BBC WS again uses Christians to paint a picture of discriminatory Israel

Those who listened to part one of John Laurenson’s ‘Heart and Soul’ programme titled ‘Christians in the Holy Land’ on the BBC World Service probably did not have very high expectations regarding the accuracy and impartiality of its second and final part - titled “Newcomers”  – which was initially broadcast on May 24th.Heart and Soul WS Newcomers

Even the synopsis on the programme’s webpage manages to inaccurately rename the Tel Aviv neighbourhood Neve Sha’anan.

“The suburb of Neve Shanon is tucked away in the Israeli capital Tel Aviv, out of sight of the large houses where most of the residents work as domestic staff. The people are a multicultural mix of Africans, south-east Asians and South Americans – and represent the new wave of Christians that have made their home in the heart of the Jewish state. 

To mark Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land, John Laurenson travelled to the Israeli capital to find out more about these migrants. These newcomers are living in Neve Shanon and are worshipping in the improvised churches of this dilapidated area.” [emphasis added]

Laurenson begins his programme with a group of Indian Catholics on the Mount of Olives and his first identified interviewee is an Indian priest.

“I am Father Turji Jos [phonetic] from India. We have around six thousand Indian Catholics who are working as caregivers. The working conditions are hard and difficult. The caregivers – they are elderly people they have to look after and some of them are very sick, mentally not sound, very hefty people like 130 kgs and all people like that. They can’t be able to lift…”

JL: “Right…”

TJ: “So such cases it is difficult. So some of the employers are very rude and they don’t even give food for these employees and…”

JL: “Don’t give them food?”

TJ: “Food to eat. Sometimes very….”

JL: “But they pay them?”

TJ: “They pay just the minimum what is required by the government. Then sometimes they don’t…very minimum they give for eating.”

No concrete evidence is provided to back up the priest’s allegation that an unspecified number of “very rude” Israeli employers do not provide sufficient food for an unspecified number of employees – and yet the BBC saw fit to broadcast that smear. Laurenson makes no attempt to check whether employers are in fact actually required to feed employees or to inform listeners that legal migrant workers are protected under Israeli law, that the terms of their working conditions are clearly specified and that any complaints about their working conditions can and should be referred to the relevant authorities.

Laurenson goes on:

“Does it help, their religion, do you think? I mean Jesus was a carer.”

TJ: “Yeah, I think the spiritual services, attending the spiritual activities enable them to [unintelligible] all sort of things and hardships and also like they are doing it as a mission or ministry; caring for the abandoned nobody [unintelligible] look after.”

JL: “No family.”

TJ: “No families, yes.”

Of course beyond the motivations the priest suggests exists a major factor of which neither he nor Laurenson apparently sees the need to inform listeners. Unskilled migrant workers from SE Asia are paid at considerably higher rates in Israel than they would be in their home countries and that is a major motivation for their choosing to work there.

Without clarifying who “they” are, Laurenson then asks:

Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, March 2012

Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, March 2012

“Do you think that you have your place here in a country they often call the Jewish state?”

TJ: “We believe that we have a place because place of Jesus and also for us is giving a testimony. The Indian Catholics’ activities are more prominent than the local Catholics here. We gather in large numbers and really make an impressive presence in this Holy Land.”

JL: “You’ve got a big smile when you say this. You think this is a good thing to do then? You think that you should show yourselves, yes?”

TJ: “Yes, yes. Ahm..yes because many people in the world think there are no more Christians in the Holy Land and we have come from another to land and making our presence here in the Holy Land – a Christian presence – is something wonderful, I believe.”

JL: “Do you ever experience any sort of rejection or hostility or suspicion?”

TJ: “This hostility from the ultra-Orthodox groups when we go on the streets with our religious garments. They spit on the road and they shout at us.”

JL: “This doesn’t happen every time says Father Turji, but it happens.”

Laurenson’s next named interviewee is then introduced.

“David Neuhaus – an Israeli Jew who converted to Christianity – is the Catholic Patriarchal vicar responsible for these new Catholic communities in Israel. He says the arrival of Christians like these women has led to a doubling of Israel’s Christian population over the last 15 to 20 years.”

DN: “In the Holy Land we have 160,000 Christian citizens of Israel. 160,000. 75% of them are Palestinian Arabs, OK? The other quarter of Christians are coming from the countries of Eastern Europe, particularly the ex-Soviet Union. And then we have this huge population – we’re not sure how many – but probably up to 150,000 migrants. And again, these migrants are coming from Asia and Africa and opening up new paths of dialogue with the Jewish people because Jews identify Christians in this kind of collective Jewish memory as European white people. And so when they enter into contact with black, brown and yellow people who are Christians, that also helps to change the idea of what Christianity is. And by the way these African and Asian Christians often have very little perception of the dynamic of Jewish-Christian relations over the centuries and the trauma that has been involved for Jews, so that they too, they come in – and this is very important to underline – particularly the Asian Christians – come in as loving hands. Because they come in as care-givers. Our rich people don’t take care of their old people any more. Nor of their sick people, nor of their handicapped and the Asians are bringing in to do particularly that work and very often do it with an incredible dedication.”

Neuhaus’ simplistic, over-generalised and distinctly uncharitable portrayal of Israeli society conceals from listeners the fact that not all families who find themselves obliged to take on the services of care-givers are “rich” by any stretch of the imagination and that the permit to employ a foreign care-giver is granted according to professional assessment of the patient’s needs – not the family’s bank account. Notably, Laurenson made no effort to bring the voices of families who employ such care-givers to BBC audiences.  

Laurenson then visits a church in Neve Sha’anan in Tel Aviv and listeners hear his interviewee Lourdes Evangelista.

“…so I find employer. She is a Alzheimer woman. She’s very good woman. […] and in my room I have an altar. I put the picture of Jesus Christ and she see that I am reading the Bible and praying. She’s not asking me what are you doing. But the problem – they have a grandchildren is a religious, so when I’m coming in my – in the flat – they see my room. They asking me what is this, like that, I said this is Jesus Christ because I’m a Christian. No, no, no; I don’t like that. No choice. So I hide the picture and the cross but I’m still continuing to read the Bible and I say Lord I’m sorry but you know what doing and you know what is in my heart.”

Apparently it is difficult for both Laurenson and his interviewee to conceive that the placing of Christian ornaments and symbols in their family home might be offensive to some non-Christians. Laurenson then goes out of his way to find interviewees from a section of Israeli society representing no more than 10% of the whole who will confirm his touted theme of Israeli hostility towards Christians.

JL: “So I’ve come along to Shabbat Square which is one of the more Orthodox parts of Jerusalem and we’ve found ourselves right in the middle of a demonstration against the extension of the draft to Orthodox Jews. […] We’re thinking that if there is a part of the Israeli population that is concerned about the quite rapid rise of the Christian population of this country, it’ll be in this more religious element of Israeli society.”

Laurenson seems surprised to find that some people are not keen to talk to him and equally amazed that other Israelis speak Hebrew. But eventually, of course, he finds what he was looking for in order to ‘prove’ his point.

JL: “But what I met with was an extraordinary amount of this…”

Man: “To be honest with you I don’t talk to…”

JL: “And a lot of this…”

Man 2: “I’d rather not tell you with a microphone.”

JL: “Though usually the refusals to speak were in Hebrew. As for the few who didn’t mind talking to us…”

Man 3: “It’s all in the Shem’s hands; in God’s hands. This is the home of the Jewish people so, it’ll always be our home and it doesn’t mean that other people can’t live here and there certainly are a lot of people that live here but this is the Jewish homeland.”

Displaying incredible ignorance regarding the diverse religious and ethnic make-up of Israel’s population since the first day of its founding, Laurenson asks:

JL: “You’d be fine with Israel being a sort of multi-religious country really – which is what it is becoming?”

Man 3: “Yeah, I mean why not? I mean it’s…people are welcome to live here and I don’t see a problem with that at all.”

JL: “And a couple said this…”

Man 4: “It’s an awful thing the rise in the number of Christians here because it will cause assimilation. If Jews marry Christians they risk disappearing. And this doesn’t apply only to Israel – to everywhere in the world as Jews are a minority.”

Sharp-eared Hebrew speakers may be able to hear snippets of the man’s actual words which might cause them to question the accuracy of the translated voice-over.

Man 5: “It’s very sad. It’s worse than Islam. Their people might be blowing themselves up but this is a quiet war that’s taking place. Legal measures should be used to stop things going too far because this is a threat to the Jewish identity of the State of Israel.”

Laurenson then moves onto another named interviewee – Hana Bendcowsky.

HB: “I think since Israel was established as a shelter for Jewish people the fear and the worry that the demographics would be different than they are now or they used to be – that the Jews would become a minority here – that’s a fear that the authorities have, that many of the people have.”

JL: “At her office in Jerusalem I meet Hana Bendcowsky – programme director of the Centre for Jewish-Christian relations – who tells me about many Israelis’ perceptions of Christians that started out negative and are getting more so.”

HB: “These are the memories of the past that accompany every Israeli Jew although many of us are third and fourth generation in Israel. The fear of Christians, the persecution of the Jews is being taught in school. It’s even being used – or I would say abused – in politics. When the Jews were kicked out of England in 1291 or when they were expelled from Spain in 1492, or they were persecuted in different places and the hatred and the antisemitism and – the final stage – the Holocaust, which is also seen as part of the Jewish-Christian tension.”

JL: “That’s a big leap, obviously. I mean talking about the Holocaust as a Christian phenomenon (laughs).”

HB: “Obviously, obviously, but that’s how Jews see that. They see it as another step; Crusaders, persecution, expulsion and then the Holocaust. For Israelis and for Jews today it’s part of the same story. Now, for the first generation who came to Israel who had very strong relations with Christians or people who lived among Christians, for them Christian is a person. For the young generation in Israel who grew up here, who learned in history classes only about persecution, expulsion and of course the Holocaust, why would he have a positive opinion about Christianity? How could he develop a positive opinion about Christianity? Even the fact that we actually live in a Western culture and we consume Western culture – Western television, art – which is all Christian – we kind of forget that and keep focusing on the negative parts of the history.”

JL: “You think Christians here really should be more sensitive towards..yeah…Jewish sensitivities regarding Christian symbols?”

HB: “I don’t expect the minorities to make such an effort for the majority. I think first of all it’s our responsibility as Jews, as the majority here to educate ourself and to help the minorities to understand us. So I expect us to help them to understand the background that we come from and I think I also try to educate myself and I want to educate others, not to forget or to forgive if you don’t want to, but to put the history behind and to move forward. If the cross was a symbol of conflict, of persecution, now we’re in a different situation. We are having our own state. We’re the majority here. We have army, we have security forces, we are secure here. So it’s about time to relate to the cross as a symbol of two billion people in the world; a symbol of their faith – not a symbol of our persecution because it’s not relevant.”

Judging from the amount of programme time Laurenson devotes to airing Bendcowsky’s ‘progressive’ opinions, it appears that he too leans towards the opinion that Jews are far too stuck in the past. Notably, he makes no effort at this point or throughout his entire report to introduce his listeners to topics such as contemporary Christian proselytism in Israel or the part played by various churches and church-related bodies – including some of those which partner and donate to Ms Bendcowsky’s organization, such as Trocaire – in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement which aims to delegitimize the one Jewish state into extinction.

Echoing Bendcowsky’s “not relevant” diagnosis, Laurenson continues:

Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, March 2012

Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, March 2012

“What is, on the other hand, pressingly relevant is the suffering of people that have come to Israel’s door. We’re going to meet the asylum seekers.”

Returning to Neve Sha’anan, Laurenson interviews a man he dubs Sumari Abraham [phonetic] – an illegal migrant from Eritrea. He tells audiences of Sumari’s prowess as a runner and then facilitates the telling of a very dubious story.

JL: “When I met him he was about to attend a Passover dinner organized by some Israeli friends, but he was no more able to follow his dream [to become a runner] here than he was at home. To do that, he says, he would have had to convert.”

SA: “There is one law here in Israel. If you are not a Jew you cannot participate in outside races like Olympics and also World Championships like that. Very hard for me. I had a team here in Israel also. I made medical check; everything was right. They told me you have to sign for the Rav [Rabbi]. Rav means like a priest of the Jews. I don’t have a Rav. I am Christian so my boss he told me, my coach, if you are not a Jew you don’t have any chance to competing in competitions; things like World Championship.”

JL: “But the problem is more, isn’t it, that you don’t have Israeli nationality? You can’t be in the Israeli team if you’re not Israeli?”

SA: “Yeah, I think this and I am not a Jew also. They say it’s the Jew state and a Jew country. If you are not a Jew here you are nothing.”

Laurenson clearly understands the real reason that his interviewee cannot compete as a member of a team representing Israel and, had he done the research, he would also know that Israelis of all colours, creeds and ethnicities represent their country at sporting and other international events. Nevertheless, he elected to include and amplify these inaccurate and deliberately misleading claims in this programme.

Next, Laurenson returns to the Jesuit priest (and Vatican spokesman in Jerusalem and former B’Tselem board member) Father David Neuhaus.

DN: “Since 2007 until now we have had two Eritreans recognized as refugees. The parallel in Europe is around 70% of the Eritreans who are coming into Europe are recognized as refugees, of course with differences from country to country.”

JL: “Why is the percentage so low here?”

Promoting once again the theme of “rich” Israelis, Neuhaus is permitted by Laurenson to erase from listener consciousness the fact that Israel is a country which took in around a million refugees from post-war Europe, around three-quarters of a million refugees from Arab and Muslim countries, about million refugees from the former USSR and non-Jewish refugees from Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia and Lebanon to name but some.

DN: “Because in Israel there is a policy not to take on refugees. Israel was created as a Jewish state and any Jew can come – refugee or not – but there is little awareness that we are also a rich society and therefore have responsibilities – ethical responsibilities – towards a world population and particularly those that have found their way here. And I want to add what we are facing now with opposition for laws that are termed infiltration laws where a whole population is being criminalised for seeking refuge in Israel. They are being called infiltrators. The infiltrators in the 1960s were those that came in to commit acts of sabotage – Palestinians – so calling them infiltrators raises the anxiety level. Instead of looking at these people and deciding some of them are bona fide refugees and we need to take on that responsibility, not only because we signed on to international conventions but also because of the history of the Jewish people in this country . And what is now the added unfairness is that those that have been here the longest time – in particular single men who have somehow found their feet here, have found jobs as difficult as that is and have somehow integrated into the environment, are now being rounded up and sent to a camp in the Negev desert where they can be held for a long period of time, where there is nothing to do and again it seems that the authorities have made a decision they want this population out of here and they’re making life really unbearable.”

Laurenson’s programme is twenty-six and a half minutes long. Less than one minute of that time is afforded to the Israeli view of the points and claims raised in the rest of the programme and even that is paraphrased by Laurenson himself.

JL: “I got on the phone to the Foreign Ministry about Father David’s claims and this is what spokesman Paul Hirschson had to say. It’s true that few illegal migrants obtain refugee status but few actually apply, he told me, perhaps because they know that – unlike many countries – Israel applies a policy of no forced repatriation to Eritrea, Sudan or Somalia. As part of its new infiltrators law, a physical barrier has been built along much of the border with Egypt that has radically reduced illegal immigration and Israel is building detention centres similar to those operated in the Netherlands and Britain, he says. Illegal migrants may be held in these facilities for up to a year. The idea is to prevent them working and therefore lower the incentive for coming here. If we didn’t have those restrictions, the spokesman said, illegal immigrants wouldn’t come to Israel in their thousands, but in their millions. At some point Israel would collapse under the weight of numbers.”

Laurenson continues by briefly acknowledging one important point:

“The doubling of Israel’s Christian population – while across the Middle East their numbers have fallen dramatically – is proof that in Israel there is a degree of freedom of religion that’s become rare in the region.”

He goes on to make an assertion which ignores the all-important fact that, unlike Christianity, Judaism is not a proselytising religion.

“But the future of the Holy Land’s new Christians is fragile, in part because the assimilation some Jews fear cuts both ways. How many young Indians and young Filipinos will choose to jettison the religion of their parents along with their language?”

Laurenson closes by leaving audiences with the take-away message of Israel as a discriminatory society.

JL: “And for the asylum seekers the past is bleak, the present is bleak, the future is bleak. A walk across a desert that now has this camp whose name is Holot. Sumari Abraham again.”

SA: “They don’t want me because I am a Christian. They think if I stay here for a long time, they fear about their identity. If they are proud about their identity, why they are afraid of me? If they strong in their religion, if they strong in their faith, why they are afraid of others? They are blaming Christian [unintelligible] of nothing.”

JL: “Israel is the homeland of my God, says Sumari. It’s the homeland of my soul, but of my flesh – no.”

Like the first part of John Laurenson’s  programme, this one too is replete with inaccuracies and omissions which severely compromise its impartiality. The end result in both programmes is the presentation of a one-sided view of Israel which includes nothing fresh, new or innovative.

In part one of the programme the real reasons for the plight of Palestinian Christians were concealed in favour of the promotion of politically motivated propaganda. In part two, Laurenson completely ignored Israeli Christian citizens; not least those who do not fit into the BBC’s pre-existing narrative. Laurenson’s one-dimensional picture of “Christians in the Holy Land” failed to go anywhere near the topics of the Palestinian politicization of Christianity and the heavy involvement of various Christian streams in the delegitimisation of Israel.

The result is just another jaded chapter in the BBC’s repeated attempts to persuade audiences that Israel is a society riddled with discrimination and racism.

Related Articles:

Terror excused, Palestinian Christians sold out on BBC World Service

PSC patron’s Christmas smear of Israel promoted on multiple BBC platforms

BBC R4′s ‘Today’ programme implies persecution of Christians in Israel

BBC’s ECU publishes findings on complaint about R4 ‘Today’ programme

The Christians who do not fit into the BBC’s Middle East narrative

Terror excused, Palestinian Christians sold out on BBC World Service

h/t MA

Hot on the heels of its recent programme called “Africans in the Holy Land“, the BBC World Service has now produced a two-part programme with the similar title of “Christians in the Holy Land” as part of its ‘Heart and Soul’ series. Part one of the half-hour programme, which was initially broadcast on May 17th, can be heard here.Heart and Soul WS Bethlehem

The reader who kindly wrote in to tell us about this broadcast described it as “one of the most blatantly anti-Israeli programs I’ve ever heard” and listeners will find it hard to disagree with that assessment.

Using the Pope’s upcoming visit to the Middle East as a hook, presenter John Laurenson ostensibly sets out to discover why Christians are leaving areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, but fails completely in that mission. Had Laurenson really wanted to enlighten and inform BBC audiences with the answer to that very serious question, then he would have had to avoid the usual trap of basing most of his programme on interviews with political activists whom – in all too regular contradiction of BBC editorial guidelines – he fails to identify as such.

Laurenson’s first interviewee is Vivien Sansour, whom readers may remember from another BBC item from 2012. Sansour is an advocate of “agriculture as a form of resistance” and so it was neither surprising to find Laurenson interviewing her in a field nor to find Sansour excusing terrorism. Note Laurenson’s inadequate introduction of Sansour and his failure to make any attempt to clarify her political activities for listeners.

John Laurenson: “I’ve come up to Shepherds’ Fields. It’s a wide green valley close to Bethlehem. It was here that the angel Gabriel is believed to have told shepherds that the Christ had been born. And I’m here with Bethlehem Christian Viviene Sansour. Vivien; many Palestinian Christians have left, including your own family.”

Vivien Sansour: “Yes; my own parents left in 2001. Ah…they left because….ah…my town was under shelling and our house was [inaudible] hit and they were actually in the area where there was lots of F16s flying above their heads and so they left and came to the United States.”

Neither Sansour nor Laurenson bother to remind listeners that the PA-initiated second Intifada was in full sway at the time and Laurenson fails to question Sansour’s dubious reference to F16 jets over Bethlehem during that period.

JL: “You yourself left, but you came back. You were living in LA.”

VS: “Yes I left. I actually lived in the US for 14 years but I returned four years ago in an attempt to kind of reconnect to my heritage and reconnect to what I think is a very important struggle.”

JL: “And when you were small you’d come out onto these hills and you’d go foraging here.”

VS: “Yes, it’s a big part of our relationship with the land here and so, for example, if you leave me here in this mountain for many days I probably will survive just fine, especially in Spring.”

After having marveled over some edible plants, Laurenson provides Sansour with her next opening:

“You obviously love this place; would you consider settling down here, having children here?”

VS: “Well clearly I worry for example that my children won’t have the same childhood I had. You know, I for example took my young nephew foraging last year. And we went foraging for..ahm…a kind of thorn that we cook – it’s called akoub – and while we were foraging the soldiers started shooting tear gas at nearby village and we got the wind of the tear gas and my nephew – he’s ten years old – he didn’t know what was happening to him. His body started itching. He was crying and I felt helpless; what can I do to keep him safe? I was telling him you know everything’s gonna be fine, but I really didn’t know if everything was gonna be fine and I didn’t know where to take him. Should we go left or right? So many also traditions that I grew up with. For example now it’s Easter time. I want to go to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. You will be able to go and I won’t be able to go and it’s a tradition.”

Attempting to provide no context for listeners as to why the soldiers in Sansour’s anecdote might have had to fire tear gas “at a nearby village” – for example a reference to the weekly violent Palestinian demonstrations at Bil’in and Na’alin – Laurenson ostensibly presents the other side of the story, but in fact merely provides Sansour with an opportunity to continue her politically motivated propaganda, throwing in some geographical revisionism to boot.

JL: “I thought there were permits for the Christians in Palestine to go to Jerusalem for Easter.”

VS: “Not everybody gets the permit. For many years actually I didn’t get the permit. Many of my friends won’t have the permit for example, so I would have to go by myself. So taking your whole family the way you used to before is no longer an option. As you can see, we’re sitting here in this very serene area in the Shepherds’ Field and we’re surrounded by beautiful greenery and wild plants but yet right in front of us is this electric fence that goes all the way through here.”

Laurenson makes no effort to inform audiences that the anti-terrorist fence is electronically monitored – not “electric” – and neither does he bother to explain that permits for Christians to travel during Easter from the Palestinian Authority controlled areas such as Bethlehem, in Area A, are actually nowhere near as difficult to obtain as Sansour and others make out in this programme, with the obvious exception of applications which raise security issues. Audiences would undoubtedly have been much more well-informed had Laurenson asked Sansour to explain the real reason her friends “won’t have the permit”.

Permits Easter

Next, Laurenson provides Sansour with another hook, which she uses to blatantly justify terrorism against Israeli civilians – with no interference from him and with the first of numerous appearances of Laurenson’s inaccurate use of the word “wall” to describe the anti-terrorist fence instead of ‘barrier’ as recommended by the BBC style guide.

JL: “What do you say to the Israelis when …erm…they say well look it’s just simple you know; this wall has cut terrorist attacks in Israel by 90%?”

VS: “I find it comical, to be honest.”

JL: “What, you don’t believe them?”

VS: “Ah…no. Well first of all when you talk about terrorist attacks and you really are interested in stopping terrorist attacks then the first thing you will have to consider is what am I doing that is causing a resistance? And what’s happening is that people are resisting an occupation. If you continue to oppress people they’re going to react.”

Next, Laurenson moves on to another location which features frequently in BBC reports – the Cremisan Valley. There he allows free rein to – and amplifies – the blatantly inaccurate political statements of Kairos signatory Father Ibrahim Shomali.

JL: “….Father Ibrahim Shomali celebrates mass in the open air. He’s been doing this ever since the Israelis announced they were going to build an extension of the wall here. […] If the plans go ahead – and a final decision is expected in July – a convent just down the road from here will be cut off from a school the nuns there run for 400 poor children. The famous Cremisan winery, whose profits finance the school, will also be threatened by what is, Father Shomali says, an annexation of more Palestinian land by Israel.”

Laurenson fails to inform listeners that the “final decision” to which he refers is actually an ongoing court case or that Shomali’s later claim that Palestinian  Christians will “lose completely” their land if the anti-terrorist fence is constructed on the originally planned route is utterly inaccurate because the lands will remain in their possession and will be accessible via a gate. Neither has he anything to say about Shomali’s political use of the word “colonies” to describe Jerusalem neighbourhoods.

Ibrahim Shomali: “They will build the wall on this land where we are standing now taking 1,200 acres from 58 Christian families will lose completely their land. And they want to annex it to Jerusalem to do the big Jerusalem and to annex two colonies together – the Gilo and Har Gilo.”

Later, Laurenson asks Shomali:

“Do you think that this wall is the reason why so many Christians have left this land?”

IS: “Not only the wall but the Israeli occupation. Because living here means living without future. If they take also all of this land I assure you families from Beit Jala will leave because it’s the only green area that we still have with Mahrour area and they will take Mahrour too. You can’t separate Jerusalem from Bethlehem. If you separate Jerusalem from Bethlehem, Bethlehem cannot live. My brother-in-law is a guide but he’s not allowed to work in Jerusalem. All the Israeli guides are allowed to work in Bethlehem because the Palestinian Authority is giving them the opportunity. Why they do not give us permits to work in Jerusalem? They don’t want us to stay here. They want a Palestine without Christian community.”

Whilst Shomali specifically says that his tour guide relative is “not allowed to work in Jerusalem”, the inference is that he is just one example of Palestinian guides not being allowed to work there, whereas according to Shomali, “all” Israeli guides can work in Bethlehem. Neither statement is true: the fact is that more than a quarter of all licenced Palestinian tour guides do have permits to work in Jerusalem and the number of Israeli guides permitted to work in Bethlehem is subject to a quota.

Not only does Laurenson fail to challenge Somali’s downright delusional and evidence free claim that Israel wants “a Palestine without Christian community”, but he actually repeats and embroiders it with a dose of bigotry of low expectations.

“Behind Father Shomali as he holds the holy wafer aloft for communion you can see on the hill one of the Israeli settlements that now circle this town [Beit Jala]. Father Shomali tells me that Israel wants to rid the Palestinian territories of Christians so as to polarise the conflict between Jews and Muslims. And because the Muslims will resort to terrorism, losing them support in the world, this is a battle Israel will win, he says.”

Beit Jala is of course situated in Area A and it is not ‘circled’ by “Israeli settlements”. Whilst the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo lies to its north and Har Gilo to its west, on the other side of the ‘circle’ to the south and east is Bethlehem.

Next, Laurenson turns his attentions to the subject of the relations between Christians and Muslims in Bethlehem, with his main named interviewee being yet another political activist whom he fails to identify as such, describing Fadi Kattan – who, inter alia, was involved in the ‘Flytilla’ publicity stunt – merely as a member of “one of the oldest Bethlehem families”.

JL: “Fadi shares his Palestinian nationality with the Muslims and he says they share the same problems: the security checkpoints for example that hinder movement inside the Palestinian territories and the wall that means that he can’t take his family to the seaside or fly abroad out of Tel Aviv airport.”

Again, Laurenson fails to put checkpoints in their proper context as counter-terrorism measures and neglects to inform listeners how many there are of them or that their number has been vastly reduced as the security situation has improved.

removal of checkpoints

Laurenson goes on:

“But Bethlehem Christians tend to be better educated than the Muslims and have these big family networks abroad. That is why, he [Kattan] says, faced with Bethlehem’s 29% unemployment – on a par with the Gaza Strip – the Christians emigrate more than the Muslims. It’s not because of the Muslims.”

After Kattan’s ensuing rosy anecdotes regarding his Muslim neighbours, Laurenson’s focus turns briefly to the bagpipe  players of Bethlehem (a topic also covered before by the BBC), but quickly reverts to the issue of Muslim-Christian relations.

JL: “At the Church of the Nativity […] I stood outside asking people why so many Palestinian Christians have left. Again and again I got the same answers: the wall, the occupation and the economic hardship they cause. And I asked everyone another question: is it true also that there is some mistreatment of the Christians by Muslims?”

After interviews with two unidentified people who tell him how wonderful relations between Muslims and Christians are in Bethlehem, Laurenson interviews the town’s mayor – Vera Baboun – who has also frequented the BBC in the past. Baboun’s blatant political propaganda and inaccuracies go unchallenged and of course there is no mention of the Palestinian terrorism which made construction of the anti-terrorist fence necessary.

VB: “Message of Bethlehem is a message of love and peace. In our city the lord of salvation was born. In John 10 Jesus says ‘I’m the gate. I’m the gate for all the sheep. I’m the gate of salvation’. But most ironically we’ve permitted that this same city be walled with another gate. It is not a gate of salvation but a gate of discrimination. How can that fit? The city where the lord of salvation was born is besieged by a wall, with a gate of discrimination. The in and the out. The Palestinian and the Israeli. The privileged and the under privileged. How does that come for salvation [unintelligible] place? We are one and we live the irony in that?”

Less than two minutes of Laurenson’s half-hour programme are devoted to hearing the Israeli side of the story and that portion comes next in the form of a short interview with Israeli spokesman Mark Regev who tries to explain to him why Palestinian Christians might be reluctant to speak out, but Laurenson is having none of it. He goes on to mention one conversation with a woman who did “say she was worried about the Muslims” but then goes on to say:

“And Father Jamal Khader – rector of the Latin Patriarch seminary – though a long way from agreeing with her, had this to say when I asked him whether he was concerned about the rise of political Islam.”

Jamal Khader: “No we don’t feel it in Bethlehem. Neither in Palestine in general. What we see is a slow change in the religious discourse; more exclusiveness. And here it’s not particular to Muslims. We see it sometimes on Friday prayers but we can see it on the Jewish side as well, where settlers come to confiscate our land to build settlements in the name of God, in the name of the Bible. So this is religious fundamentalism and we can also talk about Christian fundamentalism – specially in the United States where Christian Zionists who support unconditionally not only the State of Israel but the policies of the government of Israel and the wall and the…and its occupation. […]“

Had Laurenson bothered to properly introduce Jamal Khader as yet another signatory of the Kairos document and explained to listeners what that document actually is, they may have been able to put Khader’s words in their proper political context. But of course – yet again – he did not and so to BBC audiences, Khader is just a priest.

Laurenson finishes off by returning to the topic of the bagpipe-playing scouts, this time in Beit Jala, and yet again engages in some context-free promotion of the inaccurate notion of insufficient permits for Palestinian Christians to visit Jerusalem for Easter. His take-away message is this:

“Will there be bagpipes for Pope Francis when he visits Bethlehem? If so, perhaps someone will whisper in his holiness’ ear what this sound means; where this sound comes from; a music of defiance that says we, Christians of the Holy Land, are here to stay.”

Had Laurenson attempted to step outside the frame and looked up some interviewees not already on the BBC’s list of contacts and with fewer political axes to grind, his programme could have been informative and interesting, as well as more accurate and impartial.

As it is, he totally embraced the specific banal narrative promoted by politically motivated interviewees according to which Palestinian Christians only leave their homeland because of Israeli actions. In breach of BBC editorial guidelines, Laurenson did not bother to properly identify his hand-picked interviewees, he inaccurately promoted the notion of the anti-terrorist fence as a “wall” in breach of the BBC style guide on multiple occasions and he promoted inaccurate information concerning the subject of permits for Palestinian Christians to visit Jerusalem during Easter.

The issue of the plight of Palestinian Christians is not a new one on these pages. We have previously quoted here the work of Khaled Abu Toameh who has been writing about the subject for years – for example in 2007:

 “A number of Christian families have finally decided to break their silence and talk openly about what they describe as Muslim persecution of the Christian minority in this city. The move comes as a result of increased attacks on Christians by Muslims over the past few months. The families said they wrote letters to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the Vatican, Church leaders and European governments complaining about the attacks, but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. According to the families, many Christians have long been afraid to complain in public about the campaign of “intimidation” for fear of retaliation by their Muslim neighbors and being branded “collaborators” with Israel. But following an increase in attacks on Christian-owned property in the city over the past few months, some Christians are no longer afraid to talk about the ultra-sensitive issue. And they are talking openly about leaving the city.”

Others too have written on the topic over the years – see for example here, here and here.

John Laurenson, however, chose to do worse than fail to tell the real story of Palestinian Christians, with those few still left in the Gaza Strip not even getting a mention from him. He actually lent his journalism to the promotion and amplification of propaganda which aims to conceal the real reasons for the plight of Christians in PA controlled areas and instead uses them for the purpose of politically motivated, gratuitous Israel-bashing.

There may be many words to describe this BBC World Service programme by Laurenson, but journalism is not one of them.

Part two of Laurenson’s programme will be broadcast on May 25th.  

 

 

BBC coverage of UK aid convoy fails to meet editorial guidelines on impartiality

As was noted in the comments to one of our previous posts (thanks to Duvid), a recent article from the Gatestone Institute highlights the promotion of extremist charities by the BBC.

“BBC’s leading current affairs program, Newsnight recently broadcast an eight-minute film in which a BBC reporter accompanied a British “aid convoy” headed to the most dangerous parts of Syria. […]

During the broadcast, the BBC did not, however, reveal the names of the charities involved with the convoy. The Aid for Syria Convoy is, in fact, managed by charities that many might justifiably regard as “extremist”: One Nation, Al Fatiha Global and Aid4Syria.”

Readers can see that ‘Newsnight’ broadcast here.

In addition to being featured on the BBC’s flagship news programme, a version of Catrin Nye’s report also appeared on the BBC’s Asian Network.

Catrin Nye BBC Asian network

Filmed and written versions of the report were promoted on Twitter and appeared on the BBC News website’s UK and Middle East pages.

Catrin Nye filmed website

Catrin Nye ME pge

Catrin Nye written website

There was also coverage on the BBC’s local TV (featuring one of the people mentioned in the Gatestone Institute report), on BBC World News, on BBC World Service radio and on Radio 4.

Catrin Nye BBC WS radio

Aid for Syria on BBC World News

As promoted on the Facebook account of one of the charities and on Catrin Nye’s Twitter account, further programming is scheduled for this coming weekend.

Aid for Syria FB

That, by any standard, is a great deal of coverage of one story. But of course the point – as made in the Gatestone Institute article – is that the BBC is telling half a story: in all of the above content it fails to inform viewers, readers and listeners at home and abroad of what lies beyond the humanitarian aid aspects of these charities, thus once again failing to meet BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. 

“4.4.14

We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

 

Change to photo caption for Part 2 of BBC WS programme on Talmud

Last week we noted here the use of a gratuitous mention of “Young Jewish settlers” in the caption to a photograph chosen to illustrate the webpage of the first part of a ‘Heart and Soul’ BBC World Service programme by Rabbi Naftali Brawer about the Talmud.

Here is a screenshot of that webpage which, at the time of writing, still stands.

Heart & Soul Talmud

Part two of the programme was broadcast on August 24th. Whilst the webpage of that programme uses the same photograph, the gratuitous caption no longer appears. 

Synopsis Talmud prog 2

Curious choice of image illustrating BBC WS programme on Talmud

On August 17th 2013 the BBC World Service programme ‘Heart and Soul’ broadcast the first episode of a two part series called “The Talmud” by Rabbi Naftali Brawer.  The programme itself is engaging and innocuous, but the photograph selected to illustrate it – together with its caption – is interesting. 

Heart & Soul Talmud

The image shows two young religiously observant Jewish men studying by a window. At the bottom of the programme’s synopsis we find a caption:

“Picture: Young Jewish settlers study the Talmud, Credit: Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images”.

In the programme itself, Rabbi Brawer visits the Mir Yeshiva in the Beit Yisrael neighbourhood of Jerusalem, which lies west of the 1949 Armistice Line. 

map Mir Yeshiva

The picture – with its caption describing the young men as “settlers” and its depiction of people who, by their dress appear more likely to belong to the Religious Nationalist movement than an Orthodox yeshiva – was clearly not taken at the Mir Yeshiva, even though that location would seem to be the obvious subject matter for an illustrative photograph seeing as it features extensively in the programme. Alternatively an image of, say, a page of the Talmud or of Beit She’arim which the presenter also visits could have been used, but they are not. 

So curiously, the picture must come from a location not featured in the programme – but where? A search for photographs taken by the same photographer turns up this image – reportedly taken in Beit El in the Binyamin area of Judea & Samaria, apparently before December 2011. Towards the top left, we see a back view of two young men by a window who appear to be the same people appearing in the photo selected by the BBC.

Beit El pic Pedro Ugarte

The yeshiva in Beit El does not feature at all in this BBC World Service programme, and neither do any other yeshivot in locations where the BBC would describe the residents as “settlers”, but the BBC chose to use a picture taken there anyway – for no apparently relevant reason.

It also chose to adopt the words “young Jewish settlers” from what appears to be the photo’s original caption – whilst dropping the location.  It is of course difficult to believe that the BBC could have fact checked that description with regard to the specific students appearing  in the image, taking into consideration that Beit El yeshiva has students hailing from a wide range of locations.   

Now, even assuming that the BBC really could not come up with any other more relevant picture to illustrate the webpage of this programme, would not the caption “Yeshiva students study the Talmud” have been sufficient instead of the gratuitous and – thanks to the BBC’s politicisation of the term – loaded inclusion of the term “settler”? 

The second part of the series will be broadcast on August 24th – details here.  

BBC report on Jews in Tunisia tainted by agenda-driven addition

h/t David

The BBC World Service’s recent two-part ‘Heart and Soul’ programme on the subject of Jews from Arab lands was, to many, a refreshing piece of reporting on the whole. 

(See our posts here and here.) 

Presenter Magdi Abdelhadi’s visit to Tunisia was also featured in the Magazine section of the BBC News website on October 24th, with the article reflecting much of the radio broadcast’s content. 

Somebody, however, apparently could not resist adding to Mr Abdelhadi’s report a side panel of ‘facts’ titled “The Exodus”, where we are informed that: 

“As reports of Zionist settlers driving Palestinians off [sic] their villages hit Arab capitals during the 1940s anti-Jewish sentiment hit new heights”

So, despite numerous examples, including the massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1828, mass forced conversions in the Persian city of Meshed in 1839, the Damascus blood libel in 1840, the pogroms in Morocco in 1905, the 1929 Hebron massacre and the Farhud in 1941, the BBC once more returns to the simplistic narrative of contextualising prejudice and violence against Jews from Arab lands solely as a reaction to Israel and Zionism. 

What a shame it is that Magdi Abdelhadi’s insightful report from Tunisia has been tainted by the reversion to agenda-inspired versions of history. 

BBC World Service programme on Jews from Arab lands – part 2

In the second part of the BBC World Service ‘Heart and Soul’ programme entitled ‘Arab Jews: A Forgotten Exodus’ (which can be listened to here), presenter Magdi Abdelhadi travelled to Tunisia to meet members of its tiny Jewish community. 

To his credit, Abdelhadi did a much better job in this second episode than in the first. Not only did he not shy away from presenting the various threats posed  by Islamist extremists  to the continued existence of Tunisia’s remaining Jewish community, but he vigorously challenged Rachid al Ghannouchi – leader of the En-Nahda party which heads the coalition in Tunisia’s current government – on his ‘double speak’ regarding attacks on Jews and his party’s relationship with the Salafists carrying them out. 

Al Ghannouchi has often been portrayed by some members of the Western media (and even by some Western governments) as a ‘moderate’, despite – among other things – his party’s feting of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh last January and his own long extremist history

Magdi Abdelhadi, however, seems to have got Ghannouchi’s number. Perhaps he could help out with some sorely-needed editing on the BBC’s ‘Country Profile’ page for Tunisia, where interim president Moncef Marzouki is presented as a “counterweight” to the Islamist En-Nahda party – despite his having earlier this year sponsored a conference co-organised by the Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’  – and where a profile of the En-Nahda party includes the claim that Ghannouchi  is “widely viewed as a moderate, reform-minded Islamist”. 

BBC World Service programme on Jews from Arab lands – part 1

If you happened to miss the first episode of the BBC World Service ‘Heart and Soul’ programme entitled ‘Arab Jews: A Forgotten Exodus’ which we mentioned in a previous post, it can be heard here

To give credit where it is due, the programme did try to boldly go where no BBC reporter has gone before and in general gave the impression of trying to present a reasonably balanced picture. However, little – if any – context was given in relation to anti-Jewish discrimination or pogroms in Arab lands prior to the emergence of the Zionist movement and the establishment of Israel. 

Neither did the programme relate to the additional influence of attitudes and ideologies imported by European colonialists or the consequences of, for example, the Vichy regime in North Africa.  

In addition, several of the interviewees perhaps gave the impression that Jews in Arab lands were not interested in Zionism which – although perhaps the case for some – is by no means true of all. Consequently, listeners may have been left with the impression that the persecution of Jews in Arab lands has a background exclusively related to Zionism and Israel. 

Impressions of the programme as recorded by Bataween at the ‘Point Of No Return’ blog can be read here

Part two of the programme – in which the presenter will visit the Jewish community in Tunisia – is still to come. 

Upcoming BBC WS programme on Jews from Arab lands

Readers may be interested in having prior notice of a programme scheduled to be broadcast on the BBC World Service this coming Saturday, October 13th 2012, with repeats the following day. 

The two part programme is entitled “Arab Jews: A Forgotten Exodus”. 

For background on the use of the term ‘Arab Jews’, see this article from the blog ‘Point Of No Return’ and this essay by Lyn Julius from ‘Jewish Quarterly’.