BBC headline promotes a lie

A perusal of the BBC News website’s Middle East page turned up a link to a programme called ‘Fast Track’ from July 31st 2012 with the caption “Are tourists being forced to reveal their personal emails to security on arrival in Israel?”.

Clicking on the link leads to a report by Keith Wallace which was apparently broadcast on BBC television news and is headlined with the statement: “Israeli security ‘read’ tourists’ private emails”. 

The blurb asks “How would you feel if when you arrived at your holiday destination, security staff demanded to read your personal emails and look at your Facebook account?” and continues:

“Israel’s attorney general has been asked to look into claims that security officials have been doing just that – threatening to refuse entry to the country unless such private information is divulged by some tourists.”

However, the film report itself tells a somewhat different story – especially if one fills in the blanks left by Wallace. 

The subject of the film is American architect Najwa Doughman, aged 25, who on May 26th 2012 arrived at Ben Gurion airport for her third visit to Israel, together with a friend. In his introduction, Wallace informs viewers that almost three million people visited Israel last year, adding “other people go there for very different reasons”, before showing footage of the April 2012 ‘flytilla’ as an illustration of the political activists and ‘resistance-chic’ genre of tourism which also arrives at the airport. 

Wallace claims that stopping groups of political activists should be “straightforward enough” but then puts forward the assertion that “methods used to security check individuals at Ben Gurion airport have overstepped the mark”.  

Wallace does make it clear that Ms Doughman had “written about the 2008 Israeli assaults on Gaza for her university newspaper” and that she had worked at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon in 2010, suggesting that this might prompt “extra questions” at the airport. 

In fact, Najwa Doughman (whose article on Gaza – complete with Nazi analogy – can be read here) was president of the University of Virginia branch of ‘Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine'; an organization which supports Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, employs ‘apartheid’ rhetoric against Israel and promotes the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees together with their ‘repatriation’ to their previous homes or those of their ancestors, along with the expulsion of all Jews from what it terms ‘Arab’ areas. Ms Doughman’s stay in Lebanon – according to her Linkedin profile – lasted 13 months, ending in January 2011. 

In Wallace’s interview with Doughman she recounts how she was asked by a member of the security staff at the airport to open her e-mail account (which she presumably agreed to do) and that her e-mails were searched and read. Doughman says that the security officer told her to “tell your friends that we don’t only Google your names; we search your e-mails too”.

However, the account of the same story which Najwa Doughman wrote previously for the ‘Mondoweiss‘ site puts a somewhat different light upon the subject. 

In that article, Doughman wrote:

“Little did I know that my father’s Arab name would make me guilty until proven innocent.”

However, the fact that this was her third visit to Israel indicates that her insinuations of racism are far from justified.

Doughman went on to write:

“I typed in my username and password in complete disbelief. She [the security officer] began her invasive search: “Israel,” “Palestine,” “West Bank,” “International Solidarity Movement.” “

“The security officer opened an email from a friend living in Jerusalem who had advised me to remove myself from internet searches. “They are heavy on googling names at the airport recently,” he had written. “See if you can remove yourselves, not crucial but helpful.” “

Next, Wallace goes on to interview Hagai Elad of ACRI  – after giving an anodyne description of that organization quoted from its own blurb –  and after that he conducts an interview with Fred Schlomka of Green Olive Tours who claims to have heard similar stories to that of Ms Doughman from his clients. 

What Wallace does not tell his viewers is that Fred Schlomka was operations manager for ICAHD between 2001 and 2003, is a former member of its board and has written a series of ‘reports‘ for the organization. Wallace does also not inform his readers of the political nature of the congenial, juggling Mr Schlomka’s ‘tour company’, including the fact that for $695 he will arrange a three-day trip to Beit Ummar hosted by an ISM volunteer and a man who has spent time in an Israeli prison due to his activity with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  

Wallace ends the report by showing footage of the terror attack in Bulgaria as an illustration of why security is necessary in Israel and by interviewing an expert on aviation security who explains very clearly why Najwa Doughman would have raised suspicions at the airport. He even admits that ACRI is pursuing only three cases of this type, which – considering that almost three million tourists visited Israel last year – clearly indicates that only a very small minority of visitors with specific intentions which do not include normal tourist activities have any reason to believe that they may be asked to open their e-mail account as part of security measures. 

Clearly, the assertion in the report’s headline – “Israeli security ‘read’ tourists’ private emails” – is not only based entirely on unproven hearsay from Najwa Doughman, but is also inaccurate: genuine tourists to Israel do not have their private e-mails read. 

Clause 3.4.12 of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines states that:

“We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.”

Clause 4.4.14 states that:

“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.”

In this report, once again, the BBC has failed to make clear the connections of interviewees to politicized NGOs and/or organisations with a specific political agenda before promoting their claims.

It is particularly regrettable that a respected and trusted organization such as the BBC should be taking its lead from anti-Israel sites such as Mondoweiss and regurgitating the type of politically motivated non-stories designed solely to besmirch Israel which one so often finds there.  

BBC’s Wyre Davies plays wingman to anti-Israel NGOs

h/t Dennis    

Treading faithfully in the footsteps of their compatriots of yesteryear, few subjects have been done to death by British journalists in the Middle East as that of the Bedouin in Israel. 

It therefore came as no surprise to find the BBC’s Wyre Davies venturing a whole eleven miles out of Jerusalem last month to report on “Israeli threat to Bedouin villages”.  

Davies’ report appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website, as well as on television news, on October 18th. It was also broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ on October 25th and can be heard here from around 25:26′. 

Davies opens his radio report from the school constructed without planning permission in the Bedouin encampment of Khan al Ahmar with the uncorroborated statement:

“If they [the children] didn’t come to school here, they wouldn’t get an education anywhere.”

He goes on to say:

“But they’re [the Bedouin] surrounded by illegal Jewish settlements as far as the eye can see and they want the school evicted and demolished.”

Contrary to what Davies would apparently have his listeners believe, in Israel demolition orders on buildings constructed – in any sector – without planning permission are not given out by the neighbours, but by the relevant authorities.

One may think that of all places, it would be wise to ensure that a school was built according to health and safety regulations. Apparently that aspect of the story is of no concern to Davies, who next interviews a woman named as Angela Goldstein and described as “an advocate who campaigns on behalf of this Bedouin community”. 

Ms Goldstein claims that:

“The only schools that are near are settler schools and of course none of these children would be accepted into Jewish-only schools.”

The whiff of racist rhetoric arising from that comment should have wised-up Wyre Davies to his interviewee – did he not already know who she actually is. 

Angela Godfrey Goldstein is no mere ‘advocate': she is the policy officer for ICAHD – the political NGO which promotes apartheid rhetoric and the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. She is also a member of the ‘Free Gaza Movement’ ,which was recently involved in a scandal due to its anti-Semitic Tweets and of course organizes flotillas. ICAHD’s director Jeff Halper sits on Free Gaza’s Board of Advisors as well as being a member of the ‘Russell Tribunal‘.

In addition, Ms Godfrey Goldstein is a member of Machsom Watch (the same organization which organized a delegation to comfort the families of the arrested murderers of the Fogel family) and her trip to Khan al Ahmar is far from a one-off: she runs a nice line in political trips to the encampment, in which Wyre Davies’ next interviewee, Eid Abu Hamis of the Jahalin tribe, is something of a regular feature. 

Davies sets the romantic scene by informing listeners that he is talking to Eid Abu Hamis Jahalin “under the shade of a fig tree” and then allows his host – unchallenged and unproven – to state that:

“The situation is now difficult due to the settlers who want us to leave”

“They [settlers] attack the woman [sic] and the children”

The Jahalin tribe has been the subject of many articles over on our sister blog CiF Watch, due to the fact that Khan al Ahmar is also a favourite and frequent watering hole for Guardian correspondents. Readers can view more background information here and here

The story which Wyre Davies tells is by no means a new one; in fact, it has been going on for about thirty years and Israeli courts have examined – and rejected – the Jahalin’s claims to the land. 

“The Jahalin have been making claims about the land of Ma’ale Adumim, and squatting on state land assigned to the community, since the 1980’s. They have been warned many times by successive Israeli governments that eventually they would have to move. Most of the Jahalin eventually agreed that they did not have rights to the land. For example, according to a January 29th, 1994 Los Angeles Times article, “no one, not even Hairsh (Mohammed Hairsh, a Jahalin leader) claims that his tribe has a legal right” to the land they have been occupying.

Nevertheless, out of sympathy for the plight of the Jahalin tribe, the Israeli government offered them title to a plot of land if they would agree to leave their encampment near Ma’ale Adumim. This new site is about one kilometer from and more than five times larger than the Jahalin’s previous encampment. In addition, under the proposed agreement with the Jahalin, the Israeli government agreed to provide, at no charge, electricity and water hookups, cement building platforms and building materials.

Not surprisingly, the leaders of the Jahalin tribe accepted Israel’s offer and most of the tribe moved to the new site. The electricity and water hookups were provided, and the platforms were built. However, when a lawyer representing some of the Jahalin returned from a trip abroad and heard of the agreement, she convinced several of the Jahalin families who had not yet moved to stay where they were.”

Bizarrely, Wyre Davies then interviews MK Ariyeh Eldad – presumably supposedly in the name of ‘balance’. Eldad, however, does not represent the Israeli government against which Davies’ other interviewees make charges (he also represents a mere fraction of Israeli opinion with his party – Ichud Leumi – holding a mere 4 seats in the Knesset) and therefore the interview with him can hardly be considered a ‘right of reply’.

During the interview with Eldad, however, Davies manages to squeeze in the following:

“This land…the international community regards as occupied Palestinian land and therefore it’s not Israel’s to claim as state land or otherwise”

Once again, a BBC reporter fails to reflect the fact that there are conflicting and diverse legal opinions about the status of the land in question, as well as neglecting to mention that it falls in Area C which, under the Oslo Accords, is still subject to negotiation.

Next, Davies travels to what he terms “inside Israel proper” and visits the Bedouin encampment at Umm al Hiran in the Negev, which he describes as being situated on “ancestral lands”. He claims that the Bedouin there are scheduled for eviction:

“..because Israel wants to build a new community here, but for religious Jews only.”

That final statement, by the way, is not true. The proposed community includes both religious and secular people, but to pretend otherwise undoubtedly embellishes the story with new dimensions.  

Again, CiF Watch has published much on the subject of land disputes with the Negev Bedouin because that too is a frequent subject for Guardian journalists. Background reading is available here, here and here. Details of Israeli government offers and incentives to the Negev Bedouin squatters can be read here

One organization involved in the politicization and promotion of Negev land disputes as a means of delegitimizing Israel is ‘Adalah‘. Adalah calls for the replacement of the Jewish state with a ‘democratic, bilingual and multicultural’ country in which Jewish immigration would be limited to strictly humanitarian cases but Palestinian refugees and their descendants would be entitled to the ‘right of return’. Ironically, Adalah is also involved in a campaign to remove Jewish residents from areas of the Negev. 

Wyre Davis’ interviewee in Umm al Hiran is Suhad Bishara, whom he describes as “a lawyer who represents the Bedouin in their fight to remain here”.

Ms Bishara is actually the head of the Land and Planning Unit at Adalah. She is allowed by Davies to state – again, unchallenged and unproven – that:

“It’s like the Wild West. Human rights are suspended. The rule of law is suspended. This is black and white. You are not entitled to be here because you are an Arab”. 

So, what do we have here? Well, obviously Wyre Davies is telling a very partisan version of a story without even trying to appear impartial or accurate. The rhetoric he and his interviewees use is clearly designed to leave the audience with shocking impressions of Israeli discrimination and racism towards the Bedouin. Davies does not make a proper attempt to recount the other side of the story apart from the inclusion of a very brief statement by COGAT in the internet version only.

But what is really shocking about this collection of articles and broadcasts by Wyre Davies is his willingness to play wingman for political NGOs dedicated to the abolition of the State of Israel. By failing to declare the affiliations of his interviewees, Davies allows the BBC to be used as a medium for the promotion of their message.

Did ICAHD and/or Adalah organize Davies’ visits to Khan al Ahmar and Umm al Hiran? He certainly would not be the first journalist to take advantage of such trips in exchange for a sympathetic write-up, if he did.

The BBC needs to provide transparency on the background circumstances to these articles immediately.