Last month we documented one of many examples of BBC reporting on antisemitism in which an antisemitic statement was inaccurately and misleadingly described as “comments about Israel” and insufficient effort was made to explain why the statement was considered antisemitic. We observed at the time that:
“…as long as the BBC continues to report such stories while avoiding referencing the accepted definition of antisemitism, it cannot give its audiences an accurate and informative account of events.”
On March 12th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme witnessed another such example in the introduction to an item relating to US politics (from 2:51:23 here) by presenter Justin Webb. [emphasis in italics in the original]
Webb: “President Trump limps from crisis to crisis but his opponents, the Democrats, seem themselves to be in a mess. They won control of the House of Representatives last autumn and they sent some very high-profile new faces to Washington, among them the Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Well it hasn’t turned out though to be such plain sailing for her or the others. She is now accused of being antisemitic after she suggested that Jewish Americans have an allegiance to Israel.”
Leaving aside the fact that criticism of the comments made by Ilhan Omar in late February has focused on the antisemitic nature of the dual loyalty charge found in her statements rather than on the congresswoman herself and so Webb’s claim that “she is now accused of being antisemitic” does not reflect that criticism, no effort was made to explain to listeners that the claim that “Jewish Americans have an allegiance to Israel” – or as Omar actually put it “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country” – is categorised as a manifestation of antisemitism according to the IHRA working definition:
“Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.”
Without that essential information, listeners would obviously not be in a position to understand this story fully. Webb continued:
Webb: “And that has prompted some very deep soul-searching as the party works out how it’s going to get rid of President Trump in the presidential elections. I’ve been hearing from the Democratic supporting polling expert John Zogby.”
After Zogby had spoken about “the demographic battle within the party between an old guard versus a new group of Young Turks that represent really millennials and Generation Z”, Justin Webb came up with the following bizarre question.
Webb: “The party’s having a big row about antisemitism and it’s fair to say to the surprise, I think, of some Democrats who really thought it wasn’t going to be the issue that it is. If…if the party decided to say to its supporters ‘look, we think that antisemitism is a bit like the way some of our people might regard anti-white racism; that actually it’s a different order of racism, it’s not as important, it’s still bad but it’s not as important as some other forms of racism’, what impact do you think that would have?”
We have been unable to find any evidence of such a suggestion having been put forward by the Democratic party (and indeed Zogby’s response was “you won’t see it happen”) so why Webb found it appropriate to float the grotesque notion of more important and less important types of racism is unclear.
Unsurprisingly, Webb failed to challenge Zogby when he came up with the inadequately explained claim that some people within the Democratic party are confusing antisemitism with “opposition to Israeli policies”.
Zogby: “By the same token to confuse antisemitism with Israeli policies and opposition to Israeli policies is a very difficult road to go down and by some establishment figures within the Democratic party, we saw how dangerous that gets. And that is one of the key points within this demographic revolution. Younger people let’s just say don’t have the automatic admiration for Israel. They know a post-intifada Israel and they know Israel as a foreign country.”
Webb went on to ask Zogby what would happen “if the Democratic party moved in the direction of being much more critical of Israel than it has been in the past, never mind the antisemitism issue”. Zogby replied that while some Jewish voters “would move away”, the numbers could be “more than made up…by energising millennials and energising non-whites”.
After a final question concerning the presidential election, Webb closed the item.
Following the broadcast the Jewish Chronicle contacted the BBC for comment and was told that “Justin is the first to admit he should have phrased his question better”. Apparently a BBC representative also said that “Mr Webb accepted the question needed to be better phrased because “the audience will not have been as familiar with the state of American politics as he and John Zogby are””.
For years we have watched the BBC fail to provide the accurate and impartial reporting which would help its audiences understand antisemitism related stories in the UK. As we see, that serial failure is now being replicated in stories relating to US politics – not least because the BBC still does not work according to the accepted definition of antisemitism and because BBC staff too often appear to have forgotten that it is their job to inform audiences rather than subject them to esoteric insider chats that show off their own ‘familiarity’ with a topic.