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BBC's new drama McMafia under fire for anti-Israel tropes

UK Lawyers for Israel have identified several examples of negative references to Israel which were not in Misha Glenny's original book

    James Norton in McMafia
    James Norton in McMafia (BBC)

    The BBC has been accused of resorting to “gratuitous slurs” in its new drama series, McMafia, over the portrayal of an Israeli character.

    The influential UK Lawyers for Israel group issued a statement following the broadcast of the first episode on BBC1 on Monday evening, attacked the depiction of Semiyon Kleiman, a shady businessman and politician, played by actor David Strathairn.

    The group also claimed that the much-hyped programme also made references to Israel which were not mentioned in the book by author Misha Glenny, on which the drama was based.

    In a further criticism, UKLFI also claimed that programme-makers had distorted the meaning of the motto of Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad.

    In the statement, posted on UKLFI's Facebook page, the group wrote: "BBC 1 mini-series, McMafia, uses gratuitous slurs against Israeli businessmen and makes references to Israel which aren't mentioned in the original book, McMafia, by Mischa Glenny.

    “Furthermore, the mini-series distorts the motto of Mossad which was quoted in the drama, as 'By deception we will do war'.

    “The actual motto comes from Proverbs, 24.6 and says 'For by wise guidance you can wage your war'.

    “The use of the word 'deception' in substitute for the words 'wise guidance' attacks the integrity of Mossad and insinuates that Israel officially sanctions deception in its intelligence activities.

    "To raise concerns, please write to the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/ ."

    The eight-part drama has received largely positive reviews.

    James Norton - of Happy Valley and War and Peace fame - plays the son of a former Russian "Godfather", who is trying to follow a straighter path.

    In the opening episode Kleiman was shown pushing ahead with plans for a multi-million floating casino off the coast of Eilat in Monday’s episode. 

    Interviewed about his character, Mr Strathairn said "I didn’t know much about it, Misha’s book became the source and it was the oracle for me. Nor did I know much about the Russian/Jewish/Israeli culture but the production provided all of us with so much tangible palpable information."

    Award-winning scriptwriters James Watkins and Hossein Amini are behind the series which and is co-produced by the BBC, AMC and Cuba Pictures, in association with Twickenham Studios.

    Tom Gross, a journalist and commentator and occasional JC contributor, who is a close friend of Mr Amini, says the McMafia writer is "a philo-Semite" and believes critics may be "jumping the gun".

    Mr Gross, who has seen an advance copy of the rest of the plot line, told the JC: “They shouldn’t jump to conclusions yet. Later in the series an Israeli character is shown in a very heroic light.”

    “It is true that there is also some Russian Israeli corruption taken directly from the book which can be deemed offensive, but McMafia will also have Arabs kneecapping women, Pakistanis smuggling heroin, Indians and Russians doing all sorts of horrible things. No character or country comes out of it spotlessly.”

    Mr Gross added: "There is certainly much to complain about regarding the BBC's coverage of Israel and Israelis, but complaints should really be directed against BBC News rather than against this fictional series."

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