How the Powerful Israeli Lobby Influences UK State Media: BBC’s Controversial Removal of Content

In 2021, the BBC found itself at the center of a controversy after it removed a series of educational videos related to Palestine and the origins of the ongoing Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing. This removal came under pressure from a pro-Israel lobbying organization known as UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI).

These educational videos were part of a 7-part GCSE Bitesize series designed to inform schoolchildren about the decades-long Israeli colonization of Palestine. This colonization has been heavily criticized by leading human rights organizations, who describe it as a system of apartheid imposed by the Israeli occupation state on non-Jews.

In March of that year, UKLFI sent a complaint letter to the BBC, alleging that the videos were “unbalanced and partisan.” They also accused the broadcaster of “encouraging illegal conduct in schools.”

The BBC defended its decision to take down the videos, citing the need for a content review. Helen Foulkes, the Head of BBC Education, stated that these films were part of Bitesize’s legacy content, which had been migrated to the current site several years ago. The broadcaster has initiated a review to ensure compliance with the most recent BBC Editorial Guidelines.

During the review process, the series remains suspended from the site. The BBC will decide which content to retire permanently and which to reinstate or edit once the review is completed.

Following the BBC’s decision, Jonathan Turner, Chief Executive of UKLFI, expressed hope that the BBC would take appropriate steps to provide a balanced presentation of this contentious issue.

The Middle East Monitor (MEMO) questioned the BBC about whether they had consulted historians, experts, and academics before removing the material at the request of a pro-Israel lobby. However, the BBC has not yet responded to this inquiry.

In a related incident in April, UKLFI stirred controversy when it significantly altered the content of two UK school textbooks on the Middle East following its intervention, along with the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD). Leading academics in Middle Eastern studies condemned the textbook as “propaganda for Israel,” leading the publisher to halt further distribution.

The controversy surrounding the BBC’s decision coincides with increasing pressure on schools across the UK to limit support for the Palestinian cause. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson recently intervened by writing to headteachers, urging “political impartiality” regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict.

This move by Williamson was criticized on Twitter, particularly in light of the recent Israeli aggression that resulted in the deaths of over 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, 39 women, and 17 elderly individuals.

Palestinian activist Lowkey highlighted the irony of promoting political impartiality while UK Lawyers For Israel had edited GSCE textbooks, increasing the frequency of the term “terrorism” in reference to Palestinians.

Williamson has also been leading a campaign to impose a controversial definition of anti-Semitism that equates criticism of Israel with hatred for Jews. This conflation has generated significant debate and controversy.

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