Israeli Likens BBC Program to Nazi Press
JERUSALEM - An Israeli government official said Sunday that a BBC program charging Israel with secretly stockpiling nuclear and chemical weapons demonized Israel in a way reminiscent of anti-Semitic tracts published in Nazi Germany.
Government Press Office chief Daniel Seaman said a TV report entitled "Israel's Secret Weapon" was the latest in a number of programs by the British Broadcasting Corp. questioning Israel's right to exist. He declined comment on media reports that he intended to impose sanctions.
The BBC said it stood by the program.
The program, part of the "Correspondent" series, was aired in Britain in March but first shown in Israel on Saturday night. It cites experts as saying Israel has "the world's sixth largest nuclear arsenal with small tactical nuclear weapons ... as well as medium-range nuclear missiles launchable from air, land or sea."
It also says Israel has undeclared biological and chemical capabilities and used an unknown gas against Palestinians in Gaza in February 2001 that sent 180 people to the hospital with severe convulsions.
Israel at the time denied having used poison gas.
"The accusations are very reminiscent of the most horrible anti-Semitism," Seaman said. "This is very reminiscent of Der Stuermer," he added, referring to a virulently anti-Semitic newspaper from Nazi-era Germany.
The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday that the Government Press Office intends to impose visa restrictions on BBC staff and to refuse to make officials available for BBC interviews, or to help BBC journalists facing problems with army roadblocks and airport security checks.
"Let's say that the hospitality extended by the government of Israel through the GPO is not something engraved in stone," Seaman said without elaborating.
BBC spokeswoman Kate Atkins said the broadcaster had not been officially informed of any pending Israeli action.
"We stand by the Correspondent program and regret any response the Israeli government might make," she said.
Israel is widely assumed to have nuclear weapons, but the government's public policy is purposefully vague, stating only that Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.
Israel has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, aimed at stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, because it objects to international inspections.
In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at the country's Dimona nuclear plant, gave pictures of what appeared to be nuclear weapons at the plant to a London newspaper. He is serving an 18-year term for treason and espionage.
Israel has fallen out with the BBC before, protesting bitterly over a June 2001 documentary in which legal experts said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should be indicted for failing to prevent the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in refugee camps during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
The killings were carried out by a Lebanese Christian militia allied with Israel. An Israeli inquiry found Sharon indirectly responsible and forced him to resign as defense minister in 1983.
"The BBC always questions and doubts Israel's integrity," Seaman said. "It is always putting it in some demonic context, not as a democracy fighting for survival."