More BBC mainstreaming of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – part two

In part one of this post we noted the BBC’s amplification of unchallenged, inaccurate, partial and context-free messaging from Michael Deas – the coordinator in Europe for the Palestinian BDS National Committee – on BBC television news and the BBC News website on July 21st.

Two days later, listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ also got a dose of the BDS campaign’s propaganda when Deas cropped up again in an item (from 26:10 here) by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly. Presenter Eddie Mair introduced the segment as follows:BDS Deas PM

“A campaign to boycott Israeli products is claiming increasing success. It says it’s defending human rights. The Israeli government accuses it of antisemitism. Reporting for PM; our Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly.”

Connolly: “Israel is under pressure, looking for ways to push back against growing calls around the world for a boycott of goods produced in the farms and factories of the West Bank – land it captured in the Middle East war of 1967 and which the wider world regards as occupied Palestinian territory.”

Refraining from reminding listeners that the area was in fact part of the region allocated by the League of Nations for the establishment of the Jewish national home before it was occupied by Jordan for 19 years or why the Six Day War broke out, against the backdrop of a song Connolly goes on:

“Reggae is not Israel’s only weapon, of course. But this song does emphasis one of its key points. How, when human rights are trampled in the four corners of the earth, does it find itself the target of such a well-organised and single-minded boycott campaign?”

Listeners next hear an unidentified voice say:

“There’s a growing fear inside Israel that it’s facing international isolation of the kind that South Africa faced under apartheid. So we saw about six months ago a hundred Israeli business leaders in Israel issuing an appeal on the front page of one of Israel’s biggest newspapers urging the Israeli government to take action to stem the tide of boycotts.”

Connolly then introduces his contributor:

“Michael Deas – campaigning director of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee in London – believes the tide on this issue is starting to run their way. The holy grail for the BDS movement is to impose on Israel the kind of damage once inflicted on white South Africa by anti-apartheid campaigners. And Michael Deas says it’s not enough to boycott goods that come from Israeli settlements on the West Bank; something more comprehensive is called for.”

Listeners hear Deas deliver the same messaging previously promoted on BBC television news and on the website.

“The Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel is for a boycott of all Israeli products. Now we know that some people and some organisations are really at the moment only comfortable boycotting products that come from settlements and that’s a position that we understand and can sympathise with. The problem is is [sic] the Israeli export companies that are exporting oranges and avocados, they routinely lie about where their products are coming from so the only safe way for people to avoid buying products from the settlements is not to buy Israeli products altogether.”

What listeners do not hear, however, is any accurate and impartial information concerning the BDS campaign’s real aims or its origins which would enable them to put Deas’ claims and messaging into their correct context.

Connolly moves on to ticking his impartiality box by bringing two Israelis into his item, beginning with an Israeli winemaker.

“The world looks very different to Ya’akov Berg – an Israeli winemaker whose family home sits in rolling vineyards on the West Bank – or Judea and Samaria as he prefers to call it. The Psagot winery’s corporate video, with Old Testament figures swirling across the landscape, makes a familiar Israeli point: that the land is theirs by biblical right and is not negotiable.”

Whilst some Israelis may indeed express such views, that of course is not the legal basis for Israeli claims to Judea and Samaria. But Connolly has already passed up on the opportunity to inform audiences of the fact that those regions were included in the Mandate for Palestine in 1922, preferring to blinker listeners with the notion of “Palestinian territory”.

After a few words from Mr Berg, listeners hear unidentified shouting and chanting: “One, two, three, four, occupation no more. Five, six, seven, eight….”. Connolly refrains from providing any information about that insert but it bears remarkable resemblance to an audio track he used in a January 2014 report  which covertly promoted the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s agenda regarding the Israeli company SodaStream and his ensuing words further suggest that the audio track was recycled from that report.

“The boycott movement is clearly starting to feel it’s working with the grain of history, pointing to companies moving out of the West Bank, apparently in response to political pressure overseas – although Israel can equally argue that major international companies like Microsoft and Apple are still investing.”

Connolly’s enthusiastic amplification of redundant BDS messaging of course leaves no room for listeners to be informed that the move of the SodaStream factory from Mishor Adumim to the Negev was prompted by financial agreements which pre-dated the BDS campaign’s targeting of the company.

“There’s another reason for the move to the Negev – a multi-million dollar subsidy the company is eligible for as a result of the move to Lehavim. In a deal signed in 2012, SodaStream agreed to build a production plant in the newly established Idan Hanegev Industrial Zone, with an estimated cost of NIS 280 million ($78 million). The plant is set to employ about 1,000 people, according to Ministry of the Economy documents. In return, SodaStream is set to receive a 20% subsidy, worth as much as NIS 60 million (nearly $16 million).” 

Connolly continues:

“But what about that question of whether a South Africa moment is looming? That point where ordinary consumers overseas see a ‘produce of Israel’ label on an avocado or a pomegranate and instinctively shy away. Israel’s deputy foreign minister Tsipi Hotovely says the boycott campaign’s comparison with apartheid is offensive and wrong.”

Listeners then hear seven sentences from Hotovely before Connolly sums up.

“In arguments about Israel it’s always hard to be sure if debate is changing people’s minds or just reinforcing the opinions they held anyway. Either way, you can be sure that for both sides, the boycott debate is one of the key battle grounds of the future.”

That, of course, should be all the more reason for the BBC to present the issue of the BDS campaign to its audiences accurately, impartially and comprehensively. But instead of providing them with the full range of information concerning that political campaign’s funding, origins, claims and aims, the BBC instead acts as its cheerleader by misleading audiences with presentation of the campaign as being connected to ‘human rights’ and whitewashing of its demonization and delegitimisation of Israel.

Moreover, the BBC’s unsubstantiated and unsourced inflation of the BDS campaign’s ‘success’ and its promotion of the notion that BDS is “growing” and  “working with the grain of history” clearly has the effect of mainstreaming the campaign into public consciousness and turning the BBC into a self-conscripted activist in this political crusade to bring about the demise of Jewish self-determination.

Is that really a place in which licence fee payers would like to see their national broadcaster?

Kevin Connolly’s BDS promotion and amplification did not, however, end there. More to come in part three of this post.  

 

More BBC mainstreaming of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – part one

As has been documented many times on these pages, whilst the BBC often provides a platform for proponents of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel and no less frequently some of its own journalists can also be found amplifying and mainstreaming that campaign, the corporation consistently fails to provide its audiences with the full facts about the aims and motivations of BDS.

The latest examples of that ongoing practice were to be found on multiple BBC platforms between July 21st and 23rd.

Viewers of BBC television news programmes saw a filmed item which was also placed on the BBC News website on July 21st under the title “Why campaigners are boycotting Israel” with the following synopsis:BDS Deas filmed

“A campaign calling for a boycott of Israel says it is trying to pressure the Jewish state to change its policies towards the Palestinians.

The international pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement has been using the same techniques as anti-apartheid campaigners who worked to bring down white minority rule in South Africa.

Israel claims groups such as BDS are really opposed to the state’s very existence.

Michael Deas, BDS Campaigns Director in London, told BBC News about the thinking behind the boycott.”

And indeed, viewers heard the following unchallenged monologue from professional activist and former LSE student Michael Deas:

“The international community consistently fails to hold Israel to account for its violations of international law. So given this failure, ten years ago – in July 2005 – Palestinian organisations came together to issue an appeal for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions similar to the boycott campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa. And the boycott calls for non-violent pressure against Israel until it complies with international law.

The Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel is for a boycott of all Israeli products. Now we know that some people and some organisations are really at the moment only comfortable boycotting products that come from settlements and that’s a position that we understand and can sympathise with. The problem is is [sic] the Israeli export companies that are exporting oranges and avocados, they routinely lie about where their products are coming from so the only safe way for people to avoid buying products from the settlements is not to buy Israeli products altogether.”

A more one-sided promotion of BDS than that is difficult to imagine but nevertheless, the supposedly ‘impartial’ BBC did not see fit to provide viewers of this clip with the range of relevant information concerning the organization Deas represents.

Who funds the Palestinian BDS National Committee as it is correctly known and who are its members? What are its aims? Why does it oppose ‘normalisation’ with Israel and Israelis? What does its demand for the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees to Israel say about its stance regarding a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict and does the BDS movement recognize Israel’s right to exist and the Jewish people’s right to self-determination?

None of the answers to those questions were provided to audiences viewing this BBC facilitated exercise in delegtimisation and – despite what the BBC appears to think – inclusion of the bizarrely phrased sentence “Israel claims groups such as BDS are really opposed to the state’s very existence” in the synopsis to this clip does not meet the requirement for impartial presentation of the movement’s political aims and even suggests that the BBC does not understand the structure of the campaign.

Neither were viewers informed that Deas’ portrayal of the BDS campaign’s beginnings is inaccurate and that in fact its roots are to be found in the 2001 Durban conference, as documented by Dan Diker.

“The 2001 UN World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, has become recognized as a seminal event in the current global BDS campaign against Israel. Governments and NGOs from around the world convened for the formal Durban Conference and its parallel NGO Forum from August 30 to September 8, 2001. The PLO delegation led by the PLO’s UN representative, Nasser al-Kidwa, together with other member countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Western NGOs, played a central role in formulating what was called the final NGO declaration.

Human rights NGOs, with input from Arab states and Iran, ensured that the NGO Forum included a final declaration that read:

[We] [c]all upon the international community to impose a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state as in the case of South Africa which means the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel.

Durban represented a watershed moment for anti-Israel radicalism. It was no irony that the above calls to criminalize and isolate Israel were accompanied by terror attacks by Palestinian terror organizations. On September 9, the day after Durban ended, a Hamas suicide bomber killed three people at the Nahariya train station in northern Israel. Durban’s radical likening of Israel to apartheid South Africa would help create international legitimacy for violence, or what both Fatah and Hamas call “resistance” against the “illegitimate” Jewish state, which set a precedent for future calls for its dismantling and actions to achieve that goal.

To that end, the Durban Conference’s NGO declaration would establish the political and ideological infrastructure for the contemporary BDS movement: economic boycotts, government sanctions, and the severing of social and cultural links with Israel were all key areas of focus.”

The BBC did not however limit its promotion of Michael Deas and his cause to this filmed item – as we shall see in part two of this post.

BBC News twists Tisha B’Av Temple Mount incident with ‘last-first’ reporting

On the morning of July 26th – the day of the fast of Tisha B’Av – Israeli security forces had to deal with an incident at Al Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

“Dozens of masked Palestinian protesters hurled rocks, Molotov cocktails and firecrackers at police officers on the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City Sunday morning, before being pushed back into the Al-Aqsa Mosque by security forces who were rushed to the area.

According to police, the protesters had stockpiled homemade explosives, firecrackers and wooden boards inside the mosque, with the intention of attacking thousands of Jewish worshipers gathered nearby for prayers at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av, a fast and day of mourning that commemorates the destruction of the first and second Jewish Temples.”

The portrayal of that incident provided to visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page creates a markedly different impression. The report’s headline – “Al-Aqsa mosque: Israeli police enter Jerusalem holy site” – erases any mention of what preceded the security forces’ brief entry into the mosque in typical BBC ‘last-first reporting’ style.AAM 26 7 BBC art

The opening paragraphs of the article even imply that the violence on the part of the Palestinians was a reaction to the police’s entry into the mosque.

“Palestinian youths have clashed with Israeli police who entered the al-Aqsa mosque complex in East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians are said to have barricaded themselves inside the mosque and thrown stones at police, who moved in to stop them.”

As the Israeli police force noted, the sequence of events was in fact as follows:

“This morning they [the rioters] took up positions in the mosque courtyard and when they saw the police they began throwing stones and firing fireworks at them. […] Masked men and rioters ran away into the mosque and began throwing tens of stones and concrete blocks at the police officers, fired fireworks directly at them and sprayed them with an unidentified liquid.”

Only in the third paragraph are readers of the report given a euphemistic, second-hand description of the rioters’ intentions:

“Israeli media said the Palestinians had intended to disrupt visits by observant Jews to the Western Wall.”

No mention is made of the fact that the rioters had stockpiled rocks, planks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails inside the mosque in order to facilitate that ‘disruption’ or of the fact that the plan was timed to coincide with Tisha B’Av, which sees a high number of visitors to the holy sites.

BBC audiences are told that:

“The al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, is in a part of East Jerusalem also revered by Jews.”

Audiences are not told that Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and, in addition to having failed to clarify that the incident occurred on Tisha B’Av, the report makes no mention of the fact that the fast commemorates the destruction of the two Jewish temples on that site.

The article states:

“The police said a number of officers were injured. There were no immediate reports of any Palestinian casualties.

Six Palestinians were arrested, an AFP news agency photographer reported.”

As the BBC could have discovered directly from the Israeli police, three Palestinians were in fact arrested rather than six and four police officers were injured.

As we see, the BBC’s report focuses on the entry of policemen into the Al Aqsa Mosque. The issue of Palestinians intending to use violence to prevent Jews from exercising their religious rights is not apparently a topic about which the BBC considers its audiences need to know more.

Resources:

Contact BBC News Online

 

BBC silent on latest Gaza power plant shut down

The extensive multi-platform coverage promoted to BBC audiences on the anniversary of the beginning of last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas included a filmed item titled “Gaza conflict one year on: The power plant“.

The inclusion of that topic was not surprising: the Gaza Strip power plant was featured extensively – though not always accurately – in BBC coverage of the conflict and some correspondents were quick to promote the notion that damage to the power plant’s fuel storage tanks was intentional and deliberate. Even after the circumstances of the July 29th 2014 incident became clear, the BBC made no effort to correct the inaccurate impressions given to its audiences at the time.Knell infrastructure

Last week the Gaza power plant was in the news again when, as AFP and others reported, production came to a halt.

“The Gaza Strip’s sole power plant has halted production, the Hamas-run energy authority said Tuesday, in the latest dispute with the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority over fuel tax. […]

“The levying of fuel taxes by the finance ministry in Ramallah is preventing the (Hamas) energy authority from running the power station,” a statement from the authority said.

The PA must “lift all taxes on fuel” to get the plant up and running, it said.

Hamas pays the PA for fuel imported to Gaza, but is short of cash and had been unable to cover the additional costs in tax.

In December, Qatar stepped in and donated $10 million (nine million euros) to the PA to cover the tax, effectively exempting Hamas from paying it.

But that money has dried up, and the PA is insisting Hamas begin paying the tax again, the Islamist movement says.

Hamas shut the power plant in March over the same dispute.”

Last summer’s reporting on the topic of the Gaza Strip power plant included descriptions from BBC correspondents of the potential effects of the plant’s closure on civilian life.

“And it is Gaza’s only power plant so there are electricity cuts in Gaza City, there could be problems with water supply because many of the area’s water pumps also rely on that power plant. So if that was a deliberate Israeli attempt to cause economic pain – which is certainly how most Palestinians will see it – then it could be fairly successful.” –Chris Morris, BBC WS ‘Newshour’, 29/7/14.

“It [the power plant] would to serve electricity for the civilian in Gaza almost 2 million people who are, I mean, suffer and when you are talking about electricity we are talking about water supply, water treatment plant, water sewage plant and we are talking about hospitals, we are talking about the schools. All aspects, all basic of our life requirements are not existing.” – Interview with the power plant manager, Yolande Knell, BBC television news, 15/8/14.

Notably, there has been no BBC coverage whatsoever of the power plant’s most recent closure, the effects of that on civilian life in the Gaza Strip or of the long-running dispute between Hamas and the PA which led to this latest shut-down.

Weekend long read

1) At the Jewish Chronicle, Alex Brummer addresses BBC self-regulation and more.

“The fight between the Tory government and the BBC is largely about perceived left-wing bias in reporting issues ranging from the economy to welfare and the environment. But if it brings an end to the BBC policing itself and starts the process of independent adjudication there will be something to celebrate.”Weekend Read

2) At Ha’aretz, Ari Shavit (hardly a “hardliner” – as the BBC has taken to describing JCPOA sceptics) discusses “The Iran deal: From thriller to horror story“.

“After many hours of reading I had to stop. The thriller had become a horror story. Not only was the content inconceivable, the tone was, too. The fact is that in each chapter Iran’s dignity is preserved, but the U.S. and Europe’s isn’t. The fact is that the Iranian Islamic Consultative Assembly, or Majlis, has a much higher status in the agreement than the American Congress. The fact is that Iran is unrepentant, does not promise a change of course and takes an almost supercilious attitude toward the other parties. As though it had been a campaign between Iran and the West, and Iran won and is now dictating the surrender terms to the West.”

3) MEMRI provides the first installment in a series titled “Critical Points To Consider In Understanding The Iranian Nuclear Deal“.

“It should be emphasized that, contrary to how it is perceived, the JCPOA is not a bilateral or multilateral contract between the United States and/or Europe and Iran. Nothing has been signed and nothing is judicially binding between any of the parties. It is a set of understandings that was sent to a third party, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), for endorsement. This structure is a result of Iran’s insistence to not sign any bilateral or multilateral contract.”

4) At the Washington Institute, Matthew Levitt provides timely analysis in an article titled “Waking Up the Neighbors: How Regional Intervention Is Transforming Hezbollah“.

“In Syria and elsewhere, deadly proxy conflicts — between Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf states, on the one hand, and Iran on the other — have been complicated by the dangerous overlay of sectarianism. Sunni and Shiite states and their clients seem to view the region’s wars as part of a long-term, existential struggle between their sects. Indeed, the war in Syria is now being fought on two parallel fronts: one between the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition, and the other between Sunni and Shiite communities over the threat each perceives from the other. Similar dynamics define the wars in Iraq and Yemen. Factional conflict might be negotiable, but sectarian war is almost certainly not.

Hezbollah’s involvement in the war in Syria may have originally focused on supporting the Assad regime, but it now considers that war an existential battle for the future of the region, and for Hezbollah’s place in it. As a result, the group’s regional focus will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Together with other Iranian-backed militias, Hezbollah will continue to head an emerging Shiite foreign legion working both to defend Shiite communities and to expand Iranian influence across the region.”

Patchy coverage of Iran ‘side deals’ in BBC News reporting

An article which originally appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East and US & Canada pages on July 23rd under the headline “Iran nuclear deal: Kerry to face Senate committee” is now titled “Iran nuclear deal: Better accord ‘a fantasy’ says Kerry” and readers can view the changes made to its various versions here.Kerry art main

One interesting point to note is the disappearance and reappearance of passages of the article relating to a topic which the BBC News website’s generally on-US-administration-messaging coverage has not addressed separately.

Readers of versions one and two of the article learned that:

“[Senator] Mr Cotton, along with Mike Pompeo, a Republican Congressman from Kansas, wrote to Mr Obama on Wednesday to express their concern over what they called “side deals” nuclear inspectors were discussing with Iran.

A State Department spokesman said there were no secret deals and that there were only “technical arrangements”.”

By version three of the report, those paragraphs had been removed and the topic only reappeared in version eight, where audiences were told:

“Separately, two Republicans have complained that Congress has not been given access to “side deals” stuck between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which allegedly relate to the inspection of a key military site as well as past military activity.

Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, responded by saying the details of those deals “are not public but… we know their contents, we’re satisfied with them and we will share the contents of those briefings in full in a classified session with the Congress”.”

Version nine of the article was amended to read as follows:

“Separately, two Republicans have complained that Congress has not been given access to “side deals” stuck between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which allegedly relate to the inspection of a key military site as well as past military activity.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest rejected the suggestion they were “some sort of side deal”, saying the agreements were critical to the overall deal.

But he did admit that the details of the agreements could not be made public because it involves sensitive nuclear information.”

The article links to the Cotton/Pompeo press release on the topic but no further explanation is given in the body of the report and clearly members of the BBC’s audience who happened to access any one of the five versions of this article in which the issue did not appear would remain unaware of its existence.

The bulk of the report’s word-count is devoted to representation of John Kerry’s statements made during the committee hearing, with statements made by critics of the JCPOA deal receiving 102 words less coverage. In the body of the report readers are presented with two photographs, the first of which is captioned:

“The deal with Iran has encountered plenty of opposition, from within Congress to the streets”

The caption to the second photograph reads:

“But Mr Kerry also had his supporters at the hearing”

Kerry art photos

The first picture shows a demonstration held in New York on July 22nd. Although readers are not informed of the fact, the second image shows Medea Benjamin of the radical BDS-promoting organisation ‘Code Pink’.

Code Pink photo

Readers would no doubt have found it helpful to know that one of the two images chosen to supposedly present a ‘balanced’ view of American public reaction to the JCPOA deal in fact shows a professional political activist who visited Tehran just last autumn.

“Medea Benjamin participated in the New Horizon 2nd Annual International Conference of Independent Thinkers & Film Makers, held in Tehran, Iran (September 27 – October 1, 2014), speaking on the topics of “The Gaza War & BDS Movement Strategies against the Zionist Regime” and “Different Facets of the Resistance.” The conference included past and present Iranian government officials, as well as conspiracy theorists and Holocaust deniers.”

Somehow, that pertinent information did not reach BBC audiences. 

BBC Trust launches public consultation ahead of charter review

Following the launch last week of the DCMS public consultation on the subject of the BBC charter review, the BBC Trust has initiated a similar process of its own.BBC Trust

“At the BBC Trust, our role is to represent licence fee payers, and we want to ensure that your views are taken into account by the Government as it considers what the BBC of the future should look like.  This is an opportunity for you to join the debate and to help shape the BBC.”  

Readers can find details of the consultation here and can contribute until September 18th 2015.

BBC’s Panorama Jerusalem train programme takes viewers on a predictable journey

On July 20th the BBC One current affairs programme ‘Panorama‘ aired an episode titled “The Train that Divides Jerusalem“. Israeli readers may be surprised to learn from the programme’s synopsis that the light rail system serving their capital city is “controversial”.Panorama light rail prog main

“On the anniversary of last summer’s brutal conflict in Gaza, film-maker Adam Wishart visits Jerusalem and rides the city’s controversial new train. Only nine miles from start to finish, some hoped it could help heal divisions between Israelis and Palestinians, but as Wishart discovers, it has only deepened the sense of resentment on both sides. Travelling through the old city, he comes face to face with the battle over one of the world’s holiest sites and asks, could it be the flashpoint for the start of another war?”

In fact, the title chosen for this programme is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Wishart clearly sets out to ‘prove’ that Jerusalem is divided and the train is merely a hook for his pre-existing hypothesis.

As anyone who has ever spent an afternoon or an evening in Jerusalem’s various parks, at the Mamilla Mall, the Malha Mall or at the restored First Station knows, Jerusalemites of all backgrounds and ethnicities shop, eat, play, work and stroll at such locations and many use public transport to reach them. That aspect of Jerusalem life had no place in Adam Wishart’s film; he has decided that the city is “divided” and he already knows why.

“It was meant to help unite this place but the train is dividing it further.”

“Now it’s easier for Jews to travel into Palestinian suburbs…”

Very early on in the film Wishart finds it necessary to establish his credentials.

“I’m Adam Wishart – a British Jew….”

Scattered throughout the film are references to his previous visit to Jerusalem “on a Zionist education course as a teenager” and to his Zionist grandparents. Apparently his own background is intended to be a claim to added credence for his current assertions.

At the outset of the film Wishart proposes to take viewers on “a journey into the heart of a city which feels more divided than ever” and his concluding remarks half an hour later indicate that he found exactly what he was looking for – including some fashionable disappointment with the people who did not fulfil the dreams of others who do not actually live in Israel.

“My journey has been heartbreaking. When my grandparents campaigned for the State of Israel they hoped for a place of refuge, of tolerance and equal rights for all. As I take the last train I just can’t believe this could be the place that they dreamt of all these years ago.”

The highly selective journey which takes Wishart to that conclusion begins in Jerusalem’s Old City – or as he portrays it: “a world divided by religious rivalry”. Temple Mount is described as follows:

“…one of the holiest sites for Muslims – home to the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa Mosque and the courtyard that joins them. They’re all under Muslim control.”

That, of course, is a partial representation of the site’s actual status. Wishart goes on:

“It’s also home to the holiest site in Judaism – a Jewish temple destroyed over two thousand years ago. All that remains is the western wall of the courtyard – the Wailing Wall where Jews come to pray.”

The phrase “Wailing Wall” is of course a foreign invention: Jews and Israelis do not use that anachronism. Wishart goes on:

“Now some want to completely rebuild the temple on what they call Temple Mount. No matter that Muslim holy places are here already.”

The site has of course been known as Temple Mount for centuries – long before it was called anything else. Wishart then says:

“Once Jews only ever came as far as the Western Wall. Now one thousand Jews a month enter the courtyard – the heart of this Muslim place of worship.”

He gives generous airtime to the group of women engaged in what he calls “protest” at visits by non-Muslims on Temple Mount but avoids telling viewers who those women really are and how they are paid to harass visitors. Whilst Wishart’s Jewish interviewees actually represent a tiny fringe school of thought, no mainstream Israeli opinions on the topic of Temple Mount are heard and the issue of equal prayer rights for members of all religions on a site holy to Jews and Christians as well as Muslims obviously does not interest our ‘progressive’ film-maker.

Clearly adopting – and promoting – one very specific narrative, Wishart tells audiences:

“Today’s skirmish is part of growing hostility fueled by the competing claims of Jews and Muslims to this holy place. It has already escalated into serious violence. Last November a group of Temple Mount visitors were attacked by Palestinians. In response police entered the Al Aqsa Mosque. It may only have been by a few meters but for many Muslims it crossed a sacred line.”

The accompanying footage shows masked rioters using the mosque as a launch site for rocks and firecrackers. Wishart refrains from pondering whether that crosses any ‘sacred lines’.

Wishart’s half-hearted attempt to provide historic background is completely lacking in context.

“Back then [1948] Israel only held the western part of Jerusalem – after the so-called green line. Then in 1967 Israel occupied the eastern areas.”

Viewers are not told why Israel only held part of the previously united city in 1948 or what led to the war that resulted in its reunification in 1967 and no mention is made of 19 years of Jordanian occupation.

Wishart’s journey moves on to Shuafat.

“The Palestinians who live here remain angry at being under Israeli control. The train just adds to their grievances.”

 Interviewees’ hyperbole passes without challenge:

“This is a racist train to keep Jerusalem for the Jews only.”

“Every day the train passes they are butchering me. Every day they are killing me. This is what the train means to us.”

Concerning the latter interviewee viewers are told:

“…what used to be his land until it was taken to build this train station…”

It is called compulsory purchase, of course, and it happens all over the world. Wishart refrains from using that terminology however, telling audiences:

“He refused compensation because the taking of land fits into a broader picture. Since 1967 Israel has seized about six thousand acres of land in East Jerusalem. Walid has lost about ten acres.”

No source is provided for that information.

Whilst Wishart has plenty to say about Shuafat and clearly steers viewers towards a specific narrative, his account does not include any mention of Hamas’ activities in that neighbourhood.

“I can’t help feeling that the state of this place and the lawlessness – all enclosed by the barrier – make this part of Jerusalem a tinder box waiting to ignite.”

Interviewee: “It’s difficult to be a child born into an environment of occupation and racism. […] Nobody’s born a violent person but the segregation and disparities lead to war and violence.”

At around 17:02 Wishart says:

“Just as we’re leaving the camp [Shuafat] there’s an attack on the guards at the checkpoint.”

He later adds:

“It turns out that most of the noise comes from fireworks – the ammunition of the powerless.”

During that segment (at 17:38) viewers see a boy apparently describing the scene and his words are translated on screen as follows:Panorama light rail prog soldiers

“These are the kids that throw stones at the soldiers”

BBC Watch asked a professional translator to verify that translation and this was his response:

“…it is impossible to make out what the boy says. I listened to it over and over again, together with an expert on Palestinian dialects. There are two words that the boy says before “al-yahud”, it is impossible to make out what these words are. But “al-yahud” is clearly heard, and of course that does not translate as “soldiers””.

Once again, apparently, we have a case of ‘creative’ BBC translation which censors the Arabic word for Jews, thus depriving audiences of important insight into the context and background to a story.

An additional case of ‘lost in translation’ appears in a section of the film showing Jerusalem Day celebrations which Wishart describes as “a celebration of Israel’s 1967 capture of East Jerusalem and the Old City” with no explanation of the subject of the reunification of the city after 19 years of Jordanian occupation during which Jews were prevented from visiting their holy sites. At 22:42 viewers see the chants of Palestinian protesters translated as:Panorama light rail prog defend Palestine

“With our souls, our blood, we defend Palestine”

The accurate translation does not include the word ‘defend':

“With our souls and our blood, we will redeem you, oh Palestine”

From 22:55 an interviewee’s words pertaining to the Israelis celebrating Jerusalem Day are translated on screen as follows:

“This scene causes great anger for all the people of Palestine. They break into the Old City of Jerusalem and provoke people with their shameful dancing. This is unacceptable.”

Our translator pointed out that the term ‘Old City’ and the word ‘provoke’ do not appear:

“This scene leads to tremendous anger from all segments of the Palestinian people. They forcefully attack the city of Jerusalem with racist incitement and this scandalous dance. This is an unacceptable act.”

Towards the end of the film, at 24:32, and despite having previously told viewers that the government of Israel has made it perfectly clear that no changes will be made to the status quo on Temple Mount, Wishart returns to his dubious hypothesis:

“When I was here 31 years ago even my most fervently Zionist friends weren’t rushing to build a temple on this site. Now the idea is gathering support from within the mainstream. Even a member of the new cabinet supports the idea. I can’t help but think that if some Jews push much further this would surely be the last stand for the Palestinians.”

And at 25:01 he manages to introduce conspiracy into what is no more than an urban public transport system:

“I’m left wondering what is the purpose of the train. Does its ultimate destination hold a clue? It travels north, through the Palestinian neighbourhoods, and snakes round the refugee camp. What’s so controversial is that the ultimate destination is an Israeli settlement. A thousand acres taken by Israel to build a beautiful suburb. Like all settlements in occupied territory, most of the international community consider them to be illegal.”

That ‘settlement’ is the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Pisgat Ze’ev and a quick search even of Pisgat Ze’ev’s Wikipedia entry would have shown Wishart that much of the suburb is in fact built on land purchased by Jews before the Second World War. In line with the usual BBC practice, Wishart makes no effort to inform viewers of the existence of differing legal opinions concerning the legality of ‘settlements’ and he also makes no effort to clarify that under any realistic scenario, Pisgat Ze’ev would be likely to remain under Israeli control in the event of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. He even promotes his hypothesis further with the following ridiculous claims:

“The train makes permanent the expansion of Israel. This settlement is built like a fortress.”

In late 2013 the BBC’s Director of Television claimed that it measures the success of its programmes by asking itself whether they are “fresh and new”. Perhaps the saddest thing about this edition of Panorama is that it is so predictable. From the standard, jaded, presentations of ‘settlements’, ‘the wall’ and ‘international law’, through the impartiality box-ticking inclusion of brief segments pertaining to terror attacks against Israelis – with no mention of the word terror – and to the failure to seriously address the political, religious and ideological roots of Palestinian terrorism whilst misrepresenting fringe opinions as “mainstream” Israeli thought, this politicized film treads a well-trodden route which is anything but “fresh and new”.

Fresh would have been to tell BBC audiences about the increasing numbers of Muslim Jerusalemites living in mixed neighbourhoods (including Pisgat Ze’ev) or to inform viewers of the extremist incitement which goes on inside Al Aqsa Mosque. New would have been to get the history of Jerusalem right and to go back before the standard BBC starting point of 1967 by including coverage of the topics of Jewish-owned lands before 1948 and the expulsion of Jews from the Old City and other neighbourhoods by Jordan.

Adam Wishart however chose to stick with the tried and trusted formula which guaranteed the airing of his film by the BBC and his bizarre shoe-horning of a light rail system into the story does nothing to disguise that fact.

Resources:

Panorama – contact details

How to Complain to the BBC

 

BBC’s Kevin Connolly erases Iranian patronage of terror, distorts history

On July 19th an article by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Winds of change blow through Middle East“.Connolly Iran

Connolly’s basic premise is that the JCPOA signed by the P5+1 and Iran last week heralds a new era.

“This was a week of change though.

Once the US and Iran glared at each other across a chasm of values: where the Iranians saw themselves as champions of Shia communities and exporters of revolution the Americans saw only sponsorship of terrorism.

That may now begin to change although we don’t know how far or how fast that change will go.

Through the gloom of the current desert storms it is hard to know for sure what sort of Middle East will eventually emerge – but it is already clear that one of the strongest winds blowing in the region blows from Iran.”

On the way to that conclusion Connolly takes readers for a stroll through the last century of Middle East history, managing to make some significant omissions along the way. Going back to the end of the First World War, he states:

“With the Turks defeated in Jerusalem and Damascus and Sinai and Gaza there was a new world to be made.

Britain, mandated by the League of Nations to govern the Holy Land, could set about honouring its commitment to the Jews of the world to build a national home for them in Palestine – probably not guessing that the issues surrounding the promise would remain a potent source of violence and discord a century later.”

Yes, the British government had produced the Balfour Declaration in 1917 but Connolly misleads readers by failing to clarify that the establishment of the Jewish national home was not merely based on a pre-existing British commitment but in fact had its foundations in the legally binding unanimous decision of the fifty-one member countries of the League of Nations in 1922, which Great Britain was charged with administering and which the United Nations reaffirmed in 1946.

In relation to the Sykes-Picot agreement Connolly makes the following vague statement and links to an article from December 2013:

“Some historians have pointed out that the agreement conflicted with pledges already given by the British to the Hashemite leader Husayn ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca, who was about to lead an Arab revolt in the Hejaz against the Ottoman rulers on the understanding that the Arabs would eventually receive a much more important share of the territory won.”

Connolly omits any mention of the fact that the Hussein-McMahon correspondence did not include Palestine, as Sir Henry McMahon himself pointed out in a letter to the Times in 1937.

McMahon letter Times

Later on in his article Connolly presents the following hypothesis:

“But we got a feel for some of the forces that will shape the new order in Vienna this week when the world’s great powers – the UN Security Council plus Germany – struck a deal with Iran.

The talks were convened of course to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions – and so they did.

But they were a kind of acknowledgement too of Iran’s status as a regional power – a sense that in effect nothing can be settled in the modern Middle East without the Iranians.”

Avoiding discussion of the obviously vital question of whether or not Iranian policy is really designed to ‘settle’ Middle East disputes and conflicts, he goes on to present the following attenuated portrayal of Iran’s fingers in the regional pie:

“Iran after all is the main force propping up the faltering Syria regime of Bashar al-Assad, and it is using Hezbollah, the militia it founded and funded in neighbouring Lebanon to bear the brunt of the fighting.

Iranian-backed Shia militias have been fighting in Iraq against Sunni extremists – often filling vacuums left by the country’s armed forces.

The Houthi rebels in Yemen too are part of this Iranian regional movement.”

Hizballah, of course, is not merely an Iranian proxy “militia” as Connolly leads readers to believe: it is an organization with a long history of terrorist and criminal activity both in the Middle East and much further afield. But Connolly’s whitewashing of Iranian patronage of terrorist organisations does not end there: he fails to make any mention of the theocratic regime’s material and ideological support for other terror groups such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Moreover, the extremist religious ideologies which are the foundations of the Iranian regime itself and the reason behind its patronage of Shia and Sunni terrorist organisations are portrayed by Connolly in markedly muted terms.

“Iran is the great power in the world of Shia Islam, just as Saudi Arabia would see itself as the leader of those who follow the Sunni tradition.

There are plenty of small wars in which their proxy armies fight each other in what sometimes feels like a looming regional confessional conflict.”

In other words, a BBC Middle East correspondent who has been located in the region for over four and a half years would have audiences believe that hostilities rooted in religious doctrines may be (perhaps; he’s not quite decided) just around the corner.

As long as Connolly and his colleagues continue to downplay Iranian sponsorship of terrorist groups motivated by religious ideology BBC audiences will obviously be unable to fully comprehend the reservations voiced by many in the Middle East concerning the “winds of change” bolstered by the terms of the JCPOA agreement or to fully understand the “international issues” likely to develop as a result.

Related Articles:

BBC’s summary of Khamenei speech censors pledge to support terror

No wonder BBC WS presenter Razia Iqbal got Iranian threat to Israel wrong

BBC News yet again amplifies Arafat conspiracy theories

On July 21st the BBC News website’s Middle East page included a report titled “Yasser Arafat: French prosecutor seeks end to murder inquiry“. The article’s opening lines reasonably sum up the story as follows:Arafat art

“A French prosecutor has said there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

A murder inquiry was ordered by a court in Nanterre in August 2012 after his widow Suha alleged he was poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive element.

On Tuesday, the local prosecutor concluded the case should be dismissed.”

Later on readers are told that:

“His [Arafat’s] widow objected to a post-mortem examination at the time, but agreed to allow French, Russian and Swiss experts to take samples from his remains after traces of polonium-210 were found on his personal effects in July 2012 as part of an investigation by the Qatar-based al-Jazeera network.[…]

…the French experts had concluded that the polonium-210 and lead-210 isotopes found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples of his remains were of “an environmental nature”. […]

The French findings echoed those of the Russian Federal Medical and Biological Agency, which said in December 2013 that Arafat “died not from the effects of radiation but of natural causes”.

However, Swiss scientists at the Vaudois University Hospital Centre in Lausanne said the previous month that the results of their investigation indicated “third-party involvement” in Arafat’s death and offered “moderate backing for the theory of poisoning”.”

Notably, the BBC News website refrained from reporting on the results of the French investigation at the time of their official publication although it did cover an earlier leak in two reports. Its coverage of the Russian results amounted to one article. However, coverage of the Swiss results saw BBC News website users bombarded with no fewer than thirteen reports on the topic in the space of 48 hours.

A recurrent feature appearing in most of those reports, as well as in additional BBC content, was the amplification of conspiracy theories surrounding the then 75 year-old Arafat’s death. Remarkably, even in this latest story about a French prosecutor having concluded that there is no point in pursuing the inquiry any further, the BBC promotes that same conspiracy theory no fewer than three times.

The main photograph chosen to illustrate the article is captioned:

“Many Palestinians accuse Israel of involvement in Arafat’s death – something it denies”.

In paragraph five readers are told that:

“Many Palestinians nonetheless continue to accuse Israel of involvement in his death – something it has strenuously denied.”

And just in case by the time they had read the whole article that conspiracy theory had perhaps slipped their mind, the report’s final lines tell readers that:

“Despite the Russian and French findings, a Palestinian investigative committee declared that it was certain that Arafat was “killed and that Israel killed him”.”

Just a day before this article was published the British prime minister gave a landmark speech on extremism in which he repeatedly noted the connection between conspiracy theories and radicalization and extremism.  

There are few, if any, publicly funded bodies as influential and far-reaching as the BBC. Its content reaches nearly every British household and hundreds of millions more around the world. The information it produces is used by policy-shapers, decision-makers, academics and educators and passed on to the next generation because it is considered to come from a respectable, reliable source.

So when the BBC repeatedly and knowingly amplifies baseless conspiracy theories, they are legitimized and mainstreamed into public consciousness and – to borrow a phrase from Mr Cameron – the BBC too becomes part of the problem which British society is so urgently trying to address.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Arafat overdose

BBC goes into Arafat overdose mode – again

BBC Arafat binge continues to promote conspiracy theories

Comparing BBC coverage of Arafat ‘poisoned’ vs ‘not poisoned’ stories

Four times less BBC Online coverage of Arafat ‘not poisoned’ stories

Why we need to talk about the BBC’s promotion of Middle East conspiracy theories