BBC Censored Another Herzog–in 1944

by Rafael Medoff

“BBC Gags Zionist Rabbis In Speeches on Palestine” read the headline in a New York City newspaper. That was in 1944. But these days, it sounds all too familiar.

The BBC last week censored parts of its interview with Israeli president Isaac Herzog, cutting out sections in which he cited uncomfortable facts about British policy. Remarkably, he’s not the first Herzog to be censored by the BBC—one of those “Zionist rabbis” whom the BBC “gagged” in 1944 was Herzog’s grandfather.

The Israeli president last week was interviewed by the BBC for twenty-eight minutes. But they aired only six.

In a key section that was omitted, the interviewer, the BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, argued that “everyone is suffering” in the Gaza conflict.

President Herzog responded:

“There is a real culture of atrocities, that is coming forward with a whole army called ISIS-Hamas and Al Qaeda. It was in 9/11. It’s in beheading people in Europe. It’s in torturing and what the Houtis are doing down south. It’s all over the region. Either we fight them, or not—exactly. It took a long time until Winston Churchill took over, after he threatened and alerted against the Nazi regime.”

Herzog was referring to the fact that from the rise of Hitler in 1933 until the invasion of Poland in 1939, the British government pursued a policy of appeasing, rather than confronting, the Nazis. Churchill’s warnings about Hitler were ignored.

Herzog then referred to the consequences of Israel’s previous policy of not defeating Hamas: “We paid the price. We caved in. We enabled again and again and again to have ceasefires, and what happened? What happened? The highest amount of Jews killed since World War II, since the Holocaust, was on the seventh of October, eight times more, in proportional numbers, than 9/11. What else do you expect us to do? How do we protect ourselves, as a member of the family of nations? What’s our right here? We don’t want to inflict pain. We tell people to move out. But we have to get these terrorists, and get them out.”

The president’s spokesperson, Naor Ihia, wrote on X (Twitter): “Something about the way the BBC conducted the interview made me think I should have my own recording of what the president says before someone tries to censor or distort it….So here are the things the BBC didn’t want the world to hear.”

The BBC has not given an explanation for its decision to omit those portions of its interview with President Herzog.

Sixty-seven years ago, the BBC did not provide any explanation of its decision to censor his grandfather, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog.

The occasion was a conference of some 1,800 Orthodox Jewish rabbis, leaders and activists at the Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan on January 30 and 31, 1944.

By that time, millions of Jews had already been slaughtered in Nazi death camps. The mass murder had been verified by the Allies more than a year earlier, and had been amply documented by Jewish organizations.

According to accounts in the Yiddish press and the leftwing New York City daily newspaper PM, the organizers of the conference paid the required fees to the BBC—as was the procedure at the time—to broadcast the proceedings of the gathering. They also submitted the text of the speeches to the British censorship authorities in advance.

The two most prominent speakers scheduled to take part were Chief Rabbi Herzog and the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Joseph Hertz. They intended to speak about “the plight of European Jewry, urging American Jews to support a program to open the doors of Palestine to persecuted refugees,” according to PM.

Shortly before the conference, the BBC informed the organizers that the rabbis’ speeches could not be broadcast because “transatlantic wires were overcrowded.” The conference staff then arranged with AT&T “to provide the wire space,” and alerted the BBC accordingly. But on the first day of the conference, the British Embassy in Washington informed conference officials that the broadcast would not take place. No explanation was offered.

Conference chairman David Meckler, editor of the Yiddish daily Morgen Zhurnal, decried the censorship decision as part of the British White Paper policy of appeasing Arab extremists by keeping Jewish refugees out of the Holy Land. He called the cancelation “an attempt by the British government to silence our demands for aid to refugees through the opening of Palestine.”

Obviously, today’s BBC producers are not personally responsible for what their predecessors did in 1944. But the action by today’s BBC decision-makers against another Jewish leader from the Herzog family is more than a little ironic. It seems that the gagging of Zionist leaders did not end in the 1940s.

(November 2023)