Thursday 30 July 2015

Antisemitism and the media

We hear that there’s a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents, perhaps because Jews are now more likely to report them. (Or because of the negative way Israel and Jews are portrayed in the British media.) The Today programme announced this news clearly enough, but didn’t seem curious about the how, the why or the wherefore.  

Get an earful of Ajmal Masroor’s ugly Speech about Zionism and the Zionist Lobby. Do listen, at least for a few minutes.
Masroor is one of the BBC’s go-to faces of normative, moderate Islam. He’s a frequent guest on The Big Questions. 

In his comfort zone, away from the BBC and in front of a fawning congregation of brothers and sisters this grinning puppet believes he is a big man. He puts on an act. For this audience he’s the ranting, raving fanatic, spewing out a stream of anti-British, anti-Israel, illogical, lying rubbish, delivered with a histrionic yet faltering Shakespearian swagger interspersed with Arabic.

Think Sir Laurence Olivier reciting Mehdi Hasan’s cattle diatribe with a touch of the late Ian Paisley; mix in the Zionist lobby, Palestine, racism, Jewish supremacism, the biggest concentration camp in the world while channeling 'Hamlet'. Then add a tearful six-year old girl/boy sobbing on the phone, double it and stick a cherry on top.

There you have Imam Masroor, the person the BBC has the cheek and the idiocy to beam into our homes on a Sunday morning without a health warning.  Then try and work out why Muslims believe what they do. 


People often use the term “friends” loosely, other than in a strictly literal way. They say it sarcastically, or sort of ironically, as in ‘our feathered friends’, or slightly disparagingly if they were referring to a bunch of delinquents. 

For example I don’t know if Bill Grundy ever said “our friends the Sex Pistols”, but he probably would not have meant it literally if he did.
We also use ‘friends’ as a collective term for people to whom we are kindly disposed, but don’t necessarily know personally. In other words, in the way we assume Jeremy Corbyn means it when he refers to Hamas and Hezbollah. Of course he could have been using the term cynically, but he didn’t claim that.

Obsessing about one potentially ambiguous word in isolation produces a lazy, unconvincing argument. That interview on Channel 4, the one with ‘friends’.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s tactic  - attempted ‘demolition by repetition’ - was originally created by Jeremy Paxman on a bad day, and unfortunately, much copied thereafter. 
Who could forget Michael Howard - “did you or did you not”-  and while we’re at it, remember Mishal Husain’s infamous “How many Israelis were killed?” with Gill Hoffman. (not enough for her) I call that cheap, lazy, wrong-headed and low.

It was refreshing in one way though. At least Guru-Murthy tackled an awkward subject - antisemitism - albeit tangentially. It doesn’t matter what word Jeremy Corbyn uses when he refers to radical Islamic Jew-hating militia. It’s the fact that he supports them, speaks alongside them at rallies and participates in questionable Palestinian solidarity events that is the problem. Or should be.

In this BBC-led nationwide drive to embrace diversity, a frightening number of people are willing to turn a blind eye to antisemitism. When Jeremy Corbyn is interviewed the questioner, Andrew Marr for instance, will usually ignore the issue altogether. I do wonder what would have happened if Corbyn had actually held his hands up and said yes, I sympathise with my friends Hamas and Hezbollah, and although I am not an antisemite I can understand  those that are. He wouldn’t be the first one to say that. Then Guru-Murthy might have said, “Oh! So do I!” and they could have lived happily ever after.

Polls show that Muslims are generally ill-disposed towards Jews, if not individual Jews - some of whom may be their best friends - they’re almost universally opposed to the existence of Israel (as the Jewish state) and most are immersed in the narrative of the Palestinian media machine.  
Everybody knows this, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. In their need to embrace diversity, antisemitism is a kind of under-the-counter glitch that cannot be directly confronted. It bothers me though, quite a lot. It bothers me that it doesn’t bother you.
Corbyn thinks we should include the views of all comers in any debate, however unpalatable they might be.  People who embrace unacceptable ideas often plead that ‘silencing’ their unpopular views and opinions has a chilling effect on freedom of speech.

One might wonder what’s the point of trying to talk to intransigent bodies like Hamas and Hezbollah. No amount of talking will alter their genocidal aspirations. Unlike their equally inflexible ideological compatriots ISIL, Hamas and Hezbollah may be willing to bamboozle their gullible western opponents by making superficially plausible concessions, but at heart they will not be diverted from their core values.  Just like ISIL, they want to destroy Israel, kill Jews, restore the Middle East to undiluted Jew-free Islamic Statehood and be left to prosecute their Shia-Sunni differences in peace. Not in peace, but undisturbed.

Which brings me to Peter Oborne. Peter Oborne is a highly rated political pundit and another of those high profile personalities with  disturbing friendships. Hardly anyone seems to notice this, but if they do it doesn’t appear to bother them. They still employ Oborne on the BBC fairly regularly and treat his opinions with considerable respect. However, his latest project did ruffle a few feathers.
People have been wondering why the Guardian is giving a platform to Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Peter Oborne’s friendly chat with Abdul Wahid has been widely disseminated by way of the full-page spread in Guardian. 

In what appears to be an attempt to disparage David Cameron’s policy on “those he calls extremists”, (Oborne impliedly wouldn’t call them that himself) Oborne, like Corbyn, believes that we need to talk to them, whomever they are, especially if they’re opposed to Israel, or have been associated with extremism, or have been kicked out of HSBC. 
As the latest round of this debate has unfolded, one voice has been noticeably absent: that of the alleged extremist.” 
he declares, in his puff piece about his good friend Abdul Wahid.
Oborne proceeds to chat convivially to his occasional dinner companion, and he shares the conversation with us adding his own observations courtesy of the Guardian. 

He tackles Islam’s policies on terrorism, democracy and women, but what I’m more concerned about at the minute is the following: 
“I turn to the charge that his organisation is antisemitic. Fifteen years ago HT published a notorious article entitled The Muslim Ummah will never submit to the Jews.
It contained unpleasant language, some of which I read out to Wahid, and invite him to denounce the article. He refuses. “HT is not antisemitic at all, but we are absolutely anti-Zionist”
Oborne presents a verbatim account of Wahid’s justification of that dubious claim, the gist being: “It’s not about the Jews, but all about Israel, therefore understandable” and  “It’s out of context, lost in translation, merely the rhetoric of conflict” 

We must hear him out, Oborne says. The Guardian must let his views have an airing, otherwise there’s that ‘chilling effect,’ that obstructive shutting down of debate. Only it’s not really a debate, it’s more a matter of weasel words and spin unconvincingly masking outright antisemitism. 
The rest of the piece includes an affectionate snippet of biographical detail, a kind of apologia for HT and an admiring description of Wahid’s library. ‘He’s well-read, is my non-extremist friend. A cultured chap and an all-round good egg. “
“You can say many things about Wahid, and be appalled by much of what he says. But in a democracy he surely has the right to say it. Whatever the government thinks.”
There are 976 comments below the line, and not all of them very sympathetic I’m pleased to see, although there are still plenty of Israel-bashing contributors who nevertheless seem slightly uncomfortable with Abdul Wahid and Hizb ut-Tahrir.  

Oborne’s pretence of even-handedness is particularly worrying. In his “Israel lobby” days, (2009) he takes great pains to say that he had been to Israel on a trip funded by Conservative Friends of Israel, and had ‘tried to understand’. 
No pressure was put on me, at the time or later, to write anything in favour of Israel. The trip, which was paid for by the CFI, certainly enabled me to understand much better the Israeli point of view.”
In the event he evidently didn’t understand it at all. He clearly demonstrated that by citing the Gaza death toll and making an ignorant reference to Israel’s war crimes.

Of David Cameron’s speech at a Conservative Friends of Israel  lunch at the Dorchester  Oborne observes:
I was shocked to see that Cameron made no reference at all to the invasion of Gaza, the massive destruction it caused, or the 1,370 deaths that had resulted. Indeed, Cameron went out of his way to praise Israel because it “strives to protect innocent life”. I found it impossible to reconcile the remarks made by the young Conservative leader with the numerous reports of human rights abuses in Gaza.” [...]“It is impossible to imagine any British political leader showing such equanimity and tolerance if British troops had committed even a fraction of the human rights abuses and war crimes of which Israel has been accused.”
Wrong! On several counts, just wrong! 
This comes from the preamble to a written outline or a transcript of his Jewish Lobby “Dispatches” programme for Channel 4, which, for all its bluster amounted to nothing but an elaborate sensationalised hullaballoo about very little. However it does come remarkably close to the conspiracy theory nonsense that David Cameron gave as a specific example of the kind of thing we don’t need in these dangerous times.  

The BBC comes into the picture too. Did you know that the Jewish lobby puts a lot of effort into bullying the BBC?  Apparently Ben Bradshaw said:
“I’m afraid the BBC has been cowed by this relentless and persistent pressure from the Israeli government and they should stand up against it.”
Oborne even knows what’s in the Balen report.
“In October, the High Court finally ruled that the BBC does not have to publish the report, which has become an obsession for Israel’s supporters, who hold this up as the BBC trying to hide its anti-Israel bias.This is dubious. We have spoken to one of the very few people who have read the report. He says that far from concluding the BBC’s coverage was biased against Israel, it simply finds examples where more context should have been given. If anything, our source claims, the impression given is that the BBC is sympathetic to Israel.”
Oborne’s piece is little more than a detailed run-down of everyone and everything that has or might have Zionist lobbying connections, direct or indirect. It reads like those websites whose sole purpose was to  point out ‘Who’s a Jew.’ Do they still exist?

Covering his back from litigious Jewish tentacles, he says:
“ The pro-Israel lobby does nothing wrong, or illegal. It is not sinister and it is not unusual. It cannot be too much stressed that British public life is populated by all kinds of interest groups, many of them extremely active at Westminster. “
‘It’s just’, he claims, “that it’s not transparent.” 

Incidentally Oborne should be perfectly aware that  BICOM trips are more than matched by the CAABU trips. He should very well know that the Jewish lobby is outweighed by numerous pro-Palestinian and BDS organisations that are more vociferous, more overtly racist, more obnoxious, than the Jewish lobby. As Oborne admits, lobbying is part and parcel of the democratic process.

Since Oborne cites the Guardian I should mention someone else who paid a visit to Israel and came back with a bizarre tale that conveyed the opposite of the reality that was before his very (tight shut) eyes. It was of course Alan Rusbridger.  His short trip to Israel (2001) is described by Tom Gross. H/T UK Media Watch. (Also present on this trip was Ian Katz of BBC Newsnight.)

Despite being given, at first hand, the chance to observe the polite and courteous manner of Israeli soldiers, the relatively good standard of living enjoyed by Arab residents of Bethlehem and having had the opportunity to oversee their un-troublesome passage between Bethlehem and Israel, on his return Rusbridger wrote a poisonous travesty of what he had witnessed, which was published in the Spectator. 
In a conversation with Oborne, his friend Rusbridger also refers to the chilling effect:
“I think it would be a terribly dangerous thing if the British press were made to feel that they couldn’t criticise Israel because they are going to be held up as anti-Semitic. I think it is a very disreputable argument.”

Tom Gross says:
“He went on to give some examples – taken out of context – of shooting incidents, and of Palestinian poverty he had witnessed in what he called the “large prison” of Gaza. He wrote of the “endless humiliating queues waiting to pass through Israeli army checkpoints.” There was no mention of our very different experience crossing into the “occupied West Bank.” “

“About the same time that Rusbridger published his Spectator article, he wrote a massive editorial in The Guardian, running to well over 2,000 words, entitled “Between Heaven and Hell.” A pull quote was reproduced in large type in a box on The Guardian’s front page. It read:“We are forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about how the dream of a sanctuary for the Jewish people in the very land in which their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped has come to be poisoned. The establishment of this sanctuary has been bought at a very high cost in human rights and human lives. It must be apparent that the international community cannot support this cost indefinitely.”

Why? why would these people abuse their position in order to propagate their antisemitic agenda?
Since this blog is principally about the BBC, here is the whole of Tom Gross’s BBC related section. It was written in 2001, 14 years ago. Nothing much has changed.

 THE BALANCED BBC?A good deal of the selective reporting derives from the fact that both the print and broadcast media rely heavily on Associated Press and Reuters to provide the text, photos and film footage from the West Bank and Gaza. In turn, the news agencies are heavily dependent on a whole network of Palestinian stringers, freelancers and fixers all over the territories to provide instant reports or footage of events. 
 As Ehud Ya’ari, Israel television’s foremost expert on Palestinian affairs, put it recently: “The vast majority of information of every type coming out of the area is being filtered through Palestinian eyes. Cameras are angled to show a tainted view of the Israeli army’s actions and never focus on the Palestinian gunmen. Written reports focus on the Palestinian version of events. And even those Palestinians who don’t support the Intifada dare not show or describe anything embarrassing to the Palestinian Authority, for fear they may provoke the wrath of Yasser Arafat’s security forces.”
Sometimes the local Palestinians admit their bias. For example, Fayad Abu Shamala, the BBC’s Gaza correspondent for the past ten years, told a Hamas rally on May 6 that “journalists and media organizations [are] waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people.” Yet no British paper (apart from the local Anglo-Jewish press) agreed to publicize these remarks. The best the BBC could do in response to requests from Israel that they distance themselves from these remarks, was to issue a statement saying, “Fayad’s remarks were made in a private capacity. His reports have always matched the best standards of balance required by the BBC.” 

The principal reason for the bias, however, is that many western correspondents sent to cover the Middle East are not in effect living in Israel, but in occupied Palestine, as they perceive it. Whereas many pride themselves on knowing some Arabic, few make any effort to learn Hebrew. As a result, they are detached from Israeli life. Their encounters with Israelis are mainly with government and army spokespeople, or other kinds of bureaucrats – being asked irritating questions at airports, being kept in line renewing visas, and so on.
The fault here ultimately lies with the bureaus themselves. Most would not send correspondents to Paris without French, or to Cairo without Arabic, or to Moscow without Russian. Even in Prague, where I worked for three years, the foreign reporters all spent many months learning Czech. 

Occasionally, the media has responded in print to Jewish concerns over Western media reporting. They have not been sympathetic. David Leigh, the Guardian’s comment editor (in an article headlined “Media Manipulators,”) dismissed Jews who had criticized the paper’s Israel coverage as “right-wing extremists.” Another Guardian columnist wrote that at least some of the protests were “sinister” and directed by “a shadowy ultra-orthodox Jewish group.” 

A senior figure in the British media (a Jew) told me: “When Indians and Pakistanis in Britain have raised complaints about reporting in our newspaper, their concerns were treated with some respect, and often they received an apology. But when Jews complained, they were shrugged off or treated with contempt for even suggesting bias. England seems to be a country where to accuse somebody of anti-Semitism is far more impolite than being one.”
Again, when the deputy director of Israel’s foreign ministry said that the BBC’s coverage of Israel is “tinged with anti-Semitism,” BBC special correspondent Fergal Keane said this was a “contemptible” and “ludicrous” charge.”

The Guardian is under new management, the BBC is under scrutiny, Jeremy Paxman has left Newsnight, but Jeremy Bowen is still in post, the new Guardian editor is even more anti-Israel than Rusbridger and Islamic State is chopping people up. Obama has made an unforced error by entering into a deal which weakens the west and has caused the Iranian Ayatollahs much mirth, which they’ve Tweeted about triumphantly. Everyone under a certain age is going to vote for Jeremy Corbyn for leader of the Labour Party, and they neither know nor care which Islamic extremists he’s friendly with.  

Tom Gross ends his article by asking   DOES IT MATTER?Does the bias, in the end, matter? In my view, it does, and not just because the truth is always important.
For one thing, it is clear that inaccurate reporting is influencing international diplomatic efforts. A distorted picture of events is helping to produce correspondingly distorted policies, particularly in Europe.
Then, as Shimon Peres pointed out recently, there are cases where media bias bears a direct responsibility for encouraging acts of violence. Peres cited the example of a local Fatah leader caught by an Israeli army camera saying, “Don’t start the stoning yet. I have just been told that CNN crew is stuck in traffic near Ramallah.”
In addition, as Jewish organizations in Europe and beyond can confirm, there is a clear link between inflammatory reporting about Israel and physical attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in the countries where the reports are published or broadcast. Correspondents may not realize it, but their unfair reporting plays into pre-existing anti-Semitic feelings.

Emphasis added.
The systematic building up a false picture of Israel as aggressor, and deliberate killer of babies and children, is helping to slowly chip away at Israel’s legitimacy. How can ordinary people elsewhere not end up hating such a country? And contrary to the perceptions of some, Israel is not a big tough major power that can withstand such international antagonism indefinitely. As the Jews have learnt only too well, acts of wholesale destruction and ultimately genocide did not just spring forth in a vacuum: they were the product of a climate. The international media is not an innocent bystander in this affair.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Well, that WAS a rant! There are few good guys in this story. Troublemakers and nasties on both sides. The British had no right to establish Israel in the first place and displace the people living in the chosen land, but having said that, more evil would come from removing the millions of Israelis than accepting the Israeli state, now long established. But that is not a licence for the Israelis to do as they please in the region. They should withdraw to those original boundaries accepted by the United Nations in 1948 (?). Retention of occupied territories is a sure sign that Israel does not want peaceful co-existence with its neighbours.

    1. But the question is not "Is Israel perfect?" but "Why is Israel being held to a higher standard than, for instance, China - illegally occupying and committing genocide in Tibet, or India over Kashmir, or the Russian Federation over its imperial possessions such as Chechnya, or the USA for its occupation of Mexican land or ...well any number of places around the world."

    2. I don't steal just because some of my neighbours steal. Israel claims to be a civilised democratic country but refuses to behave like one.

    3. Well said, Anonymous !

    4. Chielamangus,
      The counter-argument which is pretty much unbeatable was that Israel was attacked in wars, defended itself and the attackers gave up territory (that historically belonged to Israel) in retreat and defeat. Israel has decided, thus far, to retain their hold over that land which used to be recognised as belonging to Israel anyway.

    5. Chielamangus. It's not a question of you being honest. You steal and your neighbours steal, but only you get arrested, just because of your funny name...

    6. Chielamangus,

      No individuals are without their fault and no states are without their fault. Certainly, Britain, Britain's wealth and the British Empire were not built up without land theft on a grand scale. We continue to hold on to territories e.g. Falklands that most countries in the world think we should return.

      The issue here is media representation. The issue is why does so much of the media focus on this one alleged example of land theft (which in any case is not a straightforward issue, given the aggressive war launched on Israel)?

    7. What funny people on this blog! There is no such thing as an "unbeatable" argument, least of all when it includes a nonsense assertion about the land historically belonging to Israel. When?

      And this "aggressive war launched on Israel" - that was 40 odd years ago! I think Germany's territorial and political integrity was restored within a decade after 1945 in the west where the writ of civilised nations ran.

      And then a strange assertion that "most countries" think the Falklands should be "returned". All wrong. And it is all nothing to do with the inhabitants of those islands?

      You all have a such a distorted view of things, which is surprising because I have read your blog on other subjects and I am usually in agreement. For the record, I have not always been anti-(current) Israel. Back in the 70s I used to front up to Arab Soc meetings at University with a Jewish friend and would argue the israeli cause. But I have no sympathy with current Israeli policy. Israel does not want regional friends or understanding from its neighbours.

      Just out of interest, how many people contributing to this discussion are Jewish? Hands up, please.

  3. I listened to the Today programme this morning and heard the item about anti-semitism. I was waiting for the question what are the causes of the increase and continued waiting, surely the most obvious question in British the history journalism? I can only assume that it wasn't asked because the answer was already known. That item was then followed by a very sympathetic item on the migrants at Calais. I can't understand why the BBC are so pro-Islam and appear to be anti-Christian and antisemitic. I don't have a lot of time for religion, believing it to be an ancient device of our superiors to keep everyone in their place and to provide employment for 2nd born sons who were too windy to join the army.

    Christopher Scopes

  4. That is a superb piece, Sue, worthy of publication somewhere although I suspect not in the Guardian !

    1. Thank you Grant, very kind.
      It is published somewhere - here! We’ll just have to make do with that :-)


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