On the day that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced that it had launched a formal investigation into the UK Labour party in order to determine whether it has “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish” the BBC News website published a backgrounder titled “A guide to Labour Party anti-Semitism claims” on its ‘UK Politics’ page.
“The internal Labour row over anti-Semitism has dragged on for nearly three years. Here’s a guide to what’s been going on.”
The opening section of that May 28th article, headed “What is anti-Semitism?”, quotes the Oxford English Dictionary rather than the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism adopted by the UK government, the Scottish and Welsh governments, 120 municipalities in the UK and the country’s three main political parties, among others.
“Anti-Semitism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “hostility and prejudice directed against Jewish people”. […]
Modern-day anti-Semitism can take many forms, including, but not limited to, conspiracy theories about Jewish control of the global financial system and the media, to attacks on synagogues, verbal abuse or hate speech and abusive memes on social media.”
The first mention of the IHRA working definition comes (together with a link) in section eight of the article – headed “Definition Row” – thirty-six paragraphs later.
In section two of the article – “Why is Labour rowing about it?” – readers find euphemistic, and hence unhelpful, descriptions of two terrorist organisations.
“Jeremy Corbyn has a more internationalist outlook than recent Labour leaders – he comes from a left-wing tradition of campaigning against Western imperialism and aggression.
He is a longstanding member of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and has been accused by opponents of being too close to Hamas, a militant Islamist group, and Hezbollah, a Lebanese paramilitary group.”
Readers are told that:
“Some of Mr Corbyn’s supporters, however, say the problem has been exaggerated and is being used as a stick to beat the Labour leader by people who don’t like him or his brand of socialism.”
They are not told that such claims are baseless and the article goes on to imply that the issue of antisemitism is somehow linked to “the rights of Palestinians”.
“And some of those who joined the party to vote for Mr Corbyn as leader in 2015 share his passionate belief in the rights of Palestinians to their own state and are vocal critics of Israel.”
Section three of the article is headed “Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism”.
“Debates about claims of anti-Semitism in Labour often involve Israel and another term, anti-Zionism.”
The BBC fails to give a proper definition of Zionism and refrained from clarifying that negation of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination is antisemitism.
“Zionism refers to the movement to create a Jewish state in the Middle East, roughly corresponding to the historical land of Israel, and thus support for the modern state of Israel.”
Readers then saw the latest example of BBC promotion of the Livingstone Formulation.
“Some say “Zionist” can be used as a coded attack on Jewish people, while others say the Israeli government and its supporters are deliberately confusing anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to avoid criticism.”
Immediately after that paragraph readers are provided with a link billed “Read more about the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism” which leads to a highly problematic and uncredited BBC backgrounder produced in late April 2016. As was noted here when that backgrounder was first published:
“…the article focuses on promoting the inaccurate and misleading notion that anti-Zionism is the same thing as expressing criticism of the policies and actions of the Israeli government. […] To make matters even worse, the article amplifies the ‘Zionism is racism’ canard and the ‘apartheid’ fabrication…”
That backgrounder also gives heavy promotion to the Livingstone Formulation, the purpose of which was described by the person who named it, David Hirsch, as follows:
“the use of the Livingstone Formulation is intended to make sure that the raising of the issue of anti-Semitism, when related to ‘criticism of Israel,’ remains or becomes a commonsense indicator of ‘Zionist’ bad faith and a faux pas in polite antiracist company.”
Lesley Klaff describes it as:
“…the practice of responding to claims of contemporary antisemitism by alleging that those making the claim are only doing so to prevent Israel from being criticised; in other words, they are ‘playing the antisemitism card.’”
The BBC has been promoting that device for over three years – for example:
Mainstreaming the Livingstone Formulation on BBC Radio 4
BBC promotes the Livingstone formulation – again
More promotion of the Livingstone Formulation from BBC News
BBC News ‘explanation’ of antisemitism promotes the Livingstone Formulation
Reviewing BBC Radio 4 coverage of Corbyn wreath laying story – part two
BBC R4 report on antisemitism in the US uses the Livingstone Formulation
Over the years we have documented here the BBC’s pretty gloomy record on preventing, identifying – and correcting – antisemitic discourse in its own content. One reason for that is that the BBC itself does not work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism. But despite its dismal record and the plethora of evidence illustrating that the BBC does not have the authority or the expertise – let alone the remit – to define antisemitism, it continues to produce unattributed backgrounders purporting to inform its audiences on that issue.
The recurring unquestioning amplification of the Livingstone Formulation – a device used exclusively by anti-Israel activists – in those backgrounders and in other BBC content obviously raises serious concerns about the BBC’s ability – and willingness – to inform audiences on this issue accurately and impartially.
BBC News tries – and fails – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism
BBC article on antisemitism report recycles problematic backgrounder