BBC One’s ‘Panorama’ on Labour antisemitism raises another issue

The edition of ‘Panorama’ titled “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” which was aired on BBC One on July 10th (available here on iPlayer or here) swiftly garnered reactions from the Labour party itself – which described it as an “authored polemic” – and its supporters as well as from bodies such as the Chief Rabbi, the JLC and CST and the Board of Deputies of British Jews along with many others.

There is, however, something more to be said about the core topic addressed by John Ware.

At 08:58 Ware told viewers that: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Ware: “Before Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader in 2015, complaints in the party about antisemitism were rare. […] After Mr Corbyn became leader, party membership surged, some attracted by his decades of radical Left activism.

Interviewee: “So there’s an increase in members from a particular perspective and they brought with them a particular world view which unfortunately allowed breathing space for antisemitism to arise.”

That “world view” of course existed in British society long before Corbyn’s election to the party leadership in September 2015 and it was described later on in the film (from 10:21) as follows by Dr Dave Rich.

Rich: “Many people on the Left they define themselves by being anti-racist and actually they define the Right as being racist. So in their world they can’t be antisemitic because they are Left-wing.”

Ware: “For Jeremy Corbyn and those who share his world view, part of being anti-racist is near unconditional support for the Palestinian cause. Yet the campaign for Palestinian rights can blind some anti-racists to another kind of racism against Jews.”

Rich: “If you look back at the kind of antisemitism that existed in the 1930s – Jews using their money, Jews controlling governments – instead you started to see the same ideas were being directed towards Israel. These kinds of ideas are much more acceptable on the Left and in pro-Palestinian campaigning circles because they talk about Israel; they don’t talk about Jews. But actually underneath the surface, it’s the same ideas.”

If one wishes to understand why antisemitism is still so sociably acceptable in the UK in the 21st century that it is not a barrier to becoming a member of – or even a leading figure in – one of Britain’s most prominent political parties, one cannot ignore the country’s biggest and most influential media organisation.

For example, among the images seen during the above section of the programme was this one, apparently from a demonstration in London:

The picture used on that banner – and the falsehood behind it – is a product of inaccurate and irresponsible BBC reporting.

Long before Jeremy Corbyn took over the Labour party leadership the BBC was whitewashing the antisemitism of British politicians and facilitating the spread of antisemitic discourse on its message boards. Over six years ago the BBC was already promoting the notion that “it’s very difficult to criticize the Israeli government without in turn being told you’re antisemitic and some people would say that Jews see antisemitism everywhere” and that was not a one-off case by any means. In its various ‘backgrounders’ supposedly explaining antisemitism to its audiences, the BBC has repeatedly promoted the Livingstone Formulation.

The BBC has hosted known antisemites and Holocaust deniers and provided often offensive anti-Israel campaigners with an unhindered platform from which to promote falsehoods. It has whitewashed antisemitism in British society from sport to charities and academia and has promoted antisemitic stereotypes. BBC audiences have been repeatedly exposed to antisemitic tropes concerning ‘the Jewish lobby’ or ‘the Israel lobby’ and stereotypes about ‘rich Jews’ even from BBC staff and contributors. And of course the BBC has failed to respond appropriately to complaints from the general public concerning antisemitism in its own content.

Since the issue of antisemitism in the Labour party became prominent, the BBC has repeatedly shown itself to be incapable of reporting on that topic accurately, impartially and in a manner which provides the British public with the full range of information.

So while John Ware’s Panorama documentary about institutional antisemitism in the Labour party is obviously a very welcome step in informing the British public about the anti-Jewish racism in their society, it is also necessary for the BBC to put its own house in order by undertaking a serious examination of its own coverage of – and contributions to – that worrying phenomenon.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Antisemitism Crisis: a Timeline  (CAMERA)

BBC News not sure whether Corbyn controversy mural antisemitic or not

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

 

 

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BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview highlights presenter’s Israel fixation

h/t RH, DK

A recent edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk’ was presented to viewers of the BBC World News channel and the BBC News channel on January 10th as follows:

“HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur speaks to Pinchas Goldschmidt, Chief Rabbi of Moscow and president of the Conference of European Rabbis. There is plenty of disturbing data pointing to a significant rise in overt anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States but why? How should the Jewish community respond? And how much reassurance and protection is being offered to Jews whose past has so often been written in blood? Is rising anti-Semitism a symptom of a liberal democratic order that is starting to crumble?”

A similar synopsis was presented in an audio version of the programme aired on BBC World Service radio on January 11th.

While the first part of the programme largely stuck to some of the subject matter presented in that synopsis, from around the middle of the interview presenter Stephen Sackur shifted the focus of the discussion, beginning by questioning whether opposition to the existence of the Jewish state is antisemitism. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

[14:07] Sackur: “Interesting you put it in the historical context throughout this interview. I felt from you a consciousness not just of the present but of the past in Europe and what has happened to Jews in the past. And it’s interesting that the former Chief Rabbi in Britain, Jonathan Sacks, he said, you know, ‘in the Middle Ages Jews were persecuted because of their religion, in the 19th and 20th centuries they were reviled because of their race and today in the 21st century Jews are attacked because of the existence of their nation-state, Israel’. Do you feel that Israel has now become front and centre in ways in which people who have antisemitic intent are now using the Israel issue to get at the Jewish people?”

Pointing out that not everyone who criticises Israel is an antisemite, Rabbi Goldschmidt went on:

Goldschmidt: “However, if you go and you delegitimise Israel […] and you say that every people in the world have a right to a nation-state besides the Jews, so that’s also another form of politically correct antisemitism which…”

Sackur [interrupts] “Is it? It’s anti-Israel and its government and its policies in occupied territory but is it antisemitism?

Sackur – who is apparently embarrassingly unaware that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism adopted by his own government categorises “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” as a form of antisemitism – next moved on to the topic of the leader of the British Labour party.

[15:44] Sackur: “When you observe in Britain the fall-out between the Jewish community and the leader of the main opposition party in the United Kingdom – Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party – with clear overt allegations from the Jewish establishment that Jeremy Corbyn has aided and abetted antisemitism, do you worry about the degree to which there is now this gulf between one of the main political parties and the Jewish community in Britain?”

When Rabbi Goldschmidt stated that the meaning of security for Jews is that they would fare equally well regardless of which political party was elected Sackur interjected:

[16:51] Sackur: “Well only if you’re suggesting to me that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party is an existential threat to the future of the Jewish community in Britain. Are you seriously saying that?”

Goldschmidt: “I think that the British Jewish community is the best to answer that. However I’ve seen the turbulence….”

Sackur [interrupts] “Let us remember that despite all of the allegations about Jeremy Corbyn and his actions in the past and his words in the past, Jeremy Corbyn insists that throughout his political career he has been a fighter against, an enemy of all forms of racism including, he always says, antisemitism.”

The remainder of the programme saw Sackur focus somewhat obsessively on one political figure who is of course unconnected to the supposed topic of the programme, beginning with employment of the ‘some people I’m not going to name say’ tactic.

[17:54] Sackur: “You see some observers of this debate and this argument and this rift that has developed see a fundamental hypocrisy amongst many Jewish people because while they castigate Jeremy Corbyn for some of his associations in the past, they look across the water to Israel, to the leader of Israel prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu who just recently hosted for five days of warmth and friendship prime minister Viktor Orban of Hungary who has long associations with far right elements including antisemitic elements in Hungary. Also they see Binyamin Netanyahu making a point of journeying all the way to Brazil to declare his friendship, alliance and partnership with the new president of Brazil, Mr Bolsonaro, who has a record – a long record – of making statements which are deeply troubling in terms of his attitude to minorities, to gay people, to women. Where’s the consistency here?”

The Hungarian prime minister’s July 2018 visit to Israel in fact lasted two days rather than five as inaccurately claimed by Sackur, who predictably had nothing to say about the representatives of 59 additional counties who attended the recent inauguration of Brazil’s new president.

When Rabbi Goldschmidt pointed out that British Jews do not vote for the prime minister of Israel Sackur interrupted him again:

Sackur: “But nobody’s accusing Binyamin Netanyahu of antisemitism because he develops a very warm friendship with Viktor Orban, who many Jews regard as deeply dangerous to the future of Jewish communities in Europe.”

Sackur did not provide any evidence for his claim of “a very warm friendship” between the prime ministers of Israel and Hungary and did not clarify whether or not he believes that, by the same standard, the British prime minister should be criticised for hosting the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince last year.

Interrupting his guest yet again, Sackur pursued his point:

[20:04] Sackur: “…let me ask you a very blunt question. What do you – as the chief of the Conference of European Rabbis – what do you think of Binyamin Netanyahu cosying up to Viktor Orban and the leadership in Poland, both of which have very troubling attitudes to many Jews in Europe?”

Goldschmidt: “I think that…”

Sackur [interrupts] “Just tell me what you think.”

Sackur then posed his fourth question relating to Israel’s prime minister.

[20:55] Sackur: “Just a final thought and it involves your personal life as well. You’ve made a life for the last 3 decades in Russia and actually the position for Jews in Russia appears on the face of it to have improved over the last 30 years. I dare say you’ve been involved in that. Binyamin Netanyahu – again quoting him – when there are serious, horrible terror attacks which involve Jewish people being killed in Europe, he always says to the Jews of – in this case I’m quoting France but the Jews of Europe – he says ‘listen, Israel isn’t just the place in whose direction you pray; the State of Israel is your home and Israel is waiting for you with open arms’. As a European Jew who’s made a life in Russia, do you think it is wise and helpful for the Israeli prime minister to constantly tell Jews that ultimately, by implication, the only safe place for Jews is in Israel?”

Failing to listen to Rabbi Goldschmidt’s answer – which included clarification of the importance of the existence of Israel “to all Jews” – Sackur interrupted him again.

Sackur: “I’m not sure you’re answering my specific point. Is it your perspective that Israel is ultimately the only safe place – truly safe place – for the Jewish people?”

This programme could have provided BBC audiences – both domestic and international – with some insight into the issue of antisemitism in Europe and how the Jewish minority living on the continent perceives its future.

Unfortunately, Stephen Sackur’s often aggressive focus on getting his own points across – including promotion of the notion that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism, defending Jeremy Corbyn, downplaying the fears of British Jews and his bizarre but long-held obsession with the current Israeli prime minister – meant that viewers and listeners lost a good deal of the opportunity to hear from one of the better informed voices on those issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Two presenter Victoria Derbyshire should read this A-Z thread on Labour antisemitism

As followers of BBC Watch no doubt recall, on Aug. 15th, BBC Two presenter Victoria Derbyshire interviewed two British Jews, Mark Lewis and his partner Mandy Blumenthal, to discuss their view that antisemitism in the UK has become so bad that they no longer felt safe living there, and had decided to emigrate to Israel.

As we noted at the time, the interview was so biased – and at times hostile – that the BBC presenter could have been mistaken for a Jeremy Corbyn spokesperson, as she spouted off meaningless Labour talking points, used misleading statistics attempting to downplay antisemitism and seemed convinced that the couple was grossly exaggerating their concerns – despite death threats and other forms of abuse they’ve experienced.  

Derbyshire even at one point – in an attempt to discredit their claims – accused Lewis and Blumenthal of belonging to a non-existent Zionist political party in the UK.

Yesterday, @GasherJew, a twitter account that’s been doing extremely important work exposing antisemitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, tweeted the following thread containing an A-Z of examples of Labour antisemitism.

The list is especially useful for journalists and pro-Corbyn activists who deny that antisemitism is a serious issue in the party, or suggest that the problem has been greatly exaggerated by the British Jewish community. (See web version of the twitter thread here)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corbyn: “Sorry, who?”

Kearney: “You’ve not met him?”

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

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

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

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

Corbyn: “The idea that…the idea…”

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

BBC News not sure whether Corbyn controversy mural antisemitic or not

BBC News ‘explanation’ of antisemitism promotes the Livingstone Formulation