BBC postpones debate on whether anti-Zionism should be ‘protected characteristic’
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

BBC postpones debate on whether anti-Zionism should be ‘protected characteristic’

Jewish News learned the producers of Radio 4's Sunday programme had approached the Board last Friday and asked them to put forward a speaker to take part in the discussion.

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

BBC Radio studio
BBC Radio studio

The BBC has postponed a planned discussion on whether anti-Zionism should become a “protected characteristic” after angry protests from the Board of Deputies about the “unacceptable” choice of speakers.

Jewish News has learned the producers of Radio 4’s Sunday programme had approached the Board last Friday and asked them to put forward a speaker to take part in the discussion.

It emerged that alongside invitingJewish Voice For Labour activist Diana Nelsen, the BBC had also asked the anti-Zionist blogger Robert Cohen, a former broadcast journalist at the corporation, to also take part in the programme.

In a tense conversation, a spokesperson for the Board subsequently explained to BBC producers that they considered the general topic of the discussion completely unacceptable.

Board President Marie van der Zyl then issued a statement saying the BBC’s intention to host a debate on whether anti-Zionism should be a “protected characteristic” was a “grotesque insult to the vast majority of Jews.”

She added: “Our community is not here to dance for your amusement.”

It is understood that BBC producers then decided to not to broadcast the discussion as planned on Sunday’s show following a meeting that took place late on Friday afternoon.

A statement sent to Jewish News later that evening said:”We are always exploring a range of possible topics but there’s no planned item about anti-Zionism on the Sunday programme.”

Relations between the Board and the BBC remained strained as a result of the communal orgainsation’s protestations over thereporting of the antisemitic attack on Jewish teenagers in Oxford Street last November.

On Sunday Cohen – active in groups such as Jews For Justice For Palestinians, JVL, and a frequent contributor to the Mondoweiss blog in the past -responded to the decision to cancel the programme by tweeting:”Needs pointing out that neither the Board of Deputies nor the ‘vast majority of Jews’ should determine what can or cannot be debated on the BBC when it comes to Zionism or Anti-Zionism.

“Zionism is an ideology not a copyrighted brand.”

The former Radio Five Live journalist added:”Surely, it’s a ‘grotesque insult’ to deny what Zionism has meant to millions of Palestinians by insisting that the BBC cannot even debate Anti-Zionism.

” It’s not an ‘insult’ to debate constitutional solutions to bring equality and security to all who call the Holy Land home.”

JVL accused the BBC of a cowardly climbdown in the face of “bullying and smears” by the Board over the involvement of Neslen in the Radio 4 programme.

Jewish News had reported on Neslen’s involvement in the programme on Friday.

She is under investigation by the Labour Party for the third time over claims of antisemitism.

She is threatening legal action against the party, claiming it has unlawfully discriminated against her based on her belief in anti-Zionism.

Social media posts under her name include a claim “Zionism is not Judaism. It is blasphemy.”

Neslen, who is Jewish herself, also wrote that “no Jewish MPs were ‘hounded out’” of Labour – a clear reference to the decision of Luciana Berger and Dame Louise Ellman to quit the party.

Neslen has denied posted the remarks.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments