Senior MPs from both main parties have condemned the BBC for broadcasting interviews with supporters of the Hamas terror group in its coverage of Saturday’s murderous attacks, saying it had fallen short of its role as a public service broadcaster and was failing to do justice to victims.
They also say that by repeatedly describing Hamas gunmen as “militants”, not terrorists, the BBC is creating a “false equivalence” between the cold-blooded killers of Israeli civilians and a democratic state’s attempts to defend them.
Their criticisms have been joined by Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies.
She told the JC that after she complained to director general Tim Davie, the BBC has admitted it should not have broadcast an interview with a Hamas supporter who claimed the attacks were “the same” as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
However, the Corporation refused to back down on its use of the term “militants”, saying this was in line with its editorial guidelines.
Van der Zyl told the JC this left her “appalled”, pointing that Hamas has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation in its entirety since 2021.
She revealed she has now written to Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer and her Labour shadow Thangam Debbonaire, asking them to demand that the guidlelines be reviewed. She is also asking for a review of policy at Channel 4, which broadcast an interview with a Hamas spokesman on Saturday.
One of the most inflammatory interviews transmitted by the BBC news channel came on Saturday evening, when Refaat Alareer, a lecturer at Gaza’s Islamic University who was billed as “Palestinian educator”, was given a platform to say that the attacks by what he termed “the Palestinian resistance” were “legitimate and moral”.
They were “exactly like the Warsaw ghetto uprising” – the heroic battle fought by the Jewish resistance as the Nazis tried to “liquidate” the Polish city’s ghetto in 1943.
Alarer, who was speaking to BBC viewers from inside the Gaza Strip, said “this is the Gaza ghetto uprising against one hundred years of European and Zionist colonialism”.
In response to the complaint from van der Zyl, the BBC now accepts this interview should not have been broadcast.
Another BBC guest given a platform to comment on the attacks was Bushra Shaikh, a self-styled actor and social media influencer who competed in the 2017 series of The Apprentice. She told viewers that the atrocities were a “symptom of the conflict” that was bound to “boil over at some point”, simply because “we have one of Israel's most right-wing governments in history”.
As criticism of her remarks grew on Sunday, she posted on the X platform formerly known as Twitter that she had been advised to “tone down” her comments, to which she retorted that “no one in their right mind should be trying to tone this down” – because, she claimed, Israel had killed more than 120,000 Palestinians since 2008.
Throughout its coverage of the war so far, the BBC has described Hamas terrorists as “militants”, and on Sunday morning its news channel suggested that while the intensity of the violence was “unprecedented”, this was a product of “the scale and ferocity of attacks on both sides”.
Steve McCabe MP, the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said the BBC was failing in its mission as a public service brioacaster.
He told the JC: “The BBC must cover the outrageous and horrible events in Israel in an appropriate and respectful manner. Those who defend or justify terror attacks should not be given a platform to propagate their hatred on our public service broadcaster.”
Senior Tory MP Alicia Kearns, chair of the Commons select committee on foreign affairs, said she felt “dismay”. She said: “There is never any legitimacy or defence for the rape and murder of civilians. Any suggestion that the terrorist group Hamas is not a terrorist group, or that their actions were not those of terrorists, is demeaning to the memory of those who lives they have irreparably harmed and stolen.”
Former cabinet minister Stephen Crabb MP, the pariamentary chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, was also scathing of the BBC’s coverage.
He told the JC: “The BBC seems to be falling back into bad old ways, trying to draw an equivalence between acts of terror and the response of a democratic state trying to protect and defend its citizens.
“Some of those who have been given space on the BBC’s platform were very poorly selected, to say the least. In its desperate attempt to appear balanced, it seems the BBC is failing to present the facts.”
Van der Zyl added: “I have been appalled by the tenor of some of the BBC’s coverage, and especially by its refusal to use the word ‘terrorist’ in relation to Hamas gunmen. If the guidelines are responsible, as they claim, then they must be reviewed – which is what I am asking the secretary of state and her shadow to do.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “We reported the Hamas attacks and the response by Israel in line with the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines. We have included contributors who have condemned the attackers as terrorists and we have reported that Hamas is designated as a terrorist group by many Western governments, including the UK.
"While an interviewee who made comments on the Warsaw Ghetto was robustly challenged on air, we agree his comments were offensive and we don’t intend to use him again.”