The BBC has cleared newsreader Tim Willcox over allegations of antisemitism brought by Campaign Against Antisemitism. Giving its final ruling, the BBC Trust decided that Willcox had not made antisemitic comments during two broadcasts in November 2014 and January 2015.
In the first broadcast, Willcox was presenting a review of the next day’s newspapers which included a headline about Jewish donors ending their support for the Labour Party. Injecting his own analysis, Willcox suggested that the “Jewish faces” of the “Jewish lobby” would also probably be opposed to the “mansion tax” proposed by the party.
In the second broadcast, following the aftermath of the January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, during which four shoppers at a kosher supermarket had been murdered, Willcox conducted an interview with a French lady who called for greater acknowledgment that Jews were now being targeted by Islamist terrorists. Willcox interrupted her to observe that “the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.”
Media lawyer Tony Morris represented Campaign Against Antisemitism in our ensuing complaints to the BBC, which included complaints to the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit, Ofcom, the Director-General of the BBC and the BBC Trust. The BBC Trust is supposed to hold the BBC to account, but it fails to do so abjectly, as it has demonstrated in this case.
In a letter to BBC Director-General, Lord Hall, Campaign Against Antisemitism’s Chairman, Gideon Falter wrote: “I do not know of any other minority group so routinely told that its concerns are meritless by the BBC. Your organisation treats the concerns of Jewish licence fee payers with glib contempt, feigning to investigate but from the outset contriving to dismiss complaints at the earliest opportunity, and strenuously avoiding any meaningful public or private discussion.
Referring to the MacPherson principle used by the police and other public bodies when investigating allegations of racism, Falter continued: “In a country where the MacPherson principle is the gold standard for dealing with complaints of racism, I know of no other public body that, when faced with accusations of racism immediately retorts in the media that the accusations are groundless, the victims are not victims and that the matter is clear-cut. Normally one would expect a commitment to review the accusations in the most transparent and dispassionate manner possible, for example by means of an independent review, and public statements would be expected to reflect the fact that a review has been opened and no statement can be made that would prejudice it.”
Falter’s letter concludes: “Lord Hall, the BBC is part of British culture, but under your leadership and that of your predecessors, the BBC has become a blight for British Jews — a relic of the old-fashioned institutional antisemitism of the British establishment that has been excised from almost every sphere of public life, only to find sanctuary at your unaccountable, unrepentant BBC. You preside over an institution that is antisemitic both by act and concealment. The BBC that British Jews wish they could love and be proud of instead shames our country by shielding bigots.”
Campaign Against Antisemitism has called for the BBC Trust to be replaced by Ofcom as the BBC’s overseer, a finding that has now been supported by a government-backed report. However, in the case of the Willcox complaints, Ofcom refused even to investigate, despite the fact that it already has jurisdiction over the BBC in cases of antisemitism.