BBC staff members defy guidance to attend march against antisemitism

‘I’m so glad I’m no longer there’, said former BBC broadcaster Vanessa Feltz who joined the 100,000-strong demonstration on Sunday


Protesters holding placards take part in a demonstration in central London, on November 26, 2023, to protest against antisemitism. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

A number of Jewish BBC employees joined the 100,000-strong demonstration on Sunday despite a message reminding staff last week that certain employees – especially journalists and senior management – were prohibited from attending “a controversial march or demonstration”.

An anonymous BBC insider told the JC: “There is a strong feeling that they have gone wrong here and should have recognised that the march was in effect an anti-racism march, and not a political or contentious event.

"For Jewish employees to be among those told ‘you can’t go’ was hard for a lot of Jewish staff to swallow. Some didn’t go as a result of the warning, while others went in spite of it.”

BBC guidelines prohibit staff members who work in news, current affairs, factual journalism and senior management from participating in protests of any kind, or any event categorised as “commemorative or celebratory”.

BBC employees who asked to participate in previous pro-Palestinian marches are understood to have received the same response.

However, critics have been quick to question how a march against anti-Jewish racism could be considered “controversial”. Some have also pointed out a double standard in the BBC’s relative leniency when one of the corporation’s best-known stars, Gary Lineker, openly supported the pro-Palestinian march on Armistice Day.

Another Jewish BBC employee told the JC that the corporation’s coverage of “the horrors unfolding” since October 7 has been unbalanced, conveying an “existential scepticism towards the very legitimacy of Israel's defence.”

"For the past terrible weeks the BBC has contorted itself in a strange dance of false equivalence and obfuscation.

"I have worked there long enough to know that contrary to its own mantra it is not 'One BBC'. There is antisemitism, and on occasion I have encountered it at executive level especially.”

The march on Sunday, organised by Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), was a community-led response to rising antisemitism in the UK, with the Metropolitan Police citing record numbers of reported hate incidents against British Jews since the Hamas attacks on October 7.

As of 22 November, CST had recorded at least 1,563 antisemitic incidents across the UK, the highest ever total reported across that time period.

CAA estimated that upwards of 100,000 people attended the march on Sunday, including notable figures like broadcaster Vanessa Feltz, former prime minister Boris Johnson, comedian and writer David Baddiel and actor Tracy-Ann Oberman. It was the largest protest against antisemitism since the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when thousands gathered to confront the British Union of Fascists.

Feltz, who worked for the BBC for nearly 30 years, said on TalkTV on Monday morning: “If I’d been at the BBC, of course I would have had to go on the march, and if they said I couldn’t go I would have had to go. How could I not go? And if I did go, I’d have been fired. I’m so glad I’m no longer there.”

It is unclear whether BBC will sanction employees who defied its guidelines to attend the march.

When asked for a comment, a BBC spokesperson told the JC: “The BBC is clear that antisemitism is abhorrent. We have established guidance around marches, which explains that different considerations apply depending on what you do for the BBC. Corporately, we have not issued any staff communication on any specific march this weekend, but this does not mean discussions which consider the guidance have not taken place between colleagues.”

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