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

As we saw in part one of this post, the January 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an interview with Deborah Lipstadt about the rise of antisemitism, during which presenter Martha Kearney found it appropriate to quote one of Jeremy Corbyn’s denials concerning the antisemitism evident in his party.

The January 26th edition of the same programme saw presenter Mishal Husain return to that interview with Lipstadt (from 1:50:36 here) in an item featuring a member of the UK Labour party. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Can an outlook that focuses on race and privilege prevent people recognising antisemitism? That was the suggestion made on the programme yesterday by the historian Deborah Lipstatdt […] Here’s what she said.”

Recording Lipstadt: “…many people consider themselves progressives, their view of the world is refracted through a prism which has two facets. One factor is ethnicity and one is class. And they look at Jews and they see white people – quote unquote white people – who are privileged and therefore could not possibly be victims of prejudice.”

Husain: “Well Michael Segalov is a journalist, member of the Labour party and is himself Jewish. […] What do you think of that view?”

This is not the first time that the BBC has brought in Segalov to comment on antisemitism in the party of which he is a member but without clarifying that he is a Corbyn supporter.

Segalov: “I think there is some truth in it. I don’t think that it is inherent to being progressive. I certainly don’t think misunderstanding what the Jewish community have been through is part of being progressive or on the Left. But I do think when – in particular in relation to Israel, which is obviously not what Jewish identity is all about but it’s part of it – it is possible to fall into a trap, which is understandable, of seeing Israel as a colonial state. And I think the reason that happens on the progressive Left more than it does elsewhere is because it’s only really on the Left that the lexicon is apparent. You don’t really see people on the Right talking critically about empire, about colonialism in a way the Left do. So I was trying to think of an analogy on the way here and to some extent I guess it’s like if you’re not trying to juggle you’re not going to drop anything – it’s that sort of issue there.”

Husain: “But what Deborah Lipstatdt was saying was actually something even more basic than that if you like. She is saying that if you see the world through this prism and she said – she was talking about ethnicity and class – but perhaps when you think about it in this way, that if you see…if your world view had a big focus on wealth and the inequality that results from imbalances in wealth and you perceive Jews as having wealth even though that is…depends on who you’re talking about, then you can find it difficult to see Jews as victims.”

Segalov: “Well no, I dispute that completely. I think it’s very important we say that those kind of prejudices such as seeing Jewish people as wealthy need to be dispelled. I don’t think it’s at all inherent to the idea that if you’re critical of wealth and power you’re suddenly antisemitic. I think making those connections is…”

Husain: “But that’s not what I said. I said could it mean that you are less likely to see Jews as people who can be victims?”

Segalov: “Only if you hold on to the view that Jewish people are wealthy and powerful which is…which is not fundamentally true. I do think there’s a bit more nuance to what Deborah said, as much as respect I have for her, in particular that I don’t think progressive people solely see inequality through the lens of either wealth or race. We see it through gender, you see it through sexuality, you see it through nationality and ethnicity and all different religious groups too. It’s all this identity politics idea. So I don’t think it’s as straightforward as to say that if you see the world through a lens of the powerful and the wealthy and the not so, that you’re ever going to fall into the trap of antisemitism.”

Husain: “But do you find yourself often having to make a point or urging people who have the same political views as you to see Jewish people in a different way from perhaps how they first see them?”

Segalov: “Not fairly regularly, no, no.”

Husain: “It does happen?”

Segalov: “Of course. I think they…we…antisemitism and misunderstandings of the Jewish community have been prevalent in Europe and this country and beyond for generations. And I certainly think at a time when Jewish people relatively in the UK and relatively in the US too, despite the administration over there, are safe and comfortable – a short period of time and long may it continue – it’s possible for younger people to not understand and appreciate the history that Jewish people have of marginalisation, oppression and discrimination. I don’t think it happens too often but of course there’s a risk.”

Husain made no effort to remind listeners (and her guest) that just four months ago 40% of British Jews said they would seriously consider leaving the UK if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister.

Husain: “Michael Segalov, thank you very much.”

Quite how the producers of this programme thought Segalov’s largely incoherent ramblings would contribute to BBC’s domestic audiences’ understanding of antisemitism in the UK Labour party is a mystery. Listeners were however told by a person introduced as Jewish that it is “understandable” if people perceive “Israel as a colonial state” and they heard multiple references to Jews, wealth and power.

Sadly, even just days ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, BBC Radio 4 could not come up with impartial and informative reporting on the antisemitism that blights its listeners’ society.

Related Articles:

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

 

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Inaccurate framing of Corbyn remarks continues on BBC Radio 4

As we saw previously when, on August 28th, the New Statesman published an interview with the former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in which he addressed comments made by the current UK Labour party leader in 2013, listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard inaccurate framing of that story repeatedly promoted by the BBC political correspondent Tom Barton.

The same editorial policy was evident in the news bulletin heard by listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ on August 28th (from 02:30 here). [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Newsreader: “Labour has reacted angrily to allegations by the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic. Lord Sacks also described comments about a group of British Zionists made by Mr Corbyn before he became Labour leader as the most offensive by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell in the 1960s. Here’s our political correspondent Tom Barton.”

Barton: “Lord Sacks was referring to a speech Jeremy Corbyn gave in 2013 in which he spoke about a group of Zionists who, he claimed, didn’t understand English irony. The former Chief Rabbi told the New Statesman that was the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968. He said the comments implied Jews were not fully British and described Jeremy Corbyn as an antisemite. Labour said comparing its leader with the race-baiting Enoch Powell was absurd and offensive. The party added that Mr Corbyn had used the word Zionist in the accurate political sense to describe a particular group of pro-Israel activists and not as a synonym or code for Jewish people.”

As noted here previously, by the time Barton was presenting that report he had been provided with a transcript of edited parts of Corbyn’s speech which showed that he was not talking about “a particular group” of people but about British Zionist Jews. He had also been told by the man who recorded Corbyn’s 2013 speech that as far as he knew, he was the only ‘pro-Israel activist’ present. Nevertheless – and even as it was obvious that Rabbi Lord Sacks’ comments were based on the fact that he did not buy into the notion that Corbyn was referring to a “particular group” present at a particular event – Barton continued to amplify the team Corbyn framing which hinders audience understanding of those comments.

Later on in the same programme (from 22:00 here) listeners heard an item described in its synopsis as follows:

“We discuss the latest row over Jeremy Corbyn – the former Chief Rabbi has described some of the Labour leader’s remarks as the most offensive made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech.”

Presenter Chris Mason began by playing a recording of part of Powell’s 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech followed by a recording from the 2013 speech by the person he described as “the then obscure Labour back bencher Jeremy Corbyn”. Listeners next heard a reading of some of Lord Sacks’ related comments including:

“It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”

Declaring that “we’re going to explore both sides of the argument”, Mason went on to introduce his first contributor as “Jewish, a journalist and a member of the Labour Party”. He did not however inform listeners of the relevant fact that Michael Segalov is a Corbyn supporter and apparently a member of Momentum.

After Segalov had tried to persuade listeners that Corbyn’s 2013 comments were “a joke he tried to make” he absurdly went on to claim that:

Segalov: “They came – let’s be clear – at a time when Israel-Palestine wasn’t at the heart of political debate in this country.”

Segalov added:

Segalov [24:10]: “…I don’t think Jeremy would have used those words today but to compare them and to conflate them with, you know, the real abhorrent racism that’s expressed in the ‘rivers of blood’ speech is frankly [a] disservice to that racism that really existed then.”

Sidestepping that signposting of antisemitism as not ‘real’ racism, Mason asked:

Mason: “What about that other point in the line from Jeremy Corbyn? Yes, there was the argument about the use of the word Zionist but there was also that line about English irony – and ultimately belonging – casting in the eyes of some Jewish people as outsiders; as somehow not properly English or British.”

Listeners again heard Segalov try to present Corbyn’s remarks as a joke fallen flat – “it wasn’t funny” and “it was clumsy language” – before he went on to claim that “he wasn’t casting an aspersion on all Jewish people”.

Mason did not bother to clarify to listeners that Corbyn’s reference to “Zionists” in fact describes the majority of British Jews before Segalov was given a platform from which to promote the claim that there is a need to “draw distinct lines between Judaism and Jewishness”.

Segalov: “And it sometimes feels that people on both sides are responsible because we don’t really draw those lines. There are people in the Labour Party, on the Left, who fail to do those things. They conflate Judaism and Zionism. But frankly many of our Jewish leaders do the same thing too. Rabbi Sacks does that in his interview to some extent. Look at our current Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis who wrote in the Telegraph a few years ago and saying those things are one and the same Judaism and Zionism. I mean we deserve better; Jewish people deserve better and Palestinian people do too.”

In the article cited (not for the first time) by Segalov, Ephraim Mirvis wrote:

“Zionism is a belief in the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the centre of the Jewish world for more than 3,000 years. One can no more separate it from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain.

Open a Jewish daily prayer book used in any part of the world and Zionism will leap out at you. The innumerable references to the land of Israel are inescapable and demonstrative. Throughout our collective history we have yearned for a chance to determine our own future, to revive an ancient language and return to rejoice in our love for this tiny sliver of land. Zionism is a movement celebrated by people right across the political spectrum, all over the world, and requires no endorsement or otherwise of the particular policies of any Israeli Government at any time.” 

Listeners heard Segalov go on to claim that in order to “deal with” the issue of antisemitism in the British Labour Party there “has to be a concerted effort by the Jewish community and by the Labour Party” before again promoting the notion that there needs to be a conversation held “in the Jewish community and the Labour Party too: one that says  we need to tackle antisemitism whenever it raises its ugly head but also says Judaism is a religion, Zionism and Israel are in politics” and going on to claim that Rabbi Sacks “conflated those two things”. Segalov proceeded to refer to another part of Lord Sacks’ New Statesman interview which has nothing to do with the Labour antisemitism story, asserting “that level of ignorance does no service to debate”.

Radio 4 listeners next heard Mason read out a Labour Party statement in which it was once again claimed that “Jeremy Corbyn described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in the accurate political sense – not as a synonym or code for Jewish people”.

The second contributor to this item was Jonathan Goldstein of the Jewish Leadership Council who was first asked by Mason:

Mason: “Was Lord Sacks exaggerating?”

Two of Mason’s three subsequent questions presented clear signposting to listeners.

Mason: “Yeah but being precise about this intervention tonight and that comparison with the ‘rivers of blood’ speech.”

Mason: “In specific terms though, is the comparison with the ‘rivers of blood’ speech fair? Not least because Enoch Powell was a shadow minister at the time; he knew his message would be heard by a national audience and he knew it has a capacity to offend. Mr Corbyn didn’t.”

Unless the BBC’s domestic audiences are given both an accurate portrayal of the content and circumstances of Corbyn’s 2013 speech and a critical view of his supporters’ statements after it came to light, they will clearly not be able to “engage fully” with that issue or understand the ensuing criticism of the Labour leader.

However, as Radio 4’s reporting of this latest story shows, the BBC’s funding public continues to be denied that full range of information.

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BBC’s political correspondent continues to push Labour framing

BBC R4 news reporting of Corbyn ‘irony’ story to domestic audiences

Guardian op-ed challenges the ‘rigid’ Yom Ha’atzmaut ‘orthodoxy’ that Israel should exist

Guardian op-ed challenges the ‘rigid’ Yom Ha’atzmaut ‘orthdoxy’ that Israel should exist

Cross posted from UK Media Watch

Last week, Israel – and its supporters around the world – marked 70 years of its existence, as the country celebrated Yom Haatzmaut, Independence Day. In Israel, it is a day when political differences and arguments are put to one side, as the country joins together to celebrate its achievements, and its very existence. But the Guardian naturally wasn’t going to change course, and published a typically Guardian opinion piece to mark the day.

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Michael Segalov’s opinion piece complains that Yom Haatzmaut does “not leave room for nuance”, and “only creates space for a certain type of Jew,” before reminding us that “Judaism has a long and proud history of dissent and disagreement”. He argues that Jews should follow the idea of seeing “Israel Independence Day as an opportunity for debate.”

Often UK Media Watch focuses on bias and inaccurate reporting.  But, in this case, it falls to us to dismember an incredibly weak opinion article, which surely would not have been published were it not to flatter the opinions of the editors.

The argument that Yom Haatzmaut doesn’t leave room for nuance is simply wrong. One can be right-wing or left-wing, secular or religious, Jewish or non-Jewish, pro-Netanyahu or anti, and basically subscribe to any political ideology under the sun, and celebrate Yom Haatzmaut. This isn’t just theoretical – this is the reality in Israel! Celebrating Yom Haatzmaut simply means you celebrate the existence of a Jewish state of Israel in some form. This is as basic a requirement as possible, and does not in any way preclude what form that state should take.

As often with anti-Israel articles, one sees the warped and convoluted logic when applying this “Israel-speak” to another country. Almost all countries in the world celebrate an Independence Day. The statement that “celebrating Bastille Day leaves no room for nuance, and implies there is only one way to be French,” is just a non starter. Yet such nonsense is seen enlightened when said about Israel.

Segalov’s argument is also profoundly underdeveloped, or frankly non-existent. He quotes, disapprovingly, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, who said that Zionism is inseparable from Judaism, and counters that we should not make Zionism a part of the Jewish faith. But Judaism is not Mr Segalov’s plaything, and he does not actually present a counter argument himself. His response to the Chief Rabbi is a) that opinion only creates room for one type of Jew, and b) Judaism has a tradition of dissent.

His essential response to “Zionism is inseparable from Judaism” is a) I don’t like that, and b) Judaism allows for multiple lines of argument, even though I haven’t actually provided one.  This is not so much an opinion piece, more an I-don’t-like-their-opinion piece.

And finally, he should call a spade a spade. What is the content of the “debate” Mr Segalov is calling for? If one is calling for a debate on Independence Day, isn’t that a polite way of calling to debate the very existence of the country? One cannot “debate” in the abstract, one must debate something – an argument, a concept, a preposition. Mr Segalov stops short of saying what his proposition is, but leaves little to the imagination. In his mind, the correct way to mark Israel’s independence is to challenge its continued independence.

Here is the final irony of the article. Segalov calls for diversity, room for multiple voices. If only the Guardian had that ability to create space for another voice – for just one day a year, to put aside its qualms, and to join in recognising the tremendous achievements of Israel. Alas, until then, it seems the Guardian’s monotony of gloom and doom about Israel will continue.

Aron White has a BSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of London (Lead College: LSE), and is a graduate of the Jewish Statesmanship Center in Jerusalem. His writings have been published at the Jerusalem Post, JNS, The Daily Caller and the Algemeiner.

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