Elections 2015: the morning after – BBC News website coverage

No fewer than seven articles concerning the previous day’s Israeli election were published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 18th.

An article which originally appeared the previous evening under the title “Israel election: No clear winner, exit polls suggest” underwent numerous changes as the votes were counted overnight, ending up under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu’s Likud storms to victory“. As was the case in much of the BBC’s prior coverage of the topic, that article and the others appearing on the same day focused audience attentions on the topic the election was not about.18 3 website 1

“Mr Netanyahu had vowed not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state, while Zionist Union expressed support for a two-state solution and promised to repair relations with Palestinians and the international community.

In the wake of the vote, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Palestinians would step up their bid for statehood.

“It is clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government, so we say clearly that we will go to the International Criminal Court in the Hague and we will speed up, pursue and intensify” diplomatic efforts, he told AFP news agency.”

An insert from the BBC’s Middle East editor added:

“He [Netanyahu] also made a series of promises that would worsen Israel’s relations with the US and Europe if he continues as prime minister. He promised thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied territories, and said he would not allow the Palestinians to have a state.”

Jeremy Bowen produced an article titled “Israel election: Dramatic turnaround for Netanyahu” which he opened by brushing aside the topic of his organisation’s previous heavy promotion of opinion polls.18 3 website 2

“In the end Israeli opinion polls told the wrong story, yet again.”

Bowen informed readers that:

“The prime minister narrowed the gap with Mr Herzog’s Zionist Union, and then overhauled it, by turning sharply towards the ultra-nationalist Israeli right.

He issued a series of grim warnings about the consequences for Israel if he lost; Arabs with Israeli citizenship were voting, so his people needed to turn out.

Mr Netanyahu made a series of promises that would worsen Israel’s relations with the United States and Europe if he stays on as prime minister.

He promised thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied territories. And he said that he would not allow the Palestinians to have a state.”

The BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly produced two articles, the first of which was a report from the Likud campaign headquarters titled “Likud celebrates surprise success in Israeli election” in which readers were informed that:18 3 website 3

“If a new right-of-centre coalition is formed it will be formed in the context of Mr Netanyahu indicating that he was prepared to block the formation of a Palestinian state.

International observers trying to interpret what this result means for hopes of a resumption in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians will see that as a bleak signal.

A Herzog-led government might have been a more comfortable partner for the US State Department and for European governments interested in reviving talks.

But for now, it appears that the Israeli electorate has decided otherwise.”

Connolly’s second article of the day expanded on that theme under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu win dims peace process prospects“.18 3 website 4

“Everyone knows, of course, that the Israeli right, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, is at best sceptical about the prospect of a peace deal with the Palestinians, while the left under Yitzhak Herzog is much keener on the kind of constructive engagement that would keep the White House and the State Department happy. […]

He made it clear that in the modern Middle East with its rising tide of militant Islamism and its deepening atmosphere of instability the conditions just do not exist to create a Palestinian state.

It was a smart move invoking the image of a leader who is prepared to stand up for Israel’s interests in an uncertain world and who is not worried if his single-mindedness on the issue irritates the Europeans, the Americans or indeed anyone else.

At one point he was asked directly if his return as prime minister would mean categorically that a Palestinian state would not be established.

He answered with the single Hebrew word “Achen” – which means “indeed”.”

The BBC News website also produced a profile of Netanyahu titled “Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu: Commando turned PM” in which readers were told that:18 3 website 5

“For Mr Netanyahu, the number one issue has long been Israel’s security, and he has taken a tough line towards the Palestinians, seeing land-for-peace as too dangerous to accept.

His third term shifted from renewed peace talks, which collapsed in acrimony, to war with militants in Gaza just three months later.”

Readers are not informed that those talks collapsed because the PA decided to from a unity government with Hamas.

Later on in the article, however, this example of the ‘land for peace’ formula appears:

“Despite having fiercely criticised the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, in 1997 Mr Netanyahu signed a deal handing over 80% of Hebron to Palestinian Authority control and signed the Wye River Memorandum in 1998 outlining further withdrawals from the West Bank.”

No effort is made to inform readers that the unprecedented construction freeze of 2009/10 did not cause the PA to come to the negotiating table until one month before it expired and, as ever, the BBC fails to inform audiences accurately with regard to the significance of the Israeli demand for the PA to recognise Israel as the Jewish state:

“Mr Netanyahu’s government was criticised by some in the international community for not renewing a partial freeze on Jewish settlement-building and possibly avoiding a collapse in peace talks with the Palestinians in late 2010.

He publicly accepted the concept of a demilitarised Palestinian state, but insisted the Palestinians accept Israel as a “Jewish state” in turn and make reciprocal concessions.

In 2015 he distanced himself from accepting the prospect of a state, dismissing it as irrelevant given the rise of militant Islam across the Middle East.”

Later on in the evening the BBC News website published two articles with a US slant, the first of which – by PJ Crowley – was subtly titled “Netanyahu win gives Obama a headache“.18 3 website 6

“Over the weekend, he made explicit what many, particularly the Palestinians, had long believed.

As long as he is prime minister, there will not be a Palestinian state. He even acknowledged that his administration used settlement construction to undermine the process.

These statements sent a moribund peace process into freefall, calling into question the future of the Oslo process.”

Apparently BBC audiences are to believe that “the future of the Oslo process” was not called into question by – among other things – the failure of the Oslo Accords’ guarantors to insist upon disarmament of Hamas before the formation of a unity government together with the Palestinian Authority.

Another article titled “Israel election: US concern over ‘divisive’ rhetoric” told readers that:18 3 website 7

“During campaigning, Mr Netanyahu said he would not allow the creation of a Palestinian state if re-elected. […]

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: “It has been the policy of the United States for more than 20 years that a two-state solution is the goal of resolving the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

The US would “re-evaluate our approach” in the wake of Mr Netanyahu’s comments ruling out a Palestinian state, he said.”

The article also states:

“On a warning from Mr Netanyahu that his opponents were bussing Arab-Israeli voters to polling stations, he [Earnest] said: “Rhetoric that seeks to marginalise one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive, and I can tell you that these are views the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.” “

Yet again the BBC refrains from providing audiences with the necessary context concerning the anti-Zionist parties running on the Joint Arab List and the foreign funding for organisations which ran a campaign against Netanyahu.

The article later states:

“The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, said he would work with any Israeli government that accepts the two-state solution, without which, he said, peace negotiations stood “no chance”.”

The uninformed reader seeking to understand the topic of the Israeli election from these seven articles could only arrive at the conclusion that the Likud party’s victory is the prime factor preventing a peace agreement being signed between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘Economical’ presentation of subjects such as the reason for the breakdown of previous rounds of talks coupled with the complete absence of any reference to the fact that almost a year ago the Palestinian Authority chose to form a ‘unity government’ with a terrorist organization which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and is committed to its destruction mean that the bottom line effect of these reports is to mislead audiences with regard to the peace process in general and the significance of the result of the election in particular. As we observed here in January 2013 after the previous election and again in December 2014 when the BBC first began reporting on this one:

“Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances.”

Plus ça change… 

 

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part two

In addition to Yolande Knell’s propaganda laden view of the Israeli election from Ramallah, March 17th saw the appearance of several filmed reports for television news programmes from various BBC correspondents.

Lyse Doucet produced a report titled “A closer look at Israeli politics and the election” in which viewers were told that:

“Likud is hawkish on security and critical of the nuclear negotiations with Iran.”

Audiences reading, viewing and listening to content on other BBC platforms on that day would have noticed that the adjective ‘hawkish’ – defined as “advocating an aggressive or warlike policy, especially in foreign affairs” and “supporting the use of force in political relationships rather than discussion or other more peaceful solutions” –  was very popular with BBC correspondents, despite the fact that the outgoing Likud-led Israeli government engaged in nine months of negotiations with the PLO and went to considerable lengths to try to avoid all out conflict with Hamas and other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip last summer.

Another filmed report was produced by BBC Arabic’s Issam Ikirmawi under the title “Israel elections: Voting in Nazareth“.Bowen filmed 17 3

BBC television audiences also saw a filmed report by Jeremy Bowen which purported to enlighten them on the topic of “What do Israeli voters want?” and opened with the sarcastic quip:

“Not the drums of war – for once. These were beating time at the Jerusalem marathon.”

Bowen’s suggestion that the previous government had put “expensive Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory ahead of the cost of living” failed to clarify to BBC audiences that the status of Area C (in which all Israeli towns and villages are located) is in fact subject to negotiation according to the terms of the Oslo Accords and his categorization of that land as “occupied Palestinian territory” is hence misleading. Similarly, on a helicopter ride Bowen purported to show viewers “…the barrier that separates Israel from the Palestinian West Bank…” without any mention of the issue of final status negotiations and with no clarification of the reason why that anti-terrorist fence had to be built. According to Bowen, the anti-terrorist fence”…shows Israel’s security preoccupation with the Palestinians…” but again, no effort was made to explain to viewers what that actually means, or why.

Whilst he acknowledged that economy related issues were of prime importance to Israeli voters in this election, Bowen failed to provide audiences with any meaningful factual background on that topic, instead – like so many of his colleagues – constantly bringing the focus of his reporting back to the issue upon which Israelis did not go to the polls to decide.

“…but in the election the political future of that relationship [with the Palestinians] has not been a big issue. House prices are much more important and that’s because Israelis – like Palestinians – have got very cynical about the chances of a peace agreement. Up to now the negotiations have failed.”

A more accurate word than ‘cynical’ to describe the approach of a nation which still overwhelmingly supports a two-state solution in theory but cannot see a partner for that aspiration on the horizon, would have been ‘realistic’.

Despite being aware that “polls aren’t reliable” – as he noted at the end of his report – Bowen nevertheless earlier promoted the notion that “Yitzhak Herzog of the new centre Left alliance Zionist Union has turned the polls around…”.Bowen filmed 17 3 exit polls  

Soon after voting came to an end at 10 pm and the first exit poll results became available, Jeremy Bowen produced a report titled “Israel election: No clear winner, exit polls suggest“. Once again, his reliance on informal polls – coupled perhaps with over-confidence in his own understanding of the Israeli political system and Israelis – caused him to provide BBC audiences with inaccurate information.

“In a country where it’s possible to live very well, economic pressures became the most potent issue in the campaign. Never mind the pursuit of the high life: falling living standards for many Israelis took votes away from the prime minister.”

“Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union alliance, did not let up on social and financial issues and led the polls through the last weeks of campaigning.”

“The Israeli people have not voted for any kind of radical change but they haven’t given Mr Netanyahu a resounding vote of confidence either.” [all emphasis added]

Part of Bowen’s report focused on the Joint Arab List and residents of Jerusalem, Acco, Jaffa, Ramla, Lod, Ma’alot-Tarshiha and elsewhere might have been surprised to hear that:

“One significant development came from Haifa in the north: about the closest Israel gets to a mixed city where its Jewish and Arab citizens can live in relative harmony.” [emphasis added]

He continued:

Ayman Odeh […] heads the Joint List – an alliance of parties mainly representing the 20% or so of the Israeli citizens who are from Palestinian families who didn’t flee or get expelled when Israel was created in 1948. He told me this day would be historic as his party would push the Right Wing off into opposition. That might not happen. But the Joint List has shown that Israel’s Arab citizens are ready to flex some new political muscles, potentially providing crucial support for the centre Left.”

In fact, by the time Bowen made that declaration the Joint Arab List had already indicated ten days previously that it had no intention of supporting any shade of the Israeli Left when it refused to collaborate even with Meretz on a surplus vote sharing agreement.

“Last week, Herzog and Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On tried to broker a deal by which the Zionist Union would sign a vote-sharing agreement with Yesh Atid, and Meretz with the Joint List.

Herzog called all the heads of the Arab parties that make up the Joint List, but Balad leader Jamal Zehalka refused to pick up the phone.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh was in favor of signing the deal with Meretz, but Balad ruled it out because it did not want to cooperate with a Zionist party in any way. Zehalka even threatened to remove Balad from the Joint List, a threat that at this stage is not permitted by law.”

The Joint Arab List secured 13 places in the Knesset in this election (just two seats more than the combined number secured by its component parties running separately in the previous one) indicating that Bowen’s prophesy of “new political muscles” was – like much of the rest of his analysis – based more on his own ideas of how Israel should be than on objectively viewed reality. 

Hamas PR department invokes BBC’s Bowen

Readers may have heard about the Hamas social media campaign which recently invited Twitter users to ‘#AskHamas’. It is safe to say that the results of that PR drive did not exactly meet the terrorist organisation’s expectations and the topic was picked up by the mainstream media – see for example here, here and here.

Whilst Hamas did not answer most of the Tweets sent its way, here is one which did receive a reply:

Hamas tweet Bowen

Clearly the BBC Middle East editor’s efforts to whitewash Hamas’ use of human shields during last summer’s hostilities did not go unnoticed by that internationally recognised terrorist organisation.

The civilian population of the Gaza Strip might, however, be somewhat less appreciative of that politically motivated reporting from the man supposedly responsible for ensuring the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s Middle East content. 

 

Law of Armed Conflict, Gaza and the BBC

As readers know, less than 24 hours after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th 2014, the BBC began to promote the notion that Israel was committing ‘war crimes’ in the Gaza Strip.Bowen tweet 1

That theme, along with related ones such as ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘deliberate targeting of civilians’, continued to be advanced throughout the 50-day operation and after its conclusion, in large part by means of amplification of claims made by political NGOs such as the PCHR (see examples here and here), Human Rights Watch (see examples here and here) and Amnesty International (see examples here, here and here).

In addition, BBC audiences were fed amateur commentary from journalists with no credentials in the field of the Law of Armed Conflict, with Jeremy Bowen’s frequently proffered  ‘diagnoses’ being particularly notable.Bowen tweet 2

In a new report on last summer’s conflict written by five American Generals and commissioned by JINSA, the topic of amateur commentary on the legality of IDF operations is addressed.

“…Numerous individuals claiming to be experts in the relationship between law and military operations quickly seemed to accept Hamas’s assertions of unlawful IDF operations. On July 23, 2014, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated: “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.” The U.N. Human Rights Council subsequently issued a resolution condemning “in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations” in Gaza. In September, Human Rights Watch issued a report declaring that “three Israeli attacks that damaged Gaza schools housing displaced people caused numerous civilian casualties in violation of the laws of war.” And, in November, Amnesty International concluded that the IDF’s “use of large aerial bombs [to attack civilian homes] suggests that these attacks either were intended to cause the complete destruction of the targeted structure or a determination to ensure the killing of targeted individuals without due regard to the killing and destruction to those in their immediate vicinity,” which would constitute “prima facie evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

These condemnations were premised on premature, effects-based assessments of military operations, or on the same flawed understandings of the law that Hamas was promoting, while refusing to apply that same law to its own actions. These routine distortions of the actual law applicable to military operations produced a fundamentally false narrative of legal compliance and non-compliance during this conflict, one that misrepresented Israeli attempts to minimize civilian deaths and the legality of their targeting Hamas and other factions engaged in military operations.”

The report – which is well worth reading in full – is available here.

The speed and alacrity with which BBC correspondents adopted the theme of ‘war crimes’ within hours of the commencement of the conflict was clear indication of the existence of an underlying political agenda even before the hostilities began. The fact that the corporation has continued its unqualified amplification of the same theme on behalf of NGOs engaged in lawfare since the conflict ended – whilst failing to provide audiences with the professional background information on the topic of the Law of Armed Conflict which would enable them to put such claims into their correct context – only reinforces the unavoidable impression that the BBC has no interest in dealing with this subject accurately or impartially.

 

BBC audiences get Israeli PM’s Congress speech through the Bowen filter – part two

On the evening of March 3rd and the morning of March 4th the BBC News website published several reports on the topic of the Israeli prime minister’s speech to the US Congress. One of those was an article including a few selected phrases from the speech – but no complete transcript – titled “Key quotes: Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress“.Congress key quotes art

Interestingly, none of what the BBC decided were “key quotes” went any way towards clarifying for audiences the core issues lying behind that speech and so its more important points – such as those below – remained off the radar of BBC audiences.

“While the final deal has not yet been signed, certain elements of any potential deal are now a matter of public record. You don’t need intelligence agencies and secret information to know this. You can Google it.

Absent a dramatic change, we know for sure that any deal with Iran will include two major concessions to Iran.

The first major concession would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure, providing it with a short break-out time to the bomb. Break-out time is the time it takes to amass enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for a nuclear bomb.

According to the deal, not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed.

Because Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran’s break-out time would be very short — about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel’s.Congress art 2

And if – if Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges, faster and faster centrifuges, is not stopped, that break-out time could still be shorter, a lot shorter.

True, certain restrictions would be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors. But here’s the problem. You see, inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them.” […]

“The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, said again yesterday that Iran still refuses to come clean about its military nuclear program. Iran was also caught — caught twice, not once, twice — operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom, facilities that inspectors didn’t even know existed.

Right now, Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don’t know about, the U.S. and Israel. As the former head of inspections for the IAEA said in 2013, he said, “If there’s no undeclared installation today in Iran, it will be the first time in 20 years that it doesn’t have one.” Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted. And that’s why the first major concession is a source of great concern. It leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and relies on inspectors to prevent a breakout. That concession creates a real danger that Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.

But the second major concession creates an even greater danger that Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal. Because virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade.”

BBC News website coverage also included a live page which promoted some of the Tweets sent by Jeremy Bowen during the speech and even an image of what were described merely as “some protesters” without any clarification of the fact that the people in the photograph are members of the extremist, Iranian regime-supporting, anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect.

NK on live page

The BBC News website’s main report was titled “Israel’s Netanyahu warns US against ‘paving way to Iran bomb’“. There readers found ‘analysis’ from Jeremy Bowen which was also reproduced in a later article headlined “Obama says Netanyahu’s Iran speech contains ‘nothing new’“.

Bowen analysis speech

In the first of those articles, Bowen’s description of Nancy Pelosi’s remarks was followed by immediate repetition of the same information, with a handy link provided:

Pelosi 1

A very similar format was used in the second report with the following passages – again with a link – coming immediately after Bowen’s ‘analysis’ :

Pelosi 2

Also in that second article readers were also informed that:

“Other Democrats criticised the speech, with Representative John Yarmuth calling it “straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook – fear-mongering at its worst”.”

Pelosi’s remarks were also showcased on the above mentioned live page.

Pelosi 3

The same theme also appeared in an article by the BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel titled “Netanyahu’s ‘chutzpah’ rocks Capitol and riles Obama“.Congress art 4 Sopel

“Some Democrats stayed away, while the leader of Democrats in the House, Nancy Pelosi said: “I was near tears throughout the prime minister’s speech – saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations … and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation”.

The words of some administration officials are even more sulphurous. One is quoted today as saying the speech contained “literally not one new idea; not one single concrete alternative; all rhetoric, no action.” “

All of those BBC reports refrained from informing audiences adequately about the many very different reactions to the speech such as the Washington Post editorial which declared in its headline “Obama needs to provide real answers to Netanyahu’s arguments” and the statements from many Representatives - including Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who said:

“Critics must now deal with the substance of the Prime Minister’s concerns, which I have long shared.  The Foreign Affairs Committee has consistently raised concerns with the troubling outlines of this agreement.  How does an Iran with industrial scale enrichment capacity – key bomb-making technology – make the U.S. and Israel safer?  How does an Iranian nuclear program, which will spur similar programs among neighboring rivals, make the Middle East less combustible?  How does it make sense for an agreement with a revolutionary regime – that has been in power since 1979 – to expire after just ten years?”

As we see, BBC audiences’ understanding of this story was inevitably influenced by the way in which it was meticulously framed, with information being filtered to avoid the substance of the issue itself and selected reactions to the speech – of one particular political stripe – being pushed to centre stage. The BBC cannot possibly claim that its Middle East editor and additional staff provided the funding public with a comprehensive view of the story which would enhance their understanding of this particular international issue.  

 

Commentary on BBC ME editor’s ‘Holocaust card’ Tweet widens

Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Professor Alan Johnson comments on Jeremy Bowen’s recent “holocaust card” Tweet sent during the Israeli prime minister’s speech to the US Congress.Bowen tweets speech 1

“Mr Bowen’s idea is that when an Israeli leader mentions the Holocaust he is being tricksy, manipulative, acting in bad faith, “playing a card” to get narrow advantage in contemporary politics, not really expressing a genuine thought about the Holocaust itself or a genuine fear about a second, nuclear, Holocaust.

And that idea, of the Bad Faith Jew, is unmistakably dripping in the assumptions and myths of classic antisemitism.

Mr Bowen did what only the antisemitic extremists used to do, reduce the invocation of the Holocaust to a common sense indicator of ‘Zionist’ bad faith and something to disdain.

Well, the Holocaust happened. It happened to the Jews. And now the Jews are threatened again by a genocidal regime. These are facts.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Update:

Via the Guardian we learn that Jeremy Bowen has responded to criticism of his Tweet – without addressing the actual issue.

Bowen tweet reaction to tweet

We also learn that the BBC has officially elected to address the issue by means of wilful miscomprehension.

“A BBC spokesperson said: “Jeremy was using Twitter and journalism shorthand whilst live-tweeting PM Netanyahu’s speech. The context of his comment is that a major part of PM Netanyahu’s critique of the proposed Iran deal was based on the spectre of another holocaust. Jeremy’s tweet was designed to reflect that context. He absolutely refutes any suggestion of antisemitism.””

The phrase “plays the holocaust card” is not “Twitter and journalism shorthand” for ‘mentions the Holocaust’. The BBC’s official response is an insult to its funding public’s intelligence.  

 

 

BBC audiences get Israeli PM’s Congress speech through the Bowen filter – part one

Regular readers would of course have had few expectations of receiving a wholly impartial report on the Israeli prime minister’s speech to the US Congress on March 3rd from the BBC’s Middle East editor but even they might have been surprised by the tone and content of some of the comments made by Jeremy Bowen as he live-tweeted the speech to his 121 thousand followers – especially in light of the fact that BBC editorial guidelines – including those on accuracy and impartiality – also apply to its staff’s Twitter accounts.

Bowen tweets speech 1

So what did the man who only the day before had alluded to himself as a “serious student of the Middle East” mean by that (small H) “holocaust card” jibe? The accepted definition of the idiom ‘play the card’ is to exploit a specific issue for political advantage. In other words, Bowen is accusing Netanyahu of cynically making use of the memory of six million murdered Jews for his own political gain and his use of the words “once again” indicates that Bowen is of the opinion that this is a regular practice on the part of the Israeli prime minister.

Netanyahu’s actual words were as follows:

“My friend, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. With us today is Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel.

Elie, your life and work inspires to give meaning to the words, “never again.”

And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.

But I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.”

Clearly any real “serious student of the Middle East” would have an understanding of the place of the Holocaust in Jewish collective memory just as he would be familiar with the Iranian regime’s record of anti-Israel rhetoric and practical support for terrorist groups seeking the destruction of the Jewish state. Bowen, however, put whatever knowledge he may have aside – instead allowing his personal political prejudices to dictate his commentary.

The same practice was evident in other tweets:

Bowen tweets speech 2

In fact, Netanyahu did not “conflate” Iranian Shiism with Sunni Jihadists as Bowen claims. What he actually did was point out that both those separate and competing ideologies are equally important problems.

“Iran’s regime is as radical as ever, its cries of “Death to America,” that same America that it calls the “Great Satan,” as loud as ever.

Now, this shouldn’t be surprising, because the ideology of Iran’s revolutionary regime is deeply rooted in militant Islam, and that’s why this regime will always be an enemy of America.

Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America.

Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.

In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone.

So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

Bowen also commented:

Bowen tweets speech 3

He neglected to clarify that – unlike Iran – Israel is not party to the NPT and of course failed to note that Iran was declared non-compliant to the treaty it did sign as long ago as 2003.

Another Bowen tweet read:

Bowen tweets speech 4

If readers are wondering what Bowen meant by “politics of fear”, that point is clarified in his ‘analysis’ included in two subsequent BBC News website reports on the topic of Netanyahu’s speech.

“The speech was classic Netanyahu. He mixed the politics of fear with the politics of bravery in adversity. Iran was gobbling up Middle East states – a reference to its influence in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen – while Israel stood strong, never again allowing the Jews to be passive victims.”

Of course Iran’s active role in the Syrian civil war and its supply of funding and weapons to terrorist organisations such as Hizballah means that it has rather more than just “influence” in those locations and others throughout the Middle East. However, Bowen’s intent is clearly not to inform audiences of the objective facts, but to persuade them that the Israeli prime minister uses unfounded threats to elicit the political response he seeks by means of emotion.

Bowen’s jaundiced and openly disdainful view of the Israeli prime minister’s speech to Congress was not only communicated to BBC audiences via Twitter. As we will see in part two of this post, BBC reports on the issue were notable for similar inaccuracies, half stories and lack of impartiality. 

BBC’s big Bibi binge lacks substance on P5+1 deal and Congress speech

Those following Jeremy Bowen on Twitter learned on March 2nd that he was in Washington.

AIPAC Bowen Tweet

What is particularly remarkable about the BBC Middle East editor’s second statement is that in previous years, he has not found that “not to be missed” annual event unmissable.

But of course Bowen’s real interest in this year’s AIPAC conference (and readers can find his at times snide observations of that event on his Twitter feed) actually stems from the proximity of the Israeli prime minister’s appearance there to his speech in Congress the following day and the BBC has been building up to that story for some time.

In January the BBC News website’s reporting on the invitation from the Speaker of the US House of Representatives to the Israeli prime minister to address Congress was notable for its misrepresentation of Netanyahu’s stance on the issue of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran supposedly aimed at preventing that country’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

On February 19th the BBC News website carried a report titled “Iran nuclear talks: US accuses Israel of ‘leaks’” which for the most part was devoted to amplification of allegations made by a White House official but – in common with much of the corporation’s previous reporting on the topic – failed to comprehensively inform audiences of the concerns raised by many observers with regard to the emerging end results of the P5+1 negotiations.

On February 23rd the BBC News website promoted the Guardian/Al Jazeera story which wrongly alleged that differing appraisals of Iran’s nuclear programme by the Mossad indicated that Israel’s prime minister had deliberately misled the UN on that issue in 2012.AIPAC 1

February 26th saw the appearance on the BBC News website of an article titled “Netanyahu row with Obama administration deepens” which once again was largely devoted to the amplification of US administration statements on the issue but only briefly and superficially addressed the underlying issue of concerns regarding the details of the P5+1 agreement, whilst at the same time misleadingly framing them as being confined to the Israeli prime minister alone.

On the same day, an article titled “Netanyahu ‘not correct’ on Iran nuclear talks – Kerry” also appeared on the BBC News website which further promoted the theme that concerns over the essence of the P5+1 deal with Iran are limited to Israel’s prime minister and that his presentation of the issue is based on faulty judgement.

Also on February 26th an article by Kevin Connolly appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel US: Republican invite to Netanyahu riles Obama“. Yet again concerns over what kind of deal the P5+1 is about to make with Iran were presented to readers as an ‘all-Bibi affair’.AIPAC 2

“That issue – Iran and the Bomb – is one of the defining themes of Mr Netanyahu’s career and he is alarmed that the P5+1 powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Russia, China, UK and France – plus Germany) negotiating with Tehran may be preparing to agree a deal towards the end of March which would be acceptable to the world powers but unacceptable to Israel.”

All of the above, however, was merely the aperitif before the BBC really got down to business.

On March 2nd visitors to the BBC News website found another article by Kevin Connolly titled “Netanyahu Congress speech a moment of high stakes“. They could also read “Netanyahu arrives in US for contested Congress Iran speech” and “Netanyahu: Speech ‘not intended to disrespect’ Obama” or watch “Netanyahu in US on controversial visit” in which BBC audiences were , as ever, told that “Tehran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons technology”.AIPAC 3 Ghattas

March 3rd saw the appearance on the BBC News website of an article by Jonathan Marcus titled “Netanyahu’s speech ‘win-win’ for Iran” and a filmed report (also shown on BBC television news) by upcoming J Street conference speaker  Kim Ghattas titled Tensions as Israeli PM Netanyahu visits US“. In her report Ghattas told BBC audiences that:

“He [Netanyahu] hasn’t said very much yet about the case he plans to make against a nuclear deal with Iran but this is all very much part of his strategy to try to undermine progress towards an agreement.”

That false information was similarly promoted by the BBC on Twitter

AIPAC BBC News US tweet

The main course of the BBC’s Bibi binge will obviously be served up with Netanyahu’s actual speech to Congress, but as is already apparent, the information being provided to BBC audiences on this topic is both voluminous and yet at the same time misleading and lacking in crucial context.

The BBC’s framing of the story as though Netanyahu were the only party concerned about the details of the P5+1 deal is plainly both wrong and politically motivated. Plenty of other parties both in the Middle East and beyond share the same concerns and yet the BBC has refrained from reporting on that issue and on the topic of the interest shown in the upcoming Congress speech.

The claim that Netanyahu is trying to “undermine progress towards an agreement” is patently false and – as noted above – this is far from the first time that the BBC has misrepresented that issue.

Likewise, there is nothing novel about the BBC’s promotion of trite slogans such as “Tehran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons technology” with the concurrent avoidance of provision of a coherent picture of professional opinions on the issue, such as that given by the head of the IAEA on March 2nd:

“International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano said Monday that Iran still needed to hand over key information to the UN body necessary for its investigation of the country’s nuclear program.

The two missing pieces of the puzzle relate to alleged explosive tests and other issues related to research that may also be useful for military uses of atomic energy. According to Amano the missing pieces of data should have been addressed by Iran by last August.

“The agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities,” Amano was quoted by Reuters as saying.”

Unfortunately for members of the BBC’s funding public trying to understand why the Israeli Prime Minister is currently in Washington and what exactly is the basis for his (and others’) concerns about the P5+1 deal, the corporation’s correspondents are too heavily invested in both their own animosity towards the Israeli leader and their cheer-leading for the current US administration to get around to any real ‘standard-setting journalism’ on this topic.

Related Articles:

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

BBC misrepresentation of Israel’s stance on Iran talks continues in Kim Ghattas report

What have BBC audiences been told about the P5+1 deal with Iran?

Does BBC coverage of the P5+1 deal with Iran adequately promote audience understanding of the issue?

 

 

 

BBC’s Assad interview and the ‘related articles’

Considerable efforts were put into the promotion of Jeremy Bowen’s interview with Bashar al Assad across all BBC platforms on February 10th, including this Tweet from the BBC Middle East editor himself:

Assad int Bowen tweet

Those who watch the interview may well be left the impression that there was in fact no need for the Syrian regime to censor any of Bowen’s questions seeing as the words ‘Iran’ and ‘Hizballah’ did not appear in any of them. Similarly, discussion of challenging topics – such as to what extent the approach adopted by Western powers including the UK and the US in the late summer of 2013 in place of military intervention after the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons contributed to Assad’s survival – did not take place.

On the BBC News website the interview with Bashar al Assad was presented together with additional items of recommended reading. One of those articles was an arguably narcissistic round-up of traditional and social media reactions to the BBC’s broadcast complied by BBC Monitoring and titled “Syria conflict: Mixed reaction to President Assad’s BBC interview“. There BBC audiences were told:Assad int on ME pge

“And a pro-government Facebook user said: “The interview did not aim to shed any light on the future. Bowen merely served as a prosecutor building a case against a defendant, forgetting in the midst of his hate the fact that terrorists are funded by the Gulf and trained by Israel”.”

Despite having seen fit to highlight and amplify that comment, the BBC did not find it appropriate to clarify to readers that Israel has not played any part in training any of the assorted elements fighting against Syrian government forces.

Another accompanying article came from Jeremy Bowen: a written summary of the interview with added commentary in which Bowen claims “I tried to put to him some of the hard points that have been on peoples’ minds” and goes on to speculate:

“The fact that Mr Assad has started giving interviews again to foreign broadcasters must be a sign that he is feeling more secure.”

In fact, Bashar al Assad never stopped giving interviews to the foreign media – as his own website shows – and the BBC’s interview is rather less “exclusive” than the corporation makes out. Interestingly, Bowen refrains from discussing the reasoning behind the BBC’s decision to provide a platform for amplification of Assad’s entirely predictable propaganda.

Visitors to the BBC News website were also offered yet another summary of the filmed interview under the headline “Assad says Syria is informed on anti-IS air campaign” – which was opened to comments from the public. Among those which passed BBC moderation were several off-topic comments promoting inaccurate claims and conspiracy theories concerning Israel.

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Despite the considerable hype engineered by the BBC around this interview, its value in enhancing audience’s understanding of the issue of the civil war in Syria is minimal, with little said by Assad which could not be found on official Syrian government media channels and its avoidance of discussion of Iran and Hizballah meaning that no attempt was made to inform audiences of the bigger regional picture.  

The fact that the BBC allowed its plethora of ‘related articles’ to become in some cases a medium for amplification of inaccurate claims and conspiracy theories about Israel is of course worthy of note. 

 

BBC ME editor’s olive propaganda recycled for World Service listeners

In recent days the BBC World Service has sent out the Tweets below.

Bowen Olive Wars WS Twitter

The January 14th broadcast promoted by means of those Tweets is an edition of BBC World Service radio’s programme ‘The Documentary’ titled “Olive Wars” which is in fact a recycled version of Jeremy Bowen’s programme of the same name broadcast in early December 2014 on BBC Radio 4 which was discussed here. Bowen also produced a written version of his report at the time which was promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Israel and the Palestinians: A conflict viewed through olives“.

WS the documentary 14 1

As was noted here last month:

“…much of the annual politicization of the olive harvest is attributable in no small part to the mutually beneficial collaboration between Western media outlets and local political actors…”

But there is another side to the story of the olive harvest in the Middle East which Jeremy Bowen and most other Western journalists refrain from telling. This writer and her extended family also pick olives after the first rains every autumn and like many others in the region, we do so not for commercial purposes but in order to ensure a supply of olive oil for the whole family for the coming year.

Once the olives are picked, they have to be transported fairly quickly to a local oil press for processing into oil. There, small family harvesters wait alongside big commercial growers for their turn at one of the pressing machines. At the height of the season the waiting can last for hours and it becomes a social event with coffee, baklawa, pitta bread, labane and za’atar exchanged along with tales from this year’s harvest and speculations about how many liters of oil will finally be taken home.

The photographs below were taken at a press in the Galilee village of Tura’an last October. The clients pictured waiting for their oil come from all sectors of Israeli society: Muslims, Christians, Jews and others. This simple example – just one of many – of the predominant everyday coexistence in Israel is not news for Western journalists and it remains an important part of life in this part of the Middle East about which listeners to Radio 4 and the BBC World Service do not get to hear. The question, of course, is why.

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