On Thursday May 9th 2013 BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included presenter John Humphrys discussing the decision by Stephen Hawking to cancel his participation in a conference in Jerusalem. Starting from 1:34:38, the relevant section is available here for a short period of time and here as a podcast.
Humphrys’ guests were Dr. Toby Greene of BICOM and Dr. Ghada Karmi of Exeter University. Ghada Karmi will of course be familiar to many readers as a long-standing proponent of the “one-state solution“, especially – but by no means exclusively – on the pages of the Guardian. Radio 4 listeners were however not informed of Dr Karmi’s views before she launched into her diatribe. Rather – in contravention of clause 4.4.14 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality – she was introduced merely as a “Palestinian writer at the University of Exeter”.
Not only was Karmi’s rich record of campaigning for the dissolution of Israel concealed from Radio 4 listeners, but she was given a platform from which to promote her tirade of downright lies and defamation with very little hindrance.
At 1:36:18 Humphrys says:
“Dr. Karmi; isn’t it always better if people talk to each other?”
GK: “Well it would be. It’s always better and we welcome the talking…”
JH: “So why the boycott?”
GK: “…if it has any effect [scoffing laugh] and the whole issue with Israel is that talking, engaging – all the stuff that Dr. Greene is talking about – has been happening for decades and we wouldn’t stop it but the fact…”
JH: “But you have stopped it with the boycott.”
GK: “No, not at all. Let me correct you. This is very important. We’ve never stopped. We never would stop talking. The issue is not that. The issue is what is to be done because it is not enough to talk. People have been talking to Israel for a very long time. It has made no difference whatsoever.”
There’s lie number one. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, led by PACBI, explicitly rejects all forms of what it terms ‘normalisation’ – i.e. conversation – between Israelis and Palestinians.
“In April 2010, PACBI produced a document endorsed by ‘Palestinian youth’, including the Birzeit University Student Council. The document states that “we declare our rejection of normalization with the Israel (sic) on all levels”. The definition of ‘normalization’ given is as follows:
The definition of normalization, in brief, is “participating in any project, initiative or activity whether locally or internationally, that is designed to bring together-whether directly or indirectly- Palestinian and/or Arab youth with Israelis (whether individuals or institutions) and is not explicitly designed to resist or expose the occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression inflicted upon the Palestinian people.” “
Additional lies are swift to follow. Humphreys asks:
“But if a boycott is not intended to stop people talking to each other, what is it meant to do?”
GK: “It’s meant to give a signal, to raise awareness, to make people understand who might not know the situation – that Palestinian academics under occupation have no academic freedom. That’s what this is about. Now for Professor Hawking to refuse to go to this conference is honourable, it is principled and he is to be commended because he has given an important signal to the world saying a state like Israel which practices the kind of repression and apartheid against Palestinian academics should not be dignified with the attendance of people like him.”
As Toby Greene tries valiantly to make clear, the notion that Israel ‘represses’ Palestinian academics in either the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip or the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories is nothing more than a figment of Karmi’s imagination. Karmi conveniently ‘forgets’ to inform listeners that there were no universities in what is today the area under PA rule until 1967 or that one of PACBI’s prominent leaders, Omar Barghouti, studied at Tel Aviv University – which obviously puts paid to her baseless and defamatory charges of “apartheid”. But Karmi carries on with the promotion of her blatant lies, interrupting Toby Greene’s explanation that Palestinian universities are not under Israeli control with theatrical laughs and condescendingly saying:
“Dr. Greene. Listen. Take a taxi. Do me a favour. Go to the West Bank, try to go to Gaza. See what’s going on there.”
“The point is that they are not controlled by Israel.”
“Well that is nonsense! They are under Israeli occupation and that is simply nonsense. The reality is that life for Palestinian academics is extremely hard. They suffer from under-funding – the universities are under-funded. The universities are closed. They’re prevented from getting to their places of work. Students are prevented from going to their lectures by checkpoints. They are under extremely harsh conditions there.”
Of course any under-funding of Palestinian universities has nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with the priorities of the Palestinian Authority – which spends 6% of its budget on salaries for convicted terrorists – and Hamas – which spends untold amounts of money on weapons. Karmi’s claim that Palestinian lecturers and students are “prevented” from travelling to universities by checkpoints conveniently whitewashes out of the picture the fact that those checkpoints did not exist before the Palestinian decision to launch a terror war in September 2000.
“So the boycott will continue until the occupation – as you describe it – is lifted?”
Karmi uses the opportunity to repeat her lies yet again:
“Absolutely! And I think that everyone with the slightest conscience in the world should support the idea that a state like Israel which practices the kind of apartheid and repression against another people cannot be given credit or treated ‘business as usual’.”
The case could be put that this part of the ‘Today’ programme was balanced, having given the opportunity for expression to both sides of the issue. However, what most listeners will take away from it is the bundle of lies which Ghada Karmi was given the chance by the BBC to voice and repeat without adequate correction on the part of the presenter.
There is, however, a bigger and much more important problem with this programme. By concentrating on the frankly trivial and transient subject of Hawking’s decision and presenting it as a subject for discussion between the holders of two opposing viewpoints, the BBC has muffled the much more crucial bigger picture – the one of which its audiences do need to be made aware.
That, of course, is the fact that the BDS movement is not about getting this or that ‘celeb’ to cancel a lecture or a concert in Israel, but about the campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state in public opinion, with the racist ‘end game‘ of bringing about the dissolution of that state and an end to Jewish self-determination. By providing Ghada Karmi with a platform from which to spout her untruths and delegitimisation unhindered, the BBC is – intentionally or not – enabling that racist campaign.