BBC: ‘Israel is deeply controversial’ and BDS is a ‘human rights’ group

For years the BBC has reported stories relating to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) without adequately clarifying to its audiences that what that campaign ultimately seeks to achieve is the end of Israel as the Jewish state.  Moreover, in August 2015, we learned that the BBC considers the provision of such crucial background information “not our role“.

Nevertheless, one might have expected that in two reports specifically relating to the issue of support for the BDS campaign from student unions in British universities, the corporation would have made an effort to get the facts right.

On April 27th BBC Two’s current affairs programme ‘Victoria Derbyshire’ included a report by Jon Ironmonger (available here or here) about a Charity Commission investigation into 17 student unions that have endorsed the BDS campaign.

Having told audiences that Israel is “one subject” that “bitterly divides” students, Ironmonger went on to inform them that:

“The Jewish state of Israel is deeply controversial; accused of wide-ranging human rights abuses against the Palestinian people and provoking anger around the world.”

He of course provided no evidence for that “human rights abuses” smear.

Audiences were later told that: [emphasis added]

“Students’ unions in increasing numbers have been voting to adopt strict anti-Israel policies under the banner of a global movement called BDS – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. […]

BDS pressures Israel to end the occupation of Arab lands by calling for the boycott of Israeli companies and institutions.”

Obviously the use of such partisan terminology to describe disputed territory is not consistent with supposed BBC editorial standards of impartiality.

That report included two appearances by Sai Eglert who was described on screen as a “student teacher” and portrayed by Ironmonger as “a member of the Palestine Society at SOAS”. Viewers were not told that Eglert – who has appeared in BBC content before – is a BDS supporter and anti-Israel campaigner.

While interviewing a Jewish student about his experiences, Ironmonger appeared to question the existence of antisemitism at some UK universities.

“What’s fueling this antisemitism – if you like – on campus?” [emphasis added]

In addition to the filmed report, Ironmonger also produced a written article which was published on the BBC News website’s UK page on April 27th under the headline “Concerns raised over students’ unions’ anti-Israel stance“.

The portrayal of the BDS campaign in that article was no better. 

“Seventeen student bodies have endorsed the BDS movement – which calls for an international boycott of Israel over the way it treats Palestinians. […]

The BDS – which stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – describes itself as a human rights organisation and criticises Israel for its human rights record.

It says it stands for “freedom, justice and equality”, saying it is “inclusive and categorically opposes as a matter of principle all forms of racism” – including anti-Semitism.”

Had audiences been told in the BBC’s own words that the BDS campaign is opposed to Jews having the basic human right to self-determination in their own country and that denial of Israel’s right to exist is considered – including by the UN Secretary General and according to the definition adopted by the UK government – to be a form of antisemitism, they would have been able to put the BDS campaign’s claim to be a non-racist human rights organisation into its correct context.

The subject matter of Jon Ironmonger’s two reports is important and serious. It is therefore all the more regrettable that BBC audiences were not provided with the full range of information critical for proper understanding of this story. 

 

 

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BBC Education ignores assault on free speech at UCL

As readers may be aware, a talk by an Israeli speaker at University College London (UCL) on October 27th, which was organised by CAMERA on Campus together with student groups from that university and King’s College London (KCL), was disrupted by anti-Israel activists. Members of the audience were intimidated and harassed and eventually had to be evacuated by the police.

“Police had to accompany Jewish students from a lecture hall at a London university after they were trapped by anti-Israel protesters. […]

Officers entered the room and carried out an evacuation of members of UCL’s Friends of Israel group amid chaotic scenes.

Demonstrators had entered the room to fly Palestinian flags and chant. The event was being live-streamed online and the disruption was clear on the video footage, with protesters banging on windows and screaming “Palestine! Palestine!”.”

A first-hand account of the incident can be found here. This latest pre-planned disruption aimed at closing down free speech for an Israeli speaker at a British university has been condemned by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and additional Jewish groups as well as by Sir Eric Pickles. The university has announced that it will carry out an inquiry into the incident.education-page

The incident of course received wide media coverage, including from many of the UK’s prominent outlets such as the Times, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Independent, the Express, the Evening Standard and LBC.

However, members of the BBC’s funding public looking for that story on the corporation’s website – including the regional and ‘Education‘ pages – over the last four days would not have come across any coverage of the incident whatsoever.

Related Articles:

Big BBC yawn at anti-Israel incidents in UK universities

BBC News website buries Oxford University Labour Club story

Mainstreaming the Livingstone Formulation on BBC Radio 4

 

Mainstreaming the Livingstone Formulation on BBC Radio 4

Listeners to the March 20th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ heard an item (from 20:32 here) described in the synopsis as follows:R4 Sunday 20 3

“The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has written to the government expressing his shock and concern about rising reports of anti-Semitism at UK universities. Bob Walker reports.”

Listeners heard from a variety of contributors including York University undergraduate Zachary Confino who noted the recent staging there of the play ‘Seven Jewish Children’ – considered by some to be at best inflammatory and by many to be antisemitic – and that decision was defended by Habib Nasser; a member of the university’s Palestine Solidarity Society which organized the performance.

Additional contributors highlighted the issue of social media before Walker turned to the Oxford University Labour Club story and reactions to that ongoing issue were heard from Labour party members John Mann and Lucy Powell.

However, the most remarkable feature of this item – which supposedly intends to inform listeners about the issue of antisemitism in UK universities – came at 27:45 when Bob Walker introduced his final contributor.

BW: “Pro-Palestinian students say they’re worried that legitimate debate and criticism of Israel is being wrongly interpreted as antisemitism. Sai Englert is a Jewish student who supports the Palestinian solidarity movement.

Englert: “I don’t think it particularly comes from Jewish organisations; it comes from all sorts of pro-Israeli organisations that tried to use this as a defence mechanism. I think that’s very worrying. We need to be able to be very effective and very unified in our struggle against racism, against Islamophobia, against antisemitism and that these attempts to muddle [sic] the waters and conflate all Jews with Israel in order to avoid addressing the political questions by defenders of Israel, I think is very worrying.”

In other words, listeners to BBC Radio 4 were told that “defenders of Israel” deliberately employ false claims of antisemitism in order to shut down debate.

Known as the Livingstone Formulation, the purpose of that claim was described by the person who named it, David Hirsch, as follows:

 “the use of the Livingstone Formulation is intended to make sure that the raising of the issue of anti-Semitism, when related to ‘criticism of Israel,’ remains or becomes a commonsense indicator of ‘Zionist’ bad faith and a faux pas in polite antiracist company.”

Lesley Klaff describes it as:

“…the practice of responding to claims of contemporary antisemitism by alleging that those making the claim are only doing so to prevent Israel from being criticised; in other words, they are ‘playing the antisemitism card.’” 

So who is the person selected by the BBC to inform its audiences that what they hear about antisemitism on UK campuses might actually be a “mechanism” to shut down “criticism of Israel”?

Sai Englert is indeed a PhD candidate at SOAS. He is also an anti-Israel activist who believes that “[t]he colonisation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 are today well documented and generally recognised as facts” and a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign aimed at bringing an end to Jewish self-determination.

In an article published by the ‘Socialist Worker’ in October 2015, Englert described the scene of the October 3rd terror attack in Jerusalem in which Nechemia Lavi and Aharon Benita were murdered as follows:

“In the street where two armed settlers were killed on Saturday, a large crowd of their accomplices were holding a sit-in: guitars, songs, candles and flags, as well as signs in English and Hebrew calling for revenge, for retaliation, for justice. They laugh and chat, for the most part in perfect North American English accents–or terrible Hebrew–about “their neighborhood,” “their land,” “their houses.” […]

Zionism is unleashing its military power once more on the Palestinian population, and the West continues to foot the bill and support the colonial project. Demonstrations, actions and BDS campaigns should pop up across the globe in response to this situation. It won’t free Palestine or stop the current onslaught, but it can continue to increase the pressure on our leaders and their Israeli friends. It can make clear that the world is not only watching, but fighting back, in solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people, against colonialism and racial supremacy.”

Englert has previously described objections to the BDS campaign as ‘smears’ – using language which amply clarifies his position.

Englert tweet

It is hence entirely unsurprising that Englert would make use of the platform provided by BBC Radio 4 to promote the Livingstone Formulation because doing so serves his ideological and political agenda.

The question which must be posed is why the producers of this programme found Englert’s allegations worthy of inclusion, promotion and mainstreaming in an item ostensibly intended to inform audiences about the growing – and serious – problem of antisemitism in UK universities.