BBC News gives a whitewashed account of ‘controversial’ meeting in House of Lords

On October 27th the BBC News website’s UK Politics page ran an article headlined “Lib Dems suspend peer over controversial meeting“. Readers of the second version of the report were informed that:tonge-art

“A former Lib Dem MP has had her membership of the party suspended after chairing a meeting criticised as “shameful” by the Israeli embassy.

Baroness Tonge, who was already sitting as an independent peer, said she would now quit the party for good.”

Readers trying to understand why that meeting in the House of Lords was “controversial” and “shameful” had to make do with the following thirty-two word explanation:

“One person at the meeting reportedly compared Israel to so-called Islamic State. […]

The Jewish Chronicle reported that another audience member had implied an American rabbi had provoked Hitler into murdering Jews.”

A more comprehensive account of the proceedings is provided by David Collier, who was present at the event.

With regard to the purpose of the meeting, BBC News website readers were given the following vague description:

“The event, in the House of Lords, was organised by the Palestinian Return Centre as part of its campaign calling for the UK Government to “officially apologise for its past colonial crimes in Palestine”.”

In fact – as the PRC’s promotional material for the event clearly states – the meeting was part of an ongoing campaign by the PRC (and others – as the BBC has already partly reported) to get Britain to specifically ‘apologise’ for the Balfour Declaration rather than for any generalised “colonial crimes”.

“The Palestinian Return Centre is hosting an event inside the UK Parliament a week ahead of the 99th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration which will be on November 2nd. The Balfour Declaration, which had no basis of legal authority, promised the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, where the indigenous Palestinians amounted to 90% of the total population.

After the Balfour Declaration Palestine became the victim of colonialism and Britain’s legacy is still evident today as Palestinians continue to be denied the right to self-determination and suffer from living under military occupation or as refugees. As the 100th year since the Balfour declaration approaches, the Palestinian Return Centre has decided to re-launch its campaign which started in 2013 called Balfour Apology Campaign which asks the UK Government to officially apologies for its past colonial crimes in Palestine.”

The BBC’s portrayal of the aim of the event therefore conceals the real agenda of the campaign of which this meeting was part: an agenda recently described by David Horovitz at the Times of Israel.

“The Balfour Declaration sought to restore a Jewish homeland while respecting the interests of the non-Jews who share this land. Thirty years later, the UN set out a specific framework for achieving this. This was not acceptable to the Arabs of Palestine and those who spoke for them at the time, since their desire for a first-ever Palestinian state was outweighed by their hostility to the notion of a revived Jewish state alongside them. And it is all too evidently not acceptable to the Palestinian leadership now.

In declaring diplomatic and legal war on the Balfour Declaration, Palestinian leaders are telling the world — to their and our enduring misfortune — that nothing has changed in 100 years, that their opposition to our state in any borders remains greater than their desire for their own independent entity. A century later, they are affirming that their refusal to share any part of this land with the Jewish people remains absolute.”

Readers would of course also have been in a better position to understand that agenda had they been given any background information about the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) and told of its connections to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood or the additional activities of individuals connected to that London-based organisation which has been banned in Israel since 2010.

Neither were readers informed of Jenny Tonge’s record of previous collaboration with the PRC and its various spin-offs which, as the Times recently reported, included a 2009 PRC paid trip to Syria to meet Bashar al Assad.

“Lady Tonge accompanied Mr Corbyn on the PRC trip to Syria in 2009. Mr Corbyn used the visit to allege that “once again the Israeli tail wags the US dog”, an allegation popular with conspiracy theorists and antisemites. […]

The politicians met Assad and thanked him for housing half a million Palestinian refugees since 1948.”

Remarkably, this BBC report gives uncritical amplification to Jenny Tonge’s advancement of a well-worn trope concerning ‘powerful’ Jews:

“Speaking to the BBC, Baroness Tonge blamed the “power of the Israel lobby” and its sway over UK political parties for her suspension.”

As David Aaronovitch noted at the Sunday Times:

“Ten years ago the baroness did the old one about Jewish financial power in the form of “the pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips”. She got a reprimand from her party leader for it. Six years ago it was the ancient blood libel (Jews kill gentiles for their blood or body parts, see also under Shylock), when she demanded an inquiry into absurd allegations that an Israeli aid mission to Haiti was harvesting organs from Haitians. She lost a front bench job for that.”

One might therefore have expected the BBC to provide readers with some obviously relevant context concerning Tonge’s ignominious record of antisemitic statements – and to be able to recognise (and identify as such) a version of the Jewish lobby trope before promoting it in a quote. But sadly, the BBC’s own record on that particular topic has long been disturbingly dismal.

Related Articles:

BBC News, PA Balfour agitprop and British history

Jenny Tonge & the Hamas Lobby

BBC whitewashes Jenny Tonge

Hamas entryism at the UN

The UN, the PRC and Hamas: a postscript with a twist

Weekend long read

1) At the Jewish News, Dave Rich comments on the UK Parliament Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism which was published earlier this month.Weekend Read

“However, it would be a grave error to be complacent, and the report points out exactly why. Some police forces still do not appear to record anti-Semitic hate crime properly. The amount of hate and abuse on social media is enormous and nobody – not the social media companies themselves, nor the police or CPS – has yet found a solution to it.

The National Union of Students comes in for particular criticism, and rightly so: Jewish students need to be allowed to lead the campaign against anti-Semitism on campus, rather than being preached to about what is, and isn’t, anti-Semitic.”

2) Ben Cohen brings us another review of Dave Rich’s very timely new book titled “The Left’s Jewish Problem” at the Tower.

“Rich makes a persuasive case that the Young Liberal model of anti-Zionism—in essence, uncritical support of Palestinian discourse and political and military actions—enjoyed an impact on British views on the Palestinian question that continues today. It certainly exercised a greater appeal upon activists like Ghada Karmi, as well as the parliamentarians who took up the Palestinian cause in growing numbers during the 1970s. As Rich says,

‘In the 1970s, groups like Palestine Action, the Palestine Solidarity campaign and the Free Palestine newspaper helped to establish the notion that Fatah and other Palestinian factions had the right to use violence, although they sometimes differed over the precise tactics used. Since then, attitudes ranging from sympathy for the motivations of terrorists to outright justification for their actions have spread beyond the radical left to become commonplace in mainstream left-wing and liberal thought.’

However, while this model of anti-Zionism studiously avoided Marxist critiques of the PLO and the Arab regimes as well as the possibilities for revolution within Israel, it did drift into discussions that were arguably more bizarre and certainly more disturbing than the notion of a socialist federation of Arab and Israeli workers. This is where Rich’s second decisive contribution comes to fore, in his discussion of the British Left’s attitude towards the Holocaust.”

Read the whole review here.

3) Writing at the Guardian, Howard Jacobson also discusses the implications of the Home Affairs Select Committee report.

“The mantra bedevilling reasonable conversation about Israel is that the Jews have only one motive in labelling anti-Zionism antisemitic and that is to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel. This assertion defames Jews, the majority of whom, in my experience, take issue not with the idea of legitimate criticism, but with what in any given instance “legitimacy” amounts to. Criticism is not an inviolable concept. It can be moderate or extreme, truthful or mendacious, well-intentioned or malign. To complain when it is unjust is not to shut down debate. It cannot be exorbitant to argue that what will determine whether criticism of Israel is antisemitic is the nature of the criticism.

The effect of a libel is to exhaust trust. It should not be automatically assumed that, when it comes to Israel, Jews are incapable of arguing honestly, an assumption that itself edges dangerously close to the racism that is being denied. We need to separate this from that. No, “legitimate” (that is to say fair and honest) criticism of Israel as a nation among nations does not amount to antisemitism. Anti-Zionism, on the other hand – the repudiation of Israel’s right to exist – almost invariably does.”

4) Also in relation to the Home Affairs Select Committee report, at the Huffington Post, Elliot Miller argues that “When It Comes To Antisemitism, The NUS Just Doesn’t Get It“.

“Unsurprisingly, the HASC report’s section on campus antisemitism refers to the well-known comments of NUS President Malia Bouattia, in which she described the University of Birmingham as a “Zionist Outpost.” The committee’s MPs have concluded that such behaviour – among many other incidents – smacks of outright racism. This is not to mention the scathing conclusion that Bouatia appeared not to have taken campus antisemitism “sufficiently seriously.” […]

While the report has admirably tried to draw attention to a generally ignored issue, the response to it among the student movement has not been encouraging. One open letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee in support of Malia Bouattia – signed by over 150 student leaders – encapsulates the problem of antisemitism among the student left.” 

BBC article on antisemitism report recycles problematic backgrounder

Following the publication of the UK Parliament Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism on October 16th, a relatively long article appeared on the UK politics page of the BBC News website under the headline “Jeremy Corbyn’s response to anti-Semitism in Labour criticised by MPs“.ha-select-comm-report-art

20.9% of the article’s 1,007 words are describe the report’s criticism of the response to antisemitism within the Labour Party while reactions to that criticism from Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone take up 14.3% of the word count.  The committee’s criticism of the failure of Twitter to combat antisemitism on its platform is described in 7.5% of the article’s word count and 4.5% describes the report’s criticism of the National Union of Students president.

Towards the end of the article, readers are given a superficial account of two aspects of the report.

“The report expressed concern about use of the word “Zionist”, saying “use of the word in an accusatory context should be considered inflammatory and potentially anti-Semitic”.”

In its conclusions the actual report states:

“‘Zionism’ as a concept remains a valid topic for academic and political debate, both within and outside Israel. The word ‘Zionist’ (or worse, ‘Zio’) as a term of abuse, however, has no place in a civilised society. It has been tarnished by its repeated use in antisemitic and aggressive contexts. Antisemites frequently use the word ‘Zionist’ when they are in fact referring to Jews, whether in Israel or elsewhere. Those claiming to be “anti-Zionist, not antisemitic”, should do so in the knowledge that 59% of British Jewish people consider themselves to be Zionists. If these individuals genuinely mean only to criticise the policies of the Government of Israel, and have no intention to offend British Jewish people, they should criticise “the Israeli Government”, and not “Zionists”. For the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially antisemitic. This should be communicated by the Government and political parties to those responsible for determining whether or not an incident should be regarded as antisemitic.”

The BBC article also tells readers:

“But it [the report] did say free speech should be allowed on the Palestinian issue, saying it was not anti-Semitic to criticise actions of the Israeli government.”

However that is just part of the story – as Professor Alan Johnson notes at the Telegraph:

“The Committee is very clear about two things. First, criticism of Israel is absolutely acceptable. Second, vile demonisation and conspiracism, with its cartoons dripping in blood and its hook noses and its wild claims of global domination and its Nazi comparisons is not “criticism of Israel”.”

The report itself states:

ha-select-comm-report-crtiticism-israel

Crucially, the IHRA definition of antisemitism recommended by the committee (which was adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s 31 member countries earlier this year) includes the following example of a manifestation of antisemitism often prevalent among those active “on the Palestinian issue”:

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”ha-select-comm-art-related-reading

This BBC article twice offers readers the same ‘related article’ titled “What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?”.

As was noted here when that ‘backgrounder’ first appeared, its problematic aspects (which, regrettably, have not been addressed since publication) include promotion of the Livingstone Formulation.

We have in the past noted here the need for the BBC to work according to a recognised definition of antisemitism in order to prevent the appearance of antisemitic discourse in its own content as well as on its comments boards and social media chatrooms and such a proposal was included in BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS public consultation on the renewal of the BBC’s charter.

In light of the Home Affairs Select Committee recommendation, it would of course be appropriate for the BBC and OFCOM to now adopt the IHRC working definition of antisemitism.

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Tablet, Tony Badran asks “why hasn’t the [US] administration done anything about Syria, and won’t?”.  

“Recently, portions of the strategic-communications façade erected by the administration have started to crumble, allowing interested analysts and members of the public to see the administration’s actual policy more clearly. In a recent interview, Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon revealed that in 2013, Iran told President Obama that if he were to strike the regime of Bashar Assad following the latter’s chemical-weapons attack, the Iranians would collapse the talks over their nuclear program. Obama canceled the strike, of course, and later reassured Iran that the United States would not touch Assad. Solomon’s reporting confirms a critical fact about Obama’s Iran and Syria policies: They are one and the same. Or, stated differently, Syria is part of the price for the president’s deal with Iran.”

2) The Times of Israel has an interesting interview with Professor Monika Schwarz-Friesel on the topic of antisemitism on the internet and in European discourse.Weekend Read

“A psychologist, linguist and professor of cognitive science at the Technical University of Berlin, Schwarz-Friesel is one of the most quoted experts on anti-Semitism in both international academic literature and the German media.

In her numerous publications she analyzes and exposes new manifestations of old anti-Semitic sentiments — disguised though they might be — employing much of the same Jew-hatred that has been shaping European discourse throughout the years, even when officially outlawed.

These analyses are evidence that recent anti-Israeli tropes demonizing the Jewish state are actually work-arounds of old anti-Semitic sentiments that have been with us for two millennia.”

3) The CST has produced a handy guide to definitions of antisemitism currently in use.

4) Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave an address titled “The Mutating Virus: Understanding Antisemitism” at a conference at the European Parliament last month.  

“Antisemitism is not about Jews. It is about anti-Semites. It is about people who cannot accept responsibility for their own failures and have instead to blame someone else. Historically, if you were a Christian at the time of the Crusades, or a German after the First World War, and saw that the world hadn’t turned out the way you believed it would, you blamed the Jews. That is what is happening today. And I cannot begin to say how dangerous it is. Not just to Jews but to everyone who values freedom, compassion and humanity.”

5) Adam Bienkov reports on the Momentum view of the British media – including the BBC.

“There must be a “socialist” solution to media ownership in the UK, Unite’s chief of staff insisted last night.

Speaking at a Momentum meeting on “Jeremy Corbyn and media bias,” Andrew Murray said there had to be a “change in ownership” away from the “tax exiles and ne’er-do-wells” who currently own most newspapers and broadcast media. […]

He added that any socialist solution to media bias against Corbyn must include the BBC.

“[There is] a narrow clique at the top of the BBC increasingly controlled and appointed by government,” which needed to be removed, he insisted.

Murray singled out the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg for criticism.” […]

A representative from the Corbyn-supporting ‘Media Response Unit’ called for Momentum to engage in mass complaints against the broadcaster.

“We’re building an army at Momentum so let’s use it,” he told the meeting. 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 fails to clarify the agenda of the BDS campaign and the PSC

The September 18th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday‘ included an item (from 11:54 here) described as follows in the synopsis:sunday-18-9-bod-ujs

“Jewish students fight the movement for sanctions against Israel”.

Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item with a specious portrayal of the purpose of the BDS campaign.

“Most universities begin the new academic year around this time. The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Union of Jewish Students are marking the moment by sending round advice on how to combat the activities of the Boycott, Disinvestment [sic] Sanctions movement – or BDS – which, in the words of its website, urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law. We’re joined by Joel Salmon, the Board of Deputies Parliamentary Officer, and Ben Jamal who next month will take up the post of director of the Palestinian [sic] Solidarity Campaign.” [emphasis added]

The majority of listeners would of course lack the knowledge needed to appreciate just how inaccurate and misleading Stourton’s portrayal is because the BBC consistently refrains from informing its audiences that what the BDS campaign really seeks to achieve is the demise of the Jewish state. Moreover, the corporation has even shrugged off the responsibility to clarify the BDS agenda in its frequent amplification of that campaign.

In addition, listeners to this item were not informed of the “particular viewpoint” of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality demand before they heard the fallacious framing of the BDS campaign from Ben Jamal, who previously headed the PSC’s Richmond and Kingston branch.

“…I think what we’d also all want students to do is to engage in and to be involved in discussion and activism around human rights and issues of social and international justice.”

“And I think boycott – as I understand it – is a non-violent tactic that throughout history has been used by those defending human rights and fighting against oppression.”

“…this is the tactic for example that Gandhi used to oppose Britain’s violation of rights in India. It’s the tactic that Martin Luther King used to oppose segregation and it’s the tactic that Nelson Mandela used to defend the rights of black South Africans. I take Gandhi’s framing of boycott. In a way it’s a form of dialogue. It’s a way of saying to someone ‘I respect your humanity but I will not cooperate or give my political or economic support to what you are doing’.”

The uninformed listener would hence not be capable of putting Jamal’s portrayal of the specific BoD/UJS handout which is the subject of the item into its appropriate context or understanding that the undertone of the Livingstone Formulation that portrayal includes is not apparently by chance.

“One of the concerns I’ve got at the leaflet or pamphlet that’s been produced is it’s part of an attempt I think to reframe a tactic of boycott as something that is inherently divisive, hostile or at worst extremist or even quasi-violent.”

“I think my concern is this is an attempt to frame any advocacy of boycott or any criticism of Israel as inherently hostile.”

Clearly the predictable absence of adequate explanation of the BDS campaign’s true agenda in this item once again undermined the BBC’s public purpose remit of enhancing audience awareness and understanding of the issue in general and certainly did nothing to contribute to the general public’s comprehension of the very serious problem of antisemitism on the campuses of UK universities.

Weekend long read

1) At the JCPA, Yoni Ben Mehachem takes a look at a topic much neglected by the BBC: Fatah’s internal politics.Weekend Read

“The succession battle in the Palestinian Authority has become very elemental since Mahmoud Abbas rejected the request of four Arab states – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – to mend fences with his bitter rival Muhammad Dahlan. Some of those states want to see Dahlan as the next PA chairman.

Although some in Fatah view Abbas’ rejection of the Arab request as an act of “political suicide,” Abbas does not show signs of stress. At the urging of Egypt and Jordan, which fear Hamas, he called off the elections in the territories and consented to a return to Fatah by some of Dahlan’s people. As far as Abbas is concerned, he has complied with most of Egypt and Jordan’s requests. Yet, still, he is not prepared to countenance Muhammad Dahlan.”

2) The Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff reports on another Palestinian succession battle likewise ignored by the BBC to date.

“Many people consider Haniyeh the leading candidate to succeed incumbent Khaled Mashaal, 60, primarily because of where he lives — Gaza. Running against him is Moussa Abu Marzouk, 65, who already was the head of the political wing (1992-7), is now Mashaal’s deputy (along with Haniyeh), and is considered a close associate of groups belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood’s global network.

There is a third candidate, too, well known to every Hamas activist in Gaza, the West Bank, and abroad. His name is Khaled Mashaal.

As Palestinian commentators point out, Hamas’s constitution prevents Mashaal being re-elected again. But anything is possible when it comes to Mashaal (Abu al-Walid), who has held the post for 20 years. Hamas may have a hard time saying goodbye to him, almost as hard as Mashaal would have in saying goodbye to the job. As head of Hamas’s political wing, he enjoys extraordinary status not only among the Palestinians but also throughout the Middle East and the Muslim states. He and his relatives are believed to have accrued considerable property and wealth in Qatar.

Will he be prepared to step down? Quite a few experts doubt it.

And quite a few experts question whether the Hamas election process is going to much resemble democracy in the first place.”

3) At the Washington Post Professor Eugene Kontorovich writes about “Why the U.N.’s Israel obsession should worry even people who don’t care about Israel”.

“Everyone knows the U.N. spends a disproportionate time on Israel, but the data reveal that even within resolutions, it uses a unique legal vocabulary for the Jewish state. The scale of the difference is quite striking. […]

Since 1967, General Assembly resolutions have referred to Israeli-held territories as “occupied” 2,342 times, while the territories mentioned above are referred to as “occupied” a mere 16 times combined… Similarly, Security Council resolutions refer to the disputed territories in the Israeli-Arab conflict as “occupied” 31 times, but only a total of five times in reference to all seven other conflicts combined.”

4) Fathom has an interesting article titled “Othering Zionism: theoretical affinities between Islamists and the Anti-Zionist Left”.

“The political alliances between Islamist organisations and the anti-Zionist Left rests on an underlying theoretical compatibility, argues Sapan Maini-Thompson. He examines their shared ideological schema in which Jews appear only as alien, racist, colonial interlopers in the region while Islamist and even anti-Semitic ‘resistance’ movements are coded as authentic and so progressive.”

5) At the Tower, Professor Gerald Steinberg reflects on the fifteen years since the Durban Conference.

“For many observers, the “Durban Strategy” marked the coming-out party for a “new anti-Semitism.” Unlike more traditional forms of anti-Semitism, which were by nature more overtly religious or racial in their blatant discrimination towards Jews, new anti-Semitism conceals the millennia-old hatred in a contemporary package, one better suited for a 21st-century audience. This anti-Semitism exploits the language of universal human rights and civil society, with NGOs publishing false and distorted allegations regarding Israel, and creating and maintaining double standards that apply only to a single country. New anti-Semitism goes well beyond any notion of legitimate criticism of Israel and its policies, and instead promulgates hateful vilification of the country, its people, and its Jewish character.”

BBC current affairs revisits antisemitism and anti-Zionism – part two

As was documented in part one of this post, on September 7th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard a rare explanation of why some forms of anti-Zionism are antisemitism from professor of history and Holocaust studies Yehuda Bauer.oz-clip

The following week, on September 13th, viewers of BBC’s Two’s ‘Newsnight’ saw Israeli author Amos Oz make the same point in an interview with Kirsty Wark.

A clip from the programme was also posted on the BBC News website and a written article about the interview appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘World’ page on September 14th under the title “Amos Oz: Saying Israel should not exist is anti-Semitic“.

“One of Israel’s great living writers, Amos Oz, says people who say Israel should not exist are anti-Semitic.

Speaking in an interview with BBC Newsnight, he said strong criticism of Israel is legitimate, but to argue there should be no Israel “that’s where anti-Zionism becomes anti-Semitism”.” […]

“In recent months, the Labour Party in the UK has been embroiled in a row over anti-Semitism, and whether the party has a problem on the issue.

Oz told Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark: “I can tell you exactly where I draw the line. If people call Israel nasty, I to some degree agree. If people call Israel the devil incarnated, I think they are obsessed – they are mad. But this is still legitimate.”

“But if they carry on saying that therefore there should be no Israel, that’s where anti-Zionism becomes anti-Semitism, because none of them ever said after Hitler that Germany should cease to exist, or after Stalin that there should be no Russia.”

“Saying that Israel should cease to exist, or should not have come into being, this is crossing the line.””

One can of course disagree with some of the analogies chosen by Amos Oz but nevertheless, it is worth noting that BBC audiences rarely see the connection between anti-Zionism and antisemitism explained and that in contemporary Britain it is far from rare to hear people “saying that Israel should cease to exist”.oz-written

The subject of BDS was also raised in the ‘Newsnight’ interview and in the written article.

“In February 2015, hundreds of UK artists signed a letter announcing they would take part in a cultural boycott of Israel. They said they would not accept professional invitations to Israel, or take any funding from organisations linked to the government.

Other prominent artists – including writer JK Rowling and historian Simon Schama – later criticised the move as “divisive and discriminatory”.

Oz told Newsnight he believes cultural boycotts of Israel are counter-productive.”

As has been documented here on many occasions, despite its frequent promotion of the BDS campaign the BBC has to date failed to inform its audiences of its full agenda and that it is in fact one of those voices “saying that there should be no Israel”.  Hence, BBC audiences would be unlikely to understand the link between the BDS campaign and the form of antisemitism explained by Amoz Oz – and earlier by Yehuda Bauer – in these two rare interviews.

Regrettably, the BBC did not make the most of the opportunity to clarify that point to its audiences and thereby contribute to meeting its remit of building “a global understanding of international issues”.

Related articles:

BBC News tries – and fails – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism

BBC current affairs revisits antisemitism and anti-Zionism – part one

BBC current affairs revisits antisemitism and anti-Zionism – part one

Readers may recall that earlier this year, as antisemitism scandals plagued the UK Labour Party, the BBC produced a distinctly unhelpful backgrounder titled “What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?“. At the time we noted that:antizionism art

“One might of course argue that the BBC’s public purpose remit – which includes “sustaining citizenship and civil society” and “promoting education and learning” – should have gone some way towards both preventing the appearance of antisemitic discourse in its own content and helping raise the British public’s awareness of antisemitism, thereby ensuring that ideologies such as those which have brought the Labour party into disrepute of late would be relegated to the status they deserve rather than becoming so commonplace within a mainstream British political party.”

With those scandals showing no sign of subsiding, earlier this month the BBC revisted the topic in two separate interviews. Given that discussion of antisemitism and anti-Zionism in Britain quite frequently boils down to non-Jews telling Jews what antisemitism is (or more often – what it is not), it was refreshing to see BBC audiences provided with a chance to hear Jewish Israeli voices.

The September 7th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an interview (from 02:44:10 here) with Professor Yehuda Bauer which was introduced as follows by presenter – and former BBC political editor – Nick Robinson. [all emphasis in bold added]

NR: “When does criticism of Israel amount to antisemitism? – if it ever does. That’s the question that’s been asked ever since Ken Livingstone – a regular and robust critic of the State of Israel – was suspended from the party for claiming that Hitler had supported Zionism before he went mad. Zionism, of course: the movement which led to the creation of a national home for the Jewish people. This week Mr Livingstone quoted a pamphlet from the Holocaust Memorial in Israel – Yad Vashem – in his defence.”

The “question” of course precedes Livingstone’s original remarks but those unfamiliar with that latter story can find more details here. Robinson continued:

“Well Yehudi [sic] Bauer is in London at the moment. He’s chair of the Yad Vashem Institute and professor emeritus of history and Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Good morning to you Professor. […] Let’s begin with Ken Livingstone’s words if we can and then we’ll widen our discussion. He says – Mr Livingstone – if you go to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel, one of the pamphlets they sell to tourists there is one that talks about the deal done between Hitler and the Zionists in the 1930s, so it must be true, he says.

Yehuda Bauer replied:

“Well, I don’t want to relate to the person who said it but to the content of the things. You see what happened was that when the Nazis got to power the idea was to expel or deport or in some ways get rid of all the Jews in Germany – not only deny them citizenship but actually expel them. So they should go anywhere possible. And that was supported by the Nazi party. The Zionist movement at that time wanted to rescue the Jews of Germany and wanted to get as many out of there as possible. So a deal was struck in August 1933 – which lasted for about five and a half years – to export goods from Germany with the people who bought them in Germany, to Palestine. This is part of an effort of German Jews to leave Germany because of the policies of the Nazi government. “

Robinson: “But if Hitler, as it were, and other Nazis wanted Jews to move to what was going to become Israel, is it right to then say ‘ah well, he was supporting Zionism’?”

Bauer: “No he wasn’t. In fact the Nazi foreign office – as anyone who has studied the material knows – opposed Zionism radically. When the British government supported a partition of Palestine between Arab and Jewish states in 1937, 38, 39, all German diplomats in the world got instructions to oppose any kind of Jewish state in Palestine. There was a contradiction in the policies of the Nazis. On the one hand they wanted to get rid of all the Jews and on the other hand, to one of the major places where they could go at the time, they opposed the establishment of a Jewish state.”

Robinson: “OK.”

Bauer: “In other words, they were violently anti-Zionist but to get rid of the Jews was the priority…”

Robinson [interrupts] “OK but that…”

Bauer: “For Jews this was an essential way in order to rescue people from Germany.”

Listeners then heard the following post-factual framing of Bauer’s explanation:today-7-9-bauer

Robinson:  “That’s the history, as it were, and historians can debate it and discuss…”

Bauer: “No, no – that’s a fact.”

Robinson: “OK, understood. But why I was putting it that way is I wanted to take you one stage further and then say if people challenge those facts – as you call them – does that then make them antisemitic – or in effect racist – rather than people who just don’t understand the history properly?”

Bauer: “Well you see criticism of any Israeli government’s policies is certainly not antisemitism. If I criticise any kind of British government – for instance during the Thatcher period – that doesn’t make me an anti-British person.”

Robinson: “So when does it become antisemitism?”

Bauer: “It becomes antisemitism the moment people say ‘well 1948 – the establishment of a Jewish state – was a mistake’. Mistakes have to be corrected and the only way to correct that so-called mistake would be to annihilate Israel – which means actually that the people who advocate such views are on the verge of being genocidal – intentionally or unintentionally – genocidal propagandists.”

Robinson: “But isn’t it possible for me – or anybody else – to argue that I do think it was a mistake to create the State of Israel but I might have no intention at all of wiping it off the map or indeed persecuting the Jewish people?”

Bauer: “No; if you oppose the policies of the present or any past or future Israeli government – whether that’s towards the Palestinians or anything else – that’s certainly not antisemitism. Antisemitism begins the moment you say the Jews have no right to have a separate political existence as a people.”

Robinson: “Yehudi [sic] Bauer; your talk is tonight in London. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.”

It is of course impossible to determine whether or not that interview succeeded in fulfilling its apparent purpose of helping BBC Radio 4 audiences to understand the inaccuracy of Ken Livingstone’s claims but certainly that purpose was not helped by Nick Robinson’s introduction of post-factual framing.

Nevertheless, it is very rare for BBC audiences to hear a clear and concise explanation of why some forms of anti-Zionism are expressions of antisemitism and surprisingly – as we will see in part two of this post – they heard another such explanation just a week later.

Related articles:

BBC News tries – and fails – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism

 

Weekend long read

 

1) At Engage, Sarah Brown reviews a new book titled “The Left’s Jewish Problem” by the CST’s Dave Rich.Weekend Read

“Many of today’s familiar anti-Israel tropes began to circulate in the late 1950s and 1960s. The PLO compared Zionism to Nazism and the Algerian National Liberation Front blamed Israel’s creation on the monopoly of finance and media held by ‘magnate Jews’. Rich explains in detail how another trope – the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa – gained so much traction. Surprisingly, the Young Liberals play a major part in this story. The relationship between this group and the wider Liberal Party was bizarrely disjunctive in the 1960s. Their vice-chairman Bernard Greaves, for example, ‘dismiss[ed] Parliament as a hindrance to “the revolutionary transformation of society”’.

Some members flirted with Communism and others engaged in violent direct action as part of their campaign against apartheid. Among the key players was Peter Hellyer, Vice-Chairman of the Young Liberals. Through his campaigning he made connections with Palestinian and other Arab activists and this political environment exposed him to Soviet and Egyptian anti-Zionist – and antisemitic – propaganda. As Rich explains, the Soviet Union was a particularly important vector for anti-Zionist discourse. Examining these 1960s networks, and the way ideas circulated within them (rather like tracing the transmission of a virus) helps explain not just the preoccupations of today’s left but the precise arguments and images they instinctively reach for.”

2) Nick Cohen’s review of the same book can be found here.

“Anti-fascism died when Islamist utopianism annihilated socialist utopianism. At a pro-Palestinian rally in the 20th century, you would hear dreams of a future where the Arab and Jewish working classes would unite in a common homeland. By contrast, at a pro-Palestinian rally led by Corbyn in 2002, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood handed out newspapers instructing marchers that man was on Earth to serve God, and Muslims and non-Muslims could not be treated equally in an Islamic state. All of a sudden, and without anything resembling a debate, the loudest voices in the British and world left were on the side of men whose prejudices, not only against Jews, but against women, homosexuals, secular societies, and human rights, combined the worst theology of the seventh century with the worst ideology of the 20th.”

3) Not unrelatedly, Jamie Palmer examines the question of “Why Doesn’t the Western Left Listen to Palestinians?”.

“The Holocaust, the Six Day War, and the PLO terror campaign of the 1970s are receding in living memory. Subsequent generations grew up watching television news reports of Israeli tanks pounding Beirut in the early 80s and stone-throwers confronting armed soldiers during the first intifada. The Left has tended to understand these images and events using an anti-imperialist and post-colonial lens that ennobles victimhood and romanticizes violent struggle.

The upshot has been the infantilization of a people whose suffering is perceived to be somehow apolitical. What Palestinians do or say is simply an expression of enraged frustration and an inevitable consequence of oppression. If Palestinian public figures incite the murder of Jews in unequivocal terms, it is to be expected, if not exactly justified. If Palestinian politics and society are dysfunctional, it is because they are laboring under occupation. If Palestinians denounce the peace process, it is because they are tired of Israeli intransigence.

It is seldom allowed that Palestinians are thinking, speaking, and acting of their own volition or in pursuit of a counter-productive and racist agenda, which does not align with the Left’s expectations and assumptions. Behind the Left’s generalities, the specifics of what this-or-that Palestinian official, newspaper, or terrorist said are therefore irrelevant. Israel is the occupying power, ergo only Israel and Israelis are capable of moral responsibility and deserving of censure.”

4) Professor Eugene Kontorovich has published a new paper titled “Unsettled: A Global Study of Settlements in Occupied Territories”.

“…international law scholars, like lawyers generally, do not try to tease legal rules out of one particular case, but try to discern the pattern in the entire set of cases. Making law from one case risks serious error.

Yet that is exactly what happens with Art. 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the provision that, loosely speaking, restricts settlements in occupied territory. The provision itself is quite obscure and has never been applied in any war crimes case. Thus, looking at state practice would be particularly useful to understand the scope of its meaning.

Yet scholars and humanitarian groups have only sought to understand its meaning through the lens of one case, that of Israel. If there were no other situations to look at, this would be understandable. But, as I show in my new research paper, settlement activity is fairly ubiquitous in occupations of contiguous territory. Yet state practice in these other situations has not been used to inform an understanding of the meaning of Art. 49(6).”

A link to the paper can be found here

 

 

Dual-loyalty slur and conspiracy theory go unchallenged on BBC Radio 4

h/t JG

The August 9th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ included an item (from 23:05 here) concerning the US elections which focused on the story of a letter from a group of former national security officials stating that they would not vote for Donald Trump. Presenter Martha Kearney interviewed one of the letter’s signatories – former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden – before moving on to speak to another interviewee (from 28:35) who was introduced as follows:World at One 9 8

MK: “Well listening to that was Dr Michael Sheuer who was a CIA officer for 22 years and has endorsed Donald Trump for presidency.”

From around 32:28, listeners heard the following:

Michael Sheuer: “The people that signed that letter, ma’am, if you go down the list they’re the ones who want America to be intervening everywhere around the world. They’re the new world order people. You know; is that what Bush called it? The new world order I guess; yeah. They’re the ones who brought us all of these unnecessary wars. If you go down the list there’s also about 30 people who prize the interests of Israel more than the interests of the United States and that’s the real rub for a lot of them.”

Martha Kearney: “Mmm…”

Michael Sheuer: “That’s a real rub for the Republicans: that America is no longer going to get involved fighting Israel’s wars.”

Without challenging the dual loyalty slur with antisemitic roots or the “fighting Israel’s wars” falsehood, Kearney then wrapped up the item as follows: “Dr Michael Sheuer – many thanks for joining us.”

It takes less than ten minutes on the internet to get the measure of Michael Sheuer’s ideologies. His habit of blaming Israel for terrorism in America, his promotion of the notion of an ‘Israel lobby’ and his unfounded claim that “[t]he Israel-firsters started the Iraq war” are amply advertised online.

We do not of course know whether or not the ‘World at One’ production team bothered to invest any time in researching – even on Wikipedia – the person they chose to ask for an interview. What we do know is that when Sheuer went predictably off-topic and introduced his pet subject of Israel into the conversation, his slurs and conspiracy theories went entirely unchallenged, with the result that Radio 4 listeners were misled.