Crude stereotyping of ‘expansionist’ Israelis in BBC 3 comedy show

h/t J

A BBC Three comedy show called ‘The Revolution Will Be Televised’ (made by Hat Trick Productions) is described on the BBC website as a:

“Series bringing corruption, greed and hypocrisy to the fore. Politicians, multinationals and tax-shy corporations who have been taking the public for a ride for years are now on the receiving end.”

Apparently having run out of “politicians, multinationals and tax-shy corporations”, episode 6 of season two of the programme (available here in the UK only on BBC iPlayer), which was broadcast on December 15th and 19th, turned to other subject matter.

TRWBT clip

The segment billed in the programme blurb as “The Israeli Embassy is expanding, no planning permission required” opens with an animated sequence which suggests bringing up “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” at dinner parties, adding:

“It’s guaranteed to cause an argument, especially if you’re at a Bar Mitzva”.

Bar Mitzva

And no: we have no idea what those lunging pitchforks are doing in that animation supposedly representing a Bar Mitzva either. Against a background of highly misleading maps, the narration continues:

“A report commissioned by the UN say [sic] that the Israeli construction of settlements into the West Bank is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

Israeli expansion

construction of settlements 1

construction of settlements 2

The narrator concludes:

“You’ve got to wonder just when will this expansion end.”

expansion end

The item then cuts to a filmed sequence in which the actors Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein, posing as planners on behalf of the Israeli embassy, approach several shopkeepers in a London street.

embassy expansion team

Among the lines used by the actors are the following:

“Hello, is this your shop? I’m sure you’re aware the Israeli embassy is extending. This is where you are here [pointing at plan] and the Israeli embassy is gonna actually extend the whole way over there so they can have a conservatory.”

“Before it was your land it was our land. So we’re really gonna take what’s rightfully ours.”

“Err, well we don’t really need planning. We’ve got a very, very old planning book. It’s about two thousand years old.”

“Without putting too fine a point on it mate, they’re gonna bulldoze your land.”

“Well we generally go with the bulldozers first and letters later.”

“Can you see all those olives you’ve got in the deli display there? They’re ours as well.”

“It’s not like taking someone’s land is a big deal. We’ve been doing it for years. I mean, what’s the problem?”

“I don’t see what you’re talking about ‘proposed’. This is our land as given to us by the Almighty. I’m finding that smile a bit antisemitic, mate, so I think you should really wipe that off your face.”

shop keeper

When the BBC got itself into hot water with the Mexican Ambassador in 2011 over the promotion of negative national stereotypes, it responded:

“We are sorry if we have offended some people, but jokes centred on national stereotyping are a part of Top Gear’s humour, and indeed a robust part of our national humour. Our own comedians make jokes about the British being terrible cooks and terrible romantics, and we in turn make jokes about the Italians being disorganised and over dramatic; the French being arrogant and the Germans being over organised. When we do it, we are being rude, yes, and mischievous, but there is no vindictiveness behind the comments. […]

In line with that tradition, stereotype based comedy is allowed within BBC guidelines in programmes where the audience has clear expectations of that being the case..”

Under the chapter heading “portrayal” the BBC editorial guidelines state:

“Content may reflect the prejudice and disadvantage which exist in societies worldwide but we should not perpetuate it.  In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc. may be relevant to portrayal.  However, we should avoid careless or offensive stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in such terms when editorially justified.”

“When it is within audience expectations, we may feature a portrayal or stereotype that has been exaggerated for comic effect, but we must be aware that audiences may find casual or purposeless stereotypes to be offensive.”

Like humour itself, the perception of something as being offensive or not is very much a matter of personal taste. Certainly in this case, it is safe to assume that the BBC can cite “audience expectations” (whatever those are and however they are measured) as justification for this crude national stereotyping of Israelis because, after all, the BBC has put much effort into creating and promoting just such a stereotype in its news and current affairs content for years, meaning that British audiences are highly unlikely to develop any alternative, more realistic, “expectations”. 

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