By B. Cohen
Despite receiving 33 complaints from viewers about a panel discussion that openly promoted anti-Semitic stereotypes, the BBC, Britain’s publicly-funded broadcaster, has defended the exchange, leading to criticism from the main UK Jewish communal security body that the corporation’s reaction was “obviously wrong.”
As The Algemeiner reported on Tuesday, the panel had been discussing the headline on the November 8 edition of The Independent newspaper, which read: “Jewish donors drop ‘toxic’ Miliband.” Miliband, who is Jewish, has been facing growing criticism from within the Jewish community since Maureen Lipman, a leading British Jewish actress, declared she was abandoning the party after the Labour leader gave his backing to British recognition of a Palestinian state independently of any negotiations with Israel.
As London’s Jewish Chronicle noted, BBC panelist Jo Phillips said: “What you get is a lot of unnamed people, from the sort of Jewish lobby, and obviously, you know, they’ve been very supportive of the Labour party, and they are abandoning ‘toxic’ Labour.
“But they are not abandoning it because of Ed Miliband’s personal ratings, according to this, it’s because of what Ed Miliband actually said in the summer, his aggressive condemnation of Israel’s disproportionate attacks and incursion into Gaza.”
Those comments were followed by presenter Tim Willcox asking: “A lot of these prominent Jewish faces will be very much against the political mansion tax presumably?”
Significantly, The Independent‘s article made no mention of the mansion tax, a controversial proposal to levy extra charges on properties in Britain worth over $3.5 million, resulting in widespread concern that the BBC was stoking anti-Semitic themes in speculating about the motives of Jewish donors.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the BBC said: “The comments were made about the Independent story which claimed that unnamed Jewish donors were withdrawing financial support from Ed Miliband over Israel.
“Tim named Maureen Lipman in this context, and as part of a wider discussion, asked if Labour’s ‘mansion tax’ policy was one of the factors that might put off some of the Jewish donors cited by the paper from contributing to Labour’s election coffers.
“It was clear that he was not suggesting that Jewish people in particular are against the mansion tax.”
But Mark Gardner, Director of Communications for the Community Security Trust (CST,) which manages security for the UK’s Jewish community, expressed disappointment with the BBC’s statement.
“The BBC’s reply is obviously wrong,” Gardner told The Algemeiner. “The program guests were quick to say that it was not only Jews who opposed the tax: and they said this precisely because it was the presenter who had implied otherwise.”
The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA,) a UK organization which encouraged viewers to protest to the BBC over the broadcast, noted that “the BBC has felt the need to take the unusual step of having to defend a broadcast before an investigation has taken place.”
“The BBC insists that Willcox’s mention of ‘Jewish faces’ presumed to be objecting to the proposed mansion tax was not antisemitic,” the CAA observed in its analysis of the broadcast. “While Willcox does bring up the mansion tax as a reason for some Jewish opposition to Labour (with no evidence at all, and it was not even mentioned in the article being discussed), when it is suggested to him that non-Jews might also oppose this proposed tax, he says that he didn’t mean to suggest otherwise ‘but Maureen Lipman for example is pictured here isn’t she?’ His use of the words ‘but’ and ‘for example’ make it clear he is still trying to assert that Jews oppose the mansion tax, using Lipman as an illustrative ‘example.’ The BBC’s denial runs counter to the clear facts of the broadcast.”