Leading article: Weakness in the face of suffering

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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

£27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

Day In a Page

Read Next
IDF soldiers and vehicles in an image provided by campaign group Breaking the Silence  

'Any person you see – shoot to kill': The IDF doctrine which causes the death of innocent Palestinians

Ron Zaidel

If I were Prime Minister: I'd give tax cuts to the rich, keep Trident, and get my football team wrong

Frankie Boyle
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before