BBC News website runs a headline portraying antisemitism as ‘just fun’

The BBC decided to give more space to the defence of antisemitism at the Aalst carnival than to those condemning it.

On January 27th the BBC News website published a report titled “Auschwitz 75 years on: Are anti-Semitic attacks rising?”. Attributed to the corporation’s ‘Reality Check team’, the article cites surveys and reports on antisemitic incidents from three European countries and from bodies including the Kantor Center.

Notably the BBC chose to erase the massive rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups against Israeli civilians which led to both Operation Cast Lead and Operation Protective Edge by describing those two defensive operations as “Israeli conflicts in Gaza”.   

“For example, the latest report from Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center on anti-Semitism worldwide, found the number of major violent incidents in 2018 had been at a relatively high level. However, it was still well below the levels seen around the times of Israeli conflicts in Gaza in 2008-9 and 2014, for example.” [emphasis added]

Nevertheless, we see that just a month ago, the BBC was aware of the rise in antisemitism in Europe.  Consider then the way in which the same website elected to report the blatant antisemitism on display at the Aalst carnival in Belgium this past weekend.

On February 24th the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ page published a 475-word report which it chose to headline “Belgian city of Aalst says anti-Semitic parade ‘just fun’”.

That messaging also opened the report:

“A Belgian city has defended as “just fun” a carnival featuring caricatures of Orthodox Jews wearing huge fur hats, long fake noses and ant costumes.”

One hundred and fifty-four words were given over to promotion of the talking points of the spokesman for the city’s mayor, including the notion of antisemitism as “freedom of speech”.

“The Aalst mayor’s spokesman told the BBC “it’s our humour… just fun”. […]

“It’s our parade, our humour, people can do whatever they want,” he said. “It’s a weekend of freedom of speech.””

One can only wonder whether the BBC would find it likewise appropriate to promote the notion of “freedom of speech” in relation to grossly offensive stereotypical portrayals of other religious and ethnic groups or, for example, the LGBT community.

The report ‘balanced’ that promotion of the city spokesman’s view with statements from three sources:

“Israel, Jewish groups and Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès were among many who strongly condemned the costumes in Sunday’s parade in Aalst.”

A total of 136 words were used to report the condemnations from all those sources.

In other words, the BBC decided to give more space to the defence of the display of antisemitism in Aalst than to those condemning it.

The report included a reference to a story which was ignored by the BBC at the time.

“The city drew much criticism for parading caricature Jews last year – so much so that it was dropped from Unesco’s cultural heritage list in December. After the outcry, Aalst itself had asked to be taken off the list.”

In fact, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage said it was withdrawing the carnival “over recurring repetition of racist and anti-Semitic representations” at the event. As the Jerusalem Post pointed out, this year’s event included “more and worse antisemitic tropes and themes than in the past”.

The BBC News website, however, chose to run a headline portraying that racism as “just fun”.

Related Articles:

BBC News passes on follow-up to story it reported in March



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