The BBC and Sky News have demonstrated their apparent willingness to tolerate antisemitism by defending antisemitic remarks by Prof. John Ashton as just “political views.”
Last week, Campaign Against Antisemitism called on the BBC, Sky News and other channels to ban appearances of the public health expert John Ashton, after the JC published his tweets comparing Zionists to Nazis and appearing to minimise Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. Prof. Ashton, an outspoken figure, said, among other revolting comments, that it was “sickening to see Zionists behave like Nazis,” and called Dame Louise Ellman, a Jewish politician, “vile Zionist”.
Across his numerous remarks, Prof. Ashton breached the International Definition of Antisemitism by comparing Zionists to Nazis and holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel. He also appeared to try to minimise the effect of the Holocaust on Jews.
After his record was brought to the attention of the BBC and Sky News, however, they defended his continued appearances on their channels. According to the JC, the BBC’s Head of News, Fran Unsworth, wrote: “I quite understand your strength of feeling about the views you have ascribed to Professor Ashton on Israel and Zionism…Professor Ashton did not, of course, make any comments of the kind that you describe in this programme and I hope you understand that I would have grave doubts about the impact on freedom of speech, and the BBC’s ability to report freely and impartially, if we were to ban contributors from speaking on the subject of their acknowledged expertise because of the political views they have expressed, however abhorrent some members of the audience may find them.” (Emphasis added)
Similarly, when Sky News was alerted to Prof. Ashton’s record, Adam Boulton, its Editor-at-Large, apparently tweeted: “We don’t no-platform people because of their political views especially when talking about something into which they have insight.” (Emphasis added) It is understood that Mr Boulton has now deleted the tweet.
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “The BBC has disgraced itself yet again, and Sky News has followed suit. Antisemitism is not a ‘political view’. That is the opposite lesson from the past several years of British politics. If the news editors at both channels had made reference to the International Definition of Antisemitism, they would have recognised that Prof. Ashton was not espousing political views but spewing racist bile, and that he therefore has no place on national television. Campaign Against Antisemitism shall therefore be writing to the BBC and Sky News not only demanding that Prof. Ashton is taken off air but also, as we have urged in the past, that they adopt the International Definition of Antisemitism.”