BBC Radio 4’s ‘Moral Maze’ does ISIS, ‘Zionist terrorists’ and ‘demonised’ Hamas

The October 15th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Moral Maze’ – repeated on October 18th and available here – was titled “Talking to Terrorists”. The synopsis on the programme’s web page reads as follows:Moral Maze

“Former US vice president Dick Cheney famously said “we don’t negotiate with evil – we defeat it.” Unfortunately history is not on his side. It seems that almost every time a new terrorist group comes along and we declare we’ll never negotiate with them, we end up doing just that. The IRA, the PLO, Taliban, Hamas to name a few – we’ve eventually talked to them all. So why not talk to ISIS? Policymakers understandably respond with righteous anger and determination after a horrible event. Negotiations can give legitimacy to terrorists and their methods and set a dangerous precedent. Yet terrorists are rarely, if ever, defeated by military means alone. ISIS may seem to be well beyond the pale at the moment, but will that always be the case? And how do we make that judgement? A former director of the Israeli security agency Shin Bet has said he’d advocate talking to anyone – even the Iranians. That way, he said “we discover they don’t eat glass and they that we don’t drink petrol.” Are people’s lives being sacrificed as conflicts drag on because we refuse to talk to preserve our moral purity? Or do we have to take a stand between right and wrong, good and evil when it comes to a group such as ISIS? Should we – can we – balance the forces of pragmatism and principle when it comes to the prospect of talking to terrorists?”

Most of the programme focused on ISIS which interestingly was described by presenter Michael Buerk as follows in his introduction:

“They’re painted with some reason as fanatics, operating on the border line between Salafist extremism and religious insanity – beyond the reach of reason.” [emphasis added]

Contrary to the impression perhaps received by readers of the synopsis there was actually very little content relating to Israel, with the exception being a couple of ‘gems’ from Michael Portillo.

“So you wouldn’t say then that the terrible things they’ve [ISIS] done – Michael Buerk listed some of them at the beginning – you wouldn’t say that that uniquely sets them apart, let’s say from Zionist terrorists…eh….who formed the State of Israel, Hamas with whom we want Israel now to speak, the Taliban with whom we have all spoken – so it doesn’t set them apart?”

“But might it also be an interesting paradox that as we come under such pressure from Islamic State that we’ll want to settle whatever we can in the region, so actually we’ll probably be pressuring Israelis to talk to the formerly demonised Hamas?” [emphasis added]

What is interesting about this programme is the glimpse it gives those of us in the Middle East into the kind of conversations among intellectuals and policy shapers in the West. Especially notable was the notion proposed by two participants that ISIS fighters are essentially frustrated Sunnis expressing their discontent with a Shia-run Iraqi government and that if that was sorted out, the ISIS balloon might be deflated.

Another remarkable point was the following argument from Michael Portillo:

“I’m amazed that in this whole discussion more weight has not been given to the impact over the last ten years or so [….] of Western violence. Now that is not to say that there is moral equivalence, but it is to say that one of the reasons why I think people are being very violent in these countries is that so much violence has happened in these countries. The alternative to violence is talk.”

As is so often the case, the really interesting aspect of this programme was what was not discussed and notably the topics of the age-old Shia-Sunni conflict and political Islam were not brought into the discussion at all.

Dr Jonathan Spyer recently wrote the following:

“Because the nature of this struggle is not widely grasped in the West, policy appears somewhat rudderless. This is reflected in the current discussion regarding the response to the Islamic State.

First, Assad was the enemy. This was made clear enough not only by his support for Hezbollah and attempts to nuclearize, but also by his unspeakable brutality and use of chemical weapons against his own citizens.

Then, when the brutality of some of the rebels became apparent, Western public interest in supporting the rebels receded. Soon the I.S. emerged as the new bogeyman. Declarations for its destruction became de rigueur, though it is far from clear how this is going to be carried out—and a de facto alliance with Iran and its clients, at least in Iraq, has emerged. This was seen in the expulsion of the I.S. from the town of Amerli, a pivotal moment in the major setbacks faced by the organization in recent days. In that town, Shi’ite militias were backed by American air power—to telling effect against the Sunni jihadis.

But is it really coherent policy to be backing murderous Shi’ite sectarians against murderous Sunni ones? It is not. Of course, when the West backs the Sunni rebels in Syria, the precise opposite is happening. Weaponry donated to “moderate” rebels then inevitably turns up in the hands of Sunni jihadis, who do most of the fighting associated with the Syrian “rebellion.” The result is that in Iraq the U.S. is helping one side of the Sunni-Shia war, and in Syria it’s helping the other side.

Only when it is understood that the West cannot partner with either version of political Islam does it become possible to formulate a coherent policy toward the Sunni jihadi forces, on the one hand, and toward the Iran-led bloc, on the other.”

Dr Spyer’s article – which, like this BBC programme, gives little cause for optimism that the West will come out of its Middle East ‘moral maze’ anytime soon – can be read here

 

 

 

Bowen tweets reveal the BBC’s idea of ‘pressing’ news from the Middle East

It’s olive picking season in the Middle East and – seeing as of course there is absolutely nothing more pressing (sorry about the pun) going on in the region at the moment – it would appear that the BBC’s Middle East editor has plenty of free time in which to provide audiences with yet another one of those perennial political propaganda items loosely tied to the topic of the olive harvest. 

Tweet Bowen olives 1

 

Tweet Bowen olives 2

Tweet Bowen olives 3

Well that already oozes impartiality, doesn’t it? 

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Multi-platform BBC propagation of Alan Duncan’s ugly stereotypes and incitement

On October 14th an article appearing on the BBC News website was promoted under the heading “Israel criticises UK Palestine vote”. The report, which remained on the website’s Middle East page for three consecutive days and also appeared on the UK Politics page, was titled “MPs’ Palestinian vote sends troubling message, says Israel“. However, the 593 word article actually devoted less than a quarter of its content (116 words) to informing readers about Israeli government reactions to the previous day’s Commons vote.Duncan art

As well as presenting brief coverage of the views of the motion’s proposer and of the British government’s Middle East minister, the writer of this report chose to devote almost as much of his or her word-count to the views of another British MP as to the declared subject matter of the article.

“In a speech on Tuesday morning, former International Development Minister Alan Duncan said the expansion of Israeli settlements was an “ever-deepening stain on the face of the globe”.

Mr Duncan, who left the government in last summer’s reshuffle, told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “Having illegal settlements all the time is simply not acceptable and anyone who supports them, I consider to be an extremist.”

He said “the starting point in principle is that these settlements are illegal”, adding that the UK government “must be prepared to state this principle more strongly”.”

Predictably, the BBC’s report went on to present the usual mantra which is promoted any time the topic of ‘settlements’ arises and yet breaches its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to clarify to audiences that alternative legal opinions on the topic exist.

“About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

The October 14th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World at One’ referred to in that article can be heard here for a limited period of time with the relevant item commencing at 38:00.Duncan World at One

Presenter Martha Kearney opens by inaccurately informing listeners that:

“The former international development minister Sir Alan Duncan has launched a scathing attack on the Israeli government.”

As we will see in a moment, Duncan’s attacks went far beyond criticism of “the Israeli government”. She continues:

“He condemns Israeli settlements as an act of theft, saying ‘occupation, annexation, illegality, negligence, complicity: this is a wicked cocktail which brings shame to the government of Israel’. His attack comes less than 24 hours after MPs voted in favour of recognizing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Sir Alan, who left the government in the summer reshuffle, is now the Prime Minister’s special envoy to Oman and Yemen. This is very strong language you’re using.”

Duncan: “Yes, and we always go on about the peace process but it’s very important I think to go on about the principles behind it and the fundamental principle which I think governs the entire…eh….setting of the process is the fact that settlements are illegal. They are illegal in international law and they are supported every single day in their expansion by the Israeli government and I think this is unacceptable. And if Israel, as a democracy, says that it deserves to be treated as a democracy, then it should behave like one and having illegal settlements all the time is simply not acceptable and anyone who supports them, I consider to be an extremist.”

Predictably, Kearney makes no attempt to inform listeners of the existence of the many legal opinions which contradict Duncan’s oft stressed claims regarding the legality of ‘settlements’. She goes on:

“Well the view of the Israeli government is that the long-term future of the settlements is a matter for peace negotiations.”

Kearney fails to clarify to listeners that the Oslo Accords – willingly signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people – also define the issue of ‘settlements’ as a topic for final status negotiations and that nowhere in those agreements is any limit placed on either Israeli or Palestinian construction.

Duncan: “Ehrr…that of course is largely true but it doesn’t mean that they’re not illegal in the first place and this fundamental principle must be admitted by the Israeli government as the starting point for those negotiations. We all accept that the 1967 borders are going to encroach into the West Bank and that the borders of Israel are going to be larger, but the starting point in principle is that these settlements are illegal.”

Kearney makes no effort to inform BBC audiences that there is no such thing as “1967 borders” or that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically – at the request of the Jordanians – states that those armistice lines are not borders and that “[t]he provisions of this article shall not be interpreted as prejudicing, in any sense, an ultimate political settlement between the Parties to this Agreement”. Instead Duncan is allowed to continue uninterrupted:

“And every single time there is a step in the so-called process – even when Prime Minister Netanyahu is knocking on the door of the White House to see the President – they announce further settlements, insultingly and in defiance of international law.”

Kearney: “You can speak more strongly now you’ve left ministerial office but do you think the UK government should be speaking the same kind of language as you are?”

Duncan: “I think the UK government must be prepared to state this principle more strongly and perhaps diverge from the United States when doing so ‘cos we all know the United States is very much in hoc to a very powerful financial lobby which dominates its politics.”

There is no reaction whatsoever from Kearney to the promotion of that unmistakable ‘Jewish lobby’ trope by a prominent British politician on the BBC’s airwaves and neither of course does she bother to ask Duncan whether or not his political views are “in hoc” to the government of Oman in light of the financial contributions he has received in the past from that source.  Duncan goes on:

“But we, I think, a hundred years after the Mandate in the region…eh – second half of which we began to complete last night in the vote in the House of Commons in wanting to recognize Palestine – should make it absolutely clear that international law must be upheld and that anyone who thinks that they can defy international law or support that defiance is adopting an extreme position which is undemocratic, not acceptable and should not be part of our politics.”

The programme continues with an interview with Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, the introduction to which Kearney exploits for further BBC promotion of the misguided comments made by the MP for Croydon South during the previous evening’s parliamentary debate.

Kearney’s use of a quote from Duncan’s speech to the RUSI in her introduction to this item indicates that before deciding to invite him to appear on this programme in order to further publicise it, ‘World at One’ staff read that speech (which, incidentally, does not include even one reference to Palestinian terrorism) and decided that its writer’s messages were appropriate content for unchallenged promotion by the BBC.

From that – along with the fact that no attempt was made by Martha Kearney to correct any of Duncan’s inaccuracies or to distance the BBC from his use of an antisemitic trope – we can conclude that the programme’s producers, along with the BBC News website editors who also obviously found Duncan’s messages worthy of propagation to BBC audiences, were unperturbed by his employment of a multitude of lies such as “settler-only motorways” which of course do not exist and “persistent annexation of the West Bank” which has never happened.

We can also conclude that BBC staff found nothing offensive in Duncan’s crude and cheap caricature of half a million people: an intentional attempt to create a stereotype which many would regard as deliberate and dangerous incitement.

“In addition to being illegal, settlement activity is very often violent, nasty, and brutal. Not all, but many settlers are heavily armed and aggressive.

It is no exaggeration to say that many settlers are state-supported militia, defying international law, driving out the rightful inhabitants from their land, and creating an illegal economy at the expense of those who have been cruelly displaced.”

But Alan Duncan’s courting of mob mentality is not just confined to demonizing and delegitimizing half a million Israeli men, women and children because of their postcodes: he also seeks to brand anyone, anywhere, who does not agree with his falsehood-based conclusions and crude stereotyping.

“Anyone who considers settlements acceptable places themself outside the boundaries of democratic principle. Settlement endorsement should be put on a par with racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism. Indeed, just as we quite rightly judge someone unfit for public office if they refuse to recognise Israel, so we should shun anyone who refuses to recognise that settlements are illegal.

No settlement endorser should be considered fit to stand for election, remain a member of a mainstream political party, or sit in a Parliament. How can we accept lawmakers in our country, or any country, when they support lawbreakers in another? They are extremists, and they should be treated as such.”

Alan Duncan’s deliberate public promotion of illiterate and ahistorical populist lies should clearly be a cause of great concern to British voters in general and members of his party in particular – especially those who have previously spoken out against similar rabble rousing by George Galloway and the use of antisemitic tropes by David Ward. Duncan’s intentional propagation of crude stereotypes and his ugly incitement ought to render him unsuitable for public office – especially at a time when antisemitic incidents have just reached record levels in the UK and hence public figures should be doing their utmost to set an appropriate example.

The fact that the BBC has elected to amplify Duncan’s pernicious message entirely uncritically both on radio and on its website is yet another dismal example of the way in which the corporation – all too often unable to resist any opportunity to promote content which reflects its own ‘progressive’ political agenda – contributes to the spread of bigotry which propagates the stereotypes that are seeds of the weed of antisemitism seen not only on Britain’s streets but, even more gravely, in its supposedly most respectable institutions.

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BBC Radio 4 programme on UAVs lacks transparency and adherence to editorial guidelines

On October 6th BBC Radio 4 aired a half-hour programme titled “The Year of the Drone”. The programme was commissioned from Whistledown productions and was presented by Will Robson and produced by Harry Graham. It can be heard here for a limited period of time and its synopsis reads as follows.Drones R4

“Will Robson gets exclusive access to some of the British military’s most secretive, sophisticated and controversial drones, and talks to the men and women who operate them. He gets an insider perspective on what it means to fight a war remotely, and finds out how long distant combat affects those at the controls.

In a remote corner of west Wales, in a matt green shipping container, a group of engineers and military officials crowd around a high-tech bank of screens and joysticks. A monitor feeds them live aerial footage of the Carmarthenshire coastline. The image is crisp, they can make out dolphins swimming in the wake of a fishing trawler. They’re testing the limits of the British Army’s Watchkeeper surveillance drone, one of a new fleet of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) which have an £850m pound price tag.

The British military is a global leader in UAS technology, and Watchkeeper is just one element. As drones become ever more important to the way Britain fights its wars, the Government’s Select Defence Committee are demanding more transparency.

While the military have welcomed UAS as a way of reducing costs and casualties, not everyone is convinced. Critics say that drones could bring an age of airborne occupation and dispassionate warfare. They claim that when war can be fought without consequence to the aggressor, violence quickly becomes easier than diplomacy.

Will Robson explores the debate around one of this generation’s most divisive military technologies.”

Three minutes and forty-four seconds into the programme, listeners hear an unidentified female voice saying:

“The result is a lot of dead civilians and a lot of people unable to live in their own houses. It has brought safety to nobody.”

The identity of the unidentified speaker will not be a mystery to anyone who happened to be listening to Radio 4 on September 3rd: she is “Palestinian performance poet and human rights activist” (and now apparently also UAV expert) Rafeef Ziadah. At 06:45 Ziadah appears again – this time with an introduction.

Robson: “But that’s of little comfort for campaigners like Rafeef Ziadah of War on Want who believes that drones lead pilots into a state of dangerous disconnect.”

Ziadah: “It’s somebody sitting in an air-conditioned room miles away deciding who should die, who should live. There have already been many mistakes made and a lot of civilian casualties killed by drones. It really is not saving anyone.”

Robson: “Do you need to look your enemy in the eye before you kill them?”

Ziadah: “Does it make it easier to kill the enemy if you don’t look them in the eye? It’s the ability to wage war, to kill people and not feel anything about it or justify it because you are not there on the ground that is a very dangerous development. It was actually people within the militaries that said it’s better when people are not on the battleground. However, already there’s documentation of how drones pilots do get affected by what they’re doing, so I don’t think the psychological impacts are completely gone. We haven’t studied them enough.”

Listeners may by this time be wondering what the somewhat self-contradicting arguments of a campaigns officer for a charity which supposedly “fights poverty” are doing in a programme ostensibly dealing with the topic of unmanned aerial vehicles but – as is all too well known – War on Want long since departed from the agenda of fighting poverty and ventured into political campaigning. The connection between that and Ziadah’s appearance in this broadcast will soon become clear, but in the meantime it is notable – and of course entirely predictable – that Rafeef Ziadah has nothing to say about Palestinian terrorists who launch rockets at Israeli civilians from “miles away” without looking their intended victims “in the eye”. 

At 18:50 Robson introduces another contributor.

Robson: “Israel is also reported to be using armed drones over Gaza, although the Israel Defence Force has never confirmed or denied this. Chris Cole-Smith – formerly an officer in the Royal Regiment of Artillery – has carried out recent Amnesty International investigations on the ground in Gaza.”

Cole-Smith: “You know, the population are pretty much used to it now. They are a constant presence. Virtually every trip I’ve made into Gaza there has been the whine of drones overhead. They know they’re under constant surveillance. The population know very well that these drones have the capacity to kill people instantaneously and very accurately. Well, I’ve looked into the eyes of so many families of children who’ve been killed by the so-called state of the art weapons system which is just making far too many mistakes. One child was given a coin by his grandfather to go out and buy a new pen for his baby sister. Walking down the street he was struck by a drone missile. Now where’s the legitimacy in that?”

Robson: “You’ve obviously seen the effects of drones in conflict zones. Do you think the British public are as aware of the issues surrounding drones, or are there some misconceptions out there in the people you’ve talked to?”

Cole-Smith: “I do not think the British public are at the moment fully aware of how drones are being used in certain areas of the world and they certainly are not aware of the huge number of errors that is taking place in some of this targeting and needs to be made much more public.”

Robson: “The Israeli Embassy told us that as there was no detail on the alleged incidents they could not judge their veracity. But they did say that the IDF operates within international law while facing an enemy which operates from civilian areas.”

So in other words, Robson and producer Harry Graham thought it was perfectly acceptable to amplify Cole-Smith’s unproven third-hand anecdote whilst at the same time finding it completely unnecessary to clarify to listeners the fact that it is the numerous Islamist terrorist organisations operating in the Gaza Strip which are the target of Israeli surveillance – not the civilian population.

We will return to Mr Cole-Smith later, but in the meantime Robson continues with more amplification of Rafeef Ziadah’s real agenda at 20:24.

Robson: “Rafeef Ziadah from War on Want is concerned none the less.”

Ziadah: “Israel continues to rely deeply on drones. Not only that: they then export them to the rest of the world saying that they are field-tested. And currently the British government is importing this technology to produce a new drone called the Watchkeeper drone. This drone is based on a model that’s for Elbit Systems – Israel’s largest military company. It’s completely, completely wrong for the UK to be importing this technology.”

And at 26:13 Ziadah is heard again saying:

Ziadah: “So drones are a way to continue wars by remote control. This raises questions of accountability. When do we know how these wars are being launched? How they’re being stopped? The UK government is saying it’s going to leave Afghanistan, yet do we know that the drones programme – the drones flying over Afghanistan – is going to stop? There has been no indication of that.”

As regular readers well know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality and accuracy (applicable to all BBC content, including commissioned items) state that contributors should be properly identified, with the section titled “Avoiding Misleading Audiences” including the following statement:

“We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.”

So let’s take a look at some of the “credentials” of Will Robson’s interviewees which were not disclosed to listeners to this programme and yet, along with other facts, have bearing on its declared subject matter.

First of all, no mention is made of War on Want’s BBC-related funding via Comic Relief – a charity with no fewer than three BBC executives on its various boards.  Neither are listeners told about War on Want’s long-established record of anti-Israel campaigning and support for the anti-peace BDS movement. They are not even told of the very pertinent fact that War on Want has been running an anti-drone campaign for quite some time, with one of the main aims of that campaign being the promotion of a two-way military embargo on Israel.  

Had listeners been made aware of those very relevant facts, they would have been able to both comprehend Rafeef Ziadah’s motives for participating in this programme and place her contribution to it in its correct context. Notably, they were not informed of those factors and so the result is free BBC promotion for an organization which campaigns virulently against Israel on various fronts. 

It would also have been appropriate for audiences to be informed of the fact that War on Want is part of what is known as the ‘Drone Campaign Network’ and that another member of that group is an organization called ‘Drone Wars UK’ which is run by someone named Chris Cole: an extraordinarily similar name to that of the person appearing in this BBC programme. That Chris Cole is also ‘convener‘ or ‘coordinator‘ for the Drone Campaign Network. In addition, Cole is also a member of Pax Christi: an organization which does its own fair share of anti-Israel campaigning and promotion of BDS and is also a member of the ‘Drone Campaign Network’.

Coincidentally or not, this BBC commissioned programme was aired during the Drone Campaign Network’s “Drones Week of Action 2014” which includes events sponsored by Pax Christi and Friends of Sabeel UK, the publicity for which includes a link to Cole’s website. One of those events is a “vigil” at the Elbit Systems factory in Shenstone which has already been the target of previous actions by anti-Israel campaigners, supported – inter alia – by the ‘Drone Campaign Network’, Amnesty International and War on Want.

It is of course very revealing (and hardly coincidental) that the only “critics” of UAVs heard by listeners to this programme are those who also have an anti-Israel agenda, even though – as is noted in the programme – around a hundred countries manufacture drones. As is all too apparent, the claim made in the synopsis of this programme that it would “explore the debate” surrounding UAVs is actually nothing more than an opening for the context-free amplification of professional activists from organisations which employ the subject of UAVs as part of their political campaigns to delegitimise Israel. 

Update: 

We have been informed that the interviewee in this programme was Chris Cobb-Smith of Chiron Resources. Cobb-Smith has a history of co-operation with Amnesty International which includes the promotion of the notions that Israel illegally used white phosphorous in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead and carried out a ‘massacre’ in Jenin in 2002. He also worked as a ‘news safety advisor’ for the BBC between 1999 and 2005.  

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part three

On October 8th listeners to the BBC’s ‘Today’ programme on Radio 4 heard an item by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly (available here for a limited period of time from 43:58) which was introduced by presenter John Humphrys in the following flippant – and inaccurate – terms.Connolly Today

Humphrys: “The guns and the rockets have pretty much fallen silent in Gaza but the two sides are hardly at peace with each other in any real sense. The Palestinians accuse the Israelis of genocide. Israel sees its armed forces as the most moral in the world. Israel calls Hamas terrorists whose every operation is a war crime. Hamas sees its resistance to occupation as legitimate. Previous rounds of fighting produced controversial war crimes investigations and it’s likely that this year’s fighting will be no different. Our Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly has been listening as each side makes its case.”

The BBC is of course well aware of the fact that no “genocide” took place in the Gaza Strip. It also knows full well that Hamas is a terrorist organization and that its designation as such is by no means exclusively an Israeli view.

“Hamas is of course defined as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan – as the BBC’s own profile of Hamas clearly states. In addition, Jordan and Egypt have banned Hamas and Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organization, as do New Zealand and the United Kingdom.”

The BBC knows equally well that the Gaza Strip has not been under “occupation” for over nine years and that Hamas’ so-called “resistance” is aimed at ending the existence of Israel. One presumes that the BBC is also aware of the fact that the head of a prior UN HRC ‘investigation’ later stated “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document”.

Nevertheless, John Humphrys made no attempt whatsoever to inform listeners to Radio 4 of the actual facts behind his statements, thereby deliberately misleading listeners.

Kevin Connolly opened as follows:

Connolly: “The sounds of the summer war between Israel and the militant groups of Gaza have faded but the accusations that war crimes were committed on both sides haven’t gone away. It is a sort of second front to the bitter violence; an attempt to win the politics after an inconclusive conflict. [sound of an air-raid siren] The Israeli case against Hamas is simple: here’s an organization that hides amongst its own civilians to fire rockets at Israel’s. Two clear breaches – says Israel – of the laws of war. And here’s the senior Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti with his charge sheet against Israel.”

Barghouti: “Targeting civilians and targeting children and killing them. Indiscriminate destruction of very wide areas as well as using forbidden weapons like depleted uranium and other weapons that include…eh…cancerogenous [sic – carcinogenic – Ed.] materials. One very important point here was the unjustified massive destruction of whole neighbourhoods in Gaza.”

Connolly made no effort to clarify to audiences that there is no proven evidence to support any of Barghouti’s wild claims, thus deliberately leaving listeners with the inaccurate impression (for the second time in minutes) that the accusations made by that old BBC favourite may have some basis.

Listeners then heard a recording from a news bulletin: “A deafening blast. An Israeli airstrike…” after which Connolly continued:

“We all remember individual moments from the summer’s conflict. This is the American network ABC reporting the deaths of four little boys hit by Israeli missile fire as they played on a beach.”

Connolly neglected to provide listeners with any context to the simplistic account he promoted or to inform them that the circumstances of the incident are still under investigation. He continued:

“No-one would dispute that something terrible happened there, but I asked Israel’s deputy Military Attorney General Eli Baron if he thought it amounted to a war crime.”

Baron: “Basic presumption that every death has to be translated into a breach of the laws of war is just wrong because death – even of civilians – is not an unreasonable consequence of war. During war people die and it doesn’t always mean that there has been a breach of the rules. You may sometimes rely on wrong intelligence and sometimes you just make mistakes.”

The item continued with a recording of radio communications in Hebrew followed by Connolly saying:

“Israelis often describe their armed forces as the most moral in the world; a claim based on this kind of evidence. It’s a recording of a pilot aborting an attack because there are civilians in the target zone. The release of that kind of tape is meant to demonstrate Israel’s adherence to two basic laws of war: discrimination – you have to distinguish between military and civilian positions – and proportionality – any civilian casualties must be proportionate to any possible military gain. But Israel still has plenty of questions to answer. It hit UN-run schools in Gaza for a start and it targeted the homes of militant leaders, arguing they were also used to store weapons or control operations.”

Again, Connolly failed to provide necessary context such as the fact that terrorists fired missiles at Israeli civilian targets from the vicinity of UN-run schools. He went on:

“Israel’s military now says it’s conducting its own investigations. But Sarit Michaeli from the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem says that’s not enough.”

Connolly’s introduction of Michaeli and her organization is obviously intended to give listeners the impression that a “human rights organization” is a neutral body with unbiased opinions they can take as fact. That, of course, is not the case. B’Tselem is a political NGO which has employed a ‘human rights halo’ to advance its political agenda before, throughout and since the recent conflict, collaborating with additional political NGOs engaged in political warfare against Israel.

Michaeli: “The military advocate general provided the army with legal advice both before and during the hostilities. It seems absurd that the same person; the same – you know – office will now look at the orders that he himself approved to see whether those orders could have been unlawful. Clearly there is a major conflict of interests there. It is simply unacceptable as a way to ascertain the truth and as a way to ensure accountability.”

Obviously Connolly did not bother to fact check Michaeli’s insinuations before broadcasting them to millions in the UK.

“The IDF Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Benjamin (Benny) Gantz, has ordered that a General Staff Mechanism for Fact-Finding Assessments (the ‘FFA Mechanism’) will examine Exceptional Incidents that occurred during Operation ‘Protective Edge’. The FFA Mechanism, headed by a Major General, was activated soon after the commencement of Operation ‘Protective Edge’, in the midst of the ongoing hostilities. […]

The FFA Mechanism is currently headed by Major General Noam Tibon and is comprised of a number of fact-finding assessment teams. Each team is led by a senior IDF officer (in active service or in the IDF reserves), with a rank ranging from Colonel to Major General. The teams are comprised primarily of high-ranking IDF reservist officers, possessing operational expertise in a range of military areas (such as artillery, intelligence and aerial operations), as well as members possessing both legal qualifications and professional experience in the field of investigations. Each team is also provided with ongoing legal advice from legal officers in the IDF Military Advocate General’s Corps, who have particular expertise and experience in international law. An additional senior officer from the IDF reserves, with expertise in international law, has also been appointed to assist the head of the FFA Mechanism. None of the fact-finding assessment teams’ members served in the chain of command during Operation ‘Protective Edge’.” [emphasis added]

Connolly closed:

“Israel and the Palestinians are engaged in negotiations to firm up the ceasefire in Gaza. It says much about the prospects for any lasting deal that these allegations of war crimes will be traded and investigated in parallel with those talks.”

Not content with the promotion of this item replete with misleading inaccuracies on BBC Radio 4, a written article on the same topic by Kevin Connolly was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the same day. Titled “Israeli-Palestinian conflict: How ‘lawfare’ has become a weapon“, the article misrepresents Israel’s motives for conducting the routine investigations into the actions of its armed forces.Connolly written

“Each side sees the advantage of establishing the justice and virtue of its cause over the other – seeking a clear political and diplomatic victory after an inconclusive military outcome.”

Further, Connolly later adds:

“Israel’s fear of standing condemned before an international tribunal prompted it to begin those investigations before the fighting had stopped.”

In fact the Military Attorney General (MAG) investigates all allegations as a matter of course and without any connection to external ‘tribunals’.

In this article Connolly repeats the amplification of Mustafa Barghouti’s baseless claims heard in the audio version. (Incidentally, Connolly’s “influential Palestinian politician” gained the grand total of 26,909 votes in the last PLC elections in 2006.)

“The influential Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti, who spent time in Gaza during the latest bombardment, gave me a kind of charge sheet for Israel.

“Their war crimes included the collective disproportional use of force, targeting civilians and targeting children and killing them.

“There’s also the indiscriminate destruction of very wide areas, as well as using forbidden weapons like depleted uranium and other weapons that include cancerous materials. One very important point here was the unjustified massive destructions of whole neighbourhoods in Gaza, including in some cases the destruction of a whole town like Shejaiya.””

No effort is made by Connolly to clarify to readers that Barghouti’s accusation of “unjustified massive destructions” in Shuja’iya is inconsistent with the fact that the neighbourhood was the site of Hamas military assets including the entrances to almost a third of the 32 cross-border attack tunnels discovered during the operation. That very serious omission is of course hardly surprising: the BBC has consistently failed to inform its audiences of what actually happened in Shuja’iya – and why – throughout the entire three months since the fighting there took place.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

In the written version, Barghouti is also quoted as saying:

“If Palestinians have a problem, they are ready to go to the court,” he explained. “But the most important thing is to hold Israel responsible in front of the ICC. Israel has enjoyed a status of impunity to international law and to international humanitarian law. This cannot be allowed to continue.

“Israel has to be held responsible for the war crimes it has committed against the Palestinian population. Not only in the last war but in many previous wars on Gaza and in many previous attacks in the West Bank”.

As Connolly correctly points out, a Palestinian Authority decision to join the ICC could well prove to be a double-edged sword.

Connolly writes:

“The United Nations Human Rights Council has already established an independent commission of enquiry under the Canadian professor of international law, William Schabas – but Israel regards the council as a kind of standing kangaroo court which is biased against it.”

He fails to inform BBC audiences of Schabas’ record of statements which are the basis for that view and that it is also shared by others.

In both these items Connolly inaccurately presents the subject of ‘lawfare’ as though it were a policy used equally by both sides and passes up on the opportunity to inform BBC audiences how ‘lawfare’ is actually used by anti-Israel organisations as a means of delegitimizing Israel.

Connolly’s amplification of Mustafa Barghouti’s baseless claims in both his written article and the audio item join numerous previous BBC reports in which unqualified promotion was given to similarly baseless accusations from Hamas spokesmen and employees of political NGOs involved in political warfare against Israel – literally from day one of the recent conflict. Once again, the BBC’s supposed commitment to accurate and impartial reporting is trumped by its self-conscription to the provision of publicity for ‘lawfare’ campaigners.

Related Articles:

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part two

 

 

Jeremy Hardy promotes stereotypes of Israelis on BBC Radio 4

Judging by our inbox, quite a few of the people listening to BBC Radio 4 whilst in the midst of preparations for Rosh HaShana eve on September 24th were not amused by the BBC’s decision to air the polemics of anti-Israel activist Jeremy Hardy in an episode of the programme “Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation” titled “How to Define Oneself in Terms of Regional, Cultural and Geopolitical Identity Without Tears”.R4 Jeremy Hardy

Although Hardy’s show is ostensibly a comedy programme, even he describes the relevant parts of the programme (available for a short period of time here, mostly between 08:50 – 13:00 and 16:32 – 17:09 and also scheduled for repeat) in terms of his ability to “pontificate pompously”. On that point at least Hardy is not wrong; his ensuing monologues are however considerably less accurate. [all emphasis added]

“People who don’t have the right to national self-determination are likely to want it. Tamils, Tibetans, Basques, Kurds, Palestinians. And to take one of the more talked-about territorial disputes of our age, the State of Israel came about because some Jewish people wanted somewhere that a widely persecuted, dispersed, ethno-religious group could have a national home. Sadly one of the things that shapes our identities is other people being bastards to us. […] Zionism was a mixture of secular nationalism, religious separatism and desperation. The main problem with the plan was that the place chosen already had people living there. Palestine was ruled by Turkey until the First World War, after which it fell under British colonial administration. Yes – I’m afraid it’s another one of ours: we who have been responsible for so many partitions and nearly got our comeuppance last week.

The first British governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, described the idea of the new Jewish homeland as ‘a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism’. A prescient warning you might think, but this was a man speaking in favour of the idea. And the British encouraged significant Jewish migration on taking charge. There is the narrative that Palestine had been an empty wasteland – which is a lie. Yes, the new arrivals were industrious: you’re not gonna get that many people turning up from Poland without seeing a lot more construction than the British would get. But there were already Palestinian towns, villages and farms, mosques and churches that had been there for centuries.

Nevertheless, even some of Israel’s most passionate critics today are people who supported its founding in 1948. They argue that although Israeli governments are increasingly racist and colonial, the founding principles were noble. Other critics would see even that view as rosy-spectacled but whatever you think about that period, the State of Israel exists and one of the frequent demands of its government is that others recognize its right to exist. I’m not sure any state has rights. Whether a person has rights is a moral question – they’re not like kidneys – but at least ethical judgments apply more sensibly to human beings. We’d all say a person has a right to a house. We wouldn’t say the house has rights. No-one thinks a house has a right to exist: certainly not an Israeli driving a bulldozer.

Let’s imagine that all Israel’s critics recognize its right to exist as a de-facto state. That wouldn’t guarantee its continued existence in its present form or any other. Even now we don’t even know where its borders are supposed to be, so what are we ratifying? That’s what happens when you’re greedy: you keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger – people have trouble recognizing you.

And there might be a two-state or one-state solution. Over time states come and go. Yugoslavia doesn’t exist – it lasted 70 years and broke up disastrously on ethnic lines. Czechoslovakia lasted about the same length of time and split peacefully on ethnic lines. But Belgium was formed 140 years ago and still exists – if you can call it that. The Israeli government further complicates matters by insisting the country is not only recognized as a state, but as a Jewish state. But most Jewish people don’t live there; thankfully because we need them. One of the most popular voices on Radio 4 is that of Michael Rosen – the non-Zionist Jewish poet and children’s author. It would have been our loss if his parents had decided to raise him in Israel rather than north London and what a horrible book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ might have been. How many bears might have died on the pretext of the one he was looking for? Moreover, many Israelis have only little Jewish ancestry or none. Even without the occupied territories, a fifth of the population is Palestinian and demographics change and ideas about who we are change. […]

Speaking of food, Israelis famously insist the falafel is their national dish. Now you can lay claim to a two thousand year-old wall, but that’s just taking the piss. Of course falafels have always been eaten by Middle Eastern Jews – they were Middle Eastern people. That underlines the differences between those Jews and the Europeans who came to the region. And yes – we white Britons say the curry is our national dish, but we say it in a self-mocking way that acknowledges and thanks the various cultures that have improved ours. We don’t say it to celebrate the lasting trauma we brought to the Indian sub-continent. Well the BNP claims that we invented the curry during the Raj, but they are founded on an ideology that gave quite a boost to the idea that Europe’s Jews might be safer in a Middle East hotspot.”

So as we see, in addition to inaccuracies such as the representation of the Mandate for Palestine as a British colonial project, the claim that the British “encouraged Jewish migration”, the (obviously) unsupported claim that Israeli governments are “racist and colonial” and the falsehood that “greedy” Israel is “getting bigger and bigger”, Hardy aims for cheap and easy laughs by using offensive stereotypes of Israelis as being violent and aggressive.

Given Hardy’s track record of collaboration with the ISM, one would probably not have expected anything other than the exploitation of a ‘comedy’ show for the promotion of his own embarrassingly uninformed politics. That, of course, is a factor of which Radio 4 editors must have been aware in advance but, as we have seen before, the BBC seems to think that the promotion of inaccurate information and crude national stereotypes is perfectly acceptable – just as long as a ‘comedy’ label is appended. 

Related Articles:

Crude stereotyping of ‘expansionist’ Israelis in BBC 3 comedy show

 

 

 

 

R4 ‘Today’ editor: listener numbers down because BBC couldn’t ‘report on the ground’ in Gaza

A recent report in the Guardian reveals that the editor of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ thinks that its coverage of the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip has contributed to reduced numbers of listeners.Today 3 7

“Jamie Angus said some listeners had stopped tuning in to Today and had told him they could not take any more of “this terrible thing that I can’t influence”. This follows a period when the news has been dominated by the escalating civil war in Ukraine, with the threat of Russia and Nato being drawn into a wider conflict, the Israeli assault on Gaza, and most recently the rise of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.” […]

“Today had a weekly reach of 6.7 million listeners in the second quarter of this year, the last period for which figures are available, down from a high of more than 7 million in the previous three months.”

Notably, Jamie Angus attributes the drop in numbers of listeners to a non-existent factor.

“The difficulty in getting BBC journalists in to the conflict zones, he added, resulted in “a lot of argumentative phone interviews with angry people on either side”, which also proved a turn off.” […]

“He added: “One of the big challenges for us, if we can’t report on the ground which we couldn’t very easily in Gaza because the BBC only had two correspondents there, you end up doing a lot of argumentative phone interviews with angry people on either side and generally that’s an unrewarding listen and audiences will switch off after too much of it.” ” [emphasis added]

However, just days before the conflict commenced, the BBC’s Andrew Roy told BBC World Service listeners that:

“…the BBC’s one of the few organisations that has permanent offices in Gaza, in Ramallah, in Jerusalem, so we are better placed than many to make sure that we report both sides of the story.” 

Indeed, the BBC does have an office in Gaza City and in addition to that, between July 8th and August 26th BBC journalists reporting from the Gaza Strip included Yolande Knell, Jeremy Bowen, Lyse Doucet, Paul Adams, James Reynolds, Ian Pannell, Martin Patience, Quentin Somerville, Jon Donnison, Chris Morris, Orla Guerin and Kevin Connolly. For most of that period there were typically at least three BBC foreign correspondents in the Gaza Strip, together with their support crews and along with the permanent local staff.

The sheer volume of reporting produced by BBC staff during those seven weeks clearly undermines the claim that the corporation could not easily “report from the ground”, as does the well-known fact that the Gaza Strip is – as indicated by the arrival of some 700 international journalists this last summer – one of the easier places from which to report.  

Revealingly, the issue with which Mr Angus appears to be less concerned is the content and quality of BBC reporting from the scene rather than its mere amount. Had the BBC adopted an editorial policy which ventured beyond repetitive, homogeneous, context-free ‘disaster zone’ style depictions of casualties and damage and instead actually lived up to its existing commitment to provide audiences with factual and impartial background information on issues such as the reasons for the conflict and its development, listeners might well have felt that they were being informed rather than herded towards a specific view and hence shown more interest in what the BBC had to offer. But in fact, during seven weeks of coverage, audiences were fed little which deviated from repeated emotive, context-free ‘reporter in the rubble’ reports and politically motivated campaigning items.

Unsurprisingly, Angus’ statistics suggest that BBC audiences may expect higher quality fact-based content from a programme purporting to deal in news and current affairs. 

Yolande Knell’s Gaza borders campaign continues on BBC Radio 4’s PM

h/t JK

Since July a prevalent theme in BBC reporting on the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip has been the context-free amplification of Hamas’ demands to lift border restrictions imposed by Egypt and Israel in response to the activities of that terror organisation and others.

Initially, Hamas declared that the lifting of border restrictions was a precondition to any negotiations on a ceasefire and the BBC provided plenty of publicity for that obviously unrealistic demand – see examples here, here, here and here. Notably, the BBC also adopted Hamas terminology as part of its amplification of the terror group’s demands and began to inaccurately describe very specific restrictions on the entry of dual-use goods into the Gaza Strip as a “siege”.

Later, Hamas found itself obliged to climb down from that particular tree and demands for the lifting of border restrictions joined others, such as the construction of a seaport and an airport, as part of what Hamas promoted as its conditions for a long-term ceasefire. Those demands were also given ample promotion by BBC correspondents – see examples here, here, here, here, here and here.  

Even before the August 26th ceasefire agreement was reached the BBC’s focus turned to promoting the topic of the lifting of border restrictions via the subject matter of reconstruction of buildings and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. With BBC representation in the area having returned to pre-conflict staffing levels, most of that particular advocacy campaign has been carried out by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell who has in recent weeks produced several ‘reporter in the rubble’ items all designed to impress upon BBC audiences that those same border restrictions must be lifted in order to facilitate the reconstruction of houses destroyed or damaged during the conflict. Examples can be seen here, here and here. PM 18 9  

On September 18th the BBC Radio 4 news magazine ‘PM’ broadcast an audio item by Yolande Knell (available for a limited period of time from 50:52 here) which recycles material from two of her previous reports for television and the BBC News website.

The programme’s presenter Eddie Mair introduces the item with citation of Gaza Strip casualty figures which fail to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

EM: “The human toll of the most recent violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza is well known. More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers and seven civilians were killed. As our correspondent Yolande Knell reports, the physical damage to Gaza is also significant.”

Knell opens:

“There’s a single bulldozer working to clear a path through an enormous pile of rubble in Shuja’iya in Gaza. The scale of destruction here is overwhelming. Last month this area was pounded with tank fire and airstrikes as the Israeli military said it set out to destroy a network of tunnels used by militants for cross-border raids and storing rockets. Dozens of local people were killed and thousands were left homeless.”

There is of course absolutely no editorial justification for Knell’s use of the phrase “as the Israeli military said”. Knell and her editors know full well that Hamas turned the Shuja’iya neighbourhood into a district overflowing with military targets including missile launching sites and the entrances to some ten cross-border attack tunnels. There is also no reason to assume that Knell is unaware of the fact that among the “dozens of local people” killed in Shuja’iya were a significant number of terrorists who engaged in fierce fighting with Israeli forces tasked with decommissioning the tunnels. And yet Knell deliberately refrains from communicating that fact to listeners, who next hear a local man – who cannot have been unaware that his neighbourhood had been used by terrorists as a missile launch site – feigning surprise that those sites came under attack.

Man: “I was shocked. I didn’t expect to see my house, my street, my neighbours’ houses destroyed like this. Now the war is ended but really we suffer from now here diseases. We suffer from no water, no electricity. Everything is destroyed really.”

Knell: “Abdel Karim Abu Ahmed is an English teacher. As the chickens run through the ruins of his house he shows me where he sleeps on a mattress alongside his brother and sons.”

Man: “Now we haven’t furnitures, we haven’t blankets, we haven’t walls. This is a problem. But we have – inshallah – to rebuild these houses. We hope through negotiation – inshallah – they will bring what we need here.”

Abdel Karim Abu Ahmed the English teacher also appeared in Knell’s recent feature on the BBC News website which included an aerial photograph of the location of his house in Shuja’iya.  

English teacher's house

As can be seen from the IDF’s aerial map of the neighbourhood, at least five missiles were fired from close proximity to Abu Ahmed’s house and yet Knell neglects to inform listeners of that fact and amplifies his feigned surprise at the consequences.

English teacher's house missiles fired

Knell continues with promotion of the main purpose of her report.

“But so far, nothing’s changed to ease the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt and that means reconstruction can’t yet begin. By the Kerem Shalom crossing lorries are bringing in commercial goods – mainly food – but Israel bans the import of building materials for private use, saying that militants use them to build tunnels.”

Again, Knell’s presentation of Hamas’ proven misappropriation of construction materials for the purposes of terror in terms of “Israel says” has no editorial justification. She also fails to clarify that construction materials for the private sector were imported into the Gaza Strip until last October when a cross-border tunnel was discovered. Knell continues with a Norwegian Refugee Council official who also appeared in one of her previous filmed reports.

“Now international aid agencies are calling for a rethink. Ruth Allan represents the Shelter Cluster. It’s worked out there would still be a housing crisis in Gaza even if this crossing ran at its full capacity.”

Allan: “We’ve calculated that it would take 20 years to rebuild the homes. This is not including schools, not including hospitals, not including any other civilian infrastructure – oly houses. Basically 17 thousand homes were destroyed in this last war. Also, there is huge population growth and therefore there is a shortfall of homes.”

Next comes promotion of propaganda straight from the Hamas horse’s mouth.

“In Gaza City I meet another Palestinian inspecting his damaged house. Mahmoud Zahar knows that he was Israel’s intended target here as a founder and leader of the Islamist movement Hamas. He insists the recent conflict was a great victory.”

Al Zahar: “Now I think if we are going to make any election in any area in Palestine, Hamas will be number one – just because this is the first war that Israel failed to achieve any of its goals. Destruction of the tunnels: tomorrow we are going to start doing more tunnels. Tunnels was a self-defence. Rockets was a self-defence. Resistance was our style. Israel started the war and they finished by big losses.”

Knell makes no effort to ensure that listeners are not misled by the inaccurate claims of a man who, despite being on record as having legitimised the murder of Jewish children anywhere in the world and despite UK legislation on the encouragement of terrorism, is apparently still deemed by the BBC to be an appropriate interviewee with something to contribute to audiences. She continues:

“Such attitudes have angered the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who heads a unity government backed by Hamas. He’s warned they hamper efforts to rebuild Gaza. As far as Israel’s concerned, they justify its caution, particularly when it comes to construction supplies. Mark Regev is the Israeli prime minister’s spokesman.”

Regev: “As to materials that could be syphoned off by Hamas to once again rebuild their terror machine, well we’re taking now to the international community – to the United nations, to relevant governments – of how we can have mechanisms in place that will prevent Hamas stealing what is ultimately supposed to reach the people of Gaza. I mean the amount of cement that went into those terror tunnels could have built a dozen hospitals; let’s be clear.”

Knell concludes:

“Back in Shuja’iya residents are trying to clean up their homes. While Gaza’s now calm, they know there’s still no political solution to its underlying problems and now they’re feeling them more acutely than ever.”

Despite al Zahar’s clear declaration of intent to re-engage in the construction of terrorist infrastructure, Knell fails to join the dots and clarify to listeners that there is no chance of success for any “political solution” to the Gaza Strip’s “underlying problems” which does not include adherence to the PA’s existing agreements with Israel – i.e. the disarming of all terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip. Neither is she apparently concerned by the fact that her own role in the BBC’s repeated advocacy for Hamas’ political campaign to lift border restrictions is likely to contribute to the current calm in the Gaza Strip being very short-lived. 

A wasted opportunity: BBC R4’s ‘Media and the Middle East’

As we noted here a few days ago, the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Archive on 4′ broadcast an edition titled “Media and the Middle East” on September 13th, presented by John Lloyd. On September 15th a written article by Lloyd appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “How the Western media’s Middle East coverage has changed“.Archive on 4

Those who had anticipated hearing answers to the questions posed in the radio programme’s synopsis would have been largely disappointed.

A significant proportion of the programme is made up of archive material from the BBC and others: a glimpse of how the subject was reported in yesteryear. Unfortunately, quite a few of those ‘historical’ parts of the programme are accompanied by inaccurate and misleading statements.

For example, after a segment from a Movietone News feature, Lloyd tells listeners:

“Its coverage of Palestine in the years before Israel became a state described as criminals the armed Jewish guerilla groups dedicated to ridding the country of British soldiers. Groups like the Stern Gang and the Irgun used the terror tactics of bombs and assassinations against the army deployed to keep the peace in Palestine, for which the British then had the mandate.”

Similarly, in his written article Lloyd states:

“In the closing years of World War Two and in the three years after it, the Jewish Irgun and Stern gangs who sought to force the British out of Palestine carried out a series of bloody attacks on British soldiers and officials.

Jews were labelled by the British as “terrorists”.”

John Lloyd might be interested to learn that they still are: for a fee of £195, educators can purchase a video from the BBC on the topic of “Early Israeli Terrorism“. But of course what is really important here is that Lloyd misrepresents the purpose of the mandate with which Britain was entrusted. The aim of that mandate was not to “keep the peace”, but to establish a Jewish homeland in accordance with the San Remo declaration and the League of Nations directive. That was a mandate, it transpired, the British had no intention of fulfilling – as was apparent from British actions such as the restrictions imposed on Jewish immigration to Palestine (though never on Arab immigration), even as persecution of Jews in Europe escalated and reached its unprecedented climax.

Likewise, Lloyd completely ignores events such as the Arab riots of 1929 and 1936 and even the post-Partition Plan violence of 1947, taking listeners to 1949 by means of an archive broadcast which states:

“Nearly a million harmless Arab villagers have been made homeless as a result of war in the Holy Land.”

The Six Day War and the Yom Kippur war are not presented with any better context and listeners hear Lloyd claim that:

“In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon in retaliation for an attempted assassination of the country’s ambassador in London by a Palestinian dissident group.”

The fact that by June 1982 Israeli civilians all over the Galilee had been under Katyusha fire from Palestinian terrorists in southern Lebanon for months and 29 people had been killed and over 300 injured in PLO attacks since July the previous year despite a supposed ceasefire is not imparted to BBC audiences.

The first intifada is described by Lloyd in the anodyne terms of “an escalating campaign of disobedience” with no mention of violence from the Palestinian side. The post-Oslo campaign of terrorism is completely ignored and the peace process is described as having been “broken” by the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin rather than by Arafat’s decision to launch the second Intifada. Moreover, Lloyd uses an archive clip obviously from the autumn of 2000 which repeats one of the BBC’s most egregious – and most widely promoted – falsehoods.

“The violence was sparked off three days ago when the right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visited one of Islam’s holiest sites in Jerusalem.”

So as we see from the examples above, one very serious problem with this programme is that its attempt to use historic events as a means by which to explain the shifts in the media’s approach to Israel are hampered by the fact that Lloyd is unable to step outside the often incorrect accepted BBC narratives relating to those events and even amplifies them further. If one perhaps thought that basing a theory of changes in media attitudes as having resulted from Israeli actions would necessarily involve getting the history right, one would obviously be mistaken. 

With the help of his guests – heavily tipped in favour of the Palestinian narrative by number – Lloyd lays out a theory according to which Western media reporting from 1948 to 1967 was dominated by a colonialist attitude which, according to Daoud Kuttab, meant that Palestinians were sold short by Western journalists because they were not represented as a nation. Of course one very significant factor in that discussion should have been the fact that whilst Palestinians lived under Egyptian and Jordanian control for those 19 years, neither they nor their Arab rulers made any move to establish a Palestinian nation-state or to promote Palestinian nationhood. The reasons for that are well documented, but they do not fit into the narrative this programme seeks to promote.

According to another of Lloyd’s guests, David Cesarani, the “watershed in media coverage and perceptions of Israel” came in 1982 as a result of the first Lebanon war. Cesarani claims that from then on, Israel was no longer seen as a “plucky little state” and that instead it turned into “the bullying regional superpower, crushing relentlessly the Palestinian people – dispossessed refugees – turning all the might of a modern military force on people who could barely fight back”. Of course that simplistic theory only works if – as Lloyd takes care to do – one isolates the Palestinian issue and ignores the fact that actually it is just one aspect of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict.

That framing is reinforced by Chris Doyle of CAABU:

“Now I think in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian issue it is a question of the Palestinians being David to the Israeli Goliath and this is something that is not always there in the framing of the coverage: the permanent reminder – as I believe is necessary – that it is a question of an occupying power and an occupied people and that the Palestinians have very, very few options.”

One of the more disturbing aspects of this programme from this listener’s point of view was the way in which it promoted the inaccurate and ridiculous notion that Jewish self-determination can legitimately be defined as colonialism. Anton la Guardia of the Economist told audiences that “in a sense Palestine is the last great anti-colonial struggle” and later – as part of the programme’s effort to answer the question “why does this particular conflict, above all others, attract the attention it does?” – promoted the theory that:

“To some extent your position on Palestine defines your political position on other things – in part because of this question of colonialism and the Palestinian struggle.” 

Lloyd made no attempt to clarify to audiences the illegitimacy of the colonial analogy, which was also used by other guests. Moreover, no effort was made to examine the effects of factors prevalent in Western society as part of a possible answer to the question of why so many people who know precious little about the Middle East express such strong opinions on the topic. Lloyd written

The fact, for example, that whilst Europeans have for several decades now regarded the model of European ‘unity’ and the sidelining of national identities as the best means to ensure peace on their continent certainly affects the way in which they view a people whose answer to the horrors of World War Two was to go and build a nation state. The fact that fewer and fewer of those expressing an opinion – including journalists – on the topic of Israel’s military conflicts have actually lived through war themselves, seen their loved ones go off to battle, been attacked by missiles or suicide bombers or experienced anything even approaching an existential threat is also a factor which needs to be taken into account.

And of course the fact that a simplistic and one-dimensional version of ‘the Palestinian cause’ (notably characterized by an astounding lack of interest in the basic rights of Palestinian women, gays and Christians) has become a fashion accessory-cum-political statement in Western society which is simultaneously nurtured and fed upon by the media (for example in programmes such as the BBC’s ‘World Have Your Say’) is also significant in terms of the style and content of coverage presented. Western society – including its media mirror – sanctifies the view according to which one does not need to have an understanding of a topic in order to express an opinion about it and all opinions are equally valid. That approach may be harmless when it comes to texting a vote for the perceived best dancer of the waltz in a televised reality show, but it takes on an entirely different meaning when uninformed and often prejudicial views on international affairs are amplified – unchallenged – on ‘have your say’ style current affairs programmes.  

An additional notable aspect of this programme was the platform given to Jeremy Bowen to promote his well-known frustrations with regard to what he perceives as organized campaigns of complaint regarding BBC coverage.

“And there would be phone calls sometimes which we’d try to deal with and of course there’d be letters. Almost all from supporters of Israel – 99% I’d say. […] Palestinians weren’t organized in the same sort of way.”

Lloyd too appears to have adopted the same view:

“Palestinians weren’t geared to complain as Israelis and the Jewish diaspora were.”

Of course as we know very well, veteran organisations such as CAABU and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – both of which have now been active for decades – are in fact extremely well-organized when it comes to orchestrating complaints campaigns and lobbying the BBC.

The programme’s brief coverage of this summer’s conflict failed to address relevant topics such as Hamas’ intimidation of foreign journalists and why hardly any footage was shown by Western media crews of terrorists in action, with the result being that most organisations falsely framed the subject as an Israeli war against the people of Gaza. Ethical questions such as should the BBC film in morgues and hospital wards in Gaza if it would not film similar footage in the UK were ignored. The fact that Israeli society does not accept the screening of graphic images of dead or injured people – and therefore no such images were filmed in Israel even though lethal events happened there – whilst Palestinian society has no such social taboos and hence graphic images were broadcast to Western audiences in abundance, raises professional questions this programme made no attempt to address.

Two separate segments of the radio programme related to Jon Snow of Channel 4’s decision to place his personal need to “bear witness” to what he saw in the Gaza Strip this summer above his obligations to journalistic ethics. Snow was of course far from the only journalist to adopt such an approach even though others – including BBC employees – may have been more subtle in expressing their self-indulgence. However, the programme made no attempt to explore the question of whether the industry’s acceptance of such an approach actually renders it insignificant. After all, if audiences are going to hear and read the personal views of Jon Snow or Orla Guerin in place of accurate and impartial reporting, they can just as well find similarly expressed personal opinions – for which they do not have to pay a licence fee – at thousands of other locations on the internet. 

All in all, this programme can be described as a wasted opportunity as far as its success in informing audiences about the issues it ostensibly set out to address is concerned. More worrying was the promotion (also in Lloyd’s written article) of historical inaccuracies, existing misleading BBC narratives and the language of anti-Israel propaganda. That aspect of these two items of BBC content suggests that objective examination of the media’s role in shaping public opinion on the Middle East and its adherence to the standards of journalism expected by the general public cannot effectively be carried out solely by members of a profession who have, in no small numbers, revealed over the past few months the existence of an organisational culture which allows personal politics to trump commitment to professional standards and obligations. 

One to listen out for on BBC Radio 4

On Saturday September 13th at 20:00 UK time BBC Radio 4’s ‘Archive on 4′ will broadcast an episode titled “Media and the Middle East“. The synopsis reads as follows:Archive on 4

“The rockets and missiles fly, from Israel into Gaza, from Gaza into Israel. It’s the latest iteration of the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours which has flared since the very founding of the Jewish state in 1948.

Accompanying the conflict has been an unprecedented level of media coverage. And almost nothing is uncontested. Every sentence, every word of a news report is parsed for signs of bias by individuals and organisations dedicated to ensuring a fair deal for their point of view. Coverage is measured in minutes and seconds of airtime. Media organisations stand accused, by both sides, of prejudice, systemic bias and deliberate distortion.

Why does this particular conflict, above all others, attract the attention it does? And why does it create such strong emotion, even among those with no connection to the region?

John Lloyd, a contributing editor at the Financial Times, examines the evolution of coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the founding of Israel to the present day.

With contributions from journalists and those who monitor them, Lloyd asks why there is such focus both on the conflict itself and on those who report it. He traces the way reporting has developed from the early television age, through the introduction of 24-hour news channels to the inception of social media. And he examines the challenges of reporting fairly and accurately on a conflict in which every assertion is contested.”

John Lloyd is also a founder and director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford (which readers may recall has been the recipient of BBC funding) and in addition he writes a blog at Reuters. Some of his recent entries relevant to the topic under discussion in the above programme can be seen here, here and here