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

BBC article on antisemitism report recycles problematic backgrounder

Following the publication of the UK Parliament Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism on October 16th, a relatively long article appeared on the UK politics page of the BBC News website under the headline “Jeremy Corbyn’s response to anti-Semitism in Labour criticised by MPs“.ha-select-comm-report-art

20.9% of the article’s 1,007 words are describe the report’s criticism of the response to antisemitism within the Labour Party while reactions to that criticism from Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone take up 14.3% of the word count.  The committee’s criticism of the failure of Twitter to combat antisemitism on its platform is described in 7.5% of the article’s word count and 4.5% describes the report’s criticism of the National Union of Students president.

Towards the end of the article, readers are given a superficial account of two aspects of the report.

“The report expressed concern about use of the word “Zionist”, saying “use of the word in an accusatory context should be considered inflammatory and potentially anti-Semitic”.”

In its conclusions the actual report states:

“‘Zionism’ as a concept remains a valid topic for academic and political debate, both within and outside Israel. The word ‘Zionist’ (or worse, ‘Zio’) as a term of abuse, however, has no place in a civilised society. It has been tarnished by its repeated use in antisemitic and aggressive contexts. Antisemites frequently use the word ‘Zionist’ when they are in fact referring to Jews, whether in Israel or elsewhere. Those claiming to be “anti-Zionist, not antisemitic”, should do so in the knowledge that 59% of British Jewish people consider themselves to be Zionists. If these individuals genuinely mean only to criticise the policies of the Government of Israel, and have no intention to offend British Jewish people, they should criticise “the Israeli Government”, and not “Zionists”. For the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially antisemitic. This should be communicated by the Government and political parties to those responsible for determining whether or not an incident should be regarded as antisemitic.”

The BBC article also tells readers:

“But it [the report] did say free speech should be allowed on the Palestinian issue, saying it was not anti-Semitic to criticise actions of the Israeli government.”

However that is just part of the story – as Professor Alan Johnson notes at the Telegraph:

“The Committee is very clear about two things. First, criticism of Israel is absolutely acceptable. Second, vile demonisation and conspiracism, with its cartoons dripping in blood and its hook noses and its wild claims of global domination and its Nazi comparisons is not “criticism of Israel”.”

The report itself states:

ha-select-comm-report-crtiticism-israel

Crucially, the IHRA definition of antisemitism recommended by the committee (which was adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s 31 member countries earlier this year) includes the following example of a manifestation of antisemitism often prevalent among those active “on the Palestinian issue”:

“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.”ha-select-comm-art-related-reading

This BBC article twice offers readers the same ‘related article’ titled “What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?”.

As was noted here when that ‘backgrounder’ first appeared, its problematic aspects (which, regrettably, have not been addressed since publication) include promotion of the Livingstone Formulation.

We have in the past noted here the need for the BBC to work according to a recognised definition of antisemitism in order to prevent the appearance of antisemitic discourse in its own content as well as on its comments boards and social media chatrooms and such a proposal was included in BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS public consultation on the renewal of the BBC’s charter.

In light of the Home Affairs Select Committee recommendation, it would of course be appropriate for the BBC and OFCOM to now adopt the IHRC working definition of antisemitism.

 

IHRA adopts working definition of antisemitism: when will the BBC?

At the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism held in May 2015, one of the many issues identified was the necessity for media organisations to adopt standard accepted definitions of antisemitism such as the EUMC Working Definition or the US State Department definition.

We have in the past noted here the need for the BBC to work according to a recognised definition of antisemitism in order to prevent the appearance of antisemitic discourse in its own content as well as on its comments boards and social media chatrooms.pic BBC

Among the proposals included in BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS public consultation on the renewal of the BBC’s charter was the following:

“The need for the BBC to work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism in order to ensure that complaints are handled uniformly, objectively and accountably is obvious. In addition, the absence of adoption of an accepted definition of antisemitism means that […] public funding is likely to be wasted on dealing with complaints from the general public which, if a definition were available, might not have been submitted.

Clearly the compilation of such a definition is neither within the role nor the expertise of the BBC and common sense would dictate that the definition adopted by Britain’s public broadcaster should be the one already used by the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism and the College of Policing Hate Crime Operational Guidance (2014) – i.e. the EUMC Working Definition. That definition was also recommended to media organisations as an industry standard by the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in May 2015.”

Last week the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) – of which the United Kingdom is a memberadopted a working definition of antisemitism.  

“IHRA Chair, Ambassador Mihnea Constantinescu, stated:

“All IHRA Member Countries share concern that incidents of antisemitism are steadily rising and agree that IHRA’s Member Countries and indeed IHRA’s experts need political tools with which to fight this scourge. IHRA’s 31 member countries- 24 of which are EU member countries- are committed to the Stockholm Declaration and thereby to fighting the evil of antisemitism through coordinated international political action.”

The IHRA Chair continued: “By adopting this working definition, the IHRA is setting an example of responsible conduct for other international fora and hopes to inspire them also to take action on a legally binding working definition.””

The text of the IHRA working definition can be found here. Like the EUMC working definition, it too is suitable for use by Britain’s national broadcaster. It is worth bearing in mind that should the proposal concerning the transfer of final adjudication on complaints concerning BBC content to OFCOM as outlined in the recent White Paper be implemented, the adoption of a uniform definition of antisemitism by both the BBC and OFCOM will clearly be crucial.  

 

The BBC and the need for a definition of antisemitism

Readers may recall that in February 2015 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit rejected complaints concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during a broadcast from Paris the previous month following the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and the Hyper Cacher supermarket.

Included in the response from Fraser Steel was the following:

That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that all Jews were responsible for the actions of Israel

Many complainants argue that the question must be regarded as anti-Semitic because it falls foul of a definition of anti-Semitism which includes “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”, and which they attribute to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).  That, however, seems to me an unduly harsh construction of what Mr Willcox said.  In the light of the opening reference to “Israeli policy”, it seems to me more natural to construe “Jewish hands” as referring to Israeli Jews (insofar as they might be responsible for the formulation or execution of Israeli policy), rather than to Jews collectively.  I would accept that it was inept to use a form of words which was even open to the first construction, but I would regard that as an aspect of the poor phrasing already acknowledged, rather than a manifestation of anti-Semitism.”

As was noted here at the time:

“It is worth noting at this point that Steel’s rejection of the classification of Willcox’s statement as antisemitic is based on the following claim inserted as a footnote:

“In fact the phrase isn’t part of the EUMC definition, but is one of a number of examples provided of what might be considered anti-Semitic under the definition, subject to “taking into account the overall context”.  The EUMC definition was withdrawn in 2009 by its successor organisation, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which has published no definition of its own.”

This of course is not the first time that the BBC has exploited the fact that the European Agency for Fundamental Rights has not put out its own definition of antisemitism because its mandate does not include such activities. Whilst the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism was indeed removed from the FRA’s website along with other EUMC documents in 2013, it has not been “withdrawn”.”DCMS consultation

Among the proposals included in BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS public consultation on the renewal of the BBC’s charter was the following:

“The need for the BBC to work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism in order to ensure that complaints are handled uniformly, objectively and accountably is obvious. In addition the absence of adoption of an accepted definition of antisemitism means that – as in the case above – public funding is likely to be wasted on dealing with complaints from the general public which, if a definition were available, might not have been submitted.

Clearly the compilation of such a definition is neither within the role nor the expertise of the BBC and common sense would dictate that the definition adopted by Britain’s public broadcaster should be the one already used by the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism and the College of Policing Hate Crime Operational Guidance (2014) – i.e. the EUMC Working Definition. That definition was also recommended to media organisations as an industry standard by the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in May 2015.”

Last week Sir Eric Pickles MP wrote an article addressing the issue of a definition of antisemitism within the framework of the UK government’s efforts to tackle that particular form of racism. The example he provided was the one used by the UK’s College of Policing – i.e. the EUMC Working Definition.

The efforts being made to counter antisemitism in the UK must clearly include the country’s media. It is abundantly obvious that the definition of antisemitism used by the British Police Force and cited by a senior UK government official is equally suitable for use by Britain’s publicly funded broadcaster. All that remains is for that requirement to be included in the terms of the new BBC charter.