BBC ‘world view’ of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations laid out by Jeremy Bowen

Using the dramatic heading “The night hope died”, the BBC News website published an article by Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in the ‘Features’ section of its Middle East page on November 4th which invited audiences to ponder the question “Did Rabin assassination kill the best chance for peace?“.Bowen Rabin on ME pge

As readers of the article would soon see, the question posed in that headline is a rhetorical one: Bowen’s take away messaging leaves audiences in no doubt as to which side in the Arab-Israeli conflict killed off “hope” and “peace”. But in order to deliver that take-away messaging, Bowen has to make some rather important components of the story disappear from view.

Bowen’s own approach to the topic is evident in his opening statements:

“My view is that Rabin’s assassination, 20 years ago today, was one of the most successful political killings of the 20th Century; his assassin, Yigal Amir, wanted to destroy the Israel-Palestinian Oslo peace accords by shooting dead the only Israeli leader who had a chance of making it work.”

Later on he adds:

“Of course it is impossible to map out with certainty an alternative future for Israelis and Palestinians had Rabin lived.

The Oslo peace process had a slow death, but I believe it contracted its fatal illness on 4 November 1995 when Yigal Amir shot Yitzhak Rabin in the back.”


“There was a chance of peace with the Palestinians when Rabin was alive. He was forging an unlikely understanding with Yasser Arafat, his detested old enemy. […]

But between them, Rabin and Arafat might have seized the chance to make history.”

Addressing the same topic at the Times of Israel, David Horovitz writes:

“…the sorry fact is that Yasser Arafat — whom Clinton said so trusted Rabin, and was even “a little intimidated by him” — wasn’t sufficiently trusting, or intimidated, or committed to peacemaking, as to put a halt to Palestinian terrorism even as they were all shaking hands on the various interim deals. As Dalia Rabin noted starkly in my recent interview with her, “The waves of terror hit the peace process, undoubtedly… (and) I have the feeling that (Rabin) wouldn’t have let it continue. There would have been a stage where he would have decided: We’re in a phased process. Let’s evaluate what we have achieved and what the price has been. He wouldn’t have stopped Oslo, but he would have done what Oslo enabled him to do: to look at it as a process and assess whether it was working.”

Eitan Haber, Rabin’s closest aide whom I interviewed two years ago, also sounded rather less than convinced, giving me a series of somewhat ambiguous answers, including this bleak sentence: “I didn’t believe for a second that Arafat was a partner and I’m not at all sure that Rabin believed he was.””

A caption to a photograph illustrating Bowen’s article tells BBC audiences that “Israel shifted to the right after Rabin, with the election of Benjamin Netanyahu” but the article fails to clarify that at the election after that, Israel elected the Labour party’s Ehud Barak as prime minister after he ran on a manifesto which included withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and negotiations with the Palestinians or that a decade after Rabin’s death, Israel under Ariel Sharon disengaged from the Gaza Strip.

Regarding the 1996 general election, Bowen speculates:Bowen Rabin main

“But when Israel woke, the final votes had given victory to Mr Netanyahu and the right. Yitzhak Rabin would most likely have beaten Mr Netanyahu. The future would have been different.”

David Horovitz points out that:

“…Netanyahu was carried to victory, by a nailbiting 29,457 votes, by those very same waves of terrorism — specifically four suicide bombings in February and March 1996 that persuaded a narrow majority of Israelis, however much they mourned for Rabin and for a country that could produce his killer, that the Oslo path, the Arafat path, was a bloody disaster.”

However, the obviously very relevant topic of Palestinian terrorism – which killed more Israelis after the Oslo Accords were signed than in the years prior to the agreement – only gets a walk-on part in Bowen’s overall portrayal.

“Among the Palestinians, militants in Hamas had already started a suicide bomb campaign. They would have nothing to do with Oslo, saying it was surrender and that there could be no territorial compromise with an Israeli state they believed should not exist. […]

Shimon Peres was sworn in as prime minister after the assassination. Instead of calling a snap election to capitalise on a surge in the polls he decided to see out the government’s term. A succession of blunders followed, and so did an intensification of the Hamas suicide bombings.”

Hamas was not of course the only terrorist organization carrying out terror attacks during that period but Bowen erases the acts of terror perpetrated by other groups and – more crucially – those carried out by terrorists affiliated with Arafat’s Fatah party.  Thus he avoids the issue of Arafat’s failure to tackle terrorism from within his own ranks as well as by other groups and –strikingly – entirely erases the Palestinian Authority initiated second Intifada from his account of how ‘peace died’.

Bowen also claims that:

“Rabin himself had not stated publicly that he supported the idea of a Palestinian state, though his closest aides said after his death that he knew it would be part of a final settlement.”

Over at the Tablet, Yair Rosenberg reminds us that Rabin’s vision – as presented to the Knesset a month before his death – was distinctly at odds with Bowen’s speculations.

Bowen’s take-away message to BBC audiences is abundantly clear: peace and hope died together with Rabin because the Israeli right killed both. In order to get that political message across, Bowen has to erase from view the agreements signed between Israel and the PLO after November 1995, the second Intifada, the Gaza disengagement and the peace offers made by Barak in 2000 and Olmert in 2008.

Predictably, Bowen’s distorted presentation of this topic patronizingly affords no agency or responsibility to the Palestinian side whilst firmly placing the onus of blame for the failure of negotiations to deliver at one door only.

Readers familiar with the identical messaging appearing in day-to-day BBC coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict in general and the peace process in particular will at least have gained some insight into that messaging’s roots in this article.

Explaining away terror BBC Bowen style – part two

In part one of this post we noted that two recent reports from the BBC’s Middle East editor featured interviews with members of the families of two terrorists killed whilst carrying out attacks in Jerusalem.

Both those terrorists – and many others – were motivated by incitement based on conspiracy theories concerning Temple Mount and al Aqsa Mosque and hence one would have expected the person charged with providing BBC audiences with “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” to offer them factual background information on how that incitement is propagated, by whom and to what ends.

Jeremy Bowen’s presentation of the issue of incitement in his written report  – “Jerusalem knife attacks: Fear and loathing in holy city“- is as follows:Bowen written Manasra

“The Israeli government blames the attacks on incitement by political and religious extremists. A video has circulated of a Muslim cleric in Gaza waving a knife and calling on Palestinians to slit the throats of Jews.”


“The last straw has been the widespread belief that Israel is planning to allow Jews more access to the compound of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which Palestinians call the Noble Sanctuary and Israelis call the Temple Mount. […]

The Israeli government denies that it plans to change the status quo around the Aqsa Mosque. It maintains that agitators have incited trouble by spreading baseless rumours.

But the perceived threat to the Noble Sanctuary is widely believed by Palestinians…”

In the filmed report – “Middle East violence: ‘Grief cuts across divided Jerusalem’” – viewers are told by Bowen that:Bowen filmed Manasra

“The Israelis deny that they want Jews, who venerate the site [Temple Mount], to worship there too. Palestinians don’t believe them. That’s a major reason for the anger on the streets across the Palestinian territories.”


“Israel says Palestinian leaders tell lies to incite riots and the killing of Jews. Palestinians say they don’t need to be told when to be angry.”

Later on in the report, viewers hear an Israeli police spokesman say:

“We’re talking about a small number within the Israeli-Arab population that unfortunately is both listening to the incitement that is being put out on the internet as well as by different organisations.”

In other words, in neither of these reports is the issue of incitement concerning Temple Mount explained to BBC audiences in Jeremy Bowen’s own voice. Instead – as has been the case in much other recent BBC reporting – that topic is presented exclusively as something which “Israel says” or “Israel maintains” and audiences are given no tools with which they can assess whether what “Israel says” is correct or not.

Like his colleagues, Bowen refrains from showing his audiences examples of that incitement on the internet, on social media (including accounts run by Palestinian organisations such as Fatah and Hamas), on official PA television and official PA newspapers. As has long been the case – even before this latest wave of terrorism – Bowen refrains from clarifying to BBC audiences that incitement concerning holy sites in Jerusalem is coming from differing sectors of Palestinian society – including the PA president, Palestinian Authority ministries and religious leaders.

Bowen also refrains from telling BBC audiences about the long history of the exploitation of the topic of Temple Mount for purposes of incitement and makes no effort to examine why that particular subject is so potent or what the aims of those employing such incitement are.

Significantly, neither he nor his colleagues have to date made any effort to independently inform their audiences worldwide that there is no basis to those conspiracy theories concerning Temple Mount and al Aqsa Mosque. Moreover, Bowen opens this filmed report with promotion of an inaccuracy which has been seen in other recent BBC content but, when coming from a supposed expert responsible for the accuracy and impartiality of the world’s largest broadcaster’s Middle East content, is particularly remarkable.

“Jerusalem: city of beauty, sanctity and hate. Its holy places are at the centre of the conflict. Only Muslims can pray in the compound around the golden Dome of the Rock at the Aqsa Mosque.” [emphasis added]

The Dome of the Rock and al Aqsa Mosque are two of many structures in existence on an enclosed area known by Muslims as Haram al Sharif and Jews and Christians as Temple Mount. That entire area is not al Aqsa Mosque, even if some interested parties with a very clear political/religious agenda would like to claim otherwise for the purpose of denying Jewish history in Jerusalem.

The fact that we have seen repeated cases of adoption and promotion of that narrative from assorted BBC correspondents over the past few weeks raises considerable cause for concern with regard to the BBC’s ability to report on this very sensitive topic to audiences in the UK and worldwide accurately and responsibly.

However, whilst the BBC’s Middle East editor avoids providing audiences with comprehensive information on the issue of incitement, he does use his own words – together with paraphrasing of anonymous sources – to tell them what they should see as the cause of the current violence. In the written article, for example, readers are told that:

“Jerusalem has been simmering dangerously for two years or more. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been asserting what it believes is its national right to build homes for Jewish Israelis wherever it decides they are needed in a city that it calls its undivided, eternal capital.

The government’s backing for the expansion of settlements in the sections of Jerusalem captured during the 1967 war, and classified as occupied territory by most of the rest of the world, has transformed some districts.

Palestinians feel they are being squeezed out of their home. They believe that their territory is being eaten up by Israel’s appetite for land, and loath what they see as a national ideology designed to enforce the dominance of Israel and Judaism. […]

Jews have settled alongside areas that were wholly populated by Palestinians, in some cases right in the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods.”

Bowen even promotes a spurious link between incitement concerning Temple Mount and Israeli construction.

“But the perceived threat to the Noble Sanctuary is widely believed by Palestinians, not least because it comes when Israeli settlements in occupied Jerusalem have been expanding.”

It is unclear upon what factual information Bowen bases that claim of ‘expansion’ because not only do official figures document construction in all of Jerusalem without differentiation between its various districts, but the available statistics for building up to the end of the second quarter of 2015 show no sign of “expanding” construction beyond the usual rate throughout the last four years and figures for the third quarter of 2015 are not yet available.

Besides ‘settlements’, Bowen promotes additional themes as explanations for the current violence in both his reports. In the written article readers are told that:

“Many Palestinians have told me they believe the reason for the attacks is that another generation is realising its future prospects will be crippled by the indignities and injustice of the occupation of the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. […]

Israel’s use of considerable force in defence of its people also causes anger. The shooting dead of some assailants has been condemned, not least by the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”


“Violence does not come out of the blue. It has a context. Once again, the problem is the unresolved conflict between Palestinians and Jews. It is at the heart of all the violence that shakes this city.

A big part of the conflict is the military occupation of the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, that has lasted for nearly 50 years. It is impossible to ignore the effects of an occupation that is always coercive and can be brutal.

In successive Palestinian generations, it has created hopelessness and hatred. In some cases, that bursts out into murderous anger.”

Similar themes are promoted in Bowen’s filmed report:

“Palestinians say they don’t need to be told when to be angry after almost fifty years of an occupation that is always coercive and often brutal”

“Palestinians get constant reminders that Israel is in charge. It can mean a lifetime of humiliations. […] For some, that produces a murderous rage.”

These two reports present audiences with two categories of ‘context’ for the current wave of terrorism in Israel. One the one hand, Bowen gives a completely inadequate representation of the issue of incitement concerning holy sites, presented exclusively using the “Israel says” formula which signals to audiences that he and his organisation do not stand behind it.

On the other hand we see Jeremy Bowen using his own voice – and reputation – to persuade audiences that the explanation for the violence is to be found in a “military occupation” which includes “settlements” and causes “humiliation”, pushing apparently agency-free Palestinians towards “murderous rage”. 

Obviously any explanation of why that ‘occupation’ came about or what was the status of the geographical areas concerned before the Jordanian occupation (which Bowen naturally refrains from mentioning) would detract from the narrative he is trying to promote and so audiences are deprived of that context and left with the take-away message that Israelis are to blame for the terrorism against them.

Jeremy Bowen’s choice of politically motivated narrative is cringingly obvious. The problem is that there is another, much older and deeper story here which predates ‘occupation’ and ‘settlements’ and is related to the issue of incitement concerning Temple Mount. That is a story which Bowen and his colleagues have avoided telling BBC audiences, not just in these two reports and not only over the last few weeks, but for a very long time indeed.

Explaining away terror BBC Bowen style – part one

Two recent reports by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen – the man responsible for providing his employer’s audiences with “analysis that might help set it [news] in its context” – included interviews with the father of one of the teenage terrorists from the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina who stabbed a man and a thirteen year-old boy in nearby Pisgat Ze’ev on October 12th.

In an article titled “Jerusalem knife attacks: Fear and loathing in holy city“, which appeared on October 15th and remained in the BBC News website’s Middle East page’s ‘Features’ section for five consecutive days, readers once again saw politicised terminology used to describe the neighbourhood of Pisgat Ze’ev.Bowen written Manasra

“When I met Khaled Mahania, the father of 15-year-old Hassan Mahania, who attacked and badly wounded young Israelis in a settlement in East Jerusalem, he is unable to explain.

Hassan was shot dead as he carried out the attack; his 13-year-old cousin and accomplice was run down by a car and badly hurt.

The Israeli government blames the attacks on incitement by political and religious extremists. A video has circulated of a Muslim cleric in Gaza waving a knife and calling on Palestinians to slit the throats of Jews.

Khaled Mahania told me he had not replaced his son’s smartphone since he broke it last year. He had no mobile internet access, and none at home.

Khaled had even thrown out the TV because he believed his children should read and talk to each other. Khaled broke down as he said his son was a typical teenager, not political and certainly no radical.”

In other words, readers are encouraged to believe that the “typical teenager” and his cousin were not influenced by “a video” (apparently the only example of incitement of which Bowen is aware, despite there being dozens of others in various media) because he did not have a mobile phone, internet access or a TV.

Interestingly, the terrorist’s family name has been given as Manasra by most media outlets and official sources – rather than ‘Mahania’, as used by Bowen. However, one place which does use the name “Mahayneh-Manasra” is the website of the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre – a highly partisan organisation which has been used by Bowen as a source of information in the past. Of course if the information about the current wave of terrorism in Israel being provided to BBC audiences is coming, even in part, from a body with a record of anti-Israel activity and links to similarly inclined organisations, then that should be clarified to audiences. 

In a similarly themed filmed report produced for BBC Television news programmes and promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Middle East violence: ‘Grief cuts across divided Jerusalem’” on October 16th, Bowen tells viewers:Bowen filmed Manasra

“Hassan Mahania [sic] aged 15 was shot dead after he stabbed two young Israelis and attacked the police. His father Khaled can’t understand where, as a parent, he went wrong.”

Footage then cuts to the weeping father saying:

“I don’t know. Really, I don’t know.”

But Bowen fails to bring his audience’s attention to the fact that the image appearing on screen as he leads into that segment shows a ‘martyrdom poster’ with a photo of Hassan Manasra together with a large picture of the Dome of the Rock. He fails to tell viewers that, for example, two days after the terror attack in Pisgat Ze’ev, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education glorified terror by planting trees in honour of ‘student martyrs’ such as Manasra. And he avoids informing BBC audiences that Hassan Manasra’s cousin and accomplice Ahmed Manasra (later exploited by Mahmoud Abbas for even more incitement) provided insight into their motivations.

““I went there to stab Jews,” he told investigators at the Hadassah Hospital where doctors have been treating him for wounds he sustained during the incident, police said.

Manasra said he was motivated to carry out the attack by the Palestinian claim that Israel has been trying to change the status quo on the volatile Temple Mount in Jerusalem.”

Likewise, Bowen ignores long-standing issues such as terror groups’ activities in Arab areas of Jerusalem and delegitimisation of Israel and incitement in schools – an issue now being investigated in schools in Beit Hanina attended by the Manasra cousins and an additional perpetrator of one of the recent terror attacks.

In the same filmed report Bowen also visited the family of another terrorist who, on October 13th, carried out this attack:

“On Malkhei Yisrael Street in Geula, a terrorist drove a car into a bus stop, hitting three pedestrians – one of whom, 60-year-old Rabbi Yeshayahu Krishevsky, was killed. The terrorist then left the vehicle and started repeatedly stabbing his victims.” 

Bowen’s description of the incident is as follows:

“He [Rabbi Krishevsky] was killed last Tuesday when a Palestinian rammed his car into a bus queue.”

He continues:

“The rabbi’s killer, who was shot dead, came from Jabel Mukaber in occupied East Jerusalem. He was Alaa Abu Jamal who snapped; ground down by the occupation according to his cousin Wawiya [phonetic]. He wants peace, even though his house has just been destroyed in an Israeli reprisal against his brother who killed five Israelis last year.”

Bowen does not clarify that the incident “last year” is the terror attack in Har Nof in which worshippers at prayer in a synagogue were hacked to death by cousins Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal from Jabel Mukaber. Neither does he tell viewers that Alaa Abu Jamal was an Israeli citizen who worked for the telephone company Bezek and used his company car to carry out the attack or that following the terror attack committed by his relatives last November in Har Nof, Alaa Abu Jamal publicly praised it, describing the attack as:

“…”something normal which could be expected from anyone who is brave and has a feeling of belonging to his people and Islam.

 “This act was carried out because of the pressure placed on the Palestinian people by the Israeli occupation government in Jerusalem, as well as the continued acts of aggression against al-Aqsa,” he continued.

Following the axe attack that killed four worshipers and a policeman, Abu Jamal said: “People reacted with cries of joy when we received word of their death. People here handed out sweets to guests who came to visit us, and it was a great celebration for our martyrs.””

Clearly both the terrorists highlighted by Bowen in these two reports were influenced by the religiously themed incitement concerning Temple Mount. But did the BBC’s Middle East editor clarify that point to viewers and readers of these two reports and did his ‘analysis’ include any attempt to explain how that incitement is spread, by whom and to what end? Those questions will be examined in part two of this post.

BBC’s ME editor fails to deliver in ‘Newsnight’ item on Jerusalem terror attacks

h/t @SussexFriends

October 13th (a day designated in advance as one of the proverbial ‘Days of Rage’ by Hamas and other Palestinian groups) saw two major terror attacks in Jerusalem and two stabbing attacks in Ra’anana – which was inaccurately described by the BBC as being “in the north of the country” (as well as “near Tel Aviv”) in a written report on the incident which appeared on the BBC News website.

Raanana stabbing

In the later BBC News website report on the Jerusalem attacks, audiences were told that the neighbourhood of East Talpiot is a “Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem” whilst in fact the area was defined as ‘no-man’s land’ under the terms of the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

Bus attack East Talpiot

BBC audiences saw the 1949 Armistice Lines bizarrely portrayed as the “pre-1967 ceasefire line” in a map inserted into the report and as ever, no effort was made to inform readers that the Armistice Agreement specifically defined the ceasefire line as not constituting a border.

bus attack East Talpiot map

On the evening of October 13th, an item concerning the day’s events was broadcast on the flagship BBC Two news programme ‘Newsnight’, with presenter Evan Davis speaking to the BBC’s Middle East editor.

As readers may recall, the rationale given for the creation of the post of ‘Middle East editor’ a decade ago is as follows:

“The challenge for our daily news coverage is to provide an appropriate balance between the reporting of a ‘spot news’ event and the analysis that might help set it in its context.

This challenge is particularly acute on the television news bulletins, where space is at a premium, and because the context is often disputed by the two sides in the conflict. To add more analysis to our output, our strategy is to support the coverage of our bureau correspondents with a Middle East editor. 

Jeremy Bowen’s new role is, effectively, to take a bird’s eye view of developments in the Middle East, providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent. His remit is not just to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting, but also to find stories away from the main agenda.”

However, in this interview Jeremy Bowen actively hindered the provision of analysis and context which would have helped audiences comprehend the day’s events and their wider background.

Evan Davis’ introduction to the item included a presentation of the first Intifada which once again misled audiences by stating that the violence was directed exclusively at soldiers and erasing Israeli civilian casualties from the picture.  

Davis: “Well, they’re using the word Intifada again on the West Bank and in Israel. Attacks by Palestinians on Israeli Jews have increased in recent days – from the sporadic to the frequent. The first Intifada ran from 1987 to 1993 and mainly consisted of young people throwing stones and Molotov cocktails…ah…at Israeli troops. The second Intifada ran from 2000 to 2003 and involved suicide bombings and gun battles. Is the current wave of violence a third Intifada?”

Downplaying the pre-issued call for a ‘Day of Rage’ and the incitement and encouragement of violence that obviously produces, Davis went on:

“Well today was labelled a ‘Day of Rage’ by Palestinian groups. Attacks came thick and fast. This was the scene in central Jerusalem where a Palestinian ran his car into a queue at a bus stop, crushing some bystanders, attacking others with a meat cleaver. In a separate attack a sixty year-old Rabbi was killed while riding a bus. He was buried by his grieving community shortly afterwards.”

One might have thought that the BBC would at least have made an effort to report those details accurately. In fact Rabbi Yeshayahu Krishevsky was murdered in the first attack described by Davis in Makor Baruch and not in the scantily portrayed attack on the bus in East Talpiot in which two other people were also murdered and fifteen wounded. Davis continued:

“Anger is building in Gaza and on the West Bank where parts of Bethlehem have resembled a battle ground. Ah…just before we came on air I spoke to the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen and I asked him if these Palestinian attacks are just the work of individuals or if there’s something more organized going on.”

Despite Hamas having rushed to clarify its association with one of the two terrorists who carried out the attack on the bus in East Talpiot and despite information concerning the fact that the second perpetrator of that attack was affiliated with Fatah and the terrorist who attacked Rabbi Krishevsky and others was the cousin of one of the terrorists who carried out the Har Nof attacks last year already being in the public domain by the time Bowen went on air, ‘Newsnight’ viewers heard the following uninformative reply from Bowen.

“There’s obviously a lot of people talking about what’s going on. Everybody is aware of what’s happening. It doesn’t seem to be organised. Eh…and I think the seemingly random nature of it is a major reason why the Israelis are finding it hard to combat it; to come up with an answer.”

Jeremy Bowen obviously had no intention of clarifying to viewers that a declaration of a ‘Day of Rage’ is an organized call to Palestinians to commit acts of violence. Davis then asked:

“I mean, what about average opinion in the Palestinian community – communities? Do they feel they are heroes or do they feel these people are just stirring up trouble inappropriately? What is the mood?”

That question of course presented Bowen with an ideal opportunity to inform BBC audiences about the incitement and glorification of the terrorists by Hamas, Fatah, the PLO, Palestinian Authority officials and related media outlets and the effects of those factors on the mood on the Palestinian street. He could, for example, have mentioned the martyrdom posters bearing Fatah insignia and Mahmoud Abbas’ photograph. He could have reported Abbas’ statement that “Every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every shahid [martyr] will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God” and his remarks about Jews’ “dirty feet”.

But the man whose job description specifically obliges him to provide BBC audiences with analysis and context side-stepped that question, instead framing of the story to focus audience attention on a politically partisan narrative which erases the religiously themed incitement fueling this latest wave of terror from audience view.

“I think there’s a lot of worry, actually, about where this is going. I think that there is…err….there’s a lot of anger and rage at the continuing occupation and the fact is that the underlying context of all the violence that really ever happens here to do with the conflict is the conflict itself and the almost fifty year occupation of the Palestinian territories by the Israelis and that generates a sense of hopelessness, of hatred and – in some people as well – murderous rage. But among the Palestinians I’ve spoken to on this trip since I’ve been here, there’s a lot of worry about just where this is going.”

No less obvious framing appeared towards the end of the item when Bowen promoted the notion of equivalence between Israeli victims of terrorism murdered whilst going about their everyday business and Palestinians engaged in violent rioting.  

“The British have put out a statement today saying that…err…condemning, of course, the Palestinian attacks but also saying to the Israelis show restraint in terms of dealing with demonstrations because there have been a lot of people killed as well – including children – on the Palestinian side as the Israelis moved to…err…to err…respond to the kind of things that have been going on.”

Once again, BBC audiences have been sold short by the man whose job it is to ensure that they have the background information and context necessary for them to understand events in the Middle East.

BBC does damage control after Bowen’s Assad advocacy

In an article titled “Bashar al-Assad is still the problem” which appeared recently in the Telegraph, Shiraz Maher and Nick Kaderbhai observed that:

“The idea that the Assad regime’s violence is somehow morally or strategically different to that of jihadist actors in Syria has become fashionable among some sections of the Western media. Perhaps a symptom of fatigue or sympathies forged during time spent as guests of the regime, mainstream commentators such as Patrick Cockburn and Peter Oborne have been at the forefront of this trahison des clercs.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, 95 per cent of all civilian deaths in the conflict have come from the regime. The refugees now fleeing to Europe do so as a direct result of Assad’s policies.”

As readers are already aware, the BBC – and in particular its Middle East editor – also appears to have been afflicted by that particular trend.Bowen tweet Syria mukharabat

BBC News’ migrant crisis coverage: Bowen embeds with Assad

More BBC Bowen beating of the Assad regime drum

More BBC amplification of the ‘ISIS worse than Assad’ meme

However, it would appear that following Jeremy Bowen’s repeated uncritical promotion of Bashar al Assad’s agenda earlier this month, some damage control was deemed appropriate and that came in the form of an article by Charles Lister which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 28th under the title “Viewpoint: West ‘walking into abyss’ on Syria“.

Mr Lister writes:

“Amid recent geopolitical machinations, one simple reality appears to have been forgotten or purposefully ignored: Assad is not and should never be seen as a better alternative to IS. […]

Meanwhile, the Assad regime has conducted a consistent policy of intentional mass killing of civilians – first with air strikes and ballistic missiles, then with barrel bombs and widely alleged use of chemical weapons.

Bashar al-Assad has professionalised and industrialised the use of detention and torture to “cleanse” his own population, while imposing dozens of medieval-style sieges on vulnerable populations. He has consistently flouted UN Security Council resolutions and according to some sources, has been responsible for 95% of all 111,000 civilian deaths since 2011.”

Of course BBC audiences – who only a short time ago were informed that “the Syrian army has never, ever attacked or initiated any attack against a city or against a village” and that “the real threat in Syria is Islamic State, not the country’s leader” – may well find that this latest article only adds to their confusion seeing as it contradicts everything they were told in Jeremy Bowen’s numerous reports.

Rather than helping audiences to form a clear picture of what is happening in Syria and why so many people are fleeing to other countries as its public purpose remit demands, the BBC’s indulgence of Jeremy Bowen’s partisan reporting serves only to muddy audience understanding of this topic.

More BBC Bowen beating of the Assad regime drum

Last week we discussed several reports produced by Jeremy Bowen during the time he recently spent in and around Damascus and took note of the fact that BBC audiences were provided with a very one-sided portrayal of the situation in Syria which exclusively reflected the Assad regime’s interests.

One feature seen in that round of reporting by the BBC’s Middle East editor was unchallenged amplification of a Syrian government deputy minister’s claim that the regime had never targeted its own civilian population. In that and all of his later reports Bowen failed to inform audiences of the fact that there is ample evidence to contradict that claim.Bowen written 14 7 Damascus

After having left Damascus, Bowen produced some further reports. A written article titled “Syria conflict: No sign of Assad regime crumbling” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 14th. At least in that piece (in contrast to the reports produced previously) the man whose job title was created with the aim of “providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” finally got round to making a brief mention of the support supplied to the Assad regime from Iran and its Lebanese proxy.

“But President Assad has his vital trio of supporters: Russia, Iran and Hezbollah from Lebanon. Russia seems to be increasing its military support for the regime.

Hezbollah men are fighting along the border with Lebanon. Iran provides vital financial and military assistance.”

However, Bowen managed to place the responsibility for the Syria refugee crisis at the door of parties other than Bashar al Assad.

“The war exports trouble, violence and refugees. Half of Syria’s pre-war population has fled from the fighting. Eight million are still in Syria, displaced, refugees in their own country. Four million have left Syria.

Britain and others hoped that helping with a relief effort for refugees would encourage them to stay put.

But hopes among refugees that the war would end relatively quickly disappeared as the killing went on. […]

It was even worse when it sunk in that they might face years more in camps in Jordan and Turkey, or even worse, in informal shanty towns and the slums of Lebanon.

What made matters worse was that the rich countries that funded the relief effort led by the UN agencies have made big cuts to their contributions.”

Bowen also produced two filmed reports for BBC television news – both of which also appeared on the BBC News website. “Syria crisis: Jeremy Bowen on the subterranean battle in Damascus” – September 14th – repeated a theme also seen in Bowen’s above written report.

“They do not look like a beaten army. I think those people who are predicting the fall of the Assad regime once again will once again be guilty – certainly in the foreseeable future – of wishful thinking.”

In a report from the same location dated September 15th – “Syria: On the front line in Damascus” – Bowen once again provided an unchallenged platform for Syrian regime propaganda – this time from an officer in the Syrian Republican Guard.Bowen filmed 15 7 Damascus

Bowen: “The colonel and his men say they are patriots fighting terrorists. He rejects accusations that the Syrian army targets civilians. The claim is that more civilians are killed by the Syrian army than by any other armed force here in Syria.

Col. Sultan: “This is all propaganda to slander the reputation of the army. It’s all lies. We were brought up not to harm peaceful civilians. We only kill people we see with our own eyes holding a weapon.”

Bowen made no attempt to challenge that obvious falsehood on camera and neither was any qualifying statement reminding audiences of the numerous incidents which contradict Sultan’s claims added to Bowen’s voice-over in later editing.

Interestingly, the keen interest in alleged breaches of the laws of armed combat displayed by Jeremy Bowen in his reporting from the Gaza Strip in July 2014 appears to have completely evaporated upon his arrival in Damascus.

BBC News’ migrant crisis coverage: Bowen embeds with Assad

BBC News coverage of what it terms the “Europe migrant crisis” has recently involved sending various members of staff to report from different countries including Libya, Jordan, Hungary and Turkey.

The person chosen to provide BBC audiences with the information which would supposedly help them understand the reasons behind the mass movement of people from Syria to Europe was the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen and it is worth taking a look at some of his recent reports from Syria in order to determine whether or not audiences did in fact receive the full range of factual information concerning the situation in the country from which a large proportion of the migrants fled.Bowen tweets Mekdad presser

After having arrived in Damascus on September 2nd, Bowen produced a report from a press conference with the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister in which he failed to present any challenge to Mekdad’s claim that “the Syrian army has never, ever attacked or initiated any attack against a city or against a village”. That and other regime propaganda was further amplified by Bowen on Twitter.

Bowen made two filmed reports for television news programmes, both of which were also promoted on the BBC News website. The September 8th report “Inside a hospital in Syrian leader Assad’s Latakia heartland” was obviously made with the consent and help of the Assad regime and in addition to being allowed to film in a government military hospital, Bowen produced footage from a camp for internally displaced persons in Latakia. At no point in that report were the regime’s attacks on its own population mentioned and viewers received no information concerning the Iranian regime’s patronage of Assad or the participation of Iranian and Hizballah forces in the conflict.Bowen tweet camp Latakia

Another September 8th filmed report by Bowen – “Syria: Snapshot of life inside Assad stronghold” – likewise failed to include any information about the role of Iran and its Lebanese proxy in the Syrian civil war. Bowen did however manage to shoehorn another Middle Eastern country into his report by telling viewers that Yarmouk, near Damascus, “was a Palestinian refugee camp for families who were forced out of Israel in another war” [emphasis added].  Bowen’s presentation of the manner in which Palestinians – the majority from Tsfat (Safed), Haifa and Tiberias – arrived in Syria is of course both simplistic and inaccurate.

In that report too viewers saw sympathetic footage from the displaced persons camp and the military hospital in Latakia. It is of course inconceivable that Bowen visited those sites, the regime held part of Yarmouk or the military funeral in an Alawite town which also features in some of his reporting, without considerable cooperation from the Syrian regime. Stating the obvious, Bowen tells viewers that:

“…the refugee crisis is created and driven by war…”

A subsequent brief statement shows that, despite his failure to challenge Faisal Mekdad’s propaganda several days earlier, Bowen is indeed aware of the reality:

“Syrian army attacks often create more refugees and so do attacks by Jihadists.”

However, the BBC’s Middle East editor failed to expand upon that topic in any of his reports and made no effort to inform audiences of the fact that more Syrian civilians have been killed by regime forces than by Jihadists of various stripes whilst scrupulously avoiding all mention of topics such as the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs by the regime.Bowen tweet soldiers

Latakia again featured in an audio report by Bowen broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Update: Daily Commute’ on September 9th (from 03:06 here). Bowen described idyllic beach scenes before interviewing people who are clearly regime supporters. He then reported again from the same military hospital, and listeners heard more pro-regime comment.

Also on September 9th, a written report by Bowen appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Migrant crisis: How Middle East wars fuel the problem“. Once again Bowen inserted a context-free reference to Israel which is entirely irrelevant to the story he was supposedly telling.

“I walked through the ruins of Yarmouk, one of the most fiercely contested battlegrounds in Damascus, only a few miles from the centre of the city.

Yarmouk used to be a Palestinian refugee camp for families who had fled or been driven from their homes when Israel won its independence war in 1948.”

He later added:

“An unknown number of Palestinian civilians, in their thousands, are trapped there [Yarmouk] too.

UNRWA, the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, has not been able visit them with relief supplies since March.”  

Bowen neglected to tell readers that Yarmouk was reclassified by the UN in June.Bowen tweet Syria mukharabat

Yet again Bowen’s tepid and generalised portrayal of the issue of migrants fleeing the war in Syria did nothing to inform BBC audiences of the role played by the Assad regime and its Iranian and Hizballah backers in creating and exacerbating the migrant crisis.

In fact, all the reports produced by Bowen during his recent visit to Syria are little more than amplification of one very specific side of the story and they exclusively reflect the interests of the regime with which he was obviously embedded.  It is therefore difficult to see how the BBC can claim that those reports contributed to providing its funding public with an accurate understanding of why so many Syrian civilians are leaving their country. 

BBC’s Bowen provides a stage for Syrian propaganda

When the Russian state funded media organisation RT promotes outlandish notions of the type below – seen in an article on its website on September 4th – no-one is of course overly surprised.

““Of course, we know that there are different approaches to Syria. By the way, people are running away not from the regime of Bashar Assad, but from Islamic State, which seized large areas in Syria and Iraq, and are committing atrocities there. That is what they are escaping from,” RIA Novosti quoted Vladimir Putin as saying on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.” [emphasis added]

Eyebrows should though be raised when the BBC provides a stage for similar unchallenged propaganda from the mouth of the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister on its website, as was the case on September 3rd. The synopsis to that filmed report – titled “Syria: ‘Terrorist aggression to blame’ for refugee crisis” – reads:Bowen Mekdad report

“Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, has said that the refugee crisis unfolding in Europe is the direct result of terrorist aggression against Syria.

He blamed Islamist militants for forcing thousands from their homes and said the government had helped millions of displaced people.

Speaking to the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, Mr Mekdad called for Syrians who had left the country to return.”

In the report itself visitors to the BBC News website see Mekdad make the following spurious claim:

The Syrian army has never, ever attacked or initiated any attack against a city or against a village and if you see at least the most recent attacks you will see them initiated by the terrorist factions and when these terrorist groups attack villages and cities you see a very big flood of people leaving those areas.” [emphasis added]

Mekdad later adds:

“When we see some leaders in Western Europe attacking the government of Syria day and night, I would like to assure you that those leaders have played a very big role in supporting terrorism in Syria because they are responsible for dispatching of these terrorist elements from their own countries under whatever pretext into Syria and into Iraq.”

The report as it stands on the BBC News website includes no qualification whatsoever to relieve audiences of the grossly inaccurate notion that the Assad regime has “never, ever” attacked Syrian civilians or of the idea that Western governments are “dispatching” people to join ISIS.

If this report was intended to contribute to meeting the BBC’s remit of building “a global understanding of international issues” by means of accurate and impartial reporting, then obviously the crude propaganda of an official of the regime which has killed tens of thousands of its own people should have been clearly signposted as such. After all, Jeremy Bowen’s position was created with the ostensible aim of providing “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.

In the absence of any such clarification or even the faintest of challenges to Mekdad’s bogus claims from Jeremy Bowen, the BBC News website gives audiences very little reason to prefer it over Russian or Syrian regime sponsored media sites such as RT or SANA.

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BBC portrayal of the Iran nuclear deal – part one

BBC coverage of the P5+1 deal with Iran which was closed on July 14th has been coming in thick and fast and those familiar with the BBC’s track record on that topic would not have been surprised by the tone and content of the plethora of reports.  It is, however, worth taking a look at specific items of BBC content in order to appreciate how the BBC has chosen to portray the subject.PM 14 7

The edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ broadcast on the day the deal was announced included analysis (starting at 14:54 here and available for a limited period of time) from the person ultimately responsible for all the corporation’s Middle East content, Jeremy Bowen. The Middle East editor’s conversation with presenter Carolyn Quinn included some interesting between-the-lines messaging.

1) Downplaying the Iranian regime’s role in the Middle East’s ongoing conflicts and the influence that the deal’s lifting of sanctions and cash influx to Iran is likely to have on regional stability.

Bowen: “…and there are people within Iran – people in the…ehm…the…ehm…Revolutionary Guard Corps – who…ah…do want to cause trouble around the region in the way that [previous interviewee] Frum was talking about it there. But the counter-argument to what he was saying is that the…President Rouhani was elected because people hoped that he would end Iran’s isolation and thus improve the economy. So the windfall that they will be getting eventually, which is made up of frozen revenues – oil revenues especially –around the world, ah…there are people who argue that look; that will go to try to deal with loads and loads of domestic economic problems and they’ll have trouble at home if they don’t do that. If people – the argument goes on – are celebrating in Iran about the agreement, it’s not because they’ll have more money to make trouble elsewhere in the region; it’s because things might get better at home.” [emphasis added]

Bowen’s dubious portrayal of the IRGC as though they were a bunch of naughty schoolboys is telling enough but his presentation of an Iranian regime concerned about and influenced by domestic public opinion obviously ignores the fact that even when economic sanctions were affecting the Iranian people most severely, the regime still found the funds to sponsor assorted terrorist proxies in the region, to intervene in regional conflicts and, of course, to develop its nuclear programme and military industries.

2) Promotion of Israel as the belligerent party and the notion that conflict has been avoided – rather than at most postponed – by means of the agreement.

Bowen: “You know I think that this is actually a pretty spectacular diplomatic achievement. Ah…two years ago when Israel was threatening to bomb Iran’s nuclear…ah…installations and it seemed as if – even though Netanyahu was sort of reluctant to do it – they were on that course, it looked two years ago as if that was going to happen and now it looks very, very…it’s not going to happen actually. It’s not. The Israelis are not going to do anything like that at this point. Err…and to go in the space of two years from looking at what seemed to be a dead cert Middle East war into a diplomatic achievement, at a time especially when the Middle East is so full of turmoil, is a major diplomatic achievement.”

In 2013 Bowen similarly portrayed Israel as the belligerent in a report promoted on several BBC platforms. Speculations concerning the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities have featured in BBC coverage since at least early 2012 – see examples here, here and here.

3) Promotion of the notion of a ‘moderate’ Iranian Supreme Leader.

Bowen: “The biggest problem the agreement faces right now are hardliners in Washington and in Tehran. In Tehran the Supreme Leader is likely to deal with those hardliners. They wouldn’t have made this deal if the Supreme Leader Khamenei had not been behind it.”

Bowen did not clarify to listeners that the terms of the deal now conform to conditions set by Khamenei back in April and provide sanctions relief for some of those very same “hardliners” who “make trouble in the region”. Neither did he point out that nothing in this deal has brought change to Iran’s long-standing approaches and policies.

Bowen’s messaging – and omissions -provide useful insight into the BBC’s editorial approach to the presentation of this agreement to its audiences.  

The Israel not seen on the BBC

Readers no doubt recall that – despite the BBC’s subsequent protestations – Jeremy Bowen recently told listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme that the Israeli government constitutes a threat to Middle East Christians on a par with that presented by “extreme Islam”. As was noted here at the time:

“Bowen of course provided no fact-based support for his fallacious claim that Palestinian Christian communities are “threatened” by Israel and neither did he inform listeners that the Christian community in Israel is both safe and thriving.”

The caricature portrayal of Israel so often presented to BBC audiences by the BBC’s Middle East editor of course erases from view the realities of what is in fact a much more complex, nuanced and interesting story. A glimpse of that story – and of the real country behind the BBC headlines – can be seen in this recent speech given in London by Christian Arab-Israeli diplomat George Deek.

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Beyond the BBC caricature of Israel