LONDON – A British news weekly has published an advertisement, signed by activists accusing the BBC of a pro-Israel bias, that other publications refused to publish.

The New Statesman published the ad, a letter signed by 232 people berating the broadcaster for “a consistently pro-Israel bias” for its coverage of the Gaza flotilla incident and the conflict in general across its entire network.

“The BBC’s decision to broadcast uncritically Israeli film of the attack reflects a consistently pro-Israeli bias in its coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” the ad stated.

It was signed by a host of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activists including Liberal Democrat peer Jenny Tonge, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Methodist Church minister Stephen Leah, Palestinian academic Nur Masalha and Israel-born academics Avi Shlaim, Moshe Machover and Haim Bresheeth along with many involved in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

Citing legal reasons, The Independent and The Guardian, publications with a critical stance toward Israel, rejected the advertisement, organized by a Brighton-based group calling itself the “Campaign to end BBC bias on Palestine” but asking that checks be made out to a radical group called “Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods.”

According to an activist who set up a Facebook protest page in August, the Independent said it would not publish the ad as it was “based on opinion and not facts.”

“The advertising department there does not seem to appreciate the virtues of a free press, because they kept telling me it was based on opinion not facts,” Cheryl “Filasteen” Abdul from Newcastle said on the Facebook page.

The Independent said the ad would make it vulnerable to a libel suit and raise questions from the Advertising Standards Authority, the UK’s advertising regulator.

The Guardian also refused to publish the letter without changes being made to the text.

“Legal have just got back to me and said that we’ll only be able to run your ad if you can make a few changes to the copy,” Jennifer Melmore from the Guardian’s advertising department told the activists in an email last month.

“The Guardian was approached about running the advert, but the advertisers chose not to proceed,” a Guardian spokesman said on Friday.

Changes had been made to the advertisement published in the New Statesman, compared to the original draft seen by The Jerusalem Post.

Taken out was the accusation that the “the BBC’s Orwellian production portrayed the victims of Israel’s premeditated attack on the ships as the ones guilty of violence,” as was an accusation that Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev “went unchallenged as he justified the murders and vilified the victims.”

A blanket accusation that “throughout its coverage” BBC News 24 broadcasted Israel’s own film evidence was taken out to read: “BBC News 24 broadcast uncritically Israel’s own film ‘evidence’ of their commandos being attacked, when it was fully aware that this had edited out the initial lethal attack.”

The words, “By the time the flotilla survivors were free to tell their side of the story, the BBC news agenda had conveniently moved on” were completely removed, as was a statement in the original draft to the effect that the Israeli commandos “were disarmed” on the Mavi Marmara, leaving, “They [viewers] were also not shown the photographs smuggled past Israel’s pirates, showing activists giving medical treatment to Israeli commandos.”

The advertisement asked why the BBC’s Panorama show documentary on the incident did not “investigate the attack from the standpoint of those who were killed and injured instead of allowing itself to be bought off with ‘unique access’ to the killers?” “Whilst the rest of the world expressed incredulity at Israel’s claim that its commandos had acted in self-defense, BBC’s radio and TV news broadcasted, without comment, Benjamin Netanyahu’s absurd claim that ‘Israel did all it could to avoid violence,’” the signatories claimed.

The ad also described the Panorama documentary, titled Death on the Med, as “a half-hour justification of the murder of 9 aid workers,” and said that Israeli troops deliberately fired a tear-gas canister directly at a protester in the West Bank.

Accusing the BBC of not providing context – and attacking a comment made by a BBC correspondent who had said in a report that the Israeli military was “very well-experienced at dealing with crowd control” – the letter said: “Knowledge of Israel’s routinely violent attacks on Palestinians and peaceful international protesters would have provided meaningful context to the attack on the flotilla.”

“The BBC’s behavior is an incentive to other states to behave similarly,” the activists wrote.

“If Iran or North Korean had carried out a lethal attack, in international waters, on a ship flying another country’s flag, can one imagine BBC broadcasting uncritical interviews with the killers?” they asked. “With the killers?” had replaced “with apologists for any resulting deaths?” in the advertisement.

While a call for “fundamental change in its news coverage in order that the context of events is always present in its coverage and that it doesn’t use Israeli film unquestioningly” was removed completely from the ad, it ended: “We wish to see the BBC stand up to threats from Israel instead of caving in, as occurred when the government of Ariel Sharon targeted [BBC correspondents] Orla Guerin and Jeremy Bowen.”

The New Statesman declined to comment on the issue.

In 2002, the magazine was accused of anti-Semitism when it published a story under the title “A Kosher Conspiracy?” The cover was illustrated with a gold Star of David piercing and dominating a British flag.

Last year, the British government accused former London mayor Ken Livingstone of handing a “propaganda coup to the leader of a terrorist organization” after the New Statesman printed an interview he did with Hamas head Khaled Mashaal.

In 2007, the magazine compared the Marva and Gadna IDF youth programs to Islamic Jihad “summer camps.”

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