BBC Radio 4 gives Durban architect Mary Robinson free rein

On November 5th, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme called ‘Start the Week’ – hosted by Andrew Marr – from the Radio 3 ‘Free Thinking Festival’ in Gateshead. The panel discussion’s guests were Michael Ignatieff, Amos Oz and Mary Robinson.

There is much to discuss about this programme, including Amos Oz’s painting of Zionism as extremism and his stereotypical ‘joke’ about an Israeli taxi driver, but I would like to concentrate on one particular portion of the programme, which can be heard here from 37.20′. 

Andrew Marr: “Mary, you got quite a hostile reception after the Durban – erm – discussions on racism, from Israel, didn’t you?” 

Mary Robinson: “Yes, and I was there very recently in East Jerusalem and with Jimmy Carter and Gro Brundtland , the former Prime Minister of Norway. We’ve been there a number of times over a period of six months – you know – gap, and each time we go the situation in East Jerusalem is dramatically worsening for the Palestinians. They’re being put out of their houses, there are settlers coming in to what were Palestinian areas and you have a sense that the so-called facts on the ground are being changed in order not to have the two-state solution and we actually put out a statement and we said that under the current – and we very much accept your point; it’s important to distinguish between the Israeli people and the current government – and under the current government there seems to be a policy of not wanting the two-state solution for the first time and that’s really worrying. And we therefore believe that supporting the Palestinian request which will come later this month I understand at the [UN] General Assembly for non-member status is a move for the respect and dignity of non-member statehood at a time when the facts on the ground are going so badly against the Palestinians having a state which includes the ’67 borders with some adjustments and that part of East Jerusalem.”

Not one word of the above diatribe was challenged or corrected by the programme’s BBC host – or by the other panellists. 

No-one challenged Robinson’s incorrect use of the term “67 borders”. No-one gave the facts about the court cases in which property owners have been able to reclaim their homes in Jerusalem after they or their families were expelled from them by the Jordanians if Palestinian residents refuse to pay rent. No-one pointed out that the PA appeal to the UNGA will effectively bury the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution once and for all.

Nobody mentioned the Bar Ilan speech or numerous subsequent occasions upon which representatives of the current Israeli government have confirmed its commitment to a two-state solution and nobody pointed out to Mary Robinson the considerable irony of her making baseless accusations against a democratically elected Israeli government during a discussion on democracy. 

Neither of course did Andrew Marr bother to expand on why Mary Robinson (whom he introduced as a “human rights campaigner”) might have been on the receiving end of “a hostile reception” for her very significant role in the shockingly racist ‘Durban I’ debacle: the event which laid the foundation stones for over a decade (and still counting) of anti-Israel demonization and delegitimisation ever since.  

What was especially troubling about this programme was the polite, ‘civilised’, intellectual atmosphere in which facts were distorted and pernicious lies propagated – all under the banner of the BBC’s “Free Thinking Festival”.  The use of an impressive-sounding title as a hide for political rhetoric based on defamation is chillingly reminiscent of the 2001 UN ‘World Conference on Racism’ – under Robinson’s auspices. 

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