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 ‘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

‘Nice country you’ve got there’ Hague gets a soft ride on BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’

The February 6th edition of the BBC Two and BBC World News programme ‘Hardtalk’ featured presenter Stephen Sackur interviewing the British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Most of the programme (which can be seen here) was dedicated to the subjects of Syria and to a lesser extent Afghanistan, but a segment towards the end related to what Sackur described as “important policy areas” and termed “Israel-Palestine”. 

That particular part of the programme was also aired separately on BBC News programmes and was in addition promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page

Sackur opened:

“The Americans, it seems, are going to publish their vision – their plan – for a two-state solution very soon. In getting ready for that, John Kerry warned the Israelis that if they reject this push for peace, he said, it is going to intensify calls for the isolation, for a boycott upon the Jewish state – upon Israel. Do you echo those sentiments? Do you see Israel’s isolation becoming more complete?”

William Hague: “Ah..he’s right to warn about that and I have warned Israeli leaders as well as Palestinians that much of the world will see this as the last chance at a two-state solution. You know, if John Kerry – and I really pay tribute to John Kerry and to the energy and the commitment that he has put into this – and many observers will say, if it doesn’t work – that if John Kerry with all of the weight of the United States, all his experience and standing in the Middle East and the world – cannot bring the two sides together to reach final status agreements, then who can?

SS: “But in talking of isolation of Israel, Kerry put Israeli government ministers’ backs up. One – Yuval Steinitz who was on my programme recently – he said in response to Kerry’s words: ‘Kerry is holding a gun to Israel’s head’. Is the EU, with its own boycott of Israeli businesses that have operations in occupied territory, is the EU putting a gun to Israel’s head?”

WH: “We don’t – just to be clear – we don’t have boycotts; we have guidelines.”

SS: “But you’re blocking loans and grants to….”

WH: “That is a different thing from a boycott. We’re not putting a gun…nobody is putting a gun to anybody’s head. In fact what the EU is offering is an unprecedented package of economic partnership and assistance to work with Israelis and Palestinians if this is successful. There is a real positive…”

SS: “And if it’s not? That’s the question: if it isn’t going to go further..”

WH: “If it isn’t, that can’t take place. And if it doesn’t happen, if there isn’t an agreement on these things, then I think it will be a very dark time both for Israelis and for Palestinians – for both sides actually. There are terrible consequences to fear. And certainly it would bring a great deal of international pressure on Israel, including at the United Nations and there’ve been many moves for Palestinians to seek greater recognition at the UN which would command a huge amount of international support. That is evident from previous votes. Britain hasn’t committed itself on that but…

SS: “But if we’re painting that scenario – exactly – if we’re painting that scenario…”

WH: “It would be difficult for Israel but it would be difficult for Palestinians as well because without embracing a two-state solution, their situation would be pretty desperate as well.”

As we see, not only did Sackur provide a platform for the promotion (and subsequent BBC amplification) of Hague’s blatant ‘nice country you’ve got there; would be a pity if anything happened to it’ tactics, but he failed utterly to clarify to viewers that Hague’s presentation of the issue as though it were all down to what the parties involved want to do – rather than what they are currently capable of doing – is plainly ridiculous.

Viewers were at no point made aware of the fact that the party negotiating on behalf of the Palestinians does not include the faction – Hamas – which secured the largest number of votes in the last PLC elections. They were not told that the current president of the Palestinian Authority lacks the authority or the ability to sign any agreement seeing as his term of office expired over five years ago and elections are long overdue and currently impossible to carry out. Neither was it made clear that the Palestinian Authority has no control whatsoever over the Gaza Strip – one of two areas projected to become part of a future Palestinian state – and Sackur avoided asking Hague how any signed peace agreement could possibly be implemented in an area ruled by a third-party terrorist group which categorically rejects the two-state solution, is committed to the destruction of one party to any potential agreement and has a significant presence (along with additional rejectionist terrorist groups) in the area which is controlled at present by the Palestinian Authority. 

But Hague also got off scot-free with regard to other issues. Sackur failed to challenge him on the subject of UK government and EU funding for organisations and NGOs which promote, support and operate the BDS movement against Israel. He failed to demand accountability from Hague regarding the doublespeak of a UK government which claims in public to be opposed to any boycott of Israel and yet, for example, funds the British Council and Arts Council England – both of which have in turn funded the BDS supporting, anti-two-state solution project known as the PalFest.  Neither did he solicit a response from Hague with regard to the recent claim published in an Israeli newspaper according to which a senior British diplomat told a reporter “It’s my job to f*** settlement factories like this one in Ein Gedi”. 

Sackur also conveniently refrained from dissecting Hague’s cringingly transparent ‘equality’ chimera of EU or UK censure of the Palestinian Authority (the same body which was recently revealed to be holding explosives and weapons in a diplomatic mission on EU soil) should peace negotiations collapse. After all, as past experience shows, even when the PA actively sabotaged the Oslo Agreements by initiating and financing an unprecedented campaign of terror against Israeli civilians in 2000, the EU continued to fund that body and even raised its contributions to the tune of an annual average of 250 million Euros. Hence, there is little reason to anticipate an about-face this time around and just as little reason to anticipate any letting-up in EU and UK funding of anti-Israel NGOs or an end to the practice of paternalistic, diplomatically illiterate finger-wagging from the hand which still feeds sections of the BBC. 

Thanks to Sackur’s ineffectual performance, the licence fee paying public remained oblivious both to the existence of many objective factors which make the culmination of the current talks in a workable agreement extremely unlikely and to the redundancy of the FCO’s pompously simplistic approach to such a serious and complex subject.

So much for the BBC’s obligation to “[e]nhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues” – and journalistic independence.

Rinse and repeat: BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ enabling Roger Waters’ hogwash

h/t J

On January 1st 2014 the BBC World News programme ‘Hardtalk chose to broadcast a re-run of an interview with Roger Waters which was originally aired in September 2013 and has now been shown a total of a dozen times. 

At around six minutes into the programme, presenter Stephen Sackur says:

“And perhaps the strongest reaction you’ve got is from people who see some of the imagery – and in particular the imagery on that inflatable pig, which is a central part of the show…” 

Waters interrupts:

“Here we go..”

Sackur: “..see it as anti-Israeli and some say antisemitic.”

Waters: “Well this is…has become an old chestnut now because this whole question of this particular pig which appears in the second half of the show when I am playing the part of a fascist demagogue – or any kind of extremist demagogue if you like – is satire and it’s recognized as being that. This record has been out there with the lyrics that are contained in the work, which are part of the narrative, for – as you say – since 1979. So, the use of different symbols on the pig – which include the Star of David, the crucifix, crescent and star, the dollar sign, the hammer and sickle and all kinds of other symbols that ..emm..I felt were relevant when we were designing the show – have been there as part of the show since 2010.”

However, an Israeli who attended Waters’ show in July 2013 had a different experience:

“I came to the concert because I really like his music, without any connection to his political stance toward Israel,” says Alon Onfus Asif, an Israeli living in Belgium. “And I had a lot of fun, until I noticed the Star of David, on the inflatable pig. That was the only religious-national symbol which appeared among other symbols for fascism, dictatorships and oppression of people. 

See if you can find any other religious-national symbols in this footage from the show.

Here is what Waters told ‘Billboard’ in December 2013: [emphasis added]

“Waters says a new set of pigs were built for the South America leg of the tour and the Star of David was one of the symbols added to them. “Since then, because of the complaints from some of the Jewish community, we’ve added a crucifix and star-crescent,” Waters says.”

In other words, the claim made by Waters in the September 2013 interview with Sackur – according to which the symbols of Christianity and Islam were presented alongside the Star of David on the inflatable pig from the very beginning of the tour – was apparently not verified by the Hardtalk production team before the initial or numerous repeat broadcasts of this programme. 

The BBC, ‘democratic principles’ and the Jihadist recruiter

One of the public purposes defined in the Charter which is the BBC’s constitutional basis is that of “sustaining citizenship and civil society”. According to the BBC Trust’s interpretation of that public purpose, it will be achieved through “high-quality and distinctive journalism that meets the highest standards of accuracy, fairness and impartiality”.

In the opening paragraphs of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality it is stated:

“Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints.  Equally, it does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles.” [emphasis added]

Needless to say, it would be perfectly obvious to most licence fee payers that “detachment from fundamental democratic principles” includes the promotion and amplification of the views of people to whom democracy is an anathema to be rejected on the basis of ideology. 

Nevertheless, the BBC once again found itself at the centre of wide-ranging public criticism towards the end of December 2013 when it chose to provide a platform for the views of just such an opponent to “fundamental democratic principles”.

On December 20th 2013 BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme conducted an interview with Anjem Choudary as part of its coverage of the sentencing of the murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby on the streets of London last year.

“When asked by the Today presenter John Humphrys whether he condemned the killings, Choudary said: “I think that to talk about condemnation or to talk about how we feel is not the most important question now, and I’m not going to go down that road. I think that what is important is to learn lessons from what has taken place.

“Whether you agree or disagree with what took place, you cannot predict the actions of one individual among a population of 60 million when the government is clearly at war in Muslim countries. I condemn those who have caused what has taken place on the streets of London, and I believe that the cause of this is David Cameron and his foreign policy.” “

Of course there can be no doubt that the BBC editors who decided to interview Choudary for that programme knew in advance exactly what kind of responses they were going to get from him. After all, like the proprietors of some Victorian freak-show seeking to attract audiences by way of the ‘shock factor’, the BBC has been wheeling out Choudary and his template propaganda for over a decade, including a ‘Hardtalk’ interview from 2003 in which he refused to condemn the Mike’s Place suicide bombers, another ‘Hardtalk’ interview from 2005 in which he likewise refused to condemn the London terror attacks, participation in ‘The Big Questions’ and ‘Newsnight’ and an appearance on ‘Newsnight’ in May 2013 (also promoted on the BBC News website) in which his stance on the brutal murder of Lee Rigby was made amply clear. 

Beyond his tawdry ‘shock factor’ which is exploited to the full by the BBC, Anjem Choudary does not represent one of those “significant stands of thought” which the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines pledge to reflect and represent. His bigoted rants and apologist attitude to terrorism reflect the views of no more than a minuscule proportion of British citizens and such views certainly are not embraced by the vast majority of people who share his faith. And yet, following the latest round of criticism in December, the BBC felt the need to defend its amplification of the abhorrent views of an anti-democratic supremacist.

“A BBC spokeswoman said: “We have given great consideration to our reporting of the Woolwich murder and the subsequent trial, and carried a wide range of views from across the political and religious spectrums.

“We have a responsibility to both report on the story and try to shed light on why it happened. We believe it is important to reflect the fact that such opinions exist and feel that Choudary’s comments may offer some insight into how this crime came about.”

It is of course nothing short of amazing that an organization with such a miserable record on the reporting of terrorism – so much so that it even self-censors the use of the word – believes that it has the credentials to offer its audiences anything which can honestly be described as relevant “insight” into the background to an act of terrorism.

But if that genuinely is the BBC’s intention, then rather than merely providing a sensationalist rating-magnet platform for the propagation of his ample hate, it could of course conduct some proper exposure of the nature of the activities of Choudary and his associates.

In contrast to its valueless amplification of Choudary’s bigoted and undemocratic views to millions, that would go some way towards sustaining the civil society – both in Britain and abroad – to which the BBC is supposedly committed. 

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 misrepresents Israel’s stance on P5+1 talks yet again

On October 1st 2013 the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a speech at the UN General Assembly which was misreported by the BBC as having “warned against working with the Iranian government.” As we noted here at the time:

“In fact, a significant proportion of Netanyahu’s speech was devoted to the subject of safeguards which should be employed by the international community whilst negotiating with Iran.

“So here is what the international community must do: First, keep up the sanctions. If Iran advances its nuclear weapons program during negotiations, strengthen the sanctions.

Second, don’t agree to a partial deal. A partial deal would lift international sanctions that have taken years to put in place in exchange for cosmetic concessions that will take only weeks for Iran to reverse.

Third, lift the sanctions only when Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons program. My friends, the international community has Iran on the ropes. If you want to knock out Iran’s nuclear weapons program peacefully, don’t let up the pressure. Keep it up.

We all want to give diplomacy with Iran a chance to succeed, but when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance. Three decades ago, President Ronald Reagan famously advised, “trust but verify.” When it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, here’s my advice: Distrust, dismantle and verify.”

In other words, Netanyahu did not warn “against working with the Iranian government” at all – but he did urge the international community to go about it in a rational and cautious manner.”

On October 31st 2013 the BBC broadcast an edition of its ‘Hardtalk’ programme featuring an interview with Israel’s Minister for Intelligence Affairs and International Relations, Yuval Steinitz. Right at the beginning of that interview (which is worth watching in full if only to gain some insight into the personal views of presenter Stephen Sackur), Steinitz says:

“…Israel is not against the diplomatic negotiations of the P5+1 with Iran. These diplomatic negotiations are going on and off for almost ten years, starting from 2003, and then the Iranians had only 160 centrifuges – today they have close to 20,000. But we are not closing the door to diplomatic solutions: on the contrary. If the United States and the P5+1 will succeed to reach [an] inclusive and satisfactory diplomatic solution, we will be glad to endorse it.” [emphasis added]

The Israeli government’s stance has been made amply clear on numerous other occasions too.

“Ahead of a new round of nuclear talks between Western powers and Iran starting Tuesday, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said a diplomatic solution was still possible, and said Tehran should discontinue its nuclear weapons program just as Libya did 10 years ago.

Israel will endorse any agreement that ensures Tehran’s inability to create nuclear weapons, including one that would grant the regime the use of nuclear energy for civilian purposes, he said Monday. “We want the Geneva talks to succeed. We don’t close the door on a diplomatic solution,” he said.” [emphasis added]

On November 10th 2013, in an article on the subject of the shooting of an Iranian deputy minister which appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website, the BBC – despite having heard the contrary directly from a senior Israeli minister less than two weeks previously – informed its audiences that:

“Peace talks in Geneva have centred on a proposal to freeze the expansion of Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for relief from tough international sanctions.

Israel, which regards Iran as a security threat, has opposed the talks.” [emphasis added]

Iran dep min art

That statement can only be construed as another deliberate misrepresentation of Israel’s stance on the part of the BBC. 

BBC’s Sackur suggests being pro-Israel should be a problem

h/t FB

On May 2nd and 3rd 2013 the BBC World Service programme ‘Hardtalk’ – hosted by Stephen Sackur – interviewed the Chairman of the BBC Trust, Chris Patten. 

Hardtalk Patten

The interview can be heard for a limited period of time here, or as a podcast here. A clip from the programme can be viewed here.

The interview is worth listening to in full, but particularly from around 16:06 in the audio version above when Sackur says:

“One other editorial issue that I want to put to you and it concerns James Harding – the new chief of news here at the BBC. He was the editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Times newspaper and when he was at The Times, James Harding said this at a Jewish community centre debate in London in 2011. He said – quote – “I am pro-Israel and I haven’t found it hard because The Times has been pro-Israel for a very long time”. Now, James Harding is now the head of news at the BBC. Are you comfortable for him to pronounce himself pro-Israel as head of news of the BBC?”

Chris Patten replies:

“I’m sure he wouldn’t pronounce himself as pro-Israel or pro any country or part of an argument.”

SS: “But his problem is that he already has.”

CP: “Yeah, but look..”

SS: “I mean he won’t have changed the spots, I don’t suppose…”

CP: “You know perfectly well that I’ve expressed views on the Middle East in books and in articles and you know very well that I used to be in a past life – in a previous incarnation – chairman of the Conservative Party.”

SS: “Sure but..”

CP: “I’ve managed…”

SS: “You’re not head of BBC News and you never have been.”

CP: “No, but I’m chair of the BBC Trust.”

SS: “James Harding is self-declared pro-Israel. Do you have any problem with that? Do you think that it might create problems for you and for the BBC when one considers that perhaps the most contentious issue we all in BBC news and current affairs have to deal with on a daily basis is reporting the Middle East?”

Whether or not the BBC’s record for accurate and impartial reporting from the Middle East will improve under James Harding remains to be seen, but hopefully one practice he will be able to eradicate in the BBC news and current affairs department is that of cherry-picking quotes and then using them to promote a particular agenda. 

Here is a report of Mr Harding’s April 2011 remarks: note Sackur’s apparent addition of the word ‘very’ to the part in his “quote” which says “..because The Times has been pro-Israel for a very long time”. 

“Harding stressed the need for balanced journalism. “We say we’re pro-Israel but we’re also pro the Palestinian state… the question a journalist should always ask himself is are you making the case before opinion is dressed up as reportage?” “

James Harding does not specify what being “pro-Israel” means as far as he is concerned but frankly, these days it often means simply being convinced of Israel’s indisputable right to exist. One does have to wonder therefore what kind of interpretation Stephen Sackur attributes to that phrase. 

The fact that Sackur appears to have no qualms about suggesting publicly that being pro-Israel is or should be “a problem” for a senior BBC employee,  and that if James Harding had “changed his spots” that ‘problem’ would disappear, perhaps reveals more about the institutional culture at the BBC than Stephen Sackur and Chris Patten appear to realise.