BBC Radio 4’s statistics programme on Holocaust denial in the UK

The lead item (from 00:28 here) in the February 3rd edition of the BBC Radio 4 statistics programme ‘More or Less’ related to the results of a survey published a few days earlier by Britain’s Holocaust Memorial Day Trust that was previously covered on the BBC News website.

“Is it true that one in 20 adults in Britain don’t believe the Holocaust took place? Those are the findings of a survey commissioned by The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. But Professor Peter Lynn of Essex University explains why the survey is unlikely to be accurate.”

Presenter Tim Harford introduced the item:

Harford: “Last Sunday was Holocaust Memorial Day; a day of solemn remembrance. But it was also a day of appalled surprise because a poll was published claiming that [recording] ‘as many as one in 20 adults in Britain don’t believe the Holocaust took place and 1 in 12 believe its scale had been exaggerated’.

One in 20 Britons: that would be about three million people not believing that the Holocaust happened. The survey said that many others were confused about the details.

So to clear up any uncertainty, at least here, the Holocaust is a name given to the genocidal murder of around 6 million Jews led by the German State under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi government and part of an even bigger policy of systematic murder of a variety of targets including the Roma, disabled people, political prisoners and many others.

We’ve always known that a few people love to claim that this never happened or happened on a dramatically smaller scale – but as many as one in twenty?”

Programme producer Ruth Alexander subsequently brought in Peter Lynn, Professor of Survey Methodology at the University of Essex.

Alexander: “Now when Professor Lynn heard about the results of this survey, he raised an eyebrow.”

Lynn: “Yes, I was immediately sceptical that this sounded a bit…ehm…unlikely.”

Alexander: “The number sounds too big?”

Lynn: “Yes.”

With no identification of the additional experts cited, listeners were told that survey participants may have unintentionally stated that the Holocaust did not happen:

Alexander: “In fact, I’ve spoken to three other survey design experts – they all agree, there are some serious flaws with this study. Now it’s true that 5% of people surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that the Holocaust never really happened. However, Professor Lynn thinks they may not all have done so deliberately.”

Lynn: “I guess the first thing that struck me was that the wording of the question about believing that the Holocaust happened seems to me to have some serious shortcomings and I think that may have caused some people to appear to agree that the Holocaust had never really happened when that wasn’t what they intended.”

Harford: “So the issue here is that people taking part in an online survey like this; they’re ticking boxes, maybe they’re not looking too closely; maybe they’re in a hurry, they’re distracted by what’s on TV; they’re thinking more about the shopping vouchers they might receive for doing the survey than what they’re actually agreeing or disagreeing with and some of them might make outrageous claims just for the fun of it.”

Later on listeners were told that the result may have come about by accident.

Lynn: “There is always a significant minority of respondents who take short cuts and I think that that could be the case here because the respondents here are presented with a series of statements. Now the first two items in this scale are firstly: ‘It is important to know about the Holocaust in today’s world’ and secondly: ‘More needs to be done to educate people about what happened during the Holocaust’. So, at that point you might be beginning to think, ah I can see a battery of statements about the Holocaust, seems like I’m the kind of person who tends to agree with them; I’ll just agree to the next few and assume that that represents my position.

But the item we’re talking about here, the third item ‘the Holocaust never really happened’ is worded the other way round – it’s what we call a reversed item – where if you believe that the Holocaust happened, you should now be disagreeing with the item. So you could easily fall into the trap of just assuming you agreed with all these items and, therefore, not giving a response to this third item that actually represents your true view.”

With the programme makers’ views of the intelligence of the British public abundantly clear, Harford continued:

Harford: “It seems like there is a lot of ignorance out there and clearly Holocaust denial is a real thing and it would be worth trying to measure how prevalent it is. So do we know of any other, perhaps more reliable, research that can give us a better sense of the true numbers?”

Alexander went on to cite a study conducted twenty-five years ago in the United States (which obviously has no bearing on the issue of Holocaust denial in Britain) and to quote yet more anonymous experts on Holocaust denial in an equally unrelated location.

Alexander: “…it turned out that the correct number of Holocaust Deniers in the US was more like 2% of the population. And experts have told me that studies in Europe have tended to give lower numbers still.”

Apparently the ‘More or Less’ team would have the BBC’s domestic listeners conclude that a study conducted a quarter of a century ago in a country with a different culture, education system and population make up is more likely to reflect the percentage of people in their own country who do not believe that the Holocaust happened than a survey recently conducted in the UK.

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Antisemitic smear in BBC employee’s HMD tweet

On Holocaust Memorial Day – January 27th – the results of a survey showing among other things that 5% of UK adults do not believe that the Holocaust happened were published by the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

In a Tweet relating to that survey BBC employee Masoud Behnoud wrote (as confirmed by a professional translator):

“This [lack of knowledge about the Holocaust] happens in a situation where the financial and political power of Jews has been publicising/promoting it [i.e. knowledge about the Holocaust] for half a century.” [emphasis added]

As we have unfortunately had cause to note here on numerous occasions in the past, the BBC has editorial guidelines on the personal use of social media.

While those guidelines do not include any specific mention of the topic of the promotion of antisemitic themes on microblogs run by BBC employees – apparently because the BBC does not expect to be employing people who engage in that or any other form of racism – they do state that people “identified as a BBC staff member or BBC talent…should not post derogatory or offensive comments on the Internet”.

Despite promoting his own BBC programmes in his timeline, Masoud Behnoud however does not identify himself as a BBC employee in his Twitter profile.

 

 

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.

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ discusses antisemitism ahead of HMD – part one

As Holocaust Memorial Day approached, on January 25th the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme aired a short interview (from 2:24:30 here) with Deborah Lipstadt concerning her new book.

The introduction to that item from presenter Martha Kearney included the following: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Kearney: “Her new book looks at the rise of antisemitism in the past decade and maintains that it’s no longer just the far Right but those on the Left as well who are to blame.”

Having brought in her guest she went on:

Kearney: “Now just describe to us what you think lies behind this recent wave of antisemitism.”

Lipstadt: “Well as you said in the introduction I think right now it’s coming from the Right and from the Left and from a third source and that is Islamist Jihadist extremists. What lies behind it? I think a number of factors. First of all we’ve seen Right wing populist governments or Right wing political leaders, including in my own country, play on making divisions among people, play on making divisions against minorities which gins up this attit…plays into the antisemitism. On the Left I think it’s been brewing for a long time. We could trace roots of it back […] to the late […] USSR. But it’s been there but it’s taken on an added potency in recent years and is often used in connection to Israel.”

Kearney: “And you’ve written about Jeremy Corbyn in this context in your book.”

Lipstadt: “I have. I think Jeremy…I don’t know if Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite or not and I don’t think that’s the important question. I don’t know what’s in his heart. But what I do is look at his record over a very long time [….] and what I see is a man who doesn’t understand antisemitism or – worse yet – doesn’t take it seriously…”

Interrupting her guest, Kearney immediately jumped in with a quote which some BBC listeners have heard used before.

Kearney [interrupts] “Well you see he would dispute that and he’s written a number of articles and put out a number of statements and said, you know, for example ‘people who dish out antisemitic poison need to understand, you do not do it in my name’.”

Lipstadt: “Right, I know that. I think for Jeremy Corbyn and other progressives – not all progressives but people who…many people consider themselves progressives, their view of the world is refracted through a prism which has two facets. One factor is ethnicity and one is class. And they look at Jews and they see white people – quote unquote white people – who are privileged and therefore could not possibly be victims of prejudice. There’s an irony here of course because if you turn to the far Right, they don’t consider Jews white people [….]. And they say well therefore you could not possibly be a victim of prejudice. On top of this – and we hear this from Jeremy Corbyn and from others – I am a progressive, I have gotten my progressive values with my mother’s milk, they are inbred in me, it’s impossible, it’s just impossible, it’s oxymoronic for me to be prejudiced therefore you must be making this up. You must be doing this for some ulterior purpose. And they just refuse to take it seriously. I see it on campuses in the United States from the Left, I see it in the British Labour Party, I saw it in the women’s march in the United States – the leaders of the women’s march. You see it in many different places that they just don’t think antisemitism is a serious problem.”

Kearney closed the item at that point, with the BBC’s domestic listeners having heard nothing of substance on the topic of far-Right antisemitism in the UK or what Lipstadt termed “Islamist Jihadist extremists” and the highly relevant issue of links between that brand of antisemitism and the British Left.

While it was Kearney who raised the subject of the leader of the UK Labour party, she also found it necessary to challenge her expert guest’s observations by amplifying denials of Corbyn’s role in propagating antisemitism in a country in which 5% of adults do not believe the Holocaust happened, 8% say its scale is exaggerated and 64% cannot accurately state how many Jews were murdered.

As we shall see in part two of this post, the next day’s edition of the ‘Today’ programme returned to part of this interview with Deborah Lipstadt.

 

BBC News Channel apologises for HMD broadcast errors

In a report aired on January 25th on the BBC News Channel the BBC’s Religion editor Martin Bashir referred to Holocaust Memorial Day as about to be “celebrated” two days later and misquoted Britain’s Chief Rabbi, claiming that he said that “our silence would be to mourn the loss of those six thousand Jewish men, women and children…” [emphasis added]

Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint to the BBC concerning those inaccuracies and received a reply including the following:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding the BBC News Channel’s ‘Afternoon Live’ on 25 January.

We understand you feel our Religion Editor Martin Bashir used insensitive language to describe Holocaust Memorial Day and misquoted the number of Jewish victims.

During this timeframe Martin described events leading up to Holocaust Memorial Day and the people involved in the commemorations.

Please be assured, we strive to present accurate and relevant information throughout our news service. Reporters closely follow these guidelines while providing distinctive descriptions. They often deliver items under pressure and time restrictions, particularly in a live ‘rolling’ news environment.

We regret any editorial oversights but mistakes of this nature can occasionally slip through, despite the best endeavours of our experienced reporters.”

In light of that unsatisfactory response, Mr Franklin submitted a second complaint, to which he received an apposite reply from the Executive Editor of the BBC News Channel.

“I wanted to let you know in person that I think you are quite right to point out the errors in this broadcast.

Regrettably, Martin Bashir misspoke when he said Holocaust Memorial Day was being ‘celebrated’ when he intended to say ‘commemorated.’

I am very sorry for this mistake.

Clearly, too, Martin meant to give the figure of six million victims, not six thousand, and again we are sorry for this mistake.

The correct figure of six million victims was used before the report, and within it by a Holocaust survivor herself, but you are right to say this should not have happened.

While mistakes do occur in live broadcasting, it was very unfortunate that they should have occurred on this subject above all others.

Yours sincerely,

Sam Taylor

Executive Editor BBC News Channel.”

The fact that a member of the public had to submit two complaints before obvious inaccuracies were appropriately acknowledged once again demonstrates the inefficiency of the BBC’s outsourced audience services.

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Weekend long read

1) The New Statesman carries an edited version of the Holocaust Memorial Day lecture delivered by Howard Jacobson.

“It isn’t that we expected the world suddenly to love us after the camps were liberated. We are wise in the ways of human psychology. We know that people turn against those to whom they feel obliged. It is hard to forgive those you have wronged, and we knew we would not be forgiven the Holocaust. But we thought anti-Semitism itself might take a short break – admit its errors, lick its wounds and go into hiding for a while. Embarrassment, if nothing else, would surely deter most anti-Semites from showing their faces. “Not yet,” we thought they’d say. “Not a good idea after what’s just happened.” What no one could have expected was the speed with which they found a way round any such compunctions, not least by denying that anything had happened at all. Holocaust – what Holocaust?”

2) At the JNS Ben Cohen discusses Poland’s ‘Holocaust complicity’ law.

“If the Polish government’s goal was simply to encourage greater awareness and education about Polish suffering under the Nazis, that would be a laudable goal. But by tying that aspect of Nazi rule so explicitly to the mass enslavement and extermination of the Jews, and by willfully misrepresenting documented evidence of Polish anti-Semitism and collaboration with the Nazis as a slander upon the Polish nation as a whole, they are engineering their own deserved failure, to the detriment of Poland’s people.”

3) The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has published a report on a campaign being run by the Palestinian Authority and others.

“In September 2017 Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and the PA, issued a fatwa forbidding the use of the Israeli curriculum in schools in east Jerusalem. He was joined by Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, the imam of al-Aqsa mosque. Sabri Sidam, the PA minister of education, said in December 2017 that his ministry would begin to take practical steps to implement Sheikh Muhammad Hussein’s fatwa. […]

The number of students in east Jerusalem who study the Israeli curriculum is continually rising. According to information from the Jerusalem municipality, during the current school [2017-2018] year 5,800 students in east Jerusalem study the Israeli curriculum, an increase of 14% over the previous year [2016-2017]. […] Meir Shimoni, director of the Jerusalem district in the ministry of education, said that “the surveys we carried out indicate that about 50% of the parents in east Jerusalem want their children to pass the Israeli matriculation exams”.

4) At the JCPA Dr Jacques Neriah discusses Turkey’s military presence in the Middle East.

“While Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East have been under the world’s magnifying glass, Turkey has been silently projecting its military presence in the area to such an extent it has become a source of worry to the “moderate” Arab states and specifically to Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, since its invasion of Northern Cyprus in 1974, Turkey had underplayed its military in the Middle East as a significant military power. The Syrian civil war, the emergence of ISIS, and the proliferation of radical Islam coupled with a president identified with the Muslim Brothers have all been instrumental in appearing to Turkey’s critics in the Arab world as “the new Ottomans.””

Media and Israel: Friday night long reads

1) Over at the Fathom journal is a transcript of a speech titled ‘The ideological roots of media bias against Israel’ given by journalist Matti Friedman at a recent BICOM dinner.candles

“As one BBC reporter informed a Jewish interviewee on camera several weeks ago, after a Muslim terrorist murdered four Jewish shoppers at a Paris supermarket, “Many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffered hugely at Jewish hands as well.” Everything, that is, can be linked to the occupation, and Jews can be blamed even for the attacks against them. This isn’t the voice of the perpetrators, but of the enablers. The voice of the enablers is less honest than that of the perpetrators, and more dangerous for being disguised in respectable English. This voice is confident and growing in volume.”

Read the whole thing here

2) Hebrew speakers can find an article written by Yiftach Curiel in which he discusses the British media’s “obsession with Israel” here.

“After more than a year and a half in the role of spokesman for the embassy in London, I am still more surprised not by negative or inaccurate coverage […] but mainly by the volume of coverage and the unexplained level of interest in what happens in our little corner in the Middle East: in the great hopes hung upon us (such as an end to the conflict between extreme Islam and the West if only we would end the dispute between us and the Palestinians) and in the disappointment when we do not conduct ourselves like Sweden or Finland in the face of challenges which European states themselves have not experienced for tens of years.”

3) Anyone still in need of an antidote to the crass Tweet sent by the BBC’s ‘The Big Questions’ to promote its Holocaust Memorial Day edition can find an exceptionally moving piece by British journalist Hugo Rifkind here.

 

 

HMD edition of BBC One’s ‘The Big Questions’ not exempt from political propaganda

A tweet sent from the account of BBC One’s “moral, ethical and religious debate” programme ‘The Big Questions’ on January 25th has understandably caused something of a stir.

Big Questions tweet

In fact, the provocative question posed in that promotion was not the “one big question” discussed in the edition of the programme broadcast on the same day as readers unable to access BBC iPlayer can see for themselves below. No less contentious than the wording of that tweet was the fact that the programme’s subject matter was allowed to be exploited for opportunistic promotion of political propaganda by Nira Yuval-Davis of the University of East London.

“And part of the problem that we see is that on the one hand we see how Israel is using – very cynically unfortunately – this very important memory of the Holocaust. […]

[…] the fact [is] that the prime minister of Israel, whenever there is a diplomatic visit, he’s taking people to Yad Vashem – the memorial museum – and in order to show them this [is] what happened to Jews in the Holocaust as a preventative measure for any critique of Israeli policies.”

To be clear, the people sitting on the front row are invited guests and like all panel members appearing on ‘The Big Questions’ they would have been ‘vetted’ by the production team before their appearance on live television. That means that Nicky Campbell and his team must have known full well that they had invited an anti-Zionist, BDS-supporting proponent of the notion of the establishment of Israel as a project of “settler-colonialism” to appear on the panel of the edition of their programme advertised as part of the BBC’s Holocaust Memorial Season.