This one may have to be filed under ‘you couldn’t make it up’.
On October 11th the BBC World Service’s radio programme ‘Weekend‘ was presented by Julian Worricker and, as usual, included two studio guests invited to “discuss and comment on themes and ideas of the week’s news, from the realms of politics, science, music and the arts”.
One of the items included in the programme (from 36:00 here for a limited period of time) was an interview with film director Vanessa Lapa about her film ‘The Decent One’, described as follows by the Jerusalem Post.
“Vanessa Lapa’s documentary portrait of SS chief Heinrich Himmler, The Decent One, is eerily fascinating. The movie is both a biography of Himmler and a history of Nazism, its soundtrack composed entirely (except for a brief interview in English at the beginning and the end, and background music) of excerpts from Himmler’s and his family’s letters and diaries. A few titles give historical context, but the words we hear are from these letters, read by actors.
Lapa, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, came into possession of these letters when her father bought them at auction so she could use them to make this film, which won the Best Israeli Documentary Award at this summer’s Jerusalem Film Festival.”
Following the conversation between Lapa and Worricker, the latter invited his studio guests to comment on what they had just heard with the first to speak being author and Economist correspondent Tim Judah. Worricker’s second guest – foreign editor of Al Hayat, Bariaa Alamuddin (aka George Clooney’s mother-in-law) – was then invited to comment too (from 49:04 in the link above).
Worricker: “Bariaa – what did you draw out of what you heard from Vanessa Lapa?”
Alamuddin: “Ah…quite a few things actually. Of course one always should look back at this with horror of course. The massacres and the Holocaust was a very bad point in the history of human beings. Nevertheless, it’s interesting the audience in Jerusalem – I’m sure there were no Palestinians in the attendance there – and what is something that I do not understand at all is where the Jews have suffered all this, how they can inflict on the Palestinians what they do. It’s something that must be in the psychic of every Jew and for them to elect people like Netanyahu or the rest of his cabinet and to…for them to go onto wars like the last Gaza war – I mean indeed since ’48 they must have killed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians – this is an aspect that I do not understand about the Holocaust. I love history…”
Alamuddin: “…and I think any nation that does not look deep into its history is not a good thing. I talk to Germans a lot about this. Some of them have fatigue about this and indeed I haven’t met one German that celebrates what Hitler has done and nevertheless the younger generation does not really want to be blamed for what Hitler has done, so I understand in a way…”
Worricker: “Sure. Tim: come back on what you’ve just heard from Bariaa.”
Judah: “No, I don’t want to talk about that.”
Worricker: “No. I mean you brought it to the present day…ehm…and your view of what’s going on in the Middle East. I didn’t get into that with Vanessa Lapa obviously but that film, as I say, is being shown in Los Angeles; it starts…”
Alamuddin: “It’s a very valid point, Julian, the one I’m just bringing…”
Worricker: “Is it a valid point? Or…”
Judah: “Yes. I mean to a certain extent, yes. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it.”
Worricker: “I was going to invite you to [laughs] ….fair enough….if you want to leave it there…”
Clearly there are two issues arising from this broadcast, with one being a matter of accuracy. Bariaa Alamuddin claimed that “since ’48 they must have killed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians”. The word “they” refers to Jews: notably Alamuddin never used the word Israelis.
The estimated number of Arab casualties – not just Palestinians – in all of the wars, riots, uprisings and operations since 1920 stands at less than one hundred thousand. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that 13,000 Palestinians and Israelis were killed between 1948 and 1996. Those figures do not distinguish between civilians and combatants but what is quite obvious is that the figures promoted by Alamuddin are blatantly exaggerated.
Julian Worricker, however, made no attempt to correct Alamuddin’s inaccurate statement and thus allowed BBC audiences to be grossly misled.
The second issue is that of Alamuddin’s use of a thinly-veiled Nazi analogy. Alamuddin claims that the victims of Nazi persecution have become persecutors of the same order; conveniently erasing context, circumstance and, of course, the actions of Palestinians from her narrative. There is nothing original about Alamuddin’s prejudice: as Howard Jacobson noted in 2011 it has been around for years.
“Forget Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is old hat. The new strategy – it showed its hand in Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, and surfaced again in Channel 4’s recent series The Promise – is to depict the Holocaust in all its horror in order that Jews can be charged (“You, of all people”) with failing to live up to it. By this logic the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn’t. “Jews know more than anyone that killing civilians is wrong,” resounds an unmistakably authorial voice in The Promise. Thus are Jews doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to the moral wasteland of having found no humanising redemption in its horrors.”
The EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism includes the following:
“Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”
Alamuddin, as mentioned above, did not even bother to use the word ‘Israeli’: like MP David Ward before her, she exclusively used the word Jews, suggesting that – as also defined in the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism – she has no compunction about:
“Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”
Worricker’s failed – and not particularly convincing – attempts to get Tim Judah to respond to Alamuddin’s obviously offensive remarks do not of course excuse either his own dithering inaction or the BBC’s promotion and amplification of racist statements and inaccurate ‘statistics’. No less problematic is the fact that those statements have been left standing in the recorded version of the programme currently available on BBC iPlayer.