BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ revisits antisemitism and anti-Zionism

As we know the BBC’s record on preventing, identifying – and correcting – antisemitic discourse in its own content is worryingly dismal. Likewise, the BBC has been unable to explain anti-Zionism to its audiences adequately and attempts to do so have been repeatedly marred by promotion of the Livingstone Formulation. Not surprisingly therefore, the BBC’s coverage of the issue of antisemitism in the ranks of the UK Labour party has also repeatedly been unsatisfactory and unhelpful to its funding public.

Against that backdrop, parts of the September 11th edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ (broadcast both on television and BBC World Service radio) with the British writer Howard Jacobson were noteworthy.

From 08:38 in the video below the topic of conversation turned to antisemitism with Jacobson concluding:

“…it would be madness to suppose it’s [antisemitism] not there and it is here in this country in a particular guise.”

Host Stephen Sackur jumped in:

Sackur: “But maybe sometimes…well…maybe sometimes you see it in places where actually it is something else. And I’m thinking here about the conflation, some would say, the conflation of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment or anti-Zionist sentiment.”

Jacobson: “I don’t conflate it.”

Sackur: “Some do.”

Jacobson: “Well there may be some who do. I mean a lot of people are accused of conflating it when they don’t. They are two separate things but that doesn’t mean that they are bound to be separate things. It is quite true that an anti-Zionist need not be an antisemite but that doesn’t mean that an anti-Zionist is never going to be an antisemite.”

Sackur: “But they are two distinct and different things. One is political and ideological. One is essentially about the hate of a people and a religion.”

Following Jacobson’s reply to that assertion, Sackur changed the subject, claiming that he had already “explored” the topic of Zionism in a previous interview with anti-Zionist Ilan Pappe which in fact took place over three years ago. Sackur then turned the conversation to the topic of antisemitism in the UK Labour party, claiming that “the Labour party has dealt with that”.

Howard Jacobson’s response and Sackur’s subsequent invocation of a controversial letter to the Guardian can be viewed below.

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Tower Jamie Palmer meticulously documents an important phenomenon in an article titled “The Pro-Palestinian Left is Tearing Itself Apart Over Syria“.Weekend Read 

“This silence has confounded the activists and writers of the Syrian revolution. If the anti-war Left was moved to outrage by air-strikes in Gaza and Baghdad, why was it unmoved by the sight of Syrian bodies and buildings being smashed to atoms in Aleppo and Homs?

The Syrian revolutionaries’ confusion gave way to frustration that in turn gave way to anger, particularly when they noticed that what did galvanize protests was not a pitiless dictator smashing his fiefdom to smithereens, but any suggestion that the West might do something to stop him. When the Assad regime fired sarin gas into the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21, 2013, killing hundreds of civilians, it looked for a moment as if the West, led by America, might finally intervene. It was only then that the anti-war movement lurched back to life.”

2) At the Weekly Standard, Lee Smith gives his take on the recent presidential election in Lebanon.

“Many observers believe this election signifies that Lebanon has now come fully under Hezbollah management. But this has been the case already for years. Hezbollah has controlled key Lebanese institutions, especially the security and military portfolios, since the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005. Hezbollah’s instigation of war against Israel in 2006 was further proof that it had final say over the country’s foreign policy. That Iran’s praetorian guard on the eastern Mediterranean has now placed some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel throughout Lebanon reinforces the fact that Hezbollah alone has the power to make life-and-death decisions of state, affecting the fate of millions of Lebanese, whether they back the group or oppose it. What the election shows is that Hezbollah has finally replicated the system of its patron, the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

3) Khaled Abu Toameh takes a look at the likely outcomes of the scheduled Fatah conference.

“Barring last-minute changes, the Palestinian Fatah faction, which is headed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, is scheduled to hold its Seventh Conference in Ramallah on November 29. This will be the first gathering of its kind since August 2009.

The upcoming conference coincides with mounting tensions in Fatah, the result of internal bickering and growing discontent with Abbas’s autocratic rule. Some 1,300 delegates to the conference will be asked to vote for two of Fatah’s key decision-making bodies — the 23-member Central Committee and the 132-member Revolutionary Council.

Palestinian political analysts predict that the Fatah conference will deepen divisions among the faction’s rival camps, particularly in the wake of Abbas’s continued efforts to eliminate his critics. Abbas, they say, decided to convene the parley in a bid to tighten his grip on Fatah and block the emergence of new leaders.”

4) At the Times of Israel, Lyn Julius discusses one aspect of a BBC programme broadcast last weekend.

“The great historian Bernard Lewis says that the myth of Muslim tolerance is one of the great myths propagated by 19th century Jewish historians who wanted to embarrass the west into giving European Jews greater civil rights. Belief in the myth of Muslim tolerance was a result, more than a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam. “The myth was invented by Jews in nineteenth-century Europe as a reproach to Christians – and taken up by Muslims in our own time as a reproach to Jews,” he writes.”

remembrance-day

BBC’s director of news discusses antisemitism – up to a point

On November 5th BBC World Service radio broadcast an edition of the programme ‘On Background’ which included (from 34:20 here) an item described in the synopsis as “author Howard Jacobson with the BBC’s Kevin Connolly on anti-Semitism in Europe”.on-background-5-11

The programme has several notable aspects, one of which is the fact that it is co-presented by the BBC’s director of news.

“BBC News’ James Harding and Zanny Minton Beddoes from the Economist dig a little deeper into some of the big stories of the week.”

The item begins with Kevin Connolly revisiting the May 2014 shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in which an Israeli couple, a French woman and a Belgian man were murdered. Notably – in light of the BBC’s record – the incident is accurately described on two occasions as a “terrorist attack”. However, the identity of the suspected attacker and his apparent Islamist motives are not mentioned at all in Connolly’s report.

Given the chosen starting point of the attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels, listeners familiar with its background would perhaps have been rather surprised by the item’s focus on the unrelated topic of Christian antisemitism in Europe.

Referring to his Jewish interviewees from Belgium, Connolly tells audiences:

“Their view is – to some extent because of the Holocaust – that Christian tradition of antisemitism in Europe has been fixed, in inverted commas, by education or by a sense of what is or what is not socially acceptable. But they worry now that new minorities coming into Europe bringing with them the attitudes, for example, of the Middle East or of North Africa, will give antisemitism a new vitality on the continent and will revisit an ancient problem in a modern way.”

Presenter James Harding’s response to that is to ask:

“But is there any evidence […] that antisemitism within a Christian tradition still exists in Europe?”

Later on, following a description of manifestations of antisemitism by Howard Jacobson, Harding responds by saying:

“But Howard Jacobson – wouldn’t there be people listening to you now, particularly Muslim listeners, who’d say consider Islamophobia in Europe; consider the plight of Muslims who are facing much more critical commentary and, frankly, much more hostility across Europe.”

The issue raised by Connolly’s Belgian interviewees in fact receives no serious discussion throughout the item.

Another interesting point about the item is the absence of any introspection on the part of the BBC’s director of news concerning content produced by his own organisation which has amplified the kind of tropes described by his expert guest Howard Jacobson.

Jacobson [46:28]: “And here we get onto the very thorny problem of Israel because in my view – which has got nothing to do with defending Israel at all: the politics of Israel; we can leave that out. But I do think that Israel has enabled a vocabulary of antisemitism to surface and express itself again. I’m not just talking about how we feel about individual Israeli policy. We will find descriptions of what’s happened in Israel that are too close to comfort to medieval tropes about what Jews were like. You will hear people saying Israel is supported by a ‘Jewish lobby’ or there’s an immense amount of money supporting Israel politics or when it comes to Israel, the Jewish lobby is the tail wagging the American dog. So these are all old ways of talking about the Jews that go all the way back to things that were said in Mein Kampf but they now have another…another battle ground if you like.”

Readers may recall that the ‘tail wagging the dog’ theme was promoted by a senior BBC correspondent in September 2013 and that amplification of the notion of a powerful ‘Jewish lobby’ has regrettably been an all too frequent feature of BBC content – for example here, here and here.

Later on in the discussion, Jacobson refers to the Livingstone Formulation.

“I’ll tell you what’s a real problem here: every time you say look, there seems to be an antisemitism problem here, you’re met with a blank wall – I find it quite impertinent actually; I find it insolent – that says all you’re trying to do is stop criticism of Israel. That is such a mantra now, you’ve no idea. In any argument now about the issue of antisemitism, it’s silenced by people who say that they are being silenced: ‘you’re only saying I’m an antisemite to stop me talking; to stop me criticising Israel’. It’s entirely untrue. Criticise Israel all you like but they must see that every time they say that, they are silencing those who say there is a problem with antisemitism.”

As regulars readers know, the BBC has itself frequently promoted the Livingstone Formulation in its own content – including in a backgrounder supposedly designed to help audiences understand the ‘difference’ between antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

Antisemitism is a subject with which the BBC has been visibly struggling for a long time. That struggle manifests itself both as the frequent failure to report accurately (or sometimes, the failure to report at all) on stories involving antisemitism and the failure to adequately address the issue of antisemitism in its own content and on its message boards.

It is therefore all the more regrettable that a programme which claims to ‘dig deeper’ hosted by such a prominent figure as the BBC’s director of news did not actually deliver.

Related Articles:

BBC again dithering (impartially, of course) over antisemitism

Antisemitic comments (again) on BBC WHYS Facebook post… about show on antisemitism   

 

Media and Israel: Friday night long reads and listens

Adam Levick – managing editor of our sister site UK Media Watch (formerly CiF Watch) – recently spoke with Judy Lash Balint on her Voice of Israel radio show. Readers can listen to the interview here.Adam on VoI

Those interested in joining us in Jerusalem this coming Sunday for our event titled ‘Framing Israel, Framing Jews’ can still register here.

On a related note, writers Ben Judah and Josh Glancy have an interesting interview in Tablet with novelist Howard Jacobson.

“Jewish north London starts just three miles up the road, but conceptually you could not be further from its prim suburbs. Jacobson doesn’t belong there. In that world, the rise of anti-Semitism is the talk of the Shabbat dinner table. People mutter that since the Gaza war last summer there has been “something in the air.” They check property prices in Herzliya with increasing regularity, just in case they need a bolt-hole. […]

“Israel has become the pretext [for anti-Semitism] not because I choose it to be, but because they have,” he says in his gruff but melodious north Manchester accent, still with him despite decades of living in London. “All the unsayable things, all the things they know they can’t say about Jews in a post-Holocaust liberal society, they can say again now. Israel has desacralized the subject. It’s a space in which everything is allowed again.”

The difficulty all British Jews face with growing anti-Zionism is how to interpret it. What is legitimate criticism and what is something else? Sometimes it is clear when the line has been crossed, such as when swastikas and the Magen David start appearing on placards together. But other times it is far less clear, woven into a complex mix of genuine and excessive outrage. Jacobson’s strength on this issue is his ability to sort the anti-Semitic wheat from the anti-Israel chaff. Like many secular Jews he is clearly uncomfortable with the Bennettist millenarian nationalism that has grown in influence there. But he thinks “everyone’s always banging on about that.” Instead the war he chooses to wage is against anti-Zionism; the language, the sophistries, and the double standards. In recent years he has become England’s anti-Zionism code-reader-in-chief.”

Read the whole article here.