Rachel Burden said towards the end of the programme, referring to her interview earlier with the businessman John Caudwell, who described the former Labour Party leader as “a Marxist and antisemite”, that she redirected him back to the topic under discussion but “I should have challenged him on the particular allegation of antisemite [sic] because there is absolutely no evidence that the leader of the Labour Party at that time, Jeremy Corbyn, was or is antisemitic. He had to deal with allegations of that within his party but there is nothing to suggest that he himself as an individual was. So I apologise for not challenging more directly, I should have done, and I want to emphasise there is no evidence for that at all.”
It would be understandable for Ms Burden to say that Mr Corbyn would dispute the characterisation, but it is unacceptable for her to editorialise and dismiss publicly-available evidence that has been reported in the national media for years.
Over two years ago, for example, Campaign Against Antisemitism published data, using a peer-reviewed research method, showing that Mr Corbyn was personally responsible for 24 incidents relating to antisemitism, which was equal to fifteen percent of all recorded incidents involving parliamentary candidates and party leaders in the lead-up to the 2019 General Election. That meant that, if Jeremy Corbyn were a political party, the ‘Jeremy Corbyn party’ would be responsible for almost four times more incidents than all the other major parties combined.
For Ms Burden to dismiss this evidence without basis represents both offence and inaccuracy under the BBC’s code.
Moreover, it is remarkable that Ms Burden would refer to the antisemitism in the Labour Party as mere “allegation” even though the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported that the allegations of racism against Jews in the Party were not only made out but were so bad as to have broken the law. Campaign Against Antisemitism was the complainant in the EHRC’s investigation.
The BBC is currently mired in scandal in connection with having referred to evident antisemitism in an antisemitic incident on Oxford Street also as mere “allegation”. The Culture Secretary has written to the Director General of the BBC over its coverage of the incident and the ensuing controversy, which remains live. Ms Dorries’ intervention came after Campaign Against Antisemitism wrote to her and the BBC over the Corporation’s coverage, in which the BBC also baselessly defamed the Jewish victims and suggested that they may have brought the attack upon themselves. The coverage prompted condemnation from Campaign Against Antisemitism and other communal groups, a rally outside Broadcasting House held by Campaign Against Antisemitism and attended by hundreds, and the resignation of a rabbi and long-time BBC broadcaster.
Just in the past week, the BBC has also become embroiled in two further controversies relating to antisemitism. In one case, BBC Radio 4 was forced to pull a debate on whether anti-Zionism should be a protected characteristic, which was due to feature a member of the antisemitism-denial group and sham Jewish representative organisation, Jewish Voice for Labour.
Meanwhile, on its website, the BBC reported that a Labour Party councillor had been “suspended from the party over an offensive tweet about leader Keir Starmer” but studiously avoided mentioning that the tweet in question claimed that Sir Keir was following “commands from Israel”. After outrage, the BBC article was updated to incorporate the inflammatory language.
These are just the latest scandals relating to antisemitism in which the BBC has become embroiled in just the past few weeks, and follow years of eroding confidence in the BBC on the part of the Jewish community.
Our Antisemitism Barometer last year revealed that two thirds of British Jews are deeply concerned by the BBC’s coverage of matters of Jewish concern, and 55% by its handling of antisemitism complaints.
The BBC’s coverage of the Oxford Street incident and our rally, which was endorsed by former BBC Chairman Lord Grade and actress Dame Maureen Lipman, has been discussed on previous episodes of our weekly podcast, Podcast Against Antisemitism. Episodes are available every Thursday and can be streamed here or downloaded wherever you get your podcasts.
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Over two years ago, we published data, using a peer-reviewed research method, showing that Jeremy Corbyn was personally responsible for 24 incidents relating to antisemitism. For Rachel Burden to editorialise and dismiss this evidence without basis represents both offence and inaccuracy under the BBC’s code. Moreover, it is obscene for her to belittle Labour’s antisemitism as mere ‘allegation’, even though the EHRC, following an investigation in which we were the complainant, found those allegations to be made out to such an extent that the Party was deemed to have broken the law. This is not the first time in the past few weeks that the BBC has reduced evident antisemitism to mere ‘allegation’, as it has done with the Oxford Street incident. As these controversies relating to antisemitism and the BBC grow in number, it is no wonder that the Jewish community has lost confidence in our public broadcaster.”
Campaign Against Antisemitism monitors traditional media and regularly holds outlets to account. If members of the public are concerned about reportage in the media, they should contact us at [email protected].