Omissions in BBC report on congressional hearing

On December 5th a report concerning the same day’s congressional hearing concerning antisemitism on American university and college campuses was published on the BBC News website’s ‘US & Canada’ page under the headline ‘US college presidents testify on campus antisemitism’.

Tagged ‘Israel-Gaza war’, that report is credited to the BBC’s Canada correspondent Nadine Yousif. Readers are told that:

“The heads of three top US colleges have pushed back against claims that they are not doing enough to combat antisemitism on their campuses.

The leaders, who included Harvard president Claudine Gay, testified before the House of Representatives.

The students at the universities have accused administrators of not protecting Jewish people since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

Jewish students said they faced antisemitic threats, assault and more.”

Notably, Yousif’s report makes no mention whatsoever of a part of that hearing which was extensively reported by other media outlets.

“In a high-profile congressional hearing Tuesday evening, the presidents of three of the top universities in the US refused to explicitly say that calls for genocide of Jewish people violates campus rules on harassment.

When New York Republican Representative Elise Stefanik asked directly if “calling for the genocide of Jews” is against the codes of conduct of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania, all three presidents said the answer depended on the context.

“It is a context-dependent decision,” Penn president Liz Magill responded, leading Stefanik to reply, “Calling for the genocide of Jews is dependent on the context? That is not bullying or harassment? This is the easiest question to answer ‘yes,’ Ms. Magill.”

Responding to the same question, Harvard president Claudine Gay said, “When speech crosses into conduct, we take action.”

MIT president Sally Kornbluth said that such language would only be “investigated as harassment if pervasive and severe.””

Those relying on the BBC for their news would therefore have difficulty understanding, for example, a statement put out the following day by Yad Vashem, a statement from the White House or the later walk back attempts by some of the university presidents concerned.

Yousif closes her report with four paragraphs relating to a resolution passed by the US House of Representatives on the same day. Remarkably, only one selected quote was presented to BBC audiences:

“On Tuesday, the Republican-majority House also passed a resolution to condemn the “drastic rise of antisemitism” in the US and around the world following 7 October.

The resolution also stated that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism”.

Some Jewish Democrats in the House, including New York congressmen Jerry Nadler and Dan Goldman, said the resolution was an “unserious attempt by Republicans to weaponize Jewish pain”.

It passed with every Republican vote except one. Thirteen Democrats voted against the resolution, while others voted “present”.”

Yousif failed to clarify that, as reported by the JTA, Nadler’s stance was in fact considerably more nuanced than her report suggests:

“Democratic Representative Jerry Nadler of New York, the longest-serving Jew in the House, and a leader in advancing past denunciations of antisemitism, delivered a speech delineating instances in which anti-Zionism does not constitute antisemitism.

“The resolution suggests that all anti-Zionism is antisemitism,” said Nadler, who attended an Orthodox day school growing up. “That is either intellectually disingenuous or just factually wrong. And it unfairly implicates many of my Orthodox former constituents in Brooklyn, many of whose families rose from the ashes of the Holocaust.

“While most anti-Zionism is indeed antisemitic, the authors, if they were at all familiar with Jewish history and culture, should know about Jewish anti-Zionism that was, and is, expressly NOT antisemitic,” Nadler said. “This resolution ignores the fact that even today, certain orthodox Hasidic Jewish communities — the Satmars in New York and others — as well as adherents of the pre-state Jewish labor movement have held views that are at odds with the modern Zionist conception.”

Nadler and his Jewish colleagues, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Dan Goldman of New York, this week introduced a separate resolution condemning antisemitism, tying it to the Biden administration’s antisemitism strategy, which the resolution approved on Tuesday does not mention.”

Yusif’s unhelpful framing also fails to provide readers with relevant context in the form of the fact that the US uses the IHRA working definition of antisemitism – which includes the example: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”.

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