BBC condemned by Jewish groups for reporting of Diane Abbott's suspension

Community bodies have voiced their outrage that the BBC led with a fringe group's opinion


The BBC has sparked outrage by focusing on "a tiny fringe group completely unrepresentative of British Jews" when reporting on Diane Abbott's suspension.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the National Jewish Assembly have all condemned the framing of the news story in a bulletin on BBC Breakfast this morning.

In a clip which was circulated on social media, presenter Victoria Cook emphasised: "Jewish Voice for Labour has criticised the suspension of the MP Diane Abbott over her comments on racism in the Observer."

She also quoted a JVL statement that called Abbott's suspension "yet a further attack on our freedom to debate very important issues in the Labour Party".

Claudia Mendoza, co-CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council, told the JC: "The idea that the BBC would cite a tiny fringe group completely unrepresentative of British Jews as a legitimate voice of the Jewish community is really quite surprising.

"JVL’s sole purpose is to discredit any accusation of antisemitism. This is not the first time and after seven years, BBC News should really know better."

Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies, said: "It is extremely disturbing to see that BBC London decided to lead a broadcast with the views of a group on the very fringes of the Jewish community.

"That editorial decision raises worrying questions regarding the corporation's level of awareness regarding the Jewish community and issues of concern, following on as it does from the notorious misreporting of the Chanukah antisemitic incident on Oxford Street."

Gary Mond, head of the National Jewish Assembly, also told the JC: "It is amazing that the BBC seems to believe that Jewish Voices for Labour is in any sense a representative Jewish group, be it within the Labour Party or outside. It isn't.

"Why did the BBC not interview someone from the Jewish Labour Movement, to get a view from within the Labour Party? Or any of the several Jewish community or campaigning groups outside it?"

A cross-party group of MPs and peers is set to investigate the BBC’s coverage of Jews and Israel after the JC started a petition calling for the inquiry last year.

This followed Ofcom’s ruling that the BBC failed to observe its own editorial guidelines when reporting an antisemitic attack on Oxford Street last Chanukah.

In another incident, a journalist hired by the BBC ranted “death to Israel” on social media and described it as “occupied Palestine” live on air, whilst the organisation used Abdel Bari Atwan – who repeatedly praised terrorist attacks and articulates a hardline Islamist worldview – as a high-profile pundit.

Yesterday, the Labour Party suspended Diane Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, following a letter she sent to the Observer which argued that Jews do not suffer from racism.

A Labour spokesman said, “The Labour Party completely condemns these comments which are deeply offensive and wrong.”

Sir Keir Starmer said Abbott's letter "was antisemitic" and it was "absolutely right that we [Labour] acted as swiftly as we did.”

The chief whip yesterday "suspended the Labour whip from Diane Abbott pending an investigation.”

In her published letter, Abbott had written that prejudice was “similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable”.

In a statement on Twitter on Sunday morning, Ms Abbott, whose constituency has a large Strictly Orthodox Jewish population where on average Jews suffer two attacks a week, said she wished to “wholly and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and disassociate myself from them”.

The errors, she explained, “arose in an initial draft being sent. But there is no excuse and I wish to apologise for any anguish caused”.

Responding to the news, a BBC spokesperson said: “Since this story broke we have used a wide range of contributors on BBC London and across BBC News.

“We have had reaction from Dianne Abbott’s constituents alongside interviews with London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and Fiona Sharpe from Labour Against Antisemitism, who are both in support of Labour’s decision to suspend Ms Abbott.  

“As the story develops we are continuing to use a diverse of range views, including other London MPs, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, and voices from the travelling community. The topic of Nicky Campbell’s 5 Live phone-in today asked ‘how antisemitic is the UK?’.

“The BBC is fully committed to representing all views in this debate.”

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