BBC to investigate presenter’s Israel questions at Paris protest march

MP apologizes for comparing reported nuclear submarine plans to Auschwitz.

A member of the French GIPN intervention police forces secures a neighborhood in Corcy, northeast of Paris (photo credit: REUTERS)
A member of the French GIPN intervention police forces secures a neighborhood in Corcy, northeast of Paris
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – As nations around the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day this week, two parliamentarians came under fire for comments that critics said trivialized the tragedy, and the BBC confirmed that it was investigating a series of questions that one of its correspondents asked an Israeli woman following the Paris terrorist attacks earlier this month.
A member of the Jewish community had contacted the BBC about news presenter Tim Willcox’s line of questioning during a live broadcast of the protest march that took place two days after the killings at a Paris kosher supermarket.
Having asked her about anti-Semitism in the French capital, he suggested that Israel’s critics “would say the Palestinians have suffered hugely at Jewish hands as well.”
The complainant alleged that Willcox’s questions were “misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the Middle East,” and that the “question displayed bias against Israel.”
Andrew Bell, director of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit, said the network was happy to investigate, and he confirmed that its editorial guidelines stipulated that the channel’s portrayal of people “should avoid careless or offensive stereotypical assumptions.”
Bell, who said the BBC had received a large number of complaints on the subject, added that the outcome of the investigation would be published by February 23.
Meanwhile, former Welsh Nationalist Party leader Lord Dafydd Wigley issued an apology on Wednesday for comparing the deaths at Auschwitz with possible fatalities that might result from Trident nuclear submarines.
The issue in question was the government’s reported plans to move the Trident submarine base in Faslane, on Scotland’s River Clyde, to Pembrokeshire on the coast of Wales. The government subsequently denied such plans.
In a BBC interview, Wigley said that his party would have been “tremendously opposed” to the move. Asked if such a move might bring jobs to the area, he replied, “Look, this week we have been remembering what happened in Germany before the war. No doubt there were many jobs provided in Auschwitz and places like that, but that didn’t justify their existence, and neither does nuclear weapons justify having them in Pembrokeshire.”
Pressed to explain the comparison to the notorious death camp, he replied, “The number of people that will be killed by Trident will be infinitely more.”
The comments quickly drew condemnation from politicians across the political spectrum.
Scottish Secretary Alastair Carmichael branded them “offensive,” saying they trivialized the Holocaust.
Former Welsh secretary David Jones branded Wigley’s comments as “crass” and said he was right to offer an apology, albeit a “mealy-mouthed” one. He added that it was “not appropriate at any time” to use Auschwitz to make political points.
“Nothing that ever happens in this country could ever be as appalling as what the Nazis did,” he stated. “But to say it at Holocaust memorial time is even worse.”
Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon also distanced herself from Wigley’s comments.
“It is not language I would use,” she said. “It is not a comparison I would make.”
In a statement, Wigley said: “I am certainly sorry if my remarks were open to any misinterpretation and I apologize for any offence that has been caused. The point I was trying to make was that you can’t have jobs at any cost, and I reiterate that.”
In a related development, controversial Liberal Democrat Party MP David Ward came in for criticism by tweeting that on Holocaust Remembrance Day, it was imperative that “we share the memory of the millions who have been murdered in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Palestine, Bosnia and Darfur.”
Ward has had several brushes with his party leadership over his views. During the IDF’s Operation Protective Edge last summer, he said that had he been in Gaza, he probably would have fired rockets into Israel. After seeing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Paris protest march this month, he tweeted, “Je Suis Palestinien,” and, “Bibi in Paris march makes me feel sick.”
The Jewish Leadership Council’s CEO Simon Johnson labeled Ward a “serial offender.”
“His continual disrespect of the Holocaust makes him a raging hypocrite,” declared Johnson. “The fact [that] his offensive views continue to be tolerated by the party is causing many in the community to ask serious questions about how real the commitment of the party’s leadership to eliminating hatred and discrimination [is].”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, sent a letter to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, protesting Ward’s “scurrilous desecration of the Holocaust” and calling for his expulsion from the party.
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said that the quote “was not approved by the party,” but could not give any indication as to whether disciplinary action might follow.