BBC reports on a “new debate” in Israel that isn’t, revives old Ha’aretz campaign

The January 25th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, which is broadcast both on BBC Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service, included an item by Josh Spero – editor of the luxury magazine ‘Spear’s’ which describes itself as:

“…the multi-award-winning wealth management and luxury lifestyle media brand whose flagship magazine has become a must-read for the ultra-high-net- worth (UHNW) community. It is also required reading for the affluent financial services community, including the bankers, lawyers and family offices who advise the wealthy.”

It might then have come of something as a surprise to listeners to this edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (available here from 06:15) to find that: Spero FOOC audio

“Josh Spero in Jerusalem asks how best to teach Israeli children about the Holocaust without traumatising them”.

In her introduction to the item, presenter Kate Adie correctly states that:

“The 27th of January was chosen as Holocaust Memorial Day because it’s the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops in 1945. In Israel the Holocaust is commemorated later, either in April or in May.”

Unfortunately she did not bother to inform listeners as to why that is the case or of the significance of Israel’s different date of commemoration – close to the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Adie goes on:

“Commemorating is one thing; teaching another. A new debate has broken out in Israel on how to teach young school children about the Holocaust as Josh Spero found out.”

In fact, the BBC’s “new debate” is three months old.

Spero’s audio report at first appears fairly unremarkable in itself. The interesting part of this story comes when one looks at the written version which appeared on the BBC News website on January 29th under the title “A Holocaust book for young children” in both the Magazine section and on the Middle East page. Spero FOOC written

In that article readers are told that:

“At the moment [Israeli] teachers deal with the subject as they think best, often in the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January, but they are rarely suitably trained.”

In the audio version of that sentence Spero does not mention the date January 27th, so that is clearly an inaccurate addition by the website’s editors.

With regard to the “new debate” around which this item is centred, the article states:

“In newspaper opinion pieces, writers recalled the traumas they had suffered when Holocaust education had been done badly.

One remembered being shown the movie Night and Fog aged 14, with footage from the death camps of “mountains of bodies being bulldozed”, leaving him “tormented”, while another still suffered nightmares 30 years after a teacher showed him, aged seven or eight, photos of what he called “walking corpses in striped pyjamas“.”

Diligent readers who bother to click on the links provided by the BBC will note that the author of the second article is a woman rather than a “he” and that both those articles date from November 2013 and both come from Ha’aretz – a fact not revealed in the audio version. That second article is also included, together with an editorial, in a side-box of quotations from Ha’aretz articles on the subject. sidebox Holocaust educ art

The opening paragraph of the written article states that:

“News that Israeli children are to receive compulsory lessons about the Holocaust provoked an outcry from pundits who were traumatised by teachers when they were young.”

Hence, readers who clicked on the links to see the sources of these three articles may by now have concluded that just one newspaper exists in Israel, seeing as the only apparent evidence of that “new debate” being touted by the BBC is to be found on the pages of Ha’aretz and the BBC does not provide links to any other sources.

So what are the actual facts behind this BBC-promoted saga?

In 2010 the Israeli State Comptroller (Mevaker HaMedina) criticized Holocaust commemoration in the education system saying that the Ministry of Education “did not instruct the kindergarten teachers and teachers who dealt with teaching the Holocaust and did not provide them with pedagogic material in order to enable them to cope with the complex questions involved in the teaching of this sensitive subject.”.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum took up the challenge of preparing suitable material for use in classes of differing ages during the hours already devoted to teaching the subject in the run-up to Holocaust Remembrance Day. In October 2013 Education Minister Shai Piron announced the new proposal.

Josh Spear’s claim that “[t]he storm […] broke out when education minister Shay Piron announced that Holocaust education was to become compulsory for all Israeli schoolchildren” is not an accurate one. In contrast perhaps to their European counterparts, Israeli children take part in annual commemorations from a very young age and cannot fail to be aware of the siren marking the occasion, the media coverage of the subject and the fact that for many families in Israel, the Holocaust is part of their personal history. Hence, Holocaust education already exists and this latest initiative is designed to help teachers who have been asking for better pedagogic resources on the subject for years. 

But, as Ben Dror Yemini pointed out in an article last November, the new proposal became the focus of an overtly political campaign on the pages of Ha’aretz rather than anything which can be honestly described as a “debate”.

Interestingly, the BBC has chosen to revive and amplify that now old Ha’aretz campaign and has inadvertently illustrated once again that it would be prudent for BBC employees and contributors to widen their reading of the Israeli media beyond the pages of Ha’aretz if they wish to inform themselves – and of course their audiences – of domestic Israeli affairs. 

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