BBC’s ‘Vatican expert’ misleads on Pope’s speech at Yad Vashem

One of the later items in the BBC’s extensive coverage of the Pope’s recent visit to the Middle East was an article by the corporation’s “Vatican expert” David Willey titled “Pope Francis cements reputation for deft diplomacy” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 26th.Willey Pope visit

As was the case in much of the earlier BBC coverage of the visit, in this article too the real reason for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence was concealed from readers and context-free emphasis was placed on the topic of “separation”. In addition, readers were encouraged to make a bizarre – and, some might say, tasteless – comparison between the anti-terrorist fence and the Western Wall.

“Pope Francis’ whistle-stop tour of the Holy Land has provided not only significant religious symbolism, but also some powerful political images.

On successive days he paused to pray in front of two of the most significant walls here, bowing to touch them with his forehead and his hand.

First in Bethlehem, an 8m-high, graffiti-covered concrete section of the barrier that separates the Palestinian territories of the West Bank from Israel; then, in Jerusalem, the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray.” [emphasis added]

Pic Willey art

Towards the end of  his article (which in parts reads more like a PR communique than a report by an impartial BBC journalist), Willey also informed readers that:

“At the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Pope Francis paid eloquent tribute to the sacrifice made by six million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis all over Europe.”

Leaving aside the fact that, by definition, a “sacrifice made” involves some sort of active personal choice which the millions murdered by the Nazis did not have the opportunity to exercise, the fact is that – contrary to the inaccurate impression Willey gives to BBC audiences – the Pope did not mention the figure six million or the word ‘Jews’ throughout his entire speech at Yad Vashem, the full text of which can be read here

BBC Trending invents a ‘new Israeli law’

A sensationalist article which appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on April 29th under the title “Too young for the Holocaust?” opens with a blatant inaccuracy.BBC Trending Holocaust educ art

“Who is too young to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust? A new law in Israel means kindergarten children will be taught about the Nazi genocide for the first time, triggering an acerbic response on social media.” [emphasis added]

However, no such law exists.

BBC Watch approached the Israeli Ministry of Education for clarification and was informed: 

מדובר בתכנית לימודים חדשה של משרד החינוך,  לא חוק

“This concerns a new pedagogic programme of the Ministry of Education, not a law.”

The Ministry added:

“The programme organises the exposure of the children to content on the subject of the Holocaust, from the early ages to high school, and in each age group there is adjustment of the content to the developmental, cognitive and emotional abilities of the children to deal with the material.”

This BBC article was written by BBC Trending which describes itself as producing:

“A hand-picked selection of stories trending on social media around the world.”

Indeed, the article goes on to describe selected sensationalist and obviously uninformed reactions to the new pedagogic plan on Twitter, none of which contribute to reader understanding of the issue and which it is highly doubtful can be accurately described as having been “trending on social media around the world”.

Readers may recall that this is not the first time that the BBC has weighed in on this topic. In January it produced another article based on an item featured on ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ which also misrepresented the issue. As we noted here at the time:

“In 2010 the Israeli State Comptroller (Mevaker HaMedina) criticized Holocaust commemoration in the education system saying that the Ministry of Education “did not instruct the kindergarten teachers and teachers who dealt with teaching the Holocaust and did not provide them with pedagogic material in order to enable them to cope with the complex questions involved in the teaching of this sensitive subject.”.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum took up the challenge of preparing suitable material for use in classes of differing ages during the hours already devoted to teaching the subject in the run-up to Holocaust Remembrance Day. In October 2013 Education Minister Shai Piron announced the new proposal.

Josh Spear’s claim that “[t]he storm […] broke out when education minister Shay Piron announced that Holocaust education was to become compulsory for all Israeli schoolchildren” is not an accurate one. In contrast perhaps to their European counterparts, Israeli children take part in annual commemorations from a very young age and cannot fail to be aware of the siren marking the occasion, the media coverage of the subject and the fact that for many families in Israel, the Holocaust is part of their personal history. Hence, Holocaust education already exists and this latest initiative is designed to help teachers who have been asking for better pedagogic resources on the subject for years.”

Sadly, it seems that despite having a Hebrew-speaking researcher contribute to this article and despite having contacted the Ministry of Education itself, BBC Trending was unable to stick to the corporation’s editorial guidelines on accuracy and instead elected to run with the misrepresentation of a pedagogic programme it does not even bother to adequately represent as a “law”. 

 

How did the BBC frame Mahmoud Abbas’ remarks on the Holocaust?

On April 27th – the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel – an article appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “Palestinians’ Mahmoud Abbas calls Holocaust ‘heinous crime’“.Abbas Holocaust statement

Let’s take a look at how the BBC report represents the statement made by Abbas.

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime” in modern history. […]

In his statement, Mr Abbas “expressed his sympathy with the families of the victims and many other innocent people who were killed by the Nazis”.

“The Holocaust is a reflection of the concept of ethnic discrimination and racism which the Palestinians strongly reject and act against,” he went on.

He also urged the Israeli government to use “the incredibly sad commemoration of Holocaust day” to take the chance to find a “just and comprehensive” peace with his people, based on a two-state solution.”

Now let’s look at Abbas’ entire statement as published by the Wafa News Agency.

Abbas Holocaust statement Wafa

As we see from the Wafa report and as is supported by other sources, Abbas’ statement apparently came as the result of a question from an American Rabbi active in interfaith work; a fact which is not noted in the BBC report.

As we also see, the very significant part of Abbas’ statement which, through use of the words “the world must do its utmost to fight racism and injustice”, promotes the notion of linkage between the Holocaust as “a reflection of the concept of ethnic discrimination and racism” and “the Palestinian people, who suffer from injustice, oppression” is also not reported by the BBC.

Although it once again downplays Hamas’ terror designation by numerous countries, the BBC article notes correctly that:

“Hamas officials have made statements denying the Holocaust, and in 2009 objected to a UN proposal to teach children about it in UN-run schools in Gaza.”

It goes on to state:

“Mr Abbas’s comments were the strongest that he has made publicly on the Holocaust and appear to be an attempt to reach out to a mistrustful Israeli public, the BBC’s Yolande Knell reports from Jerusalem.”

In fact, Abbas has made numerous public remarks in the past regarding the Holocaust, which Knell’s adjective “strongest” might also be used to describe – though in a decidedly different sense. The Israeli public is of course aware of the fact that Mahmoud Abbas’ PhD dissertation was based on a form of Holocaust denial.

“His 1982 dissertation, published as “The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism,” famously argues that the Zionists collaborated with the Nazis in order to spur more Jewish immigration to Palestine. “The Zionist movement,” it explains, “led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule, in order to arouse the government’s hatred of them, to fuel vengeance against them, and to expand the mass extermination.” The Zionists, the work asserts, were the Third Reich’s “basic partner in crime.” It also claims that the figure of six million dead has been exaggerated for political gain, and suggests one million as a more reasonable estimate. Abbas has never unreservedly repudiated the document, and has in fact regularly reaffirmed its core argument, saying in 2013 that he had “70 more books that I still haven’t published” proving the Zionist-Nazi partnership.”

Had BBC audiences also been made aware of that fact, they might have been better equipped to understand Yolande Knell’s description of the Israeli public as “mistrustful” and to understand why this prompted statement from Abbas – and the inappropriate political messaging it includes – is not the news item it is framed to be in this report. 

BBC reports on a “new debate” in Israel that isn’t, revives old Ha’aretz campaign

The January 25th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, which is broadcast both on BBC Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service, included an item by Josh Spero – editor of the luxury magazine ‘Spear’s’ which describes itself as:

“…the multi-award-winning wealth management and luxury lifestyle media brand whose flagship magazine has become a must-read for the ultra-high-net- worth (UHNW) community. It is also required reading for the affluent financial services community, including the bankers, lawyers and family offices who advise the wealthy.”

It might then have come of something as a surprise to listeners to this edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (available here from 06:15) to find that: Spero FOOC audio

“Josh Spero in Jerusalem asks how best to teach Israeli children about the Holocaust without traumatising them”.

In her introduction to the item, presenter Kate Adie correctly states that:

“The 27th of January was chosen as Holocaust Memorial Day because it’s the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops in 1945. In Israel the Holocaust is commemorated later, either in April or in May.”

Unfortunately she did not bother to inform listeners as to why that is the case or of the significance of Israel’s different date of commemoration – close to the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Adie goes on:

“Commemorating is one thing; teaching another. A new debate has broken out in Israel on how to teach young school children about the Holocaust as Josh Spero found out.”

In fact, the BBC’s “new debate” is three months old.

Spero’s audio report at first appears fairly unremarkable in itself. The interesting part of this story comes when one looks at the written version which appeared on the BBC News website on January 29th under the title “A Holocaust book for young children” in both the Magazine section and on the Middle East page. Spero FOOC written

In that article readers are told that:

“At the moment [Israeli] teachers deal with the subject as they think best, often in the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January, but they are rarely suitably trained.”

In the audio version of that sentence Spero does not mention the date January 27th, so that is clearly an inaccurate addition by the website’s editors.

With regard to the “new debate” around which this item is centred, the article states:

“In newspaper opinion pieces, writers recalled the traumas they had suffered when Holocaust education had been done badly.

One remembered being shown the movie Night and Fog aged 14, with footage from the death camps of “mountains of bodies being bulldozed”, leaving him “tormented”, while another still suffered nightmares 30 years after a teacher showed him, aged seven or eight, photos of what he called “walking corpses in striped pyjamas“.”

Diligent readers who bother to click on the links provided by the BBC will note that the author of the second article is a woman rather than a “he” and that both those articles date from November 2013 and both come from Ha’aretz – a fact not revealed in the audio version. That second article is also included, together with an editorial, in a side-box of quotations from Ha’aretz articles on the subject. sidebox Holocaust educ art

The opening paragraph of the written article states that:

“News that Israeli children are to receive compulsory lessons about the Holocaust provoked an outcry from pundits who were traumatised by teachers when they were young.”

Hence, readers who clicked on the links to see the sources of these three articles may by now have concluded that just one newspaper exists in Israel, seeing as the only apparent evidence of that “new debate” being touted by the BBC is to be found on the pages of Ha’aretz and the BBC does not provide links to any other sources.

So what are the actual facts behind this BBC-promoted saga?

In 2010 the Israeli State Comptroller (Mevaker HaMedina) criticized Holocaust commemoration in the education system saying that the Ministry of Education “did not instruct the kindergarten teachers and teachers who dealt with teaching the Holocaust and did not provide them with pedagogic material in order to enable them to cope with the complex questions involved in the teaching of this sensitive subject.”.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum took up the challenge of preparing suitable material for use in classes of differing ages during the hours already devoted to teaching the subject in the run-up to Holocaust Remembrance Day. In October 2013 Education Minister Shai Piron announced the new proposal.

Josh Spear’s claim that “[t]he storm […] broke out when education minister Shay Piron announced that Holocaust education was to become compulsory for all Israeli schoolchildren” is not an accurate one. In contrast perhaps to their European counterparts, Israeli children take part in annual commemorations from a very young age and cannot fail to be aware of the siren marking the occasion, the media coverage of the subject and the fact that for many families in Israel, the Holocaust is part of their personal history. Hence, Holocaust education already exists and this latest initiative is designed to help teachers who have been asking for better pedagogic resources on the subject for years. 

But, as Ben Dror Yemini pointed out in an article last November, the new proposal became the focus of an overtly political campaign on the pages of Ha’aretz rather than anything which can be honestly described as a “debate”.

Interestingly, the BBC has chosen to revive and amplify that now old Ha’aretz campaign and has inadvertently illustrated once again that it would be prudent for BBC employees and contributors to widen their reading of the Israeli media beyond the pages of Ha’aretz if they wish to inform themselves – and of course their audiences – of domestic Israeli affairs. 

BBC’s Berlin correspondent: Jews “displeased the Nazis”

h/t LO

The January 15th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Six O’Clock News’, presented by Charles Carroll, included a short item (from around 26:00) about the Guelph Treasure.

Six Oclock News 15 1 14

Carroll introduces the item:

“A German mediation panel has started hearing evidence in a dispute about the ownership of a vast collection of medieval religious art, believed to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds. The Guelph Treasure is currently housed at the state-founded Bode Museum in Berlin. But the heirs of Jewish art dealers who owned it in the 1930s say they sold it to the Nazis under duress. Israel has taken the unusual step of writing to the German government to say it’s watching the matter closely. Our correspondent Steve Evans has been to see the treasures in the darkened vault where they’re on display.”

Steve Evans has been the BBC’s Berlin correspondent since September 2010. He tells listeners: Picture of Stephen Evans

“These works are without doubt stunning. Here in the Bode Museum in Berlin are the most ornate gold and silver-work crucifixes. There’s a magnificent twelfth-century carving of a church here with engravings of the apostles and of Christ on the cross, all in ivory and pearl and domed in gold.

In 1671 these treasures passed from the church in Germany to the Duke of Brunswick-Luneberg whose family kept them for nearly three centuries. Then, in 1929, a group of Jewish art dealers bought them. Four years later the Nazis came to power and Goering, the founder of the Gestapo, decided he wanted these treasures for the Nazi Reich.

In the atmosphere of terror at the time, the art dealers sold their treasures: a forced sale say their descendants today. It was a time when Jews, who displeased the Nazis, risked their lives. Now an official commission will decide if these treasures can stay here.”

There are perhaps two ways of reading that miserable sentence. Were one being charitable, it could be interpreted as intending to say that Jews who did something to incur the displeasure of the Nazis risked their lives. Clearly that was not the case: Jews were persecuted and exterminated en-masse not because of anything they had done or said, but purely and simply because they were Jews.

But when one actually listens to Evans’ report, one notes that he pauses after the word ‘Jews’ and again after the word ‘Nazis’, thus clearly indicating that his intention is to convey to listeners that in general, Nazis were “displeased” by Jews.

Steve (Stephen) Evans’ statement is not merely a reduction of the famous British understatement to the absurd. The crass description of a racist, persecutory, genocidal regime as “displeased” and the inversion of action and reaction in that sentence – which makes Jews the active party who “displeased” the passive Nazis – is both historically ridiculous and offensive.

BBC editors and correspondents – and especially one based in Berlin for over three years already – should know a lot better.

Update:

BBC Watch has received the following e-mail from Mr Evans:

Greetings,

I don’t normally spot your website but on a slow day I came across it.  Can I say that what you write about me and my piece is drivel.  It reveals a level of historical knowledge and awareness that would shame any moderately intelligent fifteen year old with half an interest in the events of the last century. The works were sold in 1935 – the same year as the Nuremberg Laws – so there was no systematic murder of Jews by the state at that time.  What there was, rather, was widespread persecution.  As I pointed out:  any Jew who displeased Nazis risked extreme violence.  Feel free to incorporate my views in your “analysis” – though somehow I suspect you won’t!

Stephen Evans

Berlin Correspondent, BBC

So once again, as noted above, Steve Evans is suggesting a connection between what Jews did – “displeased Nazis”- and the risk of “extreme violence” against them and is apparently unwilling to acknowledge that in fact, racist attitudes towards Jews as a group – rather than anything specific individuals did or did not do – were the basis for both “widespread persecution” and “extreme violence”. 

 

 

 

 

BBC presents airbrushed picture of Rouhani NBC interview

The headline to an article appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 19th reassured readers that “Iran’s Rouhani dismisses nuclear weapons fears“.

Rouhani NBC int

That message was hammered home several more times in the BBC’s report of an interview given by Iran’s new president to NBC on September 19th. The caption to the accompanying video clip reads:

“President Hassan Rouhani: “We have never sought or pursued a nuclear bomb and we are not going to do so”. “

The article opens:

“Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani has said that his country will never build nuclear weapons.”

In the body of the report readers are informed that:

“In a wide-ranging interview with NBC News in Tehran, Mr Rouhani said Iran had “never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb and we are not going to do so”.

“We have time and again said that under no circumstances would we seek any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, nor will we ever.” “

The only ‘balance’ to the repeated presentation of Rouhani’s statements comes in the form of this paragraph:

“Iran is under UN and Western sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme. It says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes but the US and its allies suspect Iran’s leaders of trying to built [sic] a nuclear weapon.”

The BBC makes no effort whatsoever to inform audiences of the IAEA’s assessments of Iran’s nuclear programme, including the remarks made by the agency’s Director General Yukiya Amano just three days before the NBC interview.

“I report regularly to the Board on safeguards implementation in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the Director General pointed out. “The Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. However, Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable us to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities. The Agency therefore cannot conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” [emphasis added]

But the BBC’s airbrushing of Rouhani’s remarks during the interview does not stop with the nuclear issue. The report states:

“President Rouhani said his government wanted the Iranian people to be “completely free” in their private lives.

He said a “commission for citizens’ rights” was to be set up in the near future.

“In today’s world, having access to information and the right of free dialogue and the right to think freely is the right of all people, including the people of Iran,” he said, according to NBC’s translation of the interview.”

However, as NBC itself reports, there was an important condition to Rouhani’s statement which the BBC has airbrushed out of the picture its audiences receive.  

“Rouhani also appeared to pledge his support for increasing Iranians’ access to the Internet and other political and social freedoms.

“We want the people, in their private lives, to be completely free, and in today’s world having access to information and the right of free dialogue, and the right to think freely, is the right of all peoples, including the people of Iran,” he said.

When asked whether his government would stop censoring the Internet, Rouhani said “a commission for citizens’ rights” would be established. 

“Does that mean that people in Iran will have access now to Twitter and to Facebook?” Curry asked.

“The viewpoint of the government is that the people must have full access to all information worldwide,” Rouhani replied. “Our opinions on this should based on protection of our national identity and on our morals.” ” [emphasis added]

Interestingly, the BBC has also completely airbrushed from its report any mention of Rouhani’s statements on the Holocaust and Israel during the interview.

“…he deflected a question from NBC News’ Ann Curry about whether he believed that the Holocaust was “a myth.”

“I’m not a historian. I’m a politician,” he replied. “What is important for us is that the countries of the region and the people grow closer to each other, and that they are able to prevent aggression and injustice.” “

With regard to Israel:

“Rouhani described Israel as “an occupier and usurper government” that “does injustice to the people of the region, and has brought instability to the region, with its warmongering policies.”

He added Israel “shouldn’t allow itself to give speeches about a democratically and freely elected government.” “

Of course Rouhani’s government can only be considered “democratically and freely elected” if one is able to persuade oneself that the vetting of candidates by Iran’s ‘Guardian Council’ somehow aligns with the principles of democracy – as Rouhani obviously can – and it is that same process of self-persuasion which allows him to describe Israel as having “brought instability to the region” even as Iran finances terror organisations and supports a regime killing its own civilians.

  

Beyond the fact that the BBC’s continuing spin of a new ‘moderate’ Iranian president involves gymnastics which are an embarrassment to behold, what is really important is that BBC audiences are not being provided with the full range of information which will “enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues” – as specified among the BBC’s Public Purposes.

Related articles:

Guardian report on NBC interview with Iran’s president omits Holocaust remarks

BBC Persian Service coverage of Manchester seminar criticised

Does the evidence support the BBC’s touting of “less hardline Iranian stance” on nuclear issue?

BBC continues to portray a ‘moderate’ Iranian regime

BBC tones down Iranian rhetoric and extremism

A BBC theme to watch

 

BBC examines its own record on the Hungarian Holocaust

If readers did not catch the BBC Radio 4 ‘Document’ programme by Mike Thomson on November 12th entitled “The BBC and the Hungarian Holocaust”, it is well worth listening to via this link. The programme is also summarised here.

The programme is interesting – and troubling – in that it discusses the role of Bush House in the “global propaganda battle” of World War II and the BBC’s willing collaboration with the exploitation of its reputation for “impartiality and honesty”.

“And so in a way you had the ethical, legitimate aspiration to impartiality, the values of Reithian BBC, generating the global world-wide following that you needed..”

“The hard-won credibility of the BBC was being used to help sell Britain’s propaganda effort”

At times, the programme seems to be trying a little too hard to suggest that the BBC was lead up the garden path by the man in charge of the BBC’s Hungarian broadcasts at the time – the Foreign Office’s Carlile Aylmer Macartney – and that ultimately the responsibility for the BBC’s having failed to inform Hungarians about the Holocaust, even whilst it was still being perpetrated, was that of the UK government. 

The programme also does little to properly address the antisemitic attitudes laid bare in BBC memos and Foreign Office communiques of the time, preferring to categorise the attitudes displayed as

“Snobbery with a strong racial tinge to it as well”.

 However, as the programme makes clear, BBC principles did not change even after Anthony Eden’s speech in the House of Commons on December 17th, 1942, in which he exposed the full extent of what he termed the “bestial policy” of the Nazi regime. 

When confronted with the question why, the best the BBC’s official historian Jean Seaton can do is to suggest that BBC policy-makers were suffering from “fatigue” and agree with the presenter that they were perhaps “war-weary”. The moral aspects of the BBC’s decision not to expose to 800,000 Hungarian Jews the details of the Holocaust – which there are BBC memos to prove it knew about – are not addressed at all. The programme concentrates instead on the practical aspects of such potential advance knowledge. In fact, it is stated by one of the interviewees that:

“It wasn’t the job of the BBC to warn Jews.”

The programme also avoids discussing the proposal put forward by one of its interviewees, Professor Frank Chalk of Concordia University, in an academic paper from 2003, whereby “Allied broadcasts detailing the fate that awaited Jews sent to “labor in the East” might have contributed more to Allied victory and the survival of some of the Jews who were murdered in Auschwitz than broadcasts encouraging disaffection among Christian Hungarians.”

Disappointingly, the programme ends with the question:

“Can such a judgement ever be fairly made in times of peace, decades later?”

So, rather than coming to any real conclusions, the BBC’s attitude seems to be to file the whole episode away somewhere in between “not really our call” and “understanding the context”.

To those of us interested in the subject of the BBC’s attitude towards present-day Jews in Israel, some of the phrases used in the programme to describe BBC policies seventy years ago, may carry an uncomfortably familiar ring.

“Not inserting lies, but providing directives on what not to say”

“We shouldn’t mention the Jews at all”

Equally unnerving is the understanding that the supposedly ‘written in stone’ BBC values of “impartiality and honesty”, as well as the organisation’s independence, proved to be in fact negotiable  - even when confronted with the knowledge of genocide.

Having avoided the follow-up question of what, if any, safeguards exist today to prevent moral and ethical considerations far broader than the BBC and its Charter being out-shadowed by the realpolitik of a funding, hands-on Foreign Office not immune to racism and particular political sympathies, the overall achievement of this programme is to provide a clue to lessons from history which go unheeded.