BBC refused request by father of teen terror victim to address staff over interview with her killer

Exclusive: BBC Arabic channel had been forced to apologise after making sympathetic show about mastermind of Jerusalem bombing


BBC chiefs have refused a request by the father of a teenage girl killed in a terrorist atrocity in Israel to deliver a presentation to staff who worked on a show that included a sympathetic interview with the mastermind of the attack.

Arnold Roth, whose daughter Malki was one of 15 civilians killed in the blast inside Jerusalem's Sbarro restaurant, had met with BBC executives last month to discuss the fallout from the October 8 broadcast of an episode of the BBC Arabic Trending programme.

The show included an interview from Jordan with Ahlam Tamimi, ringleader of the 2001 bombing, who used the opportunity to launch an appeal to be reunited with her husband Nizar, also a convicted terrorist who was deported by the Jordanian authorities to Qatar.

The families of Tamimi's victims were among those to complain to the BBC about the report - and a review by the corporation found the interview was in breach of editorial guidelines.

The JC understands that a meeting between Mr Roth and executives from BBC World Service and BBC Arabic took place last month after the Israeli criticised the apology aired over the interview as “empty, cruel and pointless”.

During the November 9 meeting with Jamie Angus, head of BBC World Service, and BBC Arabic head Samir Farah, Mr Roth raised concern that interview with Tamimi went beyond a lapse editorial guidelines and was in fact at odds with the bedrock of journalistic and ethical values.

Mr Roth also stressed that he was a supporter of much the BBC does.

But he suggested the Tamimi interview  - which was promoted on social media under the hashtag ‘Ahalm Tamimi, your voice is loud and clear’ – airbrushed out her victims in the terror attack, failed to mention her insistence that the bomb was placed in a restaurant frequented by religious Jews, and described her crimes as allegations.

Lord Michael Grade, former chairman of the BBC, had been amongst those to criticise the interview saying  there were “very serious issues of balance and impartiality raised” by the broadcast and the corporation, and possibly Ofcom, should investigate.

Tamimi, who confessed to her involvement in the suicide attack in court, was released from an Israeli prison as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011.

She has been living free in Jordan where she has hosted a television show and been allowed to develop a celebrity status amongst some.

Tamimi had been jailed for 16 life terms for murder in 2003 and, at the time, the judges recommended that she never be released.

Tamimi claimed to have been an agent of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which were proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the UK in 2001.

She proudly claimed credit for the 2001 attack, admitting to scouting the location of Sbarro – a popular eatery in downtown Jerusalem.

Mr Roth also raised further concerns at the meeting last month about the apology aired by BBC Arabic on October 29 over the Trending programme broadcast earlier that month.

It is understood that he has pointed to the fact that a BBC Arabic presenter had introduced the apology by starting with the wording, “I read you a message from the BBC.”

Mr Roth said this negated the impact of the rest of the apology – and took it away from being an attempt by BBC Arabic to accept responsibility for broadcasting the Tamimi interview.

Apologies published on the BBC Corrections and Clarifications page had instead begun: “On 8 October, the  BBC Arabic Trending programme broadcast an item on Ahlam Al Tamimi’s appeal to the King of Jordan to be reunited with her husband.”

In his meeting, Mr Roth asked for an opportunity to personally address BBC Arabic’s Trending staff to give a presentation on work done by the Malki Foundation – set up in his daughter’s name - which works with disabled children of all faiths across Israeli society.

He also asked for the opportunity to record a segment for BBC Arabic’s Trending programme and social media outlining his criticism of the October programme.

Both Mr Roth and his wife have been at the centre of a campaign to have Tamimi extradited from Jordan to face terror charges in a US Federal Court in Washington.

Since 2016, Tamimi has been the subject of a US Department of Justice arrest warrant on a charge of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against American nationals, including Malki.

Mr Roth, was originally born in Australia, while his wife Frimet was from New York , and their late daughter had dual Australian-US citizenship.

Tamimi appears on the FBI's list of "most wanted terrorists" and the US Department of State has issued a $US5 million reward for information leading to her arrest.

But Jordan has so far refused to co-operate.

Following the meeting with BBC executives, the JC has learned that Mr Roth has been informed by BBC World’s Mr Angus that they were going to “respectfully decline” his request to address BBC Arabic.

The BBC also told Mr Roth that they believed the apologies broadcast following the October 8 broadcast, both by BBC Arabic and by BBC World Service, were a reflection of the mistakes that had been made.

It was also claimed that BBC Arabic’s Trending team had been left fully aware of the seriousness of their editorial breaches and their impact on the victims of the terror attack, such as Mr Roth.

Asked by the JC why they had declined Mr Roth’s requests at the November 9 meeting, the BBC said they do not comment on private meetings.

Asked about the introduction given by the BBC Arabic presenter when the apology was broadcast on October 29,  a BBC spokesperson said: “Airing an apology on live TV gives it the highest of prominence.

“The fact that BBC Arabic did this, and the breach in editorial guidelines acknowledged by the programme, is a reflection of the seriousness with which BBC Arabic dealt with it. The very clear apologies published online in both English and Arabic also show how seriously it is still taken.”

The JC understands that BBC World Service is satisfied that the presenter’s decision to begin the apology by saying it was “from the BBC” was an attempt to give it the prominence it deserved rather than deflect the blame from BBC Arabic itself.

A spokesperson added: “On 8 October, the BBC Arabic Trending programme broadcast an item on Ahlam Al-Tamimi’s appeal to the King of Jordan to be re-united with her husband.

“This segment of the programme was in breach of our editorial guidelines and we removed the clip from all our digital platforms.

“It should not have been shown and we apologised at the time on air and online for the offence caused, both here (in English) and here, (in Arabic). BBC Arabic frequently refers to itself when on air as ‘the BBC’ as it is how its audiences know it, and the apology aired by the programme was unequivocal.”

Arnold Roth is speaking at the Limmud Festival at 4pm, Monday December 28


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive