No, Sky News did NOT apologise for suggesting that Israel may provoke anti-Semitism

As previously noted on these pages, Sky News reporter Adam Boulton asked Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis three times if Israel provokes antisemitism in Europe, during a short interview on Holocaust Memorial Day.  

As Boulton was interviewing Mirvis about the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, viewers saw background video of Palestinians in Gaza during the summer war, under the headline: “Auschwitz remembered”.

Again, here’s the video:

After the segment aired, quite a few angry viewers contacted Sky News to protest the insidious suggestion that Israel may be responsible for antisemitism in cities like London, Paris and Brussels, as well as the network’s decision to show images of Palestinians in a segment devoted to the Holocaust.

Contrary to the headlines used by other media outlets since the row, Sky News has not subsequently apologised.  Indeed, one of the viewers who contacted John Ryley (the head of Sky News) gave us permission to publish his email, and the response by Mr. Ryley.

The language used by Ryley mirrors that used by Peter Lowe, Sky News’ managing editor, in response to another angry viewer and, as you’ll see below, Sky News clearly has not apologised for showing the Gaza image, nor for legitimizing the suggestion that Jews may cause antisemitism.

Email from a Sky News viewer to John Ryley, head of Sky News, Jan. 29th

I apologise for writing to you personally, but I feel that this issue is of such importance and magnitude and concerns the reputation of Sky News, that it is something which ought to be brought to your attention.
27th January was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and many of the TV channels had been giving that subject and the atrocious, inhuman and industrial murder of 6 million Jews, men women children and babies, as well as of Gays, Gypsies, and the disabled, perpetrated by the Nazis and their sympathisers, a great deal of coverage. The BBC broadcast live, with great sensitivity and superb televising, the Holocaust Memorial service attended by Prince Charles and Camilla, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mervis, The Archbishop of Canterbury, numerous other dignitaries and many hundreds of guests.
There then came the interview on Sky News of The Chief Rabbi by Adam Boulton which I shall refer to.
First of all however I wish to point out some basic facts of which a reporter as experienced as Adam Boulton and of which his editor, must have been well aware. The fact that these were ignored raises serious concerns about the agenda of some of your news editorial staff.
The facts I refer to are that the State of Israel is a sovereign state some of whose citizens are Jewish, some Christian, some Moslem, some Hindu, some Buddhist, some Bahai some Druze, some of other faiths and some Atheist. It is the only true democracy with the rule of law in the area allowing all faiths to practice their region. Jews in Britain or in other countries are not Israeli unless a tiny minority have dual nationality. I, for example was born near Burnley Lancs in 1942 and my father was born in Bolton Greater Manchester. My grandfather came to this country about 1900 fleeing from the pogroms against Jews in Lithuania. (So you can see anti-Semitism has been going on for hundreds and in fact thousands of years).  I take great personal objection to suggestions that Anti-Semitism, which is, as Rabbi Mervis described, the oldest hatred, can in any way, shape or form be explained or excused or justified or made understandable by the actions of the Israeli Government in seeking to protect its people against thousands of rocket attacks, attack/kidnap tunnels, kidnapping and murder carried out by the terrorist organisations of Hamas Hezbollah and others.
So, on the day of Holocaust Memorial, Adam Boulton and his editors saw fit to ask the Chief Rabbi :-“As we revisit this issue is it because of Israel?”. Rabbi Mervis replied and Adam Boulton repeated “Many people would say the behaviour of the State of Israel, its attitude towards the Palestinians, has poured fuel on Anti-Semitism to a certain extent.” As he was saying that the screen showed scenes of a demolished building with the caption “Gaza,” and an old woman taking something out of the ruined building. Boulton then went on to say:-“You don’t think that the policy of the Israeli Government to a certain extent fuels Anti-Semitism.” Rabbi Mervis replied, pointing out that Israel was a democracy where the people held various views and Boulton replied “Democracy within but it is occupying land the UN says it should not occupy”.
Anti-Semitic attacks have been on the rise in the UK and in Europe and elsewhere. It is the type of snide, inaccurate and biased remarks broadcast by that interview which pours petrol onto the flames of anti-Semitism in the minds of crazed fanatics such as those who murdered people in the Paris Kosher supermarket. That attack was purely anti semitic.
You may not know this but the original target was a large Paris Jewish school. On the way there the terrorist was being driven by his wife but she was involved in a minor traffic accident. A police officer came over to investigate and was shot by the terrorist. Realising that they then would not make it to the school, the terrorist’s wife dropped him off at the Kosher supermarket and then made her way to take a flight out of France. The Police found the abandoned car still loaded with a huge amount of arms explosives and ammunition and a note with the address of the Jewish school. That is why President Hollande sent troops to guard French Jewish schools.
It has not happened here yet but idiotic remarks such as those made by Boulton could well inspire fanatics to think that such actions are justified. I have personally never before experienced Anti-Semitism nor been worried when going into a Jewish shop. The fact that such ideas have been broadcast has now made me fear for my Grandchildren and family.
The EUMC working definition of Anti-Semitism includes the following:-“Holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel”. I consider that the type of remarks referred to above come within that definition and in fact border on inciting racial hatred. They were entirely irrelevant to the Holocaust unless Boulton and his editors were seeking to suggest that a repetition of the Holocaust would be understandable given the actions of the Israeli Government.
I enclose a copy of a speech by a former Associated Press journalist Matti Friedman, which though long is well worth reading and digesting. For now, such remarks as those made by Boulton should be severely stamped out and guidelines laid down with severe sanctions if breached.
Please let me know what action will be taken.

Reply by John Ryley on Feb. 2

Dear Mr….
Thank you for your emails and letter.  It’s good to have the opportunity to answer the matters you raise.
On the day of the anniversary, Sky News spent most of the afternoon showing live pictures of the ceremony live from Auschwitz.  It was a moving and affecting event which, incidentally, seems to have resulted in a higher than normal number of viewers throughout the afternoon.  We covered the events live and used our historian and expert events commentator Alistair Bruce to describe and contextualise the event. This was supplemented by coverage of the event in London attended by the Prime Minister and Prince Charles. There was also a news report compiling the day’s events by one of our correspondents which ran throughout the evening.
ON the programme Sky News Tonight, we wanted to reflect on the day and also put it into a current affairs context. In doing so we had a chance to interview CR Mervis – and Adam Boulton set out to talk to him about the meaning of the memorial events and to ask him about anti-Semitism, quite clearly an important current issue, especially since Paris.  Incidentally, we have done two reports – one from Paris and one from Manchester — on the concerns of Jewish people.  Adam asked whether anti-Semitism was now weaker than it had been in the 20th century, and the Chief Rabbi said that it was now on the increase again “because of recent events”.    This took the interview into a modern context and Adam did ask whether the actions of Israel were in any way responsible for anti-Semitism.  CR Mervis gave a very good reply about anti-Semitism pre-dating Israel and about the war in Gaza being the result of anti-Semitism rather than its cause.  Perhaps some viewers with pre-conceived ideas would have been enlightened by the Chief Rabbi in a way that would not have been possible without him being asked such questions.
When one has the opportunity to interview the head of British Jewry about current issues, it seems pertinent to ask questions that not only reflect on the past but which deal with present issues which concern us all.  Even though it may be wrongheaded to say.
that the government of Israel – a democratic country where not all citizens are Jewish — is responsible for anti-Semitism, there can surely be little doubt that there are people in society who do connect Jews with the actions of Israel.    That may be fallacious, but I don’t think it is something we should edit out from the comparatively rare opportunity to interview the Chief Rabbi in front of a general audience in order to give him the opportunity to confront these ideas and perhaps lay them to rest.
Some people who have criticised the interview suggest wrongly that Adam was making assertions — that he or Sky News believes “Jewish people are responsible for anti-Semitism”.  He was most certainly not doing this.  He was asking questions.  It’s a rather more prosaic example, but we challenge leading politicians all the time about whether their policies are right without it meaning that we think they’re wrong.  We have a duty to be impartial, which in itself requires interviewers to play “devil’s advocate”, raising questions which help illuminate.
The questions Adam asked would not have been asked of anyone during the actual ceremony in Auschwitz, a moving event that properly deserved the singularity of only live coverage and expert commentary, which we gave.  But the questions themselves were justified in a current affairs interview for the reasons outlined above.
Let me now address the question of the use of the Gaza pictures.  These were used very briefly during the interview. When the Chief Rabbi mentioned Auschwitz, we used pictures of Auschwitz; when the London event was discussed, we showed pictures of CR Mervis and Prince Charles at that event, and when the Chief Rabbi talked about Gaza, we showed pictures of Gaza.  Televisually, this was a logical sequence.  At this point, we were no longer doing what I would call “event coverage” in which you focus entirely on a live ceremony.   By the evening, this was a news channel doing news interviews about the day’s events.
However, I think with hindsight that there was a dislocating juxtaposition between the visual strap that contains the overall story title – which was for the whole day “Auschwitz Remembered” – and the pictures on the screen of the rubble in Gaza.  I think that if we were doing the interview again, we would not have used the pictures of Gaza, because their use in conjunction with the “Auschwitz Remembered” label was an indelicate clash.
I am very sorry if you or anyone was upset by the interview Adam did with the Chief Rabbi.  I agree that the particular circumstances of the use of the pictures from Gaza was unfortunate, but I firmly believe that our journalists, particularly those with the experience and knowledge of Adam Boulton, are entitled to ask questions which help to shed light on the tricky issues of our time.
Yours sincerely,
John Ryley.

Despite Ryley’s admission that the images of Gaza on Holocaust Memorial Day represented an “indelicate clash”, do you see a legitimate apology in his response?
No, neither do we. 
 

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