Former BBC interviewee on antisemitism resurfaces on Holocaust denial list

Via the CST we learn of the compilation by an Israeli government department of a list of social media accounts promoting Holocaust denial.   

“On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, anti-Semitism on the Internet is thriving, completely undeterred. The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs published today (Sunday) worrisome information regarding Holocaust denial on social networks on the internet, including a list of the most virulently anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers, which was determined in turn by the number of their posts, the number of their followers, the frequency with which they posted and “virility” of the various accounts. […]

According to data provided by Ministry of the Diaspora, over 7,500 tweets purporting denial and ridicule of the Holocaust have been posted on Twitter in English over this past month, and more than seven million visitors have been exposed to them. The average number of followers garnered by anti-Semitic posters is 4,500, a number indicating that the networks of incitement are rapidly expanding.”

Number seven on that list of antisemitic Holocaust deniers is Alain Soral and number eight is Dieudonné.

Readers may recall that in early January 2014 both BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ covered a story that was portrayed by the then ‘Newsnight’ presenter Jeremy Paxman as follows:

“Now a French comedian has managed to short-circuit his country’s professed commitment to free speech. President Francois Holland, with support from both Right and Left, today encouraged local authorities to ban performances by Dieudonné M’bala-M’bala – usually known just as “Dieudonné”. It’s being done on grounds of public order because his alleged antisemitism has tested to destruction Voltaire’s supposed belief that ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ “

The ‘Newsnight’ item included an interview with a man introduced by Paxman as “the French writer and film-maker Alain Soral” and “a close friend of Monsieur Dieudonné” who “helped him popularise the infamous quenelle gesture”.

On BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, Sarah Montague introduced recycled sections of that interview thus:

“Well a number of French cities have now banned the comedian and although Dieudonné has vowed to appeal against those bans. His close friend Alain Soral told ‘Newsnight’ last night that Dieudonne’s words had been taken out of context; that he’s anti-establishment, not antisemitic.”

As was noted here at the time, in spite of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, no effort was made to inform audiences of the far-right background and political agenda of the interviewee selected to supposedly enhance their understanding of the story.

The BBC’s funding public never did find out why in the first place ‘Newsnight’ editors considered the airing of Soral’s antisemitic conspiracy theories and whitewashing of the racism of his ‘close friend’ to be of any contribution to the public’s understanding of the issue under discussion.

Nearly two years after his ‘Newsnight’ interview, Soral was convicted by a French criminal court in a case relating to antisemitism and Dieudonné also since been convicted on similar charges. Nevertheless, in a 2015 report on one case , BBC News found it appropriate to inform audiences that the latter “insists he is not anti-Semitic” and as recently as April 2017 visitors to the BBC News website were informed that:

“…on one issue Alain Soral undoubtedly has a point: speech is being policed with increasing zeal in France.” 

It of course comes as no surprise whatsoever to find Soral – together with his associate  – on a list of antisemitic Holocaust denying social media accounts. What is still chilling, however, is that the BBC even considered inviting him to appear as a commentator on antisemitism.

Related Articles:

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ breaches editorial guidelines, fudges on antisemitism

BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ joins ‘Newsnight’ in breach of editorial guidelines

BBC Sport amplifies Anelka excuses, downplays antisemitism

BBC again dithering (impartially, of course) over antisemitism

BBC interviewee selected to comment on antisemitism story convicted of antisemitism


Newsnight introduction of Asim Qureshi again breaches BBC editorial guidelines

Earlier this month we noted yet more breaches of the BBC editorial guidelines which require interviewees and guests on BBC programmes to be adequately introduced so that audiences can determine “when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint”.  

We also noted that in October of last year, the BBC’s Editorial Standard’s Committee stated that it had reminded BBC News producers of “the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization”.

That earlier post related to two occasions on which Asim Qureshi of ‘Cage’ had been inadequately introduced to audiences before being interviewed on the issue of British Muslims travelling to Syria to fight with insurgent groups.

The same subject came under discussion on the May 20th edition of BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ under the heading “Why shouldn’t British Muslims fight in Syria?” and the programme can be seen by readers in the UK for a limited period of time here. The specific segment can also be viewed here.

Asim Qureshi was again one of the guests invited by ‘Newsnight’ to discuss the topic and once more presenter Jeremy Paxman’s introduction of him did nothing to fully and appropriately inform audiences of Qureshi’s “standpoint” on this subject.

“We’re also joined by Asim Qureshi from the campaign group Cage which works on behalf of those accused of terrorist offences.”

Notably, Jeremy Paxman’s introduction of the item itself included a comparison between British Muslims fighting with Al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria and British Jews who enlist with the IDF.

“Let’s take first off this comparison there that was raised at the end of that report. People from this country went and fought in the Spanish civil war and many people felt rather fondly and proudly towards them. People from this country have gone off and fought with, for example, the Israel Defence Forces. In what respect is this particular offence of going to Syria an acute matter which deserves being sent to jail for?”

Of course Paxman neglects to clarify that British-born IDF soldiers would have to have either permanent or temporary residency status in Israel before joining the army of that sovereign country.

In light of Paxman’s inadequate introduction of Qureshi and his organization, it is particularly relevant that Qureshi’s misleading and inaccurate claim – at 02:15 in the video version above – goes uncorrected and unchallenged.

“But I think the vast majority…well I think there isn’t really a single voice here in the UK at least that’s encouraging them to go there.”

Here is Asim Qureshi himself speaking at a rally in London in 2012 alongside Shakeel Begg and other known Islamists, delivering  what some might consider to be a fairly “encouraging” message.

“Every time you stick on BBC you see what’s going on in Syria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Kashmir, in Palestine. And what: you think you’re seeing all of that stuff, that knowledge is coming to you and that Allah will not hold you accountable for it? […]

This should be the beginning; the reason why we’ve gathered here today is to say to ourselves that we need to do more. We need to gather together and do something about the situation. […]

We’ve got brothers here who’ve turned up in vans. They’ve turned up in order to give you the opportunity to help through your wealth, through your bodies, through anything that you can.” [emphasis added]

And can it really be that both Asim Qureshi and Jeremy Paxman just forgot to mention the activities of that other frequent BBC guest Anjem Choudary?






Oxfam’s Ben Phillips on BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’

On February 4th BBC Two’s flagship news programme ‘Newsnight’ featured interviews with Oxfam’s Director of Policy Ben Phillips and the CEO of SodaStream, Daniel Birnbaum. 

Viewers were no doubt amazed by the disingenuous performance given by a senior employee of a multi-million pound charity which gets a considerable amount of public money via funding from various governments, including the UK, an additional income from the EU and the UN (see section 8 here). 

The interview is introduced by presenter Jeremy Paxman.

JP: “Well with us now is Ben Phillips, the Director of Policy for Oxfam. Ahm..if these Palestinians are being well paid and being paid the same as their Israeli compatriots  or, sorry, their Israeli colleagues, ahm…what’s wrong?”

Ben Phillips: “Our criticism is not of SodaStream’s labour conditions. The issue is is [sic] that factory doesn’t belong to Israel. It doesn’t belong to SodaStream. It belongs to the people who own that land, who were thrown off that land in order that settlements can be built.”

As is the case in the rest of the world, the fact is that the SodaStream factory of course belongs to the people who invested money to build and operate it, so Phillips’ assertion is obviously ridiculous. As for his claim that people “were thrown off that land”, he of course provides no factual evidence for his slur. In fact, even the campaigning NGO ‘Peace Now’ was forced to retract claims made in 2006 (which, incidentally, remain on the BBC News website without any correction) that Ma’ale Adumim – the community adjacent to the Mishor Adumim industrial park where the SodaStream plant is situated – was established on land of which over 86% was owned by Palestinians and to reduce its claim to 0.5%. Phillips continues:

“This isn’t about soda and it’s not about celebrities; it’s about settlements. The settlements impoverish the Palestinians and if I said to you, Jeremy, that I’ve taken your house but now you can have a job – now I’ve turned it into a hotel – as a porter, that wouldn’t be enough. So the issue is settlements. Settlements hurt Palestinians.” 

Phillips of course neglects to mention that the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics reported in 2013 that some 20,000 Palestinians employed in communities in Judea & Samaria received more than double the salaries paid by Palestinian employers.

JP: “So if this factory were inside Israel there would be no problem for you.”

BP:” Oxfam doesn’t support the boycott against Israel. We’ve been very, very clear about that. This factory and the settlements are not in Israel. That’s the position of international law and the settlements hurt Palestinians.”

Not only does Jeremy Paxman fail to inform viewers that there are many different interpretations of the “international law” invoked by Phillips, but he then goes on to further mislead them by describing the 1949 Armistice lines as borders, in contravention of the BBC’s own guidelines on the subject.

JP: “So if it was inside the pre-’67 borders – Israeli borders – you wouldn’t have a problem.”

BP: “We’ve never called for a boycott of Israel.”

Phillips apparently hopes that viewers will have forgotten Oxfam’s Belgian branch’s anti-Israel poster of 2003 (later withdrawn) which urged the public “n’achetez pas de fruits et legumes israeliens” (do not buy Israeli fruits and vegetables).  Perhaps too he counts on the fact that audiences will not recall Oxfam’s treatment of Kristin Davis back in 2009. 

He also apparently relies on the public’s not knowing that a major Oxfam partner – Zaytoun – which markets produce sold in Oxfam shops around the UK, was founded by activists from the International Solidarity Movement and that one of those founders and Zaytoun director, Atif Choudhury, is also a member of the ‘council of management of War on Want which is part of the BDS movement.

And obviously Mr Phillips is not keen to disclose to viewers that Oxfam’s Dutch affiliate generously funds organisations involved in the BDS movement and in the delegitimisation of Israel or that Oxfam GB has also donated to the BDS supporting ‘Coalition of Women for Peace’ and the controversial NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.

Paxman continues:

“You’re not quite answering the question.”

BP: “There would be no problem, there would be no issue.”

JP: “So what could SodaStream do to comply with your…to meet your objection?”

BP: “They could fulfill international law and not be in illegal settlements: not be in someone else’s territory.”

Again, no clue is provided to viewers regarding the fact that other interpretations of “international law” and the legal status of communities in Area C exist.

JP: “So they have to shut the factory down?”

BP: “If you meet the people that live outside of the settlements, the people that are close to the settlements, they can’t get permits for building. They can be thrown out of their homes. Hundred people had their homes…eh…taken away from their homes last month – just last month. So settlements are hurting people across the West Bank.”

Phillips clearly tries to establish a link between the existence of Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and building permits. There is of course absolutely no connection between the two. He fails to make it clear that 97% of the Palestinian population lives under the authority of the PA in Areas A & B and that the remaining 3% (90 thousand) living in Area C can apply to the Civil Administration for planning permission and building permits. Phillips’ unsourced claim of people being “thrown out of their homes” is apparently a euphemistic way of describing demolition orders issued for illegally constructed buildings. One of course wonders if his description of the demolition of a structure built without planning permission in the UK would be equally euphemistic.

Paxman continues:

“Well that’s not SodaStream’s business taking away people’s houses, is it?”

BP: “We’re not here to criticize SodaStream. We’re here to focus on the settlements and the harm they….”

JP: “But it’s SodaStream which has brought this to a head, as you know. Ehh…so there really is nothing that SodaStream could do to meet your objections, bar shutting down the factory and locating somewhere else.”

BP: “They should not be in the settlements which are illegal. No company should be in the settlements which are illegal. In fact the settlements need to go because they hurt the Palestinians, they impoverish them. They make it harder to get access to water, to land, to housing. It’s damaging for the Palestinian people.”

Obviously the Policy Director of this ‘anti-poverty’ charity is not only completely disinterested in the prosperity of the Palestinians working at SodaStream and similar industrial and commercial enterprises, but is equally unconcerned about taking away the livelihoods of the people who live in the communities he claims “need to go”, although notably he never actually mentions the fact that there are any human beings living in the ‘settlements’ he so derides. 

As readers are most probably aware, the issue of “access to water” is laid out under the terms of the Oslo Accords and communities in Judea & Samaria have absolutely no bearing on that issue, but again Jeremy Paxman makes no effort whatsoever to correct the deliberately misleading impression given to audiences by Phillips.

JP: “I wonder if you have any qualms at all about what seems to some people to be the bullying of Scarlett Johansson?”

BP: “I think Scarlett Johansson did excellent work for Oxfam. I have absolutely no criticisms of Scarlett Johansson.”

JP: “Why couldn’t she continue being an Oxfam representative then and do her commercials for SodaStream?”

BP: “Scarlett Johansson resigned from Oxfam. Oxfam’s made its position very clear on the settlements. The settlements hurt Palestinian people.”

The programme then cuts to an interview with SodaStream’s CEO Daniel Birnbaum, during which Jeremy Paxman poses the historically illiterate question:

“How do you feel about being part of the occupation of territories seized from another country?”

Later, at 6:13, Phillips is reintroduced into the interview.

BP: “You cannot claim that the settlements are a Palestinian employment programme. Settlements impoverish….”

JP: “If they employ people they are.”

BP: “Settlements impoverish people. The figures that have been cited about 30% unemployment – why is that? Is that perhaps because there are roadblocks every half hour? Is that because it’s impossible for a Palestinian to establish their own factory because they can’t get permits in areas that are close to settlements? Is it because the Palestinian olive oil industry is collapsing because of the settlements?”

Once again Paxman makes no attempt to correct or challenge the misleading – if not downright delusional – impressions promoted by Phillips. “Roadblocks every half hour” (whatever they are supposed to be) simply do not exist and the twelve that do are normally open apart from in exceptional security situations. Not only can Palestinians apply for permits to establish factories or other businesses, but master plans have been drawn up for Palestinian communities in Area C, industrial zones have been established and infrastructure has been upgraded.  Phillips’ of course supplies no evidence to back up his bizarre claim of ‘collapse’ of the olive oil industry “because of the settlements”.

Paxman continues:

“Right. There may be many things going on – many imponderables – but we’re talking about this one concern, this factory, which as you have heard and as you well know, employs Palestinians. You want to see them chucked out, do you?”

BP: “We want to see that land returned to the people that were thrown off that land.” 

File:WikiAir IL-13-06 025b - Mishor Adumim.jpg

Photo credit: Neukoln

JP: “So you do.”

BP: “We want to see the return of the land – yes.”

JP: “Would you like to see that factory cease to employ Palestinians on that site?”

BP: “You could imagine a new scenario in which a Palestinian company…”

JP: “We can imagine all sorts of things. We can imagine the world’s made of green cheese.”

BP: “…a Palestinian company and they could have an arrangement with SodaStream.”

JP: “What do you want?”

BP: “We want the settlements to end because we’ve seen the damage that’s caused and therefore the settlement economy cannot be supported.”

JP: “So you want this factory shut down.”

BP: “You can’t operate factories in settlements and then say that the settlements are wrong.”

JP: “Do you want this factory shut down or not?”

BP: “We want no factories in the settlements because the settlements are illegal.”

The interview then goes back to Daniel Birnbaum before closing.

Whilst Jeremy Paxman’s interviewing style may not have made for a particularly easy time for Oxfam’s spokesman, the presenter made no effort to correct the multiple falsehoods and misleading impressions propagated by his interviewee and even threw in a few of his own. But what is perhaps most notable about this interview is its superficiality, in that it focused on the narrow picture rather than dealing with the wider issues at hand.

The current status of Area C – in which the SodaStream factory is situated – is defined by the Oslo Accords to which Israel and the representatives of the Palestinian people were willing signatories. In other words, despite the fact that the Palestinians agreed to Area C remaining under Israeli control until its status is determined under final status negotiations between the two parties, that is not good enough for Oxfam. Indeed, if Ben Phillips is representative of Oxfam’s way of thinking – and his job description suggests that he is – then that organization appears to condescendingly believe that its own views supersede those of the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian people.

That of course raises another question. Let us for a moment imagine that the current negotiations would yield an agreement between Israel and the PLO under which – as is more than likely – the large groups of communities in Judea & Samaria (including Ma’ale Adumim) would remain under Israeli control in exchange for land swaps.

Do we, on the basis of this interview, have any reason to expect that Oxfam and its often dubious partners (along with many others in the community of politically motivated NGOs and ‘charities’) might accept the terms of such an agreement considering that they currently display such blatant refusal to accept the terms of the Oslo Agreement which was also negotiated by Israelis and Palestinians? Or would we still find Ben Phillips railing against “illegal settlements”, spouting cod legal opinions, calling for the closure of factories which support Palestinian and Israeli families and dabbling in arm’s-length BDS in future ‘Newsnight’ interviews?

What a pity that Jeremy Paxman did not ask him about that: the answers would have been considerably more revealing and informative to BBC audiences than the fables and fantasies they heard in this interview.

Related Articles:

Responding to the NGOs Durban Strategy: between engagement and confrontation (Fathom)

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ breaches editorial guidelines, fudges on antisemitism

h/t J

“The production team have been reminded of the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organisation.” 

That statement was made by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit just a few months ago as part of its ruling on a complaint.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions when the BBC has failed to make the affiliations of those interviewed and/or quoted clear, its editorial guidelines on impartiality do indeed state in section 4.4.14:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

The January 7th edition of BBC Two’s flagship news programme ‘Newsnight’ included an item concerning the French government’s request to ban shows by the ‘comedian’ Dieudonne on the grounds of threat to public order. The programme can be seen here by those in the UK able to view BBC iPlayer, with the relevant section beginning from 38:00.

As Harry’s Place reports:

“According to BBC Newsnight […], this was principally a free speech issue. Jeremy Paxman introduced a report by saying:

“Now a French comedian has managed to short-circuit his country’s professed commitment to free speech. President Francois Holland, with support from both Right and Left, today encouraged local authorities to ban performances by Dieudonné M’bala-M’bala – usually known just as “Dieudonné”. It’s being done on grounds of public order because his alleged antisemitism has tested to destruction Voltaire’s supposed belief that ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ Before we talk about the limits of free speech, Hugh Schofield reports from Paris…” “

An audio version of Schofield’s report was also promoted on BBC radio and on social media, so those without access to iPlayer can hear it in this podcast or from 16:30 here in the January 7th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’.

Following Schofield’s filmed report, ‘Newsnight’ moves on to an interview with one Alain Soral, who is introduced to BBC audiences by the programme’s presenter Jeremy Paxman as “the French writer and film-maker Alain Soral” (with the same description appearing on screen) and described as “a close friend of Monsieur Dieudonne” who “helped him popularise the infamous quenelle gesture”.

Newsnight Soral

In fact, as noted here by the CST, Soral is a former member (until 2009) of the Front National in France with a long record of antisemitic statements and dubious connections. As Harry’s Place notes:

“He soon became notorious for campaigning alongside Dieudonné in his “Liste Anti-Sioniste” (LAS) [anti-Zionist list – ed.]  for the 2009 European elections. […] Soral is not just a friend of Dieudonné, but his Far Right political ally.”

Had viewers been informed of Soral’s background, they may of course have been able to put the statements he makes during the interview with Paxman into their correct context. But they were not, and instead Soral’s Far-Right affiliations and record of antisemitism are obscured by the fluffy description of him as a “writer and film-maker”.

The interview begins with Paxman (who curiously seems to have toned down his famous bulldog style of interviewing in this instance) telling audiences:

“I began by asking him what on earth it [the quenelle gesture] meant.”

Alain Soral: “It’s a gesture against the system, against the powers that be in France. It has only recently become – since it’s a gesture that’s been around for almost ten years – only recently the most powerful Jewish organization in France, the CRIF, decreed that it was an anti-Semitic gesture. So basically, their idea is that an anti-system gesture is an anti-Semitic one. So at the end of the day, is that simply an improper accusation? Or is there a deep link between the system of domination that Mr Dieudonne is fighting against and the organized Jewish community? Well that’s the question.”

Paxman: “But you don’t deny that Mr Dieudonne is an anti-Semite, do you?”

AS: “The problem is that this word has become a word used to scare people. A long time ago Dieudonne had a partner – a young Jew called Eli Simoun – but all of these accusations started arriving the day he did a sketch on Israeli settlers. So today we have a very powerful Zionist lobby in France which treats anyone who doesn’t subscribe to its vision of the world and to its politics as antisemitic.”

There is more, but readers have no doubt got the antisemitic conspiracy theory gist by now. 

In fact, a photograph of Soral making the quenelle gesture at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin appears in Hugh Schofield’s filmed report, but – as the CST notes – apparently no-one on the ‘Newsnight’ team was able to join the dots.

Newsnight Soral Berlin

The fact that ‘Newsnight’ breached BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by not informing audiences of Soral’s “particular viewpoint” is abundantly clear. What is less comprehensible is why in the first place the editor of the programme considered the airing of Soral’s antisemitic conspiracy theories to be of any contribution to the public’s understanding of the issue under discussion and why the BBC continues to be incapable of improving its increasingly dismal record on the reporting of antisemitism.

Related articles:

BBC Sport amplifies Anelka excuses, downplays antisemitism