BBC Ideas tries – and fails – to explain ‘the root causes’ of antisemitism

Over the past three and a half years we have repeatedly documented the BBC’s dismal attempts to explain antisemitism to its audiences:

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

BBC News ‘explanation’ of antisemitism promotes the Livingstone Formulation

BBC article on antisemitism report recycles problematic backgrounder

BBC again ignores the existence of accepted definitions of antisemitism

Another BBC antisemitism backgrounder promotes Livingstone Formulation

Another item in that genre appeared on the ‘BBC Ideas’ platform on December 20th – the same platform which in July of this year asked “is Zionism wrong?”.

Titled “Why are people anti-Semitic?”, the video – produced By BBC Northern Ireland – is one of a four-part series called “Prejudice Unpacked”.

“Why do people hold prejudices – like racism, homophobia and sexism? We explore some of the root causes.”

BBC Northern Ireland apparently concluded that the most qualified person to “explore some of the root causes” of antisemitism and help the public understand that form of racism is not an expert on the topic such as Dr Dave Rich, but an American Jewish stand-up comedian.

“As part of our series on the root causes of various forms of prejudice, US comedian Alex Edelman explores what’s behind anti-Semitism.”

The video – which is just over four and a half minutes long and is plagued by bad sound – opens with Edelman’s opinions on antisemitism in the UK. [emphasis in italics in the original]

“I think in the UK people are just sort of reckoning now with the existence of antisemitism and I think that that sort of self-interrogation is very difficult for people. I think it’s an identity crisis in the UK. People understand that antisemitism does in fact exist.”

Those who have been battling antisemitism in the UK for the past four years and longer may of course disagree with that diagnosis.

Viewers are told that Edelman “believes it’s important to understand anti-semitism in order to eradicate it” but the information which would promote such understanding is not evident in this film. Audiences hear that Edelman has personally experienced antisemitism – with no further details given – from different kinds of people and that it is “not restricted to one party or gender or race”.

However the two examples given – a late 1950’s newsreel of a swastika daubed on a synagogue in Leeds and a 2018 speech by Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban – both come from one side of the political map and viewers do not see any examples of antisemitism on the ‘progressive’ Left. 

A significant part of the video is devoted to the topic of Israel – which viewers are told is “a very complicated issue”.

“I think Jews get bludgeoned with Israel. I think Israel is like a very weird lead pipe for a lot of people. They’re just like ‘oh you’re Jewish so explain this Israeli policy’. And you’re like ‘well I don’t know if I 100% agree with that policy because, you know, I’m a person with complicated political views’. And then they’re like ‘well then, do you think Israel shouldn’t exist?’ and you’re like ‘no that’s not what I said either’. Like, Israel is a very complicated issue and it is the only sort of Jewish homeland on earth so for that reason Jews do have a special affiliation with it and it is a place by the way where I…I love my time in Israel ‘cos it is one of the only places where I do not feel ‘other’ for being Jewish.”

Having made sure to clarify that he has “taken issue with, you know, many of [Israel’s] policies” Edelman states that he thinks that:

“…Israel is used as a complete mask for anti-semitism sometimes or it’s used to justify anti-semitism.”

Viewers are not provided with any examples of how that device manifests itself.

Edelman spends the last part of the video telling the audience that there are many different kinds of Jews.

“And, you know, if you think all Jews are sort of powerful and educated and rich, I have a bunch of cousins that you should meet…”

Obviously this exercise contributed very little indeed to audience understanding of the “root causes” of antisemitism – not least because little effort was made to explain the many ways in which that form of racism manifests itself beyond the rather obvious daubing of a swastika on a synagogue, the use of “1930s rhetoric” and something “complicated” connected to Israel.

Once again we see that the BBC’s efforts to address the issue of antisemitism in British society continue to fall far short but that nevertheless – despite its own 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 insist on producing content purporting to inform its audiences on that issue.

Related Articles:

In which the BBC asks ‘is Zionism wrong?’

A historian reviews a BBC ‘history’ video

h/t JC

Back in July we documented the appearance of a highly problematic video titled “What is Zionism? A very brief history” which appeared on the BBC’s ‘Ideas’ platform and on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page, where it remained for fourteen consecutive days.

In which the BBC asks ‘is Zionism wrong?’

The Jerusalem Post has published a critique of the same video by Dr Roza I. M. El-Eini – a specialist in British Mandate Palestine and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

“…Shindler’s presentation on Zionism is so desiccated, so unsympathetic and ridiculing of the Jewish plight and of the Jews’ desperate desire for national self-determination, for Am Israel Chai, that, by any standards, it is unworthy of critique. However, since Shindler prepared this for no less a public organization than the BBC, with its vast and sprawling network across the internet and the world, and proudly puts it on his own website, it has to be scrutinized for what it is and a record of this scrutiny is here made.”

Read the rest of the critique here.

In which the BBC asks ‘is Zionism wrong?’

On July 23rd the BBC put out a short video titled “What is Zionism? A very brief history” on its ‘Ideas’ platform.

“Confused about what Zionism actually is? Here’s a three-minute history from SOAS professor, historian and author, Colin Shindler.”

The same video also subsequently appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page. 

The film – made by an external company called Somethin’ Else – begins by giving equal weight to a definition and an outright falsehood. [emphasis in bold added, punctuation in the original]

“For its supporters, Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. For its opponents, it is a means to establish a settler-colonial state in the developing world.”

It goes on:

“Theodor Herzl, a Viennese journalist and playwright, founded the modern Zionist movement in 1897. Yet many orthodox Jews strongly opposed the rise of Zionism. They believed that the Jews would only return to Zion, the land promised by God to the Jews in the Hebrew Bible, with the eventual coming of the Messiah. Jews should not therefore force God’s hand.”

While the First Zionist Congress was indeed held in 1897, it is inaccurate to present Zionism as having come into being in that year and that portrayal erases the First Aliyah which of course included orthodox Jews.

“There were may types of Zionist – Marxist, religious and nationalist, Liberal, Social Democrat – the forerunners of today’s political parties in Israel. But Zionism and Arab nationalism arose during the same period of history, with claims over the same piece of land – a geographical area known for centuries to Jews as the Land of Israel. This is the ideological basis of the seemingly intractable Israel-Palestinian conflict. While there’s been a Jewish presence in the Holy Land since biblical times, at the beginning of the 20th Century the Jews were few in number compared to Christian and Muslim Arabs.”

No effort is made to explain why that was the case and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine is not mentioned at all in this film.

“Unlike other national liberation movements whose supporters were actually living on the territory they wished to free, Zionist Jews had first to emigrate from a far-flung diaspora, build an infrastructure, and only then initiate a liberation struggle. Zionism therefore does not fit into conventional theory. So, is Zionism wrong or just different?”

Yes – the BBC really did posit that Jewish self-determination might be “wrong”. Totally ignoring the experiences of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews and downplaying antisemitism, the film continues:

“In the aftermath of the French revolution, many 19th Century Jews began to regard themselves as a people with a history, literature, culture and language – and not just followers of an ancient religion, Judaism. Many were highly influenced by progressive national movements in Europe such as the Risorgimento of Mazzini and Garibaldi for a united Italy, and Irish Republican efforts to throw off the yoke of British domination. The example of Russian revolutionary Lenin influenced the socialist Zionist leader and first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion. Lenin demonstrated what could be achieved with a handful of supporters. Many East European Jews wanted to escape the heavy hand of Russian anti-Semitism, [spelling in the original] so the early Zionists were often revolutionary socialists who not only wished to build a new country, but also to construct a new society, unlike the ones they had just left. One of the building blocks of this new society was the kibbutz, [mispronounced] a self-sufficient, self-governing collective.”

Kibbutzim were actually never “self-sufficient”.

“There were many possible territorial solutions where a Jewish state could be built. They ranged from the Portuguese colony of Angola to the Jewish Autonomous Region in the USSR, Birobidzhan on the border of China. Herzl even approached the British with the idea that Uganda might be “a night shelter” on the road to the Land of Israel.”

Viewers are given no information as to why those “solutions” were not acceptable. The film ends with some blatant political messaging and a visual misrepresentation of the Star of David on an image apparently supposed to resemble Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

“Some supporters believe that Zionism completed its task when the state of Israel was established in 1948. Others believe that the Zionist project cannot be considered complete until Israel is at peace, secure within its boundaries and within the wider region, and creates a fairer society for all its inhabitants.”

Why the BBC chose to put out this film at this time is not clear but it could of course be connected to the ongoing antisemitsm scandal in the British Labour party. The unavoidable conclusion, however, is that this three-minute long and embarrassingly superficial effort contributes very little indeed to audience understanding of the topic it purports to address and in the current political climate in the UK, that is a particularly unfortunate waste of licence fee funds.