Always right

star-BBCBBC labels manipulate the reader

The media organisation that finds using the word ‘terrorist’ an unacceptable value judgement has no trouble with ‘far-right’.

Thanks to the world’s largest news organisation we now know that Avigdor Liberman is far-right and Rouhani is moderate conservative. The BBC has ruled, so it must be beyond all argument. No accused-by-critics or usually-considered weasel words here.

This not an attack or defence of Knesset Member and Minister for Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman. Five Minutes for Israel avoids Israeli domestic politics, particularly for those who can be considered within the broad definition of Zionists. We oppose misleading labeling of Israeli politicians, which operates as a subtle tool of the Destroy Israel Lobby. The BBC should know better.

Consider the first paragraph of this recent BBC article:

  • Israeli FAR-RIGHT politician Avigdor Lieberman† has returned to the post of
    foreign minister after being cleared of corruption charges.

The two descriptive labels form instant mental images. Far-right brings images of Hitler, Mussolini or even on a more local and recent basis Britain’s  Nick Griffin or France’s Marine Le Pen. Bad-bad-bad.

What does far-right mean?

Leaning to the right

Leaning to the right*

Or perhaps more accurately what does it mean to the BBC? As if we could forget, the BBC turns itself into an intellectual pretzel to avoid using the word terrorism, particularly when acts of terrorism militantism are committed by their favourite religion.

  • There is no agreed consensus on what constitutes a terrorist or terrorist act. The use of the word will frequently involve a value judgement.
  • As such, we should not change the word “terrorist” when quoting someone else, but we should avoid using it ourselves.
  • This should not mean that we avoid conveying the reality and horror of a particular act; rather we should consider how our use of language will affect our reputation for objective journalism.
  • In a digital age, it is no longer possible to assume an easy split between domestic and overseas audiences.

BBC Editorial Guidelines when reporting terrorism

How much more are all these points true for the label far-right?

Try as I might I couldn’t find any agreed definition or list of qualities that make up a far-rightwinger. No surprise there. Cas Mudde found 26 definitions of right-wing extremism that contained 57 different ideological features‡.

Israel BeytenuThe BBC uses the term frequently so I thought it would be a useful effort to compare those groups that the BBC considers far-right with Mr. Liberman and Israel Beytenu.

Characteristics of the far-Right

Opposes immigration? Immigration has provided fertile ground for the advancement of the far right in France, says Gavin Hewitt, BBC Europe editor.

Perhaps not. The hard-core of Liberman’s support come from Russian immigrants with a substantial group of olim voters from English-speaking countries. Zionism, which Liberman emphatically supports is all about immigration.

Hamas salutes

Would the BBC ever call Hamas a far-right movement?

Fascist imagery? Wears masks, goosesteps like the villains in Disney propaganda shorts and throws fascist salutes.

A flag with echoes of the swastika helps to seal the label far-right. Golden Dawn may officially deny being a neo-Nazi movement but its badge resembles a swastika and some of its senior members have praised Adolf Hitler.

Israel Beytenu doesn’t have a uniform nor as far as I am aware a youth movement with a uniform. No salutes or marches, either. Liberman wears a suit not some form of semi military fatigues like an Arafat or a Chavez.

Golden Dawn style Holocaust denial and Nazi fandom doesn’t go over well, either, with the general Israeli public and even less with his voter base, many of whom are Holocaust survivors and their children. 

Violence? Members (of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party) were accused of perpetrating attacks on foreigners and political opponents, culminating in the killing of left-wing rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013.

There are Israeli groups who believe in physical confrontation as with Britain’s BBC labeled far-right EDL but Israel Beytenu is not really into marching.

There is no doubt that Liberman is intimidating. He has the thick body of the barroom bouncer he once was in his twenties. Such is his physical appearance that political satire show Eretz Nehederet loves to present him as a KGB enforcer. His regular slanging matches with Arab-Israeli parliamentarians, sometimes with death threats,  have been a feature of his career (they reply in kind) and once  pleaded guilty in 2001 to assaulting a Palestinian child who had hit his son.

But  a degree of violent rhetoric doesn’t necessarily correspond to far-right. The experience of his Russian supporters with the far-left Soviet authorities would suggest not.

Is Avigdor Liberman, far-right? It certainly is not as clear-cut as the BBC would have us believe and they have provided no evidence to back it up. Nor is there all that much similarity with other groups the BBC so labels.

They should amend the article.

Extra credit

† On a slight tangent. Both the Knesset website and Israel Beytenu’s website spell Liberman without an ‘e’. If he chooses that spelling so should the BBC.
‡ Fenemma, M. (1997), Some Conceptual Issues and Problems in the Comparison of Anti-Immigrant Parties in Western Europe, Party Politics October 1997 vol. 3 no. 4 473-492
*Original photograph of Avigdor Liberman By Jonathan Klinger (Flickr: חבר הכנסת אביגדור ליברמן) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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