On April 11th and 12th BBC World Service radio aired an edition of ‘Heart and Soul’ titled “Faith and Food: The Jewish Community of Paris“, presented by Hardeep Singh Kohli.
First impressions suggested that the programme would provide an all too rare opportunity to record some accurate and impartial BBC reporting and that perception was encouraged at 11:12 minutes into the programme when, as part of his purported attempt to understand contemporary anti-Semitism in France, the presenter interviewed Professor Andrew Hussey. Professor Hussey gave a concise yet comprehensive summary of four factors contributing to the phenomenon: conspiracy theories prevalent in the Paris suburbs inhabited by North African immigrants, Right-wing Catholic anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial/revisionism, Islamist radicalization and ‘salon’ antisemitism.
However, despite having heard that academic appraisal of the topic, Singh Kohli found it necessary to promote his own theories in the next segment of the programme. Describing his topic as the “exodus of French Jews to Israel”, Singh Kohli opines:
“It’s obviously a controversial topic as many of the Jews moving to Israel will find homes in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Whether or not Singh Kohli has any factual evidence to support the claim that he already knows exactly where “many” of those immigrating to Israel from France will be going to live is of course highly questionable. In fact had he checked, Hardeep Singh Kohli would have discovered that the destinations of choice for those who made aliyah from France in 2014 included Ashdod, Tel Aviv, Ra’anana, Jerusalem, Ashkelon and – most popular of all – Netanya. But nevertheless, at 15:14 he repeats his theme:
“I don’t mean to be simplistic about it but the outside world looking in sees people leaving France to go to Israel, so people think well, people are coming to Israel and that increases the occupied territories which then increases antisemitism which then increases more people leaving France.”
And again at 16:14:
“I get this sense of a vicious cycle: antisemitism causing Jews to leave and then Israel continuing to expand illegal settlements on the West Bank to accommodate them. It’s one of the factors contributing to more antisemitism.
Again, Singh Kohli provides no factual source for his pronouncements but the bottom line here is that has he has found a way to place the blame for European antisemitism at Israel’s door and even to suggest that Jews themselves are responsible for anti-Jewish racism.
In doing that he elects to promote a fabricated political narrative at the expense of the route which could have actually provided listeners with informative content: serious exploration of the pointers provided by Professor Hussey.
Towards the end of the programme (24:15 and also in a clip promoted separately by the BBC on Twitter), listeners hear Singh Kohli say:
“I think if the Jews of the world retract – if they all move to Israel – then we will never grow up living next door to a Jewish family and that’s very sad. Why are they being taken away from?… why is my city?… my hometown of Glasgow has less Jews now than ever and my city is worse for it.”
Clearly Jews are not being “taken away” from Glasgow or anywhere else in Europe: their reasons for deciding to leave are, as his interviewee tells him, rooted in a variety of contemporary realities evident in European society. One of those realities is anti-Jewish hatred fuelled by inaccurate, lazy and narrative-based media presentation of Israel. Hence, before he allows himself to sink any further into self-indulgent bemoaning of ‘his’ loss of neighbourhood diversity, Hardeep Singh Kohli would do well to take a critical look at his own contribution to that particular phenomenon.