Thanks to BBC catch-up, I have now watched David Baddiel’s BBC2 documentary on Holocaust Denial. I found it thoughtful, beautifully written, well-produced and underpinned by a keen intelligence and a fine sensibility (I worry that sounds patronising, which is a pity as I genuinely applaud it but expressing sincere approbation is difficult in 2020. It often comes across as patronising or even ironic. I am being neither, I really liked it – and him for writing it).
If you sense a “but” coming, you are wrong… I disagree with those on social media who criticised the inclusion of the SOAS academic, Prof Gilbert Achcar. I think his brief contribution was valuable. However, I do think his words highlight a missed opportunity.
Prof Achcar was included, I assume, to make the link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and listening to the brief clip, I thought his comments were mainly explanatory: if you were “a Palestinian” living in the territories and if you had been told all your life that “the Jews” were “responsible” for your plight “of course” you were likely to be a Holocaust denier…
This “explanation” might have led to an illuminating segment on how and why anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism merge/conflate/blend, and how anti-Semitism is fed by anti-Zionism. Ideally, it would have included a couple of sentences challenging the idea that the Jews were responsible for the Palestinian tragedy.
Perhaps even making the point that the Arab and Palestinian leadership were responsible. It might even have pointed out that there could be no “equivalence,” moral or any other kind, between Israeli soldiers preventing terrorist attacks or preventing Hamas from firing rockets on Israeli civilians and the deliberate extermination of millions of Jewish men women and children for no reason other than they were Jews.
But David Baddiel was unwilling to do that. Or perhaps he was unable to do that. He seemed conflicted, as if defending Israel would physically hurt. That is not entirely surprising because, like the rest of humankind, David has been told so frequently (and so convincingly) that Jews and Israel are responsible for the Palestinian tragedy that he probably believes it and possesses neither the facts nor the conviction (nor, perhaps, the inclination) to refute Prof Achcar’s assertion.
And that, in a roundabout way, brings me back to a short Facebook item I posted in advance of the documentary, in which I said I was slightly annoyed that this documentary could allow the BBC to feel morally superior about anti-Jewish racism; it could help the corporation to avoid or deflect criticism for having potentially contributed to the climate of anti-Jewish racism in Britain through its reporting of Israel and the Middle East…
I was not suggesting the BBC had been directly culpable on Holocaust Denial in any way but I believed that if there had been a rise in anti-Jewish racism and alongside it a rise in Holocaust Denial, the BBC could be accused of having contributed to that through biased reporting.
And even where the reporting was not actively biased, distortion and bias were often introduced, through the failure to include background, context or to fact-check. While that failure may often have been unintended, insufficient care was taken over its impact. This had been to help create and perpetuate a skewed version of reality which consistently serves an anti-Israel narrative and helps to indoctrinate even those with the strongest Jewish identity, such as David Baddiel.
I was hoping, therefore, that this documentary might pose aquestion about whether the reporting of Israel was a factor in the rise of anti-Israel sentiment leading to anti-Semitism and ultimately to Holocaust Denial. But that was another opportunity missed…