Quick navigation
Alphabetical index (text)
[Images added by this website]


London, Tuesday, June 28, 2003


Israel breaks links with BBC in anger at 'demonisation'

By Christopher Walker

ISRAEL broke all contact with the BBC yesterday in protest at its repeated "demonisation" of the country and today's planned showing on BBC World of a critical documentary on Israel's nuclear, biological and chemical arsenal.

The move will involve a refusal to put up official spokesmen for BBC interviews. There will be visa restrictions, not imposed on other news organisations in Israel, to ensure that the bureau chief is rotated every few months and to make it hard for BBC staff to report. "The BBC will discover that bureaucracy can be applied with goodwill or without it. And after the way that they have repeatedly tried to delegitimise the state of Israel, we, as hosts, have none left for them," Daniel Seaman, director of the government press office, told The Times. "We see the well-known pro-Arab touch of the Foreign Office and the traditional anti-Semitism of parts of Britain's Establishment in the way they are acting against us."

Also planned are non-co- operation in all requests for assistance with such restrictions as military road blocks in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. A decision to expel all BBC correspondents has been put on ice, but not dismissed out of hand. The first test comes today when the BBC requests that Israeli officials go to its studios to comment on the weekend visit of Condoleezza Rice, the US National Security Adviser, who is to have talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders about the "road map" to peace. Mr Seaman, 42, said the sanctions had been decided at an angry meeting of representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Ministry and the government press office because of what was seen as an overall BBC attitude towards Israel "verging on the anti-Semitic".

They were in reaction to a series of programmes which had sought "to delegitimise Israel and showed some of the attitudes once familiar in Der Stürmer (the Nazi journal)."

Mr Seaman added: "Our complaint is with the BBC as an organisation rather than its bureau here, which does try from time to time to rectify its mistakes. The weapons programme, which contains the ridiculous false assertion that we used nerve gas against the Palestinians, was the last straw.

"We decided that we had to draw a red line rather than just complain about a consistent attitude in which successive BBC programmes attempt to place us in the same context as totalitarian, axis-of-evil countries such as Iraq and Iran."

"The attitude of the BBC is more than a pure journalistic matter; it is dangerous to the existence of the state of Israel because it demonises the Israelis and gives our terrorist enemies reasons to attack us. There is no dialogue between Israel and the BBC and no recognition inside the corporation of the sensitivity of a people who have faced attempted annihilation. The questions about nuclear weapons asked by the BBC are never directed against the US or Britain. Mr Sharon is never mentioned without some critical reference to his alleged right-wing tendencies or military past, while Islamic terrorists are politely referred to as 'militants' out of a reluctance by the BBC to upset Muslims by telling the truth."

The final element in Israel's frustration was the BBC's promotion of the programme Israel's Secret Weapon, shown in Britain in March on BBC Two, with a series of provocative questions onscreen:

  • "Which country in the Middle East has undeclared nuclear weapons?
  • Which country in the Middle East has undeclared biological and chemical weapons capabilities?
  • Which country in the Middle East has no outside inspections?
  • Which country jailed its nuclear whistleblower for 18 years?"

Israel said it would refuse to put up spokesmen to be interviewed on BBC programmes and would not co-operate with BBC requests for help in such matters as correspondents getting through road blocks and Tel Aviv airport, and in the issuing of press cards. Israel has applied heavy pressure on the BBC not to re-broadcast the weapons programme. The sections that have caused such anger in Israel compare Israel to Iraq and raise the question of why the world had demanded UN inspections in Iraq, but not similar inspections on Israel.

Andrew Steele, chief of the BBC's six-strong bureau in Jerusalem, which includes the correspondents Orla Guerin, Jeremy Cooke and James Reynolds, said that he had not even seen the programme. He had referred all queries to the BBC press office in London.

Richard Sambrook, Director of BBC News said last night: "We regret that the Israelis felt the need to take this action but we stand behind the veracity of the film."

Copyright 2003 Times Newspapers Ltd.


Our dossier on the origins of anti-Semitism
Mordechai Vanunu see Daylight in an Israeli Court
Dossier of photos taken by Israeli scientist Mordechai Vanunu documenting Israel's Daimona nuclear weapons project
Auschwitz camp banned David Irving and BBC team from filming in 1998
© Focal Point 2002 [F] e-mail: Irving write to David Irving