If far-Right thugs attacked a bus of Muslim children in central London, I would hope and expect universal condemnation and wall-to-wall coverage, with mug shots of those responsible broadcast until they had been identified and prosecuted. That is not what happened when a group of Asian men on Oxford Street attacked a bus of Jewish children celebrating Chanukah. The men hit the bus, spat at and threatened the children, and made Nazi salutes.
The BBC called the anti-Semitism “alleged”, and claimed racial slurs from inside the bus could be heard on a recording of the incident. This was subsequently amended in its report to say that only one insult had been made, as if that made much difference. I have listened repeatedly and can’t hear any such thing – nor can fluent Hebrew speakers who have watched the footage. Instead, I’m told the terrified children, speaking in Hebrew, are calling for help. Did the BBC consult Hebrew speakers before arriving at its conclusions?
The BBC has questions to answer. Was it attempting to draw an equivalence between a group of men intimidating children and their victims? And why did it report the abuse from thugs on the street as “alleged” but present the disputed allegation of a slur inside the bus by children as a fact?
I have always defended the BBC, but can’t imagine an incident involving any other group being reported in this way. It needs to listen to people from the Jewish community and look at this very carefully. We can’t have people thinking that incidents of racism are handled differently depending on who the perpetrators and victims might be.
It is not as if the threat posed by anti-Semitism has lessened. According to the Community Security Trust, a charity that protects Jewish people, anti-Semitic incidents soared during the conflict caused by Hamas terrorism against Israel earlier this year. Synagogues were defaced and Jewish people attacked. Students reported racist abuse, including death threats.
A convoy of bigots drove hundreds of miles from Bradford to intimidate people in neighbourhoods with large numbers of Jewish residents. Some merely shouted “free Palestine”, as if people living in north London are responsible for a conflict thousands of miles away. Others screamed disgusting abuse and threats to rape Jewish women.
What is the difference between these bigots and the National Front targeting areas of London with large black communities in the 1980s? And what is going on in some of our communities that leads to this racist obsession?
Anti-Semitism has festered on campuses, and in the far-Right and hard-Left, but it became mainstream during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. Israel became an obsession on the Left, held to standards never applied to other countries, and Jewish people in Britain were expected to account for a government of another country.
The demonisation of Israel leads to racist attacks against Britain’s Jewish community. Our national broadcaster should be shining a spotlight on that, exposing the racists and standing up for the victims, not bending over backwards seemingly to find an equivalence where none exists.
Lord Austin is a former Labour MP and chairs the anti-extremism campaign Mainstream