Board of Deputies sets itself up as arbiter of free speech

Diana Neslen

JVL Introduction

Has the Board of Deputies not heard of freedom of speech?

Instead, it has decided that it is the best arbiter of what the BBC can and can’t discuss.

According to the BoD, it certainly can’t touch anything to do with Jewish Voice for Labour, which it labels “a small far-left fringe group full of conspiracy theorists”.

As Robert Cohen, one of the discussants in the now – temporarily pulled? – Sunday programme points out (below), Zionism is an ideology not a copyrighted belief.

See JVL’s immediate response on Facebook here and the account in Skwawkbox.

[9th January, 7.30pm: This post has been revised and retitled.]

“Our community is not here to dance for your amusement”

Robert Cohen’s Edgy-Jewish_Thinking tweet


JVL Facebook statement

7th January


So now it’s out in the open. BoD president Marie van der Zyl is quoted in the Jewish News demanding that the BBC deny a platform to Jewish Voice for Labour and Diana Neslen, the Jewish Labour Party member who is taking legal action against the party for repeated harassment on account of her anti-Zionist views.

The Board found out that Radio 4 was planning to broadcast a discussion in its early morning Sunday programme about whether anti-Zionism can be considered a protected belief under the Equalities Act. The programme was due to feature an interview with Diana, a brief explanation about JVL and a discussion between Rabbi Jonathan Romain and leading pro-Palestinian Jewish writer Robert Cohen.

But now Jewish News has trumpeted the Board of Deputies’ condemnation of the planned programme and it seems unlikely to go ahead. Ms vd Zyl alleges that JVL is “a fringe group full of conspiracy theorists”. She says “Those on the fringes of our community have every right to express their views” but the BBC must deny Diana and JVL that right because to allow them to speak would be “a grotesque insult to an overwhelming majority of British Jews”!

The Board of Deputies of British Jews thereby attempts to censor legitimate views which challenge its partisan political opinions, accepting only Jewish voices that meet their test of conflating Judaism with Zionism. It has no mandate to shut down debate in the BBC or wider British society.

JVL has written to Jewish News calling for retraction of Ms vd Zyl’s slurs against us and withdrawal of unsubstantiated allegations against Diana. Our letter says:

Ms Neslen denies having made the alleged statements, which your reporter did not attempt to verify with her. Your article provides no sources for the alleged quotes. Unless you are able to provide fully attributable references, including the context in which the statements were made, you are obliged to withdraw them and issue a correction and an apology to Ms Neslen.

Jewish News must correct the errors in the article and withdraw Marie vd Zyl ‘s baseless allegations.


BBC caves in to BoD and cancels discussion with Jewish woman in her 80s hounded by Labour

‘Board of Deputies bullies BBC, smears and silences Diana Neslen’, says Jewish Voice for Labour

Skwawkbox, 8th January 2022

Jewish Voice for Labour has accused the BBC of a cowardly climbdown in the face of ‘bullying and smears’ by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) after the broadcaster pulled an invitation for Diana Neslen to appear in a debate on anti-Zionism.

Ms Neslen, a Jewish long-time Labour member in her eighties who has been hounded by the Labour party for her left-wing views and support for Palestinians, is suing the party for its attacks on her ‘protected belief’ in anti-Zionism and the BBC had invited her to appear tomorrow in a programme discussing anti-Zionism and whether her views constitute a protected belief under equalities laws.

But now the BBC has cancelled the discussion – and has shown further cowardice in implying it was never really taking place, after pressure from the BoD via the Jewish News publication. In a Facebook post in response to the decision, JVL has stated:


see above for rest of the statement…

The Jewish News article was written by Lee Harpin, who moved from the Jewish Chronicle after a number of his articles led to ‘substantial’ defamation payouts to wronged left-wingers. Jewish News and the BoD have been contacted for comment.

Comments (32)

  • Doug says:

    Now write to BBC and ask for evidence that anti zionism is anti semitic
    Ask for proof that the BoD represent the vast majority of British Jews
    If it isn’t readily available to BBC journalists then the debate should go ahead

  • Benjamin Treuhaft says:

    What’s a good way to complain to the BBC about cancelling this show?

  • dave says:

    I can’t see anything wrong with what Diana is quoted is saying in Jewish News, and really what do you expect from them. Surely the quarrel here is with the BBC. It isn’t surprising after the incident in Oxford Street that the BBC has backed down on this but let’s not forget the Panorama and the biased reporting on antisemitism in Labour in recent years. The backwaters of Radio 4 and the World Service are where some dissenting voices used to be heard but those are probably closed off now too.

    I don’t see any change unless support for Israel erodes more than it is doing but this could be years away, as is another pro-Palestinian Labour leader no doubt.

  • Alasdair MacVarish says:

    BBC has taken to describing Palestinians as Arabs to deny them identity and fall into line ( bed) with Israelis

  • Simon Dewsbury says:

    Surely the conspiracy theorists are those arguing that a group of people strongly anti racist in every other way somehow have Jews as the only ethnic group they hate and that that their criticism of Israel and Zionism is because of this unevidenced ‘hate’ rather than a consistent concern for those being oppressed.

  • Philip Wagstaff says:

    JVL really has to launch a petition and protest letter campaign over this and put SCG Labour MPs feet to the fire. They have had a free ride for far too long. Either put up or shut up.

  • Chris Khamis says:

    By simultaneously saying that they support free speech while attempting to repress it, the Board of Deputies are either displaying a deep sense of irony or showing that they are diligent students of Orwellian double-speak.

  • Linda says:

    Please put in an official complaint to the BBC about what they’ve done – I have. It would be helpful if your own synagogue (and any other Jewish official bodies with which you’re in contact) would add their voices independently to similar complaints to the BBC and local / national media.

    Very angry about the way the BBC and Board of Deputies have behaved.

  • Jack T says:

    The BoD is desperate to conflate Zionism with Judaism because they do not want the general public to recognise any difference between them. The thinking behind it is simple but malevolent. They want critism of Zionism to equate to criticism of Judaism, so they can smear those who object to Zionism as antiSemites.

  • Richard Hobson says:

    That this sort of censorship should be allowed to happen in this country is hard to credit. Gobsmacked, I believe is the colloquial expression.

    Robert Cohen’s tweets are decisive and razor sharp. I hope they get wide publicity.

  • Abe Hayeem says:

    This is outrageous, an attack on democracy and freedom of speech enshrined in the Human Rights Act.
    Firstly, it is libellous to describe JVL as “a fringe group full of conspiracy theorists”. Secondly it is disgraceful to predict what is going to be said in the discussion, with no evidence or context, and presume that it will outrage the majority of Jews, all of whom whom they do not represent, and thirdly it insists that only its own definition of a political ideology must be observed, again devoid of any factual basis or accepted proof.
    It is pure McCarthyism and censorship, and intimidation of a publicly owned media corporation into pursuing mendacious lies to force them to cancel a perfectly acceptable and important discussion that is invaluable to inform and educate not only the wider Jewish community, but the wider public about what Zionism is, what it means for Palestinians, and why many Jews and those opposing Israeli apartheid and supporting the human rights of Palestinians are anti-Zionists. This decision must be rescinded, an apology given to Diana Neslen and to JVL for its wrongful slurs, and a proper full length programme provided by the BBC to discuss all these issues and also the weaponisation of antisemitism and the enforcement of the controversial IHRA Definition in order to silence the subject of Palestine and the Palestinians, and to destroy the political careers of true socialists and anti-Zionists.

  • Margaret West says:

    This is beyond anything …

    “Sunday” is a program which is designed *precisely*
    for discussions such as that proposed between Rabbi
    Romain and Robert Cohen and involving Diana

    Apart from anything else – Ms vd Zyl assigns views to
    Zionist Jews which they may not have – or may be ambivalent
    about. Challenging or clarifying listeners beliefs is part of what
    the BBC is about surely? And then there are the Palestinians (both
    Muslims and Christians) who are affected by the issue.

    Lord Reith would be turning in his grave ..

  • Tony says:

    This kind of censorship does happen and it affects other issues.

    Back in 2003, the History Channel in the United States was bullied into not repeating the series “The Men who Killed Kennedy”.

    Particular exception was taken to episode 9 “The Guilty Men” the theme of which is that Vice President Johnson was behind the assassination.
    There is actually enough evidence to make several programmes on this subject.

  • James Simpson says:

    Not central to this but I was struck by the open declaration by the BoD that “Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people have the right to self determination in our ancestral homeland”. Is that really their core belief? If so, this Brit who was brought up by evangelical Christian parents can see how that is pretty repugnant. Multiple stories clearly show those ancestors acting on the instructions of their monotheistic deity, Yahweh, to slaughter every last child, woman and man in the cities of Canaan (modern Palestine/Israel). Why? Because those peoples were sinful and worshipped multiple gods. It is possibly the first recorded genocide and yet it is the bedrock on which Zionists make their claim for holding Israel solely for white Jews? Wow. That’s cold, as a young person might say.

  • Stephen Branscombe says:

    Now, as is stated, it’s out in the open. I wonder what Lucy Powell
    Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has to say about this censorship by the BBC, at the behest of the politically motivated BOD. I also wonder if Marie vd Zyl would like to explain her libellous portrayal of JVL as a “small far-left fringe group full of conspiracy theorists”. From experience I have found all discussions here re AS and Zionism to be based on hard evidence and far from conspiracy theories. She will not engage, because she knows that any discussion would lay bare the hypocrisy of denying the Jewishness of JVL’s Jewish members and throw light on what is really happening.

  • Richard Snell says:

    This is my own Facebook comment:
    ‘I am a Jew and proud to be. I oppose Israel’s actions in Palestine root-and-branch. The continuing accusations that Jews like me who do not like what the state of Israel is doing are by their nature antisemitic makes me sick, as does the continuing slur that somehow Jews like me ‘hate’ ourselves. The Board of Deputies, despite its claims, does not represent the whole Jewish people of this country, and it is about time that the BBC recognises that in this debate the only Jews being attacked because they are Jewish are the anti-Zionist Jews. So long as the BBC cannot bring itself to defy the BoD on a matter of free speech and freedom of debate, it is thoroughly failing in its constitutional duty. ‘

  • Stephen Flaherty says:

    Deconstructing it:

    Note that they say that a debate on the issue would be “a grotesque insult” to the vast majority of Jews. Not that the vast majority of Jews would disagree with JVL’s POV (which is likely true), but that they would be grotesquely insulted that the debate was even taking place or, at least, that it was taking place on the BBC.

    This is part of a trend I noticed around a decade or two ago: The attempt to say that Zionism is an intrinsic part of Jewishness. And therefore, by extension, that opposition to Zionism is anti-Semitic. The argument is more or less won if we concede the first point, for if Zionism is an intrinsic part of being Jewish, then how could it not be anti-Semitic to argue against Zionism? You’d be arguing that an intrinsic part of being Jewish is nonsense, wrong, whatever.

    The idea that a political belief should be part of a religion and so protected by anti-discrimination laws is not something exclusive to Judaism, of course. There was a case in Belfast a while back, involving a Christian baker and a gay couple who wanted a wedding cake. The same argument was used – that a political belief (that homosexuality was wrong) was part of the baker’s religious beliefs and so should be protected. The court threw it out, ultimately, though it was muddied as they didn’t just want a cake, they wanted a political statement on the cake, which was ruled to be something the baker could refuse. But all the courts gave short schrift to the idea that the baker’s religious beliefs allowed them to discriminate, and rightly so.

    We should look out for this sort of thing. If the BOD do not wish to participate in a debate over anti-Zionism, that’s up to them, but we have to resist their pushing the idea that the debate itself is wrong, that it would be anti-Semitic or, at least, a “grotesque insult to the majority of British Jews”. I’m not at all sure that that’s true and, even if it were, it wouldn’t necessarily make the debate illegitimate the way the BOD are saying it should.

  • Rory O'Kelly says:

    Few people find the Board of Deputies either amusing or entertaining and nobody is trying to make them dance or do anything else. There is a public debate going on about Zionism and the Board of Deputies can either join in or not, as they wish. If they choose not to participate they should keep quiet and let other people get on with it.

  • [The comment below exceeds our normal word limit of 300 words but we are making an exception for it. We hope readers find it useful. – JVL web]

    For general interest, here is the text of an email that I sent to the BBC R4 Sunday programme on Dec 17th. No reply received.

    At the start of the programme Edward interviews Dr Julian Hargreaves, Director of Research at the Woolf Institute, regarding their latest report on antisemitism, focusing on social media.

    As a person of Jewish heritage, I am naturally very concerned at any anti-Semitic manifestations. But I am also concerned at the expansion of anti-Semitism to include almost any expression of support for Palestinian rights or other opinions deemed unacceptable or threatening by the Israeli state and the Jewish communal leadership in the UK.

    After Dr Hargreaves outlines his findings, Edwards asks something like ‘Can you give me any idea of how you define antisemitism, as this is often a contested area?’. Now you really have my attention.

    Dr Hargreaves says that his institute, and the University of Cambridge with whom they are closely associated, adapt the IHRA definition, and informs listeners that this is the International Holocaust Remembrance Association Definition. He then claims that is is “actually a very simple definition; in plain English they define anti-Semitism as the hatred of Jews and that’s a common-sense English definition”.

    I expected this to be challenged as it is a completely false description of the IHRA definition. This is the very definition which has caused all the controversy. If only its said what Dr Woolf claims, or stopped there, we’d all be satisfied.

    The original 39 word academic definition is clumsily worded, and cannot be regarded as Plain English, but it wouldn’t have been too bad for the purposes they intended. It says “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

    It then adds some 500 words of examples, including, for example ‘claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor’.

    As a former fervent Zionist, Israeli citizen and resident, I absolutely believe that the State of Israel is a racist endeavour. From its creation involving the expulsion of 80% of non Jewish citizens, through to its racist laws and practices, and its Apartheid-like rule over the occupied Palestinian territories, it is as absurd to say it is a non-racist endeavour as to say that the…. oh, but I must stop here, because certain comparisons are almost deemed anti-Semitic by this allegedly ‘common-sense’ definition.

    I can’t understand why an interviewer of integrity would ask an interesting question and then allows the interviewee to get away with such a Public Relations excuse for an answer.

    The informed listener is left unsure whether Dr Hargreaves’ Institute’s research statistics are valid or whether they are bolstered by including any political expression that may be considered contrary to the extremely broad and controversial IHRA definition.

  • Jack T says:

    The very first sentence in the statement by the BoD is a half truth, some would call it a lie by omission. Zionism is the belief that Jews and only Jews have the right to self-determination in Palestine and that other ancestral inhabitants of Palestine have to be forced out if they do not give up their land and homes by choice. It is the belief that Jews are a single nation who will inherit Palestine. These facts about Zionism are easily verifiable in Zionist literature which the BBC, and anyone else who cares to, can confirm. Many ‘ancestral’ and European Jews completely rejected the racism of Zionism as having no place in Judaism.

  • Allan Howard says:

    Look, it’s as simple as this, if you disagree with us about anything (the BoD, that is), then you are undoubtedly an anti-semite! End of!

    And in case you hadn’t heard, Jeremy Corbyn is spending more and more time with terrorists and extremists…..

  • Peter White says:

    Ms Van Der Zyl flew over to Israel and pronounced on national TV that Jeremy Corbyn had “declared war on the Jews”. If that’s not a ‘conspiracy theory’ I don’t know what is.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    The BoD states that “Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people have the right to self determination in our ancestral homeland”. What they omit to add is a clause to say that Zionists insist on relying on the right to self-determination even when the Israeli state conducts itself in a way that offends against human rights and international law. This omission is telling and needs to be pointed out whenever the deceptive mantra of ‘self-determination’ is brought out in defence of state-sponsored abuses like theft of property and water, collective punishment, the murder by bombing of civilians and apartheid.

  • Terry Messenger says:

    It is richly ironic that Marie van der Zyl relies solely on the claim that her viewpoint is righteous because it is held by the majority. The Jews are the most persecuted minority in history.

  • Tony says:

    Margaret West:

    “Lord Reith would be turning in his grave”

    Lord Reith was a Nazi-supporter who backed the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ and the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

    Please see quotes below:

    Attitude to fascism:
    In 1975, excerpts from Reith’s diary were published which showed he had, during the 1930s, harboured pro-fascist views.[30] On 9 March 1933, he wrote: “I am pretty certain … that the Nazis will clean things up and put Germany on the way to being a real power in Europe again. They are being ruthless and most determined.” [30] After the July 1934 Night of the Long Knives, in which the Nazis ruthlessly exterminated their internal dissidents, Reith wrote: “I really admire the way Hitler has cleaned up what looked like an incipient revolt. I really admire the drastic actions taken, which were obviously badly needed.” [30] After Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Nazis in 1939 he wrote: “Hitler continues his magnificent efficiency.”[30][31]

    Reith also expressed admiration for Benito Mussolini.[30][32] Reith’s daughter, Marista Leishman, wrote that in the 1930s her father did everything possible to keep Winston Churchill and other anti-appeasement Conservatives off the airwaves.,_1st_Baron_Reith

  • David Jones says:

    During the South African apartheid era, there was worldwide condemnation of those conservative, nationalist, racist, white South Africans who believed that they had the right to their collective self-determination – a belief which required them to subject the non-white peoples of the land to their rule, governance and control, making them second- and third-class citizens in the land of their birth, determining where they could live and work, what jobs they could or couldn’t do, who they could or couldn’t associate with, love, marry, etc., etc.

    As white Afrikaner Protestants who compared themselves to the ancient Israelites, this belief of theirs was based on their conviction that it was thus divinely ordained, that God had given them that part of the world.

    Then, the BBC was strident in its joining the international outcry against both the philosophy and the implementation of the policy of apartheid. My, how things have changed since then!

  • Mike Scott says:

    I think we should start up our own Board of Deputies and say that we represent all British Jews. I’m sure nobody would dare to question this and we can just call them antisemites if they do….

  • SB says:

    Having succeeded in cowing the Labour Party leadership into acquiescence, the BoD’s tail is well and truly up.

    Witness Marie van der Zyl’s recent public attack on the Archbishop of Canterbury for having the temerity to side, in his Christmas address, with the Patriarch of Jerusalem and express concerns about the plight of Palestinian Christians in Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

    The Archbishop, as the head of the Anglican Communion, and the Established Church in England, speaks for some 85 million people worldwide.

    Who appointed van der Zyl, and for whom does she speak? The arrogance of it is breathtaking.

  • Margaret West says:

    “Lord Reith was a Nazi-supporter who backed the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ and the invasion of Czechoslovakia.”

    I have read through his “Wiki” bio – he evidently shared
    the beliefs of many in the Establishment of the 1930s!

    However he presumably never shared these beliefs with
    any of his contemporaries though his daughter seemed to know about his opposition to Churchill?

    The beliefs seem to be contrary to those inherent in his
    keen-ness on the BBC.

  • Bernard Grant says:

    I bet the BBC didn’t take much persuading. They don’t even try to hide their Bias anymore.
    As for conspiracy theories. I wonder what the BoD would say about Starmer’s sacking of Rebecca Long Bailey, his reason was RLB was retweeting a conspiracy theory, that was a Lie, I’ve emailed him the proof, posted it on his Facebook page and Twitter acc. A link that proves it wasn’t a conspiracy theory.

  • Mark Francis says:

    A wonderfully closed system of “thinking”.

Comments are now closed.