BBC World News’ GMT promotes spurious linkage and smear

In any country – including Britain – one can find extremist groups with a racist and/or discriminatory agenda. It is however highly doubtful that the BBC would broadcast a report in which a leader of the BNP or the EDL claimed to have the support of the whole of the British people without that statement being challenged or qualified.

On February 9th a filmed report by freelancer Camilla Schick appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Jerusalem Jewish group on anti-Arab patrol“. The report is about the fringe group ‘Lehava’ and it opens with statements from an unidentified interviewee. Later on Schick speaks to a woman who identifies herself as part of a counter group called ‘Speaking in the Square’ and asks her whether Lehava is “mainstream Israeli”.Lehava filmed

Woman: “Not mainstream Israeli…ahm….”

Schick: “But a significant minority.”

Woman: “A minority.”

That exchange does not of course clarify to BBC audiences that Lehava is a small fringe group with very limited following. Later on in the report Schick interviews the group’s leader and the misleading impressions already received by viewers are further compounded.

Schick: “Do you think that your views represent a large section of Israeli society?”

Gopstein: “We are the majority. Most of the nation are with us.”

Schick: “So you would argue that because it’s Jewish law that only Jews can marry Jews, that actually a majority of people in Israel believe in what you do?”

Gopstein: “We do what all the people here think.”

Schick presents no challenge to Gopstein’s delusional and patently inaccurate claims; evidently preferring to leave audiences with the false impression that his group’s extremist ideologies and agenda are supported by “a majority of people in Israel”. She makes no effort to inform audiences of the criticism of the group from the public and politicians alike (even though the BBC has reported on such condemnations in the past) or of the legal and police action taken against its activists.   

Although Lehava was established in 2009, the synopsis to the version of this report appearing on the BBC News website clearly attempts to create linkage between that group’s activities and the current wave of terror attacks against Israelis.

“As tensions between Israelis and Palestinians remain high amid spiralling violence, relations between the two communities have become more strained.

Each side views the other with suspicion and hostility, a mood often visible on the streets.

In Jerusalem, an ultra-nationalist Jewish group called Lehava has been organising patrols aimed at stopping Jewish Israelis from even talking to Arabs.

Lehava says it wants to protect Jewish identity – but Left-leaning Israelis monitoring it have condemned Lehava as racist and violent.”

This filmed report is actually just part of an item which appeared on the BBC World News programme GMT. Presenter Lucy Hockings’ very similar introduction to the film also promoted the notion of linkage between the activities of Lehava and the current wave of violence whilst promoting the notion of equivalence.

Hockings: “We take you now though to Israel where tensions between Israelis and Palestinians remain high and relations between the two communities are becoming even more strained. In Jerusalem an ultra-nationalist Jewish group called Lehava has been organizing patrols aimed at stopping Jewish Israelis from even talking to Arabs. Lehava says it wants to protect Jewish identity but Left-leaning Israelis monitoring it have condemned them as racist and violent. Camilla Schick has more.”

After the airing of the clip, Hockings interviewed a member of Lehava named Eli Rakov. During the conversation, viewers again saw an attempt to link Lehava to the current violence in the form of a sub-title reading “Israeli Palestinian tensions: relations between 2 communities becoming more strained”.

Hockings closed that interview with a question which again implies that the current wave of violence can be linked to the activities of Lehava.

“But can I ask you – if you have now got weddings taking place under police protection because your group is there chanting things like ‘death to Arabs’; there is this feeling even that you are creating a climate in which dialogue is offensive and racist – how do you think there can ever be peace in your country?”

In addition to the fact that the placement of Schick’s filmed report as a stand-alone item on the BBC News website clearly misleads BBC audiences by promoting the inaccurate impression that Lehava’s extremist agenda has support from the wider Israeli public, there is an additional aspect to both versions of this report which is worthy of note.

As abhorrent and offensive as Lehava’s agenda and activities are, they are by no means new and have little if any connection to the current wave of terrorism in Israel which – not for the first time – is misleadingly represented by the BBC in equivalent terms such as “tensions between Israelis and Palestinians” and “strained” relations “between two communities”.

Given that the BBC has for five months studiously avoided producing any serious reporting on the issue of the incitement and glorification of terrorism from official Palestinian sources which underpins the ongoing wave of violence and often includes racist themes, it is particularly remarkable that it now chooses to showcase and inflate a fringe Israeli group in order to promote the notion that it is that group’s offensive and racist dialogue which is the barrier to “peace in your country”.  

Are BBC audiences positioned to ‘judge’ Iranian denials of antisemitism?

The January 16th edition of ‘Hardtalk’ was devoted to an interview with two people described as “respected political analysts” from Iran and Saudi Arabia. The programme is available in the UK on iPlayer here and an audio version broadcast on BBC World Service radio is available here.

“There’s a faultline that lies beneath much of the current turmoil in the Middle East, and it runs between Riyadh and Tehran. Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran are locked in a series of conflicts by proxy. It’s a dangerous and costly struggle for regional supremacy that weaves from Lebanon to Yemen by way of Syria and Iraq. Stephen Sackur talks to Mohammad Marandi in Tehran and Jamal Khashoggi in Jeddah. Is there any way to take the heat out of the Saudi-Iranian confrontation?”

Oddly for a programme with that synopsis, at around seven minutes or so in, the discussion took another turn.

But does host Stephen Sackur’s claim that audiences listening to that Iranian propaganda from Marandi can “judge for themselves” really hold water? In order for that to be the case, the BBC would have had to report, for example, on the subject of this year’s Holocaust denying cartoon contest.Hardtalk 16 1 filmed

“Iran has announced that it will be holding a cartoon contest aimed at creating caricatures denying the Holocaust. This year, the contest’s grand prize has been increased from $12,000 to $50,000.

The contest, organized by the Teheran municipal authority, is calling for cartoonists worldwide to send in works denying and satirizing the Holocaust. Unlike previous contests of this kind, this one is especially significant due the fact that it is organized by official authorities of the Iranian capital, and has an international emphasis. The prize money is also several times what it was before.”

Not only has the BBC not covered that contemporary story but in the past it has downplayed similar events.  It has also distorted the results of a poll on antisemitism in Iran, promoted the false notion of ‘moderated’ Iranian Holocaust denial, airbrushed statements concerning the Holocaust made by Rouhani and in general done its level best to promote the chimera of a ‘moderate’ Iranian regime.

Contrary to Sackur’s claim, it is therefore highly unlikely that BBC audiences would be able to “judge for themselves” the authenticity of the claims made by the gently spoken Mr Marandi because the BBC has for the past two and a half years consistently avoided fulfilling its obligation to “keep them in touch with what is going on” in that field.

BBC Hardtalk host tells viewers Temple Mount is ‘the holiest of places for Muslims’

Earlier this month the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, was interviewed by Stephen Sackur for ‘Hardtalk‘. The filmed version of the programme (broadcast on BBC World News on January 5th) is available to those in the UK on iPlayer here and can also be found here. The synopsis to the filmed version reads as follows:Barkat clip

“Stephen Sackur talks to Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, about his ambitious plans to turn his city into a top global city hosting 10 million tourists a year.”

An audio version of the interview was broadcast on BBC World Service radio on January 6th and the synopsis to that item reads as follows:

“The Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, has grand plans to turn Jerusalem into a world city but is his vision far removed from the reality on the ground? He talks to Stephen Sackur about his aspirations.”

In fact listeners and viewers heard nothing about Nir Barkat’s plans to develop tourism in his city – not least because Stephen Sackur spent almost as much time talking as did his interviewee. Just under ten minutes of the airtime of a programme 23 minutes and 51 seconds long (including opening title and closing credits) were taken up by Sackur himself as he repeatedly interrupted Barkat’s answers in order to pursue his own agenda.

As is not at all unusual to see in his ‘Hardtalk’ interviews with Israeli politicians, Sackur ascended his pulpit and proceeded to ensure that what audiences took away was not insight into how the Mayor of Jerusalem plans to develop his city or what special challenges he faces, but politicized preaching on the topic of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The tone was already set in the introduction.

“Israel declares Jerusalem to be its undivided capital but the physical evidence inside the city points to a different reality. Jerusalem is a city of checkpoints, security barriers and constant tension between Jews and Arabs.”

That theme was further promoted by Sackur several times throughout the interview.

“If we as outsiders look at the city today it seems more tense, more full of fear and – frankly – full of division than ever before.”

“It’s a division. It’s a division. It’s a myth this idea of an open undivided Jerusalem.”

“Well as it happens…yeah Mister Mayor…as it happens I know Jerusalem quite well. I’ve lived there for several years myself [1995 to 1997 – Ed.]. It’s changed a lot since I lived there – not least because there are new security barriers, there are new checkpoints in place. This idea that you peddle that Jerusalem is an open and undivided city is patently not true. It is more divided – by armed checkpoints and the security wall and everything else – than it’s ever been before.”

Naturally viewers heard nothing about the nineteen years during which the city really was divided because part of it was under Jordanian occupation. As Nir Barkat pointed out, the vast majority of the checkpoints put in place in late 2015 in order to curb terrorism by attackers from Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem have since been removed: obviously Sackur failed to check the facts before employing that subject in his sermon. 

Another theme seen in this interview – that of irresponsible, trigger happy Israeli politicians – was also found in a previous one with Yair Lapid.

“You are the very mayor who, in the autumn of last year, advised all Jerusalem…Israeli Jewish Jerusalem residents…to carry a pistol. I mean, what kind of message is that sending?”

“…what do you feel about senior Israeli politicians like Yair Lapid who we had on this programme saying that in his view, if anybody was seen to pull a knife or even a screwdriver – to quote him – don’t hesitate; shoot to kill. Do you think that was the right, responsible message to send?”

“It’s not for you as politicians to inflame emotions and get involved in this sort of way, is it?…”

The perennial theme of Israeli racism was also promoted.

“You said ‘I’m a strong believer in profiling’. ‘Profiling’, you said, ‘helps keep the citizens of Jerusalem safe’. What do you mean by profiling? Who are you profiling?”

“I appreciate that answer but with respect, mister mayor, I don’t think anybody in the outside world really believes that the Shin Bet spends as much time profiling and seeking out Jewish extremists as it does Muslim Arab extremists. So I’m very struck by what Binyamin Netanyahu said just the other day […]. He talked about enclaves. He clearly meant Arab communities – Arab enclaves with – quote – Islamist propaganda, plenty of weapons, constant crime. This wasn’t pointing to individual threats and dangers. He was tainting an entire community. Do you do the same?”

“So do you disown the words of your own prime minister? […] Do you think – in the words of Ha’aretz newspaper – that what he said was very close to outright racism?”

Netanyahu’s words were as follows:

“There are many among Muslim Israeli citizens who have come out against the violence and are crying out for full law enforcement in their towns. At the same time, we all know that there is wild incitement by radical Islam against the State of Israel in the Arab sector. Incitement in mosques, in the education system, on social media,” he said, vowing to continue efforts to stop the incitement.

The prime minister said he is unwilling to have a state within a state in Israel, in which some citizens live in “enclaves with no law enforcement, with Islamist incitement and an abundance of illegal weapons that are often fired at happy events, weddings, and during endless criminal incidents.”

Sackur – who only minutes earlier claimed to “know Jerusalem quite well” – came out with the following inaccurate and materially misleading statement:Barkat audio

“Yeah, you’ve raised one particular grievance, one area of tension, which is access to the holiest of places for Muslims – they call it Haram al Sharif – it’s holy for Jews too; you call it Temple Mount…” [emphasis added]

Politicised messaging continued with repeated portrayal of Arab residents of Jerusalem as “second class citizens” and depiction of Jerusalem neighbourhoods as “settlements”.

“Yeah, but you know what Mister Mayor? What you haven’t mentioned at all are the realities about, for example, housing, planning permits construction. Look at the reality. Even today thousands of new housing units have been sanctioned by your municipality and the Netanyahu government for a whole bunch of Jewish settlements – as the international community still calls them – on occupied land in East Jerusalem. At the very same time we see that 14,000 Palestinians have had their residency revoked since 1967. It’s almost impossible for most Palestinians to get permission to build new housing on empty land in East Jerusalem. The reality of the situation is that, again, they’re second class citizens.”

Sackur is apparently convinced that he knows more than the Mayor of Jerusalem about construction statistics in that city.

“Are you telling me…are you telling me that the UN and others who have looked at the stats and say that more than three times as many housing permits, construction permissions, are given to Jews in East Jerusalem than to Arabs – Muslim Arabs in East Jerusalem – are you telling me that’s just plain wrong?”

Promotion of the PLO talking points put out a while ago by ‘Hardtalk’ frequent flyer Saeb Erekat was also evident.

“…but I spoke not a long time ago to Saeb Erekat […]. He almost cried with frustration when I put it to him that Israelis see ideological reasons behind the incitement – as you put it – of young Palestinian men. He said look don’t they understand that as long as Israel refuses to engage on the question of settlements, on the question of realistic negotiation of a two state solution, these people, the anger, the hate, will continue. Do you not get that?”

“Are you comfortable with the fact that unless you and other Israeli politicians recognize that in the end there has to be a sharing of the sovereignty of Jerusalem for a two state solution to work, if you’re not prepared to accept that then there can never be meaningful peace negotiations, can there? Are you comfortable with the position that you and your city are in?”

Sackur also came out with this gem:

“Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres, Barak, Olmert: all were prepared as realistic, pragmatic politicians to accept that there would have to be some sort of deal with the Palestinians over Jerusalem – some sort of symbolic shared sovereignty and internationalization of the holy places. Why won’t you?”

Leaving aside the fact that there is no evidence to support Sackur’s highly dubious claim that Yitzhak Rabin embraced the idea of “shared sovereignty” of Jerusalem, it is notable that he has obviously failed to ask himself why – if it is indeed the case that four Israeli prime ministers have offered to compromise on the issue of Jerusalem – have the Palestinians not seized any of those opportunities to make a peace deal during the last two decades.

Like so many others who adopt the messianic far-Left approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict whereby if only Israel did this, that or the other, then salvation would be instantly at hand, Sackur strips Palestinians of all agency or responsibility for the ongoing conflict. Hence, whilst able to admonish Barkat for his allegedly ‘unrealistic’ views on the subject of the division of the city, he is also able to ignore the fact that the “realistic, pragmatic” approach he holds up as the gold standard has been repeatedly rejected by the Palestinian side to the dispute. Likewise, that same cognitive dissonance enables Sackur to rebuke Barkat (and by extension, Israel) for the implementation of measures designed to cope with repeated waves of terrorism whilst exonerating those actually carrying out the attacks.

Obviously Stephen Sackur’s aim in this programme was not to provide his audiences with the opportunity to learn more about Jerusalem, the man who runs it or his plans for the city’s development. Instead, yet again, ‘Hardtalk’ audiences simply heard a so-called ‘interview’ with an Israeli public figure which is nothing more than a sermon based on Sackur’s weary – and by now decidedly dog-eared – charge sheet.

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Compare and contrast: BBC News personalisation of victims of terror

Whilst stuck in early morning traffic on the way to Manchester airport last Monday I found myself listening to BBC Radio 5 live’s morning broadcast. The programme understandably focused mostly on the weekend’s terror attacks in Paris and one feature particularly notable to Israeli ears was the effort made to personalise and humanise the victims. 

Listeners were given a range of information which typically included names, ages, occupations, family statuses, places of birth and education and in some cases also heard of the reactions of loved ones. Such information of course enables the listener to get beyond mere casualty figures and goes some way towards helping audiences appreciate the individual personal tragedies of victims and their families.

A week on from the attacks, that trend continues to be a feature of BBC content, with an article titled “Paris attacks: Who were the victims?” appearing on the homepage and World page of the BBC News website on November 20th and the BBC News Twitter account promoting a Facebook post devoted to tributes to the victims.

BBC News Twitter paris Victims 1

BBC News Twitter Paris victims 2

BBC News FB Paris victims

By way of contrast, the BBC’s descriptions of five victims of terror murdered in two separate attacks on November 19th in Tel Aviv and Gush Etzion are notable for the paucity of personal details. TA & Gush attacks 19 11

“Five people have been killed in two attacks in Israel and the occupied West Bank, officials say.

In the first attack, two Israelis were stabbed to death by a Palestinian man at the entrance of a shop that serves as a synagogue in the city of Tel Aviv.

Later, a third Israeli, a Jewish American and a Palestinian were killed in an attack near a Jewish settlement.” […]

“One of the victims, a man in his 20s, was declared dead at the scene by the Magen David Adom ambulance service. The second was rushed to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival.” […]

“Hours later, an attacker in a car opened fire at a busy junction and then crashed into a group of pedestrians, killing three people and injuring several others, the Israeli military said.

Two of the dead were identified as Jewish – an 18-year-old American tourist and a 50-year-old Israeli. The third was a Palestinian.”

Rabbi Aharon Yesayev, 32, from Tel Aviv, Reuven Aviram, 51, from Ramle, Ezra Schwartz, 18, of Sharon, Massachusetts, Yaakov Don, 49, from Alon Shvut, and Shadi Arafa, 40, from Hebron were not even named by the BBC in its report on the two incidents – even though that information was in the public domain by the time its final version was updated. Their photographs and personal stories are not featured in any dedicated BBC article or Facebook post.

Predictably, the BBC article on the attacks in Tel Aviv and Gush Etzion does not mention the word ‘terror’ whilst the article about the victims murdered in Paris opens with the words “Tributes have been paid to the 130 people who lost their lives in the Paris terror attacks”. Evidently the BBC’s two-tier system of reporting terror attacks is not only confined to the use of language.

BBC Hardtalk for Israel, Softchat for Palestinians

This is a guest post by Aron White.

In his October 21st Hardtalk interview, Israeli MK Yair Lapid turned the tables on presenter Stephen Sackur and made the following remark:Hardtalk logo

Yair Lapid: “I have been watching the show. Whenever a Palestinian is on, you don’t ask the questions that are that difficult.”

Steven Sackur: “Well you haven’t been watching the show enough then, because the Palestinians say exactly what you just said, “Oh, you are tougher on me than you are on him (the Israeli).”

An objective analysis will show that Yair Lapid is totally correct – Israeli guests on the show face a tough grilling whereas Palestinians and their supporters get basically a free pass.

Here is the introduction Stephen Sackur gave Yair Lapid last week:

“The latest paroxysm of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has conjured up a wave of horrifying images. Israelis stabbed in random street attacks, Palestinian suspects shot dead by Israeli police when seemingly no longer a threat, an innocent bystander beaten to death by an incensed Israeli crowd. Well, my guest is Yair Lapid, former finance minister, and leader of the Yesh Atid party. He has called on Israelis to”shoot to kill” at the first sign of danger. Will that kind of language enhance anyone’s security?”

This is a genuinely harsh introduction – and considering that Sackur draws no distinction between the Israeli victims of terror attacks and Palestinian attackers killed by policemen, it maybe is too harsh. But let us compare this with the opening Hardtalk laid out for Saeb Erekat during an interview in February 2014.

“What does the new right-wing Israeli coalition government under Benjamin Netanyahu mean for the Palestinians? The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has made moves recently to win international backing for his cause, particularly through the United Nations. Will this strategy help or hinder their aspirations for statehood? My guest today is the Palestinian veteran chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. Can they isolate Israel, and achieve recognition of a Palestinian state through international diplomatic channels?”

This is not the opening to a difficult interview in which Palestinian intransigence, rejectionism, incitement, corruption and human rights violations will truly be open for discussion. The question on the table is how best can the Palestinians isolate Israel: instead of asking hard-hitting questions, the BBC is merely asking whether the Palestinians can achieve their goals.

The Hardtalk bias was open for all to see during last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas. Hardtalk conducted two interviews on consecutive days – the first interview, on July 24th, was with Danny Danon, a former Israeli government minister, and the second interview the next day was with Khaled Mashal, leader of Hamas.

Here is the introduction to the interview with Danny Danon:

“Israel says its current campaign in Gaza is in response to rocket strikes from Hamas militants, and is aimed at destroying its illicit tunnels Hamas uses to smuggle arms. In more than two weeks of conflict, more than six hundred Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed, and nearly four thousand wounded. The U.N. Human Rights Commission (sic.) says Israel may have committed war crimes. About thirty Israeli have died, nearly all of them, soldiers. My guest today is Danny Danon, a member of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, He was dismissed as deputy defence minister earlier this month, for accusing the prime minister of being too weak in his Gaza campaign. How does he justify the high Palestinian death toll?”

Compare this to the introduction to the interview the very next day, with Khaled Masha’al.

“My guest today is Khaled Masha’al, the political chief of the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, which is currently locked in a grim and costly military confrontation with Israel in Gaza. Right now, the pressure on Hamas is immense, military, political and diplomatic. So, is the showdown in Gaza a battle for Hamas’ survival?”

Masha’al is not being asked any hard questions at all – no question about Hamas rockets, human shields, human rights abuses, or its openly jihadist constitution. Rather than hard questions, sympathy for Hamas simply oozes from the description of a “costly” conflict with Israel that may be a battle for Hamas’ very survival.

This highlights a further point: not only does Hardtalk ask Israelis far tougher questions than Palestinians; the interviewers openly display sympathy for Palestinians and their supporters. 

During his interview with William Schabas, initially appointed head of a U.N. Human Rights Council commission of inquiry into the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas who resigned from the post due to concerns about his objectivity, Stephen Sackur asks:

“You have talked about the campaign against you. We remember the full-page ads in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal condemning you, talking about your bias, I believe also, you had personal emails. You had threats. Did it get to a point where you could just stand it no longer?”

Yet when he interviews Yehuda Glick, the man who was shot four times because of his activism to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, Stephen Sackur never asks him how he felt, but instead offers this musing:

“I am guessing, Yehuda Glick, that what happened to you wasn’t entirely a surprise to you. You have been a controversial figure described by many Israelis, indeed many Israelis in the Israeli government and security establishment as a provocative figure and as an extremist for years. You have known that there have been threats upon you for years too. So although it was awful, it wasn’t really a surprise was it?”

So one man who actually got shot four times (for campaigning for what he sees as religious freedom) should have seen it coming because he received threats but another man who received threats (though admittedly, by “personal email,” no less) deserves our deepest sympathy. I mean, how bad are four bullets compared to an advertisement in a newspaper?

Hardtalk is deeply biased. It challenges Israelis about how they defend themselves, but poses no hard questions to the inciters, jihadists, rocket launchers and terrorists. For Israelis, an appearance on the show is a hard talk. For Palestinians and their supporters, it is merely a soft chat. 

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‘Hardtalk’: a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

 

 

Selective framing, inaccuracies and omission of context on BBC’s Hardtalk

Israeli MK and leader of the ‘Yesh Atid’ party Yair Lapid appeared on the BBC World News and BBC News Channel programme ‘Hardtalk‘ on October 21st. Readers in the UK can find the programme on BBC iPlayer here and a clip also appeared on the BBC News website.Hardtalk Lapid

Many of the questions posed by presenter Stephen Sackur during the interview provide an opportunity to look at the way in which inaccuracies, falsehoods and selective framing can be casually promoted by an interviewer.

In his introduction, Sackur frames audience views of the programme’s subject matter by depicting a wave of terror attacks carried out by Palestinians on mostly civilian Israelis as equivalent violence “between Israelis and Palestinians”, whilst portraying attacks in which people were deliberately sought out because of their ethnicity as “random” and their perpetrators as “suspects”. [all emphasis in bold added]

“The latest paroxysm of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has conjured up a host of horrifying images. Israelis stabbed in random street attacks. Palestinian suspects shot dead by Israeli police when seemingly no longer a threat. An innocent bystander beaten to death by an incensed Israeli crowd.”

In that last sentence Sackur refers – as is evident later on in the interview – to Haftom Zarhum who was killed during a terror attack at the main bus station in Be’er Sheva on October 18th. As the post-mortem showed, Zarhum’s death was actually caused by bullet wounds sustained when members of the security forces shot him after mistaking him for a second terrorist – but that does not prevent Sackur from promoting an inaccurate and context-free version of the story.

Sackur steers viewers towards a specific view of the cause of the current wave of terrorism in several ‘questions’, whilst again promoting the notions of equivalence and random attacks:

“Are you suggesting that the violence coming from the Palestinian side; that is the random stabbings we’ve seen – primarily stabbings – are you suggesting that it has nothing to do with the realities that Palestinians have to live with?”

“Of course that narrative may suit you but the Palestinians are quite clear. As Mahmoud Abbas has said, you know, ‘we are living’, he says, ‘under unbearable conditions’. And when that is the case, you get the kind of desperation – particularly amongst nihilistic young people – that results in the violence on your streets.”

Sackur manages to insert several ‘questions’ relating to a particular incident without providing viewers with a particularly important piece of context.

“Are you saying that some of the videos we have seen uploaded onto Youtube and elsewhere of Israeli police appearing to shoot in cold blood young Palestinians who appear to present no real and present threat – are you saying that those must be investigated and the police must be punished?”

“Have you seen the videos? Have you seen the killing of Fadi Aloon? You used the word justification earlier; are you saying to me that in the case of the young teen Fadi Aloon who was running toward the police, trying to get away from a mob who were baying for his blood and when the police apprehended him he ended up shot dead – are you telling me that was justified?”

Crucially, Sackur neglects to clarify to audiences that nineteen year-old Fadi Aloon had just stabbed a fifteen year-old boy when he was shot.

Sackur goes on to deliberately conflate terrorism with crime and imply Israeli institutional racism.

“But the bottom line is when people are committing crimes you don’t necessarily know whether they’re Jewish, whether they’re Muslim – whatever they are. Coming back to the words of the police chief; he says anyone who stabs a Jew is due to be killed. I mean, let’s face it; there are serious crimes in Israel that doesn’t involve Muslims. […] Do you think that the police chief would have said of a Jewish criminal that as soon as he commits any sort of crime like that he is due to be killed?”

The actual words of the Jerusalem police chief were spoken immediately following yet another terror attack – which Sackur again refrains from mentioning.

“Police said officers who ran to the scene “saw two Jewish men with stab wounds to their upper bodies. The policemen saw the terrorist with a knife in his hand and called on him to halt. The terrorist ran towards them with his weapon and the two cocked their weapons, fired at him and neutralized him.” […]

Jerusalem Police chief Moshe Edri praised the officers’ actions, and warned that anyone attacking civilians faced a similar fate.

“Policemen carried out their duties and arrived quickly. The terrorist was killed in under 90 seconds. Anyone who stabs Jews or hurts innocents — his due is to be killed,” Edri said.”

Sackur promotes the notion that Israeli politicians are to blame for “fear and anger” among the population while again inaccurately describing 29 year-old Haftom Zarhum as having been killed “by a mob” and giving a very tepid account of the terror attack in the bus station in which Sgt Omri Levy was killed:

“Did it give you any sort of pause when the young Eritrean man in Be’er Sheva was beaten to death by a mob who thought, wrongly, that he was involved in the shooting of an Israeli soldier? Did that make you wonder whether your message to the Israeli people was perhaps inflammatory and dangerous?”

“Senior politicians like you help to establish that fear and anger.”

Although he categorically states that Israelis have ‘dehumanised’ Palestinians (with no factual evidence provided for the claim), Sackur has nothing to say on the topic of whether those who shoot, stab or deliberately run over identifiably Jewish people have dehumanised their victims.

“Why do you think that – you called it a lynching – that kind of incident can happen in today’s Israel? Why is it, do you believe, that some Israelis have dehumanised the other – the Palestinians – to the point where they are prepared to engage in that sort of behavior?”

Viewers are told by Sackur that the “Palestinian leadership” (he doesn’t clarify whether that includes Hamas) is “committed” to the two-state solution.

“Of course the Palestinian leadership is committed to a search for a two-state solution. They say the problem is that Binyamin Netanyahu and his government have no intention of delivering a two-state solution and they say Netanyahu’s own words prove that because during the election campaign he made it quite plain: under his watch there would be no two-state solution.”

That very selective presentation of course fails to inform viewers that following the March 16th interview with NRG, Netanyahu later clarified his stance.

When Lapid tries to explain the significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, Sackur interrupts:

“Jerusalem is also the site of the third holiest religious site in all of Islam. […] Palestinians see what has happened; they see the facts of the last ten years. Used to be only hundreds of Jews every year would make the ascent up onto the top of the Haram al Sharif, Noble Sanctuary, the Temple Mount – call it what you will. Now it is thousands. They see that the Ministry of Religious Affairs in your government is now offering prayers of service guidance to people for the top of the esplanade. To Palestinians it looks as though this idea that the government of Israel will guarantee the status quo as was is no longer true.”

BBC Watch has been unable to find any factual information pertaining to that claim that the Ministry of Religious Services – as it is actually titled – “is now offering prayers of service guidance to people for the top of the esplanade”. The Israeli government, as Lapid notes, has repeatedly clarified that there is no intention of changing the status quo on Temple Mount. 

Once again donning his Palestinian advocate hat, Sackur also misleads viewers on the topic of construction.

“Let’s talk about settlements too because you say, you know, what’s happening today has nothing to do with the facts on the ground but the Palestinians beg to differ and they point to the massive growth of settlement activity over the last decade. Now, most of their towns across the West Bank, ringed by Jewish settlements.”

Had Sackur consulted the BBC’s favourite Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, he would know that:

“In fact, since Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009, there has been less construction activity in the settlements than under any other prime minister since 1995.

According to data from the Housing and Construction Ministry, an average of 1,554 houses a year were built in the settlements from 2009 to 2014 — fewer than under any of his recent predecessors.

By comparison, the annual average was 1,881 under Ariel Sharon and 1,774 under Ehud Olmert. As for Ehud Barak, during his single full year as prime minister, in 2000, he built a whopping 5,000 homes in the settlements.”

So Sackur’s claim of “massive growth of settlement activity over the last decade” is as inaccurate and misleading as his claim that most Palestinian towns are “ringed” – i.e. surrounded – by “Jewish settlements” and that has happened within the last ten years.

During this interview, Sackur claims that Palestinian interviewees on Hardtalk are ‘challenged’.

“Believe me; we challenge the Palestinians on the language they use….”

Readers wishing to judge for themselves whether that claim is true can find several interviews with figures such as Saeb Erekat and Suha Arafat here. Notably, Erekat was not challenged when he told ‘Hardtalk’ audiences that there is such a thing as “the ’67 borders” and Stephen Sackur had nothing to say about Erekat’s claim to be “a Canaanite”. 

So, while this may have been an interview with an Israeli politician, BBC audiences were also treated to selective framing, omission of relevant context and the promotion of inaccurate information which was not only materially misleading but would clearly influence their views of the subjects selected for discussion and the wider topic in general.

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ keeps Arafat conspiracy theory going

The BBC’s flagship interview programme ‘Hardtalk’ is broadcast on both BBC World News and the BBC News channel. On August 27th, both those channels showed a repeat of a previous edition of the programme originally aired in January 2015 (and previously discussed here) in which Zeinab Badawi travelled to Malta to interview Suha Arafat.  

As readers may recall, Badawi made no effort at the time to correct the inaccurate impressions given to audiences by Suha Arafat via statements such as:

“When there’s a rocket on Israel we have 1,000 people who are killed in the same day.”

“Gaza…the most crowded city in the world…”

“…more than 1,000 people who are still in the coma…” [after the conflict last summer]

“….nothing happen [with the peace process] because Israel continue to do settlements, Israel continue to build the wall….”

Obviously the corporation supposedly committed to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality did not identify any problem in repeating the broadcast of such inaccuracies.Hardtalk Arafat repeat

The synopsis of the repeat states:

“Earlier this year Zeinab Badawi went to Malta to meet Suha Arafat – the widow of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Ten years after his death, Mrs Arafat gave a rare broadcast interview about their marriage, why she believes her husband was assassinated and why she has chosen to live in Malta and not amongst the Palestinian people who so revered him.” [emphasis added]

Two months after the original interview took place, French experts ruled out the possibility of foul play in Arafat’s death.

“French experts have ruled out that the 2004 death of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was the result of poisoning, a prosecutor told AFP Monday

The prosecutor of the western Paris suburb of Nanterre said the experts found there was no foul play in Arafat’s death, which sparked immediate and enduring conspiracy rumors. […]

The French experts “maintain that the polonium 210 and lead 210 found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature,” Nanterre prosecutor Catherine Denis said.”

Last month – as the BBC itself reported – the French authorities closed the case.

“A French prosecutor has said there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

A murder inquiry was ordered by a court in Nanterre in August 2012 after his widow Suha alleged he was poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive element.

On Tuesday, the local prosecutor concluded the case should be dismissed.”

It would therefore be extremely interesting to gain some insight into the editorial considerations which led to this programme being repeated and BBC audiences being yet again exposed to amplification of a conspiracy theory which has already been shown to be a figment of Ms Arafat’s imagination.

Related Articles:

BBC News yet again amplifies Arafat conspiracy theories

‘Special edition’ of BBC’s Hardtalk to commemorate a terrorist

BBC portrayal of the Iran nuclear deal – part three

In this series of posts we have already looked at how the JCPOA agreement between the P5+1 and Iran was framed by the BBC’s Middle East editor and its chief international correspondent on domestic and World Service radio programmes. In this post we will see an example of what viewers of BBC World News television learned – or not – about the deal’s essentials when presenter Babita Sharma interviewed Israeli minister Naftali Bennett on July 14th.Babita Sharma

Bennett’s opening comments related to the problematic aspects of the deal’s verification mechanism, including the 24-day prior notice of inspections.

Bennett: “You cannot have verifiable inspections if you have to notify them in advance, if they can object and then there’s a committee. This is not serious.”

Sharma’s response to that point prompts the very obvious question of why the BBC bothered to invite Bennett for an interview in the first place.

Sharma: “You say it’s not serious but it is very serious. A deal has been done with the world’s major powers and Iran. Israel wasn’t there. It doesn’t really matter what you say about this because this deal has been done. It will be implemented.”

When Bennett tried to answer that point she quickly interrupted him.

Sharma: “But what can Israel do? What can Israel do at this stage?”

Seventeen seconds into his reply she interrupted again.

Sharma: “And how will you do that? And how will you do that?”

Without even waiting for a reply she interrupted once more.

Sharma: “Let me just ask you though – forgive me for interrupting. I just want to ask on the point you’ve just said that you will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. You’re echoing the words of Benjamin Netanyahu some hours ago saying that we did not commit to preventing an agreement but we commit to preventing Iran from acquiring weapons. What do you mean by that? It sounds like a threat of sorts. I mean what are you proposing here?”

Eight seconds into Bennett’s reply to that, Sharma yet again interrupted him.

Sharma: “But what does that mean? Now hold on a second. You’re quite happy…let me start over…you’re very happy to share with us your views about what’s not happening and how a deal isn’t right but you’re not able to tell us how you believe Israel is able to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. So with statements like that issued into the public domain, what are we supposed to read from that if you’re not going to back it up with telling us exactly what you’re going to do?”

Did Ms Sharma and her producers really think that an Israeli minister was going to provide them with the intimate details of any plans relating to the Iranian nuclear programme? Of course not: the clue to why this exchange even took place is in the prior framing: “it sounds like a threat”. Forty-four seconds later Sharma continued her theme of an Israeli ‘threat’ by introducing a topic unrelated to the P5+1 agreement with Iran.

Sharma: “Let’s talk about the security and stability of what’s happening in the Middle East; in the region that you’re part of. Ehm…let me just begin by asking you – Israel; is it not the only country in the Middle East in 2015 that currently has a stockpile that’s capable of making up to eighty nuclear weapons? Is that correct?”

Fifteen seconds into Bennett’s reply to a question she knew in advance he was not going to answer Sharma interrupted once more.

Sharma: “Forgive me though, that’s not quite answering my question. The question was does Israel have…does Israel have a stockpile of nuclear weapons? Is it a yes or is it a no to that question?”

And three seconds later she interrupted again.

Sharma: “Does Israel have a stockpile of nuclear weapons?”

Eleven seconds after that she cut him off once more.

Sharma: “OK. Naftali Bennett I have to…Naftali Bennett I did ask you – and it was a simple yes or no – does Israel have the ability to make eighty nuclear weapons from its stockpile in 2015? Does it have that capability?”

Clearly the aim of this interview was not to provide BBC audiences with an understanding of Israel’s concerns about the JCPOA agreement. What Babita Sharma and her editorial team did however seek to do was to frame Israel as a greater threat to “security and stability” in the Middle East than the theocratic regime which has already breached its NPT obligations and sponsors terror throughout the region and beyond.

Unfortunately, such cringingly transparent ‘journavism’ no longer comes as a surprise to BBC audiences.

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