On Oct. 15th, BBC Radio 5 Live host Emma Barnett interviewed Joshua Virasami, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter UK (the semi-official UK branch of the US movement), and asked about the following antisemitic tweet by the group back in June:
As Israel moves forward with the annexation of the West Bank, and mainstream British politics is gagged of the right to critique Zionism, and Israel’s settler colonial pursuits, we loudly and clearly stand beside our Palestinian comrades.
— #BlackLivesMatterUK (@ukblm) June 28, 2020
Here’s the exchange between Barnett and Virasami, who, according to The Telegraph, is also on record accusing Israel of “ethnically cleansing” the Palestinians.
Note that Virasami, responding to Barnett’s question about who precisely is “gagging” British political conversations about “Zionism”, claims the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism is the culprit.
First, before we get to the IHRA definition, it’s important to stress that the BLM UK leader’s claim that there’s a dearth of criticism about Israel within British politics is the opposite of the truth.
As David Collier’s detailed research, which reviewed 70 years of transcripts, demonstrated, UK Parliament has been obsessed with Israel. Collier’s report showed that Israel was referenced 17,667 times between January 1, 1946 and January 20, 2019 in the House of Commons and House of Lords – more than Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine combined. Moreover, as we’ve demonsrated at this blog, Israel is similarly an obsession with many British media outlets.
If anyone has been conspiring to “gag” criticism of Israel, they’ve done an awfully bad job of it.
Now, regarding the IHRA definition “gagging” criticism of Israel: as anyone who’s actually read the definition would understand, it does nothing of the sort, and in fact specifically says “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
The IHRA definition defines as antisemitic demonisation of Israel which overlaps with classic anti-Jewish tropes: such as accusing Israel of “conspiring to harm humanity”, allegations which mirror ancient blood libels or other such racist calumnies that have been peddled throughout history by Jew haters.
Also, note that despite the BBC host’s repeated attempts to get an answer to the question ‘who is doing the gagging?”, Virasami never once provides an answer, other than to argue that “a lot of people…would like to see that any conversation surrounding Israel is considered ‘antisemitic‘ – evoking the toxic narrative that Jews dishonestly use claims of antisemitism to stifle criticism of Israel.
Though, towards the very end of Barnett’s questioning regarding the tweet, Virasami’ conceded that their use of the term “gagging” was “insensitive”, the bottom line is that the tweet – which elicited tens of thousands of retweets and likes – has not been deleted, and no official apology from the group has been offered.
Finally, though we’ve often highlighted instances where BBC hosts have handled the issue of antisemitism poorly, BBC’s Barnett deserves credit here for asking the BLM UK leader tough and well-informed questions.