Jerusalem Syndrome at the BBC comedy quiz QI

BBC Watch is not yet even a week old, but the response from the public has been far beyond our expectations with many supportive e-mails landing in our in-box. Some of you have also alerted us to various BBC-related issues and we thank you very much for acting as extra eyes and ears, and hope you will continue to do so.

This is one such story, brought to our attention by a BBC Watch reader. 

The popular BBC 2 comedy quiz show QI (Quite Interesting) – hosted by Stephen Fry – ran an episode on Friday, October 12th 2012 dedicated to places beginning with the letter J and – as can be seen from the programme’s website – one of those places is Jerusalem. 

Now yes; it is only a light-hearted comedy quiz show which should not be taken too seriously, but all the same – if the BBC is going to mention Jerusalem in what purports to be a general knowledge-related programme, then obviously it is not a good idea to present the city as a place connected solely to Christianity and Islam. That is especially true when one of the corporation’s ‘raisons d’etre’ – according to the Royal Charter under which it operates – is to advance ‘Public Purposes’, including “promoting education and learning”.

“In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI described Jerusalem as ‘a crossroads for peoples of many different origins’. It has been such for thousands of years, indeed even before the birth of Jesus the city had suffered battles between Babylonians, Israelites, Philistines, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Macedonians, Maccabees and Romans. 

Today it is the third holiest city in Islam – in Arabic, Jerusalem is most commonly known as al-Quds meaning ‘The Holy’ – and of great importance to Jesus’s followers where more than a dozen Christian communities live side by side in (not always complete) harmony.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the holiest places in Christianity and has been the site of pilgrimages since the 4th century. Today it is looked after by six separate denominations of the faith, each of whom has its own parts of the building, as well as sharing communal areas.  Coptic Christians and Ethiopian Orthodox followers, for instance, dispute one part of the roof, and so a Coptic monk can always be seen sitting on a chair placed on the roof to express this claim.  A ladder at the church has been stood on a particular spot since at least 1757; none of the sects dares touch it in case they incur the wrath of one of the others.

Tattoos used to be known as ‘Jerusalem letters’. Pilgrims would routinely get letters or symbols inked onto them when they visited the Holy Land.  Indeed when the future King Edward VII, rode into Jerusalem in 1862, escorted by 100 Ottoman cavalrymen,  his greatest aim was to get a Crusader tattoo. 

Trips to Jerusalem can also lead to ‘Jerusalem syndrome’ which has been recognised since the 1930s as a specific mental illness. It’s described as ‘a psychotic decompensation related to religious excitement induced by proximity to the holy places of Jerusalem’. These days, it affects between 50 and 100 tourists a year, many of whom think they are the Chosen One. One doctor, who found two patients who both claimed to be the Messiah, put them in a room together just to see what would happen. Each accused the other one of being an impostor.  One of the most effective ways to treat the syndrome is to get the person out of Jerusalem.”

It seems that the BBC is suffering from a Jerusalem Syndrome of its own. 

(Admin: JARYP2PFKAC4 ) 


35 comments on “Jerusalem Syndrome at the BBC comedy quiz QI

  1. The beeb is rewriting the history of the world in its own very partisan fashion. Perhaps its next programme will be an apology and acknowledgment of the contribution of BBC Watch and its more honest than most subscribers.

    However Stephen Fry should have known better than to try to fool the public.

    • + Stephen Fry = Self hating Jewish antisemite

      • Fry is unashamedly an atheist/humanist. He does not recognise the existence of ANY supreme being or the validity of ANY religion (particularly monotheistic religions), not just Judaism. His views are far more complex than this clip displays, and you are free to disagree with them (as I do).

        But if you listen to/read him more widely, you will see that his complaints are simply that he despises orgnaised religion (and he would happily include Christianity and Islam in this) and the restrictions they place on individual freedom on the basis of what he perceives to be a political text written many thousands of years ago.

        For example, I can completely understand how he, as a gay man, would be uncomfortable (to put it mildly) in the way these 3 religions view homosexuality and homosexuals. If you don’t believe in G-d or the divine inspiration behind the Torah (as Fry doesn’t), then how else can you think of this without describing it as the manifestation of the bigoted views of some “desert tribes” many thousands of years ago? He could have put it more subtley, I agree, but he is not an antisemite. He is anti-religion. There is a big difference.

    • Duvidl is currently BBC Watching a freebie sales pamphlet of BBC DVDs. It contains “The Stephen Fry Collection”, a 6-DVD set of 17 hours and 54 minutes of him remaindered from £29.99 to £14.99. It is covered with a 30-year-old black-and-white portrait photo. The blurb reads, “…Fry’s trademark curiosity, gentle wit and genuine passion.” Clearly the DVD-buying public was not convinced at £29.99. Will the licence-fee TV tax payer ever know the sales figures at £14.99 without a Freedom of Information Act application?

      • Shock horror! 2 year-old compilation DVD is sold at a discount! This PROVES Fry is a despicable antisemite!

  2. So this is a British attempt to copy the USA’s NPR radio show “Wait, wait, don[t tell me”?

    I don’t get it.

    What was this show about, and why are there so many ugly people in the picture? Why is there a webpage with Jerusalem on it?

    It must be a British thing.

  3. But let’s be fair… the Jerusalem page also includes a photo of the back of an ultra-Orthodox man praying, a quote from the Talmud, and a comment that Jerusalem means “city of peace” in Hebrew.

    Surely that’s more than enough balance… /sarc

  4. Why do they reference the Talmud and have a picture of the man praying at the Kotel if they refuse to mention Jews in the blurb, except in:

    “even before the birth of Jesus the city had suffered battles between Babylonians, Israelites, Philistines, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Macedonians, Maccabees and Romans. “?

    The whole thing is as absurd as I imagine the program to be.

    No doubt there would be some who think the Maccabees were either (a ) NY pop group of ultra orthodox Jews who put on shows for the Romans or (b ) a group of Saudi Arabian bee keepers.

    • Chill folks.

      1. This is a quirky comedy that centres on odd bits of trivia and dispelling urban myths. The web site therefore concentrates on weird little facts about Jerusalem artichokes and Christian sects’ behaviour at the Sepulchre. It is in no way a thorough history or sociological analysis of the city.

      2. Your comments, AKUS, do you no credit at all, especially as it is obvious you have never seen the show. QI is widely admired in the UK both for being, as the title states “quite interesting” and for the gentle but quick-witted comedy of its regular pannelists and guests. I am sure it’s not everyone’s idea of fun, but no need to be so snooty.

      3. I missed the memo that says only people AKUS deems not to be “ugly” should be allowed on British TV!

      • I think you need to listen to a podcast of NPR’s “Wait, wait, don’t tell me” to get a sense of what really smart quiz show humor can be. This looks like a very dumbed-down version of that program.

        Nevertheless, at least one of the “quirky facts” about Jerusalem that might have been worth mentioning should be chosen from any number of facts taken from 3,500 years of Jewish history, I would think.

        Perhaps there should be a reference to “Israelis”, those ghostly people who inhabit much of Jerusalem could be included in the “interesting facts” side bar? Or the sidebar could include a reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? (oh – I forgot – I suppose like the Guardian they feel, despite the UK PCC, that Tel Aviv is really the capital, so we will have to wait till be get to the letter “T” for that “quirky fact”).

        I wonder if they have reached the letter “L” yet? What do they have about London? that it is place empty of Brits formerly fought over by Picts, Romans, Celts, Danes, and bombed by the Germans?

        • AKUS – you haven’t read my post.

          I have never seen the NPR show, so I can’t comment on their relative merits. It seems you are less squeamish about critically reviewing a show you have still, apparently, never seen.

          The web page is NOT supposed to be, and does not purport to be anything closely resembling a complete biography of Jerusalem. Have you read the accompanying page about Jamaica? It doesn’t mention anything about Jamaicans, the island’s history as a British slave colony, rum, ganga, reggae, gang violence, Usain Bolt, cricket…

          I repeat – chill.

  5. The BBC neglects not only to specify that Jerusalem is the hoiiest city in Judaism – but to describe the seminal part that the ancestors of modern Jewry played in the development of Jerusalem. Given their agenda and track record, I doubt this is entirely innocent on the BBC’s part.

  6. There are thoe at the BBC who can’t trust themselves to say the word “Israel” without choking.

    Akus: the MaccaBee is a particularly pugnacious insect found only in the Highlands of Scotland.

    Clap: love the picture.

  7. Comedy as we all know is a great propaganda tool as it reaches more uninformed people than do documentaries. It is an easy way to misinform. This might be a lighthearted comedy show, but Stephen Fry is not only Jewish, something he recently announced after years of being a closet Jew, (it is now somewhat fashionable to be offspring of immigrants – Michael Howard started this when trying to be the second British Jewish PM, followed now by Ed Milliband who has the same aspiration and several celebrities), but he leans strongly toward the reg-green alliance. He is clever, so nothing he does is not deliberate.

    The current generation of young adults have been schooled in secularism with the levels degraded for equalization, so that religious studies and the arts were excluded from their education. The net result is that they not only don’t know about the painting of the Last Supper in art for example, but even if they do, they certainly don’t have an inkling of its Jewish roots and meaning. It is this section of society that will have no reason to question a self proclaimed intellectual like Fry who would have consciously created the impression that Jerusalem has nothing to do with Jews and Judaism!


    • Sharon – you are entirely wrong when you say that Stephen Fry only “recently announced” he is Jewish “after years of being a closet Jew”. You clearly know nothing whatsoever about the man, and have never read any of his books.

      He is a proclaimed atheist and has always acknowledged his Jewish roots. Just for example, he is quite open about it in the first volume of his autobiography, Moab is My Washpot, published in 1997.

      • And your assertion that Fry is a “self-proclaimed intellectual” is simply hilarious! I won’t post his entire CV, but he is one of the most erudite, widely respected and broadly educated people in British public life.

        Finally, you seem to think that QI, its website and all matters associated with the programme are controlled by Fry. This is blatantly untrue – he is the presenter of the show, not its producer, director or researcher.

        At the risk of repeating myself, I would advise everyone to calm down. There is plenty on the BBC to provoke anger and to demonstrate anti-Israel bias, as this site is already demonstrating, but the contents of this web page are NOT part of that.

      • @Labenal OK QED, you have spoken so I will simply take what you say as read. After all why should I have my own view. I’ll even force myself to like and respect the man if you say so. And if producers devised a programme with disinformation I’ll accept that as well. And I’ll let it pass that a person has a choice not to participate in something that misinforms. And then of course, the fact that the BBC didn’t produce the programme makes it OK for the BBC to spend taxpayers to broadcast it. Never mind the little piece of misinformation. We’ll live with that if you say so.

        I’ll only remind you that 6 million of my people are no longer because they allowed issues like this to slip on by.

        • You cannot be serious! You are suggesting that this incident, to glorify it with such a serious term, is reminiscent of the sort of virulent antisemitic dehumanising filth put about by the Nazis in per-war Europe?

          Of course you are entitled to your opinion, but I am entitled to point out when it is inaccurate, misled or ill-informed.

          And by the way, don’t you ever EVER accuse me of minimising or belittling the threat of antisemitism. Disagree with me, but you only insult yourself by making such insinuations. Those six million were my people too.

  8. The BBC thinks its important to point out that Jerusalem is “Islam’s third holiest city” (despite it never being mentioned once in the Qu’ran), yet the fact that it is Judaism’s holiest city (and by a long way) is neither here nor there.

  9. I believe the culture of the BBC ensures that any Jewish or even Israeli aspect of Jerusalem was studiously avoided. The BBC is a monolith but it does have any number of directives on what to say and how to say it, so when in doubt, programme makers will presumably opt for ‘causing the least offence’, i.e., the Jews can be ignored as there are only 200,000 + of them and anyway, everybody hates Israel.

    Add to that the beliefs of Stephen Fry – yet another odious as~a~Jew – and so another attempt to sideline and delegitimise the Jewish state takes place.

    Labenal, you are wrong. The drip, drip of news, comments, jokes and inuendo paint a picture that is hard to ignore. The BBC is not a local, small scale broadcaster. It is the largest news gathering service in the world that also has a gigantic website. It has world service broadcasts globally. It’s reach is literally global, but even just here in the UK, its influence pervades every aspect of daily and public life.

    It is an opinion maker and colours the thinking of most of the UK population in some way. I deeply object to some of its output but rely on it for a great deal of my news, even though I know fully well it is frequently tainted.

    To play down this show and tell people to take it less seriously is to miss the point. QI is just one of a number of seemingly innocuous programmes that form the UK publics perception of the world.

    It is NOT ok to omit any any reference to Jews and Israel when you broadcast an item about Jerusalem.

    • Look. I have tried to make myself clear. Entire books have been written about the history of Israel. This quiz show’s web page contains, perhaps, 300 words or so, about 1/3 of which are devoted to things that are absolutely nothing to do with Jerusalem (the artichokes and cherries).

      It doesn’t mention Palestinians or occupation or “East” Jerusalem either. It doesn’t say that Jerusalem is NOT the capital of Israel. It doesn’t mention the Garden of Gethsemane, the Dome of the Rock, Yad Vashem…

      CHILL, people!

      • Labenal,
        You just don’t get it, do you?
        Why do you think many of us are so delighted that BBC Watch has come about?

        QI is just a symptom of the chronic illness that pervades the BBC. From the BBC on Israel, to the scandal of Jim’ll Fix It, the BBC is sick.

        Chilling is not an option.

        • Cityca, I believe I do get it. As I have stated above, there are plenty of good examples of the BBC’s anti-Israel bias, which I absolutely acknowledge, and I completely support the work of BBCWatch. I just don’t think that this is a very good example of it!

          I agree that describing Jerusalem as important to Islam and Christianity without mentioning Judaism was wrong – an error that has now been corrected – but the general tone of this discussions is simply over the top.

          As for it being an example of the “sickness” of the BBC, I acknowledge that the show is broadcast on the Beeb, and it appears on the BBC website, but I should point out that the show is actually not produced by the BBC – they have merely purchased the rights to broadcast it. It is produced by Talkback, a subsidiary of the Fremantle Media Group, which makes programmes broadcast on many networks around the world.

          So if you have a gripe about this programme, perhaps it should be directed to

          • Correction – it does NOT appear on the BBC website. It is merely linked to from the BBC website. So BBCWatch can stand down (unless of course the programme as broadcast on BBC2 contained something inflamatory about Jerusalem)?

  10. Pingback: BBC quiz show QI amends website following BBC Watch post | BBC Watch

  11. “I agree that describing Jerusalem as important to Islam and Christianity without mentioning Judaism was wrong”
    Was it biased though?
    “– an error that has now been corrected”
    How did that come about?

    • I am delighted it has been corrected and am sure that this was as a result of emails from followers of this site. Lovely. All good. I have not defended that omission at all. I am merely trying to say that some people on this site have over-reacted a little to it!

  12. The funniest thing is I have just watched the episode in question as broadcast on the BBC – guess what? Jerusalem gets ONE mention, and that was in the context of the hymn of that name. Talk about a storm in a teacup!

  13. Did the world forget, how the British set up America, in their first colony state of Virginia, the slave port. Did you know who is the king of Salem? It was Abraham’s priest who is a devil. Who took over priesthood now? What about Salem witchcraft in England. Jerusalem the wall is full of dung & piss. The Lord is speaking in Syrian tongue, his indignation is now on the world. Jacob (Israel) mother is Rebekah a Syrian woman! *2nd Kings *18:28* Are you listening to the voice of the Jew’s language.

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