When the co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club resigned last week, his statement explaining the decision prompted additional students at that institution (and others) to publicise their own experiences. The OULC’s umbrella body Labour Students announced that an investigation would take place and that course of action was supported by the Labour Party. The chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism, John Mann MP, called for suspension of the OULC pending investigation and the story prompted much additional discussion in the UK media from writers including Simon Schama and Dan Hodges as well as from commentators further afield.
Clearly then, this was not just a local story but nevertheless visitors to the BBC News website might have had trouble finding the corporation’s coverage of it because what did appear was to be found on the site’s regional ‘Oxford’ page and reaching that involves a trip from the site’s main homepage to the UK page, from there to the England page, then to ‘Regions’, then to ‘South’ and finally to the ‘Oxford’ page.
One article appeared the day after the story broke – February 17th – under the title “Oxford University Labour Club in anti-Semitism row” and an additional report was published the next day under the interestingly punctuated headline “Ed Miliband cancels Oxford talk in ‘anti-Semitism’ row“.
Readers of both those articles would have received the impression that the co-chair’s resignation was exclusively prompted by one factor. The first article opens:
“A Labour MP has called for the Oxford University branch of the party to be suspended over allegations of anti-Semitism by its members.
John Mann MP said he wanted a “full inquiry” after the club voted to endorse Israel Apartheid Week.
Club co-chairman Alex Chalmers resigned after the vote and said many members had “some kind of problem with Jews”.”
The second article states:
“Former Labour leader Ed Miliband has said he is “deeply disturbed” by claims of anti-Semitism at Oxford University Labour Club (OULC).
He has pulled out of a scheduled talk after the club’s co-chairman Alex Chalmers resigned over it voting to support Israel Apartheid Week.”
However, Mr Chalmers’ statement made it very clear that the concerns he raised are not confined to that specific vote.
Both the BBC’s articles quote Mr Chalmers as follows:
“He said the decision to endorse Israel Apartheid Week illustrated the “uneven and insincere” attitude of some members “when it comes to liberation”.”
The full quote however begins with a description of ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ which the BBC chose not to provide to its audiences.
“The decision of the club to endorse a movement with a history of targetting and harassing Jewish students and inviting antisemitic speakers to campuses, despite the concerns of Jewish students, illustrates how uneven and insincere much of the active membership is when it comes to liberation.”
Both articles include the following statement:
“According to its website, Israel Apartheid Week takes place across 150 universities and cities and “aims to raise awareness about Israel’s ongoing settler-colonial project and apartheid policies over the Palestinian people”.”
The sentence following the quote selected by the BBC clearly clarifies the campaign’s links to the BDS movement but that information is not provided to readers and neither are they presented with any background which would aid their understanding of the baseless nature of the allegations made in that quote or the political agenda of the ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ project.
Neither were readers of these two reports told of the reaction of other former members of the OULC.
“This week the members of Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) voted to endorse so-called “Israel Apartheid Week”. As former Chairs and Executive members of OULC, we oppose this decision and condemn it. We support the decision of one of the current Co-Chairs, Alex Chalmers, to resign in response.
Israel Apartheid Week purports to be a conference promoting intellectual discussion. In reality it is little more than a gathering of propagandists seeking to dismantle the only majority-Jewish member-state of the United Nations. It principally serves as a vehicle for promoting the academic, cultural and economic isolation of the Jewish state. In doing so, it strengthens the hand of those who oppose the two-state solution and emboldens extremists who seek to “resolve” the conflict by extinguishing one of the parties to it.”
Clearly the BBC’s coverage of this story is by no means comprehensive and the decision to confine it to a regional website page despite the controversy and discussion it raised in much wider circles is decidedly curious. The inclusion in both reports of unchallenged amplification of inaccurate statements from a website run by extremist anti-Israel campaigners is obviously problematic but – given the BBC’s record of failing to adequately inform its audiences of the BDS campaign’s true agenda – also sadly predictable.