BBC Watch complaint on Partition Plan inaccuracy upheld

Readers may recall that in an edition of the Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ broadcast back in June, the BBC’s Hugh Sykes portrayed the 1947 Partition Plan as follows:

“And 70 years ago in 1947, the UN General Assembly passed the partition resolution, recommending the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states with economic union and an international regime for a shared Jerusalem. The two-state resolution 181 seventy years ago was rejected by Palestinians and by most Jewish organisations.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“The Palestinians – in the form of the Arab Higher Committee – did indeed reject the Partition Plan outright – but so did the Arab states; unmentioned by Sykes. While some groups such as Etzel and Lehi expressed opposition to the Partition Plan, the organisation officially representing Jews in Palestine – the Jewish Agency – both lobbied for and accepted it. Sykes’ attempt to portray the plan as having been rejected by both Arabs and Jews is egregiously inaccurate, although unfortunately not unprecedented in BBC content.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that issue that was acknowledged on June 13th. Ten days later we received a reply from BBC Complaints stating:

“Thanks for contacting us about ‘PM’ on June 8.

We realise you were concerned about the item on the significant anniversaries in the Middle East this year. It’s clear you felt there was an error which required correction.

You’ve stated that the Jewish Agency was the official voice of the Jews in Palestine at the time, and that it was therefore incorrect and misleading to say ‘most Jewish organisations’ rejected the Two State resolution in 1947.

We raised this with the programme team and with Hugh Sykes. Hugh explains:

“My ‘most’ was intended to embrace the hugely significant, influential and powerful Jewish organisations like Hagganah and the Stern Gang who rejected the partition plan, so I think ‘most’ was a fair distillation of the balance between the organisations (not necessarily the Jewish people) who accepted or rejected UN res 181.”

So the statement was not that the organisations opposed to the resolution were official; he was highlighting the fact that there was a significant and powerful opposition.

We hope this clarifies the issue and explains why we are satisfied with its accuracy for listeners.”

BBC Watch submitted a second complaint in light of that response:

“The response to my previous complaint is unsatisfactory. Not only does it inaccurately claim that the Haganah opposed the Partition Plan but it also claims that Lehi (referred to by Sykes using the pejorative title ‘Stern Gang’) was “hugely significant, influential and powerful” when in fact that group never had more than a few hundred members and was rejected by the mainstream Jewish population.

Most importantly, however, this response does not address the body of my complaint. Sykes’ claim that “The two-state resolution 181 seventy years ago was rejected by Palestinians and by most Jewish organisations” inaccurately leads listeners to believe that the plan was rejected by Jews and Arabs alike and therefore materially misleads audiences with regard to a significant historic event. In fact, while two small Jewish organisations (not “most”) – Etzel and Lehi – expressed reservations regarding the Partition Plan, the mainstream Jewish establishment both lobbied vigorously for it and accepted it. A correction needs to be issued – including on the webpage still available to audiences – clarifying that the Partition Plan was not rejected by Jews at all.”

On July 20th we received a reply to the second complaint:

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us and we appreciate that you felt strongly enough to write to us again. We’re sorry to learn that you were not satisfied with our earlier response.

We’ve noted your points but do not consider they have suggested a possible breach of the BBC’s standards to justify further investigation or a more detailed reply. Opinions can vary widely about the BBC’s output, but may not necessarily imply a breach of our standards or public service obligations.

For this reason we do not feel we can add more to our reply or answer further questions or points. We realise you may be disappointed but have explained why we are not able to take your complaint further.”

BBC Watch then submitted a Stage 2 complaint to the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) and received a reply on September 19th informing us of the ECU’s decision to consider it as an editorial complaint.

On November 10th – over five months after the programme was originally broadcast – we were informed by the Head of Executive Complaints that the ECU had upheld our complaint.

Of course the vast majority of people who listened to ‘PM’ on June 8th will be highly unlikely to search out the relevant page on the BBC website on the off-chance that a correction may have been made to something they heard over five months ago.

And so, the BBC’s partly outsourced complaints system (which one could be forgiven for thinking is primarily designed to make members of the public give up and go away) continues to do a disservice to licence fee payers by ensuring that by the time a material inaccuracy is addressed, virtually no-one will receive the corrected information.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Hugh Sykes tells R4 listeners that Jews rejected the Partition Plan

Another ‘stealth’ correction on the BBC News website

Another BBC News correction misses its point

New BBC complaints procedure finalised following consultation

 

 

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Essay on ‘rationalising terror’ notes BBC reporter’s Paris remark

Readers will no doubt recall the statement made by BBC reporter Tim Willcox whilst interviewing a participant in a rally in Paris following the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Hyper Cacher supermarket in January 2015.Willcox

“Many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.”

The BBC’s response to complaints on that issue began with the claim that an apology on Twitter sufficed, proceeded with a decision to handle the high volume of complaints en masse and culminated in their rejection. The head of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit informed complainants that:

“It’s clear from a number of the comments I received that I understood the first of the summarised points of complaint (“That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the Middle East”) in a different sense from some who complained.

What I had in mind was a direct causal relationship between particular recent events in the Middle East and the Paris killings, and it was on that basis that I wrote “Nothing in the day’s coverage of events in Paris suggested a direct link between events in the Middle East and those killings, and I can’t see that such a suggestion can readily be derived from what Mr Willcox said”.

It has been put to me, and I have accepted, that Mr Willcox’s words suggested a broader link between perceptions of Palestinian suffering and the incidence of anti-Semitic incidents.

However, that doesn’t alter the outcome because I don’t think suggesting a link of that kind can be viewed as a breach of editorial standards (or even as particularly controversial, considering the correlation between anti-Semitic incidents and Israeli actions with an adverse impact on Palestinians which has been noted by organisations such as the Community Security Trust).”

British writer and journalist Nick Cohen – who produced some typically insightful comment on the incident at the time – has now returned to that topic in an article published at Standpoint magazine.

“An associate of the Islamist gang that pumped bullets into the staff of Charlie Hebdo also took hostages at the Hypercacher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes in the 20th arrondissement. There he murdered Philippe Braham, a sales executive, Yohan Cohen, a student, Yoav Hattab, another student, and François-Michel Saada, a pensioner. The dead had provided no “rationale” and created no “particular sense of wrong”. They were ordinary citizens, shopping for food, as we all do.

But when [John] Kerry and those like him looked at their bodies closely perhaps they noticed that appearances deceived. They were not like the rest of us, after all. Hypercacher was a kosher supermarket and the dead were Jews. Few people were prepared to say what they were thinking openly, but a BBC reporter, Tim Willcox, showed no restraint. A Jewish woman in the crowd near the crime scene told him, “The situation is going back to the days of 1930s in Europe. Jews are the target now.” Willcox could not let the suggestion that Jews were innocent victims go unchallenged. “Many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands,” he said, interrupting her.

If you were a Jew, it was Israel’s fault that you were murdered, and possibly your fault too for not trying to pass as a gentile, or avoiding synagogues, and Jewish shops and restaurants, or changing your name and ditching your kippah. 

If you are a freethinker satirising Islam, you are a “this” and there is a “rationale” to your murder. If you are Jewish, you are a “that” and there is a “rationale” to your murders too.”

Read the full article – titled “Shame On The Liberals Who Rationalise Terror” – here.

 

BBC upholds PSC inspired complaints against ‘Today’ programme

Via the Guardian we learn that:

“The BBC has ruled that a Today programme misled viewers in a report on the recent period of renewed violence in Israel and Palestine.”Today

The report concerned was broadcast on the October 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme.

“The BBC received a number of complaints about an on-air conversation between presenter John Humphrys and Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly on 19 October about an ongoing flare-up in violence between Palestinians and Israelis that began on 1 October.

The conversation began with Humphrys referring to the most recent attacks, and summing up the total number of casualties.

John Humphrys: “Yet another attack on Israelis last night – this time an Arab man armed with a gun and a knife killed a soldier and wounded 10 people. Our Middle East correspondent is Kevin Connolly. The number is mounting, isn’t it Kevin? It’s about 50 now, isn’t it?”

Kevin Connolly: “We think about 50 dead over the last month or so, John – this sharp uptick of violence – not just that attack on the bus station in Beersheba, in Israeli itself but also on Saturday a wave of stabbing attacks in Hebron and Jerusalem.””

According to the Guardian’s report:

“The BBC head of editorial complaints, Fraser Steel, has written to those who complained saying that while it was clear the reference to 50 dead was meant to take in casualties on both sides, it would be “natural” to infer from the broadcast that only Israelis had been killed.

“In the context of a discussion of attacks carried out by Palestinians, and in the absence of clarification on the point, the natural inference for listeners was that it referred to the number of Israeli dead – which, in view of the actual incidence of mortality, would have been misleading,” wrote Steel. “To that extent, the report did not meet the BBC’s editorial standards regarding accuracy and I am proposing to uphold this part of your complaint.””

At the time of that broadcast ten Israelis had been murdered by Palestinian terrorists since the wave of attacks began. The Palestinian casualties were for the most part either terrorists shot whilst carrying out attacks or violent rioters threatening the lives of others. Ironically, it is the BBC’s attempt “to take in casualties on both sides” (seen not only in this report but also in many others) and the ensuing promotion of a false notion of moral equivalence between terrorists and their victims which was the root cause of this inaccuracy.

Should the BBC by chance deviate from its usual practice by issuing an on-air correction, in the interests of the same editorial guidelines concerning accuracy it should of course clarify that the Palestinian casualties include a high proportion of terrorists.  

Insight into the source of inspiration for the complaints comes not only the fact that the Guardian’s report includes comment from a representative of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign but also from the fact that the PSC’s Amena Saleem flagged up the ‘Today’ report at her usual ‘electronic Intifada’ slot the day after its broadcast.

As has been noted here before with regard to the PSC:

“Ironically, on numerous occasions in the past the BBC has failed to conform to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality when interviewing both Amena Saleem and other members of the opaquely funded anti-Israel, pro-Hamas lobbying and campaigning group with which she is associated.

For some time now the nature of the BBC’s relationship with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been a topic of interest and the corporation’s swift capitulation to political pressure following the publication of an article last summer [2014] about Hamas-supplied casualty figures and the subsequent ‘top-down’ dictated alterations made to that article – along with additional ‘damage control’ – brought the issue further into public view.”

Given the above statement from Colborne and the article by Saleem, the BBC complaints department might care to revisit its own words concerning “interested groups/supporters” – written in response to a complaint concerning a different report by Kevin Connolly in the same month. Additional BBC responses to less successful complaints concerning the BBC’s reporting on the current wave of terrorism can be seen here and here.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ECU upholds complaint from the UK’s pro-Hamas lobby

Kevin Connolly tells BBC Radio 4’s ‘Feedback’ complaints rooted in narratives

BBC explains why it can’t always report history accurately

BBC’s ECU upholds complaint from the UK’s pro-Hamas lobby

As readers will recall, last month the BBC rejected complaints concerning Jeremy Bowen’s interview with the head of the Hamas terrorist organisation and last week the head of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit finalised his dismissal of complaints concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during an interview with a member of the Parisian Jewish community in January.Complaint pic

However, those who do not make a habit of visiting propaganda outlets such as ‘Electronic Intifada’ and the Russian state-run ‘RT’ may be unaware of the fact that complaints concerning another BBC interview conducted in March 2015 have apparently been upheld by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit.

Writing at her regular ‘Electronic Intifada’ slot, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Amena Saleem claims that:

“A BBC investigation has found that one of its senior presenters, Sarah Montague, breached the organization’s editorial standards on impartiality in a radio interview she conducted with Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon in March.

The investigation was carried out following allegations of pro-Israel bias against Montague’s interview by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and a number of concerned individuals who complained to the BBC.”

According to RT, the PSC’s complaint included the following point:

“In Montague’s interview with Ya’alon, the senior BBC journalist failed to address misleading statements by the Israeli defense minister.

According to a transcript, Ya’alon said Palestinians “enjoy already political independence. They have their own political system, government, parliament, municipalities and so forth. And we are happy with it. We don’t want to govern them whatsoever.”

The PSC has challenged Ya’alon’s statement, claiming Palestinians live under occupation and, in Gaza, under siege.”

Amena Saleem informs her readers that the same BBC employee who refused to acknowledge the antisemitic nature of Tim Willcox’s “Jewish hands” remarks in Paris came up with the following ruling.

“Last week, all complainants received an email message from Fraser Steel, the BBC’s head of editorial complaints, on behalf of the ECU.

Steel, announcing that he would be upholding the complaint, wrote: “Mr. Yaalon was allowed to make several controversial statements … without any meaningful challenge, and the program-makers have accepted that the interviewer ought to have interrupted him and questioned him on his assertions.””

Yes – Fraser Steel apparently accepts that it is “controversial” to state self-evident, provable facts about the Palestinian Authority’s political system. That of course is all the more bizarre given the BBC’s frequent description of Hamas as “the democratically elected” ruling body in the Gaza Strip. 

Ironically, on numerous occasions in the past the BBC has failed to conform to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality when interviewing both Amena Saleem and other members of the opaquely funded anti-Israel, pro-Hamas lobbying and campaigning group with which she is associated.

For some time now the nature of the BBC’s relationship with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been a topic of interest and the corporation’s swift capitulation to political pressure following the publication of an article last summer about Hamas-supplied casualty figures and the subsequent ‘top-down’ dictated alterations made to that article – along with additional ‘damage control’ – brought the issue further into public view.

In addition to further highlighting that subject, the upholding of this blatantly politically motivated complaint by the head of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit also serves to indicate yet again the inherent flaws in the BBC’s self-regulating complaints system and the urgent need for that topic to be addressed.

Related Articles:

BBC’s capitulation to political pressure on Gaza casualty figures: tip of a bigger iceberg?

Selective PSC outrage over BBC impartiality and integrity

BBC Breakfast’s Jenny Hill enables PSC antisemitism washing

Unhindered promotion of PSC speaker’s propaganda by BBC News

Why does the BBC Trust’s ESC pretend that the 1947 Partition Plan is a thing?

 

 

Update on the BBC’s handling of the Tim Willcox case

As readers no doubt recall, back in February the BBC’s Head of Editorial Complaints, Fraser Steel, announced the provisional outcome of the Editorial Complaints Unit’s consideration of the collective points made in the many complaints concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during BBC coverage of the rally in Paris on January 11th 2015.Presentation Willcox b pic 1

Members of the public have now informed us of the receipt of a further communication from Fraser Steel following the presentation of comments on the provisional finding.

“Having had the opportunity of considering comments on the provisional finding, I’m now finalising it on the basis set out in my previous letter, apart from one modification.

It’s clear from a number of the comments I received that I understood the first of the summarised points of complaint (“That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the Middle East”) in a different sense from some who complained.

What I had in mind was a direct causal relationship between particular recent events in the Middle East and the Paris killings, and it was on that basis that I wrote “Nothing in the day’s coverage of events in Paris suggested a direct link between events in the Middle East and those killings, and I can’t see that such a suggestion can readily be derived from what Mr Willcox said”.

It has been put to me, and I have accepted, that Mr Willcox’s words suggested a broader link between perceptions of Palestinian suffering and the incidence of anti-Semitic incidents.

However, that doesn’t alter the outcome because I don’t think suggesting a link of that kind can be viewed as a breach of editorial standards (or even as particularly controversial, considering the correlation between anti-Semitic incidents and Israeli actions with an adverse impact on Palestinians which has been noted by organisations such as the Community Security Trust).”

As was noted here at the time, Steel’s misunderstanding of the essence of the complaints on that topic was plain to see. Unfortunately, he obviously still does not (or will not) comprehend the issue properly.

Willcox was not making some academic comment on the ‘epidemiology’ of antisemitic incidents. What he did – whilst interrupting a woman talking about the need for recognition of the targeting of European Jews – was to insert a false equivalence (evident in his use of the words “as well”) in the form of ‘Palestinian suffering’ which he attributed to “Jewish hands”. In other words, Willcox falsely implied that – like Jews in France – Palestinians are targets because of their religion and/or ethnicity and that European Jews can be held collectively responsible for the perceived actions of Israel.

The bottom line of this latest communication from Fraser Steel is that he stands by his earlier proposal to reject en masse the large number of complaints received about Willcox’s remarks. Complainants still have the possibility of appeal to the BBC Trust at their disposal for a limited period of time, but as Steel points out in this letter, “the Trust does not consider every appeal brought to it”.

Four months (and goodness knows how many publicly funded man-hours) on, the BBC has not budged an inch from its original classification of Willcox’s remarks as “poorly phrased”. As Steel wrote in his provisional findings which have now been deemed ‘finalised’:

“I share Mr Willcox’s view that his comments were poorly phrased, but I think they were no worse than that.”

One cannot but recall the words of Nick Cohen at the time:

“…Willcox is not some isolated and aberrant racist; his views are the standard opinions of the European left middle class. I meet them every day in my political neighbourhood. They are the result of ignorance rather than malice. (Although I find that in time a dark alchemy can transform ignorance into malice.)

Willcox like so many others does not understand that anti-Semitism is not a rational, if regrettably bloody, critique of Israeli foreign policy but an insane conspiracy theory that has captured the minds of millions of fanatics, moved whole nations and led to uncountable deaths.

I wonder how many more bombs it will take to blow these people out of their folly. In my bleaker moments, I suspect they will take it to their graves.”

The BBC’s handling of this case has from the very beginning been characterized by a complete disregard for its social responsibilities as the publicly funded national broadcaster of a country in which less than a year ago antisemitic hate incidents reached record levels. As we noted here in January:

“Precisely because of the fact there are people in the UK who make threats to British ten year-olds whilst invoking a fabricated connection between them and a conflict thousands of miles away, the BBC still needs to issue a prominent on-air statement clarifying that Willcox’s statement was not merely “poorly phrased”, but that the linkage he promoted based on the premise that Jews anywhere in the world hold collective responsibility for the perceived actions of the State of Israel is both false and antisemitic.”

Unfortunately for both the credibility of the BBC complaints system and the broader reputation of the corporation as a whole – those words still stand. 

 

BoD weighs in on BBC’s rejection of Willcox complaints

The Jewish Chronicle informs us that the Board of Deputies of British Jews (the main representative body of Jews in Britain) has commented on the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit’s rejection of complaints made by members of the public about statements from Tim Willcox during a report from Paris on January 11th.Willcox

“The Board of Deputies has condemned the BBC for not taking action against Tim Willcox after his interview with a Jewish woman about the terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris sparked anger. […]

Board vice president Jonathan Arkush said: “It’s remarkable that the BBC could have reviewed the evidence and dismissed the complaints against Tim Willcox so airily and it raises very serious questions over the objectivity of the inquiry.

“The BBC is clearly unfit to be the judge and jury in cases when it is also the accused.” “

Related Articles:

BBC ECU rejects complaints about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish hands’ remarks

OFCOM’s response to complaints about remarks from BBC’s Tim Willcox

DCMS report on the future of the BBC

 

BBC ECU rejects complaints about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish hands’ remarks

Many people have written in to inform us of the response they recently received from the BBC’s Head of Editorial Complaints, Fraser Steel, concerning complaints they submitted about remarks made by Tim Willcox during BBC coverage of the rally in Paris on January 11th.

As readers will recall, the BBC initially responded to complaints by informing members of the public that Willcox had apologised for what he termed a “poorly phrased question” on Twitter. Members of the public who pursued their complaint further then received another generic response from the Complaints Director at the Editorial Complaints Unit, Andrew Bell, informing them that the BBC had decided to deal with the many complaints it had received on the issue as a single unit rather than as individual complaints. The communication most recently sent to complainants by Fraser Steel (see below – click to enlarge) summarises the provisional outcome of the ECU’s consideration of the points made in all the complaints against the relevant Editorial Guidelines of accuracy, impartiality and harm and offence.

BBC reply Willcox 1

BBC reply Willcox 2

BBC Willcox reply 3

BBC reply Willcox 4Let’s take a closer look at Steel’s interpretation of the most crucial part of the interview. As he notes, the initial question raised by Willcox raised the topic of the fears of the Jewish community in France in relation to the Muslim community in the same country.

TW: Do you ever feel threatened or frightened by the Muslim community here, because if you look at the figures more Jews in France seem to be leaving France than in other European countries, and yet France has the biggest population of Jews, as it does indeed of Muslims, in Europe.  Do you feel that fear?

His interviewee’s response noted that whilst Israelis like herself living in France feel less insecure because they have alternatives more accessible than those available to the non-Israeli Jewish population in France, nevertheless she – as an Israeli Jew living in France – felt less secure in recent days.

Chava: I didn’t feel this fear until last days, I have to say.  As I’m coming from…it’s not the same for Jews being born here and Israeli coming to here.  This is two different populations.  Israelis, when they come to France, they have something already inside them, they are not, we are not afraid, we know that every moment we can go somewhere else.  We have like a back very strong.  The Jews which were born here, they are coming from another culture, so it’s completely different.  But I can tell that since a few days I feel again not secure and not…It’s something which is very, and I was talking to Aziz also, I feel that now it’s like in 1930s, we are…the situation is going back to these days of 1930 in Europe.

Willcox then turned to the topic of possible solutions to that feeling of insecurity, with his interviewee expressing the opinion that the solution must include recognition of the fact that Jews living in Europe are being targeted.

TW: But do you think it can be rescued now with the right approach, with a more inclusive society addressing the problems that people have?

Chava: I didn’t understand completely your…

TW: Do you think that can be resolved, though, now, before it’s too late?

Chava: Yes of course – we have to, we have to not to be afraid to say that the Jews are being the, they are the target now.  It’s not only the…the…er…

At that point Willcox inserted an interruption with which he did two things: firstly he quickly diverted the topic of conversation away from the limited framework of French Jewish and Muslim communities previously under discussion by introducing the issue of conflict in the Middle East. He also cut short discussion of the topic of the targeting of Jews in Europe by inserting a false equivalence – evident in his use of the words “as well” – in the form of ‘Palestinian suffering’ which he attributed to “Jewish hands”. In other words, Willcox falsely implied that – like Jews in France – Palestinians are targets because of their religion and/or ethnicity.

TW: Many critics, though, of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.

Chava: We cannot do an amalgam…to…between…

TW: But you understand everything is seen from different perspectives…

Chava: Of course, but this is not my…er…

TW: No, I understand.

Fraser Steel’s claim that Willcox’s statement “was in effect a question put to Chava for comment” completely ignores the issue of why Willcox found it necessary to divert the conversation away from both the events in Paris and the topic of the targeting of French Jews by interrupting his interviewee.

“I think it’s clear from what I’ve quoted above that Mr Willcox’s reference to the Palestinians, though framed as a statement, was in effect a question put to Chava for comment.  I would accept that (as Mr Willcox has himself acknowledged) what he said was poorly-phrased, but what the Editorial Complaints Unit must decide is whether his words amounted to a serious breach of the BBC’s editorial standards.  That’s the question I’ll be keeping in mind as I address the particular points of complaint as summarised by my colleague.

That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the Middle East;

Nothing in the day’s coverage of events in Paris suggested a direct link between events in the Middle East and those killings, and I can’t see that such a suggestion can readily be derived from what Mr Willcox said.”

But that is exactly what Willcox did and it is inconceivable that Steel’s powers of English language comprehension are so limited that he cannot see it. Willcox’s statement clearly not only introduced the subject of the Middle East into the discussion but also misled BBC audiences in that it misrepresented events in the Middle East by means of the inaccurate suggestion that “Jewish hands” cause Palestinians to “suffer” because of motives identical to those of an Islamist terrorist who carried out a pre-meditated attack on identifiably Jewish targets at the Hyper Cacher supermarket.

Steel continues:

“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.”

Steel’s obviously erroneous suggestion here is that “Israeli policy” is formulated and executed exclusively by “Israeli Jews”: he conveniently ignores the fact that among those formulating Israeli policy and those executing it are members of the non-Jewish communities in Israel making up over 20% of the country’s population. Hence, his transparent attempt to rewrite Willcox’s reference to “Jewish hands” to make it mean Israelis is obviously disingenuous. 

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”.  

But beyond the technicalities, more importantly what we see here is that the BBC apparently believes itself to have both the authority and the expertise to make pronunciations on what is – or is not – antisemitism. Clearly that arrogant assumption flies in the face of the MacPherson Report which recommended that racist incidents should be defined as “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”. Had Fraser Steel bothered to consult with expert bodies and/or representatives of the Jewish community (and there is no evidence in this document of his having done so) he might have been better placed to understand the essence of the complaints he was tasked with reviewing.

The issue of the BBC’s self-regulating complaints system is one which has been under discussion for quite some time and is likely to be raised again when the BBC’s Royal Charter comes up for renewal next year. Many people have become convinced by their experiences of navigating the system that it does not serve the interests of the corporation’s funding public and that it fails to ensure that the BBC adheres to its obligations to accuracy and impartiality.

Fraser Steel’s dismissive response to the high volume of complaints made about Tim Willcox’s statements can only further entrench the growing view that a self-regulating BBC is incompatible with the public purposes defined in its constitutional document.