The story of the Oxford Street Chanukah attack, the BBC’s notorious reporting and the JC’s coverage of the scandal began on November 29, 2021, when a group of Jewish teenagers was attacked by a group of young men as they celebrated Chanukah. Below is a timeline of the events that followed.
1 December 2021
The JC breaks the story of the attack, alongside a video of the incident. The footage clearly shows a race hate crime being committed on one of the UK’s busiest streets. The attack was reported to the police by members of the Chabad group, supported by the Community Security Trust (CST).
The BBC, in its report on the attack, claims an anti-Muslim slur had been uttered by one of victims on the bus, sparking fresh controversy.
The offending line in the BBC’s coverage reads: “A slur about Muslims can also be heard from inside the bus. The Met Police has said the incident will be looked at ‘in its entirety’.” The JC reports how the BBC claim was immediately denied by those aboard the Chanukah bus, amid mounting anger from Jewish groups.
The JC publishes a dramatic photograph of the victims returning to the scene the evening before to defiantly light a menorah where the attack took place. Pressure grows on the BBC to apologise for its anti-Muslim slur claim.
After being contacted by the JC, the BBC removes a reference in its online report to “some racial slurs” in the plural. But the article still includes the claim that “one such slur can be heard clearly”.
Hundreds of people gather outside the BBC headquarters to protest the broadcaster’s coverage of the attack.
The demonstration was organised by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), which tells the JC the corporation’s coverage is “outrageous”.
The same day, the JC reports that the police informed the CAA they had found “no evidence” of the claimed anti-Muslim slur. The BBC’s story begins to fall apart.
The JC reports how the Board of Deputies has commissioned an analysis by a team of forensic audio experts and distinguished, independent linguist, Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann, that casts the BBC anti-Muslim slur claim in further doubt.
The team used audio technology to slow down and clean up the recording so each syllable of the phrase in dispute could be heard and analysed by Professor Zuckermann, chair of linguistics and endangered languages at the University of Adelaide in South Australia.
The academic, fluent in 13 languages, including Hebrew, and a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary, concluded that the “slur” was actually the Hebrew phrase “tikrah lemishu,ze dachuf”, meaning “Call someone, it is urgent.”
Writing in the JC, Board President Marie van der Zyl accuses the BBC of a “colossal error”, adding: “A community charity shouldn’t have to use its precious funds to commission experts to disprove the BBC’s flawed journalism. This raises serious questions about deep-seated biases within the BBC.”
Despite the new audio evidence, the BBC refuses to apologise for its mistake and doubles down instead, saying: “We consulted a number of Hebrew speakers in determining that the slur was spoken in English.”
25 January, 2022
Following a fractious meeting with BBC top brass, Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl writes a furious letter accusing Director of News Fran Unsworth, who has since retired, of suggesting “you lot are all the same”.
26 January, 2022
The BBC issues a limited apology for its Chanukah bus attack coverage, following an internal review by its own Executive Complaints Unit, which refuses to say whether its reporting was accurate and denies claims of “victim blaming” the Jewish teenagers.
The broadcaster does, however, concede “more could have been done” to “acknowledge the differing views… on what was said” and agrees to amend its online reports.
The same day, the JC reports that Ofcom says it will now conduct its own investigation into the BBC’s coverage, telling us: “We have reviewed the BBC’s final response to complaints about this news programme. We consider it raises issues under our due accuracy rules.”
The BBC is forced to issue a humiliating correction after implying the CST had verified the anti-Muslim slur claim when it had, in fact, not asked the charity the question.
The JC reports that the controversy has prompted Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to request an emergency meeting with the broadcaster’s Director-General, Tim Davie. The unprecedented talks at Broadcasting House were said to have been “constructive”.
The Met, meanwhile, continues to investigate the attack but, as each month passes, little news of progress emerges.
The JC reports on the fury surrounding the Met’s announcement it is closing its investigation into the attack because its officers have been unable to identify the culprits.
In response, the JC, the CAA and the Jewish News jointly offer a £30,000 reward for any information leading to a conviction.
In a scathing verdict, Ofcom criticises the BBC for “serious” editorial failures in its coverage of the attack, causing “significant distress” to Jews.
We are happy to make clear that the BBC made a full apology for failings in relation to this matter in January 2022, following the findings of its own Executive Complaints Unit.
Those findings were consistent with those of Ofcom, which published its report in November 2022 at which point the BBC reiterated its apology. Ofcom stated there had been “a significant failure to observe its editorial guidelines to report news with due accuracy and due impartiality”. The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit found the reporting “fell below expected standards of due accuracy and impartiality”.
We accept these points were not made clear in original reporting (in November 2022) nor had the BBC been “maintaining the fiction that its reporting was word perfect” ahead of Ofcom’s report. Further, there was no finding of guilt by Ofcom, nor a breach of the broadcasting code.