BBC Radio Ulster audiences hear that ‘Israel should be wiped off the map’

On January 30th the BBC News website published an article that included the BBC’s response to calls from supporters of the anti-Israel BDS campaign to boycott the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.

Notwithstanding the BBC’s statement on the issue, the following day – January 31st – BBC Northern Ireland’s BBC Radio Ulster decided to air a long phone-in item on its ‘Talkback’ programme hosted by William Crawley. Titled “Is the BBC right to take part in Eurovison being held in Tel Aviv, or should the corporation stay away?”, the item included contributions from journalist/activist Eamonn McCann and historian Ruth Dudley Edwards as well as seven callers.

On the hook of the Eurovision Song Contest, listeners heard thirty-eight minutes of mostly unchallenged falsehoods and delegitimisation – often outstanding for their ignorance even by the ‘standards’ of BBC Radio Ulster. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Having informed listeners in his introduction that “Jerusalem is a disputed capital” and after noting the BBC’s statement on the call to boycott May’s event in Tel Aviv, Crawley invited listeners to phone in.

“What do you think? You’re a licence fee payer. Do you think the BBC is right to continue with its role in the Eurovision contest this year or should it boycott the Tel Aviv Eurovision?”

Crawley then asked his guest Eamonn McCann – introduced as a “journalist and former ‘People Before Profit’ MLA [member of the legislative assembly]” and a supporter of “the boycott movement” – to “lay out the case for the boycott first”.

McCann began by promoting a popular but inaccurate myth according to which the BDS campaign was initiated by Palestinians.

McCann: “well the boycott movement – BDS boycott, divestment and sanctions – that was set up in 2005 yes and that was the year after and it was a response to the publication of an opinion of the International Court of Justice about the legality of the apartheid wall – or separation wall as the Israelis call it – and the associated settlement figures. Now the BDS movement arose, endorsed by more than 60 civil society organisations that are from…of Palestinians and a…the actual…its manifesto said that they wanted a boycott of Israel – quote – until it meets its obligations under international law and that was spelled out by the BDS movement at the beginning as ending its occupation and colonisation of Arab lands, recognising the fundamental rights of Arab Palestinian citizens to full equality and respecting protection and promoting the rights of Palestinians to return to their homes. Now that’s the aim of it. It is an entirely peaceful sort of movement. Indeed it was formed because previously we had a sustained violence and nothing else – nothing else. The BDS movement couldn’t stop the violence of the resistance of Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza, but it said here is a non-violent way of engaging international support and trying at last to pressure the Israelis into abandoning what is an apartheid system. That’s what’s happening here: apartheid in the 21st century. And just as we had a boycott of apartheid South Africa, we should now certainly not be presenting Israel as a sort of normal state where light entertainment and progressive thought flourishes. That is to deny – implicitly to deny – the reality under which the Palestinian people live. Therefore boycott it.”

Making no effort to challenge McCann’s repeated ‘apartheid’ smear, to point out that the ICJ opinion has no legal standing or to clarify that ‘Arab lands’ also means Israel and ‘right of return’ means the end of the Jewish state, Crawley went on to quote the BBC’s statement once again before introducing Ruth Dudley Edwards whom he promptly interrupted with the following dubious claim:

Crawley: “This is obviously organised by the European Broadcasting Union and there were some in Israel – not least the prime minister – Prime Minister Netanyahu – who wanted the event to be held in Jerusalem, Ruth. But the European Broadcasting Union determined that it should be held in Tel Aviv. That’s a break with normal tradition. They normally go with a country’s capital and the prime minister said the country’s capital is Jerusalem so isn’t the European Broadcasting Union there making a political decision?”

Even if he does not remember that the 2004 Eurovision was held in Istanbul rather than Turkey’s capital, the 2011 event in Dusseldorf rather than the German capital, the 2013 Eurovision on Malmo rather than Sweden’s capital, the 1972 event in Edinburgh and the 1974 event in Brighton rather than in London, one would at least have thought that Crawley would recall that in 1993 the Eurovision was held in a small Irish town called Millstreet rather than in Dublin.

When Dudley Edwards went on to note that the “BDS movement is being used to help demonise Israel, delegitimise it”, Crawley jumped in:

Crawley: “Why are you bringing up antisemitism?”

After explaining that some of those behind the BDS campaign are driven by antisemitism and that the so-called ‘right of return’ means “the rights of 8 million people who hate Israel to come and live in Israel” because of the hereditary aspect of Palestinian ‘refugee’ status, Dudley Edwards clarified that “the objective is to destroy Israel”.

Crawly quickly brought in McCann at that point, who three times tarred Dudley Edward’s statements as “nonsense”.

McCann: “I mean are we all driven by antisemites? Is there a secret conspiracy here? Is the United Methodist Church in the United States, is the Norwegian Trade Union Federation, is Amnesty International, is Human Rights Watch? […] Incidentally, many of my best friends are anti-Zionist Jews. Many of my best friends are Jews.”

McCann went on to invoke Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Ronnie Kasrils and Joe Slovo.

McCann: “If they say…if Nelson Mandela says that looks like apartheid then I think that he knows a wee bit more about apartheid than either Ruth or myself and I’m gonna take his word for it.”

McCann proceeded to interrupt Ruth Dudley Edwards as she tried to describe the terrorism faced by Israelis and then went on:

McCann: “They’re not dealing with rockets every day of the week. In fact the number of rockets being fired from Gaza or anywhere else is very small – tiny, infinitesimal – compared to the firepower being directed by Israel against the Palestinian people. That is why in terms of deaths […] We can watch on our televisions and actually see heavily armed members of the Israeli Defence Forces shooting – aiming and shooting down – and shooting in the back young Palestinians. Some of them might be carrying stones – it’s all they have – and sling shots like David had to use against Goliath. That’s what you see now.”

Crawley made no effort to inform listeners that the “infinitesimal” number of rockets and mortars launched from Gaza at Israeli civilians in 2018 was one thousand or that “stones” are obviously by no means “all they have” seeing as hundreds of attacks with IEDs, grenades and firearms have been carried out in the past year alone. Neither did Crawley react when Mc Cann went on to claim that “there’s slaughter going on there” before once again invoking the political NGOs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

During the phone-in part of the item listeners heard from seven callers – all male – three of whom were against boycotting the Eurovision and four in favour. Many of the lies and distortions promoted by those callers went unchallenged.

Caller 2: “Israel used white phosphorus on civilians – children, men, women. Journalists – kills journalists on a regular basis. It destroys olive trees. Takes land off people, you know, it murders people, children. How can anyone in their right kind of mind accept anything that Israel does? Israel should be wiped off the map and the land should be given back to the Palestinians. […] They should be…their power should be taken off them and it should be returned to the Palestinian people and they should all live in peace together in one area. […] The power and the government and the structure should be returned back to the Palestinians.”

Crawley made no effort to clarify to listeners that “the Palestinians” never had an independent state with “power and the government and the structure”. Neither did he bother to inform his audience – and his caller – that denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination is considered antisemitism according to the IHRA definition that is used by the British government.

Listeners also heard from McCann on the topic of Israel’s existence.

McCann: “I don’t accept its right to exist as it’s presently constituted. Israel is a settler state.”

They also heard him opine on the rights of the LGBT community in Israel.

Crawley: “Would you also accept that LGBT rights are more protected in Israel than any other country in that region?”

McCann: “Yes [….] but let’s get this clear…the fact that a great number of LGBT in Israel are anti-Palestinian. We mustn’t allow the fact that…if you’re LGBT you’re entitled to your freedom, you’re entitled to your liberation and your equality. You are not entitled just because you’re LGBT or anything else, you are not entitled to support and to endorse and to implement an apartheid regime against the Palestinian people. Nothing gives you that right.”

Caller 4 also promoted the lie that “Israel is an apartheid state” with no challenge from Crawley, as did caller 5.

Caller 5: “Israel is an apartheid state – much more even than South Africa. […] What happened in Israel shouldn’t be happening. All those people were moved off their land over the last 60 – 70 years. 100 years ago there was Jewish people living in what is now Israel, living then in peace and it’s only when they became, I suppose, a force that they then started moving in on Palestinian villages. […] Israel should be ostracised worldwide…as long as Israel is doing what they’re doing – slaughtering the people.”

While the level of most of the ‘discussion’ heard in this programme is frankly jaw-dropping, it is acutely obvious that its presenter – despite the BBC’s public purpose obligation to educate and inform – was perfectly content to let historical and current affairs related inaccuracies go unchallenged along with the repeated falsehoods – and in particular the ‘apartheid’ smear – that were clearly intended to delegitimise Israel and curry support for the BDS campaign.

And so, not for the first time ,we see that unfettered defamation, demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel – along with promotion of the antisemitic denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – gets a free pass on BBC Northern Ireland radio stations.

Related Articles:

BBC News Eurovision BDS report follows the usual template

BBC Radio Ulster promotes ‘Zionism is racism’ and the ‘apartheid’ smear

Move over Galloway: BBC Radio Ulster airs pro-Assad & anti-Israel propaganda

Resources:

BBC Radio Ulster contact details

‘Talkback’ contact details

 

 

 

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BBC Radio Ulster promotes ‘Zionism is racism’ and the ‘apartheid’ smear

h/t B

On July 16th, at an event in Paris marking the 75th anniversary of the deportation of French Jews to Auschwitz, the French president Emmanuel Macron said:

“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’s statement is of course in accord with the US State department’s definition of antisemitism and in step with the IHRA working definition of antisemitism that was adopted in recent months by the British government and the EU parliament. The IHRA definition includes the following in its possible manifestations 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.”

And:

“Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

As was noted here at the time, BBC News website coverage of the ceremony made no mention whatsoever of the French president’s recognition of anti-Zionism as a manifestation of antisemitism.

However, two days later – on July 18th – BBC Radio Ulster’s daily phone-in show ‘Talkback‘ ran a 35 minute long programme with a title that signaled its tone:

“We debate the very controversial claim by the French president that anti-Zionism is simply another form of anti-Semitism” [emphasis added]

Presented by William Crawley, the programme’s studio guests were Unitarian minister Chris Hudson and Fiona Ferguson from the ‘People Before Profit Alliance’: a very small Irish Trotskyist political party which includes the following in its manifesto:

“We support the Palestinian struggle for liberation against Zionist occupation and oppression and back the international campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Apartheid Israel.”

That relevant information was not communicated to listeners.

In addition, listeners heard the opinions of four callers – all of whom presented negative views of Israel.

The programme began with an introduction from Crawley:

Crawley: “At what point do you think a criticism of the State of Israel turns into antisemitism? Given the many centuries of abuse the Jewish people have experienced, particularly in Europe, the allegation of antisemitism is a very serious one. We often hear activists and campaigners pushing back against that allegation. There is a world of difference, they say, between being an anti-Zionist and being antisemitic.  That’s a distinction the French president Emmanuel Macron clearly doesn’t accept. He told the prime minister of Israel that France will never surrender to anti-Zionism because it is – and I quote – ‘a reinvention of antisemitism’. The French president’s words have travelled quickly around the world. Yesterday Senator Chuck Schumer who leads the Democrats in the US Senate applauded him for his comments.”

Listeners then head a recording of Senator Schumer speaking, which included the clearest presentation of the issue under discussion in the entire programme.

Schumer: “The idea that all other peoples can seek and defend their right to determination but the Jewish people cannot; that other nations have a right to exist but the Jewish State of Israel does not – that too is a modern form of antisemitism.”

Crawley continued, ignoring BBC style guide instructions on the use of the term ‘Palestine’:

“…in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

Crawley: “We know that the politics of Israel and Palestine is extremely contentious here with many active in campaigns on both sides of the debate. In a moment we will debate ourselves whether the French president is right to see no distinction whatsoever – no difference – between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. But first let’s try to understand the central tenets – the central ideas – at the heart of Zionism.”

Crawley then brought in a person he repeatedly addressed as ‘Yoel’ but who is in fact Yoav Peled. Not surprisingly, when Crawley asked “what is Zionism?” Peled’s answer included a strawman definition that is not adopted by Zionists.

Peled: “There is no one clear definition. If you define Zionism as support for whatever the Israeli government does, that’s one thing. And if you’re against that then certainly this is nothing to do with antisemitism. If you say that Zionism is recognizing the right of Jews to have a state of their own in that particular part of the Middle East, then the question is, is it justified given the fact that it came at the expense of the Palestinians? And there is a debate about that and I think it’s a legitimate political debate and neither side is necessarily racist against the other.”

Crawley’s conversation with Peled continued, touching on the history of Zionism, its ‘leaders’ and Jewish opponents to it. Crucially though, the ostensibly neutral academic brought in to explain “the central tenets” of Zionism and provide what Crawley termed “historical backdrop” did so from one very clear side of the political spectrum.

Crawley’s studio guests were then brought into the conversation with no particular surprises in their positions. However, listeners did hear a series of mostly inadequately challenged allegations about Israel and Zionism that are worthy of note – including repeated promotion of the ‘Zionism is racism’ canard and the ‘apartheid’ smear. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

07:43 – Ferguson: “For me Zionism is ahm….it’s ahm… […] it’s an exclusionary right-wing ideology. It’s political and it oppresses or opposes those that don’t come from a Jewish background. It’s racist and it has led to… […] it’s racist and it has led to appalling treatment of Palestinians and so anti-Zionism is the opposition to that. […] Opposition to a racist state and opposition to the racism of Semitism [sic] are what are synonymous here – not anti-Zionism.”

08:37 – Ferguson: “…there are two ways that we can interpret Zionism, the first one being that one set of people have a divine right to an area of land over others and should be able to take that back regardless of the detriment or the persecution of the people who live there. That is wrong, I think. Second […] it’s full support for the Israeli state. I think that the Israeli state is racist. I think that it’s an apartheid state and therefore I think that even the second definition is wrong.”

12:20 – Ferguson: “I think that it is the State of Israel which is racist in this case. […] I think that if one group of peoples is being given a divine right to exist over another and despite […] the detriment that it causes to the other, then yes; that is racist.”

15:41 – Ferguson: “To oppose the racist record of a state cannot in itself be racist. That’s an oxymoron. Israel has carried out some of the worst human rights atrocities that we have seen in history but most notably in the last ten years, thousands of people within the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been murdered.  Their homes have been bulldozed. Notably, Rachel Corrie – an American activist – was trapped and murdered and crushed under the bulldozer operated by an Israeli official who was destroying the home of a Palestinian – which they do systematically in order….”

Corrie’s death was of course an accident and the Ferguson’s claim that the bulldozer was “destroying the home of a Palestinian” is contradicted by the findings of the court that ruled on the case. William Crawley did not however bother to inform listeners of those facts.

18:02 – Connor (caller): “I have been in Palestine. I have been in the West Bank. I have been in Ramallah, Jericho. I’ve seen first-hand the disgusting treatment of the Palestinians. […] It is apartheid; the only apartheid and everyone knows this. […] It’s [Israel] completely ignoring the right of those of the Palestinian Jews [sic].”

19:26 – Connor (caller): “The Palestinians have been there for generation after generation. The Law of Return in Israel allows any Jew in the world to go and live in Israel and occupy land belonging to Palestinians […] occupy land, throw people out of their homes. I’ve seen this first-hand. I’ve seen bulldozers. I’ve seen families getting put out of their home to accommodate settlers from foreign countries who are being put….and they’re being paid £14,000 a year by the Israeli state to occupy and take over territory…”

Those blatant falsehoods were not challenged.

21:34: Hudson: “When I opposed apartheid in South Africa I didn’t call for the destruction of the South African state. […]

Crawley: “Did you call for the destruction of white domination?”

Hudson: “Absolutely.”

Crawley: “That by analogy is what Fiona is saying. She’s not calling for the destruction of Israel but she is calling for the dismantling of a power system that prejudices in favour of Jews.”

Listeners heard falsehoods concerning the rights of Arab Israelis that the presenter was clearly unable to correct because he is insufficiently informed.

22:10: Crawley: “So every Palestinian living in Israel is allowed to vote?”

Hudson: “To my knowledge they are, yes.”

Ferguson: “They’re not. There are two judiciary systems as well so depending whether you’re a Palestinian or a Jew, you’re treated by the law differently.”

Husdon: “You’re talking about Israeli Arabs?”

Ferguson: “Well exactly. That’s exactly the point, isn’t it, because there are full citizens who are Palestinians living within the State of Israel who are under a different judicial system. That’s apartheid.”

Crawley: “Are they allowed to vote on equal terms?”

Feruguson: “It depends. They’re…apparently they are. What you’ll hear is that they are and what the State of Israel will tell you that they are but actually in reality it doesn’t happen. It’s just something that is…ehm….the system is either fiddled with in a way…”

Those inaccurate allegations clearly materially misled listeners and were even later repeated.

24:15 – Ferguson: “But if we’re talking about the existence of the political structures as we referred to earlier of Israel, which are racist, which are prejudiced, which are apartheid – and by the way, Chris, you’re one of a minority nowadays that doesn’t accept it is apartheid. Desmond Tutu who, let’s be honest, has more experience on this topic than either of us […] calls it apartheid. The UN in a report at the end of last year has accepted that Israel is an apartheid state. Should an apartheid state in itself – the structures of the state – be allowed to exist? Of course not.”

25:05 – Crawley: “You accept the right of the State of Israel to exist as a democracy?”

Ferguson: “But the State of Israel is not a democracy.”

Crawley:[…] But do you accept the right of this state to exist as a democracy?”

Ferguson: “I don’t see how that can be answered because a) Israel is not a democracy as it is and b)…no, of course it’s not a democracy…I mean people…it’s not a democracy. Can I explain why it is not a democracy? Because there are two judicial systems for different people who live within there. There are 1.7 million Palestinians who live within Israel who are not afforded the same rights as Israelis. It’s not a democratic state.”

26:04 – Kaitlin (caller): “This thing about Israel being a democratic state. You know, that phrase is trotted out and it’s rarely questioned […]. I just want to give you two examples in which Israel is not a democratic state. One are the thousands of Palestinians including men, women and children, who are imprisoned without trial – effectively interned and left to rot in jail for years and many of them having been tortured by the way. The second example is the West Bank. Now Israel has complete control over the West Bank and yet the people there, who live effectively under military occupation, don’t have any vote. They have no right to vote for the parliament – the Jewish parliament – which actually controls their lives.”

Notably Crawly made no attempt to clarify the context of terrorism in relation to administrative detention or to inform listeners that Palestinians living under PA rule in Areas A and B vote for their own legislative council. Neither did he clarify that the Israeli Knesset is not “Jewish”.

28:14 – Michael (caller): “I was in Israel in 1985. […] I also experienced teenage soldiers – Israeli soldiers – bullying elderly men who were coming from the very north end of the country through the blazing sun to work in the south and making them sit in the sun for 3 or 4 hours extra at a checkpoint for no reason. And I noticed this. That’s just bullying.”

Crawley: “So what you’ve got, you’ve got evidence in your mind of bullying, intimidation, inappropriate behavior by Israeli forces.”

32:06 – Crawley: “But there are those on the other side […] who say it’s a manufactured majority because the right of return is not being granted to Palestinians and if it was, you would no longer have a Jewish majority in the State of Israel. So it’s a manufactured majority – that’s the allegation.”

33:24 – Ferguson: “I just want to pick up on the last comment […] about the displacement of 6.5 million Jews – sorry: of Palestinians – and their right to return. It wasn’t just something that happened and is now something that we get over and can swipe under the carpet. These Palestinians still do not have the right to return to that area of land. Never mind that Jewish people – regardless of where they came from, regardless of their background – are welcomed, encouraged to come along and often – as Connor rightly said, our caller – given subsidies to do so and allowed to buy land. Palestinians are not allowed to do so. The treatment of one peoples above another in that way is racist and I believe the State of Israel is apartheid as a result of that.”

The false claim of “6.5 million” displaced Palestinians was not challenged.

The editorial decisions behind the making of a programme with this subject matter by a regional BBC station are of course worthy of discussion. The fact that listeners were materially misled because the presenter was insufficiently informed to be able to effectively challenge inaccurate claims and falsehoods from an unbalanced field of contributors is obvious. The fact that the programme’s producers clearly had no qualms about facilitating the non-stop promotion of delegitimisation of Israel by means of politically motivated smears and falsehoods should be a serious cause for concern.

However, this programme did fulfil one useful function: it – albeit inadvertently – proved the point made by the French president.

Resources:

BBC Radio Ulster contact details

‘Talkback’ contact details