BBC – Guilty as charged

Cross posted from the blog of David Collier

bbcbiasI do tend to write about most of the events that I go to, but walking into a room full of people who do not spend their time spreading lies about Israel is an odd circumstance for me. So despite the serious nature of the BBC Watch events this week, it was a refreshing experience and in an odd way I could relax; I was amongst good friends.

I have no doubt footage of the event will be uploaded, press releases will be made and the Jewish media at least, will cover the story with hands far more skilful than mine. They will hopefully depict the full spectrum of arguments that were made, describing those that laid bare, not just the deep institutional problems at the BBC, but more dangerously the insidious side-effect of increased antisemitic attacks in the UK.

The BBC is the largest and probably the most influential broadcasting organisation in the world. It is also publicly funded, which in turn makes the Jewish community stakeholders. We actually pay for the weapon used to strike us. So to address this issue, I begin with a phrase I have often used when talking of media reporting on Israel:

‘Justice is not half way between the criminal and the policeman’.

In a recent interview on general BBC bias in the Guardian, a comment by the BBC’s news chief James Harding sums up the problem perfectly:

“I’ve a tendency to think that if being told off by everyone you must be doing something right,”

He is wrong. Impartiality does not mean trying to find a balance between the cop and the robber. In reporting the story to the public, the role of the media, is to give the criminal context where relevant and to act as a checks and balances system against the police, but never to allow the lines to become blurred. From the comment above, it seems as if the BBC have lost their way.

If we take a moment to step back a few decades to the Middle Eastern narrative of the mid 1980’s, the PLO (Fatah) were being portrayed in the west as the extremists, leaving the Israelis no real choice of a partner and any moderate Palestinians that existed had little or no voice at all. After 1993, the western media began to equate the PLO and Israel, with Hamas being portrayed as the extremist element, or the ‘spoiler’ at the Oslo party. Since 2005, the media began to move towards equating Israel and Hamas, leaving Fatah to represent the moderate position with no real choice of partner. This is a horrific slide in the narrative and yet in truth each of the players have fundamentally retained the same position. If in an equation, all things remain equal, then the changing variable (in this case the narrative), becomes the focus of the research. In turn then we can ask this:

If Fatah, Hamas and Israel are all promoting virtually the same ideology that they were 30 years ago, how has the narrative shifted so dramatically that it now almost equates Israel with Hamas? This question is serious and requires an answer from all the major media outlets. When you internally consider this question for yourself, don’t be misled by the updated media narrative, Fatah are openly inciting this latest round of violence and have not moved on the major issues at all. In reality the equation remains just as it did in the 1980’s, there are some moderate Palestinians, but given the fractionalised state of Palestinian society, they have little or no voice at all. The Palestinians are not some golden child of the middle east, they are an extension of what is occurring in Syria and Iraq.

As evidence of this attempt at equivalence, at the Oxford University (Oxford Union Society) debate a few days ago, they actually argued the motion: “This house believes that Hamas is a greater obstacle to peace than Israel.” It is worth watching Dennis Prager not just skewer the argument, but react to the motion itself. For people still living in the real world, it is clearly difficult to fathom just how far false perception has been allowed to shift.

As Dennis Prager implies, it would also be wrong to place the blame for these internal incapacitating and extremist divisions within Palestinian society on Israel. Look around the Middle East, it is an unfortunate development, but nations are disintegrating and even in those nations where a police state still rules, internal terrorism is a difficult and dangerous issue. Just last week in Egypt terrorists seem to have blown a passenger airline out of the sky. On what grounds do we suggest that of all the people of the Middle East, only the Palestinians need an external influence to engage in religious / civil conflict?

As we heard last night at the BBC Watch event, there are extenuating circumstances that do inflict some damage on the impartiality of journalists reporting on the conflict. Israel cannot help that it is a free society that accommodates and welcomes journalists, nor can it change the fact that within the West Bank and (especially) Gaza, journalists have to conform to have a productive career there.

  • A journalist in Gaza cannot move freely
  • Journalists in Gaza see what they are shown
  • A journalist in Gaza who wants to earn his keep, needs to report
  • A new journalist in Gaza is shown the ropes by the ‘old hands’
  • Journalists are subject to a police state mechanism where a ‘witness’ may not be what they seem
  • Gaza has no apparatus to check, confront or question the Hamas line
  • A journalist who gets ‘kicked out’, will have to face an angry editor back home

In these circumstances, you would expect an ‘impartial’ media to report on the existence of such an environment. So great is the complicity, so low the current standard, that none do. Only the comments from one or two reporters who have left the arena, shed light on the truth that every expert on the region already knows. We also now know what happens when a free press reports from a police state, because of market pressures, the free press buckles and conforms to compete. It can be argued that independent news outlets have the right to err and face the consequences, however the BBC are governed by the BBC Charter, they have no such editorial luxury.

Thanks to Joff Taylor

Thanks to Joff Taylor

We need to bring this into context. Remember, that outside of the disintegrating states and the police states, there is just one nation that stands apart, Israel. There is no media bias required to report this. Israel was founded on the back not just of historical ties, but of a range of legal instruments from around 1920 until 1948. Certain elements within the Arab society refused to accept it, some, perhaps a minority (no one can know), still reject it today. This rejectionism brought about the civil conflict, partition, the end of Oslo and what we see today in Gaza. It distorts facts, creates myths, and uses religion to incite. It wants the 17-year-old boy to stab an innocent 72-year-old woman and it also wants his 12-year-old brother to pick up the knife that he dropped as he was killed in the act. It also does not blink twice when it claims it never happened and will weave wild conspiracy theories and blood libels to drive the message home even further. This is the unfortunate nature of the Middle East today. Media ‘impartiality’ here is exactly the type of comparison of cop and robber that has to be avoided. If you are the news media, especially if you are the BBC, you *have to* tell the truth.

And yet the BBC don’t. Not at all. And here is another truth, an uncomfortable one for left and right alike. Israel has this problem today precisely because it is not, nor ever was, the monster it is being made out to be. So why is this image, the one of the nation struggling to do its best in a dirty neigbourhood, not making it to our media outlets? Groups such as BBC Watch, Camera, UK Media Watch and an army of bloggers, check and report daily on instances of gross media bias, yet minor correction aside, nothing ever changes. Baroness Deech suggested it wasn’t some type of conspiracy, referring to the false image of an evil antisemitic boss making sure that this personal bias spread into every report, item or documentary produced. And whilst I believe she is right, and it is far more complicated than this, no real answer has been given to the underlying question. Why doesn’t the BBC tell the truth?

Why when mentioning Israel, the BBC deliberately equates the statements from a democracy and a terrorist group, yet when mentioning the UN or UNRWA, it never remembers to inform readers that UNWRA is riddled with terrorists and the UN is dominated by police states. How can a reader ever know why there are so many UN resolutions against Israel, or understand why UNRWA are so septic, without the BBC providing the ‘impartial context’ on these issues every time these bodies are referenced? On these matters, the BBC choose to play the straight line.

I do not have a definitive answer, although I believe that wider societal issues are at work, including pandering to those that should never be pandered. Certainly from the talk last night it is clear that one of the major problems is their complaints procedure. Both Jonathan Turner (UKLFI) and Hadar Sela (BBC Watch) described an organisation that goes out of its way not to accept or correct its mistakes. Tales of a lengthy and near futile complaints process, bullying those that complain (even banning them from complaining further), documents going missing, inconsistent logic and wild deflection all seem to be methods used to ensure most of those complaining tire before reaching the end. A staggeringly low statistic of successful complaints implies this process is more suited to the 1950’s Soviet Union that 2015 Britain.

There is also the news creation process. One man does not create an article, many do. From the conflict environment, to the original source, the reporter, the fact checker, the regional news teams, the editors, the archivist, the one that picks the picture, the one that writes the caption, there can be many hands stirring the soup. What if within this group, only one individual’s bias can play its part?

I am a Jew in the UK, my children now go to school behind a security team that would have been unimaginable 30 years ago. Antisemitism, not in the old-fashioned National Front style, but modern Islamic antisemitism is considered a major threat. David Cameron in a speech on extremism in July, said this:

Therefore, it is clear logic, that distorted reporting on the conflicts Israel has with its neighbours, incites antisemitism on the street. And from there, the extremist world view becoming the ‘gateway’ to violent Islamic terrorism. First the Jews, then everyone, we have been down this road before. Anything that deliberately fails to address the growth of this extremist view or worst still, in the case of the BBC, actually feeds that word view, is a clear and present danger to the Jewish community on the streets of the UK. By failing to place events in historical context, by failing to tell the truth, the BBC are sharpening the knives of the next generation of terrorists, right here, right now, on the streets of the UK.

Last night at SOAS, 10/11/2015. An event took place to commemorate, to glorify, the terrorist attacks against Israel. Reports from the evening suggest an exchange with some Jewish people who clearly protested suggesting the deliberate labelling of terrorists as having been ‘murdered’. There are reports of the existence of video footage of a toxic exchange during which violent extremist views were expressed, but at this point I have yet to see it.

SOAS 10/11/201512239246_667193666751405_2025289470891876769_o

Some of these photos represent terrorists who pulled knives on innocent civilians walking down a street and simply started stabbing them. And in London, in our universities, these people are being honoured. Nor is SOAS, simply being ‘SOAS’. This from the LSE Student Union Palestine Society.


And this, the classic antisemitic blood libel (and its comment) from the University College London Friends of Palestine Society


And this one incredibly from the Glasgow University Palestine Society

glasgowAnd for those of you not familiar with exactly who this is on the floor. This is what had just happened *warning: intense graphic scene*

So what has all this got to do with the BBC bias?

Everything. Because we live in a free and democratic society, it is not the role of the government, but the role of the media to report the news factually and to place it in historical context. None more so than the BBC, who have this demand embedded into its basic contract. There is a dual responsibility here, firstly to lead by example, tell the truth, place light on the context and secondly to understand how failing to grasp these issues, incites violence, leads to radicalisation and in turn will bring terrorism onto the streets of the UK. If the BBC are not going to tell the students at these universities the truth, then who will? If it is not the BBC’s job, then whose is it?

BBC, I charge you with failing to adhere to your charter, distorting the truth, failing to provide factual historical context to your news reports, blatant bias on reporting on Israel, pandering to ideologies that entirely reject the fundamental freedoms that you operate in, and in turn you are contributing directly to an atmosphere of incitement that will extract a heavy price from the Jewish community of the UK and eventually the British people as a whole. I can also inform you that having used pretty much the same standard of internal checks as you do, that I find you guilty as charged. You can appeal, but the process is long, arduous and you have a 0.002% chance of success.

The day will come when people look at what occurred in the opening decades of this century in Europe, just as they look at what happened at the opening decades of last century. Your archives will be opened, your names will be recorded and I guarantee you that the verdict will be much harsher than mine. I can also tell you, that those such as Hadar Sela at BBC Watch are currently compiling a very comprehensive, detailed and damning evidence pack. I have no doubt it will come in handy.

Weekend long read

1) At the Jewish Chronicle, Yiftah Curiel presents his analysis of the recent BBC programme ostensibly relating to the Jerusalem light rail system in an article titled “Why Panorama went off the rails“.Weekend Read

“When Wishart visits an East Jerusalem neighbourhood he witnesses a violent attack on an Israeli checkpoint; a young boy praises in Arabic those who are “attacking the soldiers, the Jews”, translated to BBC audiences as “attacking the soldiers”. In what has become a worrying trend recently at the BBC, rather than see these statements for what they are – symptoms of widespread institutional incitement within Palestinian society – editors make do with telling us that “when they say ‘Jews’, they mean ‘Israelis'”.”

2) Tablet magazine has an interesting interview with Israeli diplomat George Deek.

“He spoke slowly and softly, as someone who had given much thought to the issue. He said that his grandfather’s choice should be a model for the Arab minority in Israel as a whole: “Unfortunately, Arabs in Israel today are forced to choose between two bad options. One is assimilation—young Arabs look at their Jewish peers and decide they want to speak like them, walk like them, and behave like them. This attempt is a bit comic but also sad, since it is doomed to fail. In the end they are not Jews and will never be.

“On the other hand, and this is a far more common choice, there is an option of separatism, which is promoted by the Arab political and religious leaders. They say that we are not really Israelis, only Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, but this nuance creates dissociation. They speak about Arab cultural autonomy and about separation, which I think lead to extremism and animosity with the Jews. According to this version, a loyal Arab-Israeli must define himself first and foremost through being anti-Israeli.

“With the first choice, you lose who you are; with the second, you lose who you can become. But I believe that there’s a third way. We can be proud of our identity and at the same time live as a contributing minority in a country who has a different nationality, a different religion, and a different culture than ours. There is no better example in my view than the Jews in Europe, who kept their religion and identity for centuries but still managed to influence deeply, perhaps even to create, European modern thinking. Jews suffered from the same dissonance between their own identity and the surrounding society. Their success was not despite their distinctiveness, but because of it. I am talking about Marx, Freud, Einstein, Spinoza, Wittgenstein.”

3) Another very interesting interview took place when the President of the Technion sat down recently with Dr Qanta Ahmed to talk about Islamist extremism, BDS, the Lancet and more.

4) An epidemiological assessment of the casualties and missile attacks during last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas which was complied by the Jerusalem Center for Genocide Prevention and Hebrew University Hadassah Genocide Prevention Program and was submitted to the United Nations ‘Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict’ can be found here.

“Timelines for cumulative death tolls in Gaza and missile attacks from Gaza from the start of Operation Protective Edge steadily rose during the war. Both stopped when Hamas accepted a ceasefire under terms virtually the same as other previous ceasefires. Ninety one percent of the 2127 deaths in Gaza and one hundred percent of those in Israel would have been prevented had Hamas accepted the first ceasefire.”

The UN, the PRC and Hamas: a postscript with a twist

As was noted here last week, on June 1st the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations approved the first stage of the application by the London-based Palestinian Return Centre for UN accreditation.

Reuters subsequently reported that:

“The British-based Palestinian Return Centre on Tuesday threatened Israel’s U.N. mission with legal action after the Jewish state accused it of having ties to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, an allegation the group said was false.

The Israeli accusations came after a United Nations committee that oversees non-governmental organizations voted to approve U.N accreditation for the PRC, which Israel’s mission said was not only linked to Hamas but promoted “anti-Israel propaganda in Europe.”

“We announce that PRC is considering legal action against the Israeli delegation at the U.N.,” the group said in a statement circulated to the 19-member U.N. Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations.

“We also hold them accountable for the safety and security of our members worldwide,” the group said. “Such allegations and defamation where we are described as terrorist and affiliated to Hamas are dangerous, baseless and will have negative ramifications on our work and members.”

The statement offered no details on the type of legal action the group might take against the Israeli mission.”

The PRC – which was outlawed in Israel in December 2010 due to its Hamas connections – also published its own histrionic statement on its website.

Click to enlarge. Photo credit: ITIC

Click to enlarge. Photo credit: ITIC

The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center however informs us that Hamas claims that the head of the organization which denies being affiliated to Hamas received a congratulatory phone call… from Hamas.

“Hamas’s English-language and Arabic-language media announced on June 3, 2015, that Ismail Haniya, deputy chief of Hamas’s Political Bureau, congratulated Majed al-Zeer, the general director of the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), for having been granted a non-governmental observer status in the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations. The congratulations were conveyed on a telephone call, apparently on June 2.”

The story then took a peculiar turn:

“AP (as well as other media outlets, including Reuters) reported that PRC’s spokesman Sameh Habeeb claimed that Majed al-Zeer had not received a telephone call from Ismail Haniya. According to AP, later on that day (June 2, 2015), Ismail Haniya’s spokesman sent a message to reporters asking them “‘not to deal’ with the earlier announcement about the phone call”.”

One does hope that the representatives of the 54 member states of ECOSOC tasked with deciding next month whether to approve the PRC’s application are managing to keep up with the plot.

Related Articles:

Flotilla ahoy! A refresher on the background to another anti-Israel publicity stunt




Hamas entryism at the UN

As readers may be aware, on June 1st the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations approved the application of the London-based Palestinian Return Centre for UN accreditation.

“Some 12 countries voted in favour, including Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Turkey, Venezuela, China and Cuba, while three voted against – the United States, Uruguay and Israel. India, Russia and Greece abstained, and Burundi was absent. […]

Official U.N. status as an NGO gives groups access to U.N. premises and opportunities to attend or observe many events and conferences at United Nations sites around the world.”

This vote, however, is only the first stage in the process.

“The 54-nation ECOSOC, which meets in July, has the power to approve or reject the committee’s recommendations and to make the final decision.”

The Palestinian Return Centre has been an illegal organization in Israel since 2010 because of its connections to Hamas. PRC activists and staff regularly crop up in connection with assorted delegitimisation projects and are active in other organisations too – as anyone monitoring and documenting anti-Israel activity well knows. Below, for example, is a photograph from a 2011 visit by British parliamentarians to Lebanon which was jointly organised by the Palestinian Return Centre and the Council for European Palestinian Relations and which included in its itinerary a meeting with Osama Hamdan of Hamas. 

PRC & Hamdan

Among the PRC’s current projects is a campaign to have Britain apologise for the Balfour Declaration.  Previous initiatives have included a public relations campaign on behalf of Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel which was launched at a conference organized by the PRC in 2012.  As was noted on our sister site UK Media Watch at the time:

“The conference’s president was Majed al Zeer of the PRC and also of the Hamas-linked European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG) which was set up by the Muslim Brotherhood’s European arm in 2007 and takes part in organizing the various flotillas, including the fatal one of 2010. […]

PRC spokesman and chair of trustees Zaher al Birawi recently acted as spokesman for the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’. He has also functioned as spokesman for George Galloway’s ‘Viva Palestina’ convoys, is an official of the Palestinian Forum in Britain and trustee of a UK charity named ‘Education Aid for Palestinians’ which is a member of the Hamas-supporting ‘Union of Good‘

The PRC’s operational director, Arafat Madi Shoukri, is also connected to the ECESG as well as director of the Brussels-based European parliament lobbying group called the ‘Council for European Palestinian Relations‘. Ghassan Faour – a trustee of the PRC – is also linked to the UK charity ‘Interpal’ which is a member of the ‘Union of Good’. Another PRC trustee Majdi Akeel – a known Hamas activist and also connected to ‘Interpal’– was mentioned in the Holy Land Foundation trial in the US. The PRC’s senior researcher and editor, Daoud Abdallah, is also the director of MEMO and well-known as a signatory of the Istanbul Declaration.” 

According to the UN’s own criteria for establishing relations with non-governmental organizations:

“The aims and purposes of the organization shall be in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

The same document states:

“57. The consultative status of non-governmental organizations with the Economic and Social Council and the listing of those on the Roster shall be suspended up to three years or withdrawn in the following cases:

(a) If an organization, either directly or through its affiliates or representatives acting on its behalf, clearly abuses its status by engaging in a pattern of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations including unsubstantiated or politically motivated acts against Member States of the United Nations incompatible with those purposes and principles;”

Such activities are of course the entire raison d’etre behind the PRC’s existence and this current exercise in entryism is highly unlikely to be fuelled by different motivations. That such an organisation’s application – whilst not yet finalised – has proceeded so far speaks volumes.  

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Sameh Habeeb and Labour   (Harry’s Place)

Jenny Tonge & the Hamas Lobby 



Remembering Professor Robert Wistrich

The news of Professor Robert S. Wistrich’s sudden death was all the more difficult to absorb given that just last Thursday, those of us participating in the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism had the pleasure of hearing him speak – as eloquently and powerfully as ever. There can be no better account of that address than Professor Wistrich’s own – published in the Jerusalem Post as he requested, but not in time for him to see.

Many tributes have already been written in honour of Professor Wistrich’s life and work and as Ben Cohen observes:

“Robert’s death is an incalculable loss on many levels. At just the time that anti-Semitism has again become socially acceptable in Europe and elsewhere, we have been robbed of one of the few individuals whose voice on this topic underlined urgency, but not hysteria. Robert, moreover, was someone who intimately understood the historical provenance of today’s anti-Semitism, particularly in its insidious “anti-Zionist” guise.”

As readers may recall, Professor Wistrich gave the keynote address at CAMERA’s event examining the effects of UK media coverage of Israel on European antisemitism earlier this year.

May his memory be a blessing.

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In memoriam: Professor Robert S. Wistrich  UK Media Watch