is there a structural threat to Jewish life? What steps can be taken by European leadership to defeat the new wave of Antisemitism in Europe?”

BBC Watch will be participating in the working group dealing with Antisemitism on the Internet and in the Media.

We look forward to bringing readers our impressions of the conference, as we did after the previous session in 2013.

BBC amends online profile of Manchester constituency after complaints

Via the Jewish Chronicle we learn that:

“The BBC has been accused of racism after an article on the Blackley and Broughton constituency in Greater Manchester referred to its “wealthy” Jewish community.”

The Manchester Evening News (which has a screenshot of the original profile) reports that:complaint

“In its summary of the Blackley and Broughton constituency ahead of May 7, the broadcaster describes a multi-cultural area containing a ‘Jewish community concentrated in a wealthy pocket of large detached houses’.

Labour candidate Graham Stringer, who is defending the seat, says the words have prompted a flood of complaints from Jewish people.

He said parts of the area’s Orthodox community suffer from some of the highest poverty levels in the country and compared the description to the Victorian caricature of Fagin in Oliver Twist.

In a complaint to the BBC, he says the description is a ‘racist distortion’.

The profile refers to Blackley and Broughton’s Muslim, Irish, West Indian, Sikh and Polish populations and points out that a third of people in the constituency live in social housing.

But the only ethnicity it describes in terms of its wealth is the Jewish community.”

By way of comparison, the constituency which the BBC defines as “the richest place in Britain” – Kensington – is described as “well-to-do” and no mention is made of its ethnic or religious make-up.

The BBC has now amended the profile of Blackley & Broughton.

“A BBC spokesperson said: “These profiles aim to portray every constituency in a few sentences. We regret part of our description of Blackley and Broughton did not accurately reflect the area and we have now changed the wording accordingly.””

Once again the BBC chooses to miss the point.

Related articles:

BBC doubles down on presenter’s ‘mansion tax’ comment

No BBC coverage of Amnesty International’s antisemitism vote

On April 21st the Jewish Chronicle reported that Amnesty International had rejected a motion to tackle rising antisemitism in Britain at its annual conference.

“The motion was tabled by Amnesty member Andrew Thorpe-Apps in March who said it was defeated at the International AGM on Sunday by 468 votes to 461.

Mr Thorpe Apps said: “It was the only resolution to be defeated during the whole conference.”

Amnesty International UK press officer Neil Durkin said: “After a really interesting debate where everyone condemned discrimination against all ethnic and religious groups, our membership decided not to pass this resolution calling for a campaign with a single focus.”

However, Amnesty International has not ruled out ‘single focus’ campaigns in the past, as the BBC has previously reported and the JC goes on to point out:

“In April 2012 the charity published a report into discrimination against Muslims.

The report titled Choice and Prejudice Discrimination against Muslims in Europe said:

“The aim of this report is to focus on discrimination on grounds of religion or belief and to illustrate some of its consequences on Muslims in Europe.””

NGO Monitor likewise notes that:AI report

“…AIUK [Amnesty International UK] has initiated “single focus” campaigns frequently in the past, for instance, approving “overwhelmingly” a 2010 resolution on Sinti and Roma Communities, and stating: “Within the last year widespread discrimination and violence against Sinti and Roma communities has intensified in a number of European countries, which Amnesty International has published within respective country reports.””

At the time of writing we have found no coverage of this story on the BBC News website, despite the fact that Amnesty International is one of the NGOs most frequently uncritically quoted and promoted by the BBC and AIUK has been provided with a BBC platform for fundraising. 

BBC WS ‘Heart and Soul’ claims Israel causes antisemitism in Europe

On April 11th and 12th BBC World Service radio aired an edition of ‘Heart and Soul’ titled “Faith and Food: The Jewish Community of Paris“, presented by Hardeep Singh Kohli.Heart and Soul

First impressions suggested that the programme would provide an all too rare opportunity to record some accurate and impartial BBC reporting and that perception was encouraged at 11:12 minutes into the programme when, as part of his purported attempt to understand contemporary anti-Semitism in France, the presenter interviewed Professor Andrew Hussey. Professor Hussey gave a concise yet comprehensive summary of four factors contributing to the phenomenon: conspiracy theories prevalent in the Paris suburbs inhabited by North African immigrants, Right-wing Catholic anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial/revisionism, Islamist radicalization and ‘salon’ antisemitism.

However, despite having heard that academic appraisal of the topic, Singh Kohli found it necessary to promote his own theories in the next segment of the programme. Describing his topic as the “exodus of French Jews to Israel”, Singh Kohli opines:

“It’s obviously a controversial topic as many of the Jews moving to Israel will find homes in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Whether or not Singh Kohli has any factual evidence to support the claim that he already knows exactly where “many” of those immigrating to Israel from France will be going to live is of course highly questionable. In fact had he checked, Hardeep Singh Kohli would have discovered that the destinations of choice for those who made aliyah from France in 2014 included Ashdod, Tel Aviv, Ra’anana, Jerusalem, Ashkelon and – most popular of all – Netanya. But nevertheless, at 15:14 he repeats his theme:

“I don’t mean to be simplistic about it but the outside world looking in sees people leaving France to go to Israel, so people think well, people are coming to Israel and that increases the occupied territories which then increases antisemitism which then increases more people leaving France.”

And again at 16:14:

“I get this sense of a vicious cycle: antisemitism causing Jews to leave and then Israel continuing to expand illegal settlements on the West Bank to accommodate them. It’s one of the factors contributing to more antisemitism.

Again, Singh Kohli provides no factual source for his pronouncements but the bottom line here is that has he has found a way to place the blame for European antisemitism at Israel’s door and even to suggest that Jews themselves are responsible for anti-Jewish racism.

In doing that he elects to promote a fabricated political narrative at the expense of the route which could have actually provided listeners with informative content: serious exploration of the pointers provided by Professor Hussey.

Towards the end of the programme (24:15 and also in a clip promoted separately by the BBC on Twitter), listeners hear Singh Kohli say:

“I think if the Jews of the world retract – if they all move to Israel – then we will never grow up living next door to a Jewish family and that’s very sad. Why are they being taken away from?… why is my city?… my hometown of Glasgow has less Jews now than ever and my city is worse for it.”

Clearly Jews are not being “taken away” from Glasgow or anywhere else in Europe: their reasons for deciding to leave are, as his interviewee tells him, rooted in a variety of contemporary realities evident in European society. One of those realities is anti-Jewish hatred fuelled by inaccurate, lazy and narrative-based media presentation of Israel. Hence, before he allows himself to sink any further into self-indulgent bemoaning of ‘his’ loss of neighbourhood diversity, Hardeep Singh Kohli would do well to take a critical look at his own contribution to that particular phenomenon.

 

 

CAMERA Panel on UK Media, European Antisemitism

With antisemitic violence on the rise in Europe, CAMERA convened a panel discussion in Jerusalem on March 1 entitled “Framing Israel: Framing Jews: Examining the effects of UK media coverage of Israel on EuropeanEvent 1 3 15 antisemitism.” In light of recent polling which indicates that over 80 percent of British Jews believe that biased coverage of Israel incites antisemitism, the panelists explored how UK media coverage of Israel influences attitudes towards Jews in Europe and fuels extremism.

Speakers on the panel included Professor Robert S. Wistrich, Neuberger Chair of Modern European and Jewish History at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, Head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism and author of A Lethal Obsession: Antisemitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad (2010); Lucille Cohen, former President of the Zionist Central Council and the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and representative to the Board of Deputies of British Jews; Adam Levick, managing editor of UK Media Watch(formerly CiF Watch), a CAMERA affiliate and Hadar Sela, managing editor of BBC Watch, a CAMERA affiliate.

Readers can watch the video of the event here.

BBC continues to mainstream antisemitic discourse on its discussion boards

One of the BBC Trust’s specified priorities – originating from its interpretation of the public purpose remit entitled “Global Outlook” – is to:

“Enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”.

The Trust expands:

“”The BBC should inform conversation and debate, providing forums where its international audiences can debate issues they find important.”

The primary nature of linear broadcasting will remain the same as it is today, and even in the digital age BBC Global News will be providing content for mass consumption.

The nature of digital technology also means improved opportunities to connect with audiences – and BBC Global News will consider carefully the various access needs of its diverse audiences and continue to seek ways to give voice to its many listeners, viewers and users. From emails read out by presenters, to questions put to world leaders, to chatrooms and websites where people can debate and engage in dialogue free from fear and censorship, the BBC will make space available to support free speech and informed democracy.”

However, as we have seen on all too many occasions, the practical manifestation of that aspiration not infrequently turns BBC discussion boards and Facebook pages into places where “free speech and informed democracy” are usurped by conspiracy theory, racist tropes and politically motivated defamation and delegitimisation. 

On March 3rd the BBC News website decided to open its article titled “Netanyahu’s ‘chutzpah’ rocks Capitol and riles Obama” to comments from the public – with 338 responses. The next day an additional and related article headlined “Obama says Netanyahu’s Iran speech contains ‘nothing new’” was also opened to the public and it garnered 642 comments.

Even after moderation per the “house rules” which urge commenters to “keep your contributions civil, tasteful and relevant”, the comments sections of those two articles were replete with postings which were irrelevant to the topic of the two articles. Many of the comments were defamatory, promoted inaccurate information and propagated Nazi analogies along with tropes such as the ‘apartheid’ trope, the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope, the ‘dual loyalty’ trope and the ‘Jewish power’ trope. Below are just a few examples.

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The provision of a space for the spread of such ideas obviously does nothing to support “informed democracy” or “debate” but it does contribute to the mainstreaming of antisemitic discourse and misinformed delegitimisation of Israel.

Shockingly, the BBC continues to fail to take this issue seriously.

Media and Israel: Friday night long reads and listens

Adam Levick – managing editor of our sister site UK Media Watch (formerly CiF Watch) – recently spoke with Judy Lash Balint on her Voice of Israel radio show. Readers can listen to the interview here.Adam on VoI

Those interested in joining us in Jerusalem this coming Sunday for our event titled ‘Framing Israel, Framing Jews’ can still register here.

On a related note, writers Ben Judah and Josh Glancy have an interesting interview in Tablet with novelist Howard Jacobson.

“Jewish north London starts just three miles up the road, but conceptually you could not be further from its prim suburbs. Jacobson doesn’t belong there. In that world, the rise of anti-Semitism is the talk of the Shabbat dinner table. People mutter that since the Gaza war last summer there has been “something in the air.” They check property prices in Herzliya with increasing regularity, just in case they need a bolt-hole. […]

“Israel has become the pretext [for anti-Semitism] not because I choose it to be, but because they have,” he says in his gruff but melodious north Manchester accent, still with him despite decades of living in London. “All the unsayable things, all the things they know they can’t say about Jews in a post-Holocaust liberal society, they can say again now. Israel has desacralized the subject. It’s a space in which everything is allowed again.”

The difficulty all British Jews face with growing anti-Zionism is how to interpret it. What is legitimate criticism and what is something else? Sometimes it is clear when the line has been crossed, such as when swastikas and the Magen David start appearing on placards together. But other times it is far less clear, woven into a complex mix of genuine and excessive outrage. Jacobson’s strength on this issue is his ability to sort the anti-Semitic wheat from the anti-Israel chaff. Like many secular Jews he is clearly uncomfortable with the Bennettist millenarian nationalism that has grown in influence there. But he thinks “everyone’s always banging on about that.” Instead the war he chooses to wage is against anti-Zionism; the language, the sophistries, and the double standards. In recent years he has become England’s anti-Zionism code-reader-in-chief.”

Read the whole article here.