BBC Radio 4 pulls debate on whether anti-Zionism ‘should be a protected characteristic’

The BBC pulled a radio debate on whether anti-Zionism should be a protected characteristic following accusations of “grotesque insults” to British Jews.

It is understood that the broadcaster removed the controversial debate from the January 9 edition of its Radio 4 Sunday programme, which examines ethical and religious issues, after it sparked a backlash from The Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The board, which condemned the debate as a “grotesque insult to an overwhelming majority of British Jews”, told The Telegraph that the BBC asked it to be part of the segment on Radio 4, but it declined.

Instead, Marie van der Zyl, the board’s president, released a statement saying: “Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination in our ancestral homeland.”

‘Grotesque insulte to majority of British Jews’

She added: “The BBC’s intention to host a debate on whether vocal opposition to that belief should be a ‘protected characteristic’ is a grotesque insult to an overwhelming majority of British Jews… Our community is not here to dance for your amusement.”

Among those due to participate in the debate on whether anti-Zionism should be a protected characteristic was Diana Neslen, a member of Jewish Voice for Labour, formed in 2017 by Jewish Labour members to support Jeremy Corbyn in the wake of rising concern about widespread anti-Semitism within the party.

Ms Neslen has denied that former MPs Luciana Berger and Dame Louise Ellman were “hounded out” of the party during Mr Corbyn’s leadership and has also posted: “Zionism is not Judaism. It is blasphemy.”

The Jewish Chronicle reported that the debate was scrapped after programme makers decided against Ms Neslen’s participation.

A BBC spokesman said: “We are always exploring a range of possible topics, but there was no item about anti-Zionism on the Sunday programme this weekend.”

BBC under fire over anti-Semitic bus attack coverage

The BBC has been criticised for its coverage of an attack on Jewish teenagers in London’s Oxford Street

The comments come amid ongoing concerns regarding the BBC and accusations of anti-Semitism. Last week, Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, raised “concerns about the speed” of the broadcaster’s response to accusations of anti-Semitism in a letter to Tim Davie, the director-general. 

Her concerns regard the BBC’s coverage of an attack on Jewish teenagers celebrating Chanukah on Oxford Street, London, after a group of men performed Nazi salutes and chased their bus.

BBC News said in its original report that “racial slurs about Muslims could be heard inside the bus”. However, the Board of Deputies recently commissioned and published an independent report which, it claims, disproves the BBC’s allegations.

The BBC spokesman added: “Anti-Semitism is abhorrent. We strive to serve the Jewish community, and all communities across our country, fairly. As we have stated previously, our story was a factual report that overwhelmingly focused on the individuals the police want to identify; those who directed abuse at the bus.

“We know that there are some strong views about this report. We take complaints very seriously and they are being taken through our complaints process.

“Tim Davie has instructed that this process is accelerated to the Executive Complaints Unit, which is editorially independent from news and will ensure the complaints are fully responded to as swiftly as possible.”

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