Simon Schama and BBC attacked over Story of Jews

By Marcus Dysch, September 12, 2013
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Simon Schama (Photo: BBC Pictures)

Simon Schama (Photo: BBC Pictures)

Activists have attacked historian Simon Schama’s documentary series on the history of the Jews, claiming it should not include his opinions on the creation of Israel.

The fifth and final episode of The Story of the Jews will focus on the relationship between the Holocaust and the creation of the modern-day state of Israel.

But supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign have complained to the BBC, claiming it was “alarming” that Professor Schama should be allowed to discuss the Shoah.

The BBC defended the programme and said the coverage was “balanced, fair, accurate and impartial”.

The PSC sent a letter to BBC Two controller Janice Hadlow following the series’ debut last week. Among the signatories were PSC director Sarah Colborne; Daud Abdullah, who previously threatened violence against British troops; and Ismail Patel, a leading supporter of blood libel cleric Raed Salah.

They were joined by Diana Neslen of Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Professor Jonathan Rosenhead of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine.

Their complaints followed Prof Schama’s explanation that “it was not just what the Nazis did to the Jews, but what the rest of the world failed to do that makes the moral case for Israel”.

In the letter to Ms Hadlow the activists wrote: “We find it alarming that the BBC is giving a platform to an openly pro-Israeli commentator to make the ‘moral case’ for Israel.

“Schama’s views will go unopposed, unchallenged and unanalysed. This is a far cry from the balanced and impartial broadcasting that the BBC claims to champion.”

Their letter claimed the Corporation had acted inconsistently in allowing Prof Schama’s programme to go ahead when earlier this year it had pulled from its schedules a documentary about the archaeological history of Jerusalem.

“The difference in the BBC’s treatment of Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story and The Story of the Jews is a further indicator of the organisation’s lack of impartiality in its treatment of Palestinian and Israeli issues,” they concluded.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “The Story of the Jews is not a series about the state of Israel, it is a historical series by an eminent academic and award-winning presenter that covers a wide range of topics over five episodes.

“In the final episode, Simon Schama encounters a range of opinions about the state of Israel – including a cross-section of dissenting voices. In recent weeks he has taken part in a number of challenging news discussions across the BBC to discuss the topics raised in the series.”

Prof Schama declined to comment.

Last updated: 2:45pm, September 12 2013