BBC Radio Wales’ brief but misleading presentation of UK antisemitism

On January 27th BBC Radio Wales aired an edition of the programme ‘All Things Considered’ titled ‘Nationalism & Religion’.

“On Holocaust Memorial Day Roy Jenkins explores the perceived rise of anti-Semitism and far right movements; nationalism and religion, and compares attitudes to 1930s Germany.

As the remains of six unknown victims of Auschwitz were buried in Hertfordshire last Sunday – one for every million Jewish people killed by the Nazis – the Chief Rabbi urged an end to rising anti-Semitism. Later in the week, the country’s most senior counter-terrorism officer warned that the ‘febrile’ atmosphere around Brexit could be exploited by far right extremists. At a time of heightened division and the rise of right-wing nationalist movements across Europe, and in other parts of the world, some draw disturbing parallels with the Germany of the 1930s. On Holocaust Memorial Day, Roy Jenkins asks is such talk merely alarmist? 
Wales has had its own nationalist party for more than 90 years, with elected representatives at Westminster, in Brussels and in the Welsh Assembly. Plaid Cymru is part of the political establishment, hardly sinister – there are clearly important distinctions to be made. So just what is nationalism? And in what ways is it bound up with religion?

Joining Roy to discuss the issues are Dan Cohn-Sherbok, ordained Reform Rabbi and Professor Emeritus of Judaism at the University of Wales Trinity St. David; The Rev’d Aled Edwards, Chief Executive of Cytun, Churches Together in Wales, active in issues of equality, racism and the care of refugees and asylum seekers; and Sinisa Malesevic, Professor of Sociology at University College Dublin, who has written and lectured widely on nationalism, ethnicity and identity.”

In contrast to the impression given in that synopsis – and repeated by the presenter in his introduction – the fact that the remains of six people murdered in Auschwitz were buried in Bushey and the fact that the number of Jewish victims of the Holocaust is six million is coincidental.

Despite the programme’s given description, listeners actually heard remarkably little about “the perceived rise of antisemitism” in the UK and what they did hear came mostly from contributor Dan Cohn-Sherbok.  [emphasis in bold added]

06:24 Jenkins: “Dan – rising levels of antisemitism. As a Jewish person living and working around the UK, what’s your experience?”

Cohn-Sherbok: “Well I know that some of my fellow co-religionists are concerned about what they perceive as rising antisemitism and this is all tied up I think with the State of Israel and criticism of Israeli policy. I personally don’t feel that I’m living in any kind of an antisemitic environment. It’s really philosemitic and particularly in Wales. I have lots of friends and I don’t feel it but I know that there are currents of criticism of Israel and this worries a lot of Jews.”

Jenkins: “And do people talk to you directly about it, expressing their concerns?”

Cohn-Sherbok: “Not really. There’s much more concern about Brexit and about American politics. But I know, reading the Jewish newspapers and being informed about what’s going on in the Jewish world, that there is concern and people don’t feel comfortable about being Jewish.”

26:13 Cohn-Sherbok: “Well I think that what the Holocaust has illustrated to Jews is that in times of terrible deprivation and economic instability a society can look for a target and in Nazi Germany the targets were the Jews. And they were rejected on racial grounds and also on religious grounds. Being Jewish meant that you were an outsider. You were an outsider in terms of race and an outsider in terms of religion. So it seems to me that is really the lesson of the Holocaust – that you can turn the outsider into the enemy and that can result in the most terrible circumstances.”

28:55 Cohn-Sherbok: “I think as far as the Jewish community is concerned we’re not doing enough to reach out to the Muslim community. It’s all mixed up with Israel and the Palestinians but we need to try to find some way of building a bridge between the Jewish community and the Muslim community and Jewish leaders are not doing enough. We need to do much more.”

So did this programme meet the BBC’s public purpose obligations to its funding public by contributing to their understanding of antisemitism in their own country?

The employment of the term “perceived” in relation to rising antisemitism in both the programme description and in Cohn-Sherbok’s contribution obviously hinders audience understanding of the fact that the number of antisemitic incidents recorded by the Community Security Trust has risen over the past decade.

The claim that antisemitism in the UK is “all tied up with” – i.e. exclusively linked to – the State of Israel is inaccurate and misleading and does not reflect the findings of the CST (see page 11) either in terms of the proportion of incidents showing evidence of political motivation or the differing types of motivation.

“Of the 727 antisemitic incidents reported to CST during the first six months of 2018, 154 incidents, or 21 per cent, showed evidence of political motivation. Of these, 67 incidents showed evidence of far right motivation; 77 showed evidence of anti-Israel motivation; and ten showed evidence of Islamist motivation. All incidents needed to show evidence of antisemitism alongside any political motivation in order to be recorded by CST as an antisemitic incident.”

The claim that antisemitism in the UK is linked to “criticism of Israeli policy” and “criticism of Israel” is inaccurate and misleading, as is the claim that “a lot of Jews” are worried by such criticism. As the IHRA working definition of antisemitism clearly states:

“…criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

Israel-linked antisemitic incidents in the UK do not fall into the category of legitimate “criticism of Israeli policy” as Cohn-Sherbok misleadingly claims. Likewise, his portrayal of antisemitism as a reaction to “terrible deprivation and economic instability” clearly does nothing to enhance listener understanding of antisemitism in 21st century Britain.

That this programme was aired on Holocaust Memorial Day obviously makes its failure to contribute to audience understanding of contemporary antisemitism in the UK – and even mislead listeners on that topic – even more unfortunate.

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BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part two

In part one of this post we saw how listeners to the October 8th edition of the BBC Radio Wales “religious affairs” programme ‘All Things Considered’ heard a politicised account of the Balfour Declaration that included numerous inaccuracies and omissions.

The second half of that programme (from 13:00 here) was devoted in part to ‘personal stories’ – which actually have no direct link to the stated subject matter – told by two of the three studio guests. Presenter Sarah Rowland-Jones gave the cue for Jasmine Donahaye’s story while once again portraying the Balfour Declaration as ‘controversial’.

Rowland-Jones: “…we’re discussing the Balfour Declaration in which, 100 years ago next month, the British government controversially expressed support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Jasmine; you researched a family link to the history of 1920s-30s Palestine. What did you discover?”

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Donahaye: “Yeah I did. My mother was born in 1941 in what was then Palestine on a kibbutz. I grew up with a fairly standard sort of Zionist narrative; a very strong sense of identification with Israel as…as…as my family origin. I didn’t know anything really about the history and I still didn’t understand how it pertained directly to my family because my mother’s kibbutz had been established on land that – and this was repeatedly emphasised – land that had been legally bought; not land that had been emptied during 1948 as a result of the war. Of course when I started to examine that – and it was in relation to a passing remark by my mother – I found that in fact land sales in the 1930s were a lot more complicated and a lot more problematic in the 1920s and 1930s. Arab farmers were being put off their land, being emptied, villages were being emptied as a result of land sales and that’s precisely what happened in the case of the land upon which my mother’s kibbutz was established. It resulted in the depopulation of a village called Shatta; some 200 plus people were made landless and it was a great shock to me to discover that and all that flowed from it. So I do think that we need to look at the 1930s as well as the 1940s and I think Britain has a great deal to answer for.”

Donahaye did not tell listeners the name of her mother’s kibbutz – Beit HaShita in the Jezreel Valley – and while she claimed in this programme that “Arab farmers were being put off their land”, the account in her book “Losing Israel” makes it clear that she knows full well that the land was not owned by those tenant farmers but by an Arab landowner from Haifa. 

Donahaye does not however clarify that the case went to court and on April 15th 1931, the Beisan [Bet Shean] Civil Court (run under the auspices of the British mandate authority) found in favour of the landowner Raja Ra’is. The sale went through only after both tenant farmers and agricultural labourers had alternative lands to work.

In that book Donahaye’s complaints are not directed towards the Arab landowner who sold the land but at the Jews who legally bought it.

Little wonder then that in this programme BBC audiences heard an inaccurate, stylised and obviously politically motivated account of Arab farmers put off ‘their’ land and made ‘landless’ even though they were compensated and resettled elsewhere. Notably though, listeners did not hear anything on the topic of the British mandate authority’s subsequent placement of restrictions on land purchases by Jews and on Jewish immigration.

The second personal story heard by listeners to this programme came from Mones Farah, who earlier on had already described his family as being “made refugees”- according to him “as a direct result of” the Balfour Declaration .

Rowland-Jones: “And moving on to the 1940s, as we’ve referred to the State of Israel finally came into being in the aftermath of the Second World War. Mones; tell us what happened to your family.”

Farah: “I come from a village called Bir’am or Bar’am which is originally that’s my main family roots. It’s right on the borders with Lebanon. The main interesting thing about our village is during the 1917 British mandate [sic – the mandate began in 1920] there was…the whole village was almost surrounded by barbed wire either side of it because the land of the village was separated from the village itself by the British mandate [for Palestine] and the French mandate [for Lebanon].”

Bar’am Synagogue

After describing the ancient synagogue in Bar’am and noting that at the time of his story the population were Maronite Christians (as had been the case since the 19th century), Farah continued:

Farah: “There were 1,010 people in that village and then in 1948 after the declaration of independence of the State of Israel and after our people had been included in the census of the citizens of the State of Israel, they were asked to evacuate their village with the promise that they would return within two weeks. And those two weeks have actually stretched out to this very day. […] The village wasn’t a threat to the State of Israel…

Farah did not bother to explain to listeners that the War of Independence was still ongoing at the time and that the request that the villagers evacuate Bir’am was made immediately following Operation Hiram, which aimed to break the siege on Israeli communities by the Arab Liberation Army (ALA) led by Fawzi el Kaukji that had begun six days before the operation was launched.

Most of the residents of Bir’am resettled in Jish (Gush Halav) around 9 kilometers away and would not be classified as “refugees” as Farah earlier claimed. They continue their peaceful campaign to return to their former village and – as Farah correctly stated – have won a number of court cases on that issue. However, Farah then went on to inaccurately imply that there is one sole reason why Palestinians became refugees:

Farah: “And our village is one among so many. There were about 400 villages destroyed in that time which created a huge problem of Palestinian refugees.”

Nazareth-born Farah continued:

Farah: “So the situation is so complex because what do you do with the return of refugees to Israel? I mean there’s a huge minefield to deal with politically. But I think the impact stays so deep within you that you actually…I think it creates something in you that says you become a weak man and so you begin to actually behave with less than the true identity that you have because you’re coming against an occupying power. In whatever way you say it, there’s control of the population and that needs to change…”

The programme then took another turn as Dan Cohn-Sherbok stated that “the Arabs never accepted the creation of a Jewish homeland or a Jewish state” and was quickly rebuked at length by Donahaye. A subsequent discussion on the question “what role do you see faith playing in all of this?” included both Cohn-Sherbok and Farah claiming that Jewish scripture can “pave the way for a sympathetic appreciation of the plight of the Palestinians” and Farah giving context-free promotion to several political NGOs, including the one with which he is associated and B’tselem.

Farah: “…the concept of the image – the B’tselem – which is the organisation B’tselem which is very important now which is not liked much by the Israeli government and the political discourse in the Israeli government because they’re seen as aggressively against the state, where the reality is that trying to keep the state accountable for some actions that actually dehumanise the others and we need to humanise the people.”

BBC Radio Wales audiences obviously learned very little about the Balfour Declaration from this largely one-sided and highly politicised discussion. They certainly heard nothing at all on the question of whether Britain lived up to the pledge it made in the Balfour Declaration or how it subsequently failed to execute the task assigned to it as administrator of the Mandate for Palestine:

“The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country [Palestine] under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.”

Instead, the aim of this programme appears to have been to steer BBC audiences towards the partisan view that – as Sarah Rowland-Jones inaccurately claimed in her introduction – the Balfour Declaration “sits behind the lasting conflict in the region”, while the relevant issue of Arab violence against Jews and later Israelis was once again whitewashed from a BBC account of history.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

BBC News amplifies Balfour agitprop yet again

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

BBC Radio Wales has a Sunday morning programme called “All Things Considered” which is described as a “religious affairs programme tackling the thornier issues of the day in a thought-provoking manner”. The October 8th edition of that programme, however, was devoted to a political topic. Titled “The Balfour Declaration at 100“, the programme’s synopsis includes the following:

“One hundred years on, how should we in Wales view the Balfour Declaration.”

That strange question (do the Welsh people specifically need to hold a “view” of that century old historic event?) was repeated in the introduction by presenter Sarah Rowland-Jones.

Rowland-Jones: “A century ago, in November 1917, the British Government, under Welsh prime minister Lloyd George, gave its support to the establishment of Jewish homeland in Palestine. This was contained in a letter from the Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur Balfour, to leaders of the British Jewish Community. The Balfour Declaration, as it came to be known, expressed the government’s intention to support a Jewish national home and to do so without undermining the rights of the people already living in Palestine. The declaration was controversial at the time and has remained so ever since. Celebrated and vilified in near equal measure, it sits behind the lasting conflict in the region. While it kindled international support for a Jewish homeland, even the British government has since acknowledged it gave inadequate protection to the political rights of Palestinians. So – 100 years on – how should we in Wales view the Balfour Declaration?” [emphasis added]

As we see, that introduction promotes the facile notion that the Balfour Declaration is the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict and that theme was repeated throughout the half-hour programme. The reference to the British government having “since acknowledged it gave inadequate protection to the political rights of Palestinians” apparently refers to a statement issued by the FCO that included the following:

“We recognise that the Declaration should have called for the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly their right to self-determination.” 

Nowhere in this programme, however, did the listeners invited to form a “view” of the Balfour Declaration hear that precisely such self-determination was, from 1937 onward, repeatedly rejected by the Arab side.

The programme’s three studio guests were then introduced:

“Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, professor emeritus of Judaism at the University of Wales and author of many books on the subject of Palestine and Israel, Dr Jasmine Donahaye of Swansea University, author of “Whose People? Wales, Israel, Palestine” and “Losing Israel” and the reverend Mones Farah; Church in Wales rector of Aberystwyth who is himself Palestinian.”

The first half of this programme related to the Balfour Declaration itself and the circumstances under which it was issued. After Sarah Rowland-Jones had read out the text of the declaration and asked “is this something to be celebrated or regretted?” listeners heard Mones Farah (who has lived in the UK since 1983) create false linkage between it and his family story. [emphasis added]

Farah: “For me, looking at this declaration it causes a lot of problems and difficulties for me personally because as a direct result of this we…my family and my community were made refugees. So for me it will have always that tinge of sadness and lack of celebration about it.”

Listeners then heard another negative opinion from Jasmine Donahaye, who erased the real “foundation” of Israel – the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine – from the story.

Donahaye: “Well I think it’s difficult not to understand that for many Jews at the time and since it was a matter for great celebration and continues to be because it’s the foundation upon which Israel is based and that is a question of national self-determination. But it’s not one-sided. There are two elements to it and the second element unfortunately has been betrayed. And therefore it’s something to treat with a great deal of care and critical analysis I think. So celebration – maybe not. But investigation – certainly.”

Rowland-Jones: “When you say the second element you mean the promise that it should not prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities?”

Donahaye: “That’s exactly what I mean. Of course there is the subsequent element that it shouldn’t prejudice the status of Jews elsewhere as well and that’s a slightly different issue but that might be something we’ll discuss later.”

That discussion did not come about and so BBC Wales audiences heard nothing about issues such as the persecution and negation of rights of the Jews in Arab lands.

Dan Cohn-Sherbok presented a more realistic view of the significance of the Balfour Declaration, even while absolving the Palestinians of all agency or responsibility.

Cohn-Sherbok: “Well I do want to celebrate the Balfour Declaration, as I think Jews would around the world. It was 100 years ago, it was the beginning of the creation of the Jewish state, so for the Jewish people it was a fundamental step forward – which is not to ignore the problems that this has led for the Palestinians. With my colleagues I do take into account the difficulties that the Palestinians have faced and are facing now. Nonetheless, I think it is a time for celebration and with Jews throughout the world, I want to celebrate what happened in 1917.”

In the next section of the programme Cohn-Sherbok gave a brief overview of the history behind the story (that included the inaccurate claim that at the time of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 CE the region was called Palestine) and the advent of political Zionism.

Cohn-Sherbok: “But at the end of the nineteenth century the Jews were suffering in eastern Europe […] and the Zionists – secular Zionists – believed it was time for the Jews to return. It was the only way that they could protect themselves from onslaught, from antisemitism. It was their only refuge, they believed, and they did everything that they could to persuade those in power to allow Jews to settle in what was then Palestine. And the Balfour Declaration was an essential first step.”

However, Cohn-Sherbok’s account included the inaccurate claim that the early Zionists were exclusively secular Jews.  Rowland-Jones then raised another topic.

Rowland-Jones: “So what was going on there in the holy land – Palestine – in 1917? Mones, can you tell us something about the people who were living there then?”

Farah: “The people of the land were mainly the Arab indigenous population – the Palestinian population – in the land. By 1914 there were only 7% of the population that were of the new Jewish immigrants or Jewish communities that existed for longer times.”

While Farah mentioned the Ottoman policy of “restricting […] the migration of Jews”, he debatably claimed that the reason for that was “because it created tension with the local population” and made no mention of the expulsion of thousands of Jews already living in the region during the First World War. Ignoring events that pre-dated even the First Aliyah such as the pogroms in Tsfat in 1834, he continued:

Farah: “…I think that the communities felt by the new immigration that was opened up by the turn of the 20th century to the land, they begin to feel the tension and the stress in the land even though they themselves mostly were arable farmers. They were small communities. They were not politicized. But a young intellectual small groups and heads of clans began to agitate and they began to actually resist the new migrations coming into the land until the Balfour Declaration. So there was an increasing tension developing. But there was a population living in the land.”

Farah then went on to promote a myth popular in anti-Israel circles:

Farah: “…I take on what Dan said about the Zionist secularist movement of the late 19th century and its declaration of a need for a Jewish state. One thing I will hold against some of those statements is that they wanted a state for a people without land for a land without people. And I think that is one of the things that actually had such an influence in the public opinion or of the people of power at the time which wasn’t true at all because there was a population living in the land…”

The phrase “A land without a people for a people without a land” – not “a land without people”, as Farah claimed – was in fact not widely employed by early Zionists but mainly by British religious and political figures.

Following discussion of the Welsh aspect of the story of the Balfour Declaration, listeners heard another myth that frequently crops up in BBC content.

Rowland-Jones: “So why did the Lloyd George government issue the declaration at this time? Was it just about seeking allies at a difficult juncture in the First World War?”

Cohn-Sherbok: “It was a very complicated situation. The Balfour Declaration though I wish to celebrate it, was in a sense not straightforward. The British government had previously made promises to the Arabs. The British government had said if you help us in the First World War – if you attack the Ottoman Empire – then we’re gonna give you an Arab independent homeland or Arab independence. That was a promise that was in fact betrayed. They never did. And there was also a meeting between the British and the French prior to the 1917 Balfour Declaration where they essentially divided up the entire world – that Arab world. So I think the Arabs quite rightly feel somewhat betrayed or very betrayed by the British government. The Jews welcomed the Balfour Declaration. It was something they desperately, deeply wanted. But the seeds were sown from the very beginning in the Balfour Declaration of the difficulties that we are currently feeling.”

Those “promises” are of course the McMahon correspondence which – despite the inaccurate claims from Cohn-Sherbok and Farah – did not promise the area of land concerned to the Arabs, as was clarified in the British government’s White Paper of 1922.

“With reference to the Constitution which it is now intended to establish in Palestine, the draft of which has already been published, it is desirable to make certain points clear. In the first place, it is not the case, as has been represented by the Arab Delegation, that during the war His Majesty’s Government gave an undertaking that an independent national government should be at once established in Palestine. This representation mainly rests upon a letter dated the 24th October, 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon, then His Majesty’s High Commissioner in Egypt, to the Sharif of Mecca, now King Hussein of the Kingdom of the Hejaz. That letter is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus. This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty’s Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge.” [emphasis added]

The second part of this programme included some personal stories which will be discussed in part two of this post.