BBC R4’s ‘PM’ presents one-sided comment on MP’s suspension

The February 27th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ – presented by Evan Davis – included quite a lot of content relating to the suspension of Labour MP Chris Williamson following the emergence of footage of a speech he made to Momentum activists in Sheffield.

Nineteen seconds into the programme (available here) Davis told listeners that: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Davis: “The Labour MP Chris Williamson has just been suspended. We’ll talk to someone who defends him.”

At 02:48 listeners heard a news bulletin.

Newsreader: “In the past few minutes the Labour MP Chris Williamson has been suspended. He’d already apologised for saying his party gave too much ground in its handling of complaints of antisemitism. Mr Williamson said he deeply regretted the comments he made at a meeting of activists.”

Following a report from the BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith in which listeners were told that “Mr Williamson’s fate is being cited by some Labour MPs as a test case for the Labour leader to demonstrate he takes seriously the issue of antisemitism”, Evan Davis gave an overview of the story – from 5:23 – which included the following:

Davis: “But for Labour if Chris Williamson is a problem, then so must be his supporters and there are many of them, at least judging by the reaction on his Facebook page to his earlier apology.”

Listeners then heard four selected comments read out – all supporting Williamson and with one promoting a conspiracy theory.

Woman 1: “I’m beginning to think you’re the only Labour politician with any real integrity and the guts to stand up for truth and justice. Hashtag I stand with Chris Williamson.”

Woman 2: “I understand your reason for this but as far as I’m concerned what you said was right. Tom Watson is a huge disappointment. I voted for him once but never again.”

Woman 3: “Corbyn has met with the Board of Deputies and other Jewish groups to address the antisemitism issue. He has bent over backwards and every time it’s not enough. The fact of the matter is their plan is to destroy the Labour party. Chris has had the courage to speak out and should be commended.” [emphasis added]

Man: “Nothing to apologise for. There may well be some incidents of antisemitism by members but it is only a small minority. I don’t believe it to be widespread.”

Davis next brought in the BBC’s political correspondent Ian Watson to report on “what has been happening behind the scenes today”.

If listeners were expecting to hear a different perspective on the story than that reflected in those reactions from Williamson’s supporters – in accordance with BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – they would no doubt have been surprised when Davis then introduced (from 09:45) yet another commentator of the same stripe.

Davis: “Let us talk to Jenny Manson – co-chair of a group called Jewish Voice for Labour. Now that is an organisation that describes itself as an organisation of Jews with a socialist tradition who tend to be on the Left of the party and support Jeremy Corbyn.”

Listeners were then given to understand that the interview with Manson had been set up before the news of Williamson’s suspension broke.

Davis: “Jenny thank you very much for joining us. Obviously we’d planned to talk to you not knowing that Chris Williamson had been suspended but what’s your reaction to the suspension tonight?”

Following some technical problems, listeners heard Manson’s response.

Manson: “I’m very upset. I think that there is a terrible injustice happening to Chris Williamson. He is a remarkable anti-racist. At that meeting he may have spoke a bit outspoken. People speak like that when they’re speaking at a public meeting. What he said as far as I understand was that antisemitism is terrible but it is not a Labour party problem and that’s what Jewish Voice for Labour have been arguing for a long time now and many ordinary people…”

At that point Manson was cut off again and Davis brought in the newsreader to give another summary of the news while communication was being re-established.

11:57 Davis: “I really want to hear what she wants to say because many people in the Labour party obviously feel that Chris Williamson was out of order and was completely inflaming the situation.”

He then asked Manson to “finish your point about why it’s unfair”.

Manson: “Well as far as I understand it this is on the basis of a speech that Chris made in this last week. All that Chris was saying – and I’ve listened to the account and I’ve read the accounts – was that antisemitism is a terrible thing but that the Labour party hasn’t particularly got a problem of antisemitism and that’s my understanding. We’ve looked at this issue for the last few years very carefully at Jewish Voice for Labour. We’ve discovered that antisemitism is not greater in the Labour party than in other political parties…”

Davis then interrupted her to challenge that claim.

Davis: “Can I suggest though that there’s a sort of intensity of feeling that spills into antisemitism among some activists and some Labour members that is different to what you would find among average people in society, that Labour does have a problem and most…many people in Labour do regard it as a problem.”

Manson’s response included the claim that “in 50 years as a member of the Labour party, at meetings I’ve never met it [antisemitism] and that’s a very, very common statement”. She went on to claim that “there seems to be problems on social media” and – having pointed out that she doesn’t ‘do’ social media – to claim that” it often turns out not to be a Labour party member. Some people infiltrated websites and pretended to be Corbyn supporters”.

She went on to promote a blatant falsehood: [emphasis in bold added]

Manson: “But a lot of groups within the Jewish community do not consider it’s a major problem, including for example the Haredi Jews who have written letters supporting Jeremy Corbyn and who I speak to quite frequently who’ve met antisemitism all their lives but not from people in the Labour party.”

Davis did not bother to clarify to listeners that Manson was apparently referring to the tiny, fringe anti-Zionist sect Neturei Karta and that over 85% of British Jews “see antisemitism as having significantly infiltrated all levels of the [Labour] party”.

Proposing that “you have a different threshold for antisemitism than other people”, Davis then brought up the Naz Shah story which Manson dismissed as “a joke made by an American Jew” before coming up with her own erroneous definition of antisemtism.

Manson: “Antisemitism broadly is hatred of Jews […] it’s hatred of Jews with – I’m told by lawyers I’ve talked to about it – with a sense of impending violence. Something very, very nasty. And it’s being stretched to be criticisms of Israel that people don’t like, criticism of Zionism that people don’t like and in some cases just quick unthinking talk.”

Failing to challenge that inaccurate definition of antisemitism – and to remind listeners that there is one accepted definition used by their own government – Davis tried to put the point that stereotypes of Jews are tolerated in a way that stereotypes about other groups of people are not. However the broadcast again ran into technical difficulties and the item was brought to a close.

As we see the producers of ‘PM’ apparently thought it satisfactory to provide audiences with an entirely one-sided view of this story based on comments on Facebook from Chris Williamson’s supporters and a representative of a tiny, extremist political group which in no way represents mainstream Jewish opinion in the UK.

That point was made by several listeners on Twitter.

One Radio 4 journalist – Chris Wimpress – responded with the claim that no-one else was available.

However, as Davis made clear at the beginning of his conversation with Manson, the interview with the JVL co-chair had in fact been planned in advance.

Related Articles:

BBC News gives free rein to anti-Israel campaigner’s falsehoods

Reviewing BBC Radio 4 coverage of Corbyn wreath laying story – part two

BBC R4 ‘Today’ listeners hear an esoteric item on antisemitism

BBC Radio 4 fails to clarify a commentator’s ‘particular viewpoint’

 

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BBC R4 ‘Today’ listeners hear an esoteric item on antisemitism

The February 23rd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item (from 49:14 here) concerning the UK Labour party. Presenter Nick Robinson introduced the item as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Robinson: “Compare and contrast the following reactions to the resignations of nine Labour MPs in the past week alone. ‘There is now brutality in the Labour party. Racist bullies are responsible for driving one – Luciana Berger – out of the party and it needs to change if more are not to follow.’ That was the reaction of the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson. In contrast: ‘there is no place for harshness and bullying in the party and to tell you the truth, I don’t believe it exists on a wide scale’. That was the response of the leader Jeremy Corbyn. So who is right? And how can the party’s divisions on bullying, on antisemitism and indeed over Europe now be bridged?

Robinson discussed that topic with two labour MPs – the first of whom he introduced as “Chris Williamson, Labour MP for Derby North, a vocal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn”. However – despite the BBC’s obligation to provide “…news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues…” and notwithstanding Robinson’s challenges to some of his interviewee’s talking points – the interview quickly descended into an esoteric conversation that most listeners would have had great difficulty following.

Robinson: “Chris […] what would you say is the scale of bullying and scale of antisemitism in the Labour party?

Williamson: “Well I’ve never witnessed any bullying and – I’ve got to say like Chuka Umunna – never seen any examples of antisemitism. That’s not to say that neither of those things exist but the truth is that the Labour party has a proud tradition of standing up for social justice, fighting racism in all its forms, right back from the early 1930s when we stood – the Labour party – with the Jewish community in Cable Street against Oswald Mosely’s fascists, to being the backbone of the anti-Nazi League in the 1970s.”

Robinson: “It’s a curious formula to say that you’ve never witnessed any antisemitism. You yourself apologised for signing a petition opposing a ban on a musician who blamed the Grenfell Tower disaster on so-called ‘Jerusalemites’. So far from not witnessing it, you accidentally – you apologised for it – went along with it.”

Williamson: “That’s very, very unfair. Look I didn’t know that the individual concerned had made those remarks and actually deleted the Tweet within 12 minutes of actually posting when it was brought to my attention.”

The unnamed “musician” is Gilad Atzmon who – despite being an antisemite who promotes conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial – used to be quite a regular fixture on the BBC. Williamson did indeed delete his Tweet promoting a petition defending Atzmon and made an apology based on what was described in the New Statesman as “a claim that for many stretches credulity”.  

Robinson however did not bother to provide listeners with the details of that story or to ask Williamson how he ‘accidentally’ managed to sign a petition supporting an antisemite without bothering to do any background research. He went on:

Robinson: “What about when you defended a man who’d said Jewish Trump fanatics were to blame for antisemitism allegations in the Labour party? You defended that man. He was a member of the National Executive Committee.”

Williamson: “He…well…well you’re trying to pick out isolated examples here Nick to try to imply that there is a major problem.”

Robinson: “No, I’m asking you to justify the fact that you said you’ve never seen something when in your own personal case you have twice faced allegations of going along with antisemitism.”

Again Robinson did not provide listeners with the details of the example he used or even the name of “that man” – Peter Willsman – so that they could check out the story and judge Williamson’s responses for themselves.

Williamson: “Allegations are one thing – aren’t they? – but just because somebody makes an allegation doesn’t make it true. If you actually go down that road you’re then very much into the McCarthyite witch hunt era, aren’t you?”

Robinson: “Is John McDonnell responsible for a McCarthyite witch hunt when he says ‘we’ve got to be quicker, we’ve got to be fiercer in dealing with antisemitism’? Is he a McCarthyite?

Williamson: “Well let me quote you what a Jewish journalist…”

Robinson: “No, I’d like you to respond to Mr McDonnell.”

Williamson: “Well yeah I am gonna respond with this comment actually and it’s a comment from a Jewish journalist and I think if you’d just do me the courtesy of listening for a moment Nick, I think you’ll find it highly significant. He wrote on the 21st of July last year ‘Expect a group of high-profile right-wing MPs and councillors or members to resign from the Labour party in protest. Don’t fall for this. In reality this will be just another attempt to sabotage Labour, possibly setting up a new moderate splinter party in the process, using false claims of antisemitism as their totemic issue’.”

The anonymous journalist that Williamson claims is Jewish is Asa Winstanley – a known anti-Israel activist and a contributor to the extremist siteElectronic Intifada’ and the Hamas linked, London-based outfit MEMO. Significantly, Williamson omitted part of the Tweets he ‘quoted’.

With listeners not told who that “Jewish journalist” is and not made aware of his long record of anti-Israel activity and his stance concerning antisemitism in the Labour party, they would of course be unable to judge Williamson’s response.  

Robinson: “So do you agree the claims are false?”

Williamson: “Now that is a Jewish journalist and I would also refer you to…”

Robinson: “I was asking for your view Mr Williamson.”

Williamson: “I would also refer you to the letter that was signed by over two hundred prominent Jewish members of the party who say in an open letter that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn…”

Robinson: “Can you tell me your view. You’re only quoting other people’s views.”

Williamson: “Let me just answer in my own way…that Labour and Jeremy Corbyn are a crucial ally in the fight against racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism.”

That letter cited by Williamson naturally appeared in the Guardian and its signatories include numerous anti-Israel campaigners who conveniently deny the existence of antisemitism in his party. Again, without that essential background information, listeners would be unable to judge Williamson’s response for themselves.

The interview came to an end shortly after that with Robinson again citing Labour MPs:

Robinson: “So Tom Watson is wrong…Tom Watson is wrong when he talks about racist bullies. John McDonnell is wrong when he says the party’s not dealing with antisemitism quickly enough or fiercely enough. They’re all wrong.”

Williamson: “Well I don’t…no…I’m not saying that. I mean I do think there was delays in the…err…dealing with the complaints that have been made but I think it’s important to put those into context as well. Labour is the biggest party in western Europe now and there were a number of complaints. Around a third of them however were deemed not to have sufficient evidence – potentially malicious complaints being made about antisemitism – and obviously the Labour party does need to deal with that and there was a bit of a delay but look, there is no place for antisemitism in the Labour party.”

Williamson’s framing of the topic under discussion in this item is based on the fallacy that if an anonymous “Jewish journalist” and unnamed “prominent Jewish members of the party” say so, then allegations of antisemitism can’t possibly be true.

With Nick Robinson having made no effort to unpack that sophism or to explain to listeners what sort of political milieu the little known fringe activists invoked by Williamson inhabit, this item clearly did the exact opposite of helping audiences to “engage fully” with the issue of antisemitism in the UK Labour party.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 fails to clarify a commentator’s ‘particular viewpoint’

Guardian letter claims Corbyn is an “ally in the fight against antisemitism” (UK Media Watch)

 

 

BBC reporting on Labour antisemitism again falls short

BBC Radio 4’s February 21st ‘Midnight News’ included (from 00:28 and then from 11:33 here) an item on a story concerning the UK Labour party.

Newsreader: “Labour has suspended Derek Hatton only days after he was allowed back into the party. Tweets about Israel are understood to be the reason for the decision.” [emphasis added]

Newsreader: “Labour has suspended the former leader [sic] of Liverpool City Council, Derek Hatton, just two days after he was provisionally readmitted to the party. The outspoken Left-winger was expelled more than 30 years ago because of involvement with a far-Left group.”

The story was ‘explained’ by the BBC’s political correspondent Jonathan Blake as follows:

Blake: “Derek Hatton’s suspension is thought to relate to a Tweet posted in 2012 which one Labour MP said implied that every Jew was responsible for the actions of the Israeli government.”

Not only did listeners not hear what Hatton’s Tweet said but they were not told that according to the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” is a manifestation of antisemitism.

A report on the same story published on the BBC News website’s UK Politics page on February 20th – “Derek Hatton suspended by Labour days after being readmitted” – similarly failed to explain to readers why the Tweet is problematic and likewise gave the misleading impression that the issue is “comments…about Israel” rather than antisemitism.

“The ex-deputy leader of Liverpool council’s membership was provisionally approved on Monday, more than 30 years after he was expelled from the party.

But senior Labour figures have since complained about the move and comments the ex-Militant man made about Israel.

In a tweet in 2012, he urged “Jewish people with any sense of humanity” to condemn Israel’s “ruthless murdering”.” [emphasis added]

Obviously as long as the BBC continues to report such stories while avoiding referencing the accepted definition of antisemitism, it cannot give its audiences an accurate and informative account of events.

The same report closed with what was apparently intended to be background information:

“Mr Hatton posted the 2012 message during “Operation Pillar of Defence” a week-long offensive by the Israel Defence Forces in Gaza.

According to a UNHCR report, 174 Palestinians were killed during the operation, and hundreds were injured.

At the time, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said “of course Israel has the right to self-defence and attacks against Israel must end, but the international community would also expect Israel to show restraint”.”

Notably readers saw no mention of the highly relevant context of the months of terror attacks which preceded that “week-long offensive”. Equally remarkable is the BBC’s portrayal of casualties in that conflict as exclusively Palestinian (despite the fact that six Israelis – two soldiers and four civilians – were also killed) and its failure to clarify that 60% of the Palestinians killed were operatives of terror groups.

Once again we see that BBC reporting on the issue of antisemitism in the UK Labour party falls short of providing its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK…”.

 

 

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) The Community Security Trust has published its Antisemitic Incidents Report for 2018.

“The 1,652 antisemitic incidents CST recorded in 2018 represent a 16 per cent rise from the 1,420 incidents recorded in 2017. These 1,652 incidents were spread throughout the year, with over 100 incidents recorded in every month for the first time in any calendar year; indicating that a general atmosphere of intolerance and prejudice is sustaining the high incident totals, rather than a one-off specific ‘trigger’ event. In addition to more general background factors, the highest monthly totals in 2018 came when the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party was the subject of intense discussion and activity, or when violence surged temporarily on the border between Israel and Gaza; suggesting that these events, and reactions to them, also played a role in 2018’s record total.”

2) At the Washington Examiner, David May and Jonathan Schanzer ask “Why has Human Rights Watch become an anti-Israel activist group?”.

“It’s unclear exactly when HRW began to juggle both human rights research and anti-Israel activism. One could point to the joint declaration of the 2001 NGO Forum in South Africa, reportedly formulated with Human Rights Watch’s assistance, which endorsed sanctions against the Jewish state. It also could have been 2004, when it hired anti-Israel activist Sarah Leah Whitson. Soon after she took over as Middle East director, HRW endorsed a campaign led by vehemently anti-Israel groups to suspend sales of Caterpillar equipment to the Jewish state after pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie was killed when she stood in the way of an Israeli military bulldozer.”

3) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at “Iran’s Strategy for Control of Syria”.

“Iran’s efforts are taking place at three levels:  below the official Syrian state structures – in the arming and sponsoring of Iran-controlled paramilitary formations on Syria soil, within the Syrian state – in the control of institutions that are officially organs of the regime, and above the state, in the pursuit of formal links between the Iranian and Syrian regimes.  As Teheran seeks to impose its influence on Assad’s Syria in the emergent post-rebellion period, meanwhile, there are indications that its project is running up against the rival plans and ambitions of the Russians.”

4) The ITIC analyses Hamas’ latest fundraising efforts.

“Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees, two terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip, recently called on their supporters to donate money using the virtual currency Bitcoin. To date, requests for donors have been made by Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, and by the Al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees. […]

The Palestinian organizations’ fundraising campaign in the Gaza Strip is yet another example of the terrorist organizations’ use of virtual currencies, mainly Bitcoin, to finance terror activity. The anonymity provided by trading in these currencies, their availability, and the ability to carry out money transfers around the world quickly and easily without the need for identification or exposure enable these organizations to transfer funds earmarked for terrorist activity without supervision by authorities or banks while circumventing international regulations against money laundering.” 

 

BBC Radio 4 fails to clarify a commentator’s ‘particular viewpoint’

The February 4th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ included an item concerning Venezuela which presenter Ritula Shah brought to a close with a question (from 23:31 here) on a different topic to one of her interviewees – Chris Williamson – whom she had earlier introduced as a “Labour MP and close ally of Jeremy Corbyn”.

The question related to a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party held on the same evening.

Shah: “I want to ask you one more question. Labour MPs tonight have unanimously passed a motion calling for the party leadership to do more to tackle antisemitism and the MPs accuse the party’s general secretary Jennie Formby, who was at the meeting, of ignoring the demands and refusing to give the answers they wanted. You weren’t at that meeting, I know, but you have been at odds with those levelling accusations of antisemitism at Labour’s structure. I wonder what you make of tonight’s move.” [emphasis added]

Williamson: “Well I think it’s an incredibly unfair criticism of Jennie Formby. She’s done more than any previous general secretary to address a backlog of complaints, including antisemitism. She’s appointed an in-house counsel. She’s expanded the national constitutional committee that deals with serious…ehm…accusations of mis…of misdeeds and she’s increased staff to deal with this matter.”

Shah: “So you don’t think the MPs are justified?”

Williamson: “No absolutely not. I think it’s incredibly unfair. Jennie’s done more than anybody to deal with the cancer of antisemitism and we have to stand united against antisemitism and all forms of bigotry and racism and she’s done precisely that.”

The BBC’s domestic audience would of course have been better equipped to judge that predictable messaging from Williamson had they first been informed what Shah meant by “at odds with those levelling accusations of antisemitism at Labour’s structure”.

Williamson has not simply disagreed with allegations of antisemitism within the Labour party. In a 2017 interview with the Guardian:

“He said rows over Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism within Labour and his approach to Venezuela were “proxy wars and bullshit”.

“I’m not saying it never ever happens but it is a really dirty, lowdown trick, particularly the antisemitism smears. Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends.”

Williamson subsequently described reactions to those comments as “positively sinister” and in 2018 portrayed antisemitism related disciplinary actions within the Labour party as “ridiculous suspensions and expulsions from the party… in the most grotesque and unfair way”.

While a person who publicly states that antisemitism has been ‘weaponised’ and that concerns about racism in the Labour party are “smears” and “bullshit” may not have been the best choice of commentator on the meeting that was the topic of Shah’s question, clearly audience understanding of his comments would have been enhanced had his stance on the core issue been better clarified in line with the BBC editorial guideline concerning the “need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint”.

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ discusses antisemitism ahead of HMD – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the January 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an interview with Deborah Lipstadt about the rise of antisemitism, during which presenter Martha Kearney found it appropriate to quote one of Jeremy Corbyn’s denials concerning the antisemitism evident in his party.

The January 26th edition of the same programme saw presenter Mishal Husain return to that interview with Lipstadt (from 1:50:36 here) in an item featuring a member of the UK Labour party. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Can an outlook that focuses on race and privilege prevent people recognising antisemitism? That was the suggestion made on the programme yesterday by the historian Deborah Lipstatdt […] Here’s what she said.”

Recording Lipstadt: “…many people consider themselves progressives, their view of the world is refracted through a prism which has two facets. One factor is ethnicity and one is class. And they look at Jews and they see white people – quote unquote white people – who are privileged and therefore could not possibly be victims of prejudice.”

Husain: “Well Michael Segalov is a journalist, member of the Labour party and is himself Jewish. […] What do you think of that view?”

This is not the first time that the BBC has brought in Segalov to comment on antisemitism in the party of which he is a member but without clarifying that he is a Corbyn supporter.

Segalov: “I think there is some truth in it. I don’t think that it is inherent to being progressive. I certainly don’t think misunderstanding what the Jewish community have been through is part of being progressive or on the Left. But I do think when – in particular in relation to Israel, which is obviously not what Jewish identity is all about but it’s part of it – it is possible to fall into a trap, which is understandable, of seeing Israel as a colonial state. And I think the reason that happens on the progressive Left more than it does elsewhere is because it’s only really on the Left that the lexicon is apparent. You don’t really see people on the Right talking critically about empire, about colonialism in a way the Left do. So I was trying to think of an analogy on the way here and to some extent I guess it’s like if you’re not trying to juggle you’re not going to drop anything – it’s that sort of issue there.”

Husain: “But what Deborah Lipstatdt was saying was actually something even more basic than that if you like. She is saying that if you see the world through this prism and she said – she was talking about ethnicity and class – but perhaps when you think about it in this way, that if you see…if your world view had a big focus on wealth and the inequality that results from imbalances in wealth and you perceive Jews as having wealth even though that is…depends on who you’re talking about, then you can find it difficult to see Jews as victims.”

Segalov: “Well no, I dispute that completely. I think it’s very important we say that those kind of prejudices such as seeing Jewish people as wealthy need to be dispelled. I don’t think it’s at all inherent to the idea that if you’re critical of wealth and power you’re suddenly antisemitic. I think making those connections is…”

Husain: “But that’s not what I said. I said could it mean that you are less likely to see Jews as people who can be victims?”

Segalov: “Only if you hold on to the view that Jewish people are wealthy and powerful which is…which is not fundamentally true. I do think there’s a bit more nuance to what Deborah said, as much as respect I have for her, in particular that I don’t think progressive people solely see inequality through the lens of either wealth or race. We see it through gender, you see it through sexuality, you see it through nationality and ethnicity and all different religious groups too. It’s all this identity politics idea. So I don’t think it’s as straightforward as to say that if you see the world through a lens of the powerful and the wealthy and the not so, that you’re ever going to fall into the trap of antisemitism.”

Husain: “But do you find yourself often having to make a point or urging people who have the same political views as you to see Jewish people in a different way from perhaps how they first see them?”

Segalov: “Not fairly regularly, no, no.”

Husain: “It does happen?”

Segalov: “Of course. I think they…we…antisemitism and misunderstandings of the Jewish community have been prevalent in Europe and this country and beyond for generations. And I certainly think at a time when Jewish people relatively in the UK and relatively in the US too, despite the administration over there, are safe and comfortable – a short period of time and long may it continue – it’s possible for younger people to not understand and appreciate the history that Jewish people have of marginalisation, oppression and discrimination. I don’t think it happens too often but of course there’s a risk.”

Husain made no effort to remind listeners (and her guest) that just four months ago 40% of British Jews said they would seriously consider leaving the UK if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister.

Husain: “Michael Segalov, thank you very much.”

Quite how the producers of this programme thought Segalov’s largely incoherent ramblings would contribute to BBC’s domestic audiences’ understanding of antisemitism in the UK Labour party is a mystery. Listeners were however told by a person introduced as Jewish that it is “understandable” if people perceive “Israel as a colonial state” and they heard multiple references to Jews, wealth and power.

Sadly, even just days ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, BBC Radio 4 could not come up with impartial and informative reporting on the antisemitism that blights its listeners’ society.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ discusses antisemitism ahead of HMD – part one

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ discusses antisemitism ahead of HMD – part one

As Holocaust Memorial Day approached, on January 25th the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme aired a short interview (from 2:24:30 here) with Deborah Lipstadt concerning her new book.

The introduction to that item from presenter Martha Kearney included the following: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Kearney: “Her new book looks at the rise of antisemitism in the past decade and maintains that it’s no longer just the far Right but those on the Left as well who are to blame.”

Having brought in her guest she went on:

Kearney: “Now just describe to us what you think lies behind this recent wave of antisemitism.”

Lipstadt: “Well as you said in the introduction I think right now it’s coming from the Right and from the Left and from a third source and that is Islamist Jihadist extremists. What lies behind it? I think a number of factors. First of all we’ve seen Right wing populist governments or Right wing political leaders, including in my own country, play on making divisions among people, play on making divisions against minorities which gins up this attit…plays into the antisemitism. On the Left I think it’s been brewing for a long time. We could trace roots of it back […] to the late […] USSR. But it’s been there but it’s taken on an added potency in recent years and is often used in connection to Israel.”

Kearney: “And you’ve written about Jeremy Corbyn in this context in your book.”

Lipstadt: “I have. I think Jeremy…I don’t know if Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite or not and I don’t think that’s the important question. I don’t know what’s in his heart. But what I do is look at his record over a very long time [….] and what I see is a man who doesn’t understand antisemitism or – worse yet – doesn’t take it seriously…”

Interrupting her guest, Kearney immediately jumped in with a quote which some BBC listeners have heard used before.

Kearney [interrupts] “Well you see he would dispute that and he’s written a number of articles and put out a number of statements and said, you know, for example ‘people who dish out antisemitic poison need to understand, you do not do it in my name’.”

Lipstadt: “Right, I know that. I think for Jeremy Corbyn and other progressives – not all progressives but people who…many people consider themselves progressives, their view of the world is refracted through a prism which has two facets. One factor is ethnicity and one is class. And they look at Jews and they see white people – quote unquote white people – who are privileged and therefore could not possibly be victims of prejudice. There’s an irony here of course because if you turn to the far Right, they don’t consider Jews white people [….]. And they say well therefore you could not possibly be a victim of prejudice. On top of this – and we hear this from Jeremy Corbyn and from others – I am a progressive, I have gotten my progressive values with my mother’s milk, they are inbred in me, it’s impossible, it’s just impossible, it’s oxymoronic for me to be prejudiced therefore you must be making this up. You must be doing this for some ulterior purpose. And they just refuse to take it seriously. I see it on campuses in the United States from the Left, I see it in the British Labour Party, I saw it in the women’s march in the United States – the leaders of the women’s march. You see it in many different places that they just don’t think antisemitism is a serious problem.”

Kearney closed the item at that point, with the BBC’s domestic listeners having heard nothing of substance on the topic of far-Right antisemitism in the UK or what Lipstadt termed “Islamist Jihadist extremists” and the highly relevant issue of links between that brand of antisemitism and the British Left.

While it was Kearney who raised the subject of the leader of the UK Labour party, she also found it necessary to challenge her expert guest’s observations by amplifying denials of Corbyn’s role in propagating antisemitism in a country in which 5% of adults do not believe the Holocaust happened, 8% say its scale is exaggerated and 64% cannot accurately state how many Jews were murdered.

As we shall see in part two of this post, the next day’s edition of the ‘Today’ programme returned to part of this interview with Deborah Lipstadt.

 

BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview highlights presenter’s Israel fixation

h/t RH, DK

A recent edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk’ was presented to viewers of the BBC World News channel and the BBC News channel on January 10th as follows:

“HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur speaks to Pinchas Goldschmidt, Chief Rabbi of Moscow and president of the Conference of European Rabbis. There is plenty of disturbing data pointing to a significant rise in overt anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States but why? How should the Jewish community respond? And how much reassurance and protection is being offered to Jews whose past has so often been written in blood? Is rising anti-Semitism a symptom of a liberal democratic order that is starting to crumble?”

A similar synopsis was presented in an audio version of the programme aired on BBC World Service radio on January 11th.

While the first part of the programme largely stuck to some of the subject matter presented in that synopsis, from around the middle of the interview presenter Stephen Sackur shifted the focus of the discussion, beginning by questioning whether opposition to the existence of the Jewish state is antisemitism. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

[14:07] Sackur: “Interesting you put it in the historical context throughout this interview. I felt from you a consciousness not just of the present but of the past in Europe and what has happened to Jews in the past. And it’s interesting that the former Chief Rabbi in Britain, Jonathan Sacks, he said, you know, ‘in the Middle Ages Jews were persecuted because of their religion, in the 19th and 20th centuries they were reviled because of their race and today in the 21st century Jews are attacked because of the existence of their nation-state, Israel’. Do you feel that Israel has now become front and centre in ways in which people who have antisemitic intent are now using the Israel issue to get at the Jewish people?”

Pointing out that not everyone who criticises Israel is an antisemite, Rabbi Goldschmidt went on:

Goldschmidt: “However, if you go and you delegitimise Israel […] and you say that every people in the world have a right to a nation-state besides the Jews, so that’s also another form of politically correct antisemitism which…”

Sackur [interrupts] “Is it? It’s anti-Israel and its government and its policies in occupied territory but is it antisemitism?

Sackur – who is apparently embarrassingly unaware that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism adopted by his own government categorises “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” as a form of antisemitism – next moved on to the topic of the leader of the British Labour party.

[15:44] Sackur: “When you observe in Britain the fall-out between the Jewish community and the leader of the main opposition party in the United Kingdom – Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party – with clear overt allegations from the Jewish establishment that Jeremy Corbyn has aided and abetted antisemitism, do you worry about the degree to which there is now this gulf between one of the main political parties and the Jewish community in Britain?”

When Rabbi Goldschmidt stated that the meaning of security for Jews is that they would fare equally well regardless of which political party was elected Sackur interjected:

[16:51] Sackur: “Well only if you’re suggesting to me that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party is an existential threat to the future of the Jewish community in Britain. Are you seriously saying that?”

Goldschmidt: “I think that the British Jewish community is the best to answer that. However I’ve seen the turbulence….”

Sackur [interrupts] “Let us remember that despite all of the allegations about Jeremy Corbyn and his actions in the past and his words in the past, Jeremy Corbyn insists that throughout his political career he has been a fighter against, an enemy of all forms of racism including, he always says, antisemitism.”

The remainder of the programme saw Sackur focus somewhat obsessively on one political figure who is of course unconnected to the supposed topic of the programme, beginning with employment of the ‘some people I’m not going to name say’ tactic.

[17:54] Sackur: “You see some observers of this debate and this argument and this rift that has developed see a fundamental hypocrisy amongst many Jewish people because while they castigate Jeremy Corbyn for some of his associations in the past, they look across the water to Israel, to the leader of Israel prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu who just recently hosted for five days of warmth and friendship prime minister Viktor Orban of Hungary who has long associations with far right elements including antisemitic elements in Hungary. Also they see Binyamin Netanyahu making a point of journeying all the way to Brazil to declare his friendship, alliance and partnership with the new president of Brazil, Mr Bolsonaro, who has a record – a long record – of making statements which are deeply troubling in terms of his attitude to minorities, to gay people, to women. Where’s the consistency here?”

The Hungarian prime minister’s July 2018 visit to Israel in fact lasted two days rather than five as inaccurately claimed by Sackur, who predictably had nothing to say about the representatives of 59 additional counties who attended the recent inauguration of Brazil’s new president.

When Rabbi Goldschmidt pointed out that British Jews do not vote for the prime minister of Israel Sackur interrupted him again:

Sackur: “But nobody’s accusing Binyamin Netanyahu of antisemitism because he develops a very warm friendship with Viktor Orban, who many Jews regard as deeply dangerous to the future of Jewish communities in Europe.”

Sackur did not provide any evidence for his claim of “a very warm friendship” between the prime ministers of Israel and Hungary and did not clarify whether or not he believes that, by the same standard, the British prime minister should be criticised for hosting the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince last year.

Interrupting his guest yet again, Sackur pursued his point:

[20:04] Sackur: “…let me ask you a very blunt question. What do you – as the chief of the Conference of European Rabbis – what do you think of Binyamin Netanyahu cosying up to Viktor Orban and the leadership in Poland, both of which have very troubling attitudes to many Jews in Europe?”

Goldschmidt: “I think that…”

Sackur [interrupts] “Just tell me what you think.”

Sackur then posed his fourth question relating to Israel’s prime minister.

[20:55] Sackur: “Just a final thought and it involves your personal life as well. You’ve made a life for the last 3 decades in Russia and actually the position for Jews in Russia appears on the face of it to have improved over the last 30 years. I dare say you’ve been involved in that. Binyamin Netanyahu – again quoting him – when there are serious, horrible terror attacks which involve Jewish people being killed in Europe, he always says to the Jews of – in this case I’m quoting France but the Jews of Europe – he says ‘listen, Israel isn’t just the place in whose direction you pray; the State of Israel is your home and Israel is waiting for you with open arms’. As a European Jew who’s made a life in Russia, do you think it is wise and helpful for the Israeli prime minister to constantly tell Jews that ultimately, by implication, the only safe place for Jews is in Israel?”

Failing to listen to Rabbi Goldschmidt’s answer – which included clarification of the importance of the existence of Israel “to all Jews” – Sackur interrupted him again.

Sackur: “I’m not sure you’re answering my specific point. Is it your perspective that Israel is ultimately the only safe place – truly safe place – for the Jewish people?”

This programme could have provided BBC audiences – both domestic and international – with some insight into the issue of antisemitism in Europe and how the Jewish minority living on the continent perceives its future.

Unfortunately, Stephen Sackur’s often aggressive focus on getting his own points across – including promotion of the notion that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism, defending Jeremy Corbyn, downplaying the fears of British Jews and his bizarre but long-held obsession with the current Israeli prime minister – meant that viewers and listeners lost a good deal of the opportunity to hear from one of the better informed voices on those issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Two presenter Victoria Derbyshire should read this A-Z thread on Labour antisemitism

As followers of BBC Watch no doubt recall, on Aug. 15th, BBC Two presenter Victoria Derbyshire interviewed two British Jews, Mark Lewis and his partner Mandy Blumenthal, to discuss their view that antisemitism in the UK has become so bad that they no longer felt safe living there, and had decided to emigrate to Israel.

As we noted at the time, the interview was so biased – and at times hostile – that the BBC presenter could have been mistaken for a Jeremy Corbyn spokesperson, as she spouted off meaningless Labour talking points, used misleading statistics attempting to downplay antisemitism and seemed convinced that the couple was grossly exaggerating their concerns – despite death threats and other forms of abuse they’ve experienced.  

Derbyshire even at one point – in an attempt to discredit their claims – accused Lewis and Blumenthal of belonging to a non-existent Zionist political party in the UK.

Yesterday, @GasherJew, a twitter account that’s been doing extremely important work exposing antisemitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, tweeted the following thread containing an A-Z of examples of Labour antisemitism.

The list is especially useful for journalists and pro-Corbyn activists who deny that antisemitism is a serious issue in the party, or suggest that the problem has been greatly exaggerated by the British Jewish community. (See web version of the twitter thread here)

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