Pressure increases on the BBC
Did the broadcaster draw false equivalence between Jewish antisemitism victims and their attackers?
It is now six days since the BBC produced a report on its website claiming that Jewish victims of an antisemitic attack in London themselves gave expression to bigoted abuse during the attack. No-one else has been able to detect any examples of this alleged bigoted abuse. Yet the BBC has still not produced evidence or explanation for this claim. And much about its story cries out for explanation, as the questions and the pressure on the broadcaster have today continued to grow.
The attack happened on the evening of November 29. A group of ultra-orthodox Jewish teenagers, on a trip organised by the Chabad religious movement to celebrate Chanukah, got off their open-top bus in central London’s Oxford Street and danced on the pavement. They were promptly spat upon and abused by a group of men who performed Nazi salutes, punched the bus with a fist and hit it with their shoes (an insult in some Arab countries) as it drove away to safety. The men shouted “Free Palestine,” and a packing crate was reportedly thrown at the children as they fled.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, called the video of the attack “disturbing”. The Metropolitan Police are treating the incident as a hate crime, and have now released fresh images of three men they want to speak to in connection with it.
When this attack was initially reported on the BBC News website on December 2, the story by Harry Farley included the line:
some racial slurs can be heard from inside the bus.
Since this was exceedingly unlikely behaviour by ultra-orthodox Jewish youngsters who would regard such language as forbidden — and since, even if they had made such remarks, this would have been a response to being attacked by antisemitic thugs — the suspicion arose that the BBC was making a disreputable attempt to distribute moral opprobrium between the attackers (of whom at least some appeared to be Muslim men) and their teenage victims themselves.
The adults accompanying the youngsters are adamant that they uttered no anti-Muslim slurs at all. The JC reports:
Rabbi Schneur Glitzenshtein, who organised the original bus trip, confirmed that none of the victims had used Islamophobic language. “Not one word,” he said…
Joanne Order, a Chabad member, was on the bus looking after the deeply religious children. She told the JC that it was unthinkable that they would ever use such bad language.
“We were basically all speaking Hebrew to each other,” she said. "Some people spoke English, but mostly between us we speak Hebrew… Nobody could say that, you could even hear on the video nobody is saying it. It doesn’t make sense at all, because I saw what happened and it’s not what happened”.
The following day, the BBC amended its website report to say this:
During the editing process a line was added to this article reporting that racial slurs about Muslims could be heard inside the bus. This line has been amended to make clear that “a slur about Muslims” could be heard.
It’s actually hard to hear anything distinctly on the video. The GnasherJew site says the only words that can be deciphered are the Hebrew words “tikra lemishehu, ze dachuf” which mean “call someone, it’s urgent”.
According to Farley, however, it was not he but his BBC “editors” who heard this alleged anti-Muslim slur. In a Twitter exchange with GnasherJew on December 4, Farley wrote:
Hello, good morning. Thank you for getting in touch. At about 3 seconds into the video you can just about hear someone on the bus saying “dirty Muslims”. This was actually something picked up by my editors not me and they wanted to reflect that briefly in the piece.
This seems to accord with a report in today’s Jewish News, where Richard Ferrer writes:
Jewish News understands the journalist submitted the original article without any mention of an alleged anti-Muslim insult and the words “a slur about Muslims can also be heard from inside the bus” were subsequently added after the piece was filed.
It also fits this nugget today from Jonny Gould, who tweets:
A @BBC insider tells me they have it on good authority that the “anti-Muslim slurs” line did NOT originate with @harryfarls [Harry Farley]. The implication here is that BBC newsroom colleagues are not checking facts, but instead acting on unverified claims.
On CAMERA UK, Hadar Sela adds a further element to the puzzle:
In a December 2nd filmed report on the same story from BBC London, viewers were told that “we at BBC London did watch this footage and you can hear some racial slurs [sic] about Muslim people which does come from the bus”. The reporter — apparently Guy Lynn of BBC London news — went on to claim that “it’s not clear at the moment…what role that may have played in this incident” despite the fact that the incident began when the Jewish teens handing out donuts and dancing on Oxford Street were abused by others, before they got back on the bus where the footage was filmed.
Indeed: the implication that the attack on the Jewish teenagers may have been caused by this alleged racial slur, when it is entirely clear that the video footage was taken from inside the bus only once the attack was under way and that the attack was entirely unprovoked, is beyond disgraceful.
On Cap X today, Nicole Lampert provides an unsettling insight into the BBC mindset when she writes:
When I asked the journalist who wrote the story why they had done this, he told me that his team ‘thought it important to reflect there was abuse going both ways’. Quite where they got the idea that abuse was ‘both ways’ without a shred of proof remains to be seen.
Quite so. I suppose this is what the BBC regards as balance — that faced with an appalling and unprovoked attack on a group of Jewish youngsters just because they are Jews, it thinks this needs to be balanced out by evidence that the Jewish victims are somehow to blame. The notion that a) any such apparent evidence needs to be absolutely verifiable and reliable and b) even if it is, there’s all the difference in the world between an unprovoked attack and any remarks uttered by its frightened victims, does not seem to enter the minds of those BBC journalists who “thought it important to reflect there was abuse going both ways”.
But here’s another odd thing: on the BBC website, the video contains something that’s bleeped out at around two seconds in, and again at around 11 seconds in.
So who would have bleeped out those things — and why? And why does that video bear the words in its top corner “video origin unknown”? It’s been said that the video footage of the incident was taken by someone in the bus. Did this someone give it to the BBC? Is there more than one video in circulation? Does the BBC really not know where the video on its website came from? Does it normally broadcast videos of unknown origin about sensitive social situations?
With the BBC having doubled down on its claim of “a slur about Muslims”, and with more and more people listening to the video and failing to hear any such slur or indeed make out any words at all, disgust and dismay in the Jewish community are growing. Parents of the teenagers have accused the BBC of “demonising” their children. The Board of Deputies, which previously called on the BBC to apologise, has now sent an extremely strong and detailed letter to the BBC director-general, chairman and director of news. The Board’s president, Marie van der Zyl, writes:
Our own thorough investigation into this aspect finds your allegation baseless in fact and wholly without merit. We investigated every second of footage and we contend that the BBC is mischaracterising a Hebrew cry for help by a distressed Jewish man as a slur in English.
We have evidenced this with our own re-enactment of the precise phrasing, cadence, and context of the audio segment in dispute and are fully convinced that the BBC has gotten this spectacularly wrong. Dangerously so. The victims of antisemitic abuse are now being smeared as racists and therefore somehow less deserving of sympathy or, in the worst case, deserving of the abuse they received. This is deeply irresponsible journalism…
We have raised our concerns and provided ample evidence that clearly shows the BBC has made an error in its reporting. Mistakes happen. But when such mistakes are pointed out and the evidence provided, the BBC’s institutional recalcitrance on this matter leaves us aghast. The wagon-circling of your organisation is not only disdainful of our community’s concerns, it perpetuates and compounds the harm and distress of the Jewish victims. This arrogant intransigence by the BBC will only serve to deepen that harm.
Oh — and while the BBC website reported as fact
a slur about Muslims can also be heard from inside the bus
(which no-one else seems to have heard), it described the antisemitic attack itself (which everyone watching the video can clearly see) as merely
allegations [my emphasis] of antisemitic abuse directed at Jewish passengers on a bus.
Presumably, this is also what the BBC regards as “balance” when reporting attacks perpetrated against Jews just because they are Jews.
Today, the ever-decent former Labour MP Lord Austin writes in the Telegraph:
I have always defended the BBC, but can’t imagine an incident involving any other group being reported in this way. It needs to listen to people from the Jewish community and look at this very carefully. We can’t have people thinking that incidents of racism are handled differently depending on who the perpetrators and victims might be.
The demonisation of Israel leads to racist attacks against Britain’s Jewish community. Our national broadcaster should be shining a spotlight on that, exposing the racists and standing up for the victims, not bending over backwards seemingly to find an equivalence where none exists.
As Ian Austin rightly says, the BBC (itself no slouch, alas, when it comes to demonising Israel) has questions to answer about this. If it persists in its claim of an anti-Muslim slur from within the bus, it must produce the evidence for this that everyone can hear for themselves. Otherwise it must take action — and be seen to take it — against those responsible for what looks horribly like an attempt at moral equivalence between Jewish victims and their attackers to diminish the reality of the antisemitism that continues so brazenly to cover Britain in shame and disgrace.
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