On Monday, I wrote about the enduring plague of antisemitism which continues to afflict the Labour Party and much of the left, despite Sir Keir Starmer’s laudable progress on driving it back out since he became leader.
But disgusting as full-throated support for Hamas is, that is not the only way the Israel/Palestine conflict seems to rot western brains. A more insidious recent example is the BBC’s stubborn refusal to refer to Hamas as terrorists.
This isn’t something which has slipped below the radar; some of the Corporation’s staff have been outspoken in defending this editorial line. Here’s John Simpson, its senior political correspondent, justifying it:
“British politicians know perfectly well why the BBC avoids the word ‘terrorist’, and over the years plenty of them have privately agreed with it. Calling someone a terrorist means you’re taking sides and ceasing to treat the situation with due impartiality.”
Very laudable. But it doesn’t stack up, for several reasons.
First, the BBC’s commitment is to impartiality, not indifference. Per it’s own editorial guidelines:
“It does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles, such as the right to vote, freedom of expression and the rule of law.”
Now in fairness, such conduct as slaughtering ravers at a music festival isn’t listed, and perhaps we are not supposed to assume that murdering babies breaches any “fundamental democratic principles”.
But unless the Corporation got its republican principles from ancient Carthage (which did combine a senate with sacrificing to Baal) it seems a reasonable assumption to make; the BBC is not obliged to let the viewer decide if parading the corpses of rape victims around in trucks is good or bad.
Second, calling Hamas a terrorist organisation is not a subjective value judgment, at least not for the British state broadcaster. The Government proscribed Hamas in 2021. Here’s the full text of the (very short) press release:
“The Islamist terrorist group Hamas has today become a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK in its entirety, following Parliament’s approval of an Order which was laid in Parliament on Friday (19 November).
“This means that members of Hamas or those who invite support for the group could be jailed for up to 14 years. The group’s listing has been amended in the list of proscribed organisations to reflect this change.”
Quite cut-and-dried, that. Given Simpson’s insistence that “the BBC’s job is to place the facts before its audience and let them decide what they think”, the fact is that Hamas is a designated terrorist organisation and ought to be reported as such.
One might almost say that refusing to do so is, in fact, editorialising.
Finally, and perhaps most damningly, the BBC regularly uses the word terrorist. Mark Wallace, formerly of this parish, helpfully tracked down some examples from just the last few months. Indeed, it turns out that Simpson himself (perhaps having mentally set down the weighty hat of BBC neutrality) is wont to use it himself.
Which means what we actually have here is not a woefully misguided but rigorously applied commitment to neutrality, but a case of special treatment for an organisation that mostly murders Jews.
One of the ways that latent antisemitism manifests, even amongst people who would be outraged at the suggestion they harbour it, is the reflex to treat Israel/Palestine as a special case. It isn’t.
Nor does it do the Palestinian cause any favours to conflate it with Hamas, a murderous terrorist organisation financed by the Iranian theocracy whose latest military operation centred on storming that most un-military of targets, a rave.
There’s no excuse for it, and it’s time the BBC stopped excusing it.