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Op-Ed: The Sensitivity of a Radio Presenter

A UK rabbi weighs in on disproportion.
Published: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 6:05 PM


I was driving in my car today, Tuesday, when the James O’Brien show came on LBC. Once again, James was dedicating a segment to the current conflict in Gaza. It was only Friday when I heard a similar segment, with a lot of anti Israel rhetoric, only I was on my way home from the dentist with a very numbed mouth and tempted though I was to call in, I would have hardly been coherent. So I just listened as others called in attempting to defend the Israel position – most of them doing a pretty bad job of it.

I’m not suggesting that I am any better than they are, but I’ve shared a platform with Mr. O’Brien on more than one occasion on BBC’s The Big Questions, so I like to think I could have given him more of a run for his money.

Today, among the myriad of questions he raised one of them was simply this: “Just because I am critical of Israel, why do I get accused on social media of being anti Semitic?” It is a fair question and to be sure, I am certain that James is not anti Semitic. In fact from the few conversations I’ve had with him in person, he’s actually a nice guy.

But James, if you should so happen to read this I’ll tell you why people might make that assumption. First, as noted before, you had a segment about Israel on Friday and another one today. You, like other media outlets, go on about disproportionate response, and yet you all seem to allocate a disproportionate amount of air time or column space to criticism of Israel.


There have been more deaths in the last month in Syria or Iraq than there have been in all of Israel’s history.
There have been more deaths in the last month in Syria or Iraq than there have been in all of Israel’s history. Why don’t we hear you banging on about that a little bit more? Why is Israel, which even you acknowledge has some justification for retaliation, being singled out no less than three times in seven days by your good self for conversation when there are far greater and wholly unjustified atrocities being committed in other regions?

What of the plane atrocity in Ukraine? Much of the media is still focused on it, but while it preceded your Israel segment on Friday, it was dropped today. Is Israel, which is merely struggling to defend itself, that much more of a crime in your eyes, or does it simply attract more listeners?

Second, one of the questions you raised was about a group of people taking couches and sitting on a hilltop with popcorn watching bombs fall on Gaza. Even as a caller set you straight and made the point that they were watching the Iron Dome in action, you still pushed ahead with the question. If you are right, and they were watching bombs fall on Gaza, then even Israeli supporters would be quick to condemn it as deplorable. But why did you feel the need to raise the question about the actions of barely a couple of dozen people who are not representative of the six million plus in Israel? Did you raise a similar question when thousands were dancing in the streets of Gaza and handing out sweets to children, in “celebration” of the three teenagers kidnapped last month? Did you consider asking why thousands more were celebrating last night when it was reported (without proof) that an Israeli soldier was kidnapped?

It is the imbalance and the disproportionate scrutiny that gives rise to the consideration of one being anti-Zionist, which invariably links to the assumption of one being anti-Semitic.

Finally, for whatever clever responses that you, Mr O’Brien might choose to offer in order to whitewash my questions, it is true, it must be said, that anti-Zionism is not necessarily anti-Semitism. However, those lines become seriously blurred when pro-Palestinian rallies result in the firebombing a Synagogue in Paris, daubing swastikas on homes in London and chanting Nazi slurs on the streets of Berlin.

Ask yourself why when there’s tension in the Middle East, Synagogues throughout Europe and beyond have to go on high alert with added security – but not Mosques.

No James, you are not anti-Semitic. However, you might well be anti-Zionist. For many it is hard to make the distinction. Then again, who can blame them?