Tuesday 10 June 2008

Is it time to give up on the BBC?, by Gavin Gross

From The Jerusalem Post:

It seems to reflexively turn to most extreme Israel critics available.

"In May I was invited to appear on BBC Radio 4's Sunday program, a religious news and current affairs show, to discuss the ZF's [Zionist Federation] upcoming "Israel 60" concert at London's Wembley Arena that attracted over 7,500 people. The producers also invited Ivor Dembina, a Jewish comedian performing at a Jewish Socialists' Group (JSG) dissenting event at a small hall in north London. Dembina had just signed a letter in The Guardian newspaper titled "We're not celebrating Israel's anniversary" which claimed that Israel was a "state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land" and which "even now engages in ethnic cleansing."

Despite the fact that the ZF's event would be at least 25 times the size of theirs and was supported by 50 mainstream Anglo-Jewish organizations, the BBC producers felt that as a matter of journalistic "balance" these two opposing views of Israel's 60th anniversary should be presented to their listeners. (...)

In the end I chose not to appear as I felt my time would be spent having to rebut these accusations against Israel rather than discussing our celebrations. Without a ZF spokesperson, the item was never broadcast.

In April I did appear in the BBC TV program Aliyah - The Journey Home? produced by its religion department and broadcast during Pessah as part of the BBC Charter's requirement for non-Christian programming. While I was told the program set out to examine the spiritual and religious motivations for British Jewish aliya, I was asked mainly political questions about the Palestinian right of return and Israel's treatment of its Arab citizens. The producers used Antony Lerman, an anti-Zionist Jewish academic, as one of their on-air experts even though Lerman has called publicly for the repeal of Israel's Law of Return and for the evolution of a single Israel-Palestine state. When I queried the use of Lerman on such a program, given that his views on aliya and Israel represent a tiny fringe of Anglo-Jewish opinion, the executive producer told me that Lerman had the support of significant Jewish figures such as Haim Bresheeth, who the producer referred to as a reputable academic and noted author.

Bresheeth, an Israeli-born academic and activist within the UK's University and College Union (UCU), regularly calls for a full boycott of Israeli academic institutions and was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as telling a "Resisting Israeli Apartheid" conference at London University that: "The occupation started in 1948" and "There is no valid comparison between South Africa and Israel; Israel is much worse. South Africa exploited its native population while Israel expelled and committed genocide against its native population." Is it ignorance or malice that would lead a BBC producer to credit this man with being an important representative of the Jewish community?

Finally, The Jerusalem Post's UK correspondent Jonny Paul was invited to appear on the BBC World Service's "World Have your Say" radio show in the run-up to Israel's 60th anniversary, alongside a Haaretz journalist and two Palestinian students from the Olive Tree scholarship program at London's City University. (...) when Paul arrived at the BBC's studios he was shocked to find Dr. Azzam Tamimi replacing one of the Palestinian students. Nicknamed "Kaboom" by bloggers, Tamimi is a Hamas supporter who doesn't believe Israel has a right to exist, supports suicide bombings within Israel, and famously told the BBC's Hardtalk TV program that he wanted to be a suicide bomber himself. Paul threatened to walk out of the studio but was eventually persuaded to stay. Various BBC programs use Tamimi as a Palestinian spokesperson. (...)

Due to this sort of journalistic decision-making, and the fact that as the national broadcaster the BBC claims 34 million domestic radio listeners weekly, the British public ends up with a distorted view of the situation in Israel and Anglo-Jewish opinion of it. This is not only a Jewish or Israeli issue. When a British Muslim radical attacked then Home Secretary John Reid at a public meeting saying he should not set foot in any Muslim neighborhood, he was promptly invited to present his views on BBC Radio 4's Today program."

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