BBC WS ‘The History Hour’ breaches impartiality guidelines with Palestinian activist

The June 13th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ included an item about “the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours” which is available here from 26:40 or from 24:35 in the podcast here or here. The transcript below is taken from the podcast version.History Hour 14 6

Presenter Max Pearson introduces the item as follows:

“…we’re going to take a close look at one of the twentieth century’s defining events in the Middle East. In 1967 what quickly became known as the Six Day War broke out between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It resulted in a rapid redrawing of the region’s de facto borders and a significant humiliation for the Arab powers. Of course this is a deeply controversial topic with highly charged views on both sides. So, for obvious reasons, we’re going to hear from both sides – next week: the Israeli view. But right now Louise Hidalgo hears from two Palestinians about their memories of that time.”

In her own introduction, Louise Hidalgo makes no more effort than is apparent in Pearson’s to provide listeners with the all-important context of the reasons behind the war and the events which led to the preceding build-up of tensions.

Hidalgo: “It’s early June 1967 and Israel and its Arab neighbours are embarking on a war that will change the shape of the Middle East. Samia Khoury lived in a Palestinian neighbourhood of East Jerusalem with her husband and two small children. Jordan ruled East Jerusalem then and the West Bank and the build-up of tension with Israel had been palpable.”

Of course nobody – including Samia Khoury herself – would have described her neighbourhood as “Palestinian” at the time. Hidalgo fails to inform listeners how Jordan came to ‘rule’ parts of Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria and hence they remain unaware of one of the prime factors which contributed to this war of continuance.

Throughout the entire item, Palestinians are portrayed exclusively as powerless victims of circumstances beyond their control – and responsibility. Statements such as those made by the chairman of the PLO in the period preceding the outbreak of hostilities have no place in this politicised version of ‘history’.

Shukairy statements

Hence, listeners hear only accounts such as the following from the programme’s two interviewees.

Samia Khoury: “It really worried me. I felt could this be another Nakba. I mean, I’m going somewhere else and then I can’t come back home.”

Hidalgo adds:

“The memory of what had happened 19 years earlier in 1948 was still raw among Palestinians. Then, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had fled or been driven out of their homes during the fighting that surrounded the birth of the State of Israel. They thought they’d be able to go back but they couldn’t. Many lived in the refugee camps that sprang up afterwards. Palestinians call that time the Nakba, or catastrophe.”

Once again, the context of the Arab decision to attack the nascent Israeli state and the calls by Arab leaders to evacuate towns and villages is erased from Hidalgo’s account: Palestinians are agency-free victims of circumstance according to her portrayal of events.

Hidalgo also says:

“By the end of those six days the scale of the Arabs’ defeat was clear. Israel now controlled territory four times its size and the Old City of Jerusalem. For the first time, Jews could pray freely at their sacred Western Wall.”

Had Hidalgo added ‘in nineteen years’ after “for the first time”, that sentence would have been accurate. However, she did not.

The item also includes a gratuitous – and of course unsupported – tale of ‘Israeli cruelty’ from someone who was an eight year-old child at the time.

Hidalgo: “Nuri remembers the terrifying walk they made across the wobbling, blackened remains of the [Allenby] bridge up the hill to the Israeli commander.”

Nuri Akram Nuri: “And my mum aid that she’s from the town of Ramallah, she lives there, her husband is there and she’d like to reunite with him. And he refused. […] This guy saw that she was persistent so he put his gun and said you go back now or I’ll shoot you in front of your kids.”

Towards the end of the item, listeners hear promotion of Samia Khoury’s politicized narrative.

Samia Khoury: “We were sure that this is going to be temporary but…ah…the more time passed by we felt so stupid. The everyday small things that you take for granted; this is what the occupation is about. It chokes you. Chokes your thinking, chokes your spirit.”

Of course Hidalgo refrains from asking Khoury whether or not nineteen years of Jordanian occupation also “chokes your spirit” and – in breach of BBC guidelines on impartiality – she also refrains from adequately ‘summarising the standpoint’ of her interviewee.

Hidalgo: “Samia Khoury still lives in Beit Hanina in eastern Jerusalem and is a trustee of the Palestinian university Birzeit which was founded by her aunt in the 20s.”

In fact, Nabiha Nasir founded the Birzeit School for Girls in 1924. Only in 1976 – whilst under Israeli rule – did the establishment officially become a university.

In addition to being a trustee of Birzeit University, Samia Khoury (like several of her fellow trustees and staff at that institution) is also a member of the Advisory Board of PACBI – Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. She is also an activist with Sabeel – a Palestinian Christian campaigning organization which promotes the eradication of the Jewish state by means of the ‘one state solution’ and dabbles in supersessionism and ‘liberation theology’.  Like PACBI, Sabeel is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

In other words, Samia Khoury is not just some random Palestinian grandmother who does voluntary work for a university. She is a veteran activist with a specific political narrative to promote and – according to BBC editorial guidelines – that fact should have been conveyed to listeners to this programme in order to enable them to put her account of ‘history’ into its appropriate context.

Related Articles:

The Six Day War – CAMERA website

Resources:

Max Pearson on Twitter

BBC World Service contact details

How to Complain to the BBC

 

BBC WS radio promotes Avi Shlaim’s historical misrepresentations – part one

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 1st were presented with an article in its features section by Owen Bennett-Jones titled “Middle East map carved up by caliphates, enclaves and fiefdoms“. There, they found the reasons for the past four or so years of violence and turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa explained as follows:OBJ written

“There are many explanations for the winds of change sweeping through the Middle East.

Depending on their point of view, analysts cite the failure of Arab nationalism; a lack of democratic development; post-colonialism; Zionism; Western trade protectionism; corruption; low education standards; and the global revival of radical Islamism.” [emphasis added]

Readers who ventured to the end of Bennett-Jones’ piece discovered that it is based on an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour Extra’ – titled “Borders, Oil and Power in the Middle East” – which he hosted on May 31st. What they are not told in the written article is that the main reason for the bizarre appearance of Zionism on his list of “explanations” for the ongoing violence in the Middle East is the inclusion of Oxford University’s Avi Shlaim on Bennett-Jones’ guest list for that programme.

According to its synopsis the fifty-five minute programme supposedly set out to discuss the following topics:

“The map of the Middle East, established after World War One almost 100 years ago, is crumbling. Islamic State militants now control large parts of Iraq and Syria including the border region that divides the two countries, and their territorial ambitions have not ended there. Is Islamic State permanently re-drawing the map, or can the traditional regional powers retain their dominance? What are the consequences for the people who live within those borders and for control of the region’s vast mineral wealth?”

Those familiar with Avi Shlaim’s political activism (albeit often thinly disguised with an academic veneer) will not have been surprised by his ability to repeatedly bring the focus of the programme back to his pet topic of Israel. Listeners may have been equally unsurprised to find that the programme’s host and editors indulged his hobby, particularly after the tone was set in Bennett-Jones’ introduction.

“…this week looking at the future of the Middle East. Syria, Yemen, Libya and parts of Iraq are in violent chaos. The status of Gaza and the West Bank remain contested. The Arab Spring has failed. Some of its leaders face the death penalty and the forces in the ascendant: theocrats, rebels, nationalists, gangsters, arms dealers and opportunists. What on earth is going to happen?”

From around 04:30 listeners heard the following supposedly objective and academic account of the background to the topic under discussion from Avi Shlaim.

“…Britain’s behavior during the First World War is a prime example of pure opportunism because in the course of fighting the First World War, Britain was desperate to gain allies and it made three major promises that were contradictory and couldn’t be reconciled and this should have been clear during the war. The first promise was to Hussein the Sharif of Mecca – to support an independent Arab kingdom under his rule in return for mounting an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. The second promise […] is the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. This was a secret agreement between Britain and France to carve up the Middle East between themselves at the expense of the Arabs. And the third and most famous promise was the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which Britain undertook to support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. So Palestine was the twice-promised land – first it was promised to Hussein the Sharif of Mecca and then it was promised to the Zionists. And after the end of the war the chickens came home to roost. The Arabs demanded an independent Arab kingdom – not a system of mandates – and the Zionists, who at the time of the Balfour Declaration were only 10% of the population, laid a claim to the whole of Palestine. So Britain – through its imperialist diplomacy – created a new order, a new political system – territorial system – which lacked legitimacy. The borders lacked legitimacy, the rulers who were imposed on the local Arabs by the colonial powers lacked legitimacy. So the whole mark of the post-World War One territorial and political system was that it was illegitimate….” [emphasis added]

No attempt was made by Owen Bennett-Jones to balance Shlaim’s predictably selective presentation of events by mention of all-important additional factors such as the creation in 1921 of the Emirate of Transjordan (ruled by one of Hussein’s sons) out of land previously designated for the Jewish National Home. Neither was it clarified to listeners that no mention was made of Palestine in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence or that as was reported in The Times in 1937 – Sir Henry McMahon later clarified:

“I feel my duty to state, and I do so definitely and emphatically, that it was not intended by me in giving this pledge to King Hussein to include Palestine in the area in which Arab independence was promised. I also had every reason to believe at the time that the fact that Palestine was not included in my pledge was well understood by King Hussein.”

The most striking aspect of Bennett-Jones’ failure to relieve listeners of the misleading impressions provided by Shlaim, however, is that the BBC had every reason to be capable of anticipating exactly how he was going to frame the issue because he had done it before on BBC Radio 4 in October 2013. No less interesting is the fact that despite Shlaim’s obvious and repeatedly expressed enthusiasm for Kurdish independence as promised in 1920, Bennett-Jones refrained from asking him why in his opinion the Treaty of Sèvres should be considered any less “illegitimate” than the Balfour Declaration or the Sykes-Picot Agreement.OBJ radio

From around 16:35 listeners were further misled by the following statement from Shlaim:

“It seems to me that the post-World War One territorial order, for all its shortcomings and limitations that I talked about before, had one merit and that is it set out very clear international borders and despite all the turmoil of the last century, all the violence, all the conflicts, these borders still stand – with one exception: the border between Israel and Palestine. But all the other borders are almost sacrosanct.”

Of course it is inaccurate and misleading to suggest that a “border between Israel and Palestine” existed under “the post-World War One territorial order”.

Towards the end of the programme (at around 41:30), Bennett-Jones informs listeners that the discussion will “look ahead to what’s going to happen to various groups in the Middle East”. If listeners thought that they were finally going to get to hear some information about the situation of Christians, Yezidis, Druze, Armenians, Baha’is or any of the many other Middle East minorities unmentioned so far, they would have been disappointed. Instead, a full five minutes is spent discussing the topic introduced by Bennett-Jones at the start of that segment.

OBJ: “…on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute; is it right to say that when we talk about borders changing  – Professor Shlaim made the point that the Israel-Palestine situation is one of the few fluid situations in terms of borders – but does it connect with the rest of the Middle East or is that dispute….”

At that point Bennett-Jones is cut off – apparently by some over-enthusiastic editing – but listeners do hear BBC regular Rosemary Hollis telling them that:

“…having a number of Palestinian scholarship students as I do, they see this chaos in Iraq and Syria and this hideous machine called IS as potentially the only game changer that might ultimately call all the borders into question in a way that might benefit the Palestinians. Otherwise they see their future as miserable and they see Gaza as a place where you die slowly and, as of 2020 when life is unsustainable in Gaza according to the UN, you die more quickly – if there’s not another Israeli-Palestinian war in the meanwhile.”

According to the CIA World Factbook, life expectancy in the Gaza Strip in 2014 was 74.64 years – higher than that in one hundred and thirteen other countries or territories and higher than that for males in Blackpool or Glasgow, which BBC audiences would of course be unlikely to hear described as places “where you die slowly”.

Following that (from around 45:25), listeners hear Avi Shlaim telling them that there will be no peace or stability in the Middle East until Jews lose their right to self-determination.

“To answer your regional question, I don’t think that Israel-Palestine is a separate discrete conflict. It’s part of the whole Middle East set-up and it’s the most fundamental and lasting and enduring conflict in the region and there can be no peace, no stability and no security in the Middle East until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. How can it be resolved? I used to be a great supporter of the two state solution but […] it is no longer viable. Why is it not viable? Because Israel, under right-wing governments, has systematically destroyed the basis for a two state solution. And therefore today I support and advocate a one state solution: one state which is for all its citizens with equal rights for all its citizens be they Arab or Israeli, Muslim, Christian or Jewish.”

No attempt is made by the programme’s host to inform listeners of the significance and consequences of the ‘solution’ to all the Middle East’s troubles as put forward by Shlaim and likewise no effort is made to relieve them of the ridiculous notion that ISIS jihadists are slaughtering Yezidis, Kurds and Christians (among others) and Bashar al Assad is killing his own people because the Arab-Israeli conflict has yet to be resolved.

Amazingly, this is what passes for objective, impartial, factual and accurate analysis of the Middle East as far as the BBC World Service is concerned, but Avi Shlaim’s historical misrepresentations had not finished there – as we shall see in part two of this post.

BBC lost in news agency translation of Pope’s words to Mahmoud Abbas?

On May 16th the BBC News website’s Middle East page ran an article headlined “Pope Francis calls Palestinians’ Abbas ‘angel of peace’“. The same messaging is repeated in the article’s opening paragraph:Angel art

“Pope Francis has met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican, calling him “an angel of peace”.

The Pope made the remark as he presented the Palestinian leader with a medallion.”

Later on in the report readers are told that:

“The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says that after 20 minutes of private talks, Pope Francis gave Mr Abbas the medallion depicting an angel of peace adding: “It is appropriate because you are an angel of peace.””

But is that in fact an accurate portrayal of events?

The Italian daily La Stampa’s ‘Vatican Insider’ website reports the story somewhat differently, running with the headline “Pope embraces Abu Mazen and bids him to be an angel of peace” in its English language version of the story. The article adds:

“As is tradition with heads of State or of government, Francis presented a gift to the Palestinian leader, commenting: “May the angel of peace destroy the evil spirit of war. I thought of you: may you be an angel of peace.””

(For comparison, the Italian language version of the same story is here.)

The Zenit agency reported the story in Spanish using the headline “Francisco recibe al presidente palestino y le exhorta: ‘Sea usted un ángel de paz’” – “Francisco receives Palestinian President and urges : ‘ Be you an angel of peace ‘”.

So it would appear that there is a distinct possibility that rather than describing Mahmoud Abbas as an ‘angel of peace’, the Pope in fact urged or wished him to become one by taking steps to bring about a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. That, of course, would leave readers with a markedly different impression than the version of the story promoted by the BBC.

The source of this possible misunderstanding of the Pope’s words appears to be various news agency reports. As we have seen before, it is not unheard of for the BBC to fail to fact check information provided by news agencies before reproducing their content. Clearly this story too needs urgent review in order to ensure its compliance with BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy. 

 

 

Letter to a BBC Jerusalem correspondent – from 1948

In February 1948 two successive bombings rocked Jerusalem. Three people were killed at the beginning of the month when the building housing the offices of the Palestine Post (later to become the Jerusalem Post) was attacked by means of a car bomb. Three weeks later another car bomb was detonated on Ben Yehuda Street killing over fifty people and injuring dozens more. Both attacks were initiated by the commander of Arab forces in the Jerusalem area and were carried out by two British Army deserters.

Palestine Post February 2nd 1948 (click to enlarge)

Palestine Post February 2nd 1948 (click to enlarge)

Shortly after the second bombing, the founder and editor of the Palestine Post Gershon Agron wrote the letter below to the BBC’s correspondent in Jerusalem at the time, Richard Williams, with whom he had previously engaged in an apparently heated conversation.

Dear Mr. Williams,

The Mejelle, the ancient Ottoman legal code, instructs us wisely that if a judge feels tired, or is hungry, or if he doesn’t feel well, he has to stop his legal proceedings immediately. This order should apply to journalists as well. I was very tired, deep in thought, between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. last night, due to what happened and some technical press handicaps (electricity breakdowns). And, I am sure you must have been just as tired as well. You have been tired because of Eretz Yisrael, tired of the anger that this country spreads sometimes among newcomers. And thus our conversation, instead of being polite, as grown-ups do, had turned into an angry dispute according to the formula: “I falsify, you falsify, we are all falsifying.” I was left feeling that we haven’t reached a suitable level to discuss the really important issues.

I had asked, therefore, to see the BBC folder in our archives. It begins in June 1938 and ends in November 1948. I will quote only your latest comments.

On December 4, 1947, we heard on the BBC an interesting sentence: “The British police acted very well during last Tuesday’s riots.” We published this sentence word by word, even if we were fully aware that on this day the Arabs opened fire at Jewish Jerusalem, robbed and burned the entire Industrial quarter. The British police indeed behaved very well by escaping as fast as it was possible. We left it to our readers, who know the truth, to decide.

On December 10, 1947, one of our readers protested against the opinion expressed by BBC representative Nixon who quoted the Arabs as saying that they will fight the Jews until the last drop of their blood. The same reader added: “Nixon is wrong. Both Jews and Arabs are simple people. They don’t want to fight to the last drop of blood – they want to live in peace.”

There are also a number of quotations that point out that the BBC was too hasty in discovering that the people who threw a bomb at The Palestine Post offices (on February 1, 1948) were either Arabs or Jews. But the Post quoted the BBC news item from London that some 300 British citizens left England to join the Arabs. This news item was never denied, even after it was proven to be false.

But this February we were the bad boys again. The BBC announced that “Jerusalem was quiet after a great Jewish anti-British demonstration.” This was the day after Ben-Yehuda Street was bombed. Jerusalem was not particularly quiet on this very day and night. A search was going on for the bodies of the 66 persons killed in this bombing. To show that in Jerusalem only the British are killed is a sham. But this was, perhaps, what the British listener wished to hear.

All this indicates that everybody falsifies and some do it on purpose. The British try to show that each murder (isn’t this a norm?) was committed by Jews. And why? Because the particulars of the murder do not explain what happened before. It may be understood that somebody wishes to see himself to be just in his own eyes. But why claim that this is the whole truth, and not something that depends on other factors?

If we arrive at a day when we all agree that the Jewish nature will show the way to the Jewish people, exactly as the British try to square things according to the British point of view, we will be able to live in peace, each respecting the other in this not entirely easy 
country. As one of my friends said yesterday that “only in peace we will find confidence and mutual prosperity.”

Yours,
Gershon

Plus ça change…

BBC R4: Paris ‘tensions’ due to Israel’s failure to make peace

h/t JK

A particularly noticeable characteristic of BBC reporting on the Paris terror attacks has been a general avoidance of any meaningful discussion of the actual issue of Islamist extremism.

Instead, BBC audiences have seen, read and heard numerous commentators bemoaning the social conditions which supposedly turn disadvantaged and alienated youths into Jihadist terrorists. On other occasions, the Charlie Hebdo magazine has been described as ‘racist’ as though that misapplied label somehow provides relevant context to the premeditated murders of seventeen people. And in other cases audiences have been herded towards a view according to which if Jews are attacked in Paris, it is ultimately the fault of other Jews because of things they do – or do not do – in another part of the world.

We will be providing additional examples in future posts, but here is one which appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ on January 13th as the four victims of the Hyper Cacher terror attack had just been laid to rest in Jerusalem.World at One

The first part of this segment from the programme consists of a report from Kevin Connolly about French Jews to which we will return later. In the second part – from 03:50 – the programme’s presenter Shaun Ley introduces two interviewees:  Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, Paris Director for the American Jewish Committee and Professor David Cesarani – described by Ley as “professor of history at Royal Holloway University of London” and someone who “has written extensively on Jewish history and is an authority on the Holocaust”.

Shaun Ley: “Well the number of Jews leaving France, as Kevin was saying, has certainly risen: almost seven thousand last year – twice as many as the year before. But is Binyamin Netanyahu right to talk of rising antisemitism in Europe and is emigration the answer?”

Of course contrary to the impression given in this item, it is not just the prime minister of Israel who talks about a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe; many bodies and organisations are recording and noting that trend, including the ADL, the CST and the Mayor of London. The French government had recognized the gravity of the situation even before the latest attacks.

“…in 2014 the antisemitic incidents [in France] increased by 91%. All too often people forget that half of the incidents classified as “racial incidents” are directed against Jews. This, in spite of the fact that they form less than 1% of the general population. Under these circumstances it is understandable that the Minister of the Interior has recently declared that the “struggle against racism and anti-Semitism” is “a national matter”. 

Nevertheless, Shaun Ley asks his guest:

“David Cesarani – do you think that Binyamin Netanyahu had a point when he suggested that there is a momentum now to leave France because of not just this incident but because of some of the previous incidents [the murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006 and the murders of four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 – Ed.] to which Simone referred?”

Ceserani: “No I don’t think Binyamin Netanyahu had a point and I think his comments have been inflammatory.”

Ceserani goes on to tell BBC audiences that “Jews in France have lived through much worse times than these” and that “things have been worse even in recent French history” before delivering the following statement:

“But we cannot overlook the tension between Jews and Muslims in France. The conflict in the Middle East has got a lot to do with that and I think that’s where Mr Netanyahu can play a role. I think if Mr Netanyahu can bring life to the peace process then I think a lot of that tension will subside.”

As is all too often the case at the BBC, we see the Palestinian-Israeli conflict being promoted here as the conflict in the Middle East even as Jihadist extremists in Syria and Iraq continue to kill thousands of their own countrymen. Predictably too, we see the fact that Islamist extremism is a significant factor in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict being ignored and erased. Responsibility for the failure to bring that conflict to an end is of course placed entirely on the shoulders of one party to it and even one specific politician – despite the similarly unsuccessful attempts of his predecessors. According to Cesarani, the Palestinians have no agency and no role to play in finding a conclusion to the dispute but if only the Israeli prime minister would change his ways, then the “tensions” which he apparently believes bring about both antisemitism and terror attacks would “subside” and French, British, Belgian and Dutch Jews could live in peace.  

BBC Radio 4 clearly has no qualms about providing Cesarani with a soap-box from which to promote his own political views in the guise of ‘expert analysis’. That of course is an issue in itself, but the main point here is that listeners are being distracted from and misled about the real background to the murders in Paris by means of this superficial exploitation of a tragedy for political messaging.

Kevin Connolly’s segment which began this item is very similar to an article he wrote on the same topic which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “‘Not safe’: French Jews mull Israel emigration” on January 13th. In both those reports Connolly highlighted the words of one of his interviewees with the written version going as follows:

“It’s only fair to point out that Mr Levy blames the media at least in part for the current atmosphere and argues that it has tended to demonise Israel in recent years in the wake of events ranging from the first Gulf war to the first and second Intifadas.

That perhaps is a debate for another time – and it is worth pointing out that France naturally insists that its Jewish population can safely remain there.”

Actually, that is not “a debate for another time”: it is one in which some of us have been engaged for years already and it is also one which – as this Radio 4 programme once again indicates – it is long past time for BBC journalists to join. 

BBC continues to mislead audiences on issue of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

Much of the BBC’s reporting on the issue of the recent Palestinian Authority’s unilateral moves at the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court has framed those moves as being a legitimate alternative to direct talks and has promoted the notion that negotiations between the parties are a means of solving the conflict demanded and imposed by Israel.Marcus art

On January 7th an article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Obama’s five key Middle East battlegrounds in 2015“. In that article Marcus also used the above theme:

“An early test of Mr Obama’s thinking may be how he responds to the Palestinians’ determination to pursue their quest for statehood by seeking membership of a variety of international organisations.

This runs against the basic Israeli and US position that the only way to peace is through direct talks between the parties themselves.”

Of course the principle according to which the conflict must be solved by means of negotiations is by no means merely an “Israeli and US position”: it is a principle to which the recognized representatives of the Palestinian people signed up over twenty-one years ago when Yasser Arafat sent his September 1993 letter to Yitzhak Rabin in which he stated:

“The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.” [emphasis added]

Arafat 1993 letter

That same principle of direct negotiations underpins both the Oslo I and Oslo II agreements – also signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people and, no less importantly, witnessed and guaranteed by Jordan, the US, Egypt, Russia, Norway and the EU and endorsed by the UN.

Hence, when the BBC fails to inform audiences that the principle of conflict resolution by means of direct negotiations alone is not just an Israeli or American caprice but actually the mainstay of the existing agreements to which the Palestinians are party and the international community guarantors, it deliberately hinders audience understanding of the significance of the PA’s breach of those existing agreements by means of unilateral moves designed to bypass negotiations.

If the BBC is to fulfil its obligations to its funding public, it must begin to present this topic accurately and impartially. 

 

BBC World Service or Palestinian Authority radio station?

On December 31st the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Lyse Doucet – included an item (available here from 14:00) concerning the signing of the Rome Statute by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.Newshour 31 12 Doucet

Unfortunately for BBC audiences hoping to augment their understanding of that issue with accurate and impartial information, Lyse Doucet’s idea of ‘standard setting journalism’ proved to be nothing more than the provision of a platform for unhindered and unchallenged PA propaganda from Mohammed Shtayyeh. Doucet introduced the segment thus:

LD: “Let’s get more details now on our top story. In the last few hours the Palestinians have formally applied to join the International Criminal Court which could pave the way for the pursuit of alleged war crimes charges against Israel. The move has been strongly criticized by the Israelis as well as the United States which called the move deeply troubling. I’ve been speaking to Mohammed Shtayyeh; he’s a former Palestinian negotiator when there were negotiations with Israel. He’s a senior member of the Palestinian leadership. I asked him whether this marked a policy shift for the Palestinians.”

Mohammed Shtayyeh: “This is actually a paradigm shift. This is to show that the Palestinians are not victims of one option which is either negotiations or negotiations as the Israelis tried to put it for us. This is a strategic shift in which we are leaving the bi-lateral negotiations that has not been really the answer for ending the Israeli occupation that has occurred on the Palestinian territory in 1967. And we are seeking an international multi-lateral peaceful form which is the United Nations. Unfortunately, the United States has vote against us with the member states of the Security Council and therefore we are taking a different direction which is from the political track to a legal track. Signing the Rome Statute is enabling us to really take the Israeli leaders into international criminal courts because they have been committing really serious crimes against our people whether it is in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. And also we will be going to the ICJ – International Court of Justice – to really make a ruling vis-à-vis the Palestinian territories because the Israeli leadership is claiming that these territories are disputed territories rather than occupied territories. So therefore we are seeking every single option – peaceful option, I should say – that is enabling us to really put an end to this Israeli occupation and to the sufferings of our people.”

Doucet made no effort to inform listeners that Israel did not occupy “Palestinian territory” in 1967 or to clarify that the area concerned was in fact under Jordanian occupation (unopposed by the Palestinians) from 1948 until 1967.

Crucially, she also made no effort to explain to BBC audiences that the route of solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by means of negotiations is not an Israeli invention as stated by Shtayyeh, but actually the product of existing contractual agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians and witnessed by members of the international community. Hence, listeners remained unaware of the significance of the current unilateral Palestinian moves in breach of that contract. Instead, Doucet continues:

LD: “What the United States has said, what Israel has said is that this is going to just escalate the tensions and what the Palestinians need is to negotiate for the achievement of their state with Israel and not with the United Nations.”

MS: “Well this is a totally unaccepted claim because we have been negotiating for twenty years or more. We have given the negotiations every single possibility and unfortunately the United States has not really made Netanyahu thirsty enough to bring him to the river to drink. And therefore Netanyahu has come to the negotiating table saturated with champagne rather than thirsty for peace so the United States has not really been able to oblige Israel to freeze the construction of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory which was fully and totally eroding the geographical base for a future Palestinian state.”

LD: “But…”

That word is the entire sum of Doucet’s challenge to Shtayyeh’s inaccurate and misleading portrayal of years of avoidance of serious negotiation by the PA. As former US negotiator Dennis Ross recently pointed out:

“Since 2000, there have been three serious negotiations that culminated in offers to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Bill Clinton’s parameters in 2000, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts last year. In each case, a proposal on all the core issues was made to Palestinian leaders and the answer was either “no” or no response.”

Doucet also refrains from reminding listeners of the US initiated ten month-long building freeze of 2009/10 and that the Palestinians refrained from coming to the negotiating table for 90% of that period. Shtayyeh is then allowed to promote more falsehoods concerning the last round of negotiations during which three tranches of releases of convicted terrorists took place, with the fourth and final tranche postponed due to lack of progress in the negotiations and later cancelled because of unilateral Palestinian moves.

MS: “And Israel did not allow the release of the Palestinian prisoners which has been agreed upon and mediated by Secretary Kerry, so from our side we have given negotiations every possibility. Let me remind you of one little thing which is since the Madrid peace talks 1991 until today, the number of Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territories have grown up from 120,000 to 651,000 Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territories living in 185 Jewish settlements. So those who want really us to go back to negotiations, we are ready to do so if they are able to ask Israel to totally freeze the construction of settlements both in the Palestinian territories – i.e. West Bank and Jerusalem.”

LD: “What the United States has said to you is why not wait until after the Israeli elections, which are only a few months away, before you make this kind of move.”

MS: “Fine. Let’s assume that we are waiting. The question for the United States that we are putting: what is going to happen after the elections? After the election they will tell us that there will be… you know, you have to wait…there will be a formation of the government, you know, this coalition is very fragile, wait and see, Netanyahu is in a bad situation. And then maybe United States in election mode because it is the third year of the term of the president. So we have been waiting. We are victims of this game of, you know, wait between elections of mid-term in Washington, presidential elections in Washington and then Israeli elections and so on. The problem is with waiting that is Israel waiting? Not implementing construction of settlements? Are the Israelis waiting for anything to happen? They are not. The problem is that they are creating fait accomplis [sic] on the ground every day. So why is it that we should wait? What are we going to wait for?”

This of course would have been an appropriate moment for Lyse Doucet to enquire about the long overdue Palestinian elections which were supposed to take place in January 2015 according to the terms of last year’s Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal but she declined to do so and closed the ‘interview’ instead.

Doucet’s failure to present any sort of serious challenge to the distortions and falsehoods promoted in Shtayyeh’s diatribe means that listeners did not actually get “more details on our top story”. In fact, the sole achievement of this item was to expose listeners worldwide to five minutes of uninterrupted PA propaganda which, rather than contributing anything towards meeting the BBC’s remit of informing audiences about international affairs, actively hindered their understanding of this particular issue and the wider topic of the Middle East peace process in general.

The PA’s own official media could not have done better.

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BBC interview with Hamas official – for Farsi speakers only

Over the past few weeks a developing theme seen in BBC reporting relating to the recent violence and terror attacks in Israel has been that of a purported shift from a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians over land to a ‘religious war’ sparked by the issue of equal prayer rights for non-Muslims at Temple Mount and Palestinian claims that the status quo at that site is in danger.

As Dr Jonathan Spyer recently noted:

“An oft-repeated sentiment currently doing the rounds in discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is that it is imperative that the conflict not become a “religious” one. This sentiment, guaranteed to set heads nodding in polite, liberal company, stands out even within the very crowded and competitive field of ridiculous expressions of historical ignorance found in discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

This sentiment is connected to the recent wave of terror attacks in Jerusalem, which are the result of Palestinian claims that Israel is seeking to alter the “status quo” at the Temple Mount. As this theory goes, up until now this conflict had mainly been about competing claims of land ownership and sovereignty, but it is now in danger of becoming about “religion,” and hence turning even more intractable. So this must be prevented.
In objective reality, the conflict between Jews and Arab Muslims over the land area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea has been, from its very outset, inseparable from “religion.””

In addition to dedicating  an item in a Radio 4 programme to the topic, the BBC has seen fit to promote that narrative on other platforms. In an interview with BBC News broadcast on television on November 18th, for example, the PNI’s Mustafa Barghouti claimed that:

“I think in this case Mr Netanyahu has been provoking the Palestinians, is trying to transform this conflict – which is a national liberation movement trying to get freedom – into a religious conflict. It’s not a religious conflict and we don’t want any people who pray to be attacked; this is unacceptable.”

In an interview with Fatah official Husam Zomlot broadcast on BBC World Service radio on December 5th, presenter Tim Franks asked:

Franks: “How concerned are you that the language of negotiation, the language of territory, the language of the United Nations may become redundant as we see increasing levels of anger and increasing levels of a more sort of religious nature to this war; to this conflict? Ahm…especially in light of what’s happened in recent weeks?”

Zomlot: “You’re absolutely right and this is a very alarming development thanks to the Netanyahu government. Not only the Netanyahu government have been murdering the two state solution via this phenomenal expansion of settlements everywhere in the occupied Palestinian territory…state. But also they have been shifting the identity of the conflict from a national one that could be resolved to a religious perpetual confrontation.”al Zahar on BBC Persian

It is therefore all the more remarkable to find that an interview with Hamas official Mahmoud al Zahar by Siavash Ardalan which was broadcast on BBC Persian television on December 30th (BBC Persian website version here) has not yet appeared on the corporation’s English language platforms.

In that interview al Zahar spoke, inter alia, of Hamas’ relationship with Iran, stating that the strategic relationship between that country and the terrorist organization is based on the fact that:

“…more than anything else we believe in the concept of an Islamic Ummah including all nationalities and different branches of the Muslim Ummah from east to west.”

 A translated version of the voiceover of al Zahar’s statements in the interview can be seen below.

Clearly the subject of Hamas’ relationship with Iran and the points at which its religiously motivated ideologies also dovetail with those of theocratic regimes in the region is one which has considerable bearing on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is of great significance to BBC audience members aspiring to enhance their knowledge of this particular international issue. It is also, however, a subject which the BBC has consistently under-reported and the failure to make this interview available to the vast majority of BBC audience members who do not speak Farsi perpetuates that policy. 

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Revisiting the BBC’s framing of the 2013/14 Israel-PLO negotiations

A significant proportion of the BBC’s Middle East coverage during the first few months of 2014 was devoted to the topic of the negotiations between Israel and the PLO which had commenced at the end of July the previous year and were scheduled to run until the end of April.BBC News logo 2

As we know, those talks collapsed shortly before their deadline arrived due to the PA’s decision to form a unity government with Hamas but, as The Tower reports, Roger Cohen of the New York Times has now published an interview with Israel’s chief negotiator Tsipi Livni which provides further background and insight into the lead up to the end of that round of negotiations.

“On March 17, in a meeting in Washington, President Obama presented Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, with a long-awaited American framework for an agreement that set out the administration’s views on major issues, including borders, security, settlements, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.

Livni considered it a fair framework, and Netanyahu had indicated willingness to proceed on the basis of it while saying he had reservations. But Abbas declined to give an answer in what his senior negotiator, Saeb Erekat, later described as a “difficult” meeting with Obama. Abbas remained evasive on the framework, which was never made public.”

The BBC’s reporting of that meeting was discussed here and here.

Despite Abbas’ stance, negotiations continued but by March 26th the BBC was setting the scene for their collapse, which it explained as follows:  

“A dispute over the release of a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails threatens to derail his [Kerry’s] plan to continue talks beyond 29 April.”

Similar portrayal of the issue was also broadcast on BBC radio.

The Tower continues:

“Cohen writes that on April 1, the Israeli government had prepared a statement promising further prisoner releases and an agreement to negotiate past the April 29 deadline, with a commitment to slow down or freeze the building of Israeli settlements.”

A BBC report from that time continued to fail to clarify to audiences the issues behind the delayed prisoner release. Cohen’s article goes on to state:

“Then, Livni said, she looked up at a television as she awaited a cabinet meeting and saw Abbas signing letters as part of a process to join 15 international agencies — something he had said he would not do before the deadline.

She called Erekat and told him to stop the Palestinian move. He texted her the next day to say he couldn’t. They met on April 3. Livni asked why Abbas had done it. Erekat said the Palestinians thought Israel was stalling. A top Livni aide, Tal Becker, wrote a single word on a piece of paper and pushed it across the table to her: “Tragedy.””

The BBC’s report of that April 1st unilateral move failed to inform audiences that the Palestinians had committed to refraining from just such an action in the pre-negotiation agreements and subsequent reports on April 3rd and April 4th were characterized by the same omission, as was the one published on April 6th and the one published on April 9th. By April 11th the BBC was openly attributing the floundering state of the negotiations to Israeli actions.

The final nail in the coffin of negotiations came a few days later:

“Talks limped on around the idea of a settlement freeze and other confidence-building measures. Then, on April 23, a reconciliation was announced between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah — something since proved empty. That, for Netanyahu and Livni, was the end: They were not prepared to engage, even indirectly, with Hamas.” […]

 “Livni met Abbas in London on May 15. ‘I said to him, the choice is not between everything and nothing. And your choice in the end was to get nothing’.”

BBC reporting of that PA move failed to clarify its significance to audiences whilst both continuing to attribute the failure of negotiations to Israel and to amplify PA propaganda blaming Israel for the collapse of talks.

When the official deadline for the end of negotiations arrived on April 29th, BBC reporting on the topic was taken over by its Middle East editor. Jeremy Bowen produced a series of reports – see here, here, here and here – which framed the issue in terms of Israel having broken off negotiations. That simplistic messaging was repeated in other BBC articles – see examples here and here. As was noted here at the time:

“So once again we see that the BBC’s dumbed-down take-away message to its audiences is that the negotiations […] were ended by Israel, with no mention of any other contributing factors or context. That apparently well entrenched editorial policy very clearly points audiences towards the adoption of a view of the issue according to which Israel is the rejectionist which spoiled the peace party for everyone else.”

As Roger Cohen’s interview with Tsipi Livni shows, the Palestinian Authority made three important choices between March 17th and April 23rd (not to accept the American framework, to join international agencies in breach of existing commitments and to opt for reconciliation with Hamas) which had a crucial effect on the fate of the negotiations. Eight months on, however, BBC audiences have still not been properly informed as to why those negotiations collapsed and what part the Palestinian Authority played in that failure. Moreover, the BBC’s inaccurate version of events joins its archive material as ‘historical record‘ and hence will continue to mislead the public in years to come. 

BBC WS fails to inform on political NGO links of interviewee on topic of PA’s UNSC bid

As was noted here previously, the BBC News website’s coverage of Jordan’s submission of a draft resolution on the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict to the UN Security Council on December 17th did very little to enhance audience understanding of the content of the draft resolution itself, the timing and motivation behind the move, its significance in the overall topic of peace negotiations or the reasons for other countries’ objections to it.

But did audiences on other BBC platforms perhaps fare better? The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ has a weekly reach of about 43 million listeners and in the December 18th evening edition of that programme, presented by Tim Franks, one of the topics was billed as “Palestinians seek statehood”. The item – available here from 14:05 – was introduced by Franks as follows:Newshour 18 12 LJK

“The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians tends to attract all sorts of uncomplimentary adjectives: things like ‘moribund’, ‘non-existent’ or just plain ‘dead’. So the question being asked in foreign ministries around the world is what will be the impact of the Palestinians taking their quest for statehood to the UN Security Council? A draft resolution recognizing the Palestinian state was submitted by Jordan yesterday, calling for a deadline to the end of Israeli occupation and a deadline for a conclusion to peace talks. Today Israel weighed against the move – a gimmick and counter-productive went the argument – and within the last few hours the US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the new draft resolution is ‘not something we would support’.”

After that promising start, listeners may have anticipated hearing – perhaps from an expert contributor – about the details of the draft resolution itself and just what it is about it that caused that US State Department reaction. If so, they would have been sorely disappointed because ‘Newshour’ editors apparently deemed that information unimportant to audience understanding of the issue and elected instead, for reasons not made clear, to devote their entire coverage of the topic to the amplification of the political opinions of a member of the British Jewish community. Franks introduced her thus:

“Now though, one prominent member of the Jewish diaspora has joined the debate. She’s Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner; the senior rabbi to the British Movement for Reform Judaism. What did she make of the Palestinians’ move?”

LJK: “I think from their point of view its extremely sensible decision to lobby in any way they can that is non-violent.”

TF: “You support the decision?”

LJK: “I think that anything that moves us forward towards two states is a good thing. I don’t think that this is the practical solution but it sets a target. It says we want two safe, solid, secure states.”

At that point, any listeners who had managed to study the text of the draft resolution before hearing this item must have wondered if Rabbi Janner-Klausner had actually read it herself given that, via its reference to Resolution 194, the text promotes the notion of the ‘right of return’ to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees. Franks goes on:

TF: “The argument from the Israeli government is that actually it distances the prospect of a peaceful resolution because it is – in their words – a gimmick.”

LJK: “I don’t think it’s a gimmick. I think it’s using any kind of political system that is legitimate to make their point. I think it moves the dynamic and the dialogue forward. I don’t think it’s the end at all and unilateral decisions are not the way but it says we will do something that is non-violent and I lived through two Intifadas in Israel: it was awful and I would never want to see another one.”

TF: “But how does this advance the actual hard graft of negotiations – ‘cos that’s the other main Israeli government argument, which is that you simply can’t do these things unilaterally. You have to sit round a table and you have to bash out all the hard issues like borders, like the status of Jerusalem, like refugees and simply, you know, getting this token endorsement – if indeed they do get one at the UN Security Council, although the Americans sound very dubious about it – is not going to advance the reality of peace.”

LJK: “As a rabbi I know that narratives are very important and the narrative that brings the word Palestinian state into the public zone is key. And yes; we will have to bash out all the details – water, security, land, everything. This is only to set the target.”

In fact, the aim of the draft resolution is of course to dictate the results before any final status negotiations even take place and thus to impose a solution rather than arriving at one through mutual discussion. Laura Janner-Klausner’s inaccurate and misleading representation of the issue, however, will not be understood for what it is by any listener who has not studied the draft itself or the background to its presentation and that of course means most of the people listening to this programme. She goes on:

“But as a rabbi I am constantly want to move forward to justice and peace and dignity – as do British Jews. They want two states for Israelis and for Palestinians. And this might – just might – take us a step forward. In this we’ve been in such a difficult situation for so many years. If there is a possibility of a shift we have to try it.”

Ignoring the fact that (with all due respect to what British Jews may want) it will of course be Israelis who have to cope with the fall-out of any further failed peace initiatives, Franks goes on to say:

“There’s often a tension…ah…when people talk about the views of Diaspora Jewry – those Jews who live outside Israel – ahm…when it comes to their attitudes to mainstream Israeli thinking or what the Israeli government is doing. You’re clearly disagreeing with the Israeli government’s view on this. Is that awkward for you as a prominent figure in British Jewry?”

LJK: “What’s wonderful about British Jews is that they are very diverse. Lots of people support the Israeli government and lots of people don’t. But what unites the vast majority of British Jews is a desire for two states and for justice and peace and dignity for both peoples.”

Of course successive Israeli governments of all stripes have being trying to achieve exactly that for over two decades, but Franks makes no attempt to inform listeners of that fact. Adopting the misleading BBC practice of portraying the Arab-Israeli conflict as the only issue in the entire Middle East, he continues:

TF: “How soon do you think there could be peace in the Middle East? It’s been so often forecast, so – well, up to now – never achieved. Are you optimistic?”

LJK:” I am optimistic. I have no idea how soon but we’re not so special. There’s a narrative out there that says Israelis, Palestinians: so special that they’ll never reach a peaceful solution. With every single conflict – even the Hundred Years War – ended. This will end and if we start with that narrative – not that it won’t end but that it has to end – then we might change the dynamic.”

Obviously Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner was not invited by the BBC to spend four minutes or so talking about this topic because of her position as a spiritual leader of one of the smaller denominations of British Judaism. This item is entirely about politics and hence audiences should have been informed of her political affiliations before the item commenced in order to enable them to put her presentation of the topic into its appropriate context.

Those political affiliations include her high-profile involvement with British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights which supports the agenda of that political NGO “both ideologically and financially”.  

Given that this item is one of the few relating to the Jordanian-presented draft resolution and that the issue has not been adequately explained to BBC audiences on any other platform so far, the importance of adherence to BBC guidelines on impartiality by “summarizing the standpoint” of the sole interviewee in this item was all the more crucial.