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

BBC’s Knell promotes political church campaign supported by BBC funder  April 2013

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

BBC’s Knell promotes undiluted Palestinian propaganda in coverage of Pope’s visit May 2014

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

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

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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:

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – the run-up

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – the run-up

The information below – provided by the Israeli MFA’s Paul Hirschson – will not come as a surprise to readers.

Hirschson jlists tweet 1

Among those foreign journalists who arrived in Israel especially for the election were the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, its chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet and Turkey correspondent Mark Lowen.

Of course an inflated number of journalists means a high volume of coverage and the BBC is no exception to that rule. However, quantity is not necessarily a guarantee of accuracy or impartiality.Connolly filmed 16 3

In the days running up to the election the BBC News website’s Middle East page published four items, beginning with an appeal to Israeli voters for interviews on March 6th which later produced an article titled “Israel election: What do voters want?” – previously discussed here. On March 13th Kevin Connolly asked “Israel election: Will outcome revive peace process?” (discussed here) which focused on the topic of the potential effect of the elections on talks with the PLO, despite the fact that Israeli voters had repeatedly made it clear that was not the main election issue. On March 14th the BBC News website finally got round to providing some very limited background information on the leaders of six of the 26 lists running for election in an article titled “Israel election: Who are the key candidates?“.

The day before the election – March 16th – viewers of BBC television news (and visitors to the website) saw a short item titled “Israel election in numbers – 60 secs” and a filmed report by Kevin Connolly titled “Israel elections: Final day of campaigning” which, interestingly, included footage of Connolly at a rally held in Tel Aviv on March 7th – ten days before the “final day of campaigning” – along with footage from the set of the satirical TV programme ‘Eretz Nehederet’ (‘Wonderful Country’) which was actually filmed nearly two months before the elections.  Interviewed at the time, Connolly told an Israeli journalist from Channel 10:Connolly eretz nehederet

“When we report elections in foreign countries of course we’re always looking for ways to bring them alive and I think nothing brings Israeli politics alive more dramatically than ‘Wonderful Country’. I wouldn’t claim to understand every subtlety of the language but it makes me laugh and that’s the only test it really has to pass.”

 Connolly’s two month-old visit to the set of an Israeli TV programme did not only feature in that filmed report: it also cropped up in his report for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 16th (here from 2:49:25) along with audio from that same March 7th rally.

“The satirical Israeli TV show ‘Wonderful Country’ portrays Benjamin Netanyahu as a kind of song and dance man. The actor who plays him is slick and polished – blue rinse, comb-over and all. Stories alleging extravagance at the taxpayer’s expense get a nod too. Cartoons of giant pistachio ice creams dance along on the screen. The Netanyahus once reportedly got through $3,000 worth of it in a single year.”

But licence fee payers might be relieved to learn that the incisive analysis they received from the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent on the topic of the Israeli elections was not entirely based on his impressions of a satirical TV show he admits he does not fully understand. Listeners to the March 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ (available here from 47:10) also learned that Connolly had been watching party campaign videos (including this one) on the internet when he went through the rather pointless exercise of describing those visual films made in a language the vast majority of his listeners would not understand.

Both internet videos and ‘Wonderful Country’ cropped up again in an article by Connolly published on the BBC News website on March 16th under the title “Israel election: An end or new era for Netanyahu?“.Connolly written 16 3

“But other video visions of Mr Netanyahu are available too.

To the producers of the waspish satirical TV show Wonderful Country he is a rather slick song and dance man.

In one of their most memorable programmes the actor portraying him (complete with luxuriant comb-over) mugged his way through a big production number in which giant cartoon pistachio ice-creams appeared on screen dancing along.

That was a not-very-subtle reference to persistent stories that the Netanyahus have something of a taste for high-living at the taxpayer’s expense.

The bill for pistachio ice-cream at an official residence was much-discussed for a while.”

And – as was the case in his radio and TV reports – Connolly relied on the notoriously unreliable Israeli opinion polls as the basis for his informing BBC audiences that electoral change seemed likely to be just round the corner.

“The coming week promises to be one of the most eventful and most unpredictable in the long and bumpy political life of Benjamin Netanyahu.

The man revered by his supporters as a global statesman and sniffily dismissed by one Israeli newspaper as “former furniture salesman” will know by the end of it if he is to remain prime minister of Israel. […]

The final polls before voting day suggest that things may not be going to plan.

They give the Zionist Union – an alliance of Yitzhak Herzog’s Labour Party and the Hatnuah movement headed by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni – a clear lead over Mr Netanyahu’s Likud.”

That theme also appeared in another article published on the BBC News website on March 16th under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu vows no Palestinian state“.elections written 16 3

“The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he will not allow the creation of a Palestinian state if he is re-elected in Tuesday’s vote.

He was attempting to shore up support with polls putting his Likud party just behind the centre-left opposition alliance, the Zionist Union. […]

Opinion polls published before the weekend suggest that the centre-left Zionist Union is likely to win the most seats.”

The statement which is the subject of the headline to that article was made in an interview (available in Hebrew here) given by Netanyahu to the Israeli website NRG. Whilst the BBC’s representation of the statement is reasonably accurate in this article, the writer obviously intends to suggest to readers that electoral victory for the Zionist Union would bring about a very different approach to the issue of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The centre-left alliance has promised to repair ties with the Palestinians and the international community. […]

Mr Netanyahu has consistently accused his centre-left challengers of being willing to relinquish Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its indivisible capital in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Also on Monday, Mr Netanyahu spoke at a settlement in East Jerusalem and said he was the only person who could ensure the city’s security.

Palestinians seek East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The Zionist Union party co-leader Yitzhak Herzog, visiting the Western Wall on Sunday, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, pledged to “safeguard Jerusalem and its residents in actions, not just words, more than any other leader”.

In fact – as the Jerusalem Post has documented – the Zionist Union’s declared policy is not vastly different from that of previous Israeli governments or from the terms of offers already refused by the Palestinian leadership.

“Zionist Union calls for two states for two peoples and a final-status agreement for a two-state solution that would have the support of the Arab world. Israel’s final borders would include the settlement blocs. Palestinian refugees could not return anywhere within Israel’s final borders and should return instead to the future state of Palestine.

Jerusalem would be strengthened as Israel’s eternal capital, according to the party platform.

It does not mention if Jerusalem would be united or divided, although party leader Isaac Herzog has spoken of a united Jerusalem during the elections. He has also spoken in support of freezing building in isolated settlements to halt Israel’s isolation in the international arena and to allow for the conclusion of a final-status agreement with the Palestinians.

Restitution for Jewish refugees for Arab lands would be included in such an agreement.”

The March 16th edition of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ included coverage from Tim Franks in Israel who, unlike most of his colleagues, was wise enough to take opinion polls with the pinch of salt they deserve. In that item (available from 26:38 here) Franks spoke with Israeli journalist Tal Schneider once again and conceded that her assessments in the interview she gave him last December were – in contrast to his own reading of the issue – accurate.

“She’d pretty much nailed it last time I’d seen her […] when she said that this vote would be about a referendum on Mr Netanyahu and also turn on his handling of the economy.”

Nevertheless, Franks again brought up the topic which was by no means the main issue in this election at the end of his report:

“One thing we haven’t really mentioned so far is how far this election could change the course of possible political negotiations with the Palestinians in the decades-long conflict. And the opinion polls suggest that a healthy majority of Israelis don’t really think that whatever the outcome of the election that will change much.”

The reason for that, of course, is that most Israelis realise that whichever government they elect it will not – in contrast to the impression consistently promoted by the BBC – be capable of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict alone.

So as we see, in the run-up to the Israeli election BBC journalists across the board were promoting the idea of a change of government in Israel based on opinion polls whilst continuing to steer audience attentions towards the subject of the election’s effects on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that the issue was not high up among voters’ priorities.

In subsequent posts we will look at BBC coverage on election day itself and after the results were announced. 

Elections 2015: the BBC’s obsessive compulsive ‘peace process’ disorder

BBC News website coverage of the upcoming election in Israel continued on March 13th with an article by Kevin Connolly which appeared in the Middle East page’s ‘Features & Analysis’ section under the title “Israel election: Will outcome revive peace process?“.

Oddly, the main photograph chosen to illustrate that article has nothing to do with the Israeli election, as can be seen in its original description.

Connolly art elections photo

The BBC however replaced the original caption with one of its own:

“Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been shelved for nearly a year”

No attempt was made to remind readers that the previous round of talks came to an end because the Palestinian Authority chose to form a ‘unity government’ with Hamas.Connolly elections art main

Connolly’s article frames the fate of the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon political developments on one side of the negotiating table. That portrayal is not only obviously absurd but it actually hinders audience understanding of the fact that the reason why that topic is not a major campaign issue in this election is precisely because the majority of Israelis understand that progress on that issue is not dependent on their government alone.

“Outsiders, though, might be surprised that the moribund state of the vexed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has never felt like a major campaign issue.

It is there in the background all the time, of course, as the central historical and strategic issue that his faced this country since the Middle East war of 1967 when it captured Gaza from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan.”

Connolly claims that:

“Voters know that the Zionist Union – the name chosen for the alliance between Yitzhak Herzog’s Labour Party and Tzipi Livni’s movement Hatnuah – would approach the prospect of talking to the Palestinians about a “land-for-peace” deal with more enthusiasm than Mr Netanyahu.”

He neglects to note that a no less enthusiastic Tzipi Livni was Israel’s chief negotiator under the Netanyahu government during the last round of unsuccessful talks. His trite presentation also fails to take into account that Herzog’s vision (including on Jerusalem) is not vastly different from that proposed during the previous negotiations under the Likud-led government or that offered by Ehud Olmert in 2008.

“Herzog said he would try to reignite a process using Egyptian and Jordanian support but that ultimately he wants to negotiate directly with the Palestinians, and that he is ready to go to Ramallah to try to reach a deal.

“It will be my role to change the lack of trust between the leaders and peoples,” he said. “I don’t believe in any unilateral withdrawal. The lessons from Gaza are learned.”

When asked what land he would keep, he said that “in the ideal world, I would like to keep it all.” He said he would keep the Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel blocs, and that the Jordan River would be his security border.”

Towards the end of his article Connolly introduces his readers to the Joint Arab List.

Connolly art Arab list

In fact, the Joint Arab List is made up of four parties – not three as Connolly claims. Brought about by the new regulations concerning the electoral threshold, the combined list includes representatives from the Jewish/Arab far Left party Hadash, the anti-Zionist Balad party, the Ta’al party and the United Arab List (Southern Islamic Movement). Whether or not that unlikely alliance of communists, Islamists and Palestinian nationalists will indeed have the effect of raising the turnout among Arab-Israeli voters (a topic on which Connolly has been wrong before) remains to be seen.

At the end of his article Connolly stubbornly returns to the subject this election is not about with the following statement:

“How quickly the issue [the peace process] re-asserts itself will depend on whether victory goes to the left or to the right.”

Beyond the fact that his claim is debatable if only for the simple reason that Israel is not the only party upon which negotiations depend and the PA has shown in the past year that its strategy has shifted to the international arena, it is revealing to see yet another example of the BBC’s obsessive-compulsive focus on a topic which Connolly himself admits – in an article ostensibly about the Israeli elections – is not on the electorate’s agenda. 

The BBC, ‘settlements’ and cognitive dissonance

On March 10th a report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Islamic State video claims killing of ‘Israeli Arab spy’“. Since its initial appearance that article about the murder of Muhammad Musallam has been amended several times and whilst in general the report is reasonably accurate, it included a couple of noteworthy points.ISIS art

The third and fourth versions of the report stated:

“The video shows a boy aged about 12 accompanied by an older, French-speaking militant. He issued threats against Jews in France before the boy shot an orange-suited figure dead.”

That wording was slightly changed in the fifth and sixth versions:

“The video shows a boy aged about 12 accompanied by an older, French-speaking militant who voices threats against Jews in France. The boy is then shown shooting an orange-suited figure in the head before firing more shots as the man lies on the ground.”

In the seventh version of the article those words were replaced by the following:

“He [Musallam] is later shown kneeling in an empty field, facing the camera. Behind him stand two figures in camouflage fatigues, one of whom appears to be a boy.

The boy appears to shoot the kneeling figure in the head with a handgun and then to fire further shots into the body.

The video then carries a warning from an older, French-speaking militant aimed at the Jewish people.”

Photo credit: MEMRI

Photo credit: MEMRI

Screenshots from the video publicized by numerous media outlets support the BBC’s original statement that “[t]he video shows a boy aged about 12″ and so it is unclear why it was found necessary to change that to “two figures in camouflage fatigues, one of whom appears to be a boy” [emphasis added].

Whilst the original description of “threats against Jews in France” was indeed less than accurate, it is not clear why the ISIS terrorist’s words were later reclassified as “a warning […] aimed at the Jewish people”. In fact, as noted by MEMRI, the terrorist’s words are indeed threats – mainly against Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis:

“… he praises attacks on Jews in France, […] He threatens that ISIS will soon be attacking the Jews’ “lands and fortresses” and will “liberate Jerusalem” from the Jewish “filth.” He calls upon Muslim ISIS supporters to target several other alleged Mossad agents [including Arab Israelis – Ed] in Jerusalem whose names and addresses appear at the end of the video.”

In the latest version of the article readers find an insert titled “At the scene: Yolande Knell, BBC News, East Jerusalem”. The report also states:

“The 19-year-old left his home in East Jerusalem for Turkey last year, apparently intending to fight in Syria.” [emphasis added]

The Musallam actually family lives in Neve Ya’akov: a neighbourhood of Jerusalem usually described by the BBC as a ‘Jewish settlement’ despite the fact that it was established in 1924 on land purchased by Jews, evacuated during the War of Independence and reconstructed after the Six Day War.

But the prospect of explaining to audiences why an Israeli Arab Muslim family lives in a ‘Jewish settlement’ obviously generated too much cognitive dissonance and so Neve Ya’akov became “East Jerusalem” and thus the standard insert to the effect that “settlements are illegal under international law” could be omitted from this report. 

Superficial ‘analysis’ of PLO’s call to end security cooperation from BBC’s Kevin Connolly

March 5th saw the appearance of a report on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the dramatic title “PLO to end historic Israeli security agreement” which opened by informing readers that:PLO security coordination

“The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has decided to end a security co-operation agreement with Israel which dates back to the Oslo Accords of 1993.”

The report further stated:

“The PLO is the representative body for Palestinians and its decisions are binding for the Palestinian Authority. [….]

On Thursday the PLO said its executive committee would meet to implement the decision taken at the central council’s meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah.[…]

Palestinian sources say that the decision is final […]”

However, the ‘done deal’ picture presented by the BBC would appear to be premature and misleading. The Times of Israel notes that:

“A source close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israel Radio that the council’s decision was a recommendation only. Another Palestinian official said that Abbas must issue a presidential order ending the security cooperation with Israel.”

And in addition to the fact that in the meantime security coordination apparently continues as normal, PA officials have reportedly stated that:

“…President Mahmoud Abbas will not cut off security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank until after Israeli national elections on March 17 and only if another Netanyahu-led government refuses to transfer tax funds to the PA…”

Of course this is far from the first time that such a move has been threatened by various Palestinian officials: the same thing happened last month, last year and on numerous other occasions in the past. And that is all the more reason why the BBC should be able to provide its audiences with informative and relevant analysis on the topic of what such a move would mean for the Palestinian Authority and for the ordinary people living under its control.

Instead, readers of this article got the following analysis from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly:

PLO security art analysis

Whilst parroting the Hamas line and claiming that an end to security cooperation would “be a blow to Israeli security”, Connolly notably avoids all discussion of the potential effects of such a decision on day-to-day issues such as the number of security checkpoints (which have been dramatically reduced in recent years) and on the wider subject of the chances of the Palestinian Authority’s survival without Israeli security cooperation. As Khaled Abu Toameh wrote in January of this year:

“Abbas is lucky that the Israeli security forces are still operating in the West Bank, including inside cities and towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Were it not for the IDF and various branches of the Israeli security establishment, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Islamic State would have toppled the Palestinian Authority and beheaded Abbas and his officials a long time ago.”

And as the same writer noted last September:

“Abbas will be able to rein in Hamas in the West Bank only if he pursues security coordination with Israel. […]

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority would not be able to survive for one day in the West Bank without the presence of the IDF, especially given Hamas’s rising popularity among Palestinians in the aftermath of the war.”

Whether or not the Palestinian president (who of course also heads the PLO and its largest faction Fatah – although the BBC neglects to mention that in its report) will eventually issue that presidential order to end security cooperation with Israel remains to be seen but if he does not, BBC audiences will remain unaware of the factors lying behind that decision and if he does, they will be ill-informed with regard to that choice’s effects on future regional developments.