BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Israel’s Minister of Economy and Commerce

For those who have not yet had the chance to view it, here is the February 24th ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Naftali Bennett, with Hebrew subtitles.

Readers will note that whilst presenter Stephen Sackur invokes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions spectre, in line with what is increasingly looking like standard BBC policy, he fails to provide viewers with any information whatsoever regarding the end game of the BDS political campaign and hence both deprives them of the ability to place those threats in their proper context and whitewashes that campaign’s destructive nature. 

A segment of the interview was also promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the apparently deliberately simplistic title “Naftali Bennett: Israeli settlements must stay”. At the time of writing, that clip had been left up for seven consecutive days. 

Bennett Hardtalk interview clip

BBC’s Hardtalk provides platform for Saeb Erekat’s fabricated histories – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the first part of an interview with Saeb Erekat on the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk’ which was broadcast on February 18thErekat HT

The remainder of the interview begins with presenter Stephen Sackur challenging Erekat on the subject of the ‘right of return’.

“…there are mixed messages here because not so very long ago – just a few weeks ago – your president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas was telling a delegation of young Israelis that he would not – and I quote his words – drown Israel with millions of Palestinian refugees to change the nature of Israel. If he’s prepared to say that, then surely it is not much of a stretch to give the Israelis what they want; acknowledge the nation of the Jewish people and then move on to the issues that really are at the crux of this including borders, security, settlements and Jerusalem.”

Unfortunately, Sackur does not seem to appreciate that even if Abbas’ quoted statement was sincere (and there is of course ample evidence of the PA’s practice of delivering differing messages in English and in Arabic), there is little sign that it is representative of the approach taken by broader Palestinian society. Having accused Sackur of “repeating exactly what Prime Minister Netanyahu is saying”, Erekat goes on to say:

“Now let me put the record straight on what Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] said about refugees. No refugee mandated me to negotiate on his behalf. In international law, the British Palestinian who lives in Britain and has British citizenship, he will make his choice. Abu Mazen said that’s the choice of every single refugee. They have…we have to establish an international mechanism and in that international mechanism, US, Europe, Arabs, UN, host countries, Israel, Palestine will go to refugees and give them the choices of whether they have the right to come to Palestine with the compensation – Israel will compensation – remaining where they are. And that’s how you end conflict and that’s how you end the claims. But if the Israelis want for me to come and through Hardtalk and say I give this up, I give this in, I give this up – what is there left to negotiation?

And I say proudly today that my president says he recognize the State of Israel right to exist on ’67. Can you tell me if there is one single Israeli minister in the cabinet – including their prime minister – who have [sic] said that he’s willing to recognize the State of Palestine on ’67? He’s willing to recognize East Jerusalem as capital? And they should stand tall and apologise for the Palestinian refugees’ suffering. They made them suffer and they should reach out to them and yes an international mechanism must be established to give them the choice.”

Avoiding informing audiences of the Arab League policies which have deliberately kept the descendants of refugees in that status for generations or any mention of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, Sackur also fails to clarify the very important point being made by Erekat: that the PLO negotiators do not actually consider themselves to have a mandate to negotiate on the vital subject of refugees. Instead, he moves on to question Erekat on the subject of land swaps whilst himself also promoting the erroneous notion of a “’67 border”.

“If I may say so, your repetition of the ’67 line as a fundamental principle is well known but it is also, is it not, well known that the Americans have taken a view in the course of this Kerry negotiation that there will have to be modifications to the ’67 border and that according again to leaks in the American press, the Americans believe a line can be drawn and land swaps implemented which will leave 75 to 80 percent of Jewish settlers able to stay in their homes on occupied territory as part of the peace deal. Are you saying that is fundamentally impossible?” Hardtalk Erkat WS

Erekat replies:

“Look if you guys think about nation states swapping territories by their consent, it happened between many countries you know – Peru/Ecuador, US/Mexico, US/Canada, Jordan/Iraq, Jordan/Saudi Arabia. It happened in Africa, in many cases. Now: can I see the map of the State of Israel? Can someone in Israel… can John Kerry come to me and tell me this is the…these are the borders of Israel ’67 and we want you to have land swaps in accordance with this map? What swaps? You talking about – without me knowing – which defines Israel’s borders? They haven’t even – they’re the only nation on earth who have not recognized their borders. They don’t have borders yet. They didn’t define their borders. So the minute they recognize their borders, the minute they recognize me as a sovereign Palestinian state, I’m willing to engage in the concept of land swaps. But how can I do this now before them putting a map on the table of their borders and their map? They haven’t done this. They haven’t been willing to say ’67….”

Sackur: “What they have done…I’ll tell you what they have done and this – if I may…”

Erekat: “They have ….10,500 housing units. They have added 10,500 housing units existing settlements in ..”

Sackur: “Yes they have.”

Erekat: “…the supposed to be Palestinian state – which is four times the natural growth of New York – in the past four months and you’re telling me this is the behaviour of a government that wants to make two-state solution?”

Sackur: “Yep. Every Israeli and international monitoring organization that looks at Jewish settlement activity says the construction continues apace. Nobody disputes that.”

In other words, Sackur gives BBC ‘authority’ to Erekat’s claim that 10,500 housing units have been “added” – which most listeners or viewers will take to mean built – in the past four months. He makes no attempt to clarify to audiences that Erekat’s numbers actually relate to building tenders and announcements – as can be seen in a document produced by the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department which Erekat heads.

In fact, the statistics for the whole of 2013 – not just from the end of July when the talks resumed – show a total of 44,343 building starts in the whole of Israel, with 2,534 of those being in Judea & Samaria and 4,625 in the entire city of Jerusalem. The statistics for completed construction in 2013 show 41,972 completes in the entire country of which 1,365 were located in Judea & Samaria and 3,652 in the city of Jerusalem as a whole. Clearly both Sackur and Erekat are quoting inaccurate statistics and hence deliberately misleading BBC audiences on this subject. 

Next Sackur challenges Erekat on the practicalities of the demand for eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

“I’ve been visiting your part of the world for the best part of a quarter of a century – almost as long as you’ve been a negotiator. I have seen the facts on the ground change over the years. East Jerusalem for example is now – the Arab East Jerusalem that we talk about – is encircled by a vast chain of Jewish housing from – what is it? – Pisgat Ze’ev in the north, right round through Ma’ale Adumim to Gilo and Har Homa in the south. I mean that is the reality and when you talk about East Jerusalem being the future capital of Palestine, you know as well as I do that East Jerusalem is now fundamentally disconnected from the West Bank. Isn’t it time for you to deal with realities rather than dreams?

Erekat answers:

“No actually I’m not dreaming. I’m gonna tell you something very frankly Stephen. Without East Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine there is no meaning to have a Palestinian state. And I want any Israeli to look me in the eye and walk me through my home town Jericho on the Jordan River to Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean in the year 2019. What do they see on this land? Are Christian and Muslim Palestinians going to convert to become Israelis? Or are Jews going to convert to Christianity and Islam and become Palestinians? This is not happen. This fait accompli policies of settlements. As much as they dismantle them in Sinai and in Gaza, these are the main obstacle to peace and we’ve been saying that they have to make the choice – settlements or peace – but they can’t have both and that’s why we’re reaching this difficult situation and that’s why Netanyahu is insisting in destroying and undermining Kerry’s efforts by the continuation of the settlement activities in Pisgat Ze’ev, Neve Ya’akov, Ma’ale Adumim and in the West Bank and in everywhere.”

With no questioning of Erekat’s bizarre ‘conversion’ statements and no challenge to Erekat’s chimera of ‘settlements’ – including Neve Ya’akov which was established in 1924 on Jewish-owned land – as the main obstacle to an agreement, Sackur goes on to ask his interviewee to name “one significant, fundamental concession” made by the Palestinian negotiating team.

Unsurprisingly, seeing as he uses the inaccurate term himself, Sackur fails to correct the reference to “1967 borders” when Erekat answers:

“We have recognized the State of Israel’s right to exist on the 1967 borders. That is 78% of the British Mandate and historic Palestine. And we have accepted to establish our Palestinian state on the 1967 lines. That’s 22% of the land. That’s number one. Number two: we have accepted to entertain – once Israel defines its borders of ’67 and accepts the State of Palestine on ’67 – to entertain the idea of swapping land. Number three: we have accepted to be a country with limited arms and invited a third party to be in the State of Palestine – from America, from Europe, from the UN, from all over – and to come and make sure that we will comply with the agreement. We have accepted, you know, to have East Jerusalem capital of Palestine, West Jerusalem capital of Israel, but we said then we can have an open city for peace, where Christians, Muslims and Jews can come to their places of worship and for worship without any impediment, without anybody preventing them like they do to Christians and Muslims today…to come to Jerusalem and pray..”

Sackur makes absolutely no attempt to challenge Erekat on his blatantly false representation of the situation regarding freedom of worship in Jerusalem at present and neither does he raise the issue of lack of satisfactory access – in breach of the Oslo Accords – to Jewish holy sites already under PA control. Instead, he continues by asking Erekat to confirm the PA’s agreement to the placing of some sort of international force in the Jordan Valley, which Erekat does but with the caveat that “this force will not be a combating force”.

Ignoring the issue of the existing precedents of multiple failures of international ‘peacekeeping’ forces to actually keep the peace in the region, Sackur goes on to challenge the practicalities of that idea, rightly pointing out that there is no chance of it being accepted by Hamas and other rejectionist Palestinian factions.

The next subject brought up by Sackur is that of what will happen if the current talks fail.

“…let’s run through the constant question when we’re talking about negotiations: who really holds the cards? Who has the power? Isn’t the truth that while you talk about your plan B option which is, you say, going back to the UN, strengthening the Palestinian case there, going perhaps to the International Criminal Court – the fact is you don’t hold the cards, you don’t have the power because if these talks collapse the Palestinian economy will collapse and you’ve said yourself that the Palestinian Authority itself may collapse as well.”

With regard to the feasibility of the PA “going perhaps to the International Criminal Court”, it is worth reading Professor Eugene Kontorovich’s paper from 2013 on the subject.

Erekat’s response consists largely of yet another attempt to persuade viewers that the success – or lack of it – of the current talks depends entirely upon the prime minister of Israel.

“Well I said the following Stephen – and please employ your hearing skills. Number one: if Netanyahu foils the Kerry attempts, yes – we will sign on all instruments of accessions to UN agency protocols and conventions including the Rome Statute and the ICC and those who worry from international courts and tribunals, they should stop committing crimes. Number two: I think the PA cannot sustain itself in the current form so Netanyahu will be the occupying power from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean and when I say that failure is not an option, I may be exaggerating because failure is an option, but I’m saying failure is not an option because of the nightmare scenarios the day after. I hope and pray that Netanyahu and his government will stand tall and extend an immediate recognition for the State of Palestine on the 1967 lines. I hope that Netanyahu and his government will define their borders on ’67 and they work with Kerry in order to achieve a successful end to his efforts, made an two-state solution – the State of Palestine living side by side the State of Israel on the 1967 borders and a solution to all the issues that we’re talking about is doable and we can do it. But if Netanyahu chooses the path of continuing dictations and settlements, incursions and siege and closure, he’s doomed and we’re doomed and the region’s gonna be doomed.”

To finish the interview, Sackur asks Erekat for his personal reflections on two decades of negotiations, but notably avoids bringing up the subject of the PA’s decision to scupper the peace process by instigating the second Intifada.

“As we end then; a personal reflection. You’ve been deeply negative about Netanyahu and his negotiating position throughout this interview. I just wonder – if you are honest with yourself and you look at what you personally have achieved as a peace negotiator over more than 20 years, do you feel that you’ve been played for a fool? You’ve been suckered into a process which over 20 years frankly appears to have delivered nothing according to your own terms and which – during which – the facts on the ground have worked against the Palestinian people. Do you regret the process that you’ve played such a big part in?”

That avoidance of any mention of the Oslo Accords permits Erekat to mislead BBC audiences further by erasing the fact that his “home town” was occupied by Jordan even before Erekat was born and by omitting any mention of the fact that Jericho has already been under the control of the Palestinian Authority for twenty years – since 1994.

“No Stephen. No I’m proud. I’m proud of I’m doing. I’m not doing a job. I’m doing the greater favour for myself, my grandchildren, my children and the Palestinian people. I’m trying to make peace. I’m trying to change the abnormality of the situation. I was 12 years old when the occupation came to my home town Jericho. I’m sick and tired of somebody managing my life, directing my life, oppressing me and oppressing my children. I’m sick and tired of not knowing whether my children will come home every day or not. I want my children to be like your children Stephen. If this is a crime, if this is being fooled – yes, I’m doing it. I’m doing it because I was born to bring Palestine back to the map.” 

In conclusion, this interview is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, Sackur did go some way towards seeking to clarify Erekat’s position on internal Palestinian opposition to an international peacekeeping force in the Jordan Rift Valley, on the subject of the recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, on the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees, on land swaps and on eastern Jerusalem.

On the other hand, Sackur allowed BBC audiences to go away with damaging inaccurate impressions regarding, among other things, freedom of worship in Jerusalem, 1967 “borders”, the “occupation” of Jericho and Israeli building. He made no attempt whatsoever to challenge Erekat’s conspiracy theory concerning US foreign policy or his ridiculous “son of the Canaanites” narrative and he failed to question Erekat’s promotion of Israeli housing as the main obstacle to peace and his repeated claim that the success or failure of the talks is entirely dependent upon the will of Israel’s prime minister, whilst simultaneously excluding all mention of issues such as the rise in Palestinian terrorism since the beginning of the talks or incitement and the glorification of terrorism on the part of the PA.

In short, much of the opportunity provided by this interview to inform BBC audiences of the real difficulties facing negotiators in the current talks was wasted on providing a platform for the promotion of Saeb Erekat’s blatant propaganda and historically inept “narrative”.

The UK taxpayer continues to contribute not insignificant sums of money to keep Erekat’s PLO Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD) afloat – and has done for the last two decades. One of several “risk descriptions” cited in a risk assessment compiled by DfID ahead of a particular funding initiative which is still ongoing is “NAD outputs contain inaccurate information, vilification or incitement” and that risk is supposed to be monitored by the UK government.  Those same UK taxpayers – many if not most of whom are also BBC licence fee payers – might hence have expected a more robust performance from their national broadcaster (which is still, in part, government-funded) in challenging Erekat’s promotion of inaccurate information and incitement in the form of warped historical “narratives”. 

Had that been the case however, a link to Erekat’s ‘Hardtalk’ interview might perhaps not be currently featured on the NAD website. 

Related Articles:

BBC’s Hardtalk provides platform for Saeb Erekat’s fabricated histories – part one

 

BBC’s Hardtalk provides platform for Saeb Erekat’s fabricated histories – part one

The February 18th edition of the BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ featured presenter Stephen Sackur once again interviewing the programme’s frequent flyer Saeb Erekat. The programme is available in the UK on BBC iPlayer and an audio version was also available from the BBC World Service for a limited period of time, along with a BBC World Service podcast. In addition, the first part of the interview was uploaded by the BBC to YouTube and featured on the BBC News website, as well as on the Hardtalk webpageErekat HT

Notably, Sackur made no attempt to challenge Erekat’s opening thinly veiled conspiracy theory-style accusation of Israeli influence over American foreign policy.

“And I really hope that John Kerry will move in the direction of what’s needed and not in the direction of what’s possible. What’s possible in American foreign policy means what the prime minister of Israel can do and what he cannot do and that’s why we always reach dead-end in this [sic] attempts in the past. I hope that John Kerry will move in the direction of what’s needed and put on the table what’s needed for a two-state solution on 1967.”

But Sackur’s failure to challenge Erekat’s serial falsehoods becomes even more apparent in the rest of the interview; the parts not as enthusiastically distributed and promoted by the BBC. Sackur asks Erekat if the PLO will be prepared to continue talks after the end of April.

SS: “They’re [the Americans] suggesting, yes, they will put some ideas out there, but there will be a lot of talking that will have to happen after the end of April. What’s your position? Are you saying it’s the end of April or bust?”

Erekat: “If the Israeli government succeeds in foiling Kerry’s efforts, then why would you extend the negotiations after 29th of April? That’s the big question. As you said, the deal was, is that we enter these negotiations for 9 months, covers all permanent status issues, no interim agreements…err.. and then the Israeli behaviour since that time – since the beginning of the negotiations – I think they introduce 10,500 housing units, killed 41 Palestinians, demolished 219 homes, escalated their attacks on Palestinians and they haven’t been preparing their people for what it takes to have John Kerry succeed.”

Sackur refrains from asking Erekat how many of those “10,500 housing units” exist only on paper, or how many of the Palestinians killed between the end of July 2013 and the present were involved in terrorist activity or how many of the demolished structures were built illegally. He of course fails to offer audiences any balancing information on the subject of how many Israelis were killed in the same period or how many terror attacks and missile attacks took place or to question Erekat on the subjects of PA sponsored incitement and glorification of terror and how the PA leaders are “preparing their people” for peace. Erekat continues: Hardtalk Erekat on ME pge

“I haven’t heard any Israeli official – Prime Minister Netanyahu or any of his ministers – speak about two-state solution on 1967 lines. As a matter of fact I haven’t heard any of their government officials say that we need two states on the 1967 lines – one 1967. I haven’t heard this. So if they want to continue this line of dictations and settlements rather than peace and negotiations, why should we extend it for one minute after the 29th of April?”

Sackur fails to clarify to audiences what a “two-state solution on 1967 lines” actually means and why Israeli policy is not in line with that Palestinian demand. He then goes on to ask Erekat if the PLO is prepared to recognise Israel as the Jewish state, to which Erekat replies:

“Well, Stephen, the name of the State of Israel is the State of Israel. As much as you have a birth certificate of your own, Israel has a birth certificate of its own and the name registered at the UN is the State of Israel. And no – I will tell you very frankly – I will not change my narrative. I will not change my history. I will not change my religion. I’m the son of Jericho…”

Sackur does robustly challenge those statements.

“But you’re going to have to change your narrative because your narrative at the moment is one of diplomatic failure, conflict, hatred and a running sore which leaves the Palestinian people without a state, without economic development. You need to change the narrative and if that requires you to recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people and therefore, of course, a fundamental compromise on your part in terms of the right of return of those Palestinians and ancestors of those who lost their homes in 1948, so be it. It’s time to do it, isn’t it?”

Erekat’s notably personalised response is delivered in near-hysterical tones.

“What else? Now you want Israel as Jewish state? You want me to give up on East Jerusalem as my capital as Netanyahu says? He wants me to give up on my independence and sovereignty because he wants to stay instead of Palestine and his army for years to come. Well if that’s what he has in mind, he can make peace with himself and dictate on the – this will not happen. My narrative here is that, as you said, I’ve been trying to make peace and save lives of Israelis and Palestinians and change the status quo towards the two-state solution, towards [unintelligible] between Palestinians and Israelis for the last 20 years. And those who failed me are those who continued with the settlement activities and dictations and the fait accompli policies. That’s number one.

Number two: my narrative is I’m the son of Jericho. I’m the proud son of Jericho. My home town this year is 10,000 years old. The Natufians built this town. I’m their ancestor. I’m their grandchild. I’m this grandchild of the Canaanites. It’s my narrative, it’s my story, it’s my religion. I was here thousands of years before Yoshua Bin Nun came and burnt my home town Jericho. So why should I say that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people? I recognise the State of Israel right to exist…” 

At that point Erekat is interrupted by Sackur, but the latter makes no attempt whatsoever to relieve BBC audiences of the inaccurate impressions created by Erekat’s “narrative”. Of course this is not the first time that the PLO’s chief negotiator has fabricated history: he promoted the same myth at the Munich security conference just a couple of weeks before this Hardtalk interview. According to a BBC profile of Erekat, he was born in Jerusalem (specifically the Abu Dis neighbourhood) but Sackur does not challenge his self-made redefinition as a “son of Jericho” or question him as to the fluidity of his “narrative” which allows him to also claim to be “a Bedouin, an Arab and a Jordanian” when interviewed by an Arab media outlet.  

Erekat’s casual relationship with facts is of course notorious: he was after all the man who played a big part in persuading the Western media – including the BBC – that a ‘massacre’ had taken place in Jenin in 2002. But there is much more to Erekat’s ‘Canaanite’ claims than just historical incompetence; the negation of Jewish history and the promotion of a supposedly equally relevant narrative is part and parcel of the PA’s policy and tactics – and one which should have been exposed to BBC audiences if the corporation is to meet its obligation to “[e]nable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”.

The remainder of the interview will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Hardtalk provides platform for Saeb Erekat’s fabricated histories – part two

 

 

BBC’s Alkashif slips gratuitous Israel mentions into Gaza Greek god story

On February 21st an article titled “The Apollo of Gaza: One fisherman’s amazing catch” by BBC Arabic’s Shahdi Alkashif appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the Middle East page of the BBC News website as well as in its ‘Magazine’ section. An audio version of the report appeared on the BBC World Service programme ‘The Fifth Floor and is also available as a podcast for a limited period of time. 

Gaza Apollo story

In that audio version Shahdi Alkashif tells listeners:

“Gaza’s still, you know, under siege. There is no airports, there is no port, there is no any border with Gaza. The people cannot move out of Gaza.”

Not only is no context provided to listeners as to why restrictions of movement to and from a territory ruled by a terrorist group are necessary, but clearly Alkashif’s claim that “the people cannot move out of Gaza” is highly inaccurate and misleading. In the week February 9th to 15th alone, 3,550 people used the Erez terminal to enter or exit the Gaza Strip. 

The written version opens:

“A statue thought to be an ancient bronze of Apollo, Greek God of poetry and love, has dropped off the radar after being found in the sea off Gaza last summer and surfacing briefly on eBay. It is 2,500 years old and priceless.

Jawdat Abu Ghurab used to be a builder but in 2007 Israel restricted the delivery of building materials to the Gaza strip, so he became a fisherman like his father.” 

Uninformed readers are left with the mistaken impression that one day in 2007 Israel simply decided to restrict “the delivery of building materials to the Gaza Strip”. No mention is made by Alkashif of the all-important context of the violent coup which resulted in the Hamas take-over of the Gaza Strip and the subsequent escalation in missile fire at Israeli civilian targets which caused the designation of the Gaza Strip as ‘hostile territory’ by the Israeli government. Neither does Alkashif bother to inform readers what kind of building materials are restricted and to which projects and under what conditions they are permitted, or why it is necessary to control the entry of dual-purpose materials into a territory ruled by an internationally designated terrorist organization which uses concrete and other building supplies to construct cross-border tunnels for the purpose of carrying out terrorist attacks.

Further on in the report Alkashif does state that “..the smugglers’ tunnels – dug to circumvent restrictions put in place by Israel and Egypt after the Islamist movement Hamas came to power in Gaza – have been out of action since they were closed by the Egyptian army last summer” but again insufficient background is given as to why such “restrictions” were necessary.

And what of Jawdat Abu Ghurab’s employment history? Well, that seems to be rather flexible. At the end of January an article on the exact same subject appeared in Bloomberg Business Week. In that report it is stated that he has been a fisherman since 2005.

“Ghurab, a fisherman, is 26, and has a wife and two sons. He left school at 13 and has been fishing since he was 17.”

And according to the same article, Ghurab’s CV also includes other activities:

“For a while Ghurab made money digging some of the smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border and helped shuttle contraband—from washing machines to hives of Egyptian honeybees—but that money dried up when Egypt cracked down on trafficking.”

Later on in the article Alkashif states:

“After four hours they succeeded in getting the object out of the water. It was the statue of a naked man. They loaded it on to a cart and took it to Ghurab’s house.

“My wife covered her face when she saw him lying naked in the house. She begged me to cover it,” he says, laughing.”

A Reuters report on the same story which appeared in the Guardian on February 10th states however:

” “I felt it was something gifted to me by God,” Ghrab told Reuters. “My financial situation is very difficult and I am waiting for my reward.”

His mother was less happy when she saw the naked Apollo carried into the house, demanding that his private parts be covered. “My mother said: ‘What a disaster you have brought with you’ as she looked at the huge statue,” said Ghrab.”

Unlike Alkashif’s version of the story, other reports on the same subject – including that one from the Guardian, one in the Independent and one which appeared in the Jerusalem Post - have noted that experts are sceptical as to whether the statue was actually found in the sea.

” “It’s unique, said Jean-Michel de Tarragon, an historian with the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem. […]

“It’s very, very rare to find a statue which is not in marble or in stone, but in metal,” he said, adding that the apparent pristine condition of the statue suggested it was uncovered on land and not in the sea, as claimed.

“The one of Gaza is very special and unique because for us, it has not been, at all, found in the sea… It has been found, we don’t know exactly the place, we have a guess you know, in the north of Gaza….But it has been found surely, in the sand,” he said, adding that there were no tell-tale signs of metal disfigurement or barnacles that one normally sees on items plucked from water.

De Tarragon says the claim the statue was found in the sea is probably just a convenient story told to avoid arguments over ownership, particularly if the treasure was found on someone else’s land.”

The Times of Israel quotes a Gaza-based archaeologist as saying:

“…the statue, with its green patina, was unlikely to have come from beneath the waves.

“It is 90 percent intact and was probably found on land,” he told AFP. “If it had spent time underwater, the bronze would be blackened.”

“It’s more likely that the statue was found in an ancient temple in the Gaza area. We need to search and find out,” he said.”

Whatever the truth behind the discovery of the statue and whatever the reasons behind the timing of the story’s sudden extensive promotion in the international media some six months after its initial discovery, one thing is certain: Shahdi Alkashif’s context-free introduction of Israeli ‘restrictions’ on the entry of building materials to the Gaza Strip into the story and his claim that “people cannot move out of Gaza” are both misleading and gratuitous and can only be seen as being politically motivated insertions.

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’: one to watch out for

This coming week the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk’ will be featuring an interview with Israel’s Minister of Economy and Commerce, Naftali Bennett.

 The programme will be shown on February 24th and 25th on the BBC News channel and also on BBC Two and the World Service. Its synopsis reads:

“Just how stable and sustainable is Israel’s coalition government? Prime Minister Netanyahu currently relies on the support of Jewish Home, a right-wing religious Zionist party strongly supportive of the settler movement. What happens to that coalition as the Americans try to push Israel towards a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians? HARDtalk speaks to Naftali Bennett, leader of Jewish Home and Israel’s economy minister. Is the Israeli right about to splinter?”

Hardtalk 24 2

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ featured in CST report on antisemitic discourse

The Community Security Trust (CST) recently published a report titled ‘Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2012′. On page 20 of that report, under the chapter heading “Jewish conspiracy and the ‘lobby’”, the CST cites an edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk’ from May 2012 as an example of the propagation of the age-old concept of the supposed power of an American ‘Jewish lobby’. 

As our colleagues at CAMERA noted at the time:

“Anchor Sarah Montague’s introduction set the stage for, in effect, a half‑hour smear of American Jews, predicated on bigoted attitudes prevalent in British discourse. She said:

American presidents have long been criticized for being too in thrall to the Jewish lobby. The American Jews influence US foreign policy and that explains Washington’s increasing support for Israel.”

The CST notes that:

“Following complaints, a BBC spokesman stated:

“We consider the wording used in the introduction appropriate as the presenter was simply explaining and reflecting the public views of the guest. She makes clear these are the controversial views of Jewish American academic, Norman Finkelstein, and then robustly challenges him in the interview.”

Despite the BBC’s protest, it was Montague, not Finkelstein, who used the expression about US presidents being “in thrall to the Jewish lobby”. Furthermore, whilst Montague did challenge many of Finkelstein’s replies, the basic notion of a ‘Jewish lobby’ controlling American policy appeared to go unchallenged, and was indeed fundamental to the interview.”

It should of course be a sad day for the BBC – as well as a wake-up call – when it finds itself among such company as the Iranian regime’s Press TV and known Hamas supporters such as MEMO in a report by Britain’s leading authority on antisemitism.

BBC report on PA financial crisis focuses on ‘wealth disparity’

Among the filmed reports offered to readers of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 26th 2013 was an item from its business section titled “Palestinian Authority second worst for wealth disparity” by Ola Naguib

PA economy report 1

In its attempt to explain the Palestinian Authority’s current – and seemingly evergreen – budget deficit, the report does briefly touch on the subject of salaries and benefits paid to members of the inactive Palestinian Legislative Council but fails to sufficiently clarify to viewers that in addition, an estimated 60,000 PA employees (some 40% of the total) reside in the Gaza Strip where the PA not functioned for over six years. The report also makes no mention of serious allegations of corruption which are far from new - but were recently highlighted by European auditors – or of the fact that some 6% of the PA budget is spent on salaries for imprisoned terrorists, including those affiliated with Hamas

The subject of the terminally ailing finances of the Palestinian Authority is certainly one which would probably be of considerable interest to BBC audiences – especially those in the donor countries supporting the PA. However, there is far more to the subject of the PA budget deficit than “wealth disparity”, as some in depth, accurate and impartial reporting would reveal. 

BBC WS ‘Fifth Floor’ version of the 1993 Rabin-Arafat handshake

On September 14th the BBC World Service’s Twitter account came up with the following question for its 64,000 followers:

bbc ws historic handshakes tweet

The programme being promoted in that Tweet is the BBC World Service’s ‘The Fifth Floor’ which is described on its webpage as follows:

“David Amanor presents The Fifth Floor, a new weekly programme that revels in the variety and range of stories produced by the BBC World Service’s 27 language sections. 

In any given week the language services across the BBC World Service are producing hours of radio and television and streams of web output: a truly global picture of the world. 

And now there is a place where you can tap into that talent. 

The Fifth Floor brings you an authentic perspective on the week’s global news. 

From Russia to Rwanda and Burma to Brazil, Presenter David Amanor takes a sometimes playful look at the big issues and surprising stories that emerge in a week of global news. 

This is an insider’s view on the heart of the World Service looking at how pieces are made, and the stories that enrich and add colour to our understanding of world reporting.”

The episode in question was originally titled “Historic Handshakes” but that title was later revised to “Historic Handshakes, Hugs and Kisses”. 

5th floor

At 12:30 in this recording, presenter David Amanor says:

“Now we’re going to talk about historic handshakes because on this date twenty years ago Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat – leaders in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [sic] – shook hands on the White House lawn in Washington. It was meant to symbolize the beginning of the peace process. Issam Ikirmawi was a young journalist watching from the Middle East at the time and now he works for BBC Arabic, so let’s head over there now. A famous handshake: the most famous – or what?”

Issam Ikirmawi: “I would say infamous.”

DA: “Infamous?”

II: “Yes. You had two people who were enemies and they were brought together under the spotlight and they had to shake hands.”

DA: “And this was at the White House..”

II: “And this was at the White House lawn with President Clinton playing the peacemaker, so he brought them together. He could see that Rabin was reluctant to extend his hand so there was a gentle nudge by Clinton on the shoulder while Arafat was over-enthusiastic. But also – if you look at the body language – both men were trying to appear as the one in charge of it.”

DA: “You’re Palestinian yourself. Where were you at the time?”

II: “I was in Jerusalem and I was watching on television at home. I can’t think of anyone who’d missed that occasion.”

So BBC audiences are being steered towards a version of events in which the handshake took place between a “reluctant” Rabin and an “over-enthusiastic” Arafat. Why Rabin might be reluctant to shake the hand of the man (wearing military fatigues at a ceremony to mark the signing of a peace agreement) who headed a terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of so many Israelis is not made clear to audiences. Why Arafat might be perceived to be “over-enthusiastic” is not explained in the context of the fact that at the very time that the Oslo Accords were being signed, a pre-recorded speech by Arafat to the Palestinian people was being broadcast on Jordanian television.

“From the very outset of the Oslo process, Arafat and his lieutenants viewed the agreements as an implementation of this strategy, not as its abandonment. Arafat said just that as early as September 13, 1993, when he addressed the Palestinians in a pre-recorded Arabic-language message broadcast by Jordanian television, even as he shook Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn. He informed the Palestinians that the Israeli-Palestinian declaration of principles (DOP) was merely the implementation of the PLO’s “phased strategy.” “O my beloved ones,” he explained,

Do not forget that our Palestine National Council accepted the decision in 1974. It called for the establishment of a national authority on any part of Palestinian land that is liberated or from which the Israelis withdrew. This is the fruit of your struggle, your sacrifices, and your jihad … This is the moment of return, the moment of gaining a foothold on the first liberated Palestinian land … Long live Palestine, liberated and Arab.” 

But with no context whatsoever provided by either Amanor or Ikirmawi, the impression audiences receive is one of the Israeli leader being “reluctant” to make peace whilst his Palestinian counterpart was just the opposite. As for the “gentle nudge by Clinton on the shoulder [of Rabin]” which Ikirmawi recounts, photographs of the event show Clinton’s arms extended towards the backs of both Arafat and Rabin. A Reuters photographer present at the event recently recalled that: 

“The documents were signed. Everyone stood up and all I remember was a pause – a pause that seemed like and [sic] eternity when Arafat and Rabin didn’t exactly know what to do next. With what seemed like a small little nudge from President Clinton’s outstretched arms, PLO Chairman Arafat reached first in the direction of Prime Minister Rabin who sported what seemed like a little puzzled look before he himself put his hand firmly into Arafat’s.”

At 17:02 in the recording above Amanor returns to the subject of that handshake:

“Well a handshake is just one type of embrace – of symbolic embrace – and of course it’s culturally specific. There are many other types in the world and we live in a big, round world here on the Fifth Floor. Back to Issam.  Issam; back to that scene with Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin. [laughs] Now Yasser Arafat usually kissed, didn’t he?” Issam Ikirmawi

Issam Ikirmawi: “Yes. There was a big rumour at the time that Arafat was told by American officials that under no circumstances should he attempt to kiss Rabin or kiss anyone.”

DA: “What was the protocol – the reasoning behind that protocol though – that American officials would say that?”

II: “But I mean in the West it’s not customary for men to kiss when they meet each other, while in the Middle East they do, and Arafat was renowned for his fondness of kissing people when he meets them.”

Of course Ikirmawi’s suggestion that American officials sought to protect Rabin’s ‘Western’ sensibilities from Arafat’s ‘Middle Eastern’ customs conceals the fact that Jerusalem-born Rabin was no less Middle Eastern than Cairo-born Arafat. But it also plays into pernicious stereotypes of ‘authentic’ Palestinians and ‘foreign’ Israelis.

Whether the content of this section of the programme is intended to give BBC audiences the “insider’s view” of a reporter who watched the event thousands of miles away on his television just like the rest of us, or whether the promotion of a selective version of events is meant to be “playful” is unclear. But what is certain is that nothing which could be construed as contributing to the acquisition by BBC audiences of an “authentic perspective” on the signing of the Oslo Accords has been contributed by this item.  

 

A complaint to the BBC is upheld – and then what?

At the beginning of July we noted that despite a complaint regarding the October 4th 2012 edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Health Check’ having been partially upheld, the programme was still available on the internet in its original form.

Now – eleven months after the programme was originally aired, two months after the publication of the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit’s decision and following further correspondence from the original complainant Mr Stephen Franklin – the synopsis on programme’s webpage includes the following clarification.

“Note: “This item gave the impression that the Israeli blockade covered drugs and disposables. This was not the case in the period under discussion”. “

Health Check clarification

However, visitors to the webpage who elect not to open the drop down synopsis or instead to go directly to the specific ‘chapter’ concerned are still not made aware of the fact that presenter Claudia Hammond’s misleading introduction to the item – which they will still hear intact – was found to have breached BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy. 

health check chapter

Clearly – as we have noted before – there is no point in the BBC wasting public resources to address audience complaints if, in cases in which those complaints are found to be valid, the output concerned – in all its various versions – is not either amended to reflect that fact or removed. This case raises the question of whether the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit has an effective mechanism for follow-up of complaints it upholds. 

BBC WS adds clarification to Doucet remarks in Peres interview

As BBC Watch readers will be aware, an interview by Lyse Doucet with Israel’s President Shimon Peres on the occasion of his 90th birthday received considerable exposure across the BBC’s various media channels. 

A filmed version of Doucet’s piece appeared on various BBC television news programmes and the same video was featured on the BBC News website’s Middle East page for two consecutive days and on BBC iPlayer. A written version of the interview – which includes another version of a filmed report – appeared on the BBC News website for seven days. The interview was also broadcast on three editions of the BBC World Service’s ‘Newshour‘ programme on August 2nd 2013.  

Last month Mr Stephen Franklin made a complaint to the BBC World Service regarding the ‘Newshour’ programme:

“Approximately 49 minutes into yesterday’s Newshour, while interviewing Israel’s President Shimon Peres Lyse Doucet asked him whether he (Peres) believed that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is a partner for peace and listening to Peres reply in the affirmative, Doucet asserted: “And yet we’ve never heard Mr. Netanyahu describe him as a partner for peace.” “

As Mr Franklin pointed out, nearly three years previously the BBC itself had reported on Netanyahu’s use of that very description. 

Whilst the BBC World Service acknowledged in correspondence with Mr Franklin that Doucet “might have phrased her question differently”, the interviews remained intact on the website. Hence Mr Franklin approached the BBC again and although the interview itself remains as before, now at least a footnote has been added to the relevant web pages.

correction Newshour

newshour correction 2

newshour correction 3

One trusts that other branches of the BBC will be making similar clarifications as necessary to other versions of the Doucet interview. 

Related posts:

BBC: We’ve Never Heard Netanyahu Say What We’ve Reported He Said