Hats off to the BBC’s Moral Maze!

After the dire sleaze of the recent Panorama programme – an extraordinarily good edition of the Moral Maze on Antisemitism. BBC heads will probably roll…

Clear-headed presentations by Robert Cohen and Adam Sutcliffe set the tone. Of course, this island of sanity was marred by panellist Melanie Phillips’ terminal ranting. But then, what’s new?

You can listen to the episode here.




Comments (7)

  • Leah Levane says:

    [JVL web editor’s note:

    This is a response to a few comments below, but to ensure it is seen by anyone reading the comments I’ve taken advantage of editorial prerogative to add something at the very top. It’s not a comment on Leah Levane’s comment!

    To George Wilmers and Naomi Wayne: You are right. HATS OFF to the Moral Maze was way over the top. Just because the BBC put on a halfway decent programme (with a very poor editorial introduction) was no reason to get excited. It was just the relief that yet another programme wasn’t as shabby as the Panorama one clouded my judgment!

    And thanks to Andrew Hornung for pointing out what Michael Buerk’s editorial intro should have said.]

    Yes. I made myself listen this morning. Started off with a “antisemitism isn’t confined to the left” comment in the introduction, which nearly made me switch off but two great witnesses and I also liked some of the questions especially from Mona Siddiqi and the atheist panelist, whose name escapes me.

  • Carol Briselden says:

    This programme in contrast to the simplistic nature of the panorama programme highlighted what a complex issue antisemitism is and how difficult it is to define
    Well done moral maze for trying to be impartial and projecting a range of opinions pehaps panarama shoul d take a leaf out of your book.instead of projecting a one sided inaccurate account of antisemitism

  • dave says:

    “the atheist panelist, whose name escapes me.’

    Matthew Taylor, CEO of the RSA, and son of the great Laurie Taylor.

    The programme did us a service by clearly locating the issue as Israel, at least from one main aspect of the fake antisemitism crisis, the other main one being just left vs right of course. But the Moral Maze is a backwater – they let Radio 4 do these things because it has small audiences.

  • George Wilmers says:

    “Hats off!” seems a little too enthusiastic to me.

    Yes, this was a good deal better than the usual ideological garbage from the “Moral Maze”. Robert Cohen, Adam Sutcliffe, Mona Siddiqui and Mathew Taylor did very well putting forward strong arguments, so hats off to them. However the general intellectual level of the framework of discussion established by Michael Buerk was pretty infantile, rabbi Neuberger and the bishop sought to outdo each other in pious versions of ideological cant, while Melanie Phillips gave a display of her usual demented bigotry. Most of the discussion was centred around the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, but it never really got very far, because one of the Israel lobby’s ideological tricks is to frame the this distinction itself as being a controversial one.

    Nobody made a clear distinction between Zionism as a religious tradition and political Zionism.
    Nobody really got around to analysing in depth the obscurantist mantra about the “Jewish state having a right to exist”, nobody queried the fact that Israel claims to be the state of all Jews all over the world, not just the state of its Jewish citizens (which is quite bad enough), nobody made the distinction between the right to self-determination and irredentism, and Melanie Phillips was allowed to get away with the outrageous claim that “Zionism is simply the right to self-determination of the Jewish people” on the basis that “The Jews are the only people for whom the land of Israel was ever their national kingdom”. Perhaps on that basis Melanie Phillips would be in favour of restoring the US and Australia to their rightful indigenous owners by expelling the rest of the population?

  • John says:

    The ‘atheist’ panelist was Matthew Taylor. He is currently the Chief Executive of the RoyalSociety of Arts and was previously head of Tony Blair’s policy unit at 10 Downing Street.
    I was surpised by the extremism and apologism of Neuberger, who I had always thought to be someone of a liberal disposition.
    Phillips – needless to say – rambled on about the activities of a tiny number of people linked to the Labour Party and tried – unsuccessfully, I feel – to blow it all up into some massive conspiracy.
    Overall, a careful and in-depth look into antisemitism more generally, though there was still an absence of any real grasp of historical facts in the debate.
    The only people who engaged in “tropes” were Neuberger and Phillips.

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    As George Wilmers said, ‘Hats off’ is a bit over the top. What I would say is that this week’s Moral Maze was better than its usual low standard, and much better than I expected on this subject! It was conducted with considerably less of the hectoring and counter speeches that one can normally expect from the resident panellists and had great contributions from Robert Cohen and Adam Sutcliffe. Both calm, reasonable, comprehensible and knew where they were going, in contrast, especially, to Melanie Phillips who was – well, I needn’t describe her – , and also, disappointingly to the first contributor, Julia Neuberger, who struggled to make her contribution coherent at all. But Robert and Adam showed exactly how to do it! Of course, there was much that wasn’t covered, but ‘expert’ participants, like Robert and Adam, can only deal with what is thrown at them, and when particularly daft things were thrown, they did well (hear, in particular, Adam’s calm question back to la Phillips as to whether he was supposed to tackle China and other oppressive states before he could dip a toe into the Israel/Palestine cauldron without being accused of antisemitism.) It wasn’t a ‘balanced’ programme – the sad faux profundity of the chair’s introduction, plus the lengthy rant that Phillips was permitted, came over more strongly than the thoughtfulness of Mona Siddiqui and Matthew Taylor. But two of the four participants were ‘ours’ and they did well, so Mazel Tov to us all.

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    I entirely agree with Leah about the introduction. Below I have transcribed this sneering text with one that I have written in what I consider a neutral tone. My text is only four words longer than the original ; it does not represent what I would have written if I had been charged with writing an introduction/promotion for the programme – it is faithful to the original’s angle and factual content but leaves out the inuendo.

    The BBC version:
    “For more than three years now, the LP, which has often talked as if it had a monopoly of virtue, has wrestled with accusations that it is institutionally prone to one of the oldest of vices. Anti-semitism has a long and terrible history. It is by no means confined to the Left but the picture that’s been painted most recently in the damaging expose on the BBC’s Panorama programme is that it has grown largely unchecked in the leftward shift under JC. The central allegation is that many activists associate all Jews with the capitalism they detest and the State of Israel which they regard as oppressors of those with whom they sympathise. The Party is now being investigated for racism by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Labour says there have been only isolated of instances of antisemitism and the Party is determined to root them out. Only this week members are being give lessons in how not to be anti-semitic.”

    A neutral version:
    “For more than three years now, the LP, which has long prided itself as the leading Party of anti-racism, has wrestled with accusations that it is guilty of anti-semitism, one of the oldest forms of racism. Anti-semitism has a long and terrible history and while generally associated with the far-Right, but the case made in a recent BBC Panorama programme is that it has grown largely unchecked in the leftward shift under Jeremy Corbyn. Central among the allegations against the Party is that many activists associate all Jews with the capitalism they detest and regard the State of Israel as the oppressors of those with whom they sympathise. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently investigating allegations of Labour Party antisemitism. Labour says there have been only isolated of instances of antisemitism and the Party is determined to root them out. It has an anti-semitism awareness programme and is about to publish further guidance on the question.”

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