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.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Tim Willcox in Paris: a new low

BBC response to Willcox complaints: he sent a Tweet

BBC’s Kevin Connolly: Hamas missiles are “antiquated”

If readers would like to hear a compilation of the themes which BBC coverage of Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ has been furiously promoting, then the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 on Monday, November 19th had it all condensed into a few minutes. It can be heard here for a limited period of time.

Start with the news-reader who declares that “More than 90 Palestinians are believed to have died since Israel began its bombardment of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday” – without stating how many of those were terrorists.

Next, scroll on to 7:51 minutes and hear Vine’s introduction in which he promotes the targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari as the start of the escalation and unquestioningly parrots Hamas casualty figures:

“Hamas claims the attacks have claimed the lives of 90 civilians.”

Figures released by B’Tselem on November 19th state that out of a total of 105 casualties (up to the time of the report’s writing) in the Gaza Strip, forty one were civilians. Those figures do not take into account how many of those civilians were killed by shortfall of terrorist rockets. 

Next, hear how Vine shoehorns in two totally ridiculous, but popular, themes into one sentence: [emphasis added]

“Or is Israel in the wrong? Are they in fact the side which is most guilty of provocation by continuing to build homes in the West Bank much to the ire of the Palestinians and could this show of strength all be down to the fact that elections are looming in Israel?”

But it is Vine’s first guest – the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly – who gives us a real insight into the received wisdoms of BBC thought on Israel, from 9:30 minutes.

Connolly again repeats the claim that “the death toll now has risen to 91″ without distinguishing between combatants and civilians. He goes on to say: [all emphasis added]

“There’s very little shelter for civilians in Gaza. You know people don’t have bunkers. They don’t have air raid shelters. There’s no infrastructure to protect the civilian population although we think there is an infrastructure to protect the Hamas leadership.”

Connolly then recounts a conversation with a doctor in Gaza:

“She said she felt that she was surrounded by death in Gaza. On this side [Israel] there is anxiety – there’s no question about that – there is fear. There have been some rockets landing in southern Israeli towns this morning, but I think we have to be clear about this – that there is an asymmetry in the casualty figures. 91 dead now on the Gazan side. We think 3 dead on the Israeli side. And there is colossal asymmetry in military hardware deployed here as well.

You know Israel has the most sophisticated and the most powerful weapons of war and they are really terrifying when they’re unleashed. Hamas is of course unleashing as much violence as it can, so the intention is there, but by comparison its missile stocks are antiquated and not nearly as powerful as the ordnance the Israelis are able to use.”

What Connolly ‘forgets’ to point out of course is that Hamas’ weapons are aimed exclusively at civilians. 

In response to a question from Vine, he continues:

“The situation in Gaza is complex. The occupied territories ..certainly you know Gaza…is territory that Israel captured from Egypt in the 1967 war.”

No mention, of course, of how Egypt got hold of it in the first place.

“It [Israel] did withdraw from Gaza. It took its settlers out. It sort of sealed the border. When you go down to Gaza now you go through extraordinary security. They built a wall – the Israelis – and a kind of whole machinery of security there to protect themselves from the threat of suicide bombing coming out of the Gaza Strip, so from the Israeli side the Gaza Strip feels hermetically sealed. Erm..it’s very crowded, life there is very intense generally and there is a huge sense of militancy where…you know…Fatah – a secular organisation- is the most powerful Palestinian group in the West Bank. In Gaza it’s Hamas. They’re much more religious. They grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood and they have a passionate belief in what they would call resistance to the Zionist enemy – to Israel –but which of course Israel sees and the Israeli civilians see as …err…the unceasing …err…sending of rockets over the border at Israeli civilian politicians…err…populations. 

And one of the triggers of this, Jeremy, has been that Ahmed Jabari – the man you talked about there – one of these powerful Hamas commanders: he was the father of the Hamas rocket programme and under him the rockets have gone from the kind of things that a couple of guys were welding together with bits of drain pipe and homemade explosives to much more sophisticated hardware which he masterminded…erm…an import trail from Iran to bring to Gaza. So Israel felt that the threat was becoming more dangerous and that he personally was the man making it more dangerous. This all started with him being taken out – in military jargon – and that’s why Israel targeted him.” 

Responding to a question from Vine about whether it is correct to make a  connection to the Israeli elections, Connolly goes on: 

“Yeah, I think we should is the simple truth. I mean I think from Binyamin Netanyahu’s point of view, if he were able to show that he had eradicated or really, really substantially degraded the threat of rockets from Gaza then that would be something very useful to take into an election campaign. Israelis are going to vote in about two months’ time and there’s no question that that would be a political advantage to him. I think for that reason he might hesitate to launch a ground operation – an incursion – into Gaza. All the talk here is will Israel send troops in or not. I think…you know…Israel looks at these things very differently than international public opinion looks at them. International public opinion is very focused on civilian casualties. Israel says, though, civilian casualties in Gaza are high because Hamas hides its weapons among the civilian population, so a lot of Israelis feel that if they can just stick to this operation until it’s carried to its logical end, they can really, really damage Hamas’ military potential and if Netanyahu can do that without incurring too many Israeli casualties then …you know…it’s a brutal political calculation, but it’s real, Jeremy,… then that would be, I think, an advantage to him. And of course he is an elected politician – that simply has to be in his mind.”

And if all that wasn’t enough, you can continue listening to the programme as Jeremy Vine hosts the secretary of an organisation dedicated to Israel’s destruction, renowned for its dabbling in antisemitism and for its support for brutal dictatorships and terrorists. 

When, in 2009, the BBC hosted Nick Griffin on ‘Question Time’, it responded to the significant public outrage by defending its decision as part of the process of ‘due impartiality’, on the grounds that the BNP had made electoral gains in the elections to the European Parliament. 

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, however, is not a political party and has crossed no ‘electoral threshold’. In fact, judging from its dismal membership numbers, the British public emphatically rejects its message and its methods. It is curious, therefore, that the BBC should feel the need to provide a platform for a terror-enabling and supporting fringe grouplet such as the PSC.