BBC R4 report on antisemitism in the US uses the Livingstone Formulation

If the BBC was making a report about homophobic remarks or racist comments directed at black or Asian people it would be unlikely to solicit a contribution from a person promoting the view that criticism of such statements was intended to “shut down legitimate debate”.

That, however, is exactly what listeners to the March 4th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘World at One’ heard in an item by Gary O’Donoghue which was introduced by presenter Sarah Montague (from 25:03 here) using a rather curious claim. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Montague: “Now then, Labour isn’t the only Left of centre political party having to weather accusations of antisemitism at the moment. In the United States Democrats are having to counter claims that the leftward shift of their party is leading to antisemitic attitudes among some of their new members of Congress. Republicans have been trying to make the most of their political difficulties. From Washington, here’s our correspondent Gary O’Donoghue.”

Using an archive recording of former US president Harry Truman that includes the phrase “the problem of Israel”, O’Donoghue began by noting the longstanding Jewish American support for the Democratic party before asking “So what’s wrong?”. Listeners then heard from a person subsequently identified as Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times.

Weisman: “I think that the Labour party of Britain right now is what the Democratic party dreads and is desperate to avoid.”

O’Donoghue explained:

“…it’s the antisemitism label he’s talking about when he says the Democrats are desperate to avoid Labour’s mistakes in Britain. But why would a party that gets 75% of Jewish American votes risk being called antisemitic?”

Listeners then heard the phrase “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby” read out before O’Donoghue explained:

O’Donoghue: “A Tweet from a new young progressive Democrat elected to the House of Representatives called Ilhan Omar – one of the first two Muslim women ever to sit in Congress. She was talking about the influence of AIPAC – the American Israel Political Action Committee – a powerful lobbying group. The Benjamins is slang for $100 bills carrying, as they do, the face of Benjamin Franklin.”

O’Donoghue then brought in Deborah Lipstadt to explain further.

Lipstatdt: “When you say ‘it’s all about the Benjamins, baby’, that’s using a trope. Whether she was conscious of it or not – she says she was not conscious of it so I don’t know – American politics is infused with money. So if you say only this is about money, again, how come only this and not everything else?”

O’Donoghue went on to tell listeners that Lipstadt “says money is just one of a whole range of tropes that constitute antisemitism” before another recording was heard.

O’Donoghue: “Enter Rashida Tlaib; fellow Muslim freshman in Congress and […] someone else facing accusations of antisemitsm. In her case it was criticisms of fellow Democrats for not backing the so-called BDS movement which promotes boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.”

As ever in BBC content, listeners heard no further explanation of the anti-Israel BDS campaign and its aims before O’Donoghue went on:

O’Donoghue: “And yes, it was a Tweet.

‘They forgot what country they represent. This is the US where boycotting is a right and a part of our historical fight for freedom and equality.’

That, say her critics, manifests another antisemitic trope: that Jews have split loyalties.”

Listeners then heard the BBC’s idea of ‘balance’: promotion of what is known in the UK as the Livingstone Formulation.

O’Donoghue: “But Yousef Munayyer of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights says antisemitism allegations are used to shut down legitimate debate.”

In breach of editorial guidelines stipulating that the “particular viewpoint” of contributors should be made clear, O’Donoghue did not bother to inform his audience of the fact that Munayyer is himself a supporter of BDS and that the organisation he represents mobilises anti-Israel BDS campaigns. Lacking that obviously relevant information, listeners then heard from Munayyer:

Munayyer: “It weaponises one form of bigotry and one form of oppression to help defend and enable another. It is important to be able to say, you know, in one voice that we oppose antisemitism. We also oppose what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians.”

And so we see once again that the BBC’s interpretation of impartiality leads it to amplify claims from inadequately introduced anti-Israel campaigners which actually hinder audience understanding of the issue of antisemitism.

O’Donoghue’s report continued with comment from a representative of a Jewish organisation linked to the Democratic party before he went on:

O’Donoghue: “But it’s not just two members of Congress. Others on the Left face similar allegations. Most recently leaders of the Women’s March organisation have been heavily criticised over their connections to Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, who many regard as overtly antisemitic.”

Failing to provide his British listeners with anything more informative than that tepid portrayal of Farrakhan’s long-standing record of antisemitism and additional forms of bigotry, O’Donoghue brought in Deborah Lidstadt once again before closing his report.

O’Donoghue: “It’s not of course just a problem for the Left. Far-Right white supremacists trade in the same antisemitic ideas. But the Democratic leadership are conscious that a new, younger, more Left-leaning party base could drive a wedge between them and Jewish Americans, already wooed by Republican policies such as pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.”

Remarkably, although there was no room in O’Donoghue’s portrayal of antisemitism in the United States for the no less relevant issue of Islamist antisemitism, he did find the space for promotion of false balance in the form of the Livingstone Formulation – just as has been seen so often in BBC coverage of antisemitism in the UK Labour party.

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Reviewing BBC Radio 4 coverage of Corbyn wreath laying story – part two

In part one of this post we looked at how the story of the UK Labour Party leader’s participation in an event in Tunisia in 2014 that had been the subject of a report in a British newspaper three days earlier was presented to the BBC’s domestic audience on BBC Radio 4 on the evening of August 13th.

Later the same evening the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ also aired a long item on the same story:

“Jeremy Corbyn attacked by Benjamin Netanyahu — over laying a wreath in memory of Palestinians suspected of 1972 Munich massacre.”

In her introduction to the item (from 16:28 here) presenter Ritula Shah managed to twist a story that first emerged in 2017 and was again taken up by a British newspaper in recent days into an ‘accusation’ from the Israeli prime minister. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticized Jeremy Corbyn and accused him of laying a wreath on the grave of one of those behind the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972 in which 11 Israeli athletes died. A photo of Mr Corbyn holding a wreath at the Palestinian Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tunisia in 2014 was published by the Daily Mail. The events of 1972 shocked the world. Here’s a flavour of how the BBC reported the event at the time.”

After listeners had heard an archive recording, Shah went on to read out Corbyn’s Tweet:

Shah: “Well tonight the Labour leader’s responded to the Israeli prime minister’s statement in a Tweet saying ‘at Netanyahu’s claims about my actions and words are false. What deserves unequivocal condemnation is the killing of over 160 Palestinian protesters in Gaza by Israeli forces since March, including dozens of children’.”

Listeners were not provided with any context to Corbyn’s ‘whataboutery’: the fact that a significant proportion of those dubbed ‘protesters’ by Corbyn were linked to terror factions and killed during violent rioting and attacks was not clarified by Shah before she continued.

Shah: “In an interview earlier today Mr Corbyn was asked to respond to the wreath-laying claim.”

Listeners then heard a recording of part of that interview.

Recording Corbyn: “A wreath was indeed laid by some of those who attended the conference for those who were killed in Paris in 1992.

Interviewer: “Were you involved in that wreath laying?”

Corbyn: “I was present when it was laid. I don’t think I was actually involved in it. I was there because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who’s died in every terrorist incident everywhere because we have to end it. You cannot pursue peace by a cycle of violence. The only way you pursue peace is a cycle of dialogue.”

Shah: And that reference to Paris in 1992 by Jeremy Corbyn refers to the assassination of Atef Bseiso who was a senior member of the PLO who was allegedly killed by the Israeli secret service in revenge for the Munich attack.”

JVL protest at the BBC, 7/8/18. Photo credit: @The Red Roar

Shah then introduced her sole interviewee – a member of a pro-Corbyn fringe group called ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ which – despite the fact since its formation last year, BBC audiences have seen its representatives interviewed and quoted in dozens of items of BBC content – just the previous week organised a demonstration outside the BBC’s main London building to protest “the BBC’s failure to report fairly and impartially about the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party”.

Shah; “Well joining me now is Glyn Secker, secretary of the pro-Corbyn group Jewish Voice for Labour. […] do you think that reference to Paris in 1992 is essentially an attempt to distract from Bseiso’s involvement in the 1972 Munich Olympics attack?”

Radio 4 listeners first heard the unsubstantiated claim that the Daily Mail had doctored the photographs.

Secker: “Yes, I mean the commemoration of the Munich…of the deaths in Munich…ahm…when it is reported by the Daily Mail it is quite devious because yes, they have a picture of Jeremy Corbyn holding a wreath and it’s in that cemetery but actually they’ve switched – and you can see from the analysis of the photographs – they’ve switched the graves around. There’s one picture of him standing at a different grave – not the one where they were laying the wreath – and I think that must have been the grave of the terrorist. Jeremy Corbyn is standing there with his hands in his pocket, obviously not being very respectful.”

Shah [interrupts]: But he says himself, but he says himself ‘I was present when it was laid’ so that suggests very clearly that he was there, the photographs appear to show he was there, he’s not denying he was there. What’s the difference between being present and laying a wreath? If you’re in a place, you’re present, there, you’re taking part.”

Next Secker conjured up a hypothetical situation to add to his photo doctoring conspiracy theory:

Secker: “Well he’s not…well he wasn’t…well if you’re with a group of people, you’re there as their guest and they then say please will you walk over to this side of the cemetery and you follow them and then you find that they’re laying a wreath and you can see the wreath on this grave in the photograph but as I say, Jeremy Corbyn is standing there with his hands in his pockets – not a mark of respect for that grave – so I think what’s happened is the photograph of him holding the wreath is actually cropped at the bottom so you can’t see the grave and they’ve taken the picture where he was laying a wreath to the…to all the victims and they’ve switched it and made it look like something other.”

Listeners then heard irrelevant linkage of the issue of the UK Labour Party leader honouring terrorists to the topic of antisemitism.

Secker: “Now as Jews we do not take instruction from the Daily Mail about antisemitism. They backed Mosley in the 1930s…”

Shah: “But – hang on a minute – are you accusing the Daily Mail of antisemitism?”

Secker: “Ah well, I’m accusing them certainly historically of antisemitism – yes. They backed Mosley. They published in 1938 an article saying the country was being flooded by Jews.”

Pointing out that the Daily Mail was not there to reply to Secker’s allegations, Shah tried to drag the conversation back onto topic.

Shah: “I’m quite confused by the answer that you just gave and I dare say other people are. But Jeremy Corbyn is not denying that he was present at this wreath laying, that he was in this cemetery in Tunis. What is the difference between that and actually…he may not physically have literally laid the wreath but he was there.”

Yet again listeners had to listen to Secker’s hypothetical speculations.

Secker: “But if he’s been asked to walk over by his guests [sic] to the other side of the…of the cemetery – which looks very clearly as if that’s what happened – and he goes and stands with them at the grave of this terrorist and he stands there with his hands in his pockets – not marking respect at all to that person – that speaks volumes for what he was thinking.”

Shah: “Why does it matter so much that he had his hands in his pocket? He was there.”

Secker: “Well I tell you, if he was visiting my father’s grave and he stood there with his hands in the pockets I would be very offended.”

Shah: “So you think there is a difference between being present with your hand in your pocket but not actually involved?”

Secker: “Yes, he’s not got a wreath. He wasn’t laying a wreath at that grave. He was laying a wreath at the other grave.”

Shah: “Do you think those distinctions are so nuanced as to be almost irrelevant?”

Secker: “No they’re not irrelevant because the way the Daily Mail presents it is that he’s laying a wreath to a terrorist and he wasn’t and he said he wasn’t. That’s a big story and he’s denying it and I think that’s correct.”

After those four minutes of discussion concerning Jeremy Corbyn’s pockets, Ritula Shah then gave Secker the cue to irrelevantly opine on Israel. It would of course at that point have been appropriate for her to clarify to listeners that the speaker they were hearing is not just a member of a “pro-Corbyn group” but also an anti-Israel campaigner who captained an attempt to breach the naval blockade which prevents Hamas smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip and was briefly suspended by the Labour Party in March due to his membership in a secret Facebook group where antisemitic and anti-Israel content is rife.

Shah: “Benjamin Netanyahu says that this deserves unequivocal condemnation from everyone. Why does Mr Corbyn then say that’s false?”

Secker: “Well because he didn’t do it and therefore there was nothing for him to be condemned for. I would condemn Netanyahu for welcoming eh…the…ah…Orban the president [sic] of Hungary to his…to his country. He’s the leader of an extreme right-wing organization. I would condemn Netanyahu for making a deal with the Polish prime minister that the Poles are no longer responsible for the Holocaust. We lost family in the Holocaust.”

Shah: “Do you understand why this is so difficult for Jeremy Corbyn? It’s simply another, another allegation in a situation where he’s constantly being accused of antisemitism…”

Secker: “Yes.”

Shah: “…of acts which can be interpreted as antisemitic.”

Secker: “Yes, it’s horrific for him. I’ve spoken on the same platform as Jeremy. I know him personally. There’s not an anti-Semitic or racist bone in his body. He’s a…he’s very strongly anti-racist. And this has been whipped up as a way of silencing criticism of Israel’s human rights violations against the Palestinians and is being used to bring him down politically.”

With that dose of the Livingstone Formulation Ritula Shah ended the item.

However, that was not the last that Radio 4 listeners heard from Glyn Secker: his Livingstone Formulation promotion was also featured two hours later in a report by Tom Barton aired in the station’s ‘Midnight News’ bulletin (from 00:54 here):

Barton: “Saying that he didn’t think he was involved hasn’t satisfied Mr Corbyn’s critics. The Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger said that being present was the same as being involved. But the labour leader’s supporters say he’s being treated unfairly. Glyn Secker, the secretary of the pro-Corbyn group ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’.

Secker: “Yes, it’s horrific for him. I’ve spoken on the same platform as Jeremy. I know him personally. There’s not an anti-Semitic or racist bone in his body. He’s a…he’s very strongly anti-racist. And this has been whipped up as a way of silencing criticism of Israel’s human rights violations against the Palestinians and is being used to bring him down politically.”

Barton: “As the Labour leadership tries to bring the wider row over antisemitism under control, the intervention of the Israeli prime minister isn’t going to make that task any easier.”

As we see, on a day when the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition – and a potential prime minister – had admitted to having taken part in a ceremony honouring terrorists while participating in a conference together with members of additional terrorist organisations, the best the BBC could do for its British audiences was to present them with nearly seven minutes of discussion about Jeremy Corbyn’s pockets, conspiracy theories about doctored photos and irrelevant anti-Israel smears from an inadequately introduced anti-Israel activist.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC Radio 4 coverage of Corbyn wreath laying story – part one

Over a third of BBC website’s Corbyn wreath laying report allocated to denials

BBC News gives free rein to anti-Israel campaigner’s falsehoods

 

 

BBC News ‘explanation’ of antisemitism promotes the Livingstone Formulation

On March 27th an article titled “Jeremy Corbyn told to act on ‘stain’ of anti-Semitism in party” was published in the ‘politics’ section of the UK page on the BBC News website.

Relating to the previous day’s protest organised by two British Jewish community bodies, the article includes an insert ostensibly intended to help readers understand the story.

Titled “What is anti-Semitism?”, the insert commences by giving a definition attributed to the Oxford English Dictionary.

“Anti-Semitism is “hostility and prejudice directed against Jewish people” (OED)”

BBC audiences are then told that:

“Campaigners for Palestinian rights – a popular left-wing cause – say they are against Zionism rather than anti-Semitic”

The insert goes on to give an explanation of Zionism which, notably, does not include the term self-determination.

“Zionism refers to the movement to create a Jewish state in the Middle East, roughly corresponding to the historical land of Israel, and thus support for the modern state of Israel. Anti-Zionism opposes that.”

Obviously an insert purporting to explain antisemitism to BBC audiences should have clarified that according to the IHRA working definition (adopted by the UK government, among others), opposition to the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in the Jewish state is defined as one possible manifestation of antisemitism.

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

Finally, the insert presents readers with a dose of the Livingstone Formulation:

“But some say “Zionist” can be used as a coded attack on Jews, while others say the Israeli government and its supporters are deliberately confusing anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to avoid criticism”

As regular readers will be aware, this is far from the first time that the BBC has promoted the notion that “the Israeli government and its supporters” deliberately and dishonestly raise the issue of antisemitism in order to delegitimise criticism of Israel.

Neither is this the first time that the BBC has tried – and failed – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism to its audiences. Indeed, this insert was obviously for the most part recycled from the opening paragraphs of a ‘backgrounder‘ first published in April 2016.

In other words, in nearly two years of BBC coverage of the issue of antisemitism within the UK Labour party, audiences have not once been informed of the existence of accepted definitions of antisemitism which have already answered the question of whether anti-Zionism – i.e. the denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination – is an expression of antisemitism.

Moreover, it is obvious that even the high profile of the latest related story covered in this article did not prompt the BBC to come up with an accurate definition of its core issue.

Given the fact that the BBC still does not work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism and in light of its own record on that issue and its repeated failure to inform audiences what anti-Zionist groups such as the PSC and the BDS campaign really stand for despite frequently showcasing their agendas, that is perhaps hardly surprising.

But this insert does demonstrate once again is that the BBC is currently incapable of properly serving its funding public’s interests on this topic.

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BBC News’ side-lining of French president’s anti-Zionism statement is no surprise

At the July 16th event in Paris marking the 75th anniversary of the deportation of French Jews to Auschwitz, the French president made a significant statement.

“French president Emmanuel Macron on Sunday condemned anti-Zionism as a new form of anti-Semitism, in what observers said was an unprecedented statement from the leader of France in support of the Jewish state.

“We will never surrender to the messages of hate; we will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism,” Macron said an event in Paris marking the mass deportation of French Jews during World War II. He was directly addressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who attended the event.” [emphasis added]

Macron’s statement is of course in step with the IHRA working definition of antisemitism that was adopted in recent months by the British government and the EU parliament as well as in accord with the US State department’s definition. His words were reported by numerous media outlets including the Independent, the Times, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

However, the BBC News website’s report on the ceremony made no mention whatsoever of the French president’s recognition of anti-Zionism as a manifestation of antisemitism.

Should we be surprised at the omission of that statement from the BBC’s coverage of the event? Not really.

Last April – despite the fact that it still does not work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism – the BBC considered itself sufficiently qualified to produce a backgrounder titled “What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?“.

As was noted here at the time, that article promoted the Livingstone Formulation, failed to inform readers what anti-Zionism actually means and focused on promoting the inaccurate and misleading notion that anti-Zionism is the same thing as expressing criticism of the policies and actions of the Israeli government while advancing the ‘Zionism is racism’ canard. Subsequent BBC reporting again amplified similar themes.

The BBC’s funding public should therefore not be overly surprised that a statement from the French president that contrasts starkly with the BBC’s repeated woolly misrepresentations of anti-Zionism and spotlights the corporation’s calculated disregard for accepted definitions of antisemitism was sidelined by BBC News.  

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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.

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BBC article on antisemitism report recycles problematic backgrounder

Following the publication of the UK Parliament Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism on October 16th, a relatively long article appeared on the UK politics page of the BBC News website under the headline “Jeremy Corbyn’s response to anti-Semitism in Labour criticised by MPs“.ha-select-comm-report-art

20.9% of the article’s 1,007 words are describe the report’s criticism of the response to antisemitism within the Labour Party while reactions to that criticism from Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone take up 14.3% of the word count.  The committee’s criticism of the failure of Twitter to combat antisemitism on its platform is described in 7.5% of the article’s word count and 4.5% describes the report’s criticism of the National Union of Students president.

Towards the end of the article, readers are given a superficial account of two aspects of the report.

“The report expressed concern about use of the word “Zionist”, saying “use of the word in an accusatory context should be considered inflammatory and potentially anti-Semitic”.”

In its conclusions the actual report states:

“‘Zionism’ as a concept remains a valid topic for academic and political debate, both within and outside Israel. The word ‘Zionist’ (or worse, ‘Zio’) as a term of abuse, however, has no place in a civilised society. It has been tarnished by its repeated use in antisemitic and aggressive contexts. Antisemites frequently use the word ‘Zionist’ when they are in fact referring to Jews, whether in Israel or elsewhere. Those claiming to be “anti-Zionist, not antisemitic”, should do so in the knowledge that 59% of British Jewish people consider themselves to be Zionists. If these individuals genuinely mean only to criticise the policies of the Government of Israel, and have no intention to offend British Jewish people, they should criticise “the Israeli Government”, and not “Zionists”. For the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially antisemitic. This should be communicated by the Government and political parties to those responsible for determining whether or not an incident should be regarded as antisemitic.”

The BBC article also tells readers:

“But it [the report] did say free speech should be allowed on the Palestinian issue, saying it was not anti-Semitic to criticise actions of the Israeli government.”

However that is just part of the story – as Professor Alan Johnson notes at the Telegraph:

“The Committee is very clear about two things. First, criticism of Israel is absolutely acceptable. Second, vile demonisation and conspiracism, with its cartoons dripping in blood and its hook noses and its wild claims of global domination and its Nazi comparisons is not “criticism of Israel”.”

The report itself states:

ha-select-comm-report-crtiticism-israel

Crucially, the IHRA definition of antisemitism recommended by the committee (which was adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s 31 member countries earlier this year) includes the following example of a manifestation of antisemitism often prevalent among those active “on the Palestinian issue”:

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”ha-select-comm-art-related-reading

This BBC article twice offers readers the same ‘related article’ titled “What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?”.

As was noted here when that ‘backgrounder’ first appeared, its problematic aspects (which, regrettably, have not been addressed since publication) include promotion of the Livingstone Formulation.

We have in the past noted here the need for the BBC to work according to a recognised definition of antisemitism in order to prevent the appearance of antisemitic discourse in its own content as well as on its comments boards and social media chatrooms and such a proposal was included in BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS public consultation on the renewal of the BBC’s charter.

In light of the Home Affairs Select Committee recommendation, it would of course be appropriate for the BBC and OFCOM to now adopt the IHRC working definition of antisemitism.

 

More promotion of the Livingstone Formulation from BBC News

An article published on the BBC News website’s ‘UK Politics’ page on June 30th under the title “Chief Rabbi condemns ‘offensive’ Corbyn anti-Semitism comments” also appeared on the website’s Middle East page.Corbyn statements art

The comments in question were made by Jeremy Corbyn at the launch of the report compiled by Shami Chakrabarti following her inquiry into the issue of antisemitism within the UK Labour Party. The BBC’s article noted the responses of the Chief Rabbi and his predecessor whilst also describing an incident which took place at the launch and summarising the report’s content.

Towards the end of the BBC’s article readers found re-amplification of themes previously seen in BBC reporting on the issue of the antisemitism scandals which engulfed the Labour party earlier in the year.

Having already been informed that the inquiry was initiated following the suspension of Naz Shah MP and Ken Livingstone, readers were told that:

“Ms Shah, the MP for Bradford West, was suspended after social media posts emerged in which she suggested Israel should be moved to the United States.”

That anodyne depiction of Shah’s Facebook post of course conceals from audiences the fact that what the MP was actually advocating was the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Middle East. BBC audiences saw that same whitewashed portrayal in a would-be backgrounder titled “What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?” which appeared on the BBC News website on April 29th and which also appears as a link at the bottom of this latest article.

At the end of this article readers found an insert titled “Anti-Semitism and Zionism” in which the BBC informed them that:

“Zionism refers to the movement to create a Jewish state in the Middle East, corresponding to the historic land of Israel – anti-Zionism opposes that”.

No effort was made to clarify that political anti-Zionists are those who hold the opinion that the Jewish state should not exist – i.e. that Jews have no right to self-determination like other nations – and readers did not learn that various accepted definitions of antisemitsm describe such denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination as antisemitism.

Readers were then told that:

“Some say “Zionist” can be used as a coded attack on Jews, while others say the Israeli government and its supporters are deliberately confusing anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to avoid criticism.”

In other words, once again (see ‘related articles’ below) the BBC has elected to amplify and mainstream the Livingstone Formulation.

Despite its own dismal record and the plethora of evidence showing that the BBC does not have the authority or the expertise – let alone the remit – to define antisemitism, it continues to co-opt itself to that role. The result is the kind of ‘blind reporting on the blind’ seen in this article and that clearly does not serve the interests of the corporation’s funding public as audience understanding of the issue of antisemitism within the Labour Party – and in general – continues to be compromised.

Related Articles:

BBC News tries – and fails – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism

BBC promotes the Livingstone formulation – again

Mainstreaming the Livingstone Formulation on BBC Radio 4

 

 

BBC News tries – and fails – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism

As regular readers of BBC Watch know, the corporation has a pretty gloomy record when it comes to preventing, identifying – and correcting – antisemitic discourse in its own content. BBC programmes were adduced in two reports published last year by expert practitioners tackling the issue of antisemitism in the UK – the February 2015 Report of the All-Party Parliamentary inquiry into Antisemitism and (not for the first time) the Community Security Trust’s annual report on Antisemitic Discourse.

On several occasions the Board of Deputies of British Jews has found it necessary to comment on issues concerning BBC content, including the corporation’s rejection of complaints relating to antisemitic remarks made by one of its reporters in January 2015 following the terror attacks in Paris. As has been noted here on numerous occasions, BBC-run message boards and phone-in shows have become fora for the spread of hate speech, dehumanization and delegitimisation of Jews, Israelis and Israel.

So when, in March, the UK Labour party’s burgeoning antisemitism scandals prompted British journalist Nick Cohen to write about antisemitic conspiracy theories we asked:

“Is it really at all surprising that the adoption of such conspiracy theories by the “leftwing activists, institutions or academics” described by Cohen is so widespread when we consider that the broadcaster with the most extensive access to British audiences is not averse to mainstreaming such ideas?” 

One might of course argue that the BBC’s public purpose remit – which includes “sustaining citizenship and civil society” and “promoting education and learning” – should have gone some way towards both preventing the appearance of antisemitic discourse in its own content and helping raise the British public’s awareness of antisemitism, thereby ensuring that ideologies such as those which have brought the Labour party into disrepute of late would be relegated to the status they deserve rather than becoming so commonplace within a mainstream British political party.  

That, however, is obviously not the case and one of the reasons for that (as noted in BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS public consultation concerning the renewal of the BBC charter) is that the BBC itself does not work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism. That is why the British public sees notions such as “the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well” mainstreamed on their television screens. That is why conspiracy theories such as the claim that in America “all of politics is in thrall to the Jewish lobby” are mainstreamed on BBC radio and that is why antisemitism in certain sectors of British society has often been whitewashed and ignored by the BBC.

Little wonder then that the BBC has to date repeatedly shown itself to be incapable of adequately explaining to its audiences exactly why comments made by some UK politicians and public figures are racist and offensive.

Despite its own dismal record and the plethora of evidence showing that the BBC does not have the authority or the expertise – let alone the remit – to define antisemitism, on April 29th it nevertheless decided to do just that in an article published on the BBC News website under the title “What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?“.antizionism art

Readers are not informed who wrote that backgrounder – which, ironically, opens with promotion of the Livingstone Formulation.

“The UK Labour Party has been at the centre of a row over anti-Semitism, including its relationship to anti-Zionism. What do these terms actually mean?

Anti-Semitism is “hostility and prejudice directed against Jewish people” (OED).

Zionism refers to the movement to create a Jewish state in the Middle East, corresponding to the historic land of Israel – anti-Zionism opposes that.

But some say “Zionist” can be used as a coded attack on Jews, while others say the Israeli government and its supporters are deliberately confusing anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to avoid criticism.” [emphasis added]

Readers may recall that in recent weeks we have seen the Livingstone Formulation similarly promoted on BBC Radio 4 and in an article written by none other than the BBC’s politics correspondent.  The device is twice promoted again later on in the article.

“Others – including Livingstone – argue anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism, and that it’s wrong to mix up anti-Jewish prejudice with legitimate disagreement with the actions of the Israeli state.”

And – bizarrely citing a known anti-Israel activist:

“On the other hand, it’s regularly claimed that accusations of anti-Semitism are deployed to silence criticism of the Israeli government or to further other political ends.

Pia Feig, of Manchester Jews for Justice for Palestinians, told BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine programme that “anti-Semitism has been used to quieten down and suppress my concern and the concern of other people for Palestinians”.”

Of course anti-Zionist is not an accurate description of people who criticize the policies or actions of the Israeli government: were that the case, Israelis themselves could be regularly described as ‘anti-Zionist’. Rather, anti-Zionists are those who – for assorted reasons – hold the opinion that the Jewish state should not exist: i.e. that Jews have no right to self-determination like other nations.

Revealingly though, the term ‘self-determination’ appears only once in this article in a quote:

“Baroness Julia Neuberger told the BBC’s Jeremy Vine show that anti-Zionism implies “Jews have no right to self-determination, unlike other people”.”

With that exception, the article focuses on promoting the inaccurate and misleading notion that anti-Zionism is the same thing as expressing criticism of the policies and actions of the Israeli government.

Thus, we not only see that whoever wrote this backgrounder is inadequately informed on the subject of anti-Zionism and hence fails to deliver the headlined promise to explain it to readers, but also that the BBC’s failure to work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism means that the writer also neglects to inform them that the EUMC Working Definition, for example, specifically describes denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination as antisemitism.

To make matters even worse, the article amplifies the ‘Zionism is racism’ canard and the ‘apartheid’ fabrication whilst linking to the website of the PSC – an organization which supports and enables the efforts of an openly antisemitic terrorist organization which seeks to destroy the Jewish state.

“Some anti-Zionists say Zionism itself is a racist ideology, because of how, in their view, the Palestinian people have been treated by the Israeli state. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign says it opposes all racism, including anti-Jewish prejudice and the “the [sic] apartheid and Zionist nature of the Israeli state” – although the PSC has itself been accused of racism for its anti-Zionist stance.”

And if you want to understand just how reluctant the BBC actually is to inform its audiences comprehensively, accurately and impartially about the UK Labour party’s malaise, then consider this article’s airbrushed, benign portrayal of the Facebook post that led to Naz Shah’s suspension.

“It follows the suspension of Bradford West MP Naz Shah after it emerged she had once suggested, among other things, that Israel should be moved to the United States.” 

In fact, what Naz Shah was supporting is the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Middle East but the BBC does not have the honesty and integrity to inform its audiences of that fact. It instead whitewashes the true meaning and significance of comments made by her and others whilst at the same time failing to provide audiences with a clear and accurate explanation of anti-Zionism which would enhance their understanding of what the scandals currently engulfing the UK Labour party are actually about or where their long-existing roots lie. Moreover, it further muddies the waters with repeated promotion of the Livingstone Formulation: a device deliberately intended to discredit those raising concerns about antisemitism. 

There is nothing very surprising about that given the BBC’s record on antisemitism and its past repeated failure to inform audiences what anti-Zionist groups such as the PSC and the BDS campaign really stand for despite frequently showcasing their agendas. But what this so-called backgrounder does demonstrate once again is that (notwithstanding beacons of light such as Andrew Neil) the BBC is currently incapable of properly serving its funding public’s interests on this topic.

Related Articles:

Mainstreaming the Livingstone Formulation on BBC Radio 4

BBC promotes the Livingstone formulation – again

Andy Newman’s socialism of fools: The remarkable staying power of leftist antisemitism (UK Media Watch)

Jews, Israel, & the Atavistic British Left: A response to Bob from Brockley  (UK Media Watch)

 

 

 

BBC promotes the Livingstone formulation – again

April 13th saw the subject of an initiative designed to tackle the issue of antisemitism in the British Labour party feature quite prominently on BBC platforms. The BBC’s political correspondent Ross Hawkins reported the story on that day’s edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 01:13:16 here) and the ‘UK politics’ section of the BBC News website’s UK page included an article by Hawkins titled “Labour activists seek rule change to ban anti-Semitic members“.

Ross Hawkins also produced a second article that day which appeared in the same ‘UK politics’ section under the headline “Labour’s problem with anti-Semitism” and portrayed the issue as being in essence a conflict between those who support the party leader Jeremy Corbyn and those who do not.Hawkins art Labour

“That is highly unlikely to be the end of this story, though, because it goes to the heart of a poisonous atmosphere in parts of the Labour movement.

Jeremy Corbyn’s critics – who are many and vociferous – put the blame at his door. […]

On the other side, his supporters remind us of those condemnations of anti-Semitism and the decision to launch an inquiry, and point out this is not a new problem.”

Readers are then told:

“Lost in the fury about a member suspended then readmitted after anti-Semitic comments only to become vice-chair of her local party, was the fact those decisions were made not under Mr Corbyn, but his predecessor Ed Miliband.”

BBC audiences have heard that claim made before but while Vicki Kirby may indeed have been brought back into the fold before Corbyn was elected leader, her elevation to the post of branch vice-chair does appear to have taken place on his watch.

Towards the end of his article, Hawkins tells readers that:

“For some fighting Mr Corbyn’s corner, this issue is serious and real, but is also being used as a stick to beat him by his internal political enemies.

There are those who have long seen allegations of anti-Semitism as attempts to silence legitimate criticism of Israel – on which different wings of the Labour movement take passionately opposing views.” [emphasis added]

Only a few weeks earlier the BBC’s Radio 4 audiences had heard a similar – unchallenged – promotion of the Livingstone Formulation from an interviewee on one of its programmes. The fact that we now we find none other than the BBC’s politics correspondent unquestioningly amplifying a device used by anti-Israel activists obviously raises concerns regarding the BBC’s ability to report this story accurately and impartially.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ and ‘alleged’ antisemitic Tweets

BBC News website buries Oxford University Labour Club story

Mainstreaming the Livingstone Formulation on BBC Radio 4

 

Mainstreaming the Livingstone Formulation on BBC Radio 4

Listeners to the March 20th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ heard an item (from 20:32 here) described in the synopsis as follows:R4 Sunday 20 3

“The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has written to the government expressing his shock and concern about rising reports of anti-Semitism at UK universities. Bob Walker reports.”

Listeners heard from a variety of contributors including York University undergraduate Zachary Confino who noted the recent staging there of the play ‘Seven Jewish Children’ – considered by some to be at best inflammatory and by many to be antisemitic – and that decision was defended by Habib Nasser; a member of the university’s Palestine Solidarity Society which organized the performance.

Additional contributors highlighted the issue of social media before Walker turned to the Oxford University Labour Club story and reactions to that ongoing issue were heard from Labour party members John Mann and Lucy Powell.

However, the most remarkable feature of this item – which supposedly intends to inform listeners about the issue of antisemitism in UK universities – came at 27:45 when Bob Walker introduced his final contributor.

BW: “Pro-Palestinian students say they’re worried that legitimate debate and criticism of Israel is being wrongly interpreted as antisemitism. Sai Englert is a Jewish student who supports the Palestinian solidarity movement.

Englert: “I don’t think it particularly comes from Jewish organisations; it comes from all sorts of pro-Israeli organisations that tried to use this as a defence mechanism. I think that’s very worrying. We need to be able to be very effective and very unified in our struggle against racism, against Islamophobia, against antisemitism and that these attempts to muddle [sic] the waters and conflate all Jews with Israel in order to avoid addressing the political questions by defenders of Israel, I think is very worrying.”

In other words, listeners to BBC Radio 4 were told that “defenders of Israel” deliberately employ false claims of antisemitism in order to shut down debate.

Known as the Livingstone Formulation, the purpose of that claim was described by the person who named it, David Hirsch, as follows:

 “the use of the Livingstone Formulation is intended to make sure that the raising of the issue of anti-Semitism, when related to ‘criticism of Israel,’ remains or becomes a commonsense indicator of ‘Zionist’ bad faith and a faux pas in polite antiracist company.”

Lesley Klaff describes it as:

“…the practice of responding to claims of contemporary antisemitism by alleging that those making the claim are only doing so to prevent Israel from being criticised; in other words, they are ‘playing the antisemitism card.’” 

So who is the person selected by the BBC to inform its audiences that what they hear about antisemitism on UK campuses might actually be a “mechanism” to shut down “criticism of Israel”?

Sai Englert is indeed a PhD candidate at SOAS. He is also an anti-Israel activist who believes that “[t]he colonisation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 are today well documented and generally recognised as facts” and a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign aimed at bringing an end to Jewish self-determination.

In an article published by the ‘Socialist Worker’ in October 2015, Englert described the scene of the October 3rd terror attack in Jerusalem in which Nechemia Lavi and Aharon Benita were murdered as follows:

“In the street where two armed settlers were killed on Saturday, a large crowd of their accomplices were holding a sit-in: guitars, songs, candles and flags, as well as signs in English and Hebrew calling for revenge, for retaliation, for justice. They laugh and chat, for the most part in perfect North American English accents–or terrible Hebrew–about “their neighborhood,” “their land,” “their houses.” […]

Zionism is unleashing its military power once more on the Palestinian population, and the West continues to foot the bill and support the colonial project. Demonstrations, actions and BDS campaigns should pop up across the globe in response to this situation. It won’t free Palestine or stop the current onslaught, but it can continue to increase the pressure on our leaders and their Israeli friends. It can make clear that the world is not only watching, but fighting back, in solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people, against colonialism and racial supremacy.”

Englert has previously described objections to the BDS campaign as ‘smears’ – using language which amply clarifies his position.

Englert tweet

It is hence entirely unsurprising that Englert would make use of the platform provided by BBC Radio 4 to promote the Livingstone Formulation because doing so serves his ideological and political agenda.

The question which must be posed is why the producers of this programme found Englert’s allegations worthy of inclusion, promotion and mainstreaming in an item ostensibly intended to inform audiences about the growing – and serious – problem of antisemitism in UK universities.