Report of All-Party inquiry into Antisemitism adduces BBC content

February 9th saw the publication of the Report of the All-Party Parliamentary inquiry into Antisemitism which was commissioned by John Mann MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

In the view of this writer, the report is not without issues and perhaps one of the more obvious is the absence of clarification of the connections of boycott campaigns against shops in the UK to the parent body behind those individual actions – the BDS movement. The resulting failure to identify the antisemitic aims of the BDS movement as a whole as well as those it inspires in individual cases of harassment of retailers constitutes a serious omission from this report.

As readers who have already had a chance to read the publication will be aware, several references are made to the BBC.  In the chapter titled ‘Traditional and Social Media’ (page 49 onwards), section 151 includes the following:BBC building

“…there was an overwhelming consensus amongst those that submitted evidence or gave personal testimony at the regional meetings we held, that the media, and in particular the BBC, had a role to play in whipping up anger through emotive content in the news and analysis that was broadcast. There was certainly a significant focus on the conflict. Using various analytical tools, Dr Ben Gidley found that there had been particularly intense coverage of protests and demonstrations against Israel and the conflict in general when compared to other countries and conflicts. He argued that the excessive focus on Israel in the media allows for inappropriate language to be used, although we discuss this in a later section.” [emphasis added]

Section 154 notes:

“An antisemitic trope about Jewish control of politicians referenced by a BBC journalist”.

The chapter titled ‘The Role of the Media’ appears from page 78 onwards.

Part five of the report is titled ‘Addressing Antisemitic Discourse’. Under the sub-heading ‘Accusations of Dual Loyalty and Malign Influence’ (page 104 onwards), section 376 notes that:

“References to and interest in the ‘Jewish lobby’ was not only a feature of political debate.[…] We were warned however of “the capacity of this sort of article to generate troubling stereotypes” given a reference to ‘the Jewish lobby’ was made when the article was discussed on the BBC News Channel. We note that the language used to collectively describe Jews was raised again in this regard in early 2015.”

The appended footnotes show that the first instance cited refers to a statement made by the BBC’s ‘political advisor’ on November 8th 2014 and that the second instance refers to the remarks made by Tim Willcox in Paris on January 11th 2015. 

There is, of course, a case for differentiating between these two statements broadcast by the BBC. Whilst the first one definitely did tap into the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope (with Tim Willcox later adding another age-old stereotype about ‘rich Jews’), the second one was different in that it held European Jews collectively responsible for the perceived actions of Israel. However, it is interesting to note that the report goes on to state:

“Leading figures and commentators in public life must be clear that it is inaccurate to use the term ‘Jewish lobby’ which used in this context is antisemitic and that there is nothing disreputable about the existence of an Israel lobby. Sadly, antisemitic stereotypes of Jewish influence and dual loyalty, albeit not as prolific as in other periods of modern British history, were used during Operation Protective Edge and afterwards and as Professor Feldman put it, emerged “from all points of the political spectrum”.”

It worth remembering  that complaints made by members of the public about the first of those comments were dismissed by the BBC, whilst complaints made about the second statement were dismissed by Ofcom and are currently pending investigation by the BBC’s ECU.

The references to BBC content in this report (which relates to a defined period of time) do not of course provide a comprehensive picture of the issue of antisemitic discourse in BBC content and on the corporation’s public message boards. Nevertheless, the BBC should obviously be very concerned by the fact that it appears at all in this report. 

OFCOM’s response to complaints about remarks from BBC’s Tim Willcox

Less than a month has gone by since British government ministers vowed to do more to combat antisemitism in the UK following the Paris terror attacks.Theresa May

“The UK must redouble its efforts to “wipe out anti-Semitism”, Home Secretary Theresa May has said. […]

“I never thought I would see the day when members of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom would say they were fearful of remaining here in the United Kingdom.”

“And that means we must all redouble our efforts to wipe out anti-Semitism here in the United Kingdom,” she said. […]

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said that education was the way to tackle anti-Semitism.”

One of the places where such education is apparently lacking is the partially government-funded communications regulator Ofcom which recently addressed complaints concerning remarks made by the BBC’s Tim Willcox during coverage of the march held in Paris on January 11th.

In its initial response:

“The broadcasting watchdog ruled that the comments was “justified by the context in which they were presented.” “

Subsequently, Ofcom issued further clarification:

“…in a new statement issued a day later, Ofcom said 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.” “

Clearly Ofcom is neither familiar with accepted definitions of antisemitism nor appreciative of the consequences of the propagation of pernicious antisemitic tropes beyond “the potential to cause offence”.

Common sense would suggest that Mr Pickles and his colleagues might find it effective to begin their education drive by remedying the ignorance obviously prevalent among the people responsible for regulation of the mass-media in the UK.

Some background to Rabbi Rubinstein’s recent column about the BBC

Past BBC contributor Rabbi YY Rubinstein recently published a column in the magazine ‘Mishpacha‘ in which he asked “does the BBC have a Jewish problem?”.  Whilst the article does not appear to be available at the magazine’s website (a transcript is however available here), a scanned version has been circulated on social media and readers of its opening paragraphs may find some background information helpful.

“The question of whether the BBC suffers from institutional anti-Semitism is not a new one.

Historically, there is not the slightest doubt that it has been guilty in this regard. In fact the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation) admitted it when Radio 4, a BBC radio station, aired a documentary years ago about the corporations’s role in promoting anti-Semitism in World War ll. It found itself clearly having suffered from “the world’s oldest hatred.”

It is not so willing today, however, to confront the question with nearly the same honesty. Rather, the BBC has resisted, with every trick it can muster, revealing the contents of its own commissioned report, completed on 2004, that judged whether the broadcaster fairly reports on the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

The report to which the writer refers is of course the Balen Report. The prizewinning Radio 4 documentary he mentions (broadcast in 1993) was called ‘The Unspeakable Atrocity’ and The Independent published a review of the programme at the time which makes for spine-chilling reading.

The take-away message must surely be recognition of the fact that attitudes determine policies which then shape the news. And of course news, in turn, influences attitudes.

 The Tim Willcox affair has presented the BBC with the opportunity not only to address the specific points made in complaints, but also to tackle the broader issue of how attitudes within the organisation determine policies which, for example, shaped the news it produced during last year’s conflict between Hamas and Israel or result in racist comments being allowed to stand on its message boards – and to take responsibility for the results at the end of the chain which begins with those attitudes.

Let’s hope that the most will be made of that opportunity.

YY Rubinstein art 1

YY Rubinstein art 2

 

 

 

 

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

Thanks to all the many readers who have taken the time to keep us informed regarding the progress of their complaints to the BBC concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during coverage of the march in Paris on January 11th.editorial guidelines  

To recap, complaints were initially answered with a response stating that Willcox had issued an apology on Twitter. Those who pursued their complaint further have now received a response from the Complaints Director at the Editorial Complaints Unit, Andrew Bell.

Mr Bell writes:

“As you may be aware, however, we have received a very large number of complaints on this issue, and if we were to deal with them in the normal way, investigating each complaint separately, it would be many weeks before some complainants received a finding. In order to reach a speedy determination on the essential issues, as they are reflected in the totality of the complaints we have received, we propose to deal with them in a slightly different way.” 

The response goes on to explain that the ECU has summarized the editorial issues arising from all the complaints into the points below and that those points will be considered against the relevant Editorial Guidelines of accuracy, impartiality and harm and offence.

  • 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;
  • That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that all Jews were responsible for the actions of Israel;
  • That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that Jews were responsible for the murder of other Jews;
  • That the question was offensive because it trivialised the holocaust;
  • That the question displayed bias against Israel;
  • That Tim Willcox’s comment “But you understand everything is seen from different perspectives” suggested there was a justification for the killings;
  • That the interviewee was not treated with appropriate respect;
  • That the terms of the apology from Tim Willcox were inadequate and failed to address what was inaccurate and offensive about his remarks;
  • That posting an apology on a private Twitter account was inadequate and that it should have been published by the BBC.

Mr Bell further notes that he hopes to inform members of the public of the outcome of his unit’s investigation by February 23rd.

Obviously it does make sense for the ECU to avoid wasting public resources by streamlining the process of investigation and considering a high volume of similar complaints together. Particularly following the unsatisfactory initial replies received by members of the public, it is now good to see that Mr Bell’s department appears to be making a serious attempt to address the issue. 

This is why the BBC’s making do with Tim Willcox’s Twitter apology is pernicious

The January 20th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme contained a report by Sanchia Berg titled “Jewish school pupils trained to respond to armed attack“. The item includes the following:Sanchia Berg report

Sanchia Berg: “The headmaster said on several school trips pupils had been verbally abused by people who were angry about Israeli government policy and unfairly blamed British Jewish children. One child was threatened. Rabbi Efraimov:”

Rabbi Efraimov: “Nothing actually happened to the child but the child was told that he will be beaten up unless Palestine is freed.”

SB: “By other children? By adults?”

RE: “My understanding was that it was by young adults. The description was adults in their early twenties.”

SB: “And how old was the child at the time?”

RE: “The child was ten.”

One may of course ask where on earth young British adults would have got the idea that British Jewish schoolchildren – or British Jews in general – have anything to do with Israeli government policy, real or imagined.

And that is exactly why the BBC’s attempt to fob off criticism of Tim Willcox’s statement just after the Paris terror attacks (“…the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands…”) by claiming that an apology on Twitter is sufficient is so pernicious.

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.

Likewise, the BBC needs to urgently address the fact that Willcox has not been alone in adopting and promoting a canard used – as we see above – by antisemitic bullies.

Obviously the BBC’s funding public would not tolerate its national broadcaster (which is of course committed by Royal Charter to the promotion of education and sustaining civil society) adding credence to racist or prejudicial notions about other groups within British society. Ensuring that the same standard applies to British Jews entails tackling the ignorance which causes racism to be passed off as political comment. 

BBC response to Willcox complaints: he sent a Tweet

Below is the response received by a member of the public in reply to his complaint concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during the BBC’s coverage of the January 11th march in Paris. Others have informed us that they have been sent the exact same reply.

Response Willcox complaint

It is worth noting once again that the majority of the millions of people who watched that BBC broadcast do not follow Tim Willcox on Twitter.

One of the problems with the response from BBC Complaints – and with Willcox’s Tweet – is that he was not asking a “poorly phrased question” at all. He in fact interrupted his interviewee to make a statement. And whilst Willcox may indeed have had “no intention of causing offence”, he did just that because the notion he found it so urgent to promote to viewers is based on the antisemitic premise that Jews anywhere in the world hold collective responsibility for the perceived actions of the State of Israel.

If Tim Willcox and the BBC do not understand why his statement – and the thinking behind it – constitutes a problem and why an apology in 140 characters or less repeated in a generic e-mail from BBC Complaints is unsatisfactory, then obviously there are considerably deeper issues here. 

Willcox’s Twitter apology does not abrogate the need for an on-air statement from the BBC clarifying the issue to audiences who watched that programme.

BBC’s Tim Willcox in Paris: a new low

BBC News coverage of the rally in Paris on January 11th included the clip below in which Tim Willcox interrupts an interviewee talking about the recent antisemitic attacks in France to inform her – forty-eight hours after four Jewish hostages had been murdered in a terror attack on a kosher supermarket – that:

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

He then goes on to lecture her:

“But you understand; everything is seen from different perspectives.”

The EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism includes the following:

 “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”

Readers no doubt recall that just two months ago, Willcox made use of the age-old stereotype of ‘rich Jews’ and failed to challenge the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope in a programme he was hosting.

Update: Tim Willcox has apologised on Twitter, although it is of course obvious that the vast majority of viewers watching that programme are not among his followers. 

Willcox Twitter apology

Nick Cohen’s take on this story is as insightful as ever. 

Related Articles:

More BBC promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope

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

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

The Jewish Chronicle informs us that the BBC has issued a statement following the receipt of complaints concerning remarks made during a BBC News Channel papers review on November 8th (and also promoted on the BBC News website) which, as we noted here, included references to “the Jewish lobby”.BBC Papers on website

“The BBC has received 33 complaints after a commentator referred to a “Jewish lobby” during a newspaper review. […]

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the BBC said: “The comments were made about the Independent on Sunday story which claimed that unnamed Jewish donors were withdrawing financial support from Ed Miliband over Israel.

“Tim named Maureen Lipman in this context, and as part of a wider discussion, asked if Labour’s ‘mansion tax’ policy was one of the factors that might put off some of the Jewish donors cited by the paper from contributing to Labour’s election coffers.

“It was clear that he was not suggesting that Jewish people in particular are against the mansion tax.” “

As the JC points out:

“The newspaper article had made no reference to the mansion tax.”

According to the information in the JC report, the BBC statement does not appear to have addressed the equally problematic issue of the programme’s promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope.

Related Articles:

More BBC promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope

BBC Radio 5 live mainstreams an antisemitic trope

BBC News interviewee’s antisemitic slur goes unchallenged

BBC defends employee’s use of term ‘Jewish lobby’

BBC’s Simpson mainstreams trope used by anti-Israel campaigners

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ featured in CST report on antisemitic discourse

The numbers behind BBC promotion of the ‘Israel lobby’

 

More BBC promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope

Barely a week after the mainstreaming of the antisemitic ‘Jewish lobby’ trope in a review of the papers on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Stephen Nolan show, another papers review – this time on the BBC News Channel – promoted the same trope and others on November 8th.

In addition to its being broadcast on television, the item was also posted on the BBC News website’s UK page the following day. The relevant section can be seen in the video below.BBC Papers on website

Presenter Tim Willcox’s guests are Nigel Nelson of the ‘Sunday People’ and former Lib Dem spin-doctor Jo Phillips who is introduced as “our political advisor”.

Asked by Willcox to explain the story appearing in the ‘Independent’ to viewers, Phillips says:

“…what you get is a lot of unnamed people…ahm…from sort of the Jewish lobby and obviously, you know, they’ve been very supportive of the Labour Party and they are abandoning ‘toxic’ Labour.”

Obviously as far as Phillips is concerned, any British Jew – identified or not – who contributes to a political party can automatically be categorised as a member of a supposed “Jewish lobby”. She goes on:

“But they’re not abandoning it because of Ed Miliband’s personal ratings according to this. This is because of what Ed Miliband actually said…ahm…in the summer; his aggressive condemnation of Israel’s attacks – disproportionate attacks and incursion into Gaza.”

Ms Phillips’ qualifications – legal or military – for judging whether or not Israeli attacks were “disproportionate” are of course highly debatable, but Willcox makes no effort to rectify the misleading impression given to viewers by Phillips’ employment of a loaded label without evidence-based justification.

Instead, Willcox bizarrely introduces into the conversation the equally evidence-free notion that Jewish donors to the Labour party will automatically be opposed to a proposed tax on high-value properties, thus tapping into the old stereotype of ‘rich Jews’.

“Yeah and a lot of these prominent Jewish…ah….ah….faces will be very much against the mansion tax presumably as well.”

Phillips later adds:

“…but it is this terrible thing if, you know, you’re not supposed apparently to say anything anti-Israeli. Ahm…and if you attack Israeli political…ahm…policies or the government policies then, you know, this is what you get. Ahm…you know it seems to me that it’s totally hypocritical that on the one hand they [Labour] are now going to have to look perhaps to the unions to get some funding but will be accused of being in the unions’ pockets. But when he’s [Miliband] being brave and principled and standing up and saying, you know, this time Israel has gone too far, people take their money away…”

So, here we have the BBC once more promoting the age-old antisemitic trope that a “Jewish lobby” made up of rich Jews uses its power and financial clout to manipulate political policy. Moreover, viewers are fed the ridiculous idea that a British politician with a “brave” and “principled” stance is being punished by a wealthy ‘lobby’ (which obviously does not share the same characteristics) simply because “you’re not supposed to say anything anti-Israeli”.

This is just one more example of the growing phenomenon of BBC enablement of the mainstreaming of antisemitic discourse. Broadcasting House: you have a very serious problem.