On Monday night, a protest took place outside the BBC’s headquarters in London – jointly organised by the National Jewish Assembly, U.K. Lawyers for Israel and the European Jewish Association – against its continued bias and inaccurate coverage of the atrocities committed by Hamas.
No red paint was sprayed on the walls of Broadcasting House; there were no fireworks nor chants exhorting violence or ethnic cleansing. All that took place was a few speeches from campaigners, some songs and a few prayers.
The BBC’s decision to refer to Hamas as ‘militants’ rather than ‘terrorists’ is the latest example of a long history of sanitising Jew-hatred among Palestinians while demonising Israel’s efforts to defend itself. Given the scale and barbarity of the 7/10 atrocities, one has to ask the question: What would have to happen for the BBC’s leadership to get around a meeting table and agree: “Okay, Hamas has reached the bar now. Let’s start referring to them as terrorists”?
As a group of campaigning U.K. Jewish lawyers has already pointed out, Hamas is a proscribed terrorist organisation and has been for two years. That is not a matter of debate or discussion. It is a matter of legal fact.
As recently as July 2023, the BBC was compelled to apologise for the line of questioning taken by Anjana Gadgil with Naftali Bennet following a military operation in Jenin. She asked if “Israeli forces are happy to kill children”. This question and the pervasive BBC mindset behind it seems in particularly poor taste with the knowledge of what came to pass three months later. Unlike Hamas, the IDF has never entered a country with the express intention of murdering civilians.
The BBC has a history of sanitising the antisemitism that exists among many Gazans. The 2019 BBC documentary One Day in Gaza recorded daily life for Israelis in southern Israel and also that of Palestinians in Gaza. And yet when it recorded Gazans’ dialogue referring to Israelis as ‘Yehudi’ – Arabic for ‘Jews’ – it subtitled the word as ‘Israelis’. Why do this if not to sanitise Palestinian attitudes?
In the 2004 Balen Report, the BBC compiled its own investigation into historic antisemitism within the broadcaster but has not only refused to publish the report, it has spent some £350,000 of licence payers’ money on legal fees in order to prevent efforts to force it to do so.
In December last year, a parliamentary investigation was announced into the BBC’s coverage of Jews and Israel. This followed a petition set up by the Jewish Chronicle stimulated in part by the BBC’s coverage of an antisemitic attack on Jewish schoolchildren on London’s Oxford Street. The BBC said that an audio recording made during the incident included an anti-Muslim slur made from inside the bus, something for which there was no evidence. Ofcom found “significant editorial failings” in the BBC’s coverage.
At the same time that the parliamentary probe was announced, the BBC reformed its Arabic service, employing Output Monitors to enforce standards. As to how well that process went, we can only judge by some of the activity on social media by BBC News’s Arabic reporters. One endorsed a post describing October 7th as “a morning of hope”.
Language is important and never more so in the face of barbaric murder, outright terrorism and a climate of racial hatred and incitement to violence. During the Corbyn years, casual antisemitism and hatred of Israel became conflated but also normalised. The BBC has played an influential role in this normalisation. Last night’s small protest may have little or no impact and was dwarfed in scale by those over the weekend supporting Palestine. A small and marginalised Jewish community in Britain is grateful for government support and ministerial condemnation of those glorifying Hamas. It now needs the same from its national broadcaster.
Ian Price is a Business Psychologist. Find him on Twitter.