Fury as BBC pundit calls Jerusalem bombing 'Palestinian World Cup'

Politicians have slammed the broadcaster for hosting Abdel Bari Atwan


A controversial pundit that the BBC insists on featuring despite his support for terror has sparked fury by calling Wednesday’s bombings in Jerusalem the “Palestinian World Cup”.

Writing on Twitter in Arabic, Abdel Bari Atwan, who regularly appears on BBC current affairs programmes, said: “Bombings with explosive devices in occupied Jerusalem, one Israeli dead and many injured… this is the beginning of a very different Palestinian World Cup.”

In the attacks in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning, a 16-year-old boy was killed and 19 were wounded in a devastating double blast. Mr Atwan’s remarks sparked widespread outrage, with Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl calling them “sickening”.

It comes in a landmark week as the number of signatures on the JC petition calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the BBC passed 10,000. The petition registers Anglo-Jewry’s “deep concern” over the BBC’s coverage of Jews and Israel and demands a Westminster probe. It can be signed at

The JC has repeatedly exposed Mr Atwan’s track record in the past. He has praised terror attacks as “miracles”, defended the 1972 Munich massacre of the Israeli Olympic team and expressed sympathy for the man who stabbed novelist Sir Salman Rushdie. Yet the BBC has consistently defended hosting him.

When the JC published an open letter from 36 parliamentarians and public figures calling on the BBC to drop the pundit in September, Director-General Tim Davie wrote back insisting that giving Mr Atwan a platform was “in the public interest”.

His latest comments will redouble pressure to sack Mr Atwan — a regular guest on BBC Arabic and the recently cancelled Dateline London — and take the Jewish community’s concerns seriously, especially in the light of Ofcom’s damning criticism of the broadcaster earlier this month.

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said: “Abdel Bari Atwan’s description of a terrorist murder as ‘the beginning of a very different Palestinian World Cup’ was sickening. Equating murderous terrorists acts with a football tournament should in itself be grounds for disqualification as a BBC contributor.”

The government’s former terror tsar, Lord Carlile, called on the BBC to apologise. “If the BBC ever needed further evidence of the true colours of Abdel Bari Atwan, his tweet this morning following a terrorist murder provides the true horror of his beliefs,” he said.

“His reference to terrorist murder as ‘Palestine’s new World Cup’ really does require the BBC to apologise for elevating him to the role of a pundit.”

Jewish Leadership Council Co-Chief Executive Claudia Mendoza added: “It is abhorrent to see the glorifying of terrorism from someone given such a prominent platform.

“If the BBC is to maintain that these ‘uncomfortable views’ deserve to be heard, it is important that it lays out how they will be challenged, or it will rightly be accused of legitimising them.”

Figures outside Parliament joined their voices to the outrage. Leading historian Simon Sebag Montefiore told the JC: “I find it hard to believe that anyone would celebrate the killing of innocent people by terrorists but to contrive a link to football and the World Cup is highly distasteful.”

The distinguished historian Andrew Roberts added: “The repulsive joke with which Abdel Bari Atwan greeted the tragic news of this murder suggests that, contrary to the BBC’s belief, he does not represent any wide opinion in this country.”

In September’s open letter to BBC Director-General Tim Davie, the 36 politicians and public figures wrote: “The BBC invited the controversial commentator Abdel Bari Atwan onto its Dateline London programme, during which he appeared to express sympathy for the man who attacked Salman Rushdie in New York.

“Mr Atwan is not a right and proper person to be given a BBC platform, and it is shocking that the corporation continues to invite him to appear on its flagship programmes, despite your being well aware of his history and the concerns.”

After a six-week silence, Mr Davie replied after the JC launched our petition. In a letter described as “vacuous”, he insisted that the inclusion of Mr Atwan was in “the public interest”.

In the letter, sent in October, he wrote: “We will sometimes include in our output people whose views may cause serious offence to many in our audiences, but where we do so the potential for offence must be weighed against the public interest.” Following Mr Atwan’s latest tweet, Greg Smith MP said the time had come to drop him from BBC channels. “To say the terrorist murder of an Israeli child and serious injuries to many others is the start of ‘the Palestinian World Cup’ is sickening and hate-filled,” he said.

“The BBC — or any other respectable media outfit — must never have him or anyone with these disgraceful attitudes on their platforms ever again.

“Celebrating terror, comparing it to a game, shows how wrong the BBC ever were to defend Abdel Bari Atwan and it must now revisit their decision.”

Tory peer Lord Leigh added: “Imagine the outrage if, heaven forbid, there had been a similar terror incident in the UK and a media pundit had responded similarly?

“He should be prohibited from spreading his views which are vile, not uncomfortable, as they are inciting further violence.”

Liberal Democrat life peer Lord Monroe Palmer said: “His cup brimmeth over with hate. How can anyone defend this person let alone provide a platform to spread the hate?”

A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Removing someone who cheers on antisemitic terrorists from our screens is not an example of rampant cancel culture but a matter of public safety.

“Would they keep using a pundit who cheers on the murder of black people by white supremacist terrorists? We all know the answer. It’s time the BBC stopped applying a double standard to Jews.

“We continue to back the JC’s call for an urgent parliamentary inquiry.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “Careful judgements are made about the guests we invite on and the context in which we hear from them.” Mr Atwan has been approached for comment.

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