Damning new evidence undermines BBC’s Oxford Street racist slur claim

The BBC has been accused of a ‘colossal error’ in attack report


THE JC can reveal damning new evidence which appears to undermine the BBC’s claim that an anti-Muslim slur was uttered by a victim of the antisemitic Chanukah bus attack on Oxford Street.

The Charedi students whose panicked voices can be heard in a video clip of the attack have categorically rejected the BBC’s allegation that they used any racist phrase whatsoever.

And a dossier of exhaustive analysis by forensic audio experts and a distinguished, independent linguist, commissioned by the Board of Deputies, appears to confirm their testimony.

The revelations heap further pressure on the BBC to justify its claims to the Jewish youngsters. So far it has refused to apologise, causing outrage.

Rabbi Schneur Glitzenshtein, who organised the bus trip, told the JC that he had personally spoken to those whose voices are heard in the video. “All they were doing was trying to protect each other,” he said. “That insult did not happen.”

Separately, the Board of Deputies commissioned digital experts DigFind and D3 Forensics, who used audio technology to slow down and clean up the recording so that each syllable of the phrase in dispute could be heard.

Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann, Chair of Linguistics and Endangered Languages as the University of Adelaide inSouth Australia, one of the most senior experts in his field, then studied the tape.

The Professor, who is fluent in 13 languages, including Hebrew, and is a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary, established that the “slur” was actually a Hebrew phrase, “Tikrah lemishu,ze dachuf” meaning: “Call someone, it is urgent.”

Professor Zuckermann suggested that BBC editors may have fallen victim to a phenomenon known as the “Apollonian tendency” — the wish to make order of unfamiliar information by applying ideas that are already in the brain of the person listening. This is a concept explored by Professor Zuckermann in his book Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew (Palgrave Macmillan 2003).

The professor concluded: “I was unable to detect any anti-Muslim slur in particular, at any point in the footage, either in English or in Hebrew.”

One of the Charedi students who was on the bus, Raphael, 22, told the JC: “We were outside the bus dancing and these men gathered around us. 

“They started gathering and dancing and at the beginning it seemed like a friendly act, but then they started to shout ‘free Palestine’ and ‘f**k Jews’.” 

Raphael said he had been a guest on the trip and the teenager whose voice can be heard uttering the disputed phrase was from a separate youth group.

He said: “The person whose voice we can hear is definitely one of the boys from Beit Chabad.

“They were inside the bus and they weren’t really engaging with what was going on outside. They were inside and they were panicking.

“They are religious 12 and 13 year old kids who don’t swear at all. They wouldn’t pick a fight with anyone.

“They are really nerdy kids who read a lot. They are much more serious, nerdy kids than most their age. They’re very sheltered.”

Asked what he thought of the BBC allegation, he said: "I think it is an attack on Jews."

Board President Marie van der Zyl told the JC: “A community charity shouldn’t have to use its precious funds to commission experts to disprove the BBC’s flawed journalism. At the very least, the BBC should apologise and give us our money back.”

Writing in the JC this week, Ms van der Zyl described the BBC’s reporting of the incident as a “colossal error”. 

She writes: “It has added insult to injury in accusing victims of antisemitism of being guilty of bigotry themselves. Others will have to judge whether the corporation has a legal case to answer here. 

“But what takes this from an egregious failure to something far more sinister is the BBC’s behaviour when confronted with its mistake. Instead of admitting it was wrong, it has doubled and tripled down. This raises serious questions about deep-seated biases within the BBC towards Israelis, and indeed towards Jews in general.”

The BBC continues to stand by its allegations against the Jewish youngsters. But the findings will increase pressure on the corporation, which this month faced a mass protest outside Broadcasting House over its coverage of the attack. 

BBC Director-General Tim Davie is due to meet the Board of Deputies next month to discuss its coverage of the 29 November attack, the JC has learnt. 

Professor Zuckermann, the author of the report commissioned by the Board, has 25 years’ experience in forensic linguistics, has taught at Cambridge University and has 10 postdoctoral fellows.

He was asked to consider both phrases — “Dirty Muslims” and “Tikrah lemishu, ze dachuf” — to see if one could be definitively ruled out. He studied both the uncompressed raw footage and the version that had been cleaned up by forensic experts, to ensure the audio had not been tampered with. At the disputed point in the recording, at three seconds in, Professor Zuckermann says that only the modern Hebrew can be heard.

He writes: “Given the above native pronunciation of ‘mishu’ and ‘dakhuf’ and given the cohesiveness of the complex sentence in Israeli (“Call someone, it’s urgent”), it is clear to me what is heard around the three second mark is a native Israeli sentence rather than an English expression. 

“I hypothesise that the BBC … misheard ‘mishu’ as ‘Muslim’ and perhaps even the preceding ‘tikrah’ as ‘dirty’.”

D3 Forensics, who worked to clean up the recording for analysis, specialises in data acquisition and digital investigations. It took the video footage of the attack and changed its tempo to make the speech clearer, isolating the disputed section of the soundtrack.

Its report for the Board also concludes: “D3 Forensics unequivocally confirms that the audio does not contain any racial slur.”

It adds: “Our analysis of the entire audio track by a native Hebrew speaker confirms that the sound is a mix of Hebrew and English. We can categorically confirm that the spoken phrase is Hebrew: ‘Tikrah lemishu, ze dachuf’ meaning: ‘Call someone, it is urgent’.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “Antisemitism is abhorrent. We strive to serve the Jewish community, and all communities across our country, fairly. 

“Our story was a factual report that overwhelmingly focused on the individuals the police want to identify; those who directed abuse at the bus. 

“There was a brief reference to a slur, captured in a video recording, that appeared to come from the bus. We consulted a number of Hebrew speakers in determining that the slur was spoken in English. 

“The brief reference to this was included so the fullest account of the incident was reported.”

The full dossier that was commissioned by the Board of Deputies can be found here.

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