The BBC is a globally important broadcaster, which is why I’m so sad that it’s institutionally blind to anti-Semitism
Headlines matter. a lot. and the one BBC news Online put on its report last week about a Jewhunting mob at an airport in dagestan amazed me. it read: ‘anti-israel mob storms dagestan airport in Russia.’
But the mob were not specifying ‘israel’ as their target. as the news story below the headline reported, one passenger ‘said he was let go after rioters told him: “We are not touching non- Jews today”’.
in fact, there is a small, ancient Jewish community in dagestan, some of whom could have been on that plane which had just landed at Makhachkala airport. if so, they, too, would have felt at mortal risk from the rioters.
Online newspaper reports coming out at the same time as the BBC’s all had headlines referring to this as a hunt for ‘Jews’. so why couldn’t those in the BBC’s newsroom responsible for its headline – over a story which itself made clear this was an anti-semitic riot — bring themselves to call this what it was?
a few hours after the story was put up, the headline did change to ‘dagestan: Mob storms Russian airport in search of Jews’. i gather the BBC switchboard had been buzzing with people making a similar point to mine, and a decision was taken to change the headline (although you will find no acknowledgment that the original version said something quite different).
still, the BBC moved quickly on this occasion — which is highly unusual. Take the way it dragged its editorial feet when confronted with evidence it had falsely blamed a group of Jewish teenagers for making anti-Muslim remarks, when they were themselves the true victims of a deeply unpleasant encounter in Oxford street, london, a couple of years ago.
Film taken by the students — who were in a hired bus for a trip celebrating the first day of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah — showed a group of men spitting, making nazi salutes, hurling abuse and banging on the vehicle’s windows.
as soon as the footage emerged, the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, responded, on Twitter (now X): ‘Racism of any kind will never be tolerated in our society.’
Yet when the BBC then produced its own report, it claimed that the teenagers inside the bus had made ‘slurs about Muslims’. as if, somehow, this was six of one and half a dozen of the other.
i discovered that this allegation of ‘antiMuslim’ slurs was not in the story submitted by the reporter involved, but came from within the BBC’s newsroom. it was unsubstantiated, and evidence later emerged that what the BBC claimed to be ‘Muslim slurs’ (in english) was actually one of the teenagers saying in Hebrew: ‘Call someone, it’s urgent.’
eventually the media regulator, Ofcom, ruled that the BBC had made a ‘serious editorial misjudgment’ and had failed to follow its own guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.
it was certainly astounding that the BBC somehow managed to describe the anti-semitic attack on the bus and the young people inside it as ‘alleged’, while presenting as a fact its own attempt to paint this as a provocation by those frightened young Jews.
Or perhaps not so astounding. Because the BBC, or at least a significant body of those responsible for its editorial decisions, seems to have become prey to a political ideology which, in essence, denies the possibility that Jews can be the subject of racism, because they are ‘white’; and therefore to be counted only as among the oppressors, never the oppressed.
This ideology has totally disfigured the discourse over israel and Hamas, especially among younger people and, above all, within our colleges and universities.
This leads them to greet as heroes the anti- semitic terrorists of Hamas, and that organisation’s sadistic massacres of Jewish civilians in southern israel as an act of righteous resistance against what they term ‘White settlers’.
Bear in mind that the wave of proPalestinian demonstrations in this country began in the immediate aftermath of that sadistic slaughter, before the counteraction by the israel defence Forces.
also bear in mind that, in reality, more than half of israel’s Jews are Mizrahi — that is, the descendants of those forced out from arab lands amid bloody riots when the state of israel was created in 1948.
You don’t get much of a sense of this from a great deal of the BBC’s coverage, which has long appeared to conform to an agenda that only the Palestinians are — ever — the true victims.
in October 2004, the BBC’s Barbara Plett produced a notorious broadcast in which she said she cried when the dying Yasser arafat was airlifted from his compound to hospital.
This was the chairman of the Palestine liberation Organisation, whose decision four years earlier to reject, even as a basis for negotiations, President Clinton’s proposals for a two-state solution based on Un security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 was perhaps the greatest missed opportunity in the whole long saga. The Palestinian people are as much as anything the victims of their own leaders.
We have seen this most graphically in Gaza under Hamas, which uses its own citizens as human shields, when it isn’t filling them with hatred to turn more of them into the sort of people who would perpetrate the atrocities that we saw, with horror, unfold on October 7.
actually, one BBC report did explain something of this process: in a 2019 documentary it quoted a Gazan saying of Hamas: ‘They excite you, they encourage you to rip a Yehudi’s head off.’
‘Yehudi’ is the word for ‘Jew’, in both arabic and Hebrew. Yet the BBC translated this as referring to israelis.
When a complaint was made that this completely missed the profoundly antisemitic meaning, the BBC responded: ‘We believe the translation of Yehudi to israeli was both accurate and true to the speaker’s intentions. We need to translate what the speaker means to say, not just the literal words.’
When you consider that the founding charter of Hamas quotes words attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, calling on Muslims to kill Jews — many hundreds of years before the modern state of israel came into being — then you can see that this is, yet again, a sort of corporate refusal to accept that what we are witnessing is murderous anti-semitism, as well as a movement that seeks to deny the existence of the state of israel (though the two are intimately connected).
The most damaging example of the BBC’s credulity in respect of Hamas’s true nature — damaging, that is, to the BBC’s own reputation — was when it unquestioningly transmitted the claims of Hamas that an israeli bomb had caused the slaughter of many hundreds of Palestinians at the al-ahli arab Hospital in Gaza.
neither element of that story (both the scale of the casualties and the alleged cause) was true.
But this falsehood — by the same organisation which had just massacred 1,400 civilians and rejoiced in it — was promoted by the BBC as a ‘push alert’: that is, pinged out instantly to all the millions, not just in this country but across the world, who subscribe to the BBC news app.
The effect of this wasn’t just to cause riots in the Middle east and the cancellation of a scheduled summit between the U.s. President and the leaders of the arab world. it can also only have raised the chances of more antisemitic incidents in this country — which have already seen a ‘massive increase’ in the past few weeks, according to the Metropolitan Police.
as the security Minister Tom Tugendhat told nick Robinson on the Today programme: ‘This was not the BBC’s finest hour.’ Tugendhat prefaced this devastating understatement by saying how it is precisely because the BBC is respected worldwide that it has to be much more careful in its coverage of this conflict.
i agree: the BBC is a globally important institution, with some of the world’s finest journalists, a number of whom i count as friends.
Which is why i am so sad that it is institutionally blind to anti-semitism.