The BBC and the need for a definition of antisemitism

Readers may recall that in February 2015 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit rejected complaints concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during a broadcast from Paris the previous month following the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and the Hyper Cacher supermarket.

Included in the response from Fraser Steel was the following:

That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that all Jews were responsible for the actions of Israel

Many complainants argue that the question must be regarded as anti-Semitic because it falls foul of a definition of anti-Semitism which includes “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”, and which they attribute to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).  That, however, seems to me an unduly harsh construction of what Mr Willcox said.  In the light of the opening reference to “Israeli policy”, it seems to me more natural to construe “Jewish hands” as referring to Israeli Jews (insofar as they might be responsible for the formulation or execution of Israeli policy), rather than to Jews collectively.  I would accept that it was inept to use a form of words which was even open to the first construction, but I would regard that as an aspect of the poor phrasing already acknowledged, rather than a manifestation of anti-Semitism.”

As was noted here at the time:

“It is worth noting at this point that Steel’s rejection of the classification of Willcox’s statement as antisemitic is based on the following claim inserted as a footnote:

“In fact the phrase isn’t part of the EUMC definition, but is one of a number of examples provided of what might be considered anti-Semitic under the definition, subject to “taking into account the overall context”.  The EUMC definition was withdrawn in 2009 by its successor organisation, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which has published no definition of its own.”

This of course is not the first time that the BBC has exploited the fact that the European Agency for Fundamental Rights has not put out its own definition of antisemitism because its mandate does not include such activities. Whilst the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism was indeed removed from the FRA’s website along with other EUMC documents in 2013, it has not been “withdrawn”.”DCMS consultation

Among the proposals included in BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS public consultation on the renewal of the BBC’s charter was the following:

“The need for the BBC to work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism in order to ensure that complaints are handled uniformly, objectively and accountably is obvious. In addition the absence of adoption of an accepted definition of antisemitism means that – as in the case above – public funding is likely to be wasted on dealing with complaints from the general public which, if a definition were available, might not have been submitted.

Clearly the compilation of such a definition is neither within the role nor the expertise of the BBC and common sense would dictate that the definition adopted by Britain’s public broadcaster should be the one already used by the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism and the College of Policing Hate Crime Operational Guidance (2014) – i.e. the EUMC Working Definition. That definition was also recommended to media organisations as an industry standard by the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in May 2015.”

Last week Sir Eric Pickles MP wrote an article addressing the issue of a definition of antisemitism within the framework of the UK government’s efforts to tackle that particular form of racism. The example he provided was the one used by the UK’s College of Policing – i.e. the EUMC Working Definition.

The efforts being made to counter antisemitism in the UK must clearly include the country’s media. It is abundantly obvious that the definition of antisemitism used by the British Police Force and cited by a senior UK government official is equally suitable for use by Britain’s publicly funded broadcaster. All that remains is for that requirement to be included in the terms of the new BBC charter. 

13 comments on “The BBC and the need for a definition of antisemitism

  1. ” All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism and the College of Policing Hate Crime Operational Guidance (2014) – i.e. the EUMC Working Definition”. The problem with ALL definitions of antisemitism is that they tend to be exclusive rather than inclusive. My own criterion for defining antisemitism is to replace the word “Jew” or “Israel/Israeli” with “black” or “African”. It would soon be obvious what racism is. It would also be worthwhile reminding the BBC of their shabby record on this issue, such as, for example, Megs Jenkins – then a senior executive at the BBC as well as a Children’s Hour producer and presenter – dismissing reports of the Holocaust as “Jewish hysteria and exaggeration”.

  2. The BBC is Labour dominated and, under Corbyn, Labour has become the anti-Semitic party. Since the BBC never reports anything positive about Israel, it is obvious that their institutionalised anti-Semitism is approved by Labour – to the eternal shame of this government.

    • bbc’s reports are simply war against Israel. They use pr since they cannot bomb Israel.

    • I really can’t understand how the Labour party moved so quickly from having E.Miliband as the leader to becoming as anti-Semitic as it appears to be today. What happened and how? Was it equally anti-Semitic underneath Miliband, but more hidden?

  3. It has nothing to do with the Labour party, although the current Labour leadership (Corbyn and his Momentum gang) are definitely tainted with antisemitism. Antisemitism does not fit into the political party mould, there are plenty of antisemitic Tories.

  4. Not only it’s an unacceptable biais to hold jews responsible for Israel’s (excellent) Policy since no one would even think of holding all christians responsible for …Brazil’s or Urugay’s or france’s politics but on top of that it’s not Israel’s politics which is responsible for the never ending arab/Israel conflict but the french MEDDLING and the french pleqa to the eu to conti,nue the meddling when it was cleqr that France could not force Israel to accept its conditions to end this conflict. Then France kept support the “palestinian” terror which now is spreading to other terror groups so that France is also responsible for IS terror and future terror groups which will alswaysd think that if terror against Israel is acceptable to the “international community” terro vis a vis France and other nations should be acceptable too and in this they are right.

    • France is by no means the only culprit. Why blame France alone when all the other leading countries of the EU are involved? Of course, we do not mention the elephant in the room, the Gulf States and Kuwait, which exert massive pressure on the EU due to their economic clout. Did you know that Kuwait has it built in to its international treaties that it will never deal with or recognise Israel?

  5. It appears that BBC reporters are instructed to present anti-Israel material as a matter of policy.

    Who is responsible for this policy?
    Legal remedies should be considered. The BBC has done much over the past decade to incite hatred against Israeli Jews.

  6. ah “poor phrasing” again. Like the “poor phrasing” when the mullahs shout “Death to America” and pledge to wipe Israel from the face of the earth. Very poorly phrased.

  7. Dear Ms Sela,

    Further to my previous reply of last March 25th, I should like to ask if you would agree that it might be useful to forward your latest post directly to Mr Fraser Steel & Mr James Harding for their information, bearing in mind their responsibility for the BBC News output.

    In this connection, you may have seen the article in the “JC” of last April 1st, which reported on a meeting between BOD delegates & Mr Harding, about their concerns on the BBC news coverage of terrorist attacks in Israel & Palestinian incitement. However, it didn’t mention the important issue of the BBC News continuously failing to use the term “terrorist”, in its coverage of these events, due to its editorial guidelines of impartiality.

    Since I remember corresponding with the BOD CEO Gillian Merron about these issues during 2015, I will forward this latest e-mail for her attention, & would like to ask for her comments on these points as soon as possible.

    It would also be worth noting the statement of Ms Lesley Klaff at the seminar held on last September 10th 2015, namely that the BBC News over concentration on the Israel-Palestinian conflict could be seen as institutionally antisemitic, & the creation of negative attitudes in the media towards British Jews.

    With thanks & best wishes, David Lass.

  8. It is clearly evident that the BBC (and UK media) need to adopt cross-platform guidelines as to what constitutes anti-Semitism, as time and again they seem to cross the line in the way they don’t seem to with any other minority group. Anti-Semitism is so engraved in European society that it goes unnoticed and guised as ‘free speech’.

    BBC also need to learn to distinguish between free speech and hateful racism.

  9. “to cross the line in the way they don’t seem to with any other minority group”. The key words are “any other minority group”. They think they can insult and denigrate Jews with impunity as long as they refer to them as “Israelis” or “Zionists” a distinction not made by Hamas and Fatah.

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