Anti-Israel bias at the BBC

I am, and have always been, a very great fan of the BBC. I watch many of their excellent dramas and documentaries, I love to watch films without finding myself becoming increasingly irritated by advert breaks every ten minutes and most of all I adore their excellent nature programmes. If they could wrestle The Simpsons back from Channel 4 (where every show is interrupted by adverts before the story even gets started) I'd be entirely happy with the service...well, if they replaced EastEnders with something not quite so mind-numbingly tedious, anyway - though since EastEnders is watched by millions I'll accept it has its place in the world and that I'm likely to be heavily out-voted on that one.

Since Operation Cast Lead there has been a notable rise in those voices accusing the Beeb of displaying anti-Israel bias, voices further fuelled by the decision to allow BNP leader Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time. However, I've never felt this to be the case: I've always thought that the BBC does an admirable job of keeping any form of bias out of its news programming, one from which other channels and certain newspapers could learn a lot. But I'm pained to say that, last night, I was presented with what to me seems undeniable evidence that what the BBC's accusers claim might just be true.

The Noughties...was that it? (9pm, BBC3) was a fun sort of programme otherwise - a vaguely cynical yet affectionate look at the years between 2000 and the present, the fads and crazes, the celebs and popular stories. The sections on chavs and hoodies even did a rather good job at directing humour not at the chavs and hoodies themselves but at those whose sole aim in life seems to be the demonisation of Britain's young people (take note, any newspapers that felt they might be the ones I meant when I said "certain newspapers" in the previous paragraph). But the section on flash mobs - that brief craze whereby a message is sent via SMS, e-mail and Bluetooth in an attempt to gather strangers in a public place who then do something en masse such as perform the YMCA dance or, as in The Noughties..., the Do Re Mi song from The Sound of Music (you may never have heard of it - businesses rapidly cottoned onto the fact that the phenomenon offered a fantastic and virtually cost-free way to generate free advertising and as a result it became deeply uncool immediately) - contained a worrying segment.

If you missed it (which seems unlikely, as there was absolutely nothing else worth any attention anywhere on British television last night), you can still see it on iPlayer at the time of writing. Fast forward to 0:09:08 for the exact bit in question.

Hundreds of young Israelis gather in the street and have a giant pillow fight. It looks like great fun, too. But listen to the narrator: "...and then, there was the time that Israelis decided to fight with each other instead of their neighbours..."

This, I really don't need to point out, suggests to the uniformed viewer that Israel is an aggressive and warlike nation that regularly decides to attack other countries for no apparent reason. In case you're not familiar with Israeli foreign policy and the conflicts with which she has been involved, let's have a brief look at some of those conflicts. We'll start with the Six Day War which began with Israel's pre-emptive strike against forces formed of Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian troops - but why did Israel launch this strike? Because those neighbouring nations had gathered their military close to Israel's borders and were blocking her access to the Red Sea. Conclusion - Israel was reacting to offensive action carried out by hostile forces.

On October the 6th, 1973, the Yom Kippur War began after Egypt and Syria lauched surprise attacks on Israel, which suffered heavy losses while repelling the attack. Conclusion: Israel was once again attacked by hostile forces, and in response took measures to defend itself.

In 1982, Israel became involved in the Lebanese Civil War when it destroyed military bases which had been used by the PLO to lauch missiles aimed at northern Israel. Conclusion: Israel had been under attack from hostile forces and defended herself.

Under Ariel Sharon, Israel withdrew troops from Gaza
- where their presence had attracted widespread condemnation from many quarters. Hezbollah later mounted an artillery attack on Israel and kidnapped two IDF soldiers, sparking the Second Lebanon War. Conclusion: Israel accedes to Palestinian demands, but is attacked so once again is forced to defend herself.

On December the 18th, 2008, Hamas declared its six-month ceasefire with Israel at an end and by the 24th had begun a sustained wave of rocket attacks on Israeli settlements, bringing terror to Israeli civilians, destroying their homes and only by the grace of G-d not causing widespread death. Israel launched airstrikes, attacking military bases, government buildings and police stations - civilian buildings were damaged during the attacks, but to date there is no evidence that they were intentionally targeted. Hamas then stepped up its attacks, with many Israeli civilian facilities hit. Israel responded with a ground invasion on January the 3rd and withdrew troops on the 21st. Conclusion: Israel and her citizens were under daily attack and Israel took steps to bring the threat to an end.

The UN Human Rights Council has decided that Israel is entirely to blame for the Palestinians killed during the recent Gaza War and makes no mention of reprimanding Hamas despite the recommendations made by the Goldstone Report. When it comes to popular opinion, the jury is still out - many people, both Jewish and otherwise, are still making up their minds over whether or not Israel acted fairly at all times during the war and if not, to which extent. Despite early anti-Israel sentiments, the general consensus seems to be heading in the direction of a feeling that whereas some of the methods employed were excessive, Israel sought only to defend its citizens from a very real and deadly threat. Those early anti-Israel sentiments took the form of widespread condemnation of not just Israel herself but also the Jews in other nations who in the popular mind are so closely associated with Israel; and as a result led to a massive increase in attacks on synagogues, Jewish graves, Jewish property and Jews themselves.

Thankfully, those attacks have tailed off and are now at the more normal levels which, sadly, surprise none of us. That is why neither Israel nor Jews in any other countries will benefit from instances where seemingly-inconsequential little bits of anti-Israel bias are allowed to slip through into the public sphere. Israel is not an agressive nation and Jews are not an agressive people, but there are still many people who would like to see both destroyed. The BBC is is a position to help in preventing this from happening and surely has a duty to do so.

Right, I'm off to make a complaint to the BBC. I hope that I won't be the only one - you can do the same by following this link. I hope you will do so - a throw-away comment such as this one might seem of little importance, but they serve to confirm the prejudices of those who believe that Israel and, by association, Jews, are dangerous and a threat to peace.


Friend of Israel = Friend of Jews?

Members of the European Parliament Michal Kaminski, of Poland's Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc, and Nick Griffin of the UK's British National Party have both faced accusations of anti-semitism in recent weeks. We can take some comfort in the fact that both have strenuously tried to refute such claims - it was, after all, within living memory that professing openly anti-semitic philosophies during an election campaign would guarantee plenty of votes and very little, if any, protest. Thankfully, in these times, even suspected fascists don't wish to be labelled Jew-haters because they perceive quite correctly that gaining such a tag amounts to political suicide in most countries. So Mr. Kaminski tries to deny he's an anti-semite (and the debate rages on) and Mr. Griffin tries to claim that although he was a Holocaust denier, he has moderated his views (come on - who does he think he's kidding?) and that he now thinks Jews are quite nice people, actually. Didn't he laugh matily when the rabbi's son spoke on Question Time, and how long before he turns up in Golders Green munching a lox bagel for the cameras?
Michal Kaminsky visited Israel with British Conservative friends. Does this mean he cannot be an anti-semite?

Both men have taken a similar approach - how can we be anti-semites, they ask us, when we are both supporters of Israel? Jewish Chronicle writer Miriam Shaviv points out, Mr. Kaminski has even visited our fair nation as a special guest of the Conservative Friends of Israel and he's even been to Israel itself with his Tory chums. The odious Mr. Griffin, meanwhile, claims that his equally unpleasant party are the only British political group to have "supported Israel's right to deal with Hamas terrorists." Surely we can't be both friends of Israel and enemies of the Jews, can we? they seem to be saying.

All around Britain and Europe, people both Jewish and otherwise listen and think, "Hmm. That's a point. Maybe they're really not anti-semites. I'm not a racist, but I am a bit worried about immigration - perhaps I should consider voting for these people?"

Here in Britain, it seems that most people can sniff out a fascist's lie from miles away. According to the 12 Marcheshvan JC, the vast majority of British people realise that the BNP are dangerous - a mere 9% of those polled expressed positive feelings about the party. 54% (64% in London) believe that Jews would have reason to be fearful if the BNP came into power. That is, thankfully, more than half. If we scale figures up to the same size as the entire UK electorate (approximately 40 million people) that's 1,600,000 more who believe the BNP is anti-semitic than do not - enough to make a lot of difference. But it does mean that 18,400,000 (46%) either think that the BNP is not anti-semitic or are unsure. That's a worrying amount.

So, back to the question in hand. Can an anti-semite support Israel? Are the two as mutually incompatible as they might at first seem? Let's have a look at the nation generally considered to have been Israel's greatest ally, the United States of America. Jewish Americans have long been afforded rights and freedoms kept from the Jewish populations in some other countries, but just as is the case almost everywhere else have also been used as a convenient scapegoat on many occasions - in the last century, Jews were popularly blamed for both the First World War and the Great Depression. In 1941, Charles Lindbergh - a man suspected of ideas both racist and sympathetic to the Nazis - stated his belief that a Jewish minority was pushing America into a war against its interests. There is no doubt that anti-semitism was rampant in the USA prior to the Second World War.

That war, of course, brought the Shoah. When the world discovered the full and almost unimaginable horror of what had taken place in Nazi-occupied Europe, there was widespread shock. Many people may not have liked Jews very much but nobody with even a trace of humanity ever wished for wholesale slaughter of innocent men, women and children. Anti-semitism and anti-semitic thought was widely considered utterly repugnant for the first time in history.

But deep-rooted beliefs and fears do not simply vanish overnight. People realised that anti-semitism needed to be held in check so that nothing like the Shoah would ever happen again, but they did not lose their own anti-semitic beliefs. Those beliefs have been a part of everyday life for so long that they are deeply ingrained in society, even within language, and it will take more than one or two generations until they are finally - if ever - eradicated.

The Zionists, who had long sought a homeland for Jews, found they suddenly had a huge increase in numbers of people supporting their aims (and let me point out here that not even for a second do I wish to claim that Zionists benefited from the Shoah - Jews lost more than will ever be regained and will continue to suffer the Shoah's legacy for as long as there are Jews). Millions of non-Jewish people agreed that Jews needed a homeland and that the establishment of such a place would ensure non-Jews never again have to endure the horror or not feel the guilt for what the Nazis did. So they supported Israel, even though many still held anti-semitic beliefs.

What a handy way to solve the Jewish problem! Imagine you're an anti-semite for a moment. You hate Jews, you hate their religion, you hate the ways that they live. You feel that they are to blame for many of your country's problems; after all, they control the banks, don't they - and whoever controls the money controls the nation. But if people know you hate the Jews, they're not going to think much of you; they might even agree with you in their hearts, but they won't admit it because nobody dares to these days and hey - nobody wants to be called a Nazi. You want to get rid of them, but you don't want them to be killed obviously. If only they'd all just disappear...wait a minute! How about if they all just moved somewhere else, some other country altogether? Not your problem anymore if that happened.

You can stop imagining you're an anti-semite now - I hope you didn't get too into the role and start doing anything embarrassing that might lead to some awkward questions from anybody around you. You could find yourself in as much trouble as I did when my bubbeh found out I'd pretended I was a German while playing The Great Escape with my schoolfriends 25 years ago.

Thank G-d that Israel does exist, and may it do so forever - even if the only reason you can think of for doing so is that it provides democracy with a foothold in the Middle East. But, if you will, please use your imagination again to picture a world in which the land promised by G-d to the Jewish Patriarch was not a thin strip of Mediterranean coastline wihout any oil and previously inhabited by a group of Arabs who had not exactly made their mark on the world stage over the last few centuries and imagine instead it was Florida, or East Anglia, or the Dordogne, or Schwarzwald, or some other sizable chunk of any Western nation. Do you think our governments would have been quite so keen on a Jewish homeland then? Many of these nations had expressed no particular support nor love towards Jews before the Second World War and as the old saying goes, a leopard cannot change its spots - at least, not that quickly. Could it be that the real reason Israel was allowed to exist was not because Western nations supported the Jewish need for a land of their own but because it presented an opportunity to get rid of Jews without resorting to the abhorrent methods of the past?

That's why it is entirely possible to be both a supporter of Israel and an anti-semite. Those who call themselves Friends of Israel are not necessarily friends to those Jews that choose to live in other nations.