Director of BBC television signs The Guardian’s pro-Israel letter

Amena Saleem Media Watch
The BBC’s outgoing director of television has signed a letter published in The Guardian last week, pleading for Israel not to be singled out as a target for cultural boycotts.

Danny Cohen, a member of the BBC’s executive board and one of the most senior figures in the organization, joins top Israel apologists — including the chair of Conservative Friends of Israel and the vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel — in putting his name to the letter.

(The BBC recently announced that Cohen was to move on from his position at the BBC after eight years, but will retain his post through the end of November.)

The letter published in The Guardian states that “Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory, and will not further peace,” and calls for “cultural engagement” in place of boycotts.

As Omar Robert Hamilton writes in Counterpunch: “When you’re dealing with the mechanized destruction of an entire people by one of the most technologically advanced and diplomatically shielded militaries in the history of mankind then talk, in 2015, of ‘cultural engagement’ is nothing more than further cover for Israel’s continuing colonization of what remains of Palestine.”

It is to this letter, and the highly politicized opinions within it, that the BBC’s director of television, whose salary is funded by license fee payers, has put his name.

In response to a query I sent, asking if Cohen is in breach of any BBC guidelines requiring employees to show impartiality regarding the situation in Palestine and Israel, the BBC Press Office sent this inconsequential reply: “Danny Cohen was expressing his view about his belief in the importance of creative freedom of expression.”

This is ridiculous.

The views expressed in the letter do not constitute a request for unfettered “creative freedom of expression” but are a plea for Israel to be protected from the consequences of its illegal occupation of Palestinian land and its siege on Gaza.


The letter also declares support for a new organization called Culture for Coexistence, whose committee includes at least one Israeli, but no Palestinians, and board members of Conservative Friends of Israel, but no one from a pro-Palestinian organization. The website itself is sparse, containing only the text of the letter to The Guardian and a list of committee members.

It looks suspiciously like a front for a bigger hasbara (or propaganda) organization.

Cohen’s fellow signatories to The Guardian letter include Eric Pickles MP, chair of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), a pro-Israel lobby group which, according to its website, “works to ensure that Israel’s case is fairly represented in Parliament.”

Another 13 members of parliament, apart from Pickles, have signed the letter. Seven of them are CFI’s parliamentary officers, five others are either members of CFI or have recently been on one of its delegations to Israel, and the 13th, Michael Dugher, is vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel — the Labour Party’s equivalent group.

There are no pro-Palestinian MPs among the signatories.

Openly pro-Israel

There are former BBC employees on the signature list as well, including George Weidenfeld, who worked for the BBC Overseas Service, and is now vice-chair of the EU-Israel Forum. Weidenfeld also founded the eponymous Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund, whose stated aim is to “rescue” Christians from Syria. The fund has received financial support from the Jewish National Fund, an organization essential to the continued ethnic cleansing of historical Palestine.

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