New BBC ‘comedy’ features anti-Israel ‘gag’

I am reluctant to give the oxygen of publicity to a radio show that I suspect currently has an audience of around 17, mainly comprising the mums of the production crew and cast-members.

But I will  risk inflating the listening-figures of “DMs Are Open”  by calling out the BBC for allowing this new Radio 4 “comedy” to be used as a platform for anti-Israel propaganda. To be honest, the comment was mild –  as I’m sure the BBC, and all who accuse Jews of hyper-sensitivity would argue. But by drawing a parallel between Russia’s unprovoked imperialism against Ukraine and Israel’s defence of its citizens, it helped further embed a trope about Israeli “aggression”.

Camera UK rightly described the “sketch” as a “gratuitous Israel slur,” but worse, is that it allowed an assertion – built on omissions, distortions, half-truths and outright lies – to go unchallenged, thus further embedding the counterfeit narrative of Palestinian victimhood and helping to recycle the charge of unwarranted Israeli violence.

It  is worth noting here that DMs Are Open was announced as a “showcase” for the “comedy-writing talents” of the public, and would use “sketches, one liners, and voice notes written by listeners.”  The explicit invitation to “submit contributions” was, I imagine irresistible to the Israel-haters. And this “sketch” popped up in episode 5.

I’ve no idea who wrote the contentious sketch but there were no “comedians” on hand to “bring to life gags submitted by contributors” – as promised in the pre-launch blurb. Instead, it was a “chat” between hosts Athena Kugblenu and Ali Official (real name Ali Shahalom), a “social media content-creator” and “star” of Muzlamic. Their chat went like this:

Ali: “Israel was meant to play Russia in the Nations League but UEFA kicked Russia out of the league because of the war crimes against Ukraine.”

Athena: “Er…one question: what’s the Nations League?”

After asserting that no-one knew, Ali said: “But it got me thinking. If that’s the rules, yeah, shouldn’t Israel be kicked out of the league also because the way they treat Palestinian territories ain’t exactly civil.”

The “gag” ends with Athena noting that “Western governments” were “inconsistent” and “punish countries the way parents punish children.” I have no insight or inside knowledge, but from the clumsy grammar, I’d guess that attempts were made to keep the implied criticism mild.

As Camera points out, there is no parallel between Israel and Russia. Israel did not invade Arab States – or even the Palestinian territories – as Russia invaded Ukraine but acquired the “Palestinian territories” defending itself in a war provoked by Arab states who wished to erase it from the map.  Nor, as Camera also notes, has Russia suffered terror attacks from Ukrainians, as Israel has, persistently.

It was a flimsy, feeble and deeply unfunny “sketch” on a flimsy, feeble, deeply unfunny show. From the clumsy phrasing, I’d guess someone attempted to tone down the comment but it remains perfidious by reinforcing a highly damaging perception of  Israel – ironically one the BBC helped create during three decades of biased reporting. By reporting Israel’s actions without context; by ignoring or deliberately down-playing heinous provocation such as bombings, kidnappings and murders, the BBC – and other media – have made Israel the Middle East’s oppressor and “Bad Guy.”.

Of course, the BBC may be entirely innocent with regard to bias and its innocence could be revealed by the Balen Report compiled in 2003 to look into allegations of anti-Israel bias. This report may reveal that its Middle East reporting was not unbalanced or often inaccurate; it may reveal that the idea of many of its correspondents having gone rogue and being mouthpieces for the Palestinian propaganda machine was merely a figment of Jewish imagination – though the statistic published last week that WHAT percentage of the British public believe the BBC to be biased, suggests otherwise.

The Balen Report may also show that its reporting has not fuelled anti-Israel sentiment and, as a result, fuelled antisemitism but as the BBC persistently refuses to publish the report or reveal any of its findings and, indeed, has gone to considerable expense (using tax-payer money) to fend off legal challenges, I suspect it does not exonerate them of bias.

I have no idea if “DMs Are Open”  has been recommissioned. But if so, I imagine the top Palestinian propagandists are salivating over this opportunity to write anti-Israel agit-prop. Let us hope, therefore, that the next time “a listener” submits a “gag” that attempts to perpetuate an anti-Israel libel or to shoe-horn in a libel, someone at the BBC recognises that it is being used to disseminate Palestinian propaganda, and declines the “gag.”

About the Author
Jan Shure held senior editorial roles at the Jewish Chronicle for three decades. and previously served as deputy editor of the Jewish Observer. She is an author and freelance writer and wrote regularly for the Huffington Post until 2018. In 2012 she took a break from journalism to be a web entrepreneur.