BBC’s Mike Thomson entrenches an inaccurate narrative

The Foreign Affairs correspondent for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, Mike Thomson, recently produced a feature on the subject of the kidnappings and murders of Naftali Frenkel, Gil-ad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach on June 12th 2014 and Mohammed Abu Khdeir on July 2nd 2014.

That feature appears on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “The lost sons“.  Additionally, an audio version of Thomson’s report was broadcast by the BBC World Service on January 23rd in the programme ‘The Documentary’ under the title “The Lives And Deaths Of Naftali and Mohammed” and the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme featured segments from the audio version on January 22nd (from 2:40:20 here) and on January 23rd (from 2:50:27 here).Kidnappings on WS

On one level, all versions of this feature present the personal stories of two families – Frenkel and Abu Khdeir – coping with the loss of their sons. The chosen format naturally promotes equivalence between the two murders and Thomson does not adequately clarify the differences between them. Whilst he does inform listeners that a Hamas cell carried out the murders of the three Israeli teenagers, the fact that the operation was financed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip is not adequately explained. Neither the issue of the logistical help that the two murderers obviously received from their community during the three months in which they were on the run nor the widespread support for the kidnappings in Palestinian society (which went completely unreported by the BBC at the time) gets coverage in Thomson’s various reports. Significantly too, no mention is made of the condemnation of the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir at all levels of Israeli society or the fact that he was recognized as a victim of terror by the State of Israel, which entitles his family to monthly financial benefits.

In both the website version and the World Service radio version of the feature, conspiracy theories about the deaths of the three Israeli teenagers are amplified. Whilst one must obviously question the editorial justification for the inclusion of such baseless claims at all, credit is due to Mike Thomson for challenging part of them – although not the one made in the audio version which falsely asserted that the boys were soldiers.

“But Mohammed’s parents insist, despite all the evidence, that Naftali and his two Israeli friends weren’t actually murdered at all – they died in an accident and the Israeli government used the deaths to fuel anger against Palestinians.

His mother says the Israeli government “wanted to bomb Gaza and planned to use this as a justification”.

I ask how widespread is this belief. She replies: “Everyone knows this story, not only us. We didn’t come up with this story.”

But, I point out, senior Hamas figures have admitted that members of the organisation carried out the killings.

Hussein says: “I am not a politician, I am an ordinary man and didn’t hear of this story. The story that we know is that they died in a traffic accident.” “

However, in the World Service audio version Thomson’s conclusion regarding those bizarre conspiracy theories is that they “show the depth of distrust” between Israelis and Palestinians and he makes no attempt to place them within the broader – and highly relevant – context of the baseless rumours and incitement seen in official Palestinian media or heard in sermons in PA mosques on a quotidian basis.

In that same audio version broadcast on the World Service, Thomson adopts the usual BBC practice of failing to meet its own supposed standards of impartiality by refraining from any mention of the existence of legal opinions which do not conform to the spirit of his statement:

“Under international law the West Bank is occupied territory…”

He goes on to say:

“…but many Israelis, like the speaker you are about to hear, still see it as part of Israel and use biblical language to describe it.”

The speaker is an IDF officer who was responsible for the coordination of the search operation for the three teenagers and the “biblical language” Thomson obviously finds worthy of note is the term Judea and Samaria. Of course that term was universally in use  – including by the British mandate administration – until Jordan’s belligerent occupation and later unrecognized annexation of the districts of Judea and Samaria, after which the term ‘West Bank’ was invented in order to cement that occupation in language. In Thomson’s case that rebranding clearly worked.

A particularly significant aspect of this feature is its vigorous promotion of a theme which the BBC has been pushing for months.

Kidnappings Thomson tweet 1

In the introduction to the item in the January 22nd edition of the ‘Today’ programme, listeners were told that:

“The murders further fuelled hatred and bitterness on both sides, sparking riots in the West Bank, rocket attacks by Hamas and the Israeli invasion of Gaza.”

The next day listeners to the same programme were told that:

“After a summer war in Gaza and bloody clashes on the West Bank, Israel has suffered a winter wave of attacks, the latest wounding a dozen bus passengers in Tel Aviv. The catalyst for much of this was the abduction and murder of four teenagers – three Jewish and one Palestinian – in June and July.”

In the written version appearing on the BBC News website, audiences are told that:Kidnappings Thomson tweet 2

“These brutal killings, and those of two other innocent boys, have had far-reaching consequences. Riots in the West Bank, a war in Gaza and a deepened divide between Israelis and Palestinians.”

In the audio version broadcast on the BBC World Service, listeners heard Mike Thomson say:

“There is little doubt that the slaughter of these four innocent and like-minded boys proved a catalyst for the deaths and injuries of thousands more people last summer.”

Since the hostilities ended six months ago, it has become standard BBC practice to promote the narrative of the conflict of summer 2014 as having taken place exclusively “in Gaza”, erasing any mention of the fact that in Israel thousands of southern residents had to leave their homes and millions ran for cover in air-raid shelters from over four thousand missile attacks launched at civilian targets throughout the seven weeks of hostilities.

It is also apparently BBC policy to mislead audiences by downplaying or erasing from audience view the hundreds of missiles launched at civilian targets in Israel between the date of the kidnappings – June 12th – and the commencement of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th. It was of course that surge in missile fire which was the reason for Israel’s military action rather than the kidnappings and murders of the three teenagers, with the later discovery of dozens of cross-border tunnels prompting the subsequent ground operation. The military operation could have been avoided had Hamas elected to take advantage of the ample opportunities it was given to stop the missile fire before July 8th but the terrorist organisation chose not to do so – for reasons by no means exclusively connected to Israel such as the PA’s refusal to pay Hamas employees after the formation of the unity government. 

Over the last six months this same distortion of the background to Operation Protective Edge has been seen time and time again in BBC content. Accurate and impartial representation of Hamas’ motives for instigating that conflict has been usurped by a simplistic narrative promoting the notion of a ‘cycle of violence’ which actively prevents BBC audiences from forming a realistic understanding of events. Mike Thomson obviously put a lot of work into this feature and hence it is all the more unfortunate that one of its main themes is based on an inaccurate narrative which it in turn goes on to further entrench. 

 

Some statistics the BBC R4 statistics programme managed to ignore

On January 19th BBC Radio 4’s statistics programme ‘More or Less’ included an item (available from 07:44 here) described in the webpage synopsis as follows:More or Less

“In the wake of the Paris killings, an imam in Paris told the BBC that 95% of terrorism victims around the world are Muslim. Is that true? More or Less speaks to Erin Miller of the Global Terrorism Database.”

Included in that item is a discussion between presenter Tim Harford and producer Ruth Alexander of what counts as terrorism.

TH: “But wait: what counts as terrorism? I mean saying that something is terrorism or isn’t terrorism – I mean this is something that politicians do all the time purely for their own convenience.”

RA: “It is, so the Global Terrorism Database has a particular methodology. They label an attack terrorism and put it into this data base if it’s intentional, violent or threatening and the perpetrators aren’t governments.”

TH: “So the alleged hack by North Korea of Sony Pictures?”

RA “If it was in fact by North Korea it wouldn’t count because that would be a state act and anyway it’s non-violent.”

TH: “OK and what else? Because if someone pulls a knife on me and demands money, well that’s an intentional, violent, non-governmental act so there must be some other criteria that go into the definition.”

RA: “That’s right; there are other criteria, other considerations. Is there a political, economic or religious goal is one. Is it an attempt to send a message to a wider audience – not just to the direct victims – or is it outside the context of legitimate warfare activities.”

TH “So all this goes into making up the definition of terrorism…”

Later on listeners were told that the countries suffering the most terror attacks in the ten years between 2004 and 2013 were Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with Ruth Alexander adding:

“And just to put the latest available numbers on this, over the ten years from 2004 the UK suffered 400 terrorist attacks – mostly in Northern Ireland – and almost all of them non-lethal. The US suffered 131 attacks – fewer than 20 of them were lethal. France suffered 47 but in Iraq there were 12,000 attacks and 8,000 of them were lethal.”

On January 20th an article relating to the same topic by Ruth Alexander and Hannah Moore appeared in the Magazine section of the BBC News website under the title “Are most victims of terrorism Muslim?“. In that article, the definition of terrorism provided to readers was as follows:More or Less written

“The GTD defines a terrorist attack as the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non‐state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation.”

Reflecting the audio report, readers were told that

“When people in the West think of terrorist attacks, they may think of Charlie Hebdo, or the 7/7 London tube and bus bombs, the Madrid train bombs and of course 9/11 – and although some Muslims did die in these attacks, most of the victims wouldn’t have been Muslim.

The overall number of deadly terrorist attacks in France, the UK, Spain and the US, however, is very low by international standards.

Between 2004-2013, the UK suffered 400 terrorist attacks, mostly in Northern Ireland, and almost all of them were non-lethal. The US suffered 131 attacks, fewer than 20 of which were lethal. France suffered 47 attacks. But in Iraq, there were 12,000 attacks and 8,000 of them were lethal.”

The article also includes a chart attributed to information sourced from the Global Terrorism Database.

Chart GTD Magazine art terrorism

As we see, Israel does not appear in the written or audio reports either in relation to the number of fatalities or the overall number of terror attacks. One reason for that may be that, somewhat oddly for a statistics programme, its two reports are based on information gleaned from one source – the Global Terrorism Database – which does not provide a particularly accurate or comprehensive view of terror attacks in Israel.

The GTD’s Israel-related data for 2013, for example, includes the incidents on December 24th (here) and November 13th (here) but absent from its list (which incidentally includes several incidents more accurately classified as criminal that terror-related such as this one) are the October 11th murder of Colonel Seraya Ofer, the murder of Sgt. Tomer Hazan on September 20th, the murder of St.-Sgt. Gal (Gabriel) Kobi on September 22nd and the murder of Evyatar Borovsky on April 30th.

Similarly, whilst the GTD clearly does classify missile attacks as terrorism, its data for 2013 records only four such attacks from the Gaza Strip: less than 10% of the actual number of attacks which took place during that year. In fact, were all the missile attacks – rocket and mortar fire – from the Gaza Strip between 2004 and 2013 to be counted as individual terror attacks – as they clearly should be according to the definitions provided by the BBC – then as far as the number of attacks is concerned, Israel stands alongside some of the countries in the top half of that chart above because thousands of attacks have taken place during that time.

Chart rocket attacks from Gaza Strip

Israel of course goes to considerable lengths to provide protection to its citizens and thereby manages to significantly reduce the number of fatalities from missile attacks. Nevertheless, during the ten-year period used by the BBC in its two reports, over 150 fatal terror attacks of various kinds have taken place resulting in more than three hundred casualties and thousands more non-fatal attacks have been carried out. The number of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip executed outside the periods of escalated conflict during that ten-year time span (Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9 and Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012) is over 5,000 – not including mortar attacks – and if missile attacks on civilian targets during those conflicts are included (being, as they are, “outside the context of legitimate warfare activities”), the figure rises to over 12,000.

Notably though, in their partial inventory of terror attacks in Western states, the ‘More or Less’ team elected to ignore a country which has suffered more attacks than the UK, the US and France put together according to their data. Tim Harford’s remark about politicians “saying that something is terrorism or isn’t terrorism […] for their own convenience” is sadly sometimes no less applicable to journalists. 

BBC News misrepresents Israeli PM’s stance on P5+1 deal with Iran

On January 21st the BBC News website published an article titled “John Boehner invites Netanyahu to Congress on Iran” on both its Middle East and US & Canada pages.Congress invite

Relating to an invitation from the Speaker of the US House of Representatives to the Israeli prime minister to address Congress, the BBC article states, inter alia, that:

“Six world powers want Iran to curb its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.

An interim deal was struck in November 2013 but deadlines for a comprehensive deal have since been missed.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly warned a deal with Iran could threaten Israel’s security. The Israeli Prime Minister has not officially responded to the invitation.” [emphasis added]

That representation of the Israeli prime minister’s position is inaccurate and misleading. In fact, what PM Netanyahu has said on repeated occasions is that a bad deal with Iran on the part of the P5+1 would threaten Israel’s security. He has not expressed opposition to a deal in general as is implied in this report.

For example, in November 2013 the Jerusalem Post reported that Netanyahu said:

“If you do a bad deal, you may get to the point where your only option is a military option. So a bad deal actually can lead you to exactly the place you don’t want to be”

In May 2014 Ha’aretz reported that:

“The [Prime Minister’s] bureau’s statement, released in Hebrew, quotes emphasizing to the audience Israel’s stance that Iran must not be allowed to create an atomic weapon. The Islamic Republic currently has thousands of centrifuges and thousands of kilograms of enriched uranium, with which a bomb could be created.

“A bad deal will enable them to preserve this capability,” Netanyahu said, according to the Hebrew statement. “It would be better not to reach an agreement at all than to reach a bad agreement,” the bureau quoted him as saying.”

The Times of Israel reported in July 2014 that:

“Netanyahu warned that “a bad deal is actually worse than no deal,” defining that as one in which Iran would keep enriched nuclear material and the capability to further enrich uranium in return for monitoring by international inspectors.”

And as recently as November 2014, the BBC’s own Kevin Connolly conducted an interview with PM Netanyahu in which he said:

“No deal is better than a bad deal. The deal that Iran was pushing for was terrible. The deal would have left Iran with the ability to enrich uranium for an atom bomb while removing the sanctions. The right deal that is needed is to dismantle Iran’s capacity to make atomic bombs and only then dismantle the sanctions….”

How unfortunate it is that BBC journalists do not even follow their own colleague’s work sufficiently closely as to prevent them from publishing inaccuracies. 

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

At some point in the not too distant past, the producers of the flagship BBC interview programme Hardtalk obviously decided that the tenth anniversary of the death of a notorious terrorist responsible for the killing of thousands of people and the maiming of many thousands more warranted commemoration.

Hence, on January 19th they broadcast what was described as a “special edition” of the programme in order to “mark the anniversary” of the death of Yasser Arafat – according to Hardtalk host Zeinab Badawi who was sent specially to Malta to interview Suha Arafat.

That programme can be viewed in the UK on BBC iPlayer here or as a Youtube video here. An audio version was also produced for the BBC World Service and clips from the interview were promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and on the Hardtalk webpage.Hardtalk Suha Arafat

Despite the fact that Hardtalk bills itself as conducting “[i]n-depth interviews with hard-hitting questions and sensitive topics being covered”, Zeinab Badawi allows Suha Arafat to avoid providing any real answers to questions on the topic of Arafat’s notorious embezzlement of donor funding and to dismiss the topic as “character assassination against my husband”.

Badawi does however provide Suha Arafat with an ample platform from which to once again advance her unproven theories regarding the cause of her husband’s death. She also fails 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….”

Badawi herself fails to distinguish between civilian casualties and terrorists when she says that “two thousand people died in Gaza in July and August last year” and her description of Mahmoud Abbas’ signing of the Rome Statute in order to join the ICC as “some progress being made on the diplomatic scene” is of course both creative and revealing.

Far from having even a whiff of “in-depth” or “hard-hitting” about it, this puff piece interview not only does nothing to provide audiences with a realistic view of the man who is the only reason for this woman being interviewed (the word terrorism, for example, is not mentioned once), but audiences are treated to hefty doses of clichés such as “iconic leader”, “great leader”, Arafat’s “legacy” and “hero of the Palestinian cause” from both interviewer and interviewee.

That, together with the fact that this programme was made for the reasons stated by the BBC itself, says it all. 

This is why the BBC’s making do with Tim Willcox’s Twitter apology is pernicious

The January 20th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme contained a report by Sanchia Berg titled “Jewish school pupils trained to respond to armed attack“. The item includes the following:Sanchia Berg report

Sanchia Berg: “The headmaster said on several school trips pupils had been verbally abused by people who were angry about Israeli government policy and unfairly blamed British Jewish children. One child was threatened. Rabbi Efraimov:”

Rabbi Efraimov: “Nothing actually happened to the child but the child was told that he will be beaten up unless Palestine is freed.”

SB: “By other children? By adults?”

RE: “My understanding was that it was by young adults. The description was adults in their early twenties.”

SB: “And how old was the child at the time?”

RE: “The child was ten.”

One may of course ask where on earth young British adults would have got the idea that British Jewish schoolchildren – or British Jews in general – have anything to do with Israeli government policy, real or imagined.

And that is exactly why the BBC’s attempt to fob off criticism of Tim Willcox’s statement just after the Paris terror attacks (“…the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands…”) by claiming that an apology on Twitter is sufficient is so pernicious.

Precisely because of the fact there are people in the UK who make threats to British ten year-olds whilst invoking a fabricated connection between them and a conflict thousands of miles away, the BBC still needs to issue a prominent on-air statement clarifying that Willcox’s statement was not merely “poorly phrased”, but that the linkage he promoted based on the premise that Jews anywhere in the world hold collective responsibility for the perceived actions of the State of Israel is both false and antisemitic.

Likewise, the BBC needs to urgently address the fact that Willcox has not been alone in adopting and promoting a canard used – as we see above – by antisemitic bullies.

Obviously the BBC’s funding public would not tolerate its national broadcaster (which is of course committed by Royal Charter to the promotion of education and sustaining civil society) adding credence to racist or prejudicial notions about other groups within British society. Ensuring that the same standard applies to British Jews entails tackling the ignorance which causes racism to be passed off as political comment. 

Yolande Knell exploits BBC’s Democracy Day for political messaging

On January 20th the BBC ran a special cross-platform project titled ‘Democracy Day’ to mark the 750th anniversary of the establishment of the first parliament of elected representatives at Westminster. The contribution to that project appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page came in the form of an article by Yolande Knell which was promoted under the heading “Democracy in doldrums” and carried the sub-heading “What’s to blame for Palestinians’ failure to hold fresh polls?”.Knell DD on HP

The answers supplied to that question in Knell’s article – titled “How Palestinian democracy has failed to flourish” – were as predictable as both the topics she chose to avoid and the messaging unrelated to the article’s subject matter which she elected to promote.

The two descriptions of Hamas in Knell’s article are as follows:

“In 2005, after the Palestinian Islamist militant group, Hamas, participated in elections for the first time, it took over several local councils, including Qalqilya.”

And:

“In 2006 Israel banned Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organisation, from campaigning in East Jerusalem and blocked its inclusion on ballot papers in the sector.” [all emphasis added]

Of course Israel is far from the only country to classify Hamas as a proscribed terrorist organization; so do the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan. In addition, Jordan and Egypt have banned Hamas and Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organization, as do New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Had readers been informed of those facts, they would have been in a better position to understand the background to the following part of Knell’s article:

“…Hamas went on to win a decisive victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 – winning 74 of the 132 seats.

Turnout was high at 78% and international monitors said the vote was largely free and fair.

But the result was met with dismay by Israel and Western donors – which prop up the Palestinian Authority (PA).

They refused to deal with Hamas politically unless the group renounced violence and its commitment to the destruction of Israel. Funds to pay for vital services were stopped or diverted.”

Indeed, the international community in the form of the Quartet (composed of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia) refused to deal with a government run by a terrorist organisation which, in addition to refusing to renounce violence and recognize Israel as its predecessor had done, also refused to honour the existing agreements signed between the Palestinian National Authority and Israel (and witnessed and guaranteed by some Quartet members) which had created the former institution.Knell Democracy Day art 

However, the simplistic take-away messaging which Yolande Knell chose to promote to BBC audiences is as follows:

“We’re only allowed democracy if the West likes our choices,” comments one Qalqilya shopper as he reflects on this troubled political history. “They supported us when we went to the ballot boxes but did a u-turn when Islamists won.”

The issue of the refusal of Hamas and other groups to renounce terror as an obstacle to democracy does not come under discussion in Knell’s report and neither does the fact that Hamas cannot be accurately described as a democratic body in itself. Its violent military coup against the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip is described by Knell in the following euphemistic terms:

“While a new unity government was briefly set up a year later, it was soon dismissed amid bitter infighting between Fatah and Hamas.

This led to the political bifurcation of the West Bank – where Fatah reasserted its authority – and the Gaza Strip – where Hamas ran a rival administration.”

Her so-called discussion of Palestinian democracy also fails to make any mention of the Hamas practice of carrying out extra-judicial executions and its institutional persecution of religious minorities, women, gays and political rivals.

Knell bases her article around the town of Qalqilya and that provides the opportunity for some of her inevitable politically motivated messaging, despite the fact that it is irrelevant to the supposed topic of her report.

“The mayor points to a large map on the wall that shows Qalqilya virtually encircled by concrete sections of the separation barrier that Israel has built in and around the West Bank. The barrier is made up mainly of chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, but in some areas consists of 8m- (25ft-) high walls.

Israel says the barrier is needed to protect it from Palestinian attackers but it also restricts the movements of ordinary Palestinians and cuts them off from profitable agricultural land.”

No effort is made to provide audiences with the all-important context of the terrorist infrastructure in that town which made it the source of many terror attacks during the second Intifada, including the Dolphinarium attack. In line with the usual BBC practice, Knell fails to inform readers of the proven effectiveness of the anti-terrorist fence and employs the standard ‘Israel says’ nod to impartiality.

Knell also fails to inform her readers that Qalqilya is in Area A and that, like the vast majority of the Palestinians, its residents have lived under the control of the Palestinian Authority for two decades. Of course had she included that vital context, her article’s money quote would have been considerably less effective because readers would have realized that most of the Palestinians do not live “under Israeli occupation” at all.

“We’re a democratic society. It’s in our blood,” Mr Dawood says. “We have long had different political factions and ideologies. There are public consultations. But in the end we cannot have a real democracy under Israeli occupation.” [emphasis added]

Knell makes no effort to point out to readers that issues such as freedom of the press, freedom of association and rights for women and minorities are entirely under the control of the Palestinian Authority. She also fails to clarify the important point that Palestinian basic law stipulates that “the principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation” – a fact which obviously has considerable influence on the degree of democracy in Palestinian society.

With regard to the issue of the absence of presidential and PLC elections, Knell writes:

“Although a new unity deal was struck between Hamas and Fatah last April, so far their technocratic government has failed to pave the way for promised elections across Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the latter annexed by Israel in a move not recognised internationally.”

Her tepid portrayal fails to adequately clarify that the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement stipulated that elections would be held six months after its implementation – i.e. in January 2015 – and she makes no attempt to discuss the political background to the Palestinian unity government’s failure to call elections or to enhance readers’ understanding of why the Fatah-dominated PA might not be too keen to gamble on the current status quo.

With the BBC generally avoiding any meaningful coverage of internal Palestinian affairs, this article could have gone some way towards rectifying that had Yolande Knell been more interested in her mission to inform BBC audiences on international issues than in promoting her standard political messaging.

As it is, BBC audiences remain little the wiser as to why Palestinian democracy is in “the doldrums” or what is the state of affairs regarding basic tenets of democracy such as human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law in the areas under PA or Hamas control. Instead, readers once again herded towards a view of passive Palestinians lacking agency to change anything in their society because whatever ills there are – it’s always Israel’s fault. 

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC News website reporting of Tel Aviv terror attack

As news broke of the terror attack on the number 40 Dan bus in Tel Aviv early on the morning of January 21st, the BBC News website grabbed its scare quotes and got to work.

All versions of the report titled “Israel bus attack: Tel Aviv passengers stabbed” opened in typical ‘last-first’ reporting style by informing audiences that a man had been shot by the police before informing them why and the same policy was seen on BBC social media. Inverted commas placed around the words terror attack in earlier versions of the report were removed from later editions.

Bus attack 21 1 a

Bus attack 21 1 b

Bus attack 21 1 c

The use of unnecessary punctuation continued, however, on the BBC News website’s Middle East homepage in a link to a filmed report on the same topic.

Bus attack 21 1 on HP 2

The first two versions of the report informed readers that “In November, an Israeli soldier was killed in a knife attack in Tel Aviv, while an Israeli woman was stabbed to death in the West Bank in a separate attack” without clarifying that those two incidents were both terror attacks.

Subsequent versions of the article noted that the terrorist came from Tulkarem, stating that “Tulkarem is a town in the occupied West Bank” whilst in fact it is located in Area A and, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, has been under PA control for two decades.

Later editions of the report also included contributions from the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly.

“Israeli police say there has been a pattern established in recent months where individual Palestinians, without sophisticated weapons, have attacked civilians at random, the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem reports.

Late last year, a number of Israelis were killed in attacks by Palestinians using weapons including knives and even vehicles to run down pedestrians.

Four Israelis were killed in November after two Palestinians armed with a pistol and meat cleavers attacked a synagogue in West Jerusalem.”

In addition to the fact that it would have been more accurate and informative to cite the exact number of people murdered in October and November 2014 instead of “a number of Israelis”, the article originally inaccurately stated that four people were killed in the Har Nof Synagogue attack rather than five as was actually the case. That error was subsequently corrected. Notably, no mention is made of the affiliations of many of those “individual Palestinians” with assorted terrorist organisations.

The report then goes on to state:

“Our correspondent says the latest round of tensions began to increase last year, after the summer conflict in Gaza and disputes over access to religious sites in the old city of Jerusalem.

More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the Israel-Gaza conflict, the majority of them civilians according to the UN.

Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers, and six civilians in Israel, were also killed.”

As we see, readers are not informed that “the summer conflict” took place in Israel as well as the Gaza Strip or that it began because terrorist organisations based there fired hundreds of missiles at Israeli civilians and constructed cross-border attack tunnels. In addition, the article continues the now well-established practice of quoting out of date civilian/combatant casualty ratios which the BBC has not independently verified. The BBC News website found it appropriate to illustrate this report about a terror attack in Tel Aviv with the image below.

Bus attack 21 1 pic Gaza

The BBC’s consistent practice of downplaying or ignoring Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism makes the phrasing of the following segment of this report particularly notable:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for the attack.

The attack was “the direct result of the poisonous incitement being disseminated by the Palestinian Authority against the Jews and their state”, he said.

The Israeli government frequently accuses Palestinian groups of inciting violence.

The government has been angered by Mr Abbas’ efforts to secure Palestinian membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and agreement to a unity government with militant group Hamas.

The Palestinians blame Israeli government policies, particularly the expansion of settlements, for the increase in violence, correspondents say.”

Audiences are not told who those anonymous “correspondents” are, but it is probably not too much of a gamble to assume that they include the same BBC employees who repeatedly promoted the notion that ‘settlements’ were the main reason for the terror attacks during October and November 2014. In fact, whilst this particular terrorist did not mention ‘settlements’ as a motivating factor for his actions, he did cite other factors, including “extremist Islamist television programs”.

Apparently refusing to connect the dots between “a unity government with militant group Hamas” and glorification of terrorism from “a senior Hamas official”, the writer of this report went on to inform audiences that:

“Izzat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, praised the stabbing attack.

Speaking from Qatar, he described it as “a natural response to the crimes of the occupation and terrorism against the Palestinian people”.”

Risheq was not the only Hamas official to condone the attack:

“The event was deemed a “natural response to Israeli terrorism,” by Hamas Spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri, who issued an official statement as events unfolded in Tel Aviv. 

The incident, the statement said, was a response to ongoing “Israeli crimes” against the Palestinian people. “

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum posted this status on Facebook, the Fatah Facebook account lauded the stabbings and some Palestinian media outlets also praised and celebrated the attack with a series of cartoons.

Throughout this report the language used by the BBC to describe the terrorist includes “suspect” (three times), “perpetrator” and “attacker”. The word terrorist is only used in quotes from Israeli sources. The continuing refusal to use accurate language to portray terror attacks in Israel must be assessed together with the BBC’s consistent avoidance of any serious reporting on Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism, its concurrent repeated promotion of subjectively selected factors (such as “expansion of settlements”) as ‘context’ for terror attacks against Israelis, and its transparent attempts to separate the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority from “militant” Hamas despite the existence of a unity government. Together, all those factors continue to obstruct audience understanding of this issue. 

 

BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine equates Israeli defence with Paris terrorism

h/t tb

One of the items appearing in the January 19th edition of the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show (available for a limited period of time from 36:57 here) was built around discussion of the following irrelevant – and frankly crass – question put by the host in his introduction.Jeremy Vine

“Now, is it more difficult being a Jew or a Muslim in the UK?”

After having presented the reactions of some British politicians to issues arising from the recent terror attacks in Paris, Jeremy Vine goes on to yet again advance the ridiculous notion that British Jews and British Muslims are engaged in some sort of competition for the title of ‘most suffering’.

Vine [38:43]: “So is it more difficult being a Jew or a Muslim in the UK right now? Let’s speak to Angela Epstein – Jewish writer, speaks to us from Salford – and David Cesarani is with me; the professor of history at Royal Holloway University of London; a particular expert on Jewish history as well. Angela, do you feel under pressure as a British Jew?”

Angela Epstein’s answer to that question includes the following statement:

“We are targets of Muslim terror because we are Jews and the same does not happen the other way round even in the face of heinous provocation…”

Vine quickly jumps in:

“You say it doesn’t happen the other way round – there will be people who say wait; when you look at the State of Israel and what it does in the occupied territories, that’s the…that’s the other side of the argument.”

In other words, Jeremy Vine apparently believes it justifiable to promote equation of actions taken by Israel to defend its civilians with those of terrorist organisations and at the same time implies that the motivation for any Israeli actions in “the occupied territories” is the religion of the people living there. He also apparently believes that it is legitimate to amplify the antisemitic canard that British Jews bear responsibility for the actions of the Israeli government. Although Angela Epstein protests Vine’s redundant analogy, he persists, asking David Cesarani:

“…does this stem from Israel’s actions and the way they’re perceived or is there something deeper afoot or is it actually not a problem, David?”

Cesarani does not provide a coherent response to that question.

 At 42:09 Vine downplays the nature of the terror attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris.

“And Angela, even if you look at the Paris attacks, what they went for first were the cartoonists. They were not going for French Jews. The kosher supermarket was secondary.”

Angela Epstein tries to correct Vine on that topic too, citing the murder of Ilan Halimi and the attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012. From 46:05 listeners hear David Cesarani making the dubious suggestion that British Jews who emigrate to Israel might be seen as ‘running away’ and ‘disloyal’.

“This is not the time to suggest the Jews are going to run away. The Jews are afraid, the Jews need special protection. We’re citizens of this country. It is our country and I’m going to stand shoulder to shoulder with people to defend that. And I’m not going to give the impression to anyone that Jews are not loyal to this country; that they really have their loyalty in Israel and at the least sign of trouble they’re all going to rush off to Netanya or Tel Aviv.”

One has to wonder whether Cesarani would suggest that Britons – Jewish or otherwise – emigrating to any other countries in the world might be perceived in a similar light.

After a break, Jeremy Vine purports to discuss the other side of his chosen subject matter (from 51:00) with two Muslim interviewees.

“So we were discussing whether British Jews are under threat; now we’re talking about British Muslims and whether things are better or worse for Muslims and Jews in this country in the wake of what’s happened in the last few weeks.”

If one wished to inform listeners on topics relating to terrorism and antisemitism, it would of course be beneficial to bring into the conversation an interviewee who has not shown public support for Islamist terrorism and for a notorious Holocaust denier and who represents a lobbying organisation previously banned from university campuses by the NUS because of antisemitism. Nevertheless, Radio 2 selected Asghar Bukhari from MPAC UK as one of its contributors to this discussion. Here is what the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism had to say about MPAC UK in 2006:

“The activities of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, MPACUK, have given cause for concern. Although its rhetoric is often extremist, MPACUK identifies itself as part of the mainstream British Muslim community, describing itself as “the UK’s leading Muslim civil liberties group, empowering Muslims to focus on non-violent Jihad and political activism”. Originally set up as a web-based media monitoring group, MPACUK’s declared first mission was to fight the perceived anti-Muslim bias in the media and to redress the balance. However, MPACUK has been criticised for publishing material on its website promoting the idea of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy, including the reproduction of articles originally published on neo-Nazi and Holocaust Denial websites, and is currently banned from university campuses under the NUS’s ‘No Platform’ policy. MPACUK are known to have removed an offensive posting from their website on one occasion, after complaints were made, but thereafter continued to publish similar material.”

Listeners already aware of the background to Bukhari and his organization would not have been surprised to hear him talking about Jihadist terrorism in the following terms:

“And I take exception….that this extremism is due to some sort of antisemitism – it’s not. Terrorism – every single act of terrorism against Western targets – has been due to the foreign policy of our government according to research and according to most of the experts out there. And the government is trying to blame the Muslim community and say oh it’s your problem. No: it’s your problem – the government has caused this problem. We cannot solve it unless you change your foreign policy.”

The trouble is, of course, that most listeners will not know who Bukhari and MPAC UK are or what sort of ideologies they stand for and Jeremy Vine made no attempt whatsoever to inform them on that issue when introducing him despite the existence of relevant BBC editorial guidelines. Notably too, the entire item avoids any real attempt to discuss the topic of Jihadist terrorism and its underlying ideologies.

At the end of the segment, Vine reads out a couple of e-mails from listeners and one of those picked out for promotion to listeners includes the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope.

“Aziz Najmuddin [phonetic] is in Southampton. He’s listening; he says I’m a Muslim man. I don’t feel threatened at all. British society is a fair society. But what I find disgraceful is that there’s no perceived threat to the Jews but there’s been so much police allocation to it. It is David Cameron playing up to the Jewish lobby in America.”

If the BBC aspires to provide its audiences with factual information and meaningful discussion on the topic of Jihadist terrorism of the type seen recently in Paris and the concerns of European Jews relating to that issue and rising antisemitism in general, one obviously basic requirement is to avoid contributors with a record of antisemitism.

No less crucial is that the corporation’s own presenters should understand the significance – and illegitimacy – of amplification (even with the ‘some might say’ caveat) of the antisemitic premise that terror attacks against Jews in Europe can be ‘explained’  by their being collectively responsible for the actions – real or imagined – of Israel. Obviously too, BBC content should be free from the promotion other antisemitic tropes such as the ‘Jewish lobby’ and ‘dual loyalties’. Unfortunately, what should go without saying is clearly not sufficiently understood by some BBC employees.

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Where’s the BBC follow up?

On December 17th 2014 the BBC News website produced no fewer than six versions of an article titled “EU court takes Hamas off terrorist organisations list”.BBC News logo 2

On January 19th 2015 the Council of the European Union announced that it had decided to appeal that court decision.

“The Council of the European Union has decided to appeal today the Judgment of the General Court (in Case T-400/10 – Hamas v. Council) of 17 December 2014. 

The Judgment of the General Court of the European Union annulled measures taken by the Council of the European Union against Hamas, namely the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation and the freezing of Hamas’ funds. This ruling was clearly based on procedural grounds and did not imply any assessment by the Court of the merits of designating the Hamas as a terrorist organization. 

The Council has now decided to challenge some of the findings of the Court regarding the procedural grounds to list terrorist organizations under EU autonomous measures to combat terrorism, as set out in Common Position 2001/931. As a result of the appeal, the effects of the Judgment are suspended until a final judgment is rendered by the Court of Justice.”

There has been no follow-up reporting on that decision by the Council on the BBC News website’s Middle East page to date.

Whilst BBC News website’s reporting of the PA’s bid to join the ICC has been extensive – including a Q&A feature on the topic – two recent developments have also not received any BBC coverage.ICC Q&A

On January 18th the Jerusalem Post revealed that:

“The Palestinians want the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch an investigation into the death of Yasser Arafat, a senior Fatah official announced on Sunday.

Jamal Muheissen, member of the Fatah Central Committee, claimed that Israel was responsible for the death of Arafat, who died in November 2004.

“This file will be presented to the International Criminal Court,” Muheissen told the Palestinian Shms News Agency. “We want to bring the Israeli occupation to trial for every crime it committed against our people.” “

On the same day the Times of Israel reported that the PA is prepared to drop its ‘war crimes’ suit against Israel if construction in ‘settlements’ is frozen.

“A senior Palestinian official said Sunday that the first subject to be brought before the International Criminal Court at The Hague in the Palestinian Authority’s legal campaign against Israel would be settlement construction

The official told The Times of Israel that land seizures in occupied territory constituted a clear violation of international law. Still, he noted that the appeal to the ICC would be withdrawn if Israel were to freeze settlement construction, and added that the Palestinian Authority had conveyed to Israel an official message to that effect, through Jordan and Egypt.”

In its above-mentioned Q&A from January 14th, the BBC noted that:

 “Some legal commentators suggest that it [the court] would open itself up to charges of politicization and set itself up for another damaging failure.”

The two reports above clearly demonstrate that PA’s bid to join the ICC is first and foremost a political tactic aimed at pressurizing Israel and avoiding the negotiations to which it is already committed. BBC audiences, however, remain in the dark with regard to the PA’s cynical and frivolous exploitation of the ICC.

BBC News shoehorns apartheid trope into supposed news story

Among the reports promoted to visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 18th were two items relating to a rent-a-mob incident in Ramallah in which shoes and eggs were thrown at the visiting Canadian foreign minister. As well as a filmed report titled “Canada’s foreign minister egged in Ramallah by protesters“, a written report appeared under the headline “Palestinians throw eggs at Canada’s John Baird“.Baird Ramallah art

Seeing as the minister was fortunately not harmed in the incident – as is already pointed out in the second paragraph of the BBC article – and taking into account that the BBC does not usually go out of its way to report on Palestinians behaving badly, one might be curious as to the editorial considerations behind the running of this story – particularly as the subject of Canadian aid to the Palestinians ($66 million in 2014 alone) is not mentioned in the report.

In the first seven paragraphs of the article the BBC manages to squeeze in information on the incident itself, on Canada’s relations with Israel and on Mr Baird’s comments after the meeting with his PA counterpart. From paragraphs eight to eleven inclusive, the report’s focus shifts to the amplification of a defamatory politically motivated trope from that old BBC favourite Saeb Erekat.

“Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, who did not meet Mr Baird, issued a statement expressing his anger at Canada’s backing for Israel.

“We regret the Canadian government’s decision to stand on the wrong side of history by blindly supporting the Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies,” he said.

Harsh critics of Israel level the charge of apartheid – the system of state-sanctioned racial discrimination once practised by South Africa – against the Jewish state over its treatment of Palestinians and Israeli-Arab minority. Israel says the accusation is baseless and a part of efforts to demonise it.

He criticised Mr Baird for meeting Israeli officials in occupied east Jerusalem in 2013.”

Erekat’s “statement” was actually an opinion piece published in the Globe & Mail on January 16th. Remarkably, out of the nine hundred and forty-four words comprising that screed, the BBC elected to focus audience attentions on the ‘apartheid’ trope and to unreservedly adopt Erekat’s language by use of the phrase “occupied east Jerusalem”. Notably too, the BBC’s token nod to editorial impartiality comes in the form of its well-worn ‘Israel says’ formula.

So to sum up, the anonymous writer of this BBC report decided to use a quarter of the paragraphs in a story supposedly about Palestinians throwing eggs at the Canadian FM for amplification of a defamatory trope against Israel by a well-known Palestinian demagogue who was not even party to the meeting with the visiting Canadian official. Having amplified and embroidered the trope, he or she failed to clarify to BBC audiences that it is completely baseless and false but played one of its infamous token ‘Israel says’ get-out-of-impartiality-jail-free cards.

Apparently the BBC believes that it can pass off self-conscription to Saeb Erekat’s PR team as ‘standard-setting’ journalism to its funding public.

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