The BBC’s take on ‘Zionism’

As it is, for now, one of the most viewed -isms, it cannot be ignored and remains relevant. Also, Israel is a subject close to the BBC’s keyboards.

By ROZA I.M. EL-EINI
October 5, 2019 19:43
3 minute read.
A pedestrian walks past a BBC logo at Broadcasting House in central London

A pedestrian walks past a BBC logo at Broadcasting House in central London. (photo credit: OLIVIA HARRIS/ REUTERS)

On its website, the BBC has an animated series entitled An A-Z of -isms – including one episode titled “Zionism: A Very Brief History” – and gives this strapline: “Writers, academics and thinkers share their takes on some of the world’s most important ideas (plus a few fun ones).”

The corporation declares that it is “the world’s leading public service broadcaster,” and creates “distinctive, world-class programmes and content which inform, educate and entertain millions of people in the UK and around the world.” Therefore, although, so far, only 79,300 or so of those millions have clicked the Zionism animation, it must be remembered that it is on the BBC’s website and not on some obscure ranter’s internet outlet.

As it is, for now, one of the most viewed -isms, it cannot be ignored and remains relevant. Also, Israel is a subject close to the BBC’s keyboards.

In setting itself up as educator, and because it is here dealing with “some of the world’s most important ideas,” the BBC is duty-bound to ensure editorial rigor of its content. Yet, the corporation shirks this duty when it complacently defers it to the author of the “potted history” of Zionism. Using drab and noisy illustrative cartoons that are in some cases inaccurate and inappropriate, with the voice-over veering high and low, further underlines the utter slovenliness of this BBC product.

Clearly, the Zionism -ism was also a “fun one” of the -isms. Theodor Herzl gets tomatoes thrown at him, Jews are swivel-eyed and other such – it adds up to a bit of a list in this 3.08-minute agitated animation.

Who or what was editing Colin Shindler’s “take” on Zionism? You won’t find out who Herzl was, a Jew, because you’re not told.

You are also not told about how Europe, with its fanatical crusades, was long ago set on its path to Hitler’s “Final Solution.” Nor is there any mention of the horrifically violent history of antisemitism across Europe, in which entire villages of Jews were regularly burned to the ground – and this was before the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, the latter of which was a wedding gift of sorts. Alfred Dreyfus was dispensable and so Shindler dispensed with him, and with this swipe, a major defining point in modern Jewish history is elided.

Russian antisemitism – the only mention of “antisemitism” – is quickly and quaintly dismissed as a “heavy hand.” Also not mentioned is the specially coined Russian term, “pogrom,” with all the wanton and brutal destruction of whole Jewish communities that it entailed. It is interesting, though, how the word “Diaspora” is used, without any irony about the way in which it has become a common term, far beyond the Jewish context – a bit like pogrom (but then again, it was not mentioned). Whereas Herzl got tomatoes thrown at him, “Arab nationalism” is treated reverentially. Not even one falafel flies (but then again, falafels are Pharaonic).

Shindler, who is an emeritus professor of Israel Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University, gives what sounds like a willfully ignorant take on Zionism – either that, or he was possibly using some other BBC educational tool: who, for instance, are the “Eeesht European Jews?” Perhaps it’s from the drunken sailor’s take.

What this Shindler treif takeaway is really about is “claims over the same piece of land” by the Jews, notably those troublesome Zionists, and the Palestinians.

Although Shindler’s cartoon take on Zionism self-righteously speeds its way to showing how there were far more Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land than Jews without offering an explanation for this, and breathlessly tracks and re-tracks Palestinian claims – complete with gliding maps of British Palestine and Palestinian flags – well past the period of the establishment of the State of Israel, no mention is made of the Holocaust. His silence on this most tragic of events in Jewish history speaks its author’s verbose volume about his “take” on Zionism.

Indeed, Shindler’s presentation on Zionism is so desiccated, so unsympathetic and ridiculing of the Jewish plight and of the Jews’ desperate desire for national self-determination, for Am Israel Chai, that, by any standards, it is unworthy of critique. However, since Shindler prepared this for no less a public organization than the BBC, with its vast and sprawling network across the internet and the world, and proudly puts it on his own website, it has to be scrutinized for what it is and a record of this scrutiny is here made.

The writer is a specialist in British Mandate Palestine and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.


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