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Jewish BBC contributor resigns, alleging antisemitic coverage

A Jewish contributor to the BBC has resigned, citing antisemitism in the network’s coverage of a recent attack on Jewish passengers on a Chabad bus in London.

In his resignation letter, which he posted on Facebook, Rabbi YY Rubinstein wrote that the BBC’s coverage of the bus attack “attempts to turn the victims of the recent antisemitic attack on Jewish children in London and claim that the victims were actually the perpetrators.”

“I simply don’t see how I or in fact any Jew who has any pride in that name can be associated with the Corporation anymore,” Rubinstein, who was affiliated with the BBC for three decades, wrote. The Orthodox rabbi appeared on radio programs about religious affairs.

In an opinion piece for the Jewish Chronicle, Rubinstein wrote that antisemitism is common at the network.

A low-quality video of the London bus attack, which took place on Hanukkah after passengers stopped to dance to Hanukkah songs, shows men on the street giving the middle finger, banging on the windows of the bus, spitting at the passengers, and in one case appearing to give a Nazi salute.

The BBC was accused of antisemitism and victim-blaming after reporting that in the video, a Jewish bus passenger used an anti-Muslim slur in English. Originally, the BBC website reported that “racial slurs” about Muslims could be heard on the bus; the network then issued a correction and edited its article to say that “a slur” about Muslims could be heard.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the main body representing the interests of Jews in the UK, commissioned an independent analysis of the video that contradicted the BBC’s reporting.

In that analysis, Ghil’ad Zuckermann, a linguistics professor at the University of Adelaide, Australia, argued that the bus passenger was saying “call somebody, it’s urgent” in Hebrew, not “dirty Muslim” in English.

“I hypothesize that the BBC editor(s)/reporter(s) misheard míshu as Muslim, and perhaps even the preceding tikrá le as dirty,” Zuckermann wrote.

In his letter, Rubinstein wrote that he believes The Board of Deputies of British Jews “has proven the lie of the BBC’s claim.”

The BBC defended its reporting.

“Antisemitism is abhorrent,” a spokesperson for the BBC said to the media. “We strive to serve the Jewish community, and all communities across our country, fairly.

“Our story was a factual report that overwhelmingly focused on the individuals the police want to identify; those who directed abuse at the bus.

“There was a brief reference to a slur, captured in a video recording, that appeared to come from the bus. We consulted a number of Hebrew speakers in determining that the slur was spoken in English. The brief reference to this was included so the fullest account of the incident was reported.”

In Rubinstein’s Chronicle op-ed, he alleged a history of previous antisemitic incidents at the BBC that contributed to his decision to leave.

He says that his coworker told him that another coworker of theirs said that Americans “have been arming the Jews for decades,” conflating Israel with “the Jews.”

Rubinstein also wrote in the Chronicle that once, when he was called upon to translate “Kel Malei Rachamim,” a Jewish prayer for the soul of a person who has died, he was not allowed to translate “Yisrael” as “Israel.”

“That simply could not be allowed, it would offend Muslims,” he wrote.

Hundreds of people gathered in London on Dec. 14 to protest the BBC’s coverage of the bus attack, according to the Daily Mail. Demonstrators held signs outside of the network’s headquarters saying ‘BBC News: Stop Blaming Jews!’

According to JTA, the BBC’s Director General, Tim Davie, is scheduled to meet with representatives from the Board of Deputies of British Jews this month to discuss the network’s coverage of the incident.

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