BBC again ignores the existence of accepted definitions of antisemitism

A common feature of accepted definitions of antisemitism is their recognition of the denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination as a form of antisemitism.

For example:

The US State Department definition of antisemitism:

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist”.

The EUMC working definition of antisemitism (used in the UK by the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism and in the College of Policing Hate Crime Operational Guidance (2014))

“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.”

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definitionof antisemitism:

“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.”

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC does not currently use any of those accepted definitions (including when addressing relevant complaints). However – and notwithstanding its own record – the corporation has in the past produced content purporting to inform its audiences on the topics of antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

Another production in that genre was aired on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Beyond Belief’ on November 28th with the synopsis stating:beyond-belief-28-11

“A new term of abuse has emerged on social media, Zio, a shortened form of Zionist. Meanwhile the evidence suggests that anti Semitism is on the rise in Britain. There have been high profile cases of politicians who have been disciplined for anti Semitic comments. There appears to be some confusion even within the Jewish community over what Zionism means, whether a distinction should be drawn between anti Semitism and anti Zionism and what the relationship is between Judaism and Zionism. Ernie Rea brings together three Jews to discuss these issues.”

In his very similar introduction, host Ernie Rea likewise alleged that there is “confusion over what Zionism means” and asked “is there any distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism?”, claiming that “there are different views even within the Jewish community”.

In other words, the BBC continues to fruitlessly ‘discuss’ issues previously addressed by expert bodies, while failing to inform its audiences of the existence of accepted definitions of antisemitism which have already answered the question of whether anti-Zionism – ie the denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination – is an expression of antisemitism.

Another notable feature of this programme was its misleading portrayal of the Palestinian people as entirely passive actors.

At around 11:50 listeners (the majority of whom will not of course be familiar with the relevant history) heard Ernie Rea say: [emphasis added]

“Well let’s move on. We’ve mentioned Balfour I think twice. 1917 – he declared in the Balfour Declaration that there should be a homeland for the Jewish people. It opened up the possibility for the first time of a homeland for the Jewish people. Subsequent to that we had the rise of the Nazis in Germany. We had the Holocaust with six million Jews losing their lives and then at the end of that there was a State of Israel declared in 1948 with – it has to be said – pretty dire consequences for the Palestinians.”

Later on – from around 18:27 – listeners heard guest Robert Cohen say:

“…what the Jewish community in Britain needs to understand is that Zionism is not…is not a project that was…that could be carried out in all innocence without it having a catastrophic effect on another people. So if you want to pursue the idea that Zionism is part of Judaism then you end up saying that Judaism is responsible for some very terrible things that have happened to another group of people in the land that we call holy.”

And from around 23:50 listeners heard Cohen claim that Zionism is different from “other nationalisms” because:

“It involved mass migrations. It had to involve transfers of people from Europe back to Palestine and you were only going to get a Jewish majority if the indigenous Arab Palestinian people became displaced one way or another.”

Beyond the fact that no effort was made by the programme’s host to make listeners aware of the hundreds of thousands of Jews displaced from Arab and Muslim lands who found refuge in Israel, it is remarkable that throughout this programme, Zionism is portrayed as a movement which brought “dire consequences” and a “catastrophic effect” on “displaced” Palestinians with absolutely no context offered concerning the part played by Arab nations in those events.

Obviously such a context-free and inaccurate portrayal of historic events does not meet the BBC’s remit of enhancing “UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.

Related Articles:

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

BBC article on antisemitism report recycles problematic backgrounder

More promotion of the Livingstone Formulation from BBC News

One to listen out for on BBC Radio 4

The webpage for the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Beyond Belief’ includes a section relating to upcoming broadcasts which at the moment shows the next two scheduled episodes.


Promotion of the programme to be aired at 16:30 UK time this coming Monday, November 28th, does not currently provide any details of the topic to be discussed, instead giving the general description “Discussion programme in which guests from different faith and non-faith perspectives debate the challenges of today’s world”.

That programme will apparently include a discussion on the topic of Zionism and anti-Zionism. The invited guests apparently include Dr Yaakov Wise, journalist Jessica Elgot and Robert Cohen who describes himself as follows:

“Robert Cohen lives in North Yorkshire in Britain and began writing on Israel-Palestine in 2011. His work has been regulary [sic] published at Mondoweiss, Tikkun Daily and Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Writing from the Edge broadens Robert’s remit to wider issues of Jewish interest from a British perspective.  Expect some radically dissseting [sic] views on Isreal [sic], commentary on Jewish-Christian interfaith issues and life as the Jewish husband of a Church of England vicar.”


Post Zionist Jew? Well, I do think as a response to 2,000 years of European oppression of Jews, Zionism has proved itself to be, at the very least, disappointing. It’s created more problems than the one it set out to resolve. For the future of Jews and Judaism we could with a new big idea.

Luckily, I’ve got one. And it turns out to be a very old idea.

Anti-Zionist Jew? Yes, certainly. When Zionism becomes an ideology that’s used to justify atrocities against another people, then I’m anti-Zionist.”


Mainstreaming Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology on BBC Radio 4

On September 8th BBC Radio 4 broadcast an episode of ‘Beyond Belief’ titled “Religious History of Iraq. Here is the programme’s synopsis:Beyond Belief

“Today life for religious minorities in Northern Iraq is perilous as the militant Islamist group, Islamic State, continues to attack a range of diverse groups across the country in its pursuit of establishing a new Caliphate. But in this programme Ernie Rea and guests explore how up until the 20th century Iraq was known as a harmonious melting pot of religious and ethnic diversity. How true is that assessment? What has happened to change that? Is there any way for Iraq to step back from the brink? And could a Caliphate ever be part of the solution?

Joining Ernie Rea to discuss the current situation in Iraq from a religious perspective are Gerard Russell, former British and United Nations diplomat and author of “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East”; Dr Erica Hunter, Senior Lecturer in Eastern Christianity in the Department of Religions at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London: and Dr Reza Pankhurst author of The Inevitable Caliphate.”

Part of the programme relates to the topic of the former Iraqi Jewish community and there are few better qualified to assess the BBC’s treatment of that topic than Bataween at the excellent Point of No Return blog.

“You can hear Edwin Shuker (at 10 minutes into the programme) give an eloquent potted history of his life in Iraq, how the ancient Jewish community was persecuted again after the murder of King Faisal ll in 1958 and most of its remaining members fled to freedom over the mountains of Kurdistan in the 1970s.

Shuker was introduced by presenter Ernie Rea as an ‘Arab’ Jew, approved BBC-speak. Shuker told Point of No Return that he has never used this expression in his life to describe either Jews or Christians.” […]

“Ernie Rea and his guests projected the BBC party line that until the 20th century Iraq was known as a ‘harmonious melting pot of religious and ethnic diversity’. No mention of the 1941 Farhud.

All agreed that the persecution of the Jews (attributed solely to the Ba’ath party) was ‘political’ rather than religious.”

Zooming out a little though, this programme raised another issue which is becoming increasingly pertinent as Europe debates its approach to the topic of the thousands of young Muslims born and raised in Europe who have gone to fight with Jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq during the past few years – and in some cases, later returned to Europe.

As some observers – at least outside Europe – have noted, the issues of what strain of Islam young Muslims in Europe are being taught in schools and mosques and their exposure to extremist groups is obviously of paramount significance to that debate. The UK is one country in which a less than robust approach to the topic of extremism has often prevailed in recent years, with one manifestation of that being the mainstreaming of extremist opinions by the media – including the BBC – and a prominent example being the frequent appearance of Jihadist recruiter Anjem Choudary on BBC television.

More than twenty-four minutes into this thirty-minute BBC Radio 4 programme, listeners suddenly get a clue to the fact that Dr Reza Pankhurst is in fact not just some tweedy academic – and certainly not an objective commentator – when presenter Ernie Rea says:

“Reza, I’m interested in your response to this particular question about a Caliphate because as I understand it you would support a new Caliphate. You are a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir; the main plank of their platform is really the re-establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, so I wonder how you would think an authentic Caliphate would differ from what IS are proclaiming?”

Beyond that brief “main plank” description, Rea makes no attempt to clarify the ideologies of his guest and the group to which he belongs (an organization about which the UK government has for years said it has “serious concerns”) and listeners are therefore unable to put Pankhurst’s opinions into their appropriate context.  Pankhurst’s links to the London-based Hamas support group MEMO and his sharing of platforms with assorted extremists, hate preachers and supporters of terrorism seeking to promote the notion of “the Islamophobic nature of the criminalisation of those who believe in fighting in Syria” are not revealed to listeners.

Moreover, in the last five minutes of the programme when Dr Erica Hunter challenges Reza Pankhurst about the discriminatory nature of marriage laws under a Caliphate, Rea quickly cuts off the conversation.

EH: “But that’s discriminatory because a man can marry a Jewish woman or a Christian woman but not vice-versa. If you’re a Christian man you can’t marry a Muslim.”

RP: “That’s…that’s…that’s fine Erica. There’s reasons for that but the point being is that’s the rules. I mean you won’t find anyone saying otherwise.”

EH: “But that’s discriminatory. That’s discriminatory.”

RP: “I don’t believe it is.”

Ernie Rea: “Well we must bring this programme to an end…”

Had the conversation been permitted to continue, listeners might at least have discovered more about the kind of ideology to which the BBC obviously considers it appropriate to give a platform, including the discrimination against minorities and women and the rejection of secularism, human rights, pluralism and democracy.

One of the public purposes defined in the BBC’s Charter is “sustaining citizenship and civil society”. In the opening paragraphs of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality it is stated:

“Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints.  Equally, it does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles.” [emphasis added]

As we have remarked here before:

“Needless to say, it would be perfectly obvious to most licence fee payers that “detachment from fundamental democratic principles” includes the promotion and amplification of the views of people to whom democracy is an anathema to be rejected on the basis of ideology.”

And of course the vast majority of people who fund the BBC – including those who share Reza Pankhurst’s faith – most likely view democratic principles as underpinning the kind of citizenship and civil society they expect their national broadcaster to sustain.

There is obviously a conversation to be had about the BBC’s provision of platforms to the proponents of extremist ideologies and the resulting legitimization and mainstreaming of those views. As time goes by, that conversation becomes increasingly urgent. 

Related Articles:

BBC R4 guest promotes Qaradawi as a source of “nuanced understanding”

Nick Cohen on BBC favourite regular guest Mo Ansar

Well over fifteen months ago we commented here on an edition of  BBC Radio 4’s “Beyond Belief” dealing with the subject of contemporary antisemitism which included a guest described by the presenter as “a social and political commentator” who, during the broadcast, promoted Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi as a source of “nuanced understanding”.Mo Ansar  

It is encouraging to see that others are finally catching on to Mohammed (‘Mo’) Ansar too and Nick Cohen’s recent piece on the subject is worth a read.

“Until recently programme makers were happy to oblige. Broadcasters made him the voice of British Islam, even though no electorate had voted for him, and no organisation had appointed him its spokesperson. Ansar was not an Islamic scholar. He had not published a book or led a movement. He was a planning manager at Lloyds-TSB in Winchester until 2006, and has had no visible means of support except appearance fees and state benefits for years.”

Read the rest of Nick Cohen’s article here.

Will BBC producers in future pay more attention to the subject of who they invite to appear on their various shows with such remarkable regularity? That remains to be seen, but if the case of Abdel Bari Atwan is anything to go by, it may perhaps be prudent to take Mo Ansar’s current media wane with some salt. 


BBC R4 guest promotes Qaradawi as a source of “nuanced understanding”

On January 28th 2013, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an edition of its ‘Beyond Belief’ programme, hosted by Ernie Rea, which supposedly dealt with the subject of contemporary antisemitism in Europe. 

Beyond Belief

The programme can be heard here or as a podcast here. Its guests were Dr Edward Kessler – Executive Director of the Woolf Institute,  Dr Yaakov Wise of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester and Mohammed Ansar (referred to by the host as ‘Mo’ during the broadcast) – described as a “social and political commentator”.  Beyond Belief

After listening to the programme, readers may find much to criticize and comment upon. For example, Rea states unquestioningly that there is “little doubt that Jews fared better under Islam than under Christianity throughout the Middle Ages” and, with equal certainty, later says:

“It does seem that it’s very difficult to criticize the Israeli government without in turn being told you’re antisemitc and some people would say that Jews see antisemitism everywhere.”

Yaakov Wise replies:

“Yes – they tend to be Americans actually, rather than European Jews who, I think, are probably a bit more realistic about…and of course have a lot more experience of living with antisemitism.”

Also notable are the repeated suggestions by Mohammed Ansar that it is “far right activity” on social media which promotes antisemitism, his constant attempts to shift the conversation in the direction of Islamophobia, his claim that “Islam is incredibly inclusive”  and his promotion of Norman Finkelstein (he later made it clear on Twitter that this was the specific piece he was promoting – suggesting to his Twitter followers that they read Chomsky and Pilger too). Mind you, Ansar also thinks that Jesus was a Palestinian.

Ansar tweet 1 Ansar tweet 2

Ansar’s inclusion in a discussion panel about antisemitism – particularly one which highlights the recent case of racist Tweets in France – may seem distinctly odd when one considers that, despite his writings on the subject, only four months ago Ansar endorsed a Twitter account entitled “IsraeltheNazis”. 

However, the part of this programme which is by far the most egregious comes at 23:15 when Ansar says:

“I think it’s really important to recognize also that as well as making the distinction in this country and the West about the distinction between Zionism, Israeli foreign policy and Judaism and Jews, this distinction is also being made in the Middle East – in the Arab territories. We have somebody who’s been considered a very controversial Muslim scholar in the West – Yusuf al Qaradawi – who goes to great lengths to ensure that people have a nuanced understanding and saying if you have difficulty with Israeli foreign policy, if you have difficulty with military occupation, this is something distinct from Judaism and Jews. And so regardless of many of his other statements, I think it’s really important that wherever we work we continue to make this distinction.”

Qaradawi – the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood – has been refused entry to Ireland, the US and the UK. The British ban was the subject of criticism from the Muslim Council of Britain, with which Ansar is associated

“Muhammad Abdul Bari, the secretary-general of the MCB, condemned the ban. He said the UK government had bowed to Zionist and neo-con pressure…” 

So let’s have a look at some of Qaradawi’s promotion of what Mohammed Ansar describes as “nuanced understanding”.

(Transcript available here.)

In his 2003 book ‘Fatwas on Palestine’ Qaradawi wrote:

“[W]e believe that the battle between us and the Jews is coming … Such a battle is not driven by nationalistic causes or patriotic belonging; it is rather driven by religious incentives. This battle is not going to happen between Arabs and Zionists, or between Jews and Palestinians, or between Jews or anybody else. It is between Muslims and Jews as is clearly stated in the hadith. This battle will occur between the collective body of Muslims and the collective body of Jews i.e. all Muslims and all Jews.”

And that – as anyone even slightly familiar with Qaradawi knows – is merely the tip of the iceberg.

This BBC Radio 4 programme was not a live broadcast. According to Ansar himself it was recorded on January 23rd

Ansar tweet 6 23 1

Ansar tweet 5 23 1

In other words, the BBC had five whole days in which to edit out Mohammed Ansar’s misrepresentation and promotion of one of the most reprehensible antisemitic hate-preachers around. But it chose not to do that.

That decision by the programme’s editor turns a broadcast supposedly attempting to discuss and inform on the subject of antisemitism into one indirectly promoting it. It makes the BBC part of the problem rather than a contributing factor to any solution. Beyond belief indeed.