BBC’s Yolande Knell back on the ‘one state’ bandwagon

On May 15th the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell produced a filmed report for the corporation’s television news programmes which was also promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “How will new Israel government affect two-state solution?“.Knell Har Homa

The synopsis appearing on the website includes the following statement:

“The government includes conservative, far-right, and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties who would fight any recognition of a Palestinian state.”

The accuracy of that statement is of course contestable – not least in relation to the stance of coalition member party Shas, which has traditionally supported the two-state solution.

If viewers thought that the title of this report indicated that they were going to get some reliable background information on the new Israeli government’s approach and policies, they were sorely mistaken: Knell’s report is just one more addition to her long record of partial and inaccurate political propaganda.

Knell opens her report as follows:

“Har Homa: it’s one of Israel’s most controversial housing projects on land the Palestinians want for their state. Here, Bethlehem is cut off from Jerusalem.”

Does Har Homa in fact cut Bethlehem off from Jerusalem? A look at the map shows that the answer to that is no, with two routes bypassing Har Homa available for travel.

map Har Homa

Knell continues:

“Back in the late 1990s this is the same hill before building began. Now there are about twenty thousand Jewish residents and ahead of his re-election, the prime minister came promising to expand settlements. They’re seen as illegal under international law but Israel disagrees.”

As ever, Knell makes no attempt to comply with BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by informing her viewers of the existence of opinions which contradict the BBC’s standard “illegal under international law” insert. Neither does she bother to inform them of the fact that the majority of Har Homa (Homat Shmuel) is built on land purchased by Jews prior to 1948 – a fact recognized even by the PLO.

Knell goes on:

“He [Netanyahu] also said he wouldn’t allow a Palestinian state.”

That context-free representation of the Israeli PM’s words relates to an interview given to the Israeli website NRG, the full text of which can be found here. Notably, Knell also ignores the subsequent clarifications made by Netanyahu.

She proceeds to explain a map inserted into the footage:

“This is where the Palestinians seek full sovereignty: in East Jerusalem which they want as their capital, the West Bank and Gaza – areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.”

No attempt is made to inform viewers why war broke out in 1967 or of the legal status of the areas she describes before they were conquered and occupied by Jordan and Egypt in 1948.

Next, with no effort made to conform to BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by informing audiences of the political aims of the NGO he represents, Knell introduces her first interviewee.

Knell: “In his Bethlehem office Jad Isaac monitors settlement growth. He no longer believes in a two state solution to the conflict with Israel.”

Isaac: “This is not realistic; anybody who sees things on the ground will come to that conclusion.”

Knell: “Dr Isaac faces losing his own land because of new construction in Har Homa. He tells me the International Criminal Court should act.”

Isaac: “This is the last resort. We have to go to the international justice – to the international community – to see what they say about this occupation. Displacing people, bringing Israeli citizens to live inside the West Bank – the occupied territory – is a war crime.”

Again, Knell makes no effort whatsoever to clarify to viewers that Isaac’s “war crime” claim is highly debatable to say the least. She then goes on to ostensibly present a differing viewpoint but fails to tell viewers that her next interviewee is not only a journalist, but also the former director of the political NGO the New Israel Fund.  

Knell: “On the Jerusalem side of Har Homa I get another perspective from an Israeli journalist who lives nearby.”

Ya’ari: “This whole…eh…expressions of two state solution is almost like a cover up on something different.”

Knell: “Unusually, Eliezer Ya’ari visits his Palestinian neighbours. Israel made their villages part of Jerusalem when it unilaterally extended the city’s boundaries but it views them as residents – not citizens. Mr Ya’ari thinks they should have the same political rights as he does.”

Ya’ari: “OK – we are now tangled together. What does it mean? From my point of view Israel has decided that Jerusalem – its own capital – will be a bi-national city and I don’t think that all Israeli citizens actually understand what it means.”

This is not the first time we have seen Yolande Knell deliberately mislead BBC audiences with regard to the status of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem: she made the exact same inaccurate claim in November of last year, failing to clarify that they are entitled to apply for citizenship should they so wish and that those who choose not to exercise that right (and hence to disenfranchise themselves as far as voting in parliamentary elections is concerned) are nevertheless entitled to vote in municipal elections and to receive social security benefits and healthcare. We have also seen the BBC promoting similar misinformation in additional past reports.

Knell closes her report:

“The view has changed dramatically since battles were fought over this land nearly fifty years ago and as Israel’s political landscape continues to alter even moderate voices are looking at alternatives to established peace plans.”

This is also not the first time that we have seen Yolande Knell promoting ‘alternatives’ to the two state solution, whilst failing to clarify to her audiences what that actually means. Her latest misrepresentation of this as being the approach of “moderate voices” exposes the political agenda actually being promoted in this so-called ‘news’ item.  

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BBC coverage of terrorism in Israel in April 2015

Throughout the month of April the BBC produced one report on the topic of terror attacks in Israel:

April 8th: “Palestinian killed after stabbing two Israeli soldiers” – discussed here.Pigua 8 4 report final

In addition to reporting on the incident of that day at the Sinjil junction in which two soldiers were stabbed, the article also makes a brief reference to an incident (not reported by the BBC at the time) which took place on April 2nd near Oranit in which one soldier was stabbed.

In other words, as far as BBC audiences are aware, two separate non-fatal stabbing attacks on three members of the Israeli security forces took place throughout the month of April.

The Israel Security Agency’s monthly report for April 2015 shows that the total number of attacks during that month was one hundred and twenty-one. 82 attacks took place in Judea & Samaria and 38 in Jerusalem along with one incident of missile fire from the Gaza Strip. One person was killed and nine injured in three stabbing attacks and two attacks using vehicles. In addition, seven attacks were carried out using explosive devices and 108 attacks with petrol bombs.

A terror attack in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighbourhood on April 15th in which one person was killed and another seriously injured was not reported by the BBC.

A missile attack from the Gaza Strip on April 23rd did not receive any BBC coverage.

A stabbing incident in Hebron and a car attack in Jerusalem on April 25th were also not reported.

In other words, BBC audiences were informed of less than 2% of the total number of attacks which took place during April and the corporation’s coverage did not include the fatal attack on civilians which took place at a location less than a twenty-minute drive from the BBC’s offices in Jerusalem.  

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BBC’s Connolly mistaken on coalition formation in Israel

Since the Israeli election in March, the BBC has not reported on the subsequent process of the formation of a new government. That however changed on May 6th and 7th with the appearance of two articles on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.coalition art

May 6th: “Israel’s Netanyahu faces deadline to form coalition

May 7th: “Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu agrees coalition deal

The second article includes the following analysis by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly.

“In the 67 years of its history, Israel has never known any form of government but multi-party coalition – no-one has ever won an outright parliamentary majority. But rarely can the process have come right down to the wire quite like this.

Benjamin Netanyahu was granted a total of seven weeks to build a new coalition and as the clock ticked towards midnight he had 53 of the 61 seats he needed.”

The seven week – 42 day – time-frame for the formation of a coalition is of course not exclusive to this particular government or the politician trying to assemble it: that time-frame is laid out along with the rest of the process in Israeli law.

“When a new government is to be constituted, the President of the State, after consulting with representatives of the parties elected to the Knesset, assigns the task of forming the government to a Knesset member. This Knesset member is usually the leader of the party with the largest Knesset representation or the head of the party that leads a coalition with more than 60 members.

Since a government requires the Knesset’s confidence to function, it must have a supporting coalition of at least 61 of the 120 Knesset members. To date, no party has received enough Knesset seats to be able to form a government by itself; thus all Israeli governments have been based on coalitions of several parties, with those remaining outside the government making up the opposition.

The Knesset member to whom the task is assigned has a period of 28 days to form a government. The President may extend the term by an additional period of time, not exceeding 14 days.

If this period (up to 42 days) has passed and the designated Knesset member has not succeeded in forming a government, the President may then assign the task of forming a government to another Knesset member. This Knesset member has a period of 28 days for the fulfillment of the task.

If a government still has not been formed, an absolute majority of Knesset members (61) has the option of applying in writing to the President, asking him to assign the task to a particular Knesset member. Such a precedent has yet to occur.

When a government has been formed, the designated prime minister presents it to the Knesset within 45 days of publication of election results in the official gazette. At this time, he announces its composition, the basic guideline of its policy, and the distribution of functions among its ministers. The prime minister then asks the Knesset for an expression of confidence. The government is installed when the Knesset has expressed confidence in it by a majority of 61 Knesset members, and the ministers thereupon assume office.”

And what of Connolly’s claim that “rarely can the process have come right down to the wire quite like this”? Well, history does not back up Connolly’s assertion that seldom has it taken 42 days to form a coalition after elections in Israel as the chart below from the Israel Democracy Institute shows.

Chart formation of government

“Historically, the length of time taken to form a government in Israel has ranged from 20 to 100 days. This is within the norms of time that it takes to form a government in other parliamentary democracies, where it has sometimes taken even longer. Belgium is actually the record holder in this area: no less than 541 days elapsed between the elections in June 2010 and the swearing in of the new government in December 2011. In Holland, 208 days elapsed from the general elections of 1977 to the swearing in of the new government. Similarly, in Austria, it took 123 days to form a government after the elections of 1999.

As can be seen from the figure above, the process of government formation generally took longer during the first two decades of Israel’s history than it does today. In 1955, no less than 100 days elapsed between the elections for Israel’s third Knesset and the swearing in of the new government. After the elections for the fifth Knesset (1961), it took 79 days until the new government was sworn in. During the last two decades, however, the process has taken a maximum of 50 days. (Note that these figures refer to the total number of days between Election Day and the day that the government is sworn in. If the time between Election Day and the day when the President of Israel assigns the formation of the government to one of the members of the Knesset were to be deducted, the amount of time required would be shorter.)”

The new government must be sworn in by next Wednesday – May 13th – at the latest (although it may take place before that) meaning that a maximum of 57 days will have passed between the election and the swearing-in.  After elections took place on January 22nd 2013, fifty-five days went by until the government was sworn in.

In other words, the time-frame for the building of Israel’s latest government is nowhere near as ‘rare’ as Kevin Connolly would have BBC audiences believe. 

No BBC reporting on last week’s fatal terror attack in Jerusalem

Israel’s Remembrance Day (Yom HaZikaron) commemorates not only those who fell defending the State of Israel, but also the civilian victims of war and terrorism. The most recent of those is twenty-five year-old Shalom Yochai Sherki who was killed when a Palestinian driver from Anata rammed his vehicle into a bus stop at French Hill in Jerusalem on April 15th.BBC News logo 2

“A Palestinian driver deliberately rammed his car into a Jerusalem bus stop this week and killed an Israeli man in a “horrible attack,” Israel Police chief Yohanan Danino said Saturday.[…]

He ruled out initial suggestions that it had been an accident.

Shalom Yohai Sherki, 25, and Shira Klein, 20, were seriously injured in the attack on the bus stop in East Jerusalem.

Sherki, the son of prominent rabbi Ouri Sherki who is well known in the city’s francophone community, died of his injuries on Thursday morning and was buried later that day.

The driver, Khaled Koutineh, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, was also injured and arrested by the police.”

The second victim is still undergoing treatment in hospital and the perpetrator has since admitted that the attack was deliberate.

That terror attack joins the numerous others which were also not reported by the BBC.

Also on April 15th, the Israeli security forces announced the arrests of twenty-nine Hamas activists.

“Security forces arrested 29 suspected Hamas members in the West Bank city of Nablus overnight Tuesday, including some who have been imprisoned in Israel in the past.

Among those detained were senior members of the Palestinian terror group, the army said.

The operation, carried out by the Shin Bet security service, the IDF, and the Israel Police, came amid concern that the activists were preparing to carry out attacks against Israeli targets.

The suspects were to be questioned by the Shin Bet.

The army noted an increase in Hamas activity in the West Bank and said members of the group have been acting on the instructions and funding of its leaders abroad.”

The subject of the Hamas terror cells in Palestinian Authority administered areas which are controlled and funded by Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip and abroad – and threaten not only Israeli civilians but also the PA itself – is one which the BBC has largely managed to avoid in past months.  

Clearly BBC audiences’ understanding of events in both Israel and the PA controlled areas is not enhanced by the absence of any serious reporting on this topic.

BBC’s Yolande Knell promotes Muslim Brotherhood messaging

“…there were many interviews with members of the Brotherhood itself – some rank-and-file, some described as leaders. All of these stressed that their movement favoured freedom and democracy, and did not seek to impose an Islamic order on people against their will. Some of the expert commentators accepted these statements more or less at face value, stressing the Brotherhood’s evolution towards pragmatism during its long years in opposition and semi-clandestinity…”

Source: ‘A BBC Trust report on the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of the events known as the “Arab Spring”’ – June 2012

One might have perhaps thought that in the four years which have passed since the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt, BBC correspondents would have had the opportunity to garner enough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood to prevent them from repeating the same face value acceptance – and amplification – of its messaging as was seen in BBC coverage of the events at the time.Knell MB art

However, if the article titled “Muslim Brotherhood: From rapid rise to sharp decline” produced by Yolande Knell on April 13th is anything to go by, not only is that is definitely not the case, but Edward Mortimer’s description of Muslim Brotherhood statements being naively “accepted … at face value” by BBC “expert commentators” may be in need of review.

Knell has no comment to add on the use of the phrase “democratic process” by a supporter of an organization which states that its intention is to create a state ruled by religious law which discriminates against women, non-Muslim minorities and others.

“On Saturday, a court confirmed death sentences on the group’s General Guide, Mohammed Badie, and others for planning attacks against the state.

But another man, Ahmed, insists they have done nothing wrong.

“God willing, we’ll see the democratic process get back on track soon,” he says.”

Neither does Knell make any effort to explain the reasoning behind her promotion of the notion that the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole is ‘relatively moderate’.

“Yet many in Egypt accept the clampdown on the Brotherhood, believing it failed its test in power, and across the entire region the fate of this relatively moderate Islamist organisation has undergone a dramatic turnaround.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines the political sense of moderate as “not radical or excessively right- or left-wing”. The aim of running a state ruled by Sharia law cannot accurately be described as anything other than radical and right-wing and of course there is little evidence of ‘moderation’ on the part of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or the movement’s Qatar-based  ‘spiritual guide’ Yusuf al Qaradawi.

‘Moderate’ political organisations obviously do not support terrorism or cultivate links with its perpetrators – but a journalist who uses the makeover term “political faction” to describe a terrorist group which just months ago launched thousands of missiles at civilians will obviously be oblivious to that nuance.

“Not far away, in the Palestinian territories, Hamas – which is aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood – is also suffering from the organisation’s demise.

Its leaders were treated like VIPs in Egypt during the Brotherhood’s brief reign.

But in February, a court in Cairo joined Israel, the United States, the European Union and others in pronouncing Hamas a terrorist organisation.

In Gaza, which is controlled by the political faction, ordinary people feel more isolated than ever. […]

Across Gaza, the green flags of Hamas still flutter defiantly above the mangled metal and rubble of homes destroyed in last summer’s war with Israel.” [emphasis added]

Knell’s take-away message to readers comes right at the end of her article:

“But throughout much of the Middle East, there is a sense that times are changing.

And what worries many is that just as the Muslim Brotherhood, the grandfather of Islamist groups in the region, is in decline, so fanatical ones – like Islamic State – are gaining momentum.

The danger is that efforts to suppress the Brotherhood could radicalise its younger supporters and help swell the ranks of the extremists.”

Yolande Knell does not reveal to her readers the identities of the worried “many” who apparently believe that the political aspirations of young Middle Eastern Muslims are to be found exclusively on a scale lying between ‘moderate’ Islamists and ‘fanatical’ ones and hence promote the highly debatable claim-cum-threat that the decline of the Muslim Brotherhood could “swell the ranks of the extremists”.

However, a clue to the potential source – and background motivations – of that claim promoted and amplified by Knell comes in the form of a report published by Associated Press about the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan which appeared almost a month before Knell’s article saw the light of day. Interestingly, the two pieces show some curious similarities.

In a section of her article about the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood Yolande Knell writes:

“A new, officially licensed branch defines itself as strictly Jordanian, saying it has cut ties to the regional movement, so it is not identified as militant.”

The earlier AP article states:

“The new, officially licensed Brotherhood offshoot defines itself as a strictly Jordanian group, saying it cut ties with the regional movement to avoid being branded as militant.”

Yolande Knell writes:

“The legal status of the other, larger faction is less clear, but it is keeping its links to the wider Brotherhood.”

The earlier AP article states:

“The larger Brotherhood faction, still loyal to the regional movement, alleged the government engineered the division to weaken the group.[…] The status of the second faction now remains unclear.”

Yolande Knell writes:

“The danger is that efforts to suppress the Brotherhood could radicalise its younger supporters and help swell the ranks of the extremists.”

Readers of the AP report were informed that:

“In Jordan, some warned that the government’s apparent divide-and-control policy could backfire by pushing more Brotherhood supporters into the ranks of extremists like the Islamic State group, seen as the main threat to the country’s stability.”

And:

“Some warn the government crackdown could radicalize Brotherhood supporters and help swell the ranks of the Islamic State group.”

In other words, Yolande Knell’s supposedly impartial take-away message to Western audiences on the topic of the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have come straight (or perhaps via AP) from the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood horse’s mouth.

So much for ‘standard-setting’ journalism.

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Knell’s follow up on Cremisan Valley marred by BBC mantras

BBC Jerusalem Bureau correspondent Yolande Knell has invested quite a bit of energy over the past three years into promoting the topic of the court case concerning the route of the anti-terrorist fence in the Cremisan Valley.  

Bethlehem nuns in West Bank barrier battle May 3rd 2012

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BBC’s Yolande Knell erases Jewish history in campaigning article  January 2014

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The same topic has also appeared in other BBC content.

On April 3rd 2015 Knell reported on the Supreme Court decision given the previous day (according to which the Israeli authorities will have to find an alternative route for that particular section of the anti-terrorist fence) in an article titled “Israeli court rejects Cremisan Valley West Bank barrier“.Knell Cremisan

Despite Israel’s Supreme Court having accepted a petition presented by a non-Israeli municipality and tens of individuals who are not Israeli citizens in a case concerning the route of a structure described by the court as “one of the ways of dealing with the threats of terror and with the aim of preventing and avoiding the infiltration of terrorists into Israeli territory”, Yolande Knell chose to downplay that exceptional aspect of the story, instead opting to focus readers’ attentions on the standard BBC mantras relating to the anti-terrorist fence and ‘settlements’.

“Construction of the barrier began in 2002, during the second Palestinian intifada or uprising, following a wave of suicide bombings.

Israel said it was an essential security measure to prevent attacks.

However, Palestinians see it largely as a land grab because much of it was built inside the occupied West Bank.

Jewish settlements and additional land have been left on the Israeli side.

Settlements are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees.”

As has been noted here before with regard to that last sentence:

“Though that mantra has been repeated countless times over the years, it is not accompanied by a definitive cited source (because of course there isn’t one) and its claim is erroneously presented as being contested only by the government of Israel. In other words, the BBC’s standard formulation egregiously ignores the existence of legal opinions which contradict its own adopted narrative.”

The standard BBC insert on the topic of the anti-terrorist fence, which inevitably includes the phrase “Israel says” and inaccurate description of the structure as a “land grab”, is no more impartial.

“The systematic failure to present audiences with the readily available factual evidence which proves the anti-terrorist fence’s efficiency – rather than the subjective presentation of “Israel says” – is clearly a failure to distinguish “opinion from fact” and a major “omission of an important perspective”.  The fact that a standard formula has been employed for over a decade also represents a failure to adhere to the demand for “impartiality over time”, presenting the same jaded “land grab” theme over a long period of years in which no such thing has happened.”

Knell’s description of Gilo and Har Gilo is equally political:

“In the Cremisan Valley, Israel’s defence ministry argued it was seeking added protection for the settlements of Har Gilo and Gilo. Israelis view these as Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.”

As was the case in one of her previous articles on the subject, Knell refrains from informing audiences of the status of the land upon which Gilo was built, preferring to promote the standard Palestinian narrative of all Jerusalem neighbourhoods in areas occupied by Jordan during the War of Independence – including those on land owned by Jews before 1948 – as ‘settlements’. She also predictably avoids the topic of the terrorism directed at Gilo from nearby Beit Jala during the second Intifada.

At the beginning of her report Knell inaccurately informs readers that:

“Fifty-eight Christian families would have been cut off from their land.”

Those who bothered to read on discovered that was not the case:

“The Israeli authorities had said there would be access between the sites and for Palestinians trying to reach their land through gates operated by soldiers.”

Like the rest of Knell’s coverage of this story over a period of three years, this article passed up on the opportunity to provide BBC audiences with the comprehensive background necessary for audiences to understand both sides to the story in favour of the promotion of a specific political narrative.

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Elections 2015: was the BBC’s coverage impartial?

We are often told that the impartiality of BBC content should be judged “over time” and some guidance as to what that term means can be found in this section of the BBC’s editorial guidelines.

“In achieving due impartiality, a ‘series of programmes’ may be considered as a whole.

The term ‘series of programmes’ applies to the following:

Content that deals with the same or related issues, within an appropriate period, and are clearly linked.

This may include a strand with a common title; different types of linked programmes (such as a drama with a following debate); a clearly identified season of programmes or items on the same or similar subjects; or a set of interlinked web pages.  Such programmes, items or web pages need to achieve due impartiality across the series, and online content should include links or signposts to the other online elements.

The intention to achieve due impartiality in this way should be planned in advance.”

With BBC coverage of the recent Israeli election now having come to a close, we can examine the question of whether due impartiality was achieved in the ‘series of programmes’ relating to that topic.Knell filmed 17 3

All the relevant BBC content – written, audio and filmed – already discussed on these pages is available in chronological order under ‘related articles’ below.

The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities. So, whilst BBC audiences heard or read occasional brief references to ‘economic issues’, ‘the cost of living’ and ‘house prices’, they were never actually provided with any in-depth background information on those topics and hence were incapable of appreciating why – for example – a previously non-existent party (Kulanu) won ten seats in the incoming Knesset.

The BBC’s disproportionate focus on the topic of the ‘peace process’ can be illustrated by taking a look at the number of Palestinian commentators interviewed and quoted by the BBC in just three days of coverage, beginning with the day of the election itself.

17/3/15: Husam Zomlot – filmed report by Yolande Knell – BBC television news & website

                Husam Zomlot – audio report by Yoande Knell – ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

                Raja Shehadeh – interview ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

                Sabri Saydan – interview ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

18/3/15: Mohammed Shtayyeh – filmed report by Lyse Doucet – BBC television news & website

                 Saeb Erekat & Mahmoud Abbas – quoted in written report on BBC News website

                 Hanan Ashrawi – audio report by Kevin Connolly – Radio 4 ‘PM’ (here from 41:50)

19/3/15: Yousef Munnayer & Mustafa Barghouti – interviews ‘Newshour’, World Service radioNewshour 19 3

Despite extensive use of the ‘peace process’ theme and the generous airtime given to Palestinian interviewees, not one BBC report raised the topic of Palestinian responsibility for the lack of progress in negotiations and the related topic of long overdue elections for both the Palestinian Legislative Council and the PA president was likewise not even briefly mentioned.

Israeli politicians interviewed in the same three-day period included Ayman Odeh of the Joint Arab List (17/3 – filmed report by Jeremy Bowen), Yitzhak Herzog (17/3 ‘Newshour’) and Nahman Shai (17/3 ‘Newshour’) of the Zionist Union, first-time Likud candidate Sharren Haskel (17/3, ‘Newshour’), Rachel Azaria of Kulanu (18/3, ‘Newshour’ – here from 34:55) and Moshe Ya’alon of Likud (19/3).

In other words, BBC audiences heard and read more commentary on the Israeli election from Palestinian contributors than from Israeli politicians standing for election.

Little attempt was made to introduce BBC audiences to most of the 26 parties competing in the election or to explain the differences between their positions. Background information on the topic of the Israeli electoral system was mostly confined to references to the fact that the system makes a coalition government almost inevitable.

The topic of the foreign-funded campaign to influence the outcome of the election was completely ignored in all BBC coverage even though that factor played a role in influencing the election’s result and foreign intervention in elections in a democratic country should obviously have been a big story.Connolly filmed 16 3

Whilst the BBC put considerable focus on the statement made by the Israeli prime minister on March 17th concerning the related issue of busing of Joint Arab List voters to the polling stations, it did not report at all on the comments (or later fall-out) made at the Left-wing rally in Tel Aviv on March 7th – even though a BBC team was present at the event.  Despite the fact that Zionist Union leader Herzog later cited that incident as having affected his party’s performance “without a shadow of a doubt“, BBC audiences remain completely unaware of it ever having happened, just as they were not informed of assorted statements made by members of the Joint Arab List.

When answering criticism of his organisation’s coverage of Israel, the BBC’s director general recently claimed:

 “It is hard… tough. We do aim to give as impartial coverage as we can across the period.”

In this case it is not difficult to see that the BBC came nowhere near to achieving “due impartiality over time” – primarily because its journalists chose to cover the Israeli election almost exclusively from an angle which, whilst of only minor relevance to the issue itself, coalesced more with their own pre-existing views and agenda. And whilst audiences were fed reams of material on “the Palestinian view”, their understanding of what should have been the story’s actual subject matter – the factors influencing the election’s result – was hampered by selective omission of information and a distinct lack of interest in anything which got in the way of the story’s chosen framing.  

Lord Hall might care to ponder the fact that it would be much less “hard” and “tough” to cover Israel-related news accurately and impartially were the journalists working for his organisation to stick to reporting the stories that exist rather than instead promoting the stories they want to tell.

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Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part one

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Misinformation from BBC’s Kevin Connolly on From Our Own Correspondent

In which a BBC Radio 4 guest compares Israel to a drug addict

 

 

Misinformation from BBC’s Kevin Connolly on From Our Own Correspondent

The March 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item by Kevin Connolly (available from 06:19 here) described as follows in the programme’s synopsis:FOOC 19 3

“…a stunning election victory for Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel — but it means frustration, anger and dismay for the country’s Palestinian population…”

As has been noted here in previous discussions of BBC coverage of the recent Israeli election (see here and here), one topic which all the corporation’s journalists avoided like the plague in all its reporting was that of foreign funding for organisations such as V15 which campaigned to influence the outcome of the election. In this report, however, Kevin Connolly goes a step beyond omission, actively misinforming listeners when he says (from around 09:00):

“…Mr Netanyahu now has the chance to replace a rather fractious and recalcitrant old coalition with a new one, which should prove more manageable. Foreign governments, of course, are far too well-behaved to interfere in the internal politics of a democratic state. But the outside world tends to view Israeli politics through the prism of the state of the peace process with the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

Whether or not US tax-payers’ money was used in the V15 campaign remains to be seen – as the Free Beacon recently reported:

“The head of a progressive U.S.-based group that helped organize the failed get-out-the-vote effort to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel defended the initiative during a panel discussion at J Street’s annual conference on Sunday.

Kenneth Bob, who runs the U.S. nonprofit Ameinu, said around a year ago the group began meeting with board members, political parties, and other progressive organizations to figure out “what can we actually do to impact events on the ground in Israel.”

“It took us on a path to learn about Israeli electoral funding laws, and it brought us to a project that has now gotten a certain amount of publicity thanks to the prime minister of Israel,” said Bob. “We helped put together a get-out-the-vote effort in the Arab community.”

Netanyahu called on his supporters to turn out to vote last Tuesday to counter U.S.-funded efforts aimed at bringing out left-leaning and Arab-Israeli voters. His comments earned rebukes from the White House, which has suggested that he was trying to discourage minority voting.

Bob said Netanyahu’s characterization of the campaign was accurate, although the prime minister overstated how much money it had received.

“When Bibi spoke about the tens of millions of dollars pouring into this effort, my only correction was it wasn’t tens of millions,” said Bob. “He exaggerated a little bit.” […]

Several organizations that have received funding from the U.S. State Department—including OneVoice, Givat Haviva and the Abraham Fund Initiatives—were also involved in the voter-targeting efforts. A bipartisan Senate committee launched an investigation earlier this month into whether any U.S. government funds had been used for this campaign.” [emphasis added]

What is already known, however, is that foreign governments regularly interfere in internal Israeli politics by means of funding for assorted NGOs. Those governments include the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland and Norway – to name but a few of the countries which are considerably less “well-behaved” than Connolly tries to make out.

Connolly then provides listeners with more misinformation:

“Outsiders will want to know what chance there is now of convening talks or what chance they might have of succeeding if they could be convened. The truth is that the process was already feeling pretty moribund. There’s been no movement since an American-brokered attempt at negotiations fizzled out last year. Now, it feels more moribund still.” [emphasis added]

The last round of talks between Israel and the PLO did not “fizzle out” as Connolly claims: they came to an abrupt end when the Fatah controlled  Palestinian Authority opted for a reconciliation deal with Hamas: a terrorist organization which does not recognize either Israel’s right to exist or existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords.

Of course accurate representation of the reasons for the failure of the last round of talks would have put a decided damper on the multi-platform campaign to portray the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon the results of Israel’s election which was evident throughout the BBC’s coverage of that event. This contribution from Connolly may well fit the chosen editorial line, but it is not accurate and deliberately misleads BBC audiences.  

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Elections 2015: the morning after – BBC News website coverage

No fewer than seven articles concerning the previous day’s Israeli election were published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 18th.

An article which originally appeared the previous evening under the title “Israel election: No clear winner, exit polls suggest” underwent numerous changes as the votes were counted overnight, ending up under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu’s Likud storms to victory“. As was the case in much of the BBC’s prior coverage of the topic, that article and the others appearing on the same day focused audience attentions on the topic the election was not about.18 3 website 1

“Mr Netanyahu had vowed not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state, while Zionist Union expressed support for a two-state solution and promised to repair relations with Palestinians and the international community.

In the wake of the vote, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Palestinians would step up their bid for statehood.

“It is clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government, so we say clearly that we will go to the International Criminal Court in the Hague and we will speed up, pursue and intensify” diplomatic efforts, he told AFP news agency.”

An insert from the BBC’s Middle East editor added:

“He [Netanyahu] also made a series of promises that would worsen Israel’s relations with the US and Europe if he continues as prime minister. He promised thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied territories, and said he would not allow the Palestinians to have a state.”

Jeremy Bowen produced an article titled “Israel election: Dramatic turnaround for Netanyahu” which he opened by brushing aside the topic of his organisation’s previous heavy promotion of opinion polls.18 3 website 2

“In the end Israeli opinion polls told the wrong story, yet again.”

Bowen informed readers that:

“The prime minister narrowed the gap with Mr Herzog’s Zionist Union, and then overhauled it, by turning sharply towards the ultra-nationalist Israeli right.

He issued a series of grim warnings about the consequences for Israel if he lost; Arabs with Israeli citizenship were voting, so his people needed to turn out.

Mr Netanyahu made a series of promises that would worsen Israel’s relations with the United States and Europe if he stays on as prime minister.

He promised thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied territories. And he said that he would not allow the Palestinians to have a state.”

The BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly produced two articles, the first of which was a report from the Likud campaign headquarters titled “Likud celebrates surprise success in Israeli election” in which readers were informed that:18 3 website 3

“If a new right-of-centre coalition is formed it will be formed in the context of Mr Netanyahu indicating that he was prepared to block the formation of a Palestinian state.

International observers trying to interpret what this result means for hopes of a resumption in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians will see that as a bleak signal.

A Herzog-led government might have been a more comfortable partner for the US State Department and for European governments interested in reviving talks.

But for now, it appears that the Israeli electorate has decided otherwise.”

Connolly’s second article of the day expanded on that theme under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu win dims peace process prospects“.18 3 website 4

“Everyone knows, of course, that the Israeli right, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, is at best sceptical about the prospect of a peace deal with the Palestinians, while the left under Yitzhak Herzog is much keener on the kind of constructive engagement that would keep the White House and the State Department happy. […]

He made it clear that in the modern Middle East with its rising tide of militant Islamism and its deepening atmosphere of instability the conditions just do not exist to create a Palestinian state.

It was a smart move invoking the image of a leader who is prepared to stand up for Israel’s interests in an uncertain world and who is not worried if his single-mindedness on the issue irritates the Europeans, the Americans or indeed anyone else.

At one point he was asked directly if his return as prime minister would mean categorically that a Palestinian state would not be established.

He answered with the single Hebrew word “Achen” – which means “indeed”.”

The BBC News website also produced a profile of Netanyahu titled “Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu: Commando turned PM” in which readers were told that:18 3 website 5

“For Mr Netanyahu, the number one issue has long been Israel’s security, and he has taken a tough line towards the Palestinians, seeing land-for-peace as too dangerous to accept.

His third term shifted from renewed peace talks, which collapsed in acrimony, to war with militants in Gaza just three months later.”

Readers are not informed that those talks collapsed because the PA decided to from a unity government with Hamas.

Later on in the article, however, this example of the ‘land for peace’ formula appears:

“Despite having fiercely criticised the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, in 1997 Mr Netanyahu signed a deal handing over 80% of Hebron to Palestinian Authority control and signed the Wye River Memorandum in 1998 outlining further withdrawals from the West Bank.”

No effort is made to inform readers that the unprecedented construction freeze of 2009/10 did not cause the PA to come to the negotiating table until one month before it expired and, as ever, the BBC fails to inform audiences accurately with regard to the significance of the Israeli demand for the PA to recognise Israel as the Jewish state:

“Mr Netanyahu’s government was criticised by some in the international community for not renewing a partial freeze on Jewish settlement-building and possibly avoiding a collapse in peace talks with the Palestinians in late 2010.

He publicly accepted the concept of a demilitarised Palestinian state, but insisted the Palestinians accept Israel as a “Jewish state” in turn and make reciprocal concessions.

In 2015 he distanced himself from accepting the prospect of a state, dismissing it as irrelevant given the rise of militant Islam across the Middle East.”

Later on in the evening the BBC News website published two articles with a US slant, the first of which – by PJ Crowley – was subtly titled “Netanyahu win gives Obama a headache“.18 3 website 6

“Over the weekend, he made explicit what many, particularly the Palestinians, had long believed.

As long as he is prime minister, there will not be a Palestinian state. He even acknowledged that his administration used settlement construction to undermine the process.

These statements sent a moribund peace process into freefall, calling into question the future of the Oslo process.”

Apparently BBC audiences are to believe that “the future of the Oslo process” was not called into question by – among other things – the failure of the Oslo Accords’ guarantors to insist upon disarmament of Hamas before the formation of a unity government together with the Palestinian Authority.

Another article titled “Israel election: US concern over ‘divisive’ rhetoric” told readers that:18 3 website 7

“During campaigning, Mr Netanyahu said he would not allow the creation of a Palestinian state if re-elected. […]

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: “It has been the policy of the United States for more than 20 years that a two-state solution is the goal of resolving the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

The US would “re-evaluate our approach” in the wake of Mr Netanyahu’s comments ruling out a Palestinian state, he said.”

The article also states:

“On a warning from Mr Netanyahu that his opponents were bussing Arab-Israeli voters to polling stations, he [Earnest] said: “Rhetoric that seeks to marginalise one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive, and I can tell you that these are views the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.” “

Yet again the BBC refrains from providing audiences with the necessary context concerning the anti-Zionist parties running on the Joint Arab List and the foreign funding for organisations which ran a campaign against Netanyahu.

The article later states:

“The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, said he would work with any Israeli government that accepts the two-state solution, without which, he said, peace negotiations stood “no chance”.”

The uninformed reader seeking to understand the topic of the Israeli election from these seven articles could only arrive at the conclusion that the Likud party’s victory is the prime factor preventing a peace agreement being signed between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘Economical’ presentation of subjects such as the reason for the breakdown of previous rounds of talks coupled with the complete absence of any reference to the fact that almost a year ago the Palestinian Authority chose to form a ‘unity government’ with a terrorist organization which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and is committed to its destruction mean that the bottom line effect of these reports is to mislead audiences with regard to the peace process in general and the significance of the result of the election in particular. As we observed here in January 2013 after the previous election and again in December 2014 when the BBC first began reporting on this one:

“Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances.”

Plus ça change… 

 

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part one

By far the strangest choice of location for a filmed BBC report on the topic of the Israeli elections was Ramallah, from where Yolande Knell reported for BBC television news on March 17th in an item titled “Israel election: The view from Ramallah“. Knell opened that report as follows:Knell filmed 17 3

“I’ve just crossed into the occupied West Bank through the Qalandiya checkpoint which is manned by Israeli soldiers and this is part of Israel’s separation barrier. For Palestinians living here these have become symbols of the decades-old conflict with Israel. And while those in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip don’t get to vote in the Israeli elections, they are watching them closely.”

Knell’s claim that “those…in East Jerusalem…don’t get to vote” is of course inaccurate. Residents of East Jerusalem are entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship and those who do so successfully have the right to vote just like any other Israeli. Those who chose not to exercise their right to apply for citizenship obviously voluntarily forgo the right to vote in national elections, although they are still eligible to vote in municipal elections. This is not the first time that the BBC has promoted this inaccurate portrayal of the voting rights of East Jerusalemites.

Knell also fails to inform viewers that residents of PA controlled areas A and B and residents of the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip do of course have the right to vote in Palestinian Authority elections. That perhaps not accidental omission sets the stage for the next part of her report, in which BBC audiences are encouraged to believe that relevant commentary on the topic of the Israeli election is to be had from someone who not only does not participate in them, but represents the largest faction in a body which has not held democratic elections for seats in its own parliament for over nine years and which is governed by a president whose term of office expired years ago.

Knell: “Palestinian officials say the peace process is being ignored by the [Israeli] political campaigners – and it shouldn’t be.”

Fatah’s Husam Zomlot then says:

“You decide, the Israelis, what is it exactly. Are you occupying us? Then it’s too long an occupation – you have to end it. Or do you consider the West Bank and Gaza your territory? Then you want us either citizens or you want us actually being discriminated against. But in all scenarios, it’s your moment of choice and unfortunately I don’t see the Israeli society now debating this.”

This is of course blatant exploitation of the occasion of the Israeli elections for the propagation of unrelated political propaganda and whilst that comes as no surprise, nevertheless it misleads BBC audiences.

Israelis debated these issues over two decades ago and that debate culminated in the Oslo Accords which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the relinquishment of Areas A & B (and the Gaza Strip in 2005) to its control and the framework of final status negotiations to determine the future of Area C. The PA’s decision to scupper those final status negotiations by means of terrorism, its refusal to accept any of the subsequent offers made to resolve the situation and its newer policy of avoidance of face to face negotiations in favour of activity in the international arena do not of course get any mention in Knell’s own little campaigning video.

After having found two people on the streets of Ramallah to endorse her claim that “many believe it doesn’t even matter if the next Israeli prime minister is Left or Right wing”, she closes by promoting the debatable notion that “the Palestinian president says he’ll work to revive peace talks with Israel”.

In less than two months’ time, the British public will also be going to the polls. It is highly unlikely that the BBC’s election coverage will include “UK election: The view from Buenos Aires”, reports in which Spanish officials bemoan the fact that the issue of Gibraltar is not on the British voters’ agenda or interviews with IRA officials claiming that the ‘occupation’ of Northern Ireland has gone on “too long”. Were the BBC to indeed produce such reports, British voters would no doubt question its editorial priorities – and perhaps its collective sanity.

The decision to allow the broadcast of this piece of blatant political propaganda from Yolande Knell, which actively detracts from accurate audience understanding of the topic she is supposed to be covering (as well the broader subject of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general), should likewise be questioned. 

Related Articles:

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