A problematic BBC Radio Manchester item on antisemitism

On September 16th members of the British Jewish community held a rally against antisemitism in Manchester and a few hours before the event one of its organisers – Raphi Bloom of North West Friends of Israel – gave an interview to the local radio station BBC Radio Manchester.

Mr Bloom’s interview took place on a show called ‘Mike Shaft’ after its presenter and it can be heard from 02:08:57 here.

Mike Shaft began by asking his guest “why is this taking place?”. After Mr Bloom had cited the absence of any improvement since the demonstration he described as being “specifically about the antisemitism that was engulfing Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party” that was held in London in March ,noting that the crisis has only grown since then, Shaft responded: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

[2:10:45] Shaft: “You can’t believe that the only antisemitism in this country is in the Labour Party.”

As Mr Bloom mentioned the support for Corbyn on social media from people on the far Right such as David Duke and Nick Griffin, Shaft interrupted:

[2:11:34]Shaft: “But you’re never talking about the Right.”

Following Mr Bloom’s response he went on:

[2:12:07] Shaft: “Mr Corbyn has apologised for hurt caused by antisemitism in the party and pledged to stamp it out. He’s stressed that people who hold antisemitic views have no place in the Labour Party. He said people who use antisemitic poison are not his supporters nor do they speak for him or the party. Why can you not accept that?”

Mr Bloom pointed out that those words have not been followed by actions, citing the lack of action in various cases including the recent remarks made by a Trade Union leader.

[2:14:03] Shaft: “Well there was an action in this past week where the Labour Party accepted the…the…the definition of antisemitism. But let me ask you…”

Bloom: “No it didn’t. It accepted it with a caveat – with a big caveat.”

Shaft: “It accepted it. Let’s leave it there because I want to move on. Let me ask you this: does criticism of Israel mean that you’re antisemitic?”

After Mr Bloom had clarified that the IHRA definition of antisemitism does not preclude criticism of Israel, the obviously very badly prepared Shaft went on:

[2:15:03] Shaft: “Let me ask you a question please because I couldn’t get my head round it. What was the decision taken recently by the Israeli government regarding people who weren’t born there?”

Mr Bloom pointed out that “we’re coming in here to talk about antisemitism against the British community but you’re asking me about the actions of the government of Israel” to which Shaft replied “yes I am”.

Mr Bloom then explained to Sharp that his question taps into the antisemitic dual loyalty trope that is described in the IHRA definition as “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” but the BBC presenter persisted.

[2:15:43] Shaft: “If you could answer my question please it would help. We’re running out of time I’m warning you.”

Bloom: “But I want to make it very clear – I’m organising a rally today against antisemitism in the UK. What does that have to do with the actions of the Israeli government? Why are you asking me about the actions of the Israeli government?”

Shaft then employed the Livingstone Formulation.

[2:16:00] Shaft: “Because…I can tell you exactly why; because if people speak out against that, they’re described as being antisemitic. So explain to me please – and this is for a matter of fact – ‘cos I said, I don’t know exactly what the decision was. Can you tell me what the decision was?”

Incredibly – even after having received an explanation as to why holding Jews responsible for the actions of Israel is antisemitic – Shaft later again pursued that line of questioning.

[2:17:17] Shaft: “Let me ask you this: are you as a Jewish person happy with the treatment of the Palestinians?”

Bloom: “Again, I have to pull you up on this. I’m sorry to do this.”

Shaft: “You can pull me up all you want. I’d like you to answer the question.”

Bloom: “I’m here to talk about rising antisemitism in the UK. I’m here to talk about…”

Shaft [interrupts] “But it comes as a result of stuff that Israel is doing.”

After Raphi Bloom had explained that “if people attack Jews in this country because of the actions of the Israeli government it is antisemitic”, that British Jews  have no influence over Israeli government policies and that to hold them to account for Israel’s policies and actions is antisemitism, Shaft went on:

[2:19:21] Shaft: “Well I’ve already mentioned what Jeremy Corbyn has said, apologised.”

Shaft closed the interview with a statement that cannot possibly be considered to meet BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality:

[2:20:34] Shaft: “We’re out of time and you’ve mentioned…you’ve mentioned a lot of names and I don’t know what these people have said. I do know some other people are using this as a stick to beat Jeremy Corbyn with and it’s never going to be resolved, we’ll wait and see.”

So here we have a BBC presenter who was so badly prepared for an interview that he had to ask his interviewee to explain a topic that he could not even present accurately to listeners, who found it appropriate to promote Labour Party messaging, claiming that the topic of the interview – antisemitism – is used “as a stick to beat Jeremy Corbyn with” and used to silence criticism of Israel. On top of that – despite having had the significance clarified to him on air – the BBC presenter repeatedly pressed his British Jewish interviewee to ‘explain’ Israeli government policy and actions in an obviously extremely problematic line of questioning.

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