One of the UK’s most senior Jewish leaders has accused the BBC of adding to the unease felt by the community this summer after the corporation’s head of television said he had never felt so uncomfortable being a Jew in the UK.
Jonathan Arkush, vice-president of the Board of Deputies, made the comments after Danny Cohen spoke of his fears during a conference at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Sunday, when he also claimed recent events had forced him to question the long-term future of the community in Britain amid increased anti-Semitism here and outrages against Jews abroad.
Arkush, who is expected to run for the Board’s top job next year, said: “During the Gaza conflict last summer, sections of the media and society reacted to events in a manner that was so unbalanced that it left many British Jews feeling the same way as Danny Cohen. Ironically the BBC was part of the problem.”
As in the past with coverage of Israel and the Palestinians, the BBC was accused of bias by both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists. As the conflict between Israel and Hamas raged, British Jews suffered an anti-Semitic backlash, with a total of 302 incidents recorded in July alone. While levels of incidents have since fallen, cases of hate have continued, with Jewish politicians facing abuse in recent weeks and buildings daubed with swastikas.
During the conference in Israel, one-time Rosh Pinah pupil Cohen, who is one of the corporation’s most senior figures but does not have control over its news output, said: “I’ve never felt so uncomfortable being a Jew in the UK as I’ve felt in the last 12 months. And it’s made me think about… is it our long-term home, actually? Because you feel it. I’ve felt it in a way I’ve never felt before. You’ve seen the number of attacks rise, you’ve seen murders in France, you’ve seen murders in Belgium. It’s been pretty grim actually. Having lived all my life in the UK, I’ve never felt as I do now about anti-Semitism in Europe.”
The CST said the comments were another important indicator “of how our community has felt of late”, while All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism secretary Danny Stone said: “It is obviously disappointing to read comments like this, which I fear are shared by others in the Jewish community.”
He said he hoped recommendations due to be presented next month by an inquiry launched after last summer’s rise in hate will “reassure” Cohen and others.
Reference to a “Jewish lobby” by a newspaper reviewer on the BBC News channel attracted dozens of complaints last month. Jonathan Sacerdoti, of the Campaign Against Antisemitism UK, which was among those who complained, said: “Of course, many suggest that the BBC has contributed to the rise in anti-Semitism in the UK and beyond, through its slanted news coverage. We will have to see if Mr Cohen is able to contribute towards turning that tide, despite his putative separation from BBC News.”
Board president Vivian Wineman said his organisation did not believe the BBC was anti-Semitic but did have “concerns over the summer about its Israel coverage”.