Critical omission in BBC News report on PA tax revenues

On March 27th the BBC News website ran a report titled “Israel to resume tax transfers to Palestinian Authority“. One aspect of the BBC’s portrayal of that story is particularly notable.tax revenues art

The article opens:

“Israel is to stop withholding tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), a move that has crippled the Palestinian economy. […]

Israel’s military had reportedly warned that the policy was fuelling violence.”

Later on readers are told that:

“Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli military and the Shin Bet domestic security service all recommended the move.

It did not give their reasons, but Israeli media reported earlier this week that military commanders had said the policy was fuelling violence in the occupied West Bank.”

However, actual reports in the Israeli media present a decidedly less simplistic picture than the one promoted by the BBC. Israel Hayom, for example, reported that:

“Defense officials said various factors have contributed to the latest security assessments suggesting that an escalation in Judea and Samaria may be imminent, including the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Palestinian Authority’s recent moves in The Hague, and the overall instability in the Middle East.

One military official said the defense establishment had recognized an increase in attempts to direct terrorist activity across Judea and Samaria by Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, as well as by Turkey-based Hamas commander Saleh al-Arouri.

Islamic Jihad has also increased its activity on the ground, as has the Tanzim, a Fatah militant faction.

Another defense source said the nature of the next round of violence is unknown, and the military is preparing for a number of possible scenarios in Judea and Samaria, including widespread unrest, riots, and clashes between civilians and security forces.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has a vested interest in curbing tensions on the ground, the source said, adding that Abbas’ ability to reconcile the dissonance between the relatively stable security situation and the unstable diplomatic situation is growing weaker.

Following Abbas’ application for membership in the International Criminal Court, effective April 1, Israel has suspended the transfer of tax revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The IDF believes the move, which has aggravated the PA’s dire economic situation, may contribute to any potential flare-up of unrest on the ground.”

Ha’aretz reported:

“On the West Bank there has been a significant rise in recent months in Hamas attempts to activate terror squads by means of the external command headquarters in Turkey and the Gaza Strip. Both the Palestinian Authority and Israel have arrested dozens of Hamas men from the West Bank, members of various groups suspected of planning terror attacks. Islamic Jihad has also increased its military activity, mainly in the northern West Bank. Israel has also identified renewed activity, independent and unmonitored, by members of Tanzim, the popular movement of Fatah, some of whose members defy the PA. There is a fear that in the event of an escalation in terror Tanzim members will once again take part, as happened during the second intifada.”

And Ynet reported:

“Ynet has learned that IDF officials have recently presented the political echelons with the possible security ramifications for Israel’s economic sanctions. According to army officials, growing economic tensions in the Palestinian market in the West Bank served as a catalyst for riots and even terror attacks, breaking the relative calm the West Bank has enjoyed in recent years. […]

Meanwhile, the IDF are preparing for a possible escalation in the West Bank, both spontaneous and organized. The different scenarios include multi-site riots involving thousands of protesters, some armed, throughout the West Bank; simultaneous terror attacks; kidnapping and infiltration attempts; and a possible end to security coordination with the Palestinians, which they say is very unlikely, though a number of such cases have happened at a local level.

Though IDF say coordination will continue, if only because it is in the Palestinians’ interest to maintain control over its areas in the West Bank and to be able to present itself as the legal representative of the Palestinians, and not as a terror organization. The Palestinian Authority wants to avoid bolstering Hamas (currently said to be backed by roughly half of the Palestinian population).

They also fear Hamas involvement in the West Bank, and other attempts by young Tanzim – a militant offshoot of Fatah –  supporters to set up terror cells in the area. Those youths, they say, are no longer bound by the “Prisoners Commitment” which prevents PLO officials from returning to the ways of terror. In Nablus, security forces rounded up some of these youths, especially in the Lata refugee camp.”

In other words, the withholding of tax revenues is far from the sole factor – as the BBC would have its audiences believe – which is “fuelling violence” in PA controlled areas.

The rise of Hamas terrorist activity in PA controlled areas is not a new phenomenon. It is, however, one which the BBC has consistently under-reported since last summer and – as we see in this article – it continues to do so. 

BBC News reports one side of reactions to Israeli PM’s apology

On March 23rd the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “Netanyahu apologises to Israeli-Arabs over election remarks“. Readers are told that:Netanyahu apology art

“Apologising for his comments he [Netanyahu] said: “I know the things I said a few days ago hurt some Israeli citizens.

“My actions as prime minister, including massive investment in minority sectors, prove the exact opposite.

“I think, similarly, that no element outside the state of Israel should intervene in our democratic processes.””

Readers are not however told to whom the apology was made, in what circumstances or how it was received. The only clue to that comes in the form of the reaction of the leader of the Joint Arab List which the BBC did find fit to promote.

“The Joint List alliance of Arab-dominated parties rejected the apology. […]

Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint Arab List – an alliance of Israeli Arab-dominated parties that united for the first time and secured 13 seats at last week’s election, told Israel’s Channel 10: “We do not accept this apology.

“It was to a group of elders and not to the elected leadership of Israel’s Arabs. I want to see actions, how is he going to manifest this apology? Will he advance equality?””

Readers of this article will be unable to put Odeh’s claim that his party represents “the elected leadership of Israel’s Arabs” into its correct context because since the final results of the election were announced, the BBC has not clarified to audiences that in fact a quarter of the Arab MKs in the incoming Knesset represent other parties: Likud, Meretz, Yisrael Beitinu and the Zionist Union. Neither are BBC audiences aware of the fact that the BBC’s monochrome portrayal of Israeli Arab voters does not reflect the complete picture.

Netanyahu’s apology was made at the Prime Minister’s official residence, to which representatives from the various minority communities in Israel were invited. Readers can see for themselves below how his words were received by the invitees – and ponder the fact that whilst the BBC chose not to report that aspect of the story, it did find it necessary to report Ayman Odeh’s reaction and to repeat the White House’s criticism of Netanyahu’s original statement.

 

 

When the BBC’s ‘world view’ coincides with that of a story source

If readers have perhaps had the feeling that some recent BBC News website articles had more of a whiff of largely unadulterated White House press briefing about them than analytical journalism and critical commentary, then the article published on March 24th under the headline “Israel denies spying on US-Iran nuclear talks” would have done nothing to dispel that impression.Spying art

Based on one WSJ article from one journalist who obviously had more than a little help from White House sources, the BBC’s rehash adds nothing which audiences could not have discovered for themselves by reading the original.

Buried in the article’s fifteenth paragraph is the following information:

“The White House uncovered the operation, the report said, when US intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted messages among officials that could only have come from closed-door talks.”

In other words the White House’s claim that Israel was spying on the P5+1 talks is based on information acquired by the US whilst it was itself spying on Israel. The BBC has nothing to say about that obvious hypocrisy and it does not sufficiently clarify to readers that any information obtained by Israel could actually have come via any one of the six countries negotiating with Iran- including the one taking a more sceptical approach to the issue than the US – or from surveillance of the other party to the negotiations.

In the next two paragraphs readers discover exactly what prompted the US administration to leak a non-event of a story to a journalist:

“But it was Israel’s sharing of inside information with US lawmakers and others that particularly angered the White House, the report quoted an official as saying.

“It is one thing for the US and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal US secrets and play them back to US legislators to undermine US diplomacy,” the unnamed official said.”

The BBC elects not to tackle the basic – and more interesting – topics of why any of the many countries which lobby the US Congress should be in a position to be able to provide that body with information it has not already been given by the US administration or why keeping Congress in the loop apparently ‘undermines’ US diplomacy. Neither does the article address the question of whether or not Israel actually told members of Congress anything they could not discover for themselves in the mountains of media reports on the P5+1 talks or from the IAEA’s reports and statements on the subject.

Most remarkably, however, this report makes no real effort to inform BBC audiences why Israel and other countries are so concerned about the progress of the P5+1 talks with Iran. The only reference to that issue comes in an insert of ‘analysis’ from Yolande Knell who writes:

“Israel’s deep concerns about any emerging deal on Iran’s nuclear programme are well known, as are the tensions this is placing on ties with the US administration.”

The trouble with that claim of course is that “Israel’s deep concerns” have been communicated to BBC audiences via the BBC filter and that framing has consistently failed to provide them with an objective view of the issue.

So once again in this article the BBC chose to blindly amplify yet another manufactured political ‘crisis’ without any critical commentary on the topic itself or questioning of the motives of the source lying behind the story.  And that – apparently – is what the BBC thinks it can pass off as ‘standard-setting’ journalism. 

Revisiting BBC reporting of civilian deaths in Gaza on July 28th 2014

On page 29 of its 2014 Antisemitic Incidents report the Community Security Trust provided the following information:

“Almost half the incidents recorded in those two months [July and August 2014 – Ed.] – 258, or 48 per cent of the 542 incidents recorded in July and August – made direct or indirect reference to the conflict in Israel and Gaza that began on 8 July 2014 and concluded on 26 August. There was also a daily correlation between the number of antisemitic incidents reported to CST during this period and specific events in the conflict in Israel and Gaza. […] On 28 July, a day when media reported an explosion at the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, CST recorded 22 antisemitic incidents in the UK.” [emphasis added]

With BBC content reaching the vast majority of the UK population and BBC One television news identified by the public as the UK’s most important source of news, the manner in which the BBC reported a story which prompted twenty-two antisemitic  incidents in that country is obviously of interest.Shifa Sahti tweet 1

Here at BBC Watch we have been tracking the BBC’s reporting of that particular story since it first emerged. On July 30th 2014 we noted that – despite information having been provided around an hour after the incidents at Shifa hospital and the Shati refugee camp occurred which showed that the cause of the civilian casualties was missiles fired by a terrorist organization – the BBC’s reporting of the story on July 28th and 29th promoted the Hamas version of the story according to which Israeli missile strikes caused the deaths of some eight children and several adults.Pannell Shati report filmed 28 7

Several days later we noted here that the BBC had produced a report on July 31st (updated on August 4th) titled “Gaza conflict: Disputed deadly incidents” which – despite the above-mentioned information – continued to encourage audiences to believe that Hamas’ version of the story was at least as credible as the information provided by Israel.

‘The BBC’s presentation of that incident, however, places data gathered from sophisticated tracking equipment on a par with the unverified verbal claims of assorted bodies all ultimately run by a proscribed terrorist organization.

“Gaza’s police, Civil Defence Directorate and health officials say Israeli air strikes caused the explosions. According to Al-Jazeera, Hamas denied it had fired any rockets from the area and said it was “categorically an Israeli air strike”. Hamas said it had collected shrapnel from the scene consistent with Israeli munitions, the channel’s website reported.

In a text message quoted by AP news agency, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri described the incident as a “war crime” for which “the occupation” would pay the price.”’Shifa Shati Campbell tweet

On August 12th 2014 we noted that – despite a visit by the BBC’s chief international correspondent to an IDF missile tracking unit – the article defining the July 28th incident as “disputed” still stood.

On December 12th 2014 we noted that the IDF Military Attorney General’s investigation into the July 28th incidents at Shifa hospital and Shati concluded that they were caused by missiles fired by a terrorist organization. Despite that, all the five reports suggesting to BBC audiences that it was reasonable to assume that the deaths of civilians – mostly children – had been caused by Israeli missiles were still available to visitors to the BBC News website with no correction added.  

On March 26th a report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Amnesty: Hamas rocket attacks amounted to war crimes“.  The article includes the following:AI Shati report

“Amnesty said rocket fire had also endangered Palestinian civilians.

The group said an independent munitions expert had concluded that a Palestinian rocket had exploded next to a supermarket in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on 28 July, killing 13 civilians, 11 of them children aged between seven and 14.”

As we know, the BBC sets great store by any report – accurate or not – produced by Amnesty International. Perhaps then the appearance of this one will at long last prompt the corporation to append clarifications to those five reports – all of which are still accessible in their original inaccurate and misleading form on the BBC News website. It is, after all, in the BBC’s interest to do so in light of the fact that – according to its own statement from June 2014:

“…however long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it”

The corporation’s continued failure to add appropriate clarifications to those five BBC reports (and any others still available to the public) risks wasting licence fee payer-provided funding on dealing with unnecessary complaints. More seriously, it also continues to provide the agar for antisemitic incidents in Britain. 

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BBC does free PR for UN HRC

Three times a year the UN Human Rights Council turns its attentions to ‘Agenda item 7′.

“While all 193 countries of the world are addressed under Agenda Item 4, “Human rights situations requiring the world’s attention,” only Israel gets its own special treatment, under Agenda Item 7, “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories .””

It is precisely that long-existing disproportionate focus on Israel which prompted the US Secretary of State to make the following statement earlier this month:

“No one in this room can deny that there is an unbalanced focus on one democratic country,” he said, decrying the fact that no country other than Israel has a permanent agenda item on the council’s schedule. “The (council’s) obsession with Israel actually risks undermining the credibility of the entire organization.”

And of course the HRC is not the only UN body to display such politically motivated bias: just last week, for example, its Commission on the Status of Women singled out one country alone for censure in its latest resolution.

That context is obviously relevant to any article written about UN HRC statements concerning Israel but readers of the BBC’s March 23rd article titled “Israel accused at UN over Gaza war casualties” were not provided with any such objective background. Instead, readers found the following versions of the BBC’s standard ‘Israel says’ formulation in its fourth and thirteenth paragraphs:UN HRC art 23 3

“Israel has previously accused the body of being biased against it.”

“In Israel, the foreign ministry told Reuters that the UN’s annual debate about human rights in Gaza and the West Bank “negatively singles out Israel and Israel every year asks its friends on the council not to express themselves”.”

The article misleads BBC audiences by the use of unqualified quotes from the latest ‘special rapporteur’ (with no mention of the Arab League’s involvement in his appointment to the post) suggesting that the number of civilian casualties in a conflict is indication of violation of the Law of Armed Combat.

“The scale of civilian deaths in Gaza during the 2014 war with Israel puts Israel’s adherence to international law in doubt, a UN official has said. […]

At the meeting, special rapporteur Makarim Wibisono criticised Israel’s conduct during the July-August conflict.

“The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack,” he told the council.”

However – as noted (page 35 onwards) in the recent report ‘2014 Gaza War Assessment’– that is not a sound legal argument.

“One of the asymmetries that irregular forces seek to take advantage of against their conventional opponents – especially if that opponent is a liberal democracy – is commitment to the rule of law. States that respect their own citizens’ rights and observe the rule of law generally demand that their armed forces conduct operations in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law. This is rarely the case among guerillas, insurgents, terrorists and non-state armed groups. Unconventional adversaries frequently seek to exploit the presence of civilians, believing it will provide functional immunity from law-committed militaries.

These tactics are emboldened by widespread misunderstanding of LOAC not just among warring parties but also media, observers and the international public – a misunderstanding built on the false assumption that the law prohibits the infliction of any and all civilian casualties. In fact, LOAC tolerates the infliction of harm to civilians and destruction of civilian property during armed conflict, prohibiting such harm only when it is inflicted deliberately, or when it is assessed as an excessive incidental consequence of a deliberate attack on a lawful target. However, the persistence of misconceptions about LOAC’s content and requirements will enable continued manipulation of legal arguments, risk incentivizing further exploitation of civilian populations and thereby risk greater civilian deaths in future urban conflicts. For this reason, clarity on LOAC’s requirements is paramount.”

And, as Col Richard Kemp has noted:

“It is worth emphasizing that proportionality is not, as often believed by critics of Israel, a relationship between the numbers of casualties on either side in a conflict, but a calculation that considers whether the incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated in an attack.”

Neither does the writer of this article clarify to readers that the number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip in July and August 2014 (which the BBC has not independently verified since the end of the conflict) is not a “high proportion” at all in comparison to other conflicts.

Readers again came across the “Israel says” formulation (a way of supposedly ticking the impartiality box without actual BBC endorsement of statements) in the following section of the article:

“He [Wibisono] lamented “acute” needs in Gaza, warning that Israel’s continued “blockade keeps Gaza in a stranglehold which does not even allow people to help themselves”.

Israel says its tight restrictions over Gaza’s northern and eastern borders and coastline are vital to protect it from attacks by militants.”

No effort is made by the BBC to provide readers with objective and factual information regarding the reasons for the border restrictions and naval blockade, including the smuggling of weaponry to terrorist organisations.

At no point since the start of the 2014 conflict has the BBC made even a semblance of an effort to speak truth to UN power. Despite the UN HRC’s record of abysmal bias towards Israel, the corporation has uncritically quoted and promoted statements made by its officials and unquestioningly adopted and amplified UN provided casualty figures – regardless of their highly problematic origins.

Any media organization which took its fifth estate role seriously and really did aspire to be “the standard-setter for international journalism” would of course do more than merely provide free pubicity for regurgitated politically motivated statements from a body which discredits itself day by day.

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Elections 2015: the morning after – BBC News website coverage

No fewer than seven articles concerning the previous day’s Israeli election were published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 18th.

An article which originally appeared the previous evening under the title “Israel election: No clear winner, exit polls suggest” underwent numerous changes as the votes were counted overnight, ending up under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu’s Likud storms to victory“. As was the case in much of the BBC’s prior coverage of the topic, that article and the others appearing on the same day focused audience attentions on the topic the election was not about.18 3 website 1

“Mr Netanyahu had vowed not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state, while Zionist Union expressed support for a two-state solution and promised to repair relations with Palestinians and the international community.

In the wake of the vote, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Palestinians would step up their bid for statehood.

“It is clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government, so we say clearly that we will go to the International Criminal Court in the Hague and we will speed up, pursue and intensify” diplomatic efforts, he told AFP news agency.”

An insert from the BBC’s Middle East editor added:

“He [Netanyahu] also made a series of promises that would worsen Israel’s relations with the US and Europe if he continues as prime minister. He promised thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied territories, and said he would not allow the Palestinians to have a state.”

Jeremy Bowen produced an article titled “Israel election: Dramatic turnaround for Netanyahu” which he opened by brushing aside the topic of his organisation’s previous heavy promotion of opinion polls.18 3 website 2

“In the end Israeli opinion polls told the wrong story, yet again.”

Bowen informed readers that:

“The prime minister narrowed the gap with Mr Herzog’s Zionist Union, and then overhauled it, by turning sharply towards the ultra-nationalist Israeli right.

He issued a series of grim warnings about the consequences for Israel if he lost; Arabs with Israeli citizenship were voting, so his people needed to turn out.

Mr Netanyahu made a series of promises that would worsen Israel’s relations with the United States and Europe if he stays on as prime minister.

He promised thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied territories. And he said that he would not allow the Palestinians to have a state.”

The BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly produced two articles, the first of which was a report from the Likud campaign headquarters titled “Likud celebrates surprise success in Israeli election” in which readers were informed that:18 3 website 3

“If a new right-of-centre coalition is formed it will be formed in the context of Mr Netanyahu indicating that he was prepared to block the formation of a Palestinian state.

International observers trying to interpret what this result means for hopes of a resumption in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians will see that as a bleak signal.

A Herzog-led government might have been a more comfortable partner for the US State Department and for European governments interested in reviving talks.

But for now, it appears that the Israeli electorate has decided otherwise.”

Connolly’s second article of the day expanded on that theme under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu win dims peace process prospects“.18 3 website 4

“Everyone knows, of course, that the Israeli right, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, is at best sceptical about the prospect of a peace deal with the Palestinians, while the left under Yitzhak Herzog is much keener on the kind of constructive engagement that would keep the White House and the State Department happy. […]

He made it clear that in the modern Middle East with its rising tide of militant Islamism and its deepening atmosphere of instability the conditions just do not exist to create a Palestinian state.

It was a smart move invoking the image of a leader who is prepared to stand up for Israel’s interests in an uncertain world and who is not worried if his single-mindedness on the issue irritates the Europeans, the Americans or indeed anyone else.

At one point he was asked directly if his return as prime minister would mean categorically that a Palestinian state would not be established.

He answered with the single Hebrew word “Achen” – which means “indeed”.”

The BBC News website also produced a profile of Netanyahu titled “Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu: Commando turned PM” in which readers were told that:18 3 website 5

“For Mr Netanyahu, the number one issue has long been Israel’s security, and he has taken a tough line towards the Palestinians, seeing land-for-peace as too dangerous to accept.

His third term shifted from renewed peace talks, which collapsed in acrimony, to war with militants in Gaza just three months later.”

Readers are not informed that those talks collapsed because the PA decided to from a unity government with Hamas.

Later on in the article, however, this example of the ‘land for peace’ formula appears:

“Despite having fiercely criticised the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, in 1997 Mr Netanyahu signed a deal handing over 80% of Hebron to Palestinian Authority control and signed the Wye River Memorandum in 1998 outlining further withdrawals from the West Bank.”

No effort is made to inform readers that the unprecedented construction freeze of 2009/10 did not cause the PA to come to the negotiating table until one month before it expired and, as ever, the BBC fails to inform audiences accurately with regard to the significance of the Israeli demand for the PA to recognise Israel as the Jewish state:

“Mr Netanyahu’s government was criticised by some in the international community for not renewing a partial freeze on Jewish settlement-building and possibly avoiding a collapse in peace talks with the Palestinians in late 2010.

He publicly accepted the concept of a demilitarised Palestinian state, but insisted the Palestinians accept Israel as a “Jewish state” in turn and make reciprocal concessions.

In 2015 he distanced himself from accepting the prospect of a state, dismissing it as irrelevant given the rise of militant Islam across the Middle East.”

Later on in the evening the BBC News website published two articles with a US slant, the first of which – by PJ Crowley – was subtly titled “Netanyahu win gives Obama a headache“.18 3 website 6

“Over the weekend, he made explicit what many, particularly the Palestinians, had long believed.

As long as he is prime minister, there will not be a Palestinian state. He even acknowledged that his administration used settlement construction to undermine the process.

These statements sent a moribund peace process into freefall, calling into question the future of the Oslo process.”

Apparently BBC audiences are to believe that “the future of the Oslo process” was not called into question by – among other things – the failure of the Oslo Accords’ guarantors to insist upon disarmament of Hamas before the formation of a unity government together with the Palestinian Authority.

Another article titled “Israel election: US concern over ‘divisive’ rhetoric” told readers that:18 3 website 7

“During campaigning, Mr Netanyahu said he would not allow the creation of a Palestinian state if re-elected. […]

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: “It has been the policy of the United States for more than 20 years that a two-state solution is the goal of resolving the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

The US would “re-evaluate our approach” in the wake of Mr Netanyahu’s comments ruling out a Palestinian state, he said.”

The article also states:

“On a warning from Mr Netanyahu that his opponents were bussing Arab-Israeli voters to polling stations, he [Earnest] said: “Rhetoric that seeks to marginalise one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive, and I can tell you that these are views the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.” “

Yet again the BBC refrains from providing audiences with the necessary context concerning the anti-Zionist parties running on the Joint Arab List and the foreign funding for organisations which ran a campaign against Netanyahu.

The article later states:

“The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, said he would work with any Israeli government that accepts the two-state solution, without which, he said, peace negotiations stood “no chance”.”

The uninformed reader seeking to understand the topic of the Israeli election from these seven articles could only arrive at the conclusion that the Likud party’s victory is the prime factor preventing a peace agreement being signed between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘Economical’ presentation of subjects such as the reason for the breakdown of previous rounds of talks coupled with the complete absence of any reference to the fact that almost a year ago the Palestinian Authority chose to form a ‘unity government’ with a terrorist organization which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and is committed to its destruction mean that the bottom line effect of these reports is to mislead audiences with regard to the peace process in general and the significance of the result of the election in particular. As we observed here in January 2013 after the previous election and again in December 2014 when the BBC first began reporting on this one:

“Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances.”

Plus ça change… 

 

Elections 2015: the morning after – Doucet on BBC television news

On March 18th the BBC began to produce coverage of the results of the previous day’s election in Israel. Among those reports was one by Lyse Doucet which appeared on BBC television news and also on the corporation’s website under the title “Israel election: ‘Security fears’ seal Netanyahu victory“. Doucet opened her report as follows:

“After a night when he made political history, Mr Netanyahu’s first stop this morning was the holiest site in Jewish history – the Western Wall – for prayer and a pledge.”

A viewer responded to that obvious (but nevertheless frequently made) mistake on Twitter.

Doucet filmed 18 3 tweet

Of course that is not accurate either, as the viewer pointed out, but no correction has been made to the report since its appearance.

Doucet filmed 18 3 tweet 2

With the BBC having earlier adopted and promoted the view of some opinion polls (though not all) according to which the centre Left Zionist Union was tipped to win the election, it is interesting to see how Doucet explained its actual result to BBC viewers.

“Security fears won this election for him. Mr Netanyahu lurched to the right and promised: no state for the Palestinians, no end to Israeli settlement building.”

Whether or not there is a factual basis for Doucet’s “lurched to the right” claim is debatable – not least according to Netanyahu himself:

“I haven’t changed my policy,” Netanyahu insisted. “I never retracted my speech at Bar-Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state.”

“What has changed is the reality,” he continued. “[Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] the Palestinian leader refuses to recognize the Jewish state and has made a pact with Hamas that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, and every territory that is vacated today in the Middle East is taken up by Islamist forces. We want that to change so that we can realize a vision of real, sustained peace. I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change.”

DFLP logo

DFLP logo

After having brought in an Israeli journalist to back up her theory, Doucet moved the focus of her report to Ramallah:

“In the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank there’s disappointment but a growing determination to still find a way to create their own state.”

Ironically, those words are spoken whilst the image on screen shows a Ramallah street decked with DFLP flags with a logo which eradicates Israel from the map.

Doucet filmed 18 3 DFLP flags

Ignoring that particular inconvenient truth, Doucet next gave a platform to Mohammed Shtayyeh and his thinly veiled threats – which she made no attempt to clarify.

“I think it is time now that the international community should put serious pressure on Netanyahu to save the two state-solution – one, and on the other hand I think Netanyahu should not really take that big risk to be as aggressive as he used to be because the Palestinian reaction will be not pleasant for him.”

Against a background of images of the anti-terrorist fence, Doucet proceeded to further mislead BBC audiences by saying:Doucet filmed 18 3

“Across the West Bank during Mr Netanyahu’s time as prime minister security barriers have gone up, making Israelis feel more secure and Palestinians less hopeful.”

Construction of the anti-terrorist fence of course began in 2002 – seven years before Netanyahu became prime minister – and it is not located “across the West Bank” but around that area. Within the area itself, the number of checkpoints has actually been reduced in recent years: from 40 in July 2008 to 13 in February 2014.

Doucet’s mind reading of the Israeli people and their prime minister continued:

“Today there were calls from many capitals for a resumption of peace talks. That’s hard to imagine right now. Benjamin Netanyahu managed to rally a majority of Israelis around his right-wing message but it still left a divided society and a country at growing odds with the rest of the world. But for the Israeli leader, that matters much less than what he sees as the best way to ensure Israel’s security. This has long been a land troubled by conflict. Now Israelis also worry about rising threats on all their borders in this increasingly unstable region. So in the end, many voted for the man who spoke to those fears.”

Interestingly, Doucet had nothing to say about why the BBC got the election story so wrong – yet again. But her overall message to audiences is very clear: the underlying factor preventing peace and light from descending on the Middle East is not Islamist extremism, not foreign support for Palestinian terror groups, not the Palestinian Authority’s throwing in of its lot with Hamas via its ‘unity government’, not the existence of Hamas terror cells in PA controlled areas and not the absence of an elected Palestinian president and government who can truly claim to represent the Palestinian people. According to Doucet, it is the fears of Israelis which have scuppered the chance for peace. 

 

 

 

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day website reports

In addition to running a live page titled “Israel election results: as it happened” on March 17th, the BBC News website also published its main article on the topic of election day in Israel under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu seeks new term in tight race“. The report underwent many changes throughout the day but a couple of points appearing in most versions are worthy of closer examination.Main art 17 3

The article opens with clear signposting for readers:

“Millions of Israelis are voting in what is expected to be a close race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party and a centre-left alliance.

The centre-left Zionist Union promises to repair relations with Palestinians and the international community.

Mr Netanyahu, whose party has trailed in opinion polls, vowed on Monday not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state if he wins a fourth term.”

Later on in the article readers are told that:

“On Monday, he [Netanyahu] made his pledge to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state in a speech at the Har Homa Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.”

But is that an accurate representation of what Netanyahu actually said in his March 16th interview with NRG? When asked if it was correct to say that “…if you are prime minister a Palestinian state will not be established”, Netanyahu replied “indeed”. Before that, however, he gave context which this BBC article does not provide to readers.

“I think that anyone today going to set up a Palestinian state – anyone going to evacuate territory – is simply giving extremist Islam territory for attacks against the State of Israel. That’s the reality which has emerged here in the recent years. Whoever does not understand that is simply putting…burying his head in the sand. The Left does that – it buries its head in the sand time after time.” [translation: BBC Watch]

We know that the BBC is aware of those words because it reported them, partially, in a previous article.

“Mr Netanyahu said that ceding lands to the Palestinians would risk leaving Israel open to attacks by Islamists.

“Whoever ignores that is burying his head in the sand. The left is doing that, burying its head in the sand time after time,” he told the nrg news website.

When asked if that meant a Palestinian state would not be established if he is elected, Netanyahu replied “indeed”.”

In this article, however, the BBC elected to remove that very relevant context from the account it presented to its audience and – coming on top of the fact that the BBC rarely reports on internal Palestinian affairs anyway – that further reduces their ability to understand the background to Netanyahu’s statement.

Another section of the article states:

“He [Netanyahu] also posted a video message on his Facebook page, saying: “Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are going to the polls in droves. Left-wing organisations are bringing them in buses.”

He later took the unusual step of calling the media to his official residence to issue a statement while voting was under way, to repeat his concerns about the opposition winning.”

In the next line of that Facebook post, Netanyahu referred to the V15 organisation but seeing as the BBC had avoided the topic of that group’s campaign in all of its election coverage up to that point, readers were unaware of its existence.

“The model V15 tried to implement here was the system that brought Barack Obama to the White House in the United States: a campaign to encourage voter turnout with personal appeals, through telemarketing or by going door-to-door, based on precise statistical segmentation and with an emphasis on areas that leaned toward the preferred camp – all in an effort to convince despairing voters to vote. V15, short for “Victory 2015,” also hired Jeremy Bird, the national field director of Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, to help organize its efforts. […]

The main element of the funding came from a hook-up with the OneVoice Movement – an organization founded in 2002 by the Mexican-born, U.S.-based businessman and philanthropist Daniel Lubetzky. OneVoice describes itself as “an international grassroots movement that amplifies the voice of mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, empowering them to propel their elected representatives toward the two-state solution.”” 

BBC audiences therefore also remained in the dark with regard to the way in which that foreign-funded campaign was viewed by some Israeli voters, just as they lacked insight into the perception of some voters concerning the fact that the Joint Arab List includes anti-Zionist parties such as Balad.

“…the catchy slogan that launched V15 – “Just change” – was a good fit with the feelings on the street and the flattering polls for Herzog. However, the underlying tectonic changes were actually going in the opposite direction, it turned out: the louder the “Anyone but Bibi” cry sounded, the more voters returned home to him.

“I don’t think we ran a campaign that was based totally on ‘Anyone but Bibi,’” said Weizmann, the morning after Election Day, ignoring the fact that the group’s campaign directly called for Netanyahu’s head.”

In contrast, readers of this article were presented with the following information:

“Zionist Union leader Yitzhak Herzog said his rival represented the “path of despair and disappointment”.

Mr Herzog told the BBC that his government would work to “correct the unfairness in [Israel’s] economy”, strengthen the country’s relationship with the US and revive negotiations with the Palestinians.

He expressed support for a two-state solution, saying: “It’s very important for the future of Israel that we separate from the Palestinians.

“We must find the right partners to negotiate with them.””

The BBC’s superficial black and white portrayal of the choices facing Israeli voters is cringingly transparent in this report. Its failure to provide readers with adequate context and background information on factors which did affect the results of the election (together with the notable absence of any reporting whatsoever on additional ones such as the speech by a participant at the Left’s rally on March 7th attended by Kevin Connolly) means that audiences were presented with a caricature view which did nothing to contribute to their real understanding of the subject. 

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part two

In addition to Yolande Knell’s propaganda laden view of the Israeli election from Ramallah, March 17th saw the appearance of several filmed reports for television news programmes from various BBC correspondents.

Lyse Doucet produced a report titled “A closer look at Israeli politics and the election” in which viewers were told that:

“Likud is hawkish on security and critical of the nuclear negotiations with Iran.”

Audiences reading, viewing and listening to content on other BBC platforms on that day would have noticed that the adjective ‘hawkish’ – defined as “advocating an aggressive or warlike policy, especially in foreign affairs” and “supporting the use of force in political relationships rather than discussion or other more peaceful solutions” –  was very popular with BBC correspondents, despite the fact that the outgoing Likud-led Israeli government engaged in nine months of negotiations with the PLO and went to considerable lengths to try to avoid all out conflict with Hamas and other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip last summer.

Another filmed report was produced by BBC Arabic’s Issam Ikirmawi under the title “Israel elections: Voting in Nazareth“.Bowen filmed 17 3

BBC television audiences also saw a filmed report by Jeremy Bowen which purported to enlighten them on the topic of “What do Israeli voters want?” and opened with the sarcastic quip:

“Not the drums of war – for once. These were beating time at the Jerusalem marathon.”

Bowen’s suggestion that the previous government had put “expensive Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory ahead of the cost of living” failed to clarify to BBC audiences that the status of Area C (in which all Israeli towns and villages are located) is in fact subject to negotiation according to the terms of the Oslo Accords and his categorization of that land as “occupied Palestinian territory” is hence misleading. Similarly, on a helicopter ride Bowen purported to show viewers “…the barrier that separates Israel from the Palestinian West Bank…” without any mention of the issue of final status negotiations and with no clarification of the reason why that anti-terrorist fence had to be built. According to Bowen, the anti-terrorist fence”…shows Israel’s security preoccupation with the Palestinians…” but again, no effort was made to explain to viewers what that actually means, or why.

Whilst he acknowledged that economy related issues were of prime importance to Israeli voters in this election, Bowen failed to provide audiences with any meaningful factual background on that topic, instead – like so many of his colleagues – constantly bringing the focus of his reporting back to the issue upon which Israelis did not go to the polls to decide.

“…but in the election the political future of that relationship [with the Palestinians] has not been a big issue. House prices are much more important and that’s because Israelis – like Palestinians – have got very cynical about the chances of a peace agreement. Up to now the negotiations have failed.”

A more accurate word than ‘cynical’ to describe the approach of a nation which still overwhelmingly supports a two-state solution in theory but cannot see a partner for that aspiration on the horizon, would have been ‘realistic’.

Despite being aware that “polls aren’t reliable” – as he noted at the end of his report – Bowen nevertheless earlier promoted the notion that “Yitzhak Herzog of the new centre Left alliance Zionist Union has turned the polls around…”.Bowen filmed 17 3 exit polls  

Soon after voting came to an end at 10 pm and the first exit poll results became available, Jeremy Bowen produced a report titled “Israel election: No clear winner, exit polls suggest“. Once again, his reliance on informal polls – coupled perhaps with over-confidence in his own understanding of the Israeli political system and Israelis – caused him to provide BBC audiences with inaccurate information.

“In a country where it’s possible to live very well, economic pressures became the most potent issue in the campaign. Never mind the pursuit of the high life: falling living standards for many Israelis took votes away from the prime minister.”

“Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union alliance, did not let up on social and financial issues and led the polls through the last weeks of campaigning.”

“The Israeli people have not voted for any kind of radical change but they haven’t given Mr Netanyahu a resounding vote of confidence either.” [all emphasis added]

Part of Bowen’s report focused on the Joint Arab List and residents of Jerusalem, Acco, Jaffa, Ramla, Lod, Ma’alot-Tarshiha and elsewhere might have been surprised to hear that:

“One significant development came from Haifa in the north: about the closest Israel gets to a mixed city where its Jewish and Arab citizens can live in relative harmony.” [emphasis added]

He continued:

Ayman Odeh […] heads the Joint List – an alliance of parties mainly representing the 20% or so of the Israeli citizens who are from Palestinian families who didn’t flee or get expelled when Israel was created in 1948. He told me this day would be historic as his party would push the Right Wing off into opposition. That might not happen. But the Joint List has shown that Israel’s Arab citizens are ready to flex some new political muscles, potentially providing crucial support for the centre Left.”

In fact, by the time Bowen made that declaration the Joint Arab List had already indicated ten days previously that it had no intention of supporting any shade of the Israeli Left when it refused to collaborate even with Meretz on a surplus vote sharing agreement.

“Last week, Herzog and Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On tried to broker a deal by which the Zionist Union would sign a vote-sharing agreement with Yesh Atid, and Meretz with the Joint List.

Herzog called all the heads of the Arab parties that make up the Joint List, but Balad leader Jamal Zehalka refused to pick up the phone.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh was in favor of signing the deal with Meretz, but Balad ruled it out because it did not want to cooperate with a Zionist party in any way. Zehalka even threatened to remove Balad from the Joint List, a threat that at this stage is not permitted by law.”

The Joint Arab List secured 13 places in the Knesset in this election (just two seats more than the combined number secured by its component parties running separately in the previous one) indicating that Bowen’s prophesy of “new political muscles” was – like much of the rest of his analysis – based more on his own ideas of how Israel should be than on objectively viewed reality. 

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part one

By far the strangest choice of location for a filmed BBC report on the topic of the Israeli elections was Ramallah, from where Yolande Knell reported for BBC television news on March 17th in an item titled “Israel election: The view from Ramallah“. Knell opened that report as follows:Knell filmed 17 3

“I’ve just crossed into the occupied West Bank through the Qalandiya checkpoint which is manned by Israeli soldiers and this is part of Israel’s separation barrier. For Palestinians living here these have become symbols of the decades-old conflict with Israel. And while those in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip don’t get to vote in the Israeli elections, they are watching them closely.”

Knell’s claim that “those…in East Jerusalem…don’t get to vote” is of course inaccurate. Residents of East Jerusalem are entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship and those who do so successfully have the right to vote just like any other Israeli. Those who chose not to exercise their right to apply for citizenship obviously voluntarily forgo the right to vote in national elections, although they are still eligible to vote in municipal elections. This is not the first time that the BBC has promoted this inaccurate portrayal of the voting rights of East Jerusalemites.

Knell also fails to inform viewers that residents of PA controlled areas A and B and residents of the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip do of course have the right to vote in Palestinian Authority elections. That perhaps not accidental omission sets the stage for the next part of her report, in which BBC audiences are encouraged to believe that relevant commentary on the topic of the Israeli election is to be had from someone who not only does not participate in them, but represents the largest faction in a body which has not held democratic elections for seats in its own parliament for over nine years and which is governed by a president whose term of office expired years ago.

Knell: “Palestinian officials say the peace process is being ignored by the [Israeli] political campaigners – and it shouldn’t be.”

Fatah’s Husam Zomlot then says:

“You decide, the Israelis, what is it exactly. Are you occupying us? Then it’s too long an occupation – you have to end it. Or do you consider the West Bank and Gaza your territory? Then you want us either citizens or you want us actually being discriminated against. But in all scenarios, it’s your moment of choice and unfortunately I don’t see the Israeli society now debating this.”

This is of course blatant exploitation of the occasion of the Israeli elections for the propagation of unrelated political propaganda and whilst that comes as no surprise, nevertheless it misleads BBC audiences.

Israelis debated these issues over two decades ago and that debate culminated in the Oslo Accords which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the relinquishment of Areas A & B (and the Gaza Strip in 2005) to its control and the framework of final status negotiations to determine the future of Area C. The PA’s decision to scupper those final status negotiations by means of terrorism, its refusal to accept any of the subsequent offers made to resolve the situation and its newer policy of avoidance of face to face negotiations in favour of activity in the international arena do not of course get any mention in Knell’s own little campaigning video.

After having found two people on the streets of Ramallah to endorse her claim that “many believe it doesn’t even matter if the next Israeli prime minister is Left or Right wing”, she closes by promoting the debatable notion that “the Palestinian president says he’ll work to revive peace talks with Israel”.

In less than two months’ time, the British public will also be going to the polls. It is highly unlikely that the BBC’s election coverage will include “UK election: The view from Buenos Aires”, reports in which Spanish officials bemoan the fact that the issue of Gibraltar is not on the British voters’ agenda or interviews with IRA officials claiming that the ‘occupation’ of Northern Ireland has gone on “too long”. Were the BBC to indeed produce such reports, British voters would no doubt question its editorial priorities – and perhaps its collective sanity.

The decision to allow the broadcast of this piece of blatant political propaganda from Yolande Knell, which actively detracts from accurate audience understanding of the topic she is supposed to be covering (as well the broader subject of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general), should likewise be questioned. 

Related Articles:

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – the run-up

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality