Recently I addressed a letter to the BBC about the slur against Jews made by it in a report on the conviction of Yishai Schlissel, by describing him as ‘Ultra-Orthodox. This is what was written:
“Dear Rabbi Levin
Thank you for contacting us regarding the BBC News website.
I understand you felt that it was unnecessary and offensive for the report entitled ‘Jerusalem Gay Pride: Ultra-Orthodox Jew convicted of murder over stabbing’ to state that Yishai Schlissel is an “ultra-Orthodox Jew”.
Whilst I appreciate your concerns, this report does not imply that the actions of Yishai Schlissel had any extensive support and it certainly does suggest that any Rabbis or ultra-Orthodox leaders advocate the use of violence against members of the LGBT community in Israel.
Yishai Schlissel was the author of a number of anti-gay pamphlets and attempted to justify his actions on religious grounds – for example, calling on Jews to “risk beatings or imprisonment” in order to stop the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade.
However, our previous reports on this particular incident have made abundantly clear the widespread condemnation right across Israeli society for his actions:
Nevertheless, I would like to assure you that we value your feedback. Please know all complaints are sent to senior management and news teams every morning and we’ve included your points in our overnight reports.
These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensure that your complaint has been seen quickly, by the right people. This helps inform their decisions about current and future reporting.
Thank you once again for getting in touch.
NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.”
Exactly as anticipated the letter fails to answer the substance of the complaint! Ah! What an excellent thing it is to have realistic expectations! The complaint is reduced to a critique of the offendee’s perspective: “I understand you felt that it was unnecessary and offensive for the report … to state that Yishai Schlissel is an “ultra-Orthodox Jew”.
Reduce your guilt by restricting the offence to the percipient’s sensitivity! The complaint was that the writer and editorial staff clearly felt that it was relevant for the readers to identify the religious persuasion of the convicted offender.
The next paragraph, the attempt to whitewash, may just contain a rather unfortunate Freudian slip: “, this report does not imply that the actions of Yishai Schlissel had any extensive support and it certainly does suggest that any Rabbis or ultra-Orthodox leaders advocate the use of violence against members of the LGBT community in Israel.” (Emphasis added)
The writer wants me to accept that there is no ‘extensive support’ fort the actions of Yishai Shlissel. This leaves open the suggestion that there may be some support. Where is this support? Where are the responsa from ultra-Orthodox Rabbis (or other Orthodox Rabbis) calling for, promoting or condoning the stabbing of anyone? Where in the Jewish Code of Law, the Talmud, The Torah itself is there any support for Yishai Shlissel as taught and understood for thousands of years?
The writer and the BBC miss the point of the complaint entirely! The perpetrator may have written pamphlets or even treatises or limericks for that matter. His own deluded and sick point of view cannot superimpose a religious justification onto his actions.
But more fundamentally the letter exposes the substance the complaint: “You shamelessly identify him as an 'Ultra-Orthodox Jew', as if this has something to do with the crime for which he was convicted. Your organisation would never identify any other religion even when large numbers of adherents of that religion commit atrocities in the name of that religion. In fact your organisation will go out of its way to point out that the suspect(s)/perpetrator(s) and their crimes/misdeeds/terror have nothing to do with the religion in whose name the suspect/perpetrator has claimed to act.” (Emphasis added)
The writer of the letter, the writer of the original headline and various other editors and whoevers remain of the conviction that the purported religious persuasion of the perpetrator is relevant to the offence.
On today’s BBC News web page a story about a death in a fight in Luton, where a local man has died the article ends: “A man has been arrested in connection with the incident and is being questioned by officers..”
It may well be that the BBC have no information about the religion of the arrested individual or access to his literary efforts.
Did the BBC report on Oscar Pistorius’s religion? Dr Shipman’s? The guy who was convicted for destroying Barings?
On 14 January 2015 the BBC website includes the following in its reporting on the Charlie Hebdo massacre:
“France is emerging from one of its worst security crises in decades after three days of attacks by gunmen brought bloodshed to the capital Paris and its surrounding areas. “
“Gunmen attack Charlie Hebdo offices”
“Once inside, the men - now known to be brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi “
The report says, fairly, “Witnesses said they had heard the gunmen shouting "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" and "God is Great" in Arabic while calling out the names of the journalists.”
“French media say Cherif was a convicted Islamist who was jailed in 2008 and had long been known to police for militant activities.”
The BBC is very careful to point out that the BBC itself is not ascribing religious motivation to the attackers!
On 08 January reporting on how Parisians were taking to the streets the BBC says:
“Security has been stepped up across France in the wake of the attack, which is believed to have been carried out by Islamic militants.
Many French Muslims were among the demonstrators on the streets, keen to show solidarity with the victims and their families.”
The BBC distances the atrocity from the religion in whose name it was perpetrated. Headlines of “Gunmen” do not carry the same impact or implication as “Ultra-Orthodox” BBC, you are not heroes for doing the damage in your headlines. You know the impact of headlines, implications and associations.
It is abundantly clear that, either the BBC writer has ignored the main thrust of the complaint, or it can be argued that he and the BBC, having been afforded the opportunity to correct the inaccuracy chooses not to do so.
Your meaning BBC, very clearly, is that the attacker’s religious motivation makes his purported membership of a particular religious grouping relevant to his crime. Albeit said elsewhere he was misguided and deluded and not overly popular with the main stream of his particular lunatic fringe, his religious persuasion is relevant to you. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, BBC, believe, quite resolutely, in the Biblical Injunction of the Ten Commandments, not to commit murder.
If some nutter donned a black hat, tzitzit, a black kippa and said he was going to eat a pork sandwich in the middle of Trafalgar Square on Yom Kippur, would you, BBC, describe him as (a) Ultra Orthodox, (b) an apostate or (c) as a nutter?