Speaking truth to bigotry
Resignation isn’t the right answer to the BBC's Jewish problem
For the past 30 years, Rabbi YY Rubinstein has been a regular contributor to various BBC religion slots such as Radio 2’s Good Morning Sunday and Pause for Thought.
Last week, Rabbi YY declared he would work for the BBC no more. This was primarily in protest against the extraordinary affair of the boys on the Chanukah bus.
In case you missed it, at the end of November a group of men making Nazi salutes, some or all of whom appeared to be Muslim, abused a group of Orthodox teenagers who had got off a hired bus in Oxford Street to dance to celebrate Chanukah.
A video of the attack, in which the men also spat at the bus and hit it with a shoe, was widely circulated and used in a report on the BBC website. But the BBC also reported that an anti-Muslim slur — originally said to be “slurs” — was heard from inside the bus.
Despite evidence that no such slur could be heard and only Hebrew words meaning “call someone, it’s urgent” could be made out, the BBC has continued to dig in its heels. It insists that this slur was heard, even though many listeners could not detect it on the video and the BBC has produced no evidence to support its claim.
We still haven’t got to the bottom of this. It seems, though, that the BBC sought to spread the blame for an unprovoked antisemitic attack onto its victims, and then refused to apologise for what might have been the result of error, muddle or malice.
So Rabbi YY’s outrage at what he described as the BBC’s “simply inexcusable” behaviour, with its “utterly damning obfuscation and denial,” was fully justified. But was it really appropriate to depart — with a “j’accuse!” flourish — from the BBC’s roster of contributors?
After all, the BBC’s behaviour is hardly a problem that’s suddenly become intolerable. It’s been intolerable for years.
The broadcaster has systematically displayed a problem with Jews, mainly over the issue of Israel. Month after month, it pumps out incendiary falsehoods and distortions about Israel’s behaviour and history which help incite hatred and even violence against British Jews.
These libels have served as rocket fuel for anti-Israelism and antisemitism, not only in Britain but also — given the BBC’s unique reach and authority — around the world.
Week after week, the indefatigable media watchdog site CAMERA UK forensically itemises this BBC animus — but to general silence from the Jewish community and everyone else. So what makes the bus disgrace a resigning matter?
And what’s the point of reducing the already minuscule number of Jews who will unequivocally defend the Jewish people on the BBC?
Does anyone seriously believe that the absence of any individual from this tiny handful will cause discomfiture in New Broadcasting House?
But Rabbi YY went further. “I simply don’t see,” he said, “how I or in fact any Jew who has any pride in that name can be associated with the Corporation any more”.
This was echoed by the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which said that following the bus attack coverage, “no self-respecting Jewish person wants to be publicly associated with the BBC”.
This crosses a line.
I am a regular BBC contributor. I have viewed the Chanukah bus affair with astonishment and anger. Yet I have no intention of resigning.
Over the years, I have watched and listened with horror as the BBC has turned into a global megaphone for blood libels, falsehoods and double standards against Israel as well as casual anti-Jewish ignorance.
Whenever I can, I use my access to BBC platforms to defend Israel and to call out the BBC on air for its bigotry against Israel and the Jewish people. Is it seriously being suggested, therefore, that I have no Jewish pride and am not a self-respecting Jewish person?
Why, indeed, stop at the BBC? This bigotry is endemic across the mainstream media. So does any Jew who contributes to any of these media outlets also have no Jewish pride?
And why stop at the media? In my view, Britain is a country with antisemitism hardwired into its cultural DNA.
Some years ago, I decided that I could no longer stand being made to feel that my Britishness was conditional upon denouncing Israel. I was no longer prepared to be a Jew on my knees or watching over my shoulder. As a result, Israel is where I now spend most of my time.
But everyone has their own tipping point. I would never say that it is wrong for any self-respecting Jew to remain in Britain, with the implication that doing so betrays the Jewish people. It’s a purely personal matter for every individual.
Too many diaspora Jews keep their heads down, taking refuge in the fiction that by conforming they will be accepted as equals. That’s a matter for profound regret and alarm.
But it’s important to understand the desperately difficult diaspora game we are in. We are far too few to afford gestures. Our platforms are too rare to give up. We need more platforms and more fighters, not fewer.
Why oh why, Rabbi YY?
My most recent exclusive post for my premium subscribers is on how the history of the Arab war against Israel was re-written. This is how the piece begins:
And you can read my most recent post that’s available to everyone, on discussing statues being attacked on the Moral Maze — or as actually happened shortly after the recording, just outside — by clicking here.
One more thing…
This is how my website works.
It has two subscription levels: my free service and the premium service.
Anyone can sign up to the free service on this website. You can of course unsubscribe at any time by clicking “unsubscribe” at the foot of each email.
Everyone on the free list will receive the full text of pieces I write for outlets such as the Jewish News Syndicate and the Jewish Chronicle, as well as other posts and links to my broadcasting work.
But why not subscribe to my premium service? For that you’ll also receive pieces that I write specially for my premium subscribers. Those articles will not be published elsewhere. They’ll arrive in your inbox as soon as I have written them.
There is a monthly fee of $6.99 for the premium service, or $70 for an annual subscription. Although the fee is charged in US dollars, you can sign up with any credit card. Just click on the “subscribe now” button below to see the available options for subscribing either to the premium or the free service.
A note on subscriptions
If you purchase a subscription to my site, you will be authorising a payment to my company Dirah Associates. In the past, that is the name that may have appeared on your credit card statement. In future, though, the charge should appear instead as Melanie Phillips.
And thank you for following my work.