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
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links