Last week the British journalist and writer Nick Cohen published an article titled “Why I’m becoming a Jew and why you should, too” in the Guardian. The entire article is of course well worth reading but one passage in particular will ring true with anyone who regularly follows BBC coverage of the Middle East.
“Whether the antisemitic conspiracy theory is deployed by German Nazis or Arab dictators, French anti-Dreyfusards or Saudi clerics, the argument is always the same. Democracy, an independent judiciary, equal human rights, freedom of speech and publication – all these “supposed” freedoms – are nothing but swindles that hide the machinations of the secret Jewish rulers of the world.
Describe the fantasy the Tsarist and Nazi empires developed that bluntly and it is impossible to understand how the Labour party is in danger of becoming as tainted as Ukip by the racists it attracts.
But consider how many leftwing activists, institutions or academics would agree with a politer version.
Western governments are the main source of the ills of the world. The “Israel lobby” controls western foreign policy. Israel itself is the “root cause” of all the terrors of the Middle East, from the Iraq war to Islamic State. Polite racism turns the Jews, once again, into demons with the supernatural power to manipulate and destroy nations. Or as the Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallström, who sees herself as a feminist rather than a racial conspiracist, explained recently, Islamist attacks in Paris were the fault of Israeli occupiers in the West Bank.”
Over the years we have documented on these pages numerous examples of the BBC’s promotion of the notion of an all-powerful “Israel lobby” and – even more frequently – the less veiled notion of a “Jewish lobby“. In November 2014, for example, listeners to BBC Radio 5 live heard the following:
“I mean if we’re not careful we’re going to turn into the east coast of America where, you know, where all of politics is in thrall…ehm…to the Jewish lobby and to the Irish lobby and as a result you get very, very distorted politics and good sense goes out of the window.” […]
“We can’t all observe dietary laws because it might offend the more powerful lobby – the Israeli lobby – which already has big brother America cow-towing to its every wish. I mean it really is unacceptable. It’s kind of un-British anyway…” [all emphasis added]
During the summer of 2014, as the civil war continued to rage in Syria and ISIS began slaughtering Yazidis in Iraq, we saw frequent BBC promotion of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the Middle East conflict – as indicated by the dedicated page appearing under that title as well as the repeated use of the term “Middle East crisis” in headlines (for example here, here and here).
In the past couple of years BBC audiences have also heard promotion of the myth that Israel is responsible for Islamist terrorism in the Middle East and beyond – for example:
“I still think that it’s largely politics which is acting as a driver to recruit young Muslim men to the cause of extremist groups like ISIS and…ehm…helping resolve important issues in the Middle East will go a long way to draining extremist groups of the support that they’re craving from young people. […]
…we only need to look at the statements Al Qaeda was issuing in the run-up to those attacks…ahm…on 9/11. I mean Al Qaeda believed that the United States was the main funder and armor of Israel and the dispossession of the Palestinian people has always been a massive rallying cry for extremist groups which is why seeking an urgent solution to the problem of the dispossession of the Palestinian people – they have been now occupied for 49 years now and there’s not been any sanctions applied to Israel. So seeking a resolution to that central, key Middle East dispute must be seen as a key part…a key part of defeating extremism.”
“There are many explanations for the winds of change sweeping through the Middle East.
Depending on their point of view, analysts cite the failure of Arab nationalism; a lack of democratic development; post-colonialism; Zionism; Western trade protectionism; corruption; low education standards; and the global revival of radical Islamism.” [emphasis added] […]
“…I don’t think that Israel-Palestine is a separate discrete conflict. It’s part of the whole Middle East set-up and it’s the most fundamental and lasting and enduring conflict in the region and there can be no peace, no stability and no security in the Middle East until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.”
“I was told by a good source that in an area where ISIS is actually minting money, believe it or not, on one side of the coin is the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. And another interesting vignette: on the mobile phone of one of the kids that were arrested in Paris recently – a Muslim child – was a speech of Yasser Arafat. And I guess that’s by way of saying that, you know, we have been thinking about extremism in this region – out there in Afghanistan, out there in Pakistan. The fact is that having a deeply marginalised Muslim Arab community is becoming a cause celebre also. So the idea that there’s this extremist element out there somewhere and Gaza is something different: it isn’t like that. So these moderate Arab countries and other Arab countries to which Lyse refers have to realise that what is…they’re allowing to happen in Gaza is having a direct impact on the rising tide of extremism which they’re so concerned about. So don’t see Gaza as an isolated factor. Don’t see it as something which is simply sort of there: it is very much part and parcel of the narrative of extremism and the rising tide of extremism that is, you know, so prevalent and so shocking today in the Middle East.”
Is it really at all surprising that the adoption of such conspiracy theories by the “leftwing activists, institutions or academics” described by Cohen is so widespread when we consider that the broadcaster with the most extensive access to British audiences is not averse to mainstreaming such ideas?