BBC WS radio misrepresents the IHRA definition of antisemitism

h/t SG

The December 22nd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Boston Calling’ – titled “The allegiance edition” – included an item (from 08:56 here) described in its synopsis as follows:

“Also, we look into President Trump’s latest executive order, which relies on a controversial definition of anti-Semitism…” [emphasis added]

The working definition of antisemitism which the BBC World Service found fit to portray as “controversial” is that produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) which has been adopted by governments and bodies around the world.

Presenter Carol Hills (of PRI) chose to introduce the item with an unexplained reference to ‘allegiance’ which might well be considered inappropriate given the subject matter of antisemitism.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Hills: “In these divided times there are still some things we agree on. Few people, for example, would not agree that antisemitism is bad and that we should do something about it. But the agreement ends there because as soon as you start asking people what is antisemitism, who is guilty of it and what to do about it, that’s when you run into disagreements and in some cases allegiance comes into question. This became clear after President Trump signed his latest executive order. Our own Rupa Shenoy has more.”

Rupa Shenoy – also of PRI – began with a superficial description of the executive order signed on December 11th which is ostensibly the subject matter of her report.

Shenoy: “Hanukkah came early at the White House as President Trump recounted what he’d done for the Jewish people and said he was adding to that legacy by signing a powerful executive order.”

Recording Trump: “This action makes clear that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits the federal funding of universities and other institutions that engage in discrimination applies to institutions that traffic in antisemitic hate.”

Shenoy: “He noted that Congress and the previous administration had tried to do something similar but those efforts stalled.”

Recording Trump: “But this year there’s no roadblock because I’m doing it myself. It’s much easier.”

Shenoy: “And Trump made the intent of his order clear.”

Recording Trump: “This is our message to universities: if you want to accept the tremendous amount of federal dollars that you get every year, you must reject antisemitism. It’s very simple.”

Shenoy: “The order recommends that universities define antisemitism with this specific language as -quote – a certain perception of Jews which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews including – quote – rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism. Ken Stern helped craft that definition originally for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.”

Ken Stern did not ‘help craft’ the IHRA definition. He did help write – along with some eight others – its predecessor for a now defunct EU agency called The European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. Seeing as Stern has repeatedly voiced his opinion that the IHRC is not suitable for use on campuses because he regards them as a special ‘free speech’ environment, the views he expresses in this report do not come as much of a surprise.

Stern: “It was never intended as something to police speech on campus.”

Shenoy: “Because he says there’s no similar definition of racism for example. And Stern says the Department of Education has made clear that Title VI already covers Jewish students.”

Stern: “Jewish students are being targeted regardless if they’re pro-Israel or anti-Israel, simply because they’re Jewish. That’s something that’s actionable and a concern. But the use of this definition is part of a long-standing pattern to try to curtail political speech about Israel.”

Shenoy then brought in a second voice supporting the same view – but failed to meet BBC editorial guideline requirements to inform audiences of the “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” of her contributor and the organisation she currently represents.  

Shenoy: “Others have come to the same conclusion about Trump’s executive order. Lara Friedman is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.”

Friedman: “What it says is when it comes to criticising Israel, Jews equal Israel, Israel equals Jews. If you are on campus and you only talk about Israel and you’re criticising Israel, you are by definition antisemitic. Under the definition offered here the Palestinian historic and lived narrative becomes antisemitism.”

Shenoy: “She says the order’s goal is to send a message to university administrators and organisers.”

Friedman: “We are watching you and we will make your life miserable; cost you time, there’ll be reputational costs, all of that. You could lose your federal funding if you dare cross the line so don’t even go near the line.”

Shenoy: “Friedman says Trump’s executive order is aimed at campus protests across the country that Trump sees as connected to a larger worldwide movement to boycott Israel called BDS. That’s short for boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

As is inevitably the case in BBC content, audiences did not receive any sort of explanation concerning the BDS campaign – including the particularly relevant fact that what that campaign ultimately seeks to achieve is the end of Israel as the Jewish state.

Recording Trump: “And as president I want to be very clear. My administration vigorously condemns the BDS campaign against Israel.”

Shenoy: “This is Trump earlier this week [actually December 8th] at the Israeli-American Council’s national summit in Florida.”

Recording Trump: “But sadly BDS has also made disturbing headway on American college campuses – you know that, don’t you? Here with us today is Adela Cojab, a recent graduate of New York University who courageously stood for Israel in the face of hostility and bigotry…”

Shenoy: “Adela Cojab got on stage and told the audience she was suing NYU because it failed to protect Jewish students from harassment. Now she tells me she feels validated by the presidential order.”

Cojab: “By signing this order he just expanded the definition of protected groups and it includes Jewish students of course. And that tells Jewish students everywhere that what they’re going through isn’t normal, it’s not OK. And it just clarifies that they can stand up.”

Shenoy: “And Cojab pushes back against the argument that the executive order will stifle free speech.”

Cojab: “I think that the process can very much not be antisemitic. I criticise Israel openly because I have thoughts but there’s a difference between criticising Israel and Israeli policy and Israeli administration and criticising Israel’s right to exist. Because when you say that you’re anti-Zionist you’re saying that you’re against Israel’s right to exist, which is destroying Israel.”

Having apparently brought in Cojab to balance the two voices already heard, Shenoy then promoted a third view opposing the executive order. She did not however bother to clarify to listeners that her interviewee is a member of ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ (SJP) which is one of the main proponents of BDS on US campuses.

Shenoy: “And creating a hostile environment for students, she says. For their part many campus activists for Palestinian rights say they’re not backing down. Nick Galloway is a graduate student at the University of Maryland who’s participated in demonstrations for years.”

Galloway: “They can’t stop us from getting together and fighting for justice and fighting for BDS.”

Shenoy: “He says Trump’s executive order might intimidate some Palestinian or Muslim students on campus from protesting. But Galloway adds that it also might invite a backlash.”

Galloway: “It’s going to strengthen the resolve of student organisers to [unintelligible] that.”

Shenoy: “But the divisions over Israel, Zionism, Palestinian rights and free speech aren’t going away any time soon. Trump’s executive order will have to play out on college campuses and likely court rooms across the country.”

To sum up, BBC audiences heard three voices opposing the US president’s executive order and just one in favour. In breach of BBC editorial guidelines they were not informed of the agendas of the organisations with which two of those voices are associated and neither were they given any relevant background information concerning the BDS campaign which they support.

Most egregiously, listeners were told that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism is “controversial” and that its adoption means that people who “talk about Israel” and criticise Israel “are by definition antisemitic”. That of course is completely false. As Dave Rich of the CST has pointed out, the IHRA definition does not “repress” freedom of speech at all.

“The IHRA definition does no such thing, stating plainly that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.’ This leaves room for the full range of rational, evidence-based opposition to Israeli laws, policies and actions. It doesn’t allow for the kind of obsessive, irrational hatred that depicts Israel as a Nazi state of unparalleled cruelty that needs to be wiped off the map, or that sees “Zionist” conspiracies behind everything from 9/11 to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and for good reason: because, as the IHRA definition recognises, antisemitism sometimes includes ‘the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.’”

If the BBC’s partners at PRI are not capable of portraying the IHRA working definition of antisemitism in a manner that meets BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, that content should obviously not be rebroadcast on ‘Boston Calling’.

Related Articles:

Guardian op-ed: presidential order on antisemitism only supported by right-wing Jews (UK Media Watch) 

 

BBC WS radio amplifies claim that a country called Palestine “existed”

The November 2nd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Boston Calling’ – titled “Power and diplomacy” – included an item (from 14:21 here) which was introduced by presenter Carol Hills (of PRI) using some very obvious sign-posting.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Hills: “…let’s duck into a museum in Washington DC that’s trying to do its own kind of diplomacy without a diplomat in sight. It’s a museum dedicated to Palestinian history with a mission to spark conversations about Palestinian culture, focused on its people not its politics. Mikaela Lefrak went to check out the Museum of the Palestinian People.”

In fact this is a recycled and slightly edited version of a report produced by Lefrak for PRI’s ‘The World’ in early July which begins with the same sign-posting.

Lefrak: “When visitors walk into the one-room museum the first object they see is a leafy-green water jug. It’s made of glass from Hebron; a city in the West Bank known for its glass-blowing traditions. What visitors won’t see is overtly political content, even in a museum about an area that’s at the centre of a decades-long geo-political conflict.”

Despite the claims from Hills and Lefrak, as we noted when BBC World Service radio previously promoted the museum and its founder back in June, it is essentially the continuation of a project that is very much political – even if Lefrak fails to identify it as such.

Lefrak: “Museum founder Bshara Nassar says his goal is to create a space that’s more personal than political.”

Nassar: “We want to really transform the story and put Palestinians in the light that we’re human beings, right? We’re artists, we’re entrepreneurs, we’re in politics and we contributing a lot to the US as immigrants as well.”

Lefrak: “Nassar immigrated to the US from the West Bank in 2011. When he came to Washington he saw a city full of museums but he didn’t see one that reflected him.”

Nassar: “Really I could not see a place where the Palestinian story can be told.”

Lefrak: “So he decided to open a travelling exhibition that would eventually become the museum. One of the objects in the collection is a 1946 passport for the Palestine Mandate. It was rendered useless the following year after the United Nations voted to establish the State of Israel. Curator Nada Odeh wants visitors to understand that history.”

That passport was of course in fact “rendered useless” in May 1948 when the British terminated their administration of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine – the purpose of which was to create a Jewish national home. In 1947 the UNGA passed a resolution (181) recommending that the area then still under British administration should be partitioned between Jewish and Arab states – a recommendation accepted by the Jews but rejected out of hand by the Arabs and hence never implemented. BBC world Service listeners heard nothing of that history – or the Arab attacks which followed that UN vote – but they did hear the ‘non-political’ museum’s Syrian-born head curator promote the falsehood that a country “called Palestine” used to exist.

Odeh: “We want them to learn that there is a country was called Palestine. It existed.”

Lefrak: “Odeh maintains that the museum is not political and there isn’t any mention of political leaders, protesters or human rights abuses on either side of the conflict. But there are certain phrases that some people will inevitably take issue with like signage about the Nakba or catastrophe – that’s the word Palestinians use to describe the time surrounding the creation of Israel. As Odeh puts it:”

Odeh: “There is a true story. There is people who were displaced because of…ah…someone came and took the land.”

That politically motivated, dumbed-down caricature of history went completely unchallenged by Lefrak – and unedited by the producers of this BBC World Service programme.

Lefrak: “The museum is just a mile away from the White House. President Trump has been a staunch supporter of the Israeli government but Nassar says he started dreaming up the museum before Trump was elected. He wants it to be a place of conversation, not protest.”

Nassar: “We welcome people with open hearts, you know, with open hearts – right? – to come and have a conversation with us. And it doesn’t matter if they agree or not; it’s the most important the conversation.”

Lefrak then came up with a debatable description of the J Street campaigning group.

Lefrak: “In the museum’s first few weeks a group of monks visited and a group from the liberal pro-Israel organisation J Street. But most of the visitors have been Palestinian Americans like one young man named Yussef Hamid. He showed off his Palestinian flag necklace.”

Having interviewed that visitor, Lefrak closed her report.

Lefrak: “Hamid said that seeing a museum like this about people like him gave him hope that the long-standing conflict might one day end.”

Carol Hills also had closing comments to make:

Hills: “Mikaela Lefrak at the Museum of the Palestinian People. It opened in Washington DC this past summer. As we heard, Ahmed [sic] wants his museum to provide hope: hope that the Palestinian people will finally find peace. That has long defied diplomatic efforts.”

A fitting end indeed to a ‘report’ in which Palestinians were portrayed as passive victims with no responsibility for their situation, history was distorted to the point that BBC audiences were led to believe that a country called Palestine “existed” and the political motivations behind a ‘museum’ were repeatedly whitewashed.

Related Articles:

Context-free political slogans go unchallenged on BBC WS ‘Newshour’

BBC News website gives platform to political campaigning article

 

 

BBC’s Bell finds conspiracy theorist “interesting”

Matthew Bell is, as stated in his Twitter profile, the Middle East correspondent for the radio programme The World broadcast by the BBC/PRI (Public Radio International) on US radio.

Here is a Tweet he sent on May 5th:

Bell Wilkerson

One must of course wonder if what Bell finds “interesting” is a decidedly bizarre statement made by the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell on ‘Current TV’ – the station recently acquired by Al Jazeera. 

In that interview Wilkerson stated that the use of chemical weapons in Syria could have been “an Israeli false flag operation”. 

Wilkerson may be familiar to many readers, not least because of his assistance to Mearsheimer and Walt in promoting their “Israel lobby” canard and his claims that former Jewish White House officials were “card-carrying members of the Likud Party” and that he often “wondered if their primary allegiance was to their own country or to Israel”.

We in turn must wonder exactly what it is about such a person of such record a BBC employee finds worth promoting on Twitter.