A few days ago I reported on the BBC’s apparent caving in to Zionist pressure to ditch at the last moment a documentary called Jerusalem: An Archeological Mystery Story. I speculated that this was an act of political censorship in line with other recent craven positions on Israel and the Palestinians adopted by BBC executives. Now we have the film director’s input to help assess what happened.
First some background: the film uses archeological evidence to propose that the Zionist claim that the Jews were exiled from their homeland in AD70 is nothing more than a myth. This is a view now widely accepted by scholars, but is deeply opposed by Israel’s supporters because:
a) it suggests the Zionist claim that Jews are “returning” to the Promised Land is bogus – the truth is they never left.
b) it also suggests that today’s Palestinians are in fact descended from those Jews who remained (converting later to Christianity and Islam), while most of the Jews “returning” are descended from Jewish converts who never lived in the region.
One can see why Israel’s supporters would not want a film like this airing on the BBC, even on the less-watched channel BBC4.
Ilan Ziv, the film’s director, now gives his side of the story and, even given his diplomatic language, it’s clear this was an act of clear-cut censorship.
In short, Ziv explains: The BBC editors who bought the rights from the Canadian producers clearly liked the film. But they also appear to have realised it would cause all sorts of problems with their higher-ups. So they gave the film a new name that concealed its true subject matter, heavily cut it, intended to take Ziv’s name off the credits, and failed to inform Ziv about the cuts or even that it was due to be shown until the very last moment – apparently in the hope that they could steamroller through the watered-down version.
Ziv: “So back in November 2012, everything seemed to be on track to produce a cut down of the film without having to deal with the director, broadcast the film under a neutral title and hopefully avoid any serious political debate. A perfect solution!”
But things got complicated. Ziv found out about the showing and protested to the BBC. Then he discovered that the show’s editors had panicked when one of the freelance staff they brought in thought even the neutered version was “propaganda”. An internal review also found a scene showing Palestinians “too emotive”. Ziv, realising the deal was about to fall through, offered to produce a defence for his documentary.
Ziv: “I told them that some of the academic participants in the program who saw the cut and are reputable scholars in their field did not find any factual errors or misrepresentations of facts or of the historical narrative. In other words, I argued that such a detailed and substantial defense would convince any objective reader and observer of the editorial integrity of the film. I repeated the request several times yet I never got a reply.”
Instead the BBC pulled it from the schedules and are now saying they have no intention to show it.
Ziv: “I hope that somewhere in the BBC someone will rise above the hysteria and the attempts at self censorship to take a cooler look at the film and realize how it has been profoundly mis-characterized.”
Nice that Ziv takes such a charitable view of the BBC, but the problem is not that the film’s subject matter has been mischaracterised; it’s that the BBC executives, or the lobby groups that have their ear, have understood the film’s importance only too well.
Nonetheless, kudos to Ziv for going public. That takes some courage in a business where you have to rely on commissions. And kudos too for his pledge to show the film as widely as he can in the UK, in spite of the BBC.