Following its written and audio items relating to antisemitism and anti-Zionism, the BBC took the same topic to its British audience’s television screens. The May 1st edition of BBC One’s “moral, ethical and religious discussion series” titled ‘The Big Questions’ purported to address the question “Is anti-Zionism anti-Semitic?”.
What followed is perhaps best described as tabloid television; various pre-selected participants engaged in repugnant defamation of Israel by means of populist slurs such as ‘ethnic cleansing’, ‘colonisation’ and ‘apartheid’ and promoted falsehoods such as the baseless allegation that Israel ‘burnt’ Palestinian children with white phosphorus.
Of course nothing other than that was to be expected given the records and ideologies of some of the people the BBC chose to invite to the programme such as MPAC UK’s Raza Nadim, Tony Greenstein, Daphna Baram and Moshe Machover. Without doubt the programme’s producers got entirely predictable results.
One particularly notable feature of the programme, however, came not from the invited guests but from the show’s presenter Nicky Campbell who twice introduced the following theme into the discussion.
“Benjamin Netanyahu – the prime minister – he wanted to pass this law saying Israel is the nation-state of one people only – the Jewish people – and no other people. If any other country in the world said that, people would be jumping up and down saying that’s racist.”
The bill to which Campbell refers was in fact first proposed by the Kadima party’s Avi Dichter in 2011 and additional versions were subsequently proposed by several other members of the Knesset – including Netanyahu. In 2013 the then Minister of Justice, Tsipi Livni, commissioned Professor Ruth Gavison to examine the issue and compile recommendations. To date the bill has not passed a preliminary reading.
Campbell’s twice stated claim is based on partial representation of the Israeli prime minister’s words during a debate in the Knesset in 2014.
““Ladies and gentlemen, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and the Jewish people alone,” Netanyahu said, with rights for its non-Jewish minority. He added, however, that critics of his bill want a Palestinian national state which would be empty of Jews, but that Israel should be a bi-national state.
He outlined the general principles of his draft of the “Jewish state” bill, echoing elements of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and Basic Laws: “The land of Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and the site of the state of Israel’s establishment. The state of Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people and it embodies the right of self-determination. The right to exercise self-determination in the state of Israel is exclusive to the Jewish people. The state of Israel is a democratic state, and it executes the rights of all of its citizens according to the law.””
Campbell not only claims that the proposal to enshrine Jewish self-determination in Israeli law is “racist” but also implies that no “other country in the world” has done such a thing. That of course is an inaccurate claim – as Professor Eugene Kontorovich pointed out in 2014 – and one which materially misleads BBC audiences.
“Seven EU states have constitutional “nationhood” provisions, which typically speak of the state as being the national home and locus of self-determination for the country’s majority ethnic group. This is even the case in places like the Baltics, with large and alienated minority populations.
For example, the Latvian constitution opens by invoking the “unwavering will of the Latvian nation to have its own State and its inalienable right of self-determination in order to guarantee the existence and development of the Latvian nation, its language and culture throughout the centuries.” It continues by defining Latvian “identify” as “shaped by Latvian and Liv traditions, Latvian folk wisdom, the Latvian language, universal human and Christian values.”
Or consider the Slovak constitution, which opens with the words, “We the Slovak nation,” and lays claim to “the natural right of nations to self-determination.” Only then does it note the “members of national minorities and ethnic groups living on the territory of the Slovak Republic,” which are not part of the “We” exercising national self-determination.”
There are numerous additional examples of nation-states but of course BBC audiences do not hear presenters claim that the enshrinement of Japanese, Egyptian or French self-determination in those countries’ laws is “racist”.
Obviously then the BBC, Nicky Campbell and the Mentorn Media production team need to explain why they got this so wrong and to clarify their error to audiences.
BBC News tries – and fails – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism
BBC’s Jeremy Bowen misrepresents a CST statement
‘The Big Questions’ – Twitter account
‘The Big Questions’ – Facebook