Leading article: Weakness in the face of suffering

Share
Related Topics

It is easy to criticise the BBC, but that does not mean that it is always wrong to do so. The corporation's refusal to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal for aid to Gaza was a mistake.
The Independent on Sunday is proud to carry the appeal on behalf of the group of 13 reputable charities.

We accept that the intentions of Mark Thompson, the BBC director-general, were honourable. Concerned to protect its reputation for impartiality, the BBC wanted to avoid "appearing to support one side rather than the other" in the Gaza conflict, as Caroline Thomson, the corporation's chief operating officer, said yesterday.

This is a weak-minded interpretation of the BBC's duty of impartiality. The corporation seems to think it can avoid the charge of bias if it does nothing.

Does the BBC have so little confidence in its reporting that it believes it can be undermined by its providing airtime for a charitable appeal for humanitarian aid? It has come to something when normally cautious government ministers condemn the BBC for being afraid of offending the Israeli government. Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for International Development, was clear, principled and right. "The British public can distinguish between humanitarian aid and partiality in a conflict," he said yesterday. And he pointed out that if broadcasting the appeal might imply disapproval of Israel, not showing it might imply that Palestinian suffering did not count.

The thinness of the BBC's case was exposed by Ms Thomson's claim that it had refused to carry aid appeals before, for Lebanon and Afghanistan. In neither case were those appeals made by the DEC; the fact that a committee of 13 aid agencies is able to agree an appeal ought to be testimony to the degree of consensus that the humanitarian crisis is above politics.

The BBC has difficult decisions to make, as a public service broadcaster reporting on an asymmetrical conflict. But it is precisely because those decisions are difficult that the BBC should have resisted Israeli government propaganda.

The Israeli government and its supporters sometimes respond to justifiable criticism by accusing its accusers of anti-Semitism. It would be only human if senior BBC executives responded by deciding that offending such vociferous critics is simply not worth the trouble. A cursory glance at internet blogs will confirm that the BBC was frequently accused of being anti-Israel during the Gaza operation, and often of giving comfort to anti-Semites.

Sir Gerald Kaufman, the Labour MP, caused a stir this month when he pointed this out in the Commons: "The current Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt among Gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians."

So, is the BBC guilty of falling for this form of moral extortion? On this occasion, the corporation does seem to have taken its sensitivity to this charge to the defensive extreme, by avoiding something that could wrongly be interpreted as a criticism of the Israeli government.

This newspaper is as forthright in its condemnation of the Israeli assault on Gaza as it is in its condemnation of anti-Semitism. We support Israel's right to exist and to defend itself. Our argument is that the Gaza operation was reckless as to civilian casualties. Arguably, as we investigate in an article today, Israel's government is guilty of much worse. The number of civilian deaths was not only foreseeable and excessive, but counter-productive. It has eroded international support for Israel and hardened Palestinian support for terrorism.

The way the Israeli government has sought to defend its action has made matters worse. As Dominic Waghorn, Middle East correspondent for Sky News, writes today, the refusal to allow journalists into the combat zone fuels the suspicion that the Israeli Defence Force had something to hide.

None of the judgements about the wisdom or morality of the military action – or about whose side one is on – should make any difference to the gross asymmetry of the suffering left behind. It is a basic law of war that combatants should not impede humanitarian assistance for non-combatants. To facilitate such assistance cannot therefore be to "take sides" in a conflict.

The suggestion that any expression of compassion for the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza is to side with terrorists and anti-Semites is an unworthy one. It was spineless of the BBC to fall for it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future