The BBC has said it was “inadvisable” for former director of television Danny Cohen to oppose cultural boycotts of Israel.
In an astonishing statement, BBC chief complaints adviser Dominic Groves sent in January said: “The BBC agrees that it was inadvisable for him to add his signature given his then seniority within the BBC as director of television.”
Groves admitted that “in practice, it had no bearing on his ability to do his day-to-day job, a role which does not involve direct control over BBC news.”
Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush said: “Sadly, we don’t expect much from the BBC given its lack of balance on issues concerning Israel. It was therefore thoroughly hypocritical to criticise its former director of television for allegedly not being impartial. Moreover, to talk of BDS as an issue of current political controversy is wrong. The bigotry against Israel, not repeated in relation to any other country in the world, is not a political but a moral issue, on which people should be free to speak their mind. Fortunately the boycotters are rejected by mainstream political parties and most sections of our society, so Danny Cohen was on the right side of the argument.”
Simon Johnson the CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council: “By highlighting Danny Cohen’s signature and trying to undermine the Culture for Coexistence campaign, which is backed by over 120 leading figures from the worlds or Art and Culture, The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign continues to push its message of boycotts over coexistence. It is laughable to suggest that supporting the status quo and promoting creative expression somehow flies in the face of impartiality.”
Cohen announced his departure on 13 October last year, only days before the letter – which was also signed by ‘Harry Potter’ author JK Rowling – was published in The Guardian on 22 October.
In it, Cohen and others said: “We do not believe cultural boycotts are acceptable… Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory, and will not further peace.”
A spokeswoman for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said Cohen and Rowling’s views were “those of the Israeli state” and called on the BBC to provide reassurance on staff impartiality.
“By failing to take any action against Cohen,” she said, “the BBC sent a message to licence fee payers that it only pays lip service to the concept of impartiality when it comes to the subject of Palestine and Israel.”
The Department for Culture Media & Sport and Israeli Embassy refused to comment.