BBC R4’s ‘Sunday’ talks the talk on antisemitism

The Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, John Mann MP, was a guest on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ on August 9th. The item (available here from 05:21) was introduced by host William Crawley as follows:Sunday John Mann

WC: “Last week it was reported that the number of incidents of antisemitism in the UK is on the rise and a common analysis of that spike in anti-Jewish prejudice is the inability or unwillingness of some people to distinguish between the religion of Judaism and the politics of the state of Israel. But antisemitism has a longer history than comparatively recent disputes about the place of the Jewish state in the Middle East and that long history is surveyed in a new book – ‘Antisemitism: The Oldest Hatred’. Its author is the Labour MP John Mann who for the past ten years has chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.”

Listeners familiar with the BBC’s response to complaints concerning a reporter who, back in January, displayed precisely such “inability or unwillingness […] to distinguish between the religion of Judaism and the politics of the state of Israel” might have found Crawley’s detached description jarring.

Following John Mann’s explanation of why he wrote the book, Crawley came in again:

WC: “It’s complex sometimes because of the language and you point this out in the book: that sometimes people use language that covers…as a cover story…for antisemitism and it can be subtle; it can be difficult sometimes to recognize. Let’s explore that a bit, can we? Where do you see subtle forms of antisemitism today?” […]

JM: “The ways it creeps in that are distinctive and unusual are because of some of the caricatures of successful Jewish people. So concepts of wealth, of ownership – for example ownership of the media, ownership of business, control of countries – and not least the United States. That comes in a lot and it allows people – sometimes deliberately, more often, more ignorantly – to cross the border of what’s acceptable in terms of discourse […] and it’s this concept that the powerful Jew, the wealthy Jew, is used a lot. One example of how that is almost in the mainstream now: in the Baltics this is the imagery that’s there – similar to the imagery used by Goebbels and the Nazis – which is of this Jewish businessman-type figure, wealthy, controlling; a hidden influence who is malevolently affecting the future of society. That is used in the mainstream in the Baltics […] and to be honest, that’s quite extraordinary for part of the European Union.”

It is of course also quite extraordinary for the UK’s public broadcaster – but nevertheless, precisely such imagery was promoted in a BBC television programme on November 8th last year and the BBC failed to respond appropriately. Moreover, promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope and claims of Jewish and/or Israeli control of the United States have been documented on numerous occasions on these pages – see for example here, here, here, here and here.

Towards the end of the item, Crawley asks John Mann “how best to challenge the normalization of that kind of prejudice?” and the reply includes the following:

JM: “…you deal with your own backyard first. You deal with those in your own local community; you deal with those in your own workplace. In politics you deal with those in your own political party.”

Until the BBC begins to ‘walk the walk’ by seriously and frankly addressing its own issues concerning the mainstreaming of antisemitic discourse in its content and on its discussion boards, items such as this one can obviously only be viewed as cynical and opportunistic lip service to a very serious topic.

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Report of All-Party inquiry into Antisemitism adduces BBC content

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Report of All-Party inquiry into Antisemitism adduces BBC content

February 9th saw the publication of the Report of the All-Party Parliamentary inquiry into Antisemitism which was commissioned by John Mann MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

In the view of this writer, the report is not without issues and perhaps one of the more obvious is the absence of clarification of the connections of boycott campaigns against shops in the UK to the parent body behind those individual actions – the BDS movement. The resulting failure to identify the antisemitic aims of the BDS movement as a whole as well as those it inspires in individual cases of harassment of retailers constitutes a serious omission from this report.

As readers who have already had a chance to read the publication will be aware, several references are made to the BBC.  In the chapter titled ‘Traditional and Social Media’ (page 49 onwards), section 151 includes the following:BBC building

“…there was an overwhelming consensus amongst those that submitted evidence or gave personal testimony at the regional meetings we held, that the media, and in particular the BBC, had a role to play in whipping up anger through emotive content in the news and analysis that was broadcast. There was certainly a significant focus on the conflict. Using various analytical tools, Dr Ben Gidley found that there had been particularly intense coverage of protests and demonstrations against Israel and the conflict in general when compared to other countries and conflicts. He argued that the excessive focus on Israel in the media allows for inappropriate language to be used, although we discuss this in a later section.” [emphasis added]

Section 154 notes:

“An antisemitic trope about Jewish control of politicians referenced by a BBC journalist”.

The chapter titled ‘The Role of the Media’ appears from page 78 onwards.

Part five of the report is titled ‘Addressing Antisemitic Discourse’. Under the sub-heading ‘Accusations of Dual Loyalty and Malign Influence’ (page 104 onwards), section 376 notes that:

“References to and interest in the ‘Jewish lobby’ was not only a feature of political debate.[…] We were warned however of “the capacity of this sort of article to generate troubling stereotypes” given a reference to ‘the Jewish lobby’ was made when the article was discussed on the BBC News Channel. We note that the language used to collectively describe Jews was raised again in this regard in early 2015.”

The appended footnotes show that the first instance cited refers to a statement made by the BBC’s ‘political advisor’ on November 8th 2014 and that the second instance refers to the remarks made by Tim Willcox in Paris on January 11th 2015. 

There is, of course, a case for differentiating between these two statements broadcast by the BBC. Whilst the first one definitely did tap into the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope (with Tim Willcox later adding another age-old stereotype about ‘rich Jews’), the second one was different in that it held European Jews collectively responsible for the perceived actions of Israel. However, it is interesting to note that the report goes on to state:

“Leading figures and commentators in public life must be clear that it is inaccurate to use the term ‘Jewish lobby’ which used in this context is antisemitic and that there is nothing disreputable about the existence of an Israel lobby. Sadly, antisemitic stereotypes of Jewish influence and dual loyalty, albeit not as prolific as in other periods of modern British history, were used during Operation Protective Edge and afterwards and as Professor Feldman put it, emerged “from all points of the political spectrum”.”

It worth remembering  that complaints made by members of the public about the first of those comments were dismissed by the BBC, whilst complaints made about the second statement were dismissed by Ofcom and are currently pending investigation by the BBC’s ECU.

The references to BBC content in this report (which relates to a defined period of time) do not of course provide a comprehensive picture of the issue of antisemitic discourse in BBC content and on the corporation’s public message boards. Nevertheless, the BBC should obviously be very concerned by the fact that it appears at all in this report.