BBC defends 'Jewish lobby' interview

The BBC has defended an interview with controversial American Jewish academic Norman Finkelstein in which the presenter referred to “the Jewish lobby”.

Three complaints have so far been received by the corporation about the Hardtalk programme broadcast on the News Channel last week.

Introducing Dr Finkelstein, interviewer Sarah Montague said: “American presidents have long been criticised for being too in thrall to the Jewish lobby. The American Jews influence US foreign policy and that explains Washington’s unwavering support for Israel.”

But a BBC spokesperson said: “We consider the wording used in the introduction appropriate as the presenter was simply explaining and reflecting the public views of the guest. She makes clear these are the controversial views of Jewish American academic, Norman Finkelstein, and then robustly challenges him in the interview.”

Dr Finkelstein, who himself referred to the “Israel lobby” but not “Jewish lobby”, argued that it had successfully prevented President Obama from putting pressure on Israel. But he also suggested that it could become less influential because US Jews were increasingly distant from Israel.

One person who has protested over Ms Montague’s words is Zionist Federation member Stephen Franklin, who has previously lodged successful complaints against the BBC over its Israel coverage.

Writing to its complaints unit, he said that “Jews constitute less than two per cent of the population of the USA, and the majority of US Jews have always voted Democrat, while the strongest support for Israel has always come from the Republicans. The unwavering support for Israel comes from Christians who constitute a significant majority of the US population.”

Mr Franklin complained that “the accusation that the Jewish two per cent of the US population decides its foreign policy is an antisemitic lie of the type found in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. 

Bicom’s Professor Alan Johnson said it was “worrying that the BBC chose not to distinguish between an ‘Israel’ and a ‘Jewish lobby’. It is difficult to see how a discourse about ‘the Jewish lobby’ does not, even if inadvertently, encourage bigoted stereotypes about the all-controlling influence of ‘the Jew’.”

Last updated: 11:18am, May 17 2012