UK Jewish groups slam BBC ‘non-apology’ for misreporting antisemitic Hanukkah attack

Board of Deputies of British Jews ‘dismayed’ by broadcaster continuing ‘to cloud issue’ of it claiming call for help in Hebrew was slur aimed at Muslims

A man (R) appears to make a Nazi salute, in a video showing a group of people accosting Jews on a Chabad bus as they celebrated Hanukkah in London, November 28, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)
A man (R) appears to make a Nazi salute, in a video showing a group of people accosting Jews on a Chabad bus as they celebrated Hanukkah in London, November 28, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Jewish groups in the United Kingdom slammed the BBC on Thursday for a “whitewash non-apology” after it said sorry for falsely alleging that victims of a recent antisemitic incident in London had provoked their attackers with an anti-Muslim slur.

The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) said that there “was no evidence to support any claims of victim-blaming in our reporting” but that more could have been done “subsequent to the original report, to acknowledge the differing views and opinions in relation to what was said.”

However, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the main body representing the interests of Jews in the UK, said Thursday she was “dismayed” with the BBC continuing “to cloud the issue” after Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator launched an investigation into the November 29 incident.

“We note the ECU finding that the BBC did not meet standards of due accuracy and impartiality. We are however dismayed that the Corporation continues to justify certain erroneous editorial decisions that continue to cloud the issue and will compound the distress faced by the victims,” Marie van der Zyl said in a statement.

“The Corporation also needs to acknowledge that it has badly misrepresented advice given to them by our colleagues at the CST. We welcome Ofcom’s decision to investigate the incident. We trust that justice will prevail,” she added.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism group said: “It took the BBC two months and four pages to deliver a whitewash non-apology that stands by its spurious reporting of an anti-Muslim slur and dismisses the monumental offense generated by its coverage.”

Welcoming the Ofcom probe, Campaign Against Antisemitism said it “will hopefully deliver the justice to the Jewish community that the BBC has once more denied.”

The public broadcaster had previously reported that several young men caught on video harassing a Chabad-affiliated bus of Jews publicly celebrating Hanukkah were reacting to an anti-Muslim slur from one of the Jews on the bus; the Board’s own analysis of video from the scene determined that none of the Jews on the bus had said anything Islamophobic.

In the original video, several men can be seen pounding on the windows of the bus with their hands and shoes while shouting “Free Palestine,” spitting on the bus and flipping their middle fingers at the passengers as the bus drives away. At least one of the men performs what appears to be a Nazi salute.

The ECU on Wednesday said the original version of both the online and television story “did not meet the BBC’s standards of due accuracy.” The online version was amended and separately a clarification was aired.

“In the ECU’s judgment this, taken together with the evidence put forward by the Board of Deputies, should have led the BBC to recognize at an earlier stage that there was genuine doubt about the accuracy of what it had reported,” it added.

Still, a BBC spokesman said after the ECU findings “that the inclusion in our reports of the existence of an alleged slur, said to have come from within the bus, was included in good faith, following a great deal of editorial scrutiny.”

Ofcom said it had launched an investigation after reviewing the BBC’s final response and said “we consider it raises issues under our due accuracy rules.”

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