UK rabbi who led group that was accosted refutes BBC report of provocation

In its coverage of an antisemitic incident in London, the BBC reported that a member of a Jewish group had provoked attackers with an anti-Muslim slur.

Shoppers cross Oxford Street, London, Britain, December 28, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE/FILE PHOTO)
Shoppers cross Oxford Street, London, Britain, December 28, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE/FILE PHOTO)

Rabbi Shneor Glitsenstein, who organized and led a bus trip that was accosted by a group of men in London, issued a statement on Tuesday refuting allegations by the BBC that the Jewish passengers had provoked the attackers with Islamophobic language.

In December, the Chabad-affiliated Jewish passengers were on their way to a Hanukkah party when a group of men gave Nazi salutes, raised their middle finger, spat at and slammed their fists against the bus.

In its coverage of the incident, which was caught on video, the BBC reported that one of the passengers had provoked the attackers with an anti-Muslim slur.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organization that represents Jews in the United Kingdom, later that week accused the BBC of antisemitism, claiming that it had conducted an analysis of the video and subsequently determined that none of the passengers had made any anti-Muslim remarks.

Glitsenstein recounted the events, writing: "At Oxford Street we got out on the sidewalk and danced to Hanukkah music. A few minutes in, approximately three young Middle Eastern men began playing Arabic music from their phones and dancing next to us. They quickly became aggressive, and began making profane gestures and yelling 'Free Palestine!'"

A general view of the Broadcasting House at BBC headquarters in Central London in 2017.  (credit: VUK VALCIC/SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES)A general view of the Broadcasting House at BBC headquarters in Central London in 2017. (credit: VUK VALCIC/SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES)

The Chabad group returned to the bus in order "to avoid an inevitable confrontation", at which point the men shouted profanities at the group, threw a projectile and spat at the bus, then kicked the windows, Glitsenstein continued, adding that although there were numerous bystanders, "none made any attempt to protect us or otherwise intervene."

He confirmed that the passengers had not said any Islamophobic slurs, saying:

Let me be clear:1. On Monday evening we were attacked on the streets of London for being Jewish and celebrating Hanukkah. While our bus contained no references to Israel, we were clearly a Jewish group. The young men who surrounded us were not engaged in political protest; this was a bigoted antisemitic attack in the heart of London, seen by dozens of others, who stood by silently.2. I was present the whole time the attack happened and heard no "slurs" from my group.3. I spoke to the young woman who took the footage that reporting is based on and she was absolutely clear that no "slurs" were made.4. I spoke to the young people who were nearby at that moment and none heard or uttered any "slurs".5. No one who I spoke with heard any slurs from our group at any point.

Glitsenstein added that the only way to fight hatred is "not to conform to it, but to dispel it with light and goodness."

Cnaan Liphshiz and Julia Gergely/JTA contributed to this report.