Reviewing BBC R4’s ‘World at One’ background on the Labour Party story

On March 26th BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programmes understandably devoted a considerable amount of airtime to the topic of the letter put out the previous evening by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the JLC criticising the leader of the British Labour Party and calling for a protest outside Parliament.

One of those programmes – ‘World at One’ – seemed to attempt to present listeners with a more comprehensive view of the background to the story than others, but did that portrayal really give audiences the full view?

Presenter Martha Kearney opened the item (from 07:21 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Kearney: “At half past five this afternoon Jewish community leaders are gathering at Westminster in a protest against Jeremy Corbyn, accusing him of siding with antisemites again and again. They say it’s their first protest against a mainstream political party since the Second World War. The Labour leader has responded by saying ‘we recognise that antisemitism has occurred in pockets within the Labour Party, causing pain and hurt to our Jewish community in the Labour Party and the rest of the country’. He added ‘I’m sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused’. These accusations have been levelled at Jeremy Corbyn for years.”

Kearney then presented her first example and – in contrast to her colleagues at the BBC News website – was able to give an accurate portrayal of the mural concerned.

Kearney: “In 2012 he offered his backing to a street artist whose mural, featuring antisemitic stereotypes, was due to be removed after complaints. Jeremy Corbyn replied ‘Why? You’re in good company’. He compared the mural to Rockefeller destroying one made by Diego Rivera because it included Lenin. But last week Jeremy Corbyn issued a statement saying ‘I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on’.”

Kearney then cited her next example of “accusations…levelled at Jeremy Corbyn”.

Kearney: “In 2009 Jeremy Corbyn welcomed members of Hamas and Hizballah to the UK and referred to them as friends. He later refused to apologise for this in an interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 news.”

Listeners then heard some of the less angry parts of that 2015 interview, including the claim from Corbyn that Hamas and Hizballah are “part of a peace process” and:

“I’ve also had discussions with people from the Right in Israeli politics who have the same view, possibly, that the State of Israel should extend from the river to the sea as it is claimed people from the Palestinian side do.” [emphasis added]

On the topic of his describing members of the two designated terrorist organisations as ‘friends’, listeners heard Corbyn say:

“I’m saying that people I talk to…I use it in a collective way, saying our friends were prepared to talk. Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hizballah and what they do? No.”

Martha Kearney did not however inform listeners that in the original March 2009 speech in which he repeatedly called Hamas and Hizballah ‘friends’, Corbyn also spoke about Hamas – an organisation committed to the destruction of Israel under its overtly antisemitic founding charter – as follows:

“The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake…”

Neither were ‘World at One’ listeners told that – despite the ‘explanation’ they heard for his use of the term ‘friends’ and the claim that it does not mean that he agrees with Hamas and Hizballah – Corbyn clearly expressed his opposition to the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their own state: a stance categorised as antisemitism under the IHRA working definition.

“We are opposed to Zionism and what Israel is doing towards the Palestinian people. […] Our argument – and I refuse to be dragged into this stuff that somehow or other because we’re pro-Palestinian we’re anti-Semitic: it’s nonsense. What we’re in favour of is a Palestine where everybody can live. They can’t live if you’ve got Zionism dominating it all.”

Martha Kearney’s next example referred to a story the BBC failed to report accurately at the time.

Kearney: “In 2016 Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, apologised for writing a series of antisemitic posts on Facebook, including arguing for Israel’s population to be transported out of the Middle East. Then, while defending Naz Shah, the former London mayor Ken Livingstone claimed that Hitler had been a Zionist. He was suspended but not expelled from the Labour Party and spoke to the ‘World at One’.”

Listeners then heard parts of Kearney’s 2016 interview with Livingstone, including his insinuation that “people” were “smearing and lying about” him and the claim that “if you’re a bigot, you’re not going to join the Labour Party”.

After parts of the letter written by the Board of Deputies and the JLC had been read out, Kearney went on:

Kearney: “During the 2015 Labour leadership contest Jeremy Corbyn took calls from listeners on the ‘World at One’. One of them was Lee Barnett from Richmond.”

Listeners heard a recording of Mr Barnett speaking about antisemitism and Holocaust denial “posted by those who say they’re your supporters” followed by Corbyn responding that he had spent his life as a campaigner against racism and mentioning his mother’s presence at Cable Street in the 1930s – but without substantially addressing the caller’s points. That 2015 recording continued with Martha Kearney saying to Corbyn:

Kearney: “But there have been questions raised about the kind of people that you associate with: story in the papers today about the fact that you invited Diane [sic] Abu Jahjah to the Commons as a special guest. Now this is a man who’s talked about ‘hoax gas chambers’.”

Corbyn: “Sorry, who?”

Kearney: “You’ve not met him?”

Corbyn: “No. Well I’ve…I saw the name this morning and I asked somebody who is he.”

Kearney: “Right so this was somebody who…so you definitely didn’t invite this man to the Commons as a special guest?”

Corbyn: “Well my views are that the Holocaust was the most disgraceful and vile process of the history of the twentieth century, if not the wider world. And that has to be understood by successive generations and has to be understood by all our children in schools. That surely is important. The idea…”

Kearney: “So just to be absolutely clear on this: there’s an accusation which I think you’re denying. I’m giving you the opportunity to deny it.”

Corbyn: “The idea that…the idea…”

Kearney: “You didn’t invite this man?”

Corbyn: “I’m sorry; can I answer please? The idea that I’m some kind of racist or antisemitic person is beyond appalling, disgusting and deeply offensive. I’ve spent my life opposing racism. Until my dying day I will be opposed to racism in any form.”

Kearney closed that section of the item there, moving on to another related topic.  Remarkably though, despite having aired Corbyn’s recorded response denying knowing who Dyab Abou Jahjah was, Kearney did not bother to inform listeners that – as the BBC itself reported in August 2015 – Corbyn subsequently claimed that he “must have forgotten meeting him in 2009”.

Dyab Abou Jahjah (whose organisation had published a Holocaust denying cartoon three years earlier) was in fact at the same March 2009 ‘Stop the War Coalition’ meeting at which Corbyn called Hamas and Hizballah ‘friends’. Abou Jahjah was subsequently banned from visiting the UK by the British government: a decision he blamed on “the lobbying of the Zionists” while claiming that “MP Corbyn is filing a complaint against this disgrace”.

Although this programme clearly did attempt to provide the BBC’s domestic audiences with more background to the story than other Radio 4 programmes aired on the same day, it is notable that while listeners did hear rather a lot of Jeremy Corbyn’s fairly standard evasive responses to the long-standing criticism against him, parts of the story that are highly relevant to full audience understanding of it – such as the fact that he did meet Dyab Abou Jahjah and his self-professed opposition to Jewish self-determination – were airbrushed from the portrayal.

Related Articles:

BBC News not sure whether Corbyn controversy mural antisemitic or not

BBC News ‘explanation’ of antisemitism promotes the Livingstone Formulation

 

 

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A pertinent question for the BBC from Douglas Murray

The British writer and commentator Douglas Murray recently asked a question on Twitter.

Douglas Murray Tweet Abu Jahjah

The article concerned – “How the world was changed by the slogan ‘Je Suis Charlie’” – appeared on the BBC News website on January 3rd and the relevant passage is this one:

“The day after that, another – much bigger – hashtag peaked on Twitter, “Je suis Ahmed,” which used the name of a policeman, Ahmed Merabet, who was killed in the attacks and was a practicing Muslim.

“Je Suis Charlie attributed some kind of nobility to the content of the newspaper, which I couldn’t really agree with,” says Dyab Abou Jahjah, a Belgian writer who tweeted that tag. “My problem with them is that they publish racial stereotypes of Muslims.”

“Of course it’s their right,” he adds. “But it’s the right of people to be appalled by it as well.””

As Douglas Murray rightly points out that highly sanitized description of Abou Jahjah fails to clarify to audiences that the man whose opinion is considered important enough by the BBC to be highlighted in this article joined the terrorist organization Hizballah in his youth. That, however, is by no means all that can be said about the ‘writer’ given asylum in Belgium: as the CST has documented, his writing includes promotion of conspiracy theories about Israel and Zionists.

More relevantly to the subject matter of this BBC article, Abou Jahjah also has his own history of publishing offensive cartoons.

“A Dutch appeals court has found against the Arab European League for publishing a Holocaust Denial cartoon on its website in 2006… […]

At the time that the AEL published this cartoon it was run by its founder, Dyab Abou Jahjah, who has since left to join the Iranian-run International Union of Parliamentarians for Palestine (IUPFP). At the time, he defended the AEL’s use of Holocaust Denial in strident terms:

‘People in Europe are not allowed to do a free historical examination of the Second World War and the holocaust and freely express an opinion on it that is different than the dominating dogmatic line.  Any attempt to have deviant historical examination of the holocaust will earn you the title of revisionist, anti-Semite and a jail sentence.

You don’t even have to go that far, I would be curious to see the reactions of these champions of the freedom of speech  in case that same Danish paper would have published pictures of Jewish rabbi’s, or Moses for that matter, with a Jewish nose, the star of David and represented him as a greedy banker, or other form of economical parasite sucking the blood of the people referring to stereotypes on Jews. Or of King David with the same typical Jewish features and outfit conspiring together with other Jewish prophets to dominate the world inspired by the protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Yes Arabs and Muslims are uptight when you touch their religious and national symbols, but Europe had made of political correctness and the cult of the Holocaust and Jew-worshiping its alternative religion and is even more uptight when you touch that. Europeans might not respect their flags, and they might laugh with Jesus and Mary but if you touch their new religious symbols, they will bombard you with indignation and persecute you in the best European inquisition tradition.

I am for the absolute freedom of speech everywhere, and that’s why I call upon every free sole among Arabs to use the Danish flag as a substitute for toilet paper. To illustrate every wall with graffiti making fun of everything Europe holds as holy: dancing rabbis on the carcasses of Palestinian children, hoax gas-chambers built in Hollywood in 1946 with Steven Spielberg’s approval stamp, and Aids spreading fagots. Let us defend the absolute freedom of speech altogether, wouldn’t that be a noble cause?'”

That particular cartoon was not the only one published by Abou Jahjah to have caused outcry.

So if BBC Trending really could not find anyone other than Diab Abou Jahjah to comment on Charlie Hebdo cartoons and the hashtags which appeared after the terror attack against the magazine’s staff, in the interests of impartiality it should at least have given audiences some idea of the “particular viewpoint” underpinning those opinions.