BBC and Antisemitism: Erasing Jews. In Memoriam Pete Newbon

While I was writing this news of Pete Newbon’s sudden death spread on Twitter. I didn’t know Pete but he was a highly respected and widely loved campaigner against antisemitism, a public figure of great dignity and warmth, and a young husband and father.

It is deeply sad news. May his memory be a Blessing.

Another attack on Jews in the US. The hostages escaped with their lives this time thank God.

The BBC’s headline for this latest attack was “Texas Synagogue hostage stand-off NOT RELATED TO JEWISH COMMUNITY (emphasis mine) — FBI”.

What?

The FBI’s initial statement was that the terrorist’s DEMANDS were “singularly focused on one issue and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community”

Which in itself is strange enough, and turned out to be completely false. The FBI issued a correction on Sunday night US time. The BBC Report, which frames the whole (hostage-taking in the Synagogue) incident, as somehow ‘not related’ to the Jewish community, and this ludicracy is still up at the time of writing.

The News at Ten report last night didn’t mention the words ‘Jews’ or ‘Antisemitism’ (I watched it twice to be sure). Not either of them. Not once.

The victims weren’t even identified as being Jews!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-60042491

Someone watching and not necessarily paying close attention (as many, understandably, don’t) might be forgiven for getting the impression the victims were chosen purely at random, even that they were four American citizens of miscellaneous backgrounds, who just happened to be gathered there that day (for Shabbat at Congregation Beth Israel).

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0013mvm/bbc-news-at-ten-170

The attacker, Malik Faisal Akram, of Blackburn, Lancashire, who was killed by police at the end of the siege, held a Rabbi and three other Jews at gunpoint for ten hours, demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui (imprisoned on an 86-year sentence for plotting to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan).

The Rabbi held hostage, Charlie Cytron-Walker, who heroically facilitated the escape by throwing a chair at the attacker, tells how the gunman insisted on calling a New York Rabbi, Angela Buchdahl.

“This was somebody who literally thought that Jews control the world,” Cytron-Walker said. “He thought he could come into a synagogue, and we could get on the phone with the ‘Chief Rabbi of America’ and he would get what he needed.”

https://forward.com/news/480928/beth-israel-hostage-standoff-charlie-cytron-walker/

Aafia Siddiqui, known as ‘lady al-Qaeda’’ also demanded at her trial her jury should be genetically tested to determine ‘Jewish blood’.

We have since learnt that the gunman was recorded ranting about Jews during the incident, and that he was reported to UK police by a local councillor for threatening to ‘bomb Jews’ a year ago

The whole incident is, without question, very clearly connected to the Jewish community from start to terrifying finish.

Why though is this the angle the BBC latches onto for its headline, going beyond even what the FBI’s bizarre statement said?

Why are some at the BBC apparently so keen to stretch for something (no matter how obviously erroneous) that can frame the attack as unrelated to antisemitism?

Knowing that many people won’t read past the headline, or hear much beyond the News at Ten. Or pay particular attention.

In all 8 of the BBC News articles on their website the only mentions of antisemitism were twice quoting Liz Truss as labelling it and act of…, and one reference to the gunman going on an ‘antisemitic rant’ as his ‘mental state deteriorates’. Even a keen reader, relying solely on the BBC’s output, might reasonably conclude, doubting Ms Truss as many reasonably do, that until that point it had nowhere been the motive.

This is a dangerous dereliction of duty at a time when Antisemitic Hate Crime is increasing in the UK and Jews are regularly targeted in deadly terrorist attacks in Europe and the US, most recently a UK citizen.

Who believed in the kind of antisemitic conspiracy theories promulgated by David Miller and Cllr Ron Cooper, in each of whose stories the BBC nowhere mentions antisemitism.

As we shall see the BBC is in these several cases — the 3 most prominent antisemitism stories in the UK in recent months and 2 further pertaining to the most prominent antisemitism story in the UK in recent years, severally in breach of BBC guidelines on Accuracy. And the responsibility in the BBC guidance on Impartiality and Racism to ‘raise awareness of the issues involved.

In each case serving to ignore, minimize, qualify, downplay or deny the role of antisemitism and in particular antisemitic conspiracy theory.

Let’s look at the evidence of the last few weeks alone:

  1. On 1st October 2021 the BBC reported on the long-awaited sacking of David Miller, an academic at Bristol University. Its headline :

“Bristol University — Professor David Miller sacked over Israel comments”

He is quoted in the article, though indirectly, (the BBC merely acknowledges that the Jewish Chronicle has reported this) as accusing Israel of wanting to “impose {its} will over all the world”.

It is suggested that it is chiefly this comment that is deemed to have been “inciting hatred against Jewish students”. Further down it also reports that he had also said students were part of a “drive to stop anyone speaking out on Palestine”

What he was actually sacked for, nowhere mentioned by the BBC, and this is on public record and widely reported elsewhere including in the Jewish Chronicle article cited and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism’s representations also cited (that these two sources are cited and so wildly misrepresented suggests that this is a wilful mischaracterisation of the case), was amongst many wild and incendiary statements, accusing the University’s Jewish Society of being “political pawns [used] by a violent, racist foreign regime”, that all University Jewish Societies are “ directed by Israel” and that Bristol University’s Jewish Society is part of a “Zionist movement”, a movement he elsewhere characterises as “the enemy of the left, the enemy of world peace, {who} must be directly targeted”.

It is claimed that ‘dozens’ had said his comments made students feel unsafe. There was a petition with over 5,000 signatures, an open letter signed by hundreds of academics, and letters signed by over 100 parliamentarians from all parties (which is even mentioned further down in the BBC report).

All of which centred on the direct targeting of Jewish students as directly involved in a malign conspiracy, indeed a threat to world peace that ‘must be directly targeted’. He was teaching this stuff in class.

In his statement when sacked (again this is not mentioned by the BBC) he repeats the canard: “Israel’s assets in the UK” have been “emboldened by the University collaborating with them to shut down teaching about Islamophobia.”

The attack is on UK Jewish students, including those at his own University, accusing them of being agents of a foreign power, a fifth column.

This is why he was sacked.

The BBC would have you believe it was merely for trenchant criticism of Israel, the word antisemitism only crops up in this report with a passing mention of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism.

2) Then on Monday 29th November a busload of Hassidic Jewish teenagers celebrating Chanukah was attacked by thugs in Oxford Street. The attackers were filmed spitting, giving Nazi salutes, and trying to smash the bus’ windows.

The BBC’s report headlined it — “Alleged anti-Semitic bus row treated as hate crime”

‘Alleged’. ‘Row’. They were filmed giving Nazi salutes and attacking the bus.

The BBC’s report further claims that “A slur about Muslims can also be heard from inside the bus”.

This is denied by all those who were on the bus, they are backed up by independent forensic audio experts and a Hebrew-speaking linguist who conclude (having cleaned up and slowed down the recording) that what is actually said is the Hebrew phrase ““Tikrah lemishu,ze dachuf” meaning: “Call someone, it is urgent.”

https://www.thejc.com/news/news/damning-new-evidence-undermines-bbc%27s-oxford-street-racist-slur-claim-5QMDcvQg2mg3yAXxTJIzif

That the recording could plausibly suggest either interpretation shows how difficult it is to hear.

It is not usual in any case for reports of a racist attack to focus on anything the victims might have said whilst under attack that might be considered blameworthy.

The BBC however continue in the face of anguished protests to refuse to apologise to the victims or even to qualify the accusation against them with the acknowledgement of any doubt on the matter.

The report is still up unchanged.

3) On the 7th January 2021 the BBC reported on the suspension of Ron Cooper — the headline is “West Lancashire Labour councillor suspended over Sir Keir Starmer tweet”.

Only in the report itself does it mention that the tweet in question accused Keir Starmer of ‘following commands from Israel’.

That same accusation again, of being a fifth column. Nowhere does the article mention Jews or antisemitism.

4) And just in the last week Rachel Burden, a presenter on Radio Five Live Breakfast, claimed on air (referring to an interview she had conducted with businessman John Cauldwell in which he accused Jeremy Corbyn of being an antisemite) that

“I should have challenged him on the particular allegation of antisemite because there is absolutely no evidence that the leader of the Labour Party at that time, Jeremy Corbyn, was or is antisemitic. He had to deal with allegations of that within his party but there is nothing to suggest that he himself as an individual was. So I apologise for not challenging more directly, I should have done, and I want to emphasise there is no evidence for that at all.”

Now it might feasibly be argued that such evidence as there is does not constitute conclusive proof that Corbyn himself is antisemitic. Certainly it would be right to acknowledge that he strongly disputes such an assertion.

But given the Mural, the Wreath, his comments about Hamas and Raed Saleh, his associations with Paul Eisen, his glowing Foreword to an antisemitic book, his comments about British Zionists lacking a sense of ‘English irony… despite having lived here a long time, probably all their lives’, not to mention the Labour Party under his leadership being found guilty of harassing and discriminating against Jewish members, there is, to say the least, a feasible case for the prosecution.

The vast majority of British Jews believe there is a persuasive case.

Given all that and much else besides, it is not remotely accurate to say there is ‘absolutely… no evidence at all’.

No correction or clarification has been issued.

https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/more-than-85-per-cent-of-british-jews-think-jeremy-corbyn-is-antisemitic-1.469654

https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/the-key-questions-jeremy-corbyn-must-answer-1.68097

https://medium.com/@sararoseofficial/everything-i-never-wanted-to-have-to-know-about-labour-and-antisemitism-649b5bc1e576

What there is evidence of, the above examples suggest, is a marked tendency on the part of some BBC reporters to go to sometimes quite extraordinary lengths to ignore, deny, or relativize antisemitism.

This needn’t involve a grand antisemitic conspiracy amongst racists at the BBC (who are far from the only offenders), perhaps it is enough that some reporters have spent the last few years operating in a political milieu where claims of antisemitism are often treated as prima facie dubious, not to be taken seriously, likely even to be an underhand stratagem to achieve disreputable objectives.

A milieu where Jews don’t count.

Due to Charlie Cytron-Walker’s heroism the victims escaped unscathed on this occasion. Others haven’t been so lucky —

There was Overland, Kansas (2014, 3 dead), Pittsburgh (2018, 11 dead), Poway, California (2019, 1 dead), Jersey City (2019, 5 dead) and Monsey, New York (2019, 1 dead).

In Europe we have seen in recent years attacks on Jews in Toulouse (2012, 4 dead), Brussels (2014, 4 dead), Paris (2015, 4 dead) Copenhagen (2015, 1 dead), Halle (2019, 2 dead).

Sarah Halimi. Mireille Knoll.

The Overland, Pittsburgh and Poway shooters blamed Jews for the problems of White people.

The Jersey City attacker blamed Jews for the problems of Black people.

The Beth Israel and European attackers blamed Jews for the problems of Muslims.

All subscribed to some variation of the beliefs that Jews have monstrous powers of conspiracy, that they use for deeply malevolent ends.

That they are a fifth column.

This attacker was British, it could happen here too. Jewish schools and synagogues in the UK will again be reviewing their security arrangements this week, trying not to wonder if they could be next.

Jews account for around 2% of the population of the US, about 0.2% of the population of Europe, and less than 0.5% of the population of the UK.

They are (massively) disproportionately the victims of terrorist attacks in the West, and (massively) disproportionately the victims of recorded racist hate crimes more generally.

The threat is not only propagated by those who plan and enact murderous violence, it is being fuelled by those (like David Miller) who spread these lurid fantasies of conspiracy, and by extension those (at the BBC and elsewhere, for this reflex is very widespread) who refuse to see this for what it is, whose instincts are always to seek to deny, minimize and excuse antisemitism.

Who therefore seem unable to recognise or acknowledge it, unable to say the words, even when it’s armed and dangerous.

Say the words.

Ze dachuf. It’s urgent.

Thanks for your time.

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Tam Heinitz

Tam Heinitz

Waiter. Jew. Pianist. Reader. Hibs Fan. Islander. Outsider. Enthusiast. Flaneur.