BBC content again featured in CST report on antisemitic discourse

The Community Security Trust (CST) recently published its annual report (available here) on the topic of Antisemitic Discourse in Britain for the year 2015.

The section of that report documenting reactions to the 2015 terror attacks at the Hypercacher supermarket in Paris and the Synagogue in Copenhagen includes:

“…examples show[ing] a range of mainstream media and political responses to the Paris attacks […]. They include cases where hostility to Israel appeared to dictate reactions to the killings of French Jews.”

One of those examples (p 31) is described as follows:

“On 11 January, Tim Willcox of BBC News interviewed a French-Israeli woman attending a rally in memory of the victims of the Paris terror attacks. She expressed concern about persecution of Jews, saying “the situation is going back to the days of the 1930s in Europe”, whereupon Willcox stated:

“Many critics though of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well”.

Willcox’s response sparked an angry reaction from many commentators. For example, historian Simon Schama tweeted “Appalling of @BBCTimWillcox to imply any and all JEWS (not Israelis) responsible for treatment of Palestinians by hectoring lady in Paris”. Writing in the Spectator, Nick Cohen commented:

“…Of course, Willcox would never say such a thing after the murder of Muslims, and rightly so. He was interviewing an elderly Jewish lady, who was trying to mourn Jews killed for no other reason than they were Jews in a Paris supermarket.

Change the religion – make it Judaism, to be precise. Change Islamism to Israel, and the most grotesque apologies for murder become acceptable; standard even. Jews must bear collective responsibility for Israel’s crimes real and imagined.”

On 12 January, Willcox tweeted a bland apology: “Really sorry for any offence caused by a poorly phrased question…it was entirely unintentional”.”Willcox

Readers will no doubt recall that in response to complaints concerning that broadcast, the BBC originally claimed that Willcox’s subsequent apology on Twitter sufficed. Having received a large number of complaints, the BBC then decided to consolidate them. Concurrently, additional complaints made to OFCOM were rejected.

In February 2015 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit provisionally rejected the consolidated complaint, sparking condemnation from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In May 2015 the ECU finalised its decision. In June 2016 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee published its rejection of appeals against that decision. 

In short, both the BBC and OFCOM dismissed complaints concerning a statement which Britain’s leading authority on antisemitism categorises as antisemitic discourse, with OFCOM stating that it had:

“…“carefully assessed complaints about alleged antisemitic comments” and “decided not to take the issue forward for further investigation.”

It explained: “While the comments clearly had the potential to cause offence, Ofcom considered a range of factors, including the live nature of this coverage and the need for an appropriate degree of freedom of expression, especially in news coverage of such a significant event.””

As OFCOM prepares to take on its new role as final adjudicator of complaints concerning BBC content, this worrying example once again highlights the need for both it and the BBC to work according to the definition of antisemitism recently adopted by the British government.

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BBC Trust’s ESC rejects complaint about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish faces’ remark

BBC Trust rejects appeals on Willcox ‘Jewish hands’ complaints

Eighteen months after the original broadcast, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee has now published its findings concerning complaints about remarks made by Tim Willcox during a broadcast from Paris after the terror attacks at the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hypercacher supermarket in January 2015.Willcox

Readers will no doubt recall that in response to complaints, the BBC originally claimed that Willcox’s subsequent apology on Twitter sufficed. Having received a large number of complaints, the BBC then decided to consolidate them. Concurrently, additional complaints made to OFCOM were rejected.

In February 2015 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit provisionally rejected the consolidated complaint, sparking condemnation from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In May 2015 the ECU finalised its decision.

On June 16th 2016 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee published the outcome of appeals against that decision. A summary can be found on page 4 and the full decision is on page 11 here.

Unsurprisingly, the ESC rejected all the appeals and the convoluted ‘rationale’ behind that decision raises issues in itself. [all emphasis added]

“The Committee noted the response from the Editor of the BBC News Channel:

“Given the apology by [the presenter] at the time, it is clear we accept that the question itself was somewhat clumsy, and the phrase ‘Jewish hands’ might not have been chosen in a scripted context, given the specific point behind the question was about Israel’s relations with the Palestinians. We note the earlier findings that this phrase, while clumsy and insufficiently specific, was not a breach of the BBC’s guidelines given the regular conflation of Israel and Jewish by critics of Israel’s policies, and the use by some of the phrase ‘Jewish state’ to describe Israel.” […]

The Committee did not uphold the points of appeal, for the following reasons:

  • whilst some of the audience clearly found it both harmful and offensive to conflate Jewish and Israeli, the perspective was clearly attributed to critics of Israel
  • it was posited neither as the presenter’s view nor as a valid position. The presenter’s remarks were positing a reason the perpetrators might have used or others might use to try to justify or legitimise their actions in making Jews a target of the attack. The Committee did not accept the suggestion that the presenter had been seeking to hold Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel
  • while it is abhorrent to murder Parisian Jews as a response to the actions of the State of Israel, and the actions of the State of Israel cannot be used to excuse or legitimise the events in Paris or to connect Parisian Jews to the State, it is evidently a justification used by those who perpetrate such acts of violence
  • physical attacks in Paris on Jewish people and their institutions during the war in Gaza a few months prior to the January massacres are evidence that the presenter’s observation was factually based
  • there have been comments by Jewish community leaders in France and the UK acknowledging that the war in Gaza was the motivation for anti-Semitic attacks […]
  • the conflation of Jewish and Israeli was duly accurate and editorially justified in this particular instance: it was clearly attributed, well-sourced, based on sound evidence, and was adequate and appropriate to the output.The Committee acknowledged the sensitivity of the subject matter and the genuine offence felt by some listeners. However, Trustees considered it important to note that the Editorial Guidelines permit the legitimate use of challenging material and allow reporters and presenters, where appropriate, to raise difficult issues in accordance with generally accepted standards. Trustees considered that, although the presenter had acknowledged that some viewers may have been offended by his choice of language, for which he had apologised promptly, given all the circumstances, his phraseology did not breach the Harm and Offence Guidelines.The Committee concluded that the BBC had demonstrated a clear editorial purpose in positing a connection between Jews “being the targets now” and “many critics of Israel’s policy” who would “suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands”.”

In other words, the BBC Trust appears to be claiming that because anti-Israel activists – and murderous antisemites – use the terms ‘Israel’ and ‘Jewish’ interchangeably, it is legitimate for it to adopt the same language and that the use of such language is legitimate according to its editorial guidelines. One can of course only speculate whether or not the BBC would find it similarly appropriate to adopt and amplify the language of ‘justification’ used by those perpetrating acts of violence against, for example, the gay community.

The ESC likewise rejected appeals concerning the inadequacy of Willcox’s Twitter apology and the absence of any apology broadcast on the station which aired the remarks.

“The Committee noted the response from the Editor of the BBC News Channel:

“It is important to note that far from failing to recognise the issue, action was taken soon after the interview took place with [the presenter] accepting that the question he posed had been poorly phrased. He gave a clear apology the following morning via the social media network Twitter… This apology was also provided to media organisations by the BBC Press Office.”

The Committed noted the decision of the Editorial Complaints Unit at Stage 2 that the Twitter apology was sufficient because the presenter’s comments did not constitute a serious breach of editorial standards which would require a formal public correction and apology.

The Committee concluded that as the presenter’s comments had not breached the Editorial Guidelines on Harm and Offence, the Twitter apology for the poor phrasing and its wider circulation in the media via the BBC Press Office, was adequate and appropriate.”BBC Trust

Notably, this is not the first time that the self-regulating BBC Trust has rejected appeals concerning remarks made by this reporter, despite their having been flagged up by expert bodies dealing with antisemitism: the CST and the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

It is of course also remarkable that the BBC Trust (along with OFCOM, as cited in this document) is apparently convinced that it possesses the authority and expertise to make judgements what is – or in this case, what is not – antisemitic discourse. And that despite the fact that both OFCOM and the BBC have yet to inform their funding public which accepted definition of antisemitism – if any – they use as the basis for such decisions. 

 

 

 

 

BBC Trust’s ESC rejects complaint about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish faces’ remark

A complaint concerning a BBC programme which was flagged up in the CST’s report on Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2014 has been rejected by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee.BBC Papers on website

A link to the original programme can be found below:

More BBC promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope

The BBC’s initial – and not dissimilar – response to complaints about the programme is documented here:

BBC doubles down on presenter’s ‘mansion tax’ comment

The ESC’s full decision can be found on pages 17 to 23 inclusive here with a summary appearing on pages 6 and 7. Whilst the full text of the original complaint is not available, some of the content of the decision appears – to put it politely – to have missed the point.

“The Committee concluded that:

 A reference by the presenter to ‘Jewish faces’ was not anti-Semitic in the context of a discussion about prominent Jewish people (donors to the Labour party). The presenter had been struggling for a phrase to sum up the group of people they were discussing in the heat of the live discussion, and had come up with Jewish “faces”. Trustees noted that the word “face” or “faces” was in common use as a synonym for a prominent person or people. Trustees considered it was clear that this was the meaning the presenter had intended the audience to take and that the potentially offensive meaning understood by the complainant, suggestive of a negative stereotype of Jewish facial features, would not have been intended; nor would the majority of the audience have interpreted it in that sense.”

The real significance of this ruling, however, is found in the fact that the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee obviously considers itself to have sufficient authority, knowledge and expertise to determine what is – or in this case, what is not – antisemitism even though one of Britain’s leading expert bodies on that form of racism has classified the programme concerned as an example of antisemitic discourse.

 

 

BBC’s Tim Willcox featured in end of year media roundups

As previously mentioned, the most read BBC Watch post of 2015 was ‘BBC’s Tim Willcox in Paris: a new low‘ from January 11th.Willcox

Documentation of the BBC’s subsequent handling of that incident can be seen in chronological order below.

BBC response to Willcox complaints: he sent a Tweet

Update on the BBC’s response to complaints about Willcox statement

BBC ECU rejects complaints about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish hands’ remarks

BoD weighs in on BBC’s rejection of Willcox complaints

Update on the BBC’s handling of the Tim Willcox case

Not surprisingly, that story is featured among CAMERA’s ‘Top Ten MidEast Media Mangles for 2015’.

“In an outrageous BBC interview on January 11 on a Paris street during the mass unity rally after the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, the Jews at the Kosher market and other victims, a Jewish woman said recent events resemble the 1930s and Jews should respond by making clear they’re being targeted, Tim Willcox of the BBC interrupted her to say, “Many…many…many critics, though, of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well,” in effect proclaiming that murdering Jews in a Paris supermarket is understandable. Under a hail of criticism for the exchange, Willcox made a half-apology on Twitter, tweeting, “Really sorry for any offence caused by a poorly phrased question in a live interview in Paris yesterday – it was entirely unintentional.” The BBC took no further action, leaving one to wonder whether the BBC subscribes to irrational and bigoted views that justify murderous attacks on Jews around the world.”

The episode is also included in the list of ‘highlights’ which prompted the award of the title ‘Dishonest Reporter’ of the year to BBC News from Honest Reporting.  

 

Essay on ‘rationalising terror’ notes BBC reporter’s Paris remark

Readers will no doubt recall the statement made by BBC reporter Tim Willcox whilst interviewing a participant in a rally in Paris following the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Hyper Cacher supermarket in January 2015.Willcox

“Many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.”

The BBC’s response to complaints on that issue began with the claim that an apology on Twitter sufficed, proceeded with a decision to handle the high volume of complaints en masse and culminated in their rejection. The head of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit informed complainants that:

“It’s clear from a number of the comments I received that I understood the first of the summarised points of complaint (“That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the Middle East”) in a different sense from some who complained.

What I had in mind was a direct causal relationship between particular recent events in the Middle East and the Paris killings, and it was on that basis that I wrote “Nothing in the day’s coverage of events in Paris suggested a direct link between events in the Middle East and those killings, and I can’t see that such a suggestion can readily be derived from what Mr Willcox said”.

It has been put to me, and I have accepted, that Mr Willcox’s words suggested a broader link between perceptions of Palestinian suffering and the incidence of anti-Semitic incidents.

However, that doesn’t alter the outcome because I don’t think suggesting a link of that kind can be viewed as a breach of editorial standards (or even as particularly controversial, considering the correlation between anti-Semitic incidents and Israeli actions with an adverse impact on Palestinians which has been noted by organisations such as the Community Security Trust).”

British writer and journalist Nick Cohen – who produced some typically insightful comment on the incident at the time – has now returned to that topic in an article published at Standpoint magazine.

“An associate of the Islamist gang that pumped bullets into the staff of Charlie Hebdo also took hostages at the Hypercacher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes in the 20th arrondissement. There he murdered Philippe Braham, a sales executive, Yohan Cohen, a student, Yoav Hattab, another student, and François-Michel Saada, a pensioner. The dead had provided no “rationale” and created no “particular sense of wrong”. They were ordinary citizens, shopping for food, as we all do.

But when [John] Kerry and those like him looked at their bodies closely perhaps they noticed that appearances deceived. They were not like the rest of us, after all. Hypercacher was a kosher supermarket and the dead were Jews. Few people were prepared to say what they were thinking openly, but a BBC reporter, Tim Willcox, showed no restraint. A Jewish woman in the crowd near the crime scene told him, “The situation is going back to the days of 1930s in Europe. Jews are the target now.” Willcox could not let the suggestion that Jews were innocent victims go unchallenged. “Many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands,” he said, interrupting her.

If you were a Jew, it was Israel’s fault that you were murdered, and possibly your fault too for not trying to pass as a gentile, or avoiding synagogues, and Jewish shops and restaurants, or changing your name and ditching your kippah. 

If you are a freethinker satirising Islam, you are a “this” and there is a “rationale” to your murder. If you are Jewish, you are a “that” and there is a “rationale” to your murders too.”

Read the full article – titled “Shame On The Liberals Who Rationalise Terror” – here.

 

BBC programme flagged up in CST report on Antisemitic Discourse

The Community Security Trust (CST) recently published its annual report on the topic of Antisemitic Discourse in Britain for the year 2014.BBC Papers on website

Readers of the report – which can be found in pdf format here – will note a reference to a BBC programme from November 2014 on page 35 under the heading “BBC DISCUSSION – JEWISH DONORS, JEWISH LOBBY, MANSION TAX”.

A link to the broadcast concerned is available here. Discussion of that programme can be found in the BBC Watch article titled “More BBC promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope” and information regarding the BBC’s response to criticism of the broadcast is available in the subsequent article “BBC doubles down on presenter’s ‘mansion tax’ comment“.

BBC R4’s ‘Sunday’ talks the talk on antisemitism

The Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, John Mann MP, was a guest on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ on August 9th. The item (available here from 05:21) was introduced by host William Crawley as follows:Sunday John Mann

WC: “Last week it was reported that the number of incidents of antisemitism in the UK is on the rise and a common analysis of that spike in anti-Jewish prejudice is the inability or unwillingness of some people to distinguish between the religion of Judaism and the politics of the state of Israel. But antisemitism has a longer history than comparatively recent disputes about the place of the Jewish state in the Middle East and that long history is surveyed in a new book – ‘Antisemitism: The Oldest Hatred’. Its author is the Labour MP John Mann who for the past ten years has chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.”

Listeners familiar with the BBC’s response to complaints concerning a reporter who, back in January, displayed precisely such “inability or unwillingness […] to distinguish between the religion of Judaism and the politics of the state of Israel” might have found Crawley’s detached description jarring.

Following John Mann’s explanation of why he wrote the book, Crawley came in again:

WC: “It’s complex sometimes because of the language and you point this out in the book: that sometimes people use language that covers…as a cover story…for antisemitism and it can be subtle; it can be difficult sometimes to recognize. Let’s explore that a bit, can we? Where do you see subtle forms of antisemitism today?” […]

JM: “The ways it creeps in that are distinctive and unusual are because of some of the caricatures of successful Jewish people. So concepts of wealth, of ownership – for example ownership of the media, ownership of business, control of countries – and not least the United States. That comes in a lot and it allows people – sometimes deliberately, more often, more ignorantly – to cross the border of what’s acceptable in terms of discourse […] and it’s this concept that the powerful Jew, the wealthy Jew, is used a lot. One example of how that is almost in the mainstream now: in the Baltics this is the imagery that’s there – similar to the imagery used by Goebbels and the Nazis – which is of this Jewish businessman-type figure, wealthy, controlling; a hidden influence who is malevolently affecting the future of society. That is used in the mainstream in the Baltics […] and to be honest, that’s quite extraordinary for part of the European Union.”

It is of course also quite extraordinary for the UK’s public broadcaster – but nevertheless, precisely such imagery was promoted in a BBC television programme on November 8th last year and the BBC failed to respond appropriately. Moreover, promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope and claims of Jewish and/or Israeli control of the United States have been documented on numerous occasions on these pages – see for example here, here, here, here and here.

Towards the end of the item, Crawley asks John Mann “how best to challenge the normalization of that kind of prejudice?” and the reply includes the following:

JM: “…you deal with your own backyard first. You deal with those in your own local community; you deal with those in your own workplace. In politics you deal with those in your own political party.”

Until the BBC begins to ‘walk the walk’ by seriously and frankly addressing its own issues concerning the mainstreaming of antisemitic discourse in its content and on its discussion boards, items such as this one can obviously only be viewed as cynical and opportunistic lip service to a very serious topic.

Related Articles:

Report of All-Party inquiry into Antisemitism adduces BBC content

Update on the BBC’s handling of the Tim Willcox case

As readers no doubt recall, back in February the BBC’s Head of Editorial Complaints, Fraser Steel, announced the provisional outcome of the Editorial Complaints Unit’s consideration of the collective points made in the many complaints concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during BBC coverage of the rally in Paris on January 11th 2015.Presentation Willcox b pic 1

Members of the public have now informed us of the receipt of a further communication from Fraser Steel following the presentation of comments on the provisional finding.

“Having had the opportunity of considering comments on the provisional finding, I’m now finalising it on the basis set out in my previous letter, apart from one modification.

It’s clear from a number of the comments I received that I understood the first of the summarised points of complaint (“That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the Middle East”) in a different sense from some who complained.

What I had in mind was a direct causal relationship between particular recent events in the Middle East and the Paris killings, and it was on that basis that I wrote “Nothing in the day’s coverage of events in Paris suggested a direct link between events in the Middle East and those killings, and I can’t see that such a suggestion can readily be derived from what Mr Willcox said”.

It has been put to me, and I have accepted, that Mr Willcox’s words suggested a broader link between perceptions of Palestinian suffering and the incidence of anti-Semitic incidents.

However, that doesn’t alter the outcome because I don’t think suggesting a link of that kind can be viewed as a breach of editorial standards (or even as particularly controversial, considering the correlation between anti-Semitic incidents and Israeli actions with an adverse impact on Palestinians which has been noted by organisations such as the Community Security Trust).”

As was noted here at the time, Steel’s misunderstanding of the essence of the complaints on that topic was plain to see. Unfortunately, he obviously still does not (or will not) comprehend the issue properly.

Willcox was not making some academic comment on the ‘epidemiology’ of antisemitic incidents. What he did – whilst interrupting a woman talking about the need for recognition of the targeting of European Jews – was to insert a false equivalence (evident in his use of the words “as well”) in the form of ‘Palestinian suffering’ which he attributed to “Jewish hands”. In other words, Willcox falsely implied that – like Jews in France – Palestinians are targets because of their religion and/or ethnicity and that European Jews can be held collectively responsible for the perceived actions of Israel.

The bottom line of this latest communication from Fraser Steel is that he stands by his earlier proposal to reject en masse the large number of complaints received about Willcox’s remarks. Complainants still have the possibility of appeal to the BBC Trust at their disposal for a limited period of time, but as Steel points out in this letter, “the Trust does not consider every appeal brought to it”.

Four months (and goodness knows how many publicly funded man-hours) on, the BBC has not budged an inch from its original classification of Willcox’s remarks as “poorly phrased”. As Steel wrote in his provisional findings which have now been deemed ‘finalised’:

“I share Mr Willcox’s view that his comments were poorly phrased, but I think they were no worse than that.”

One cannot but recall the words of Nick Cohen at the time:

“…Willcox is not some isolated and aberrant racist; his views are the standard opinions of the European left middle class. I meet them every day in my political neighbourhood. They are the result of ignorance rather than malice. (Although I find that in time a dark alchemy can transform ignorance into malice.)

Willcox like so many others does not understand that anti-Semitism is not a rational, if regrettably bloody, critique of Israeli foreign policy but an insane conspiracy theory that has captured the minds of millions of fanatics, moved whole nations and led to uncountable deaths.

I wonder how many more bombs it will take to blow these people out of their folly. In my bleaker moments, I suspect they will take it to their graves.”

The BBC’s handling of this case has from the very beginning been characterized by a complete disregard for its social responsibilities as the publicly funded national broadcaster of a country in which less than a year ago antisemitic hate incidents reached record levels. As we noted here in January:

“Precisely because of the fact there are people in the UK who make threats to British ten year-olds whilst invoking a fabricated connection between them and a conflict thousands of miles away, the BBC still needs to issue a prominent on-air statement clarifying that Willcox’s statement was not merely “poorly phrased”, but that the linkage he promoted based on the premise that Jews anywhere in the world hold collective responsibility for the perceived actions of the State of Israel is both false and antisemitic.”

Unfortunately for both the credibility of the BBC complaints system and the broader reputation of the corporation as a whole – those words still stand. 

 

BoD weighs in on BBC’s rejection of Willcox complaints

The Jewish Chronicle informs us that the Board of Deputies of British Jews (the main representative body of Jews in Britain) has commented on the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit’s rejection of complaints made by members of the public about statements from Tim Willcox during a report from Paris on January 11th.Willcox

“The Board of Deputies has condemned the BBC for not taking action against Tim Willcox after his interview with a Jewish woman about the terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris sparked anger. […]

Board vice president Jonathan Arkush said: “It’s remarkable that the BBC could have reviewed the evidence and dismissed the complaints against Tim Willcox so airily and it raises very serious questions over the objectivity of the inquiry.

“The BBC is clearly unfit to be the judge and jury in cases when it is also the accused.” “

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BBC ECU rejects complaints about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish hands’ remarks

Many people have written in to inform us of the response they recently received from the BBC’s Head of Editorial Complaints, Fraser Steel, concerning complaints they submitted about remarks made by Tim Willcox during BBC coverage of the rally in Paris on January 11th.

As readers will recall, the BBC initially responded to complaints by informing members of the public that Willcox had apologised for what he termed a “poorly phrased question” on Twitter. Members of the public who pursued their complaint further then received another generic response from the Complaints Director at the Editorial Complaints Unit, Andrew Bell, informing them that the BBC had decided to deal with the many complaints it had received on the issue as a single unit rather than as individual complaints. The communication most recently sent to complainants by Fraser Steel (see below – click to enlarge) summarises the provisional outcome of the ECU’s consideration of the points made in all the complaints against the relevant Editorial Guidelines of accuracy, impartiality and harm and offence.

BBC reply Willcox 1

BBC reply Willcox 2

BBC Willcox reply 3

BBC reply Willcox 4Let’s take a closer look at Steel’s interpretation of the most crucial part of the interview. As he notes, the initial question raised by Willcox raised the topic of the fears of the Jewish community in France in relation to the Muslim community in the same country.

TW: Do you ever feel threatened or frightened by the Muslim community here, because if you look at the figures more Jews in France seem to be leaving France than in other European countries, and yet France has the biggest population of Jews, as it does indeed of Muslims, in Europe.  Do you feel that fear?

His interviewee’s response noted that whilst Israelis like herself living in France feel less insecure because they have alternatives more accessible than those available to the non-Israeli Jewish population in France, nevertheless she – as an Israeli Jew living in France – felt less secure in recent days.

Chava: I didn’t feel this fear until last days, I have to say.  As I’m coming from…it’s not the same for Jews being born here and Israeli coming to here.  This is two different populations.  Israelis, when they come to France, they have something already inside them, they are not, we are not afraid, we know that every moment we can go somewhere else.  We have like a back very strong.  The Jews which were born here, they are coming from another culture, so it’s completely different.  But I can tell that since a few days I feel again not secure and not…It’s something which is very, and I was talking to Aziz also, I feel that now it’s like in 1930s, we are…the situation is going back to these days of 1930 in Europe.

Willcox then turned to the topic of possible solutions to that feeling of insecurity, with his interviewee expressing the opinion that the solution must include recognition of the fact that Jews living in Europe are being targeted.

TW: But do you think it can be rescued now with the right approach, with a more inclusive society addressing the problems that people have?

Chava: I didn’t understand completely your…

TW: Do you think that can be resolved, though, now, before it’s too late?

Chava: Yes of course – we have to, we have to not to be afraid to say that the Jews are being the, they are the target now.  It’s not only the…the…er…

At that point Willcox inserted an interruption with which he did two things: firstly he quickly diverted the topic of conversation away from the limited framework of French Jewish and Muslim communities previously under discussion by introducing the issue of conflict in the Middle East. He also cut short discussion of the topic of the targeting of Jews in Europe by inserting a false equivalence – evident in his use of the words “as well” – in the form of ‘Palestinian suffering’ which he attributed to “Jewish hands”. In other words, Willcox falsely implied that – like Jews in France – Palestinians are targets because of their religion and/or ethnicity.

TW: Many critics, though, of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.

Chava: We cannot do an amalgam…to…between…

TW: But you understand everything is seen from different perspectives…

Chava: Of course, but this is not my…er…

TW: No, I understand.

Fraser Steel’s claim that Willcox’s statement “was in effect a question put to Chava for comment” completely ignores the issue of why Willcox found it necessary to divert the conversation away from both the events in Paris and the topic of the targeting of French Jews by interrupting his interviewee.

“I think it’s clear from what I’ve quoted above that Mr Willcox’s reference to the Palestinians, though framed as a statement, was in effect a question put to Chava for comment.  I would accept that (as Mr Willcox has himself acknowledged) what he said was poorly-phrased, but what the Editorial Complaints Unit must decide is whether his words amounted to a serious breach of the BBC’s editorial standards.  That’s the question I’ll be keeping in mind as I address the particular points of complaint as summarised by my colleague.

That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the Middle East;

Nothing in the day’s coverage of events in Paris suggested a direct link between events in the Middle East and those killings, and I can’t see that such a suggestion can readily be derived from what Mr Willcox said.”

But that is exactly what Willcox did and it is inconceivable that Steel’s powers of English language comprehension are so limited that he cannot see it. Willcox’s statement clearly not only introduced the subject of the Middle East into the discussion but also misled BBC audiences in that it misrepresented events in the Middle East by means of the inaccurate suggestion that “Jewish hands” cause Palestinians to “suffer” because of motives identical to those of an Islamist terrorist who carried out a pre-meditated attack on identifiably Jewish targets at the Hyper Cacher supermarket.

Steel continues:

“That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that all Jews were responsible for the actions of Israel

Many complainants argue that the question must be regarded as anti-Semitic because it falls foul of a definition of anti-Semitism which includes “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”, and which they attribute to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).  That, however, seems to me an unduly harsh construction of what Mr Willcox said.  In the light of the opening reference to “Israeli policy”, it seems to me more natural to construe “Jewish hands” as referring to Israeli Jews (insofar as they might be responsible for the formulation or execution of Israeli policy), rather than to Jews collectively.  I would accept that it was inept to use a form of words which was even open to the first construction, but I would regard that as an aspect of the poor phrasing already acknowledged, rather than a manifestation of anti-Semitism.”

Steel’s obviously erroneous suggestion here is that “Israeli policy” is formulated and executed exclusively by “Israeli Jews”: he conveniently ignores the fact that among those formulating Israeli policy and those executing it are members of the non-Jewish communities in Israel making up over 20% of the country’s population. Hence, his transparent attempt to rewrite Willcox’s reference to “Jewish hands” to make it mean Israelis is obviously disingenuous. 

It is worth noting at this point that Steel’s rejection of the classification of Willcox’s statement as antisemitic is based on the following claim inserted as a footnote:

“In fact the phrase isn’t part of the EUMC definition, but is one of a number of examples provided of what might be considered anti-Semitic under the definition, subject to “taking into account the overall context”.  The EUMC definition was withdrawn in 2009 by its successor organisation, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which has published no definition of its own.”

This of course is not the first time that the BBC has exploited the fact that the European Agency for Fundamental Rights has not put out its own definition of antisemitism because its mandate does not include such activities. Whilst the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism was indeed removed from the FRA’s website along with other EUMC documents in 2013, it has not been “withdrawn”.  

But beyond the technicalities, more importantly what we see here is that the BBC apparently believes itself to have both the authority and the expertise to make pronunciations on what is – or is not – antisemitism. Clearly that arrogant assumption flies in the face of the MacPherson Report which recommended that racist incidents should be defined as “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”. Had Fraser Steel bothered to consult with expert bodies and/or representatives of the Jewish community (and there is no evidence in this document of his having done so) he might have been better placed to understand the essence of the complaints he was tasked with reviewing.

The issue of the BBC’s self-regulating complaints system is one which has been under discussion for quite some time and is likely to be raised again when the BBC’s Royal Charter comes up for renewal next year. Many people have become convinced by their experiences of navigating the system that it does not serve the interests of the corporation’s funding public and that it fails to ensure that the BBC adheres to its obligations to accuracy and impartiality.

Fraser Steel’s dismissive response to the high volume of complaints made about Tim Willcox’s statements can only further entrench the growing view that a self-regulating BBC is incompatible with the public purposes defined in its constitutional document.