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.”


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.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC News report on PA application to join ICC

BBC WS ‘Newsday’ flouts corporation’s guidance on use of term Palestine


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. 

Related Articles:

 More BBC whitewashing of ‘Al Quds Day’

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.  

How did the BBC frame the PA’s UNSC move?

Over the past few days, the BBC News website has produced three reports relating to the topic of the presentation of a draft resolution to the UNSC by council member Jordan on behalf of the Palestinian Authority on December 17th.Draft res main 1

1) “Kerry discusses Palestinian bid to end Israeli occupation” – December 16th

2) “Palestinian draft peace plan put before UN Security Council” – December 18th

3) “Israel dismisses Palestinian peace deal plan as ‘gimmick’” – December 18th

Examination of these three reports shows that the BBC’s framing of the topic highlights specific issues whilst concealing others which are no less vital to audience understanding of the topic.

The issue of why this draft resolution was presented to the UNSC is addressed – briefly – only in the second article, where an insert of analysis by Yolande Knell informs readers that:

“Palestinian officials say their new initiative at the UN’s most powerful body marks a “strategic shift” in the way they’re dealing with Israel.

Earlier this week, former negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh told journalists that armed struggle and more than 20 years of on-and-off bilateral talks had failed to secure an independent Palestinian state. “Now we are going in a completely different direction, which is the internationalisation of the issue,” he said.”

Audiences are not told what “internationalisation” actually is and neither are they made adequately aware of the fact that such unilateral moves on the part of the PA represent an attempt to sidestep the internationally accepted route of negotiations on final status issues and its efforts to seek an externally imposed arrangement instead. Relatedly, in all three reports readers are informed that:Draft res main 2

“Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians brokered by the US collapsed in April.”

They are not, however, told that the reason for that collapse was the PA’s decision to form a unity government with the designated terror organization Hamas, in clear breach of the terms laid out by the Quartet, according to which:

“…all members of a future Palestinian government must be committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap”.

Neither does the BBC address the issue of exactly which Palestinian factions are involved in this unilateral move and the significance of the fact that Hamas, whilst party to the Palestinian unity government, is not a member of the body recognized by the international community as representing the Palestinian people – the PLO. Hence, the subject of which factions exactly would be bound by what the BBC revealingly chooses to term this Palestinian “peace plan” – and its resulting efficacy – remains unaddressed.

Likewise, the fact that none of the officials supposedly representing the Palestinian people at the current time holds a valid elected mandate is, as ever, avoided.

Side by side with that superficial representation of the subject matter of these three BBC articles, we see an effort to frame the conflict in very narrow and specific terms. In the first of the three articles audiences are told that:

“Another draft resolution, being formulated by France, […] does not mention an Israeli withdrawal, but does lay out some of the parameters of a permanent deal, including using the ceasefire lines which separated Israel and the West Bank before the 1967 Six Day War as the basis for those of a future Palestinian state.” [emphasis added]

As has been pointed out here on numerous occasions, those 1949 ceasefire lines (in this case correctly described by the BBC) were specifically defined in the Armistice Agreement as not being borders. However, in the two later reports readers are misleadingly told with regard to the Jordanian draft resolution that:Draft res main 3

“The text of the draft says a negotiated solution should be based on several parameters including the boundary between Israel and the West Bank that existed before the 1967 Six Day War, security agreements, and “Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states”.” [emphasis added]

In all three reports BBC audiences are steered towards a view of the conflict this draft resolution purports to address as being exclusively about “occupation” and “settlements”: for example:

“US Secretary of State John Kerry has met the chief Palestinian negotiator in London over moves to set a timetable for an end to the Israeli occupation.” (report 1)

“A previous draft of a Palestinian proposal that was circulated informally to the security council in October called for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land by November 2016. However, the US and others found the text unacceptable.” (report 2) [emphasis added]

“It [the draft text] urges both parties “to abstain from any unilateral and illegal actions, including settlement activities, that could undermine the viability of a two-state solution”.” (report 3)

That messaging is also reinforced through the use of images and their captions.

“The French-drafted resolution says Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are “obstacles to peace”.”

Draft res art 1

“Palestinians want an end to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem”

Draft res art 3

“Settlement building has led to clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters”

Draft res art 3a

Issues such as the demand for the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees and Palestinian terrorism – both of which appear in the Jordanian presented draft resolution – are not mentioned or addressed in any of these BBC reports, meaning that audiences are herded towards a narrow view of the conflict which focuses exclusively upon Israeli actions, erasing any mention of Palestinian actions or policies prolonging the conflict. Thus, the ability of audiences to comprehend the conflict as a whole is hampered and they are deprived of the comprehensive background crucial to their understanding of this latest unilateral act by the PA and any future developments connected to it.

Once again, the BBC’s politically motivated framing of a topic has been allowed to trump its obligation to provide audiences with the complete range of information which will allow them to fully comprehend international issues.

Why the BBC Middle Editor’s Northern Ireland analogy is wrong

“Now, Britain negotiated with the IRA and finally managed to make a peace agreement and Britain continued to negotiate with the IRA even when they were taking action against the British. Isn’t that the sensible way to make peace?”

That statement-cum-question was put to the Israeli prime minister in April of this year by the BBC’s Middle East editor and of course Jeremy Bowen is far from the only person within media circles and beyond to use the inaccurate Northern Ireland analogy. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that the person who has the last word on the accuracy, impartiality and tone of the corporation’s Middle East related content, as well as playing a role in defining the content of the mandatory Middle East module taught at the BBC College of Journalism, subscribes to the erroneous and misleading notion that the two conflicts – and their solutions – are comparable.

The fallacious nature of the Northern Ireland analogy was recently laid out in a detailed article by writer Eamonn MacDonagh.

“In recent years, debates over how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be resolved have begun to make frequent reference to a fairy tale. This tale is based on the supposedly similar conflict in Northern Ireland between Great Britain and the Provisional IRA. That conflict was ultimately resolved with a peace treaty, and the suggestion is frequently made that if only Israel and Hamas could be persuaded to implement its lessons, then all would quickly be made well. […]

In fact, drawing an analogy between the conflict in Northern Ireland and the Middle East is not simply unjustified; it is an error of the grossest kind.”

Read the whole article here