British historian Simon Schama is being presented with a prime-time Sunday evening slot to argue Israel’s case during an hour-long program.
It will be the final program in a five-episode series called The Story of the Jews, which began on BBC Two on 1 September. The series is written and presented by Schama.
The Jewish Chronicle reports: “The last program takes the viewer up to the present day, focusing on the impact that the Holocaust has had on the modern state of Israel.”
Schama expounds further in a Radio Times article about the series. Writing about the final program, he explains in the print edition: “As I say in one of the programs in my new series, it was not just what the Nazis did to the Jews, but what the rest of the world failed to do that makes the moral case for Israel.”
Schama goes on in the article to describe himself as a “historian-Zionist.”
Glossing over ethnic cleansing
The BBC has a commitment, under the terms of the Agreement accompanying the Royal Charter, to exercise impartiality in its broadcasting. And yet here it is, allowing a “historian-Zionist” to “make the moral case for Israel” with no challenge from those who have suffered as result of Israel’s creation. There is no balance in this whatsoever.
In order to “make the moral case for Israel,” Schama will have to gloss over the slaughter of 13,000 Palestinians between 1947 and 1948 and the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 more during that period. It was through this terror, killing and forced eviction that Israel was created.
He will have to omit the facts about the ethnic cleansing of another 350,000 Palestinians in 1967 following Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and he will have to find excuses to explain why that brutal military occupation, accompanied by the occasional massacre in Gaza or in the refugee camps of the West Bank, is still ongoing.
It should be impossible to make a moral case for a state created and sustained through slaughter and forced transfer, a state which is involved in the longest military occupation in modern history, a state which subjects the people whose land it occupies to a cruel system of apartheid.
It should be impossible, but the BBC is going to let Schama have a go.
BBC’s free rein to Zionists
Defending the forthcoming program, a BBC spokesperson told The Electronic Intifada:
The Story of the Jews is not a series about the state of Israel, it is a historical series by an eminent academic and award-winning presenter that covers a wide range of topics over five episodes. In the final episode, Simon Schama encounters a range of opinions about the state of Israel – from a cross-section of dissenting voices. In recent weeks he has taken part in a number of challenging news discussions across the BBC to discuss the topics raised in the series.
It may be that Schama includes one or two Palestinians in the program, in order to give an appearance of “balance,” but it is his program, and how they are edited and presented, and how much time they are allocated, will be up to him. He does, after all, have a case to make, and it’s unlikely that he’ll allow anyone to derail his argument.
Schama may also declare he is in favor of two states – as he puts it in the Radio Times: “… a state for the Jews and a state for the Palestinians sharing the same land.” It is a disingenuous argument, used by Zionists to make themselves sound reasonable when they know full well that Israel’s rapacious settlement building has not left enough contiguous stretches of land in the West Bank on which to create a viable Palestinian state. Furthermore, Schama’s wish for a Jewish-only state is an argument for the expulsion of the nearly two million Palestinians still living in historic Palestine.
The sight of the BBC giving free rein to a “historian-Zionist” to promote Israel to its audience is disturbing enough. But the situation deteriorates even further when the BBC’s reverential attitude to Schama, whose book of the same title is being plugged alongside the series, is compared with how it treated the documentary Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story in April.
This film was due to be shown on BBC Four on 25 April but, as I covered at the time, was pulled at the last minute with the BBC claiming it “did not fit editorially” with its series on archeology.
Palestinian scene “too emotive”
The documentary, made by Israeli director Ilan Ziv, uses archaeological evidence to question whether a mass Jewish exile from Jerusalem 2,000 years ago really happened.
It is on this story that many Zionists base the Jewish “right of return” to Palestine and justify their colonization of Palestinian land. If the story is nothing but a myth, then it could be argued that Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story was making the case against Israel.
This is the program that was pulled, while Schama’s program, attempting to make the “moral case” for Israel, will be shown.
On his website, Ziv writes that the BBC spoke to him after his film had been pulled. He recounts that BBC executives wanted to make substantial cuts, including removing one scene about the Palestinians which, Ziv wrote, was deemed “too emotive” by an internal BBC review.
The BBC has told the Palestine Solidarity Campaign that it is now planning to show an edited version of Jerusalem in November, although a date has to be confirmed. The documentary will be accompanied by a discussion program, the BBC says, to add “context and balance.”
Where will the context and balance be when Schama presents his “moral case for Israel”? Where is the accompanying discussion program, which will allow those with a different point of view to make their case?
The BBC has been pulled up on its hypocrisy by PSC and five other leading organizations which campaign for Palestine in a letter sent this week to Janice Hadlow, controller of BBC Two and BBC Four.
The groups write:
We find it alarming that the BBC is giving a platform to an openly pro-Israeli commentator to make the “moral case” for Israel. Schama’s views will go unopposed, unchallenged and misanalyzed. This is a far cry from the balanced and impartial broadcasting that the BBC claims to champion.
Referencing the disparity in treatment between Schama’s program and Jerusalem, the letter adds: “Why can the one documentary only be screened with an accompanying discussion program, while the other will be broadcast with neither balance nor context?”
Hadlow’s reply, if it comes, is unlikely to provide any reassurance to those who wish to see the BBC treat Palestine and Israel in an equal manner.