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.

Assad art comments 1

Assad art comments 2

Assad art comments 3

Assad art comments 4

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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Caroline Wyatt’s defence of BBC summer Gaza coverage lacks factual basis

The Jewish Chronicle informs us that, whilst speaking at a recent Limmud session on the topic of the BBC’s Middle East coverage, the corporation’s Religious Affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt stated:Caroline Wyatt

“Looking at the coverage of the Gaza conflict last summer, I think the people reporting it tried harder than I’ve seen before to use language that was not loaded. Jeremy Bowen, Lyse Doucet and others are trying their best to report as impartially as they can. It’s a difficult one.”

The factual basis for Caroline Wyatt’s conclusions is unclear. The content produced, for example, by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen during and after his brief sojourn in the Gaza Strip in July 2014 included repeated promotion of the notion that Israel was carrying out ‘war crimes’, denial of Hamas’ use of human shields, promotion of the inaccurate claim that the Gaza Strip is under “siege” and pontifications such as “it is clear that the Israelis have some serious questions to answer”. Surely even Caroline Wyatt would have to acknowledge that Bowen’s use of language is in fact highly “loaded”.

Israel defends Gaza military campaign  July 11th 2014, discussed here

Gaza crisis: Death toll from Israeli strikes ‘hits 100′ July 11th 2014, discussed here

Israel-Gaza conflict: Home for disabled hit in Beit Lahiya  July 12th 2014, discussed here and here

Jeremy Bowen: Israel and Hamas not ready for ceasefire  July 12th 2014, discussed here

Death toll mounts amid Gaza strikes  July 14th 2014, discussed here

Israel-Gaza conflict enters seventh day  July 14th 2014, discussed here

From Our Own Correspondent July 19th 2014, discussed here

Jeremy Bowen’s Gaza notebook: I saw no evidence of Hamas using Palestinians as human shields New Statesman, July 22nd 2014, discussed here

Wyatt’s claim that Bowen and his colleagues “are trying their best to report as impartially as they can” is contradicted by the former’s repeated – and highly offensive – allocation of grades for suffering.

“But it is wrong to suggest that Israeli civilians near Gaza suffer as much as Palestinians. It is much, much worse in Gaza.” (link to source)

“By the way, it’s wrong to pretend that there’s any kind of equality between what Israeli citizens are going through and the experience of Palestinians. The trauma of Israelis caught up in mass attacks is unquestionable but the trauma in Gaza is of an utterly different degree.” (link to source)

Moreover, Wyatt’s claim that BBC correspondents “tried harder than I’ve seen before” is undermined by the fact that records show that five and a half years earlier – during Operation Cast Lead – Bowen was touting the exact same theme, sometimes in very similar language.

“The people of Gaza have been suffering terrible pain. When this is over, there is bound to be a proper investigation of some of the actions that Israel has carried out… It would be wrong to suggest that the experience of Israeli civilians in the areas that can be hit by rockets has been the same.” [Jeremy Bowen, 16th January 2009]

“…of course it is in no sense equal, the suffering is basically all on one side at the moment. I think where it is going at the moment, first of all Israel, the Israel narrative is as follows ok, its self defence any country would do it, and they are also questioning the casualty figures coming out of Gaza.” [Jeremy Bowen, BBC Today Radio 4 – 29/12/2008, 07.09am]

Clearly Caroline Wyatt has not studied the content produced by the BBC between July 8th and August 27th 2014 in depth. Had she done so, she would also be aware of the fact that BBC audiences were shown nearly three times more filmed reports from the Gaza Strip than from Israel and that within the first 24 hours of coverage, the BBC was already promoting the notion of ‘war crimes’ having been carried out by Israel, clearly indicating that impartial reporting was not a serious aspiration.

Related Articles:

BBC News website coverage of Operation Protective Edge: part five

 

Why the BBC Middle Editor’s Northern Ireland analogy is wrong

“Now, Britain negotiated with the IRA and finally managed to make a peace agreement and Britain continued to negotiate with the IRA even when they were taking action against the British. Isn’t that the sensible way to make peace?”

That statement-cum-question was put to the Israeli prime minister in April of this year by the BBC’s Middle East editor and of course Jeremy Bowen is far from the only person within media circles and beyond to use the inaccurate Northern Ireland analogy. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that the person who has the last word on the accuracy, impartiality and tone of the corporation’s Middle East related content, as well as playing a role in defining the content of the mandatory Middle East module taught at the BBC College of Journalism, subscribes to the erroneous and misleading notion that the two conflicts – and their solutions – are comparable.

The fallacious nature of the Northern Ireland analogy was recently laid out in a detailed article by writer Eamonn MacDonagh.

“In recent years, debates over how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be resolved have begun to make frequent reference to a fairy tale. This tale is based on the supposedly similar conflict in Northern Ireland between Great Britain and the Provisional IRA. That conflict was ultimately resolved with a peace treaty, and the suggestion is frequently made that if only Israel and Hamas could be persuaded to implement its lessons, then all would quickly be made well. […]

In fact, drawing an analogy between the conflict in Northern Ireland and the Middle East is not simply unjustified; it is an error of the grossest kind.”

Read the whole article here

Jeremy Bowen’s olive harvest feature fails to offer BBC audiences anything new

As readers are aware, the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen’s audio report titled ‘Olive Wars’ was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on December 7th. The programme is available here from 01:25.Bowen olives audio

In order to appreciate the rationale behind Bowen’s report it is useful to look first at his closing remarks.

“Now, in its own way, what’s happening in this valley is a microcosm of the entire conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. One fundamental aspect of it – not the only one, but a vital thing to understand – is the fact that there is one piece of land and historically there have been two peoples who want it. The whole point of the peace process – now collapsed, of course – was to find a way to divide it between them. Travelling around the harvest I’ve seen that what they have instead is no kind of acceptable status quo. Ask Bassem and Naja Rashid; the couple whose olive trees were cut down by settlers. Or in Israel, the olive producer Yaniv Zaban; looking on uncomfortably as he sees Palestinian farmers’ trees being destroyed. Jewish settlers like Avraham Herzlich in Tapuach seem fairly content under the current Israeli government: the force is with them. But the way things are there isn’t just a risk of more bloodshed: it’s certain. That’s not good for any Palestinian or Israeli and – at a time when the whole world can feel the impact of the tumult in the Middle East – that’s not good for the rest of us either.”

The take-away message for BBC audiences is therefore that the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is all about land, that it can be solved by the division of that land and that as long as it remains unsolved, it will affect “the rest of us” negatively because the Middle East’s mess is spreading beyond the region.

Leaving aside Bowen’s obviously specious linkage between events such as the Syrian civil war, the rise of ISIS and other Islamist Jihadists and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – and his transparent attempt to inflate the latter’s regional and global significance – the obvious question is why did Bowen seek to convey his take-away message through the medium of the olive harvest? The answer to that is found in the opportunities it presents for framing the story in a manner which advances an already well-worn political narrative.

One very dominant theme in Bowen’s report can be summed up as old versus new, ‘authentic’ versus modern, ‘traditional’ and ‘artisan’ versus industrial. In his opening sentence he informs listeners that “the olive harvest is all about tradition”. Two and a half minutes into the item he goes to visit “the oldest olive tree in these parts”, located near “ancient terraces” and there he – and of course BBC audiences – are told that the supposedly four thousand year-old tree:SONY DSC

“…stands as a symbol to the Palestinian people – the history and civilization.”

The report’s opening message is clear: like their olive trees, the Palestinians have been there since time immemorial, with no history worth mentioning having existed beforehand – or indeed since.

Bowen next visits the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane where he links the local olive trees to Christian tradition and the New Testament. At no point are listeners told what the original Hebrew name for Gethsemane – Gat Shmanim – means or that olive oil production was integral to ancient Jewish culture. Bowen tells listeners:

“…and from up here on the Mount of Olives you get the classic view of old Jerusalem but you can see the modern parts of the city  as well, including the settlements for Jews that Israel has built on the territory it captured during the 1967 war. That’s forbidden by international law and it’s taken big chunks out of the land that the Palestinians want for an independent state.”

Bowen’s partisan representation of “international law” of course breaches BBC editorial guidelines by not informing listeners of the existence of alternative legal opinions on the issue and his claim that the Jerusalem neighbourhoods he chooses to brand “settlements” were built “for Jews” is inaccurate: residents of other faiths (or none) and ethnicities also live in those districts.  

Later on listeners are told by Bowen that:

“Palestinian farmers get a quarter of their incomes from olives but it’s about more than money. The trees are the most powerful symbol of Palestinian attachment to the land.”

Bowen also visits an olive farm at Moshav Sde Uziahu in the Be’er Tuvia district where he compares farming methods.SONY DSC

“I’ve crossed from the West Bank to Israel and it’s a very different approach here in the olive harvest. The farm here’s called The Olive People; they have seven thousand trees. Flat land – not mountainous like the West Bank – and they’re using a machine to harvest the olives: an extraordinary sight. The machine grabs the trunk of the tree, gives it a good shaking. Some of the workers hit the branches as well to get the olives off. It is a very, very big contrast to the old, artisanal methods they use in Palestinian areas.”

Bowen’s travels also take him to another unnamed area:

“I’ve come from Israel into the occupied West Bank to a beautiful area of hills. But this is a controversial place because up over to my right are a number of Jewish settlements – quite radical, ideological ones – and here on the adjoining hill there is a timeless area of terracing and olive trees and Palestinians farming them.”

An additional theme promoted by Bowen is the contrast between the physical Palestinian attachment to the land symbolized by their “ancient” and “timeless” connection to the olive trees and Israeli claims to the land – which are framed exclusively by Bowen in terms of intangible religious belief.

“I’m at the home of Bassem Rashid and his wife Naja and they’re harvesting their olives here. […] Now, this couple have other trees up near the settlement of Tapuach where there are Jews that believe that this land should belong to them. And they are not able to get to those trees and worse still, they heard only a couple of days ago that those trees up there – some they say are a hundred years old – have been cut down by the settlers.”

Note how later on in his closing words (see above) Bowen transforms something the Rashid’s have heard – but has obviously not been independently verified by the BBC – into fact. Significantly, Bowen refrains from making any direct reference to instances in which Palestinians have caused damage to Israeli agriculture. Quoting the highly partisan UN OCHA, he unquestioningly informs listeners:

“According to the UN office for humanitarian affairs, attacks by Jewish settlers in the last five years on Palestinians and their property have destroyed around fifty thousand fruit trees – mainly olives. […] The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, breeds violence. Jewish settlers and Palestinians attack each other. Some Jewish settlers moved to the occupied territories to get cheap housing but extremists in ideological settlements believe the land is theirs alone and the trees are a legitimate target.”

Interestingly, Bowen later on uses the term “settlers” in a different context.

“The first Jewish settlers – the early Zionists – were mainly secular. Their conflict with the Palestinians was first of all about possession of land. But religion is more prominent now on both sides. Some Jewish settlers, like Avraham, believe that God gave the land to them and Islamists on the other side are a big part of Palestinian nationalism. If you think you’re doing God’s will, there isn’t much room for negotiation.”

Of course the pre-state conflicts between Jews and Arabs were by no means limited to disputes about land, as the fact that the riots of 1929 were directed particularly at the ancient Jewish communities in Hebron, Jerusalem and Tsfat indicates. Bowen downplays the long-standing influence of religion on the conflict and elects not to explain to listeners the concept – in particular relevant to Islamists such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood – according to which ‘Muslim lands’ cannot be given up or negotiated away.

But what is most noticeable about Bowen’s framing of the issue is that it completely erases from audience view the very relevant subject of the Mandate for Palestine and the fact that the area designated for the creation of the Jewish National Home included Judea and Samaria – later conquered (with more than a little help from their British friends) and belligerently occupied by Jordan for the nineteen years between 1948 and 1967. Of course any reference to that key point would have undermined Bowen’s use of the term “Palestinian land”, which features in another of the themes he promotes in this item: the anti-terrorist fence.

Apparently describing the terror attack of October 22nd, Bowen tells listeners:

“Tension’s always high around here and in this part of Jerusalem there’s just been an attack on some Israelis so the police, the military are out in force. You can see guns, there are sirens, there’s confusion. Palestinians argue that if there wasn’t an occupation there wouldn’t be attacks.”

He refrains from informing audiences that, inter alia, the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip long since disproved that claim and continues:

“The Israeli government disagrees and insists it must protect its people by building walls and fences: the so-called West bank separation barrier. But that doesn’t follow the boundary Israel had before it captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. It cuts through Palestinian land and separates some Palestinian olive farmers from their trees.”

Along with his misrepresentation of the 1949 Armistice Line as a “boundary” (the Armistice Agreement specifically states that it is no such thing), Bowen refrains from informing listeners of the fact that the “Palestinian land” he describes was previously occupied by Jordan, administered by Britain and prior to that, controlled by the Ottoman Empire for five hundred years. He also avoids mentioning the campaign of terrorism during the second Intifada which brought about the construction of the anti-terrorist fence as a result of public pressure on the Israeli government and, significantly, he fails to clarify that the terror initiated by Arafat came after Israel had handed over control of Areas A and B to the Palestinian Authority, indicating once again that the evacuation of land by Israel does not prevent terror attacks. Later on Bowen even egregiously and entirely unnecessarily promotes the defamatory and inaccurate term “apartheid wall”:

“I’m right up against what the Israelis call their security fence. Palestinians call it an apartheid or segregation wall and the problem for the people of Anin – the farmers here – is that yes; they do get access during the harvest and the gate is only open even then for limited periods during the day, but for the rest of the year when they want to maintain the land, look after the trees, they can’t get at it. It’s a once a year visit that they do to harvest the olives themselves.”

Bowen later meets the owner of the Canaan olive press, Palestinian-American Nasser Abu Farha, although Mr Abu Farha’s American citizenship apparently did not fit in with his promoted themes. Neither apparently did the tanks used to store the olive oil at Canaan Fair Trade (see related articles below) – in contrast to similar ones seen at Moshav Sde Uziahu which Bowen took the trouble to describe as “modern stainless steel vessels”. Bowen alleges:SONY DSC

“Now, not far from here there are Jewish settlements which are known for mounting raids on the trees, cutting them down, burning them, sometimes stealing the finished oil. From your point of view, what does that say to you about the situation here?”

Abu Farha: “I wouldn’t blame it all on the settlers. I think the settlers are more encouraged in the areas where the government have fenced these areas as security buffer zones for their settlements. Somehow this fencing and barring the farmers from regularly tending their farms becomes a perception to the settlers that maybe this farmer shouldn’t be there in the first place. I would put more blame on the system.”

Notably, the issue of Palestinian responsibility for bringing about the construction of the anti-terrorist fence does not arise because in this entire report Palestinians are portrayed as weak, passive and without any agency whatsoever.

 Bowen’s report is very obviously tailored for his British Radio 4 audience. “Authentic”, “traditional” Palestinian farmers engaged in Fair Trade production of olive oil from ancient trees pushes a lot of sympathetic buttons. So too does the notion that these farmers have to grapple with violent, religiously motivated extremist settlers and an “apartheid wall” to get to “Palestinian land”.

In his introduction to this item Bowen states:SONY DSC

“The olive harvest is about politics. Everything is politicized here and it’s the politics of the struggle for land between two peoples who want it. And in that struggle, the olive tree has become a very potent symbol and the olive harvest has at times become a very serious flashpoint.”

Of course 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, with this report being no exception. Whilst Bowen made it clear right from the beginning that BBC audiences were not going to learn anything about the non-political aspects of the olive harvest, his report is nothing more than a tediously predictable collection of well-worn clichés which do not contribute anything new to deeper audience understanding of the real political issues behind his subject matter and merely retread the routes taken by Bowen and his colleagues on countless previous occasions.

BBC audiences have already been told hundreds of times about ‘illegal settlements’ and their supposedly belligerent residents. The ‘evils’ of what the BBC mistakenly calls the ‘separation barrier’ have been done to death and audiences are already more than used to the BBC’s inflation of the Palestinian Israeli conflict into the major issue in the Middle East. In fact, apart from the licence fee payer-funded opportunity for Jeremy Bowen to purchase some cheap olive oil and the chance for yet more transparent promotion of the BBC’s chosen political narrative, there appears to have been no journalistic point to this exercise whatsoever.   

Related Articles:

BBC serves up political propaganda with olives

BBC claims that Israel targeted a centre for the disabled in Gaza shown to be inaccurate

On July 12th 2014 the BBC produced four separate reports which included descriptions of an incident in which two women were killed in Bet Lahiya in what was described as an Israeli airstrike on a shelter for disabled people.

Israel and militants trade fire as Gaza toll rises” – BBC News website, July 12th.

“Israel hit a residential home for disabled people in Beit Lahiya, Palestinian officials said. Two female residents were killed and four other people seriously injured, they said. Israel did not comment.”

Israeli strike on disability shelter in Gaza’s Beit Lahiya” – Yolande Knell, BBC News website and BBC television news, July 12th.Knell Beit Lahiya 1

“We don’t know why Israel targeted this house; a shelter for the mentally and physically disabled. You can see where the missile came through the ceiling. There’s a big crater on the floor and all around; wheelchairs, a hospital gurney, burnt books. If you look outside the building you can see how the sides were simply sheared off – there’s rubble now everywhere. And there were four people here who were badly wounded, including the carer. Two women were killed. Israel gave a warning for the people to vacate the property but it just wasn’t enough time for people with disabilities to be able to leave.” [emphasis added]

Death toll rises in Gaza as air strikes and rockets continue” – Yolande Knell, BBC News website and BBC television news, July 12th.

“Meanwhile, in the north of the Gaza Strip, another body is discovered. This was a severely disabled woman; one of several residents at a shelter. Just after dawn it was hit by Israeli war planes. This crater is where the missile landed. Neighbours heard a big explosion.

Neighbour: We were very surprised this centre was hit. We expect the Israelis to bomb places linked to the militants. Here there were disabled people unable to move.

Two women were killed here. They’re among the rising number of Palestinian civilian casualties. Israel gave a warning for people to vacate the property but it just wasn’t enough time for people with disabilities to be able to leave.”

Israel-Gaza conflict: Home for disabled hit in Beit Lahiya” – Jeremy Bowen, BBC News website and BBC television news, July 12th.

“Suha’s brother Yussef waited for her to be prepared for her funeral. He took us to see her body. Yussuf rejected Israel’s claims that it tries hard not to kill civilians.

Yussuf: How many of the people killed so far are civilians? Even those they call terrorists – they are not terrorists; they are resistance and we are proud of them.” […]

“Belligerents are obliged under the laws of war to protect civilians. The UN has already asked whether Israel is working in the way that it should to fulfil those obligations. After the attack on the centre for the disabled, it is clear that the Israelis have some serious questions to answer.” [emphasis added]

As has been noted here previously, the Military Attorney General (MAG) began examining and investigatingKnell Beit Lahiya 2 incidents which took place during the summer conflict even before it had ended. The results of the investigation into the above incident in Beit Lahiya show that the centre for the disabled was not the target of that operation as stated in no uncertain terms in  the BBC’s various reports. [emphasis added]

“According to correspondence and reports from various NGOs, on 12 July 2014, two women were killed and four others injured as a result of an IDF aerial strike on a care centre for the mentally and physically disabled, belonging to the ‘Alambra Association’, in Beit Lehia. As a result, and in accordance with the MAG’s investigation policy, it was decided to refer the incident for examination by the FFAM [Fact Finding Assessment Mechanism – Ed.].

According to the factual findings and materials collated by the FFAM and presented to the MAG, the strike was directed at a weapons depot located inside the residential home of a senior Hamas commander, in a building comprising of four apartments. While the operating forces were aware of the existence of a kindergarten in the same building, close to the weapons depot, there was no information indicating the existence of a care center.

Prior to the attack a number of precautionary measures were undertaken in order to minimize potential civilian harm – including several attempts to telephone the residents of the building and the firing of two warning projectiles towards the structure (as part of the ‘knock on the roof’ procedure). No reaction was identified by the residents, and no presence of persons at the site was discerned prior to the attack. As an additional precaution, the attack was carried out late at night, in order to avoid any possible harm to children attending the kindergarten during the day.

The findings further indicated that at the time the attack was decided upon, the operational assessment concluded that, as none of the precautionary measures resulted in any response, no civilians were present and no civilians were expected to be harmed as a result of the attack.

In light of these factual findings, the MAG found that the targeting process followed in this case accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements. The attack was directed against a military objective, while adhering to the requirements of the principle of proportionality, and the decision to attack was made by the authorities authorized to do so. Further, the MAG found that the attack was carried out after a number of precautions were undertaken intended to minimize the potential for civilian harm, and that the professional assessment at the time of the attack – that civilians would not be harmed as a result of the attack – was not unreasonable under the circumstances. Although seemingly civilians were harmed as a result of the attack, this is indeed a regrettable result, but it does not affect its legality post facto.Bowen Beit Lahiya

In light of the above, the MAG did not find that the actions of the IDF forces raised grounds for a reasonable suspicion of criminal misconduct. As a result, the MAG ordered the case to be closed, without opening a criminal investigation or ordering further action against those involved in the incident.”

It is of course highly unlikely that we will see the BBC going to the trouble to inform all the many members of its audiences across various platforms who were mistakenly led to believe that Israeli forces had deliberately attacked a home for the disabled that the real reason that building was targeted was because Hamas had placed a weapons store in the same building as a kindergarten and a centre for disabled people.

However, those four inaccurate reports remain on the BBC News website and now form part of the corporation’s “historical records”. As readers may recall, the BBC announced in June that its archive content is subject to editorial guidelines and may be the topic of complaints. One would therefore now expect to see clarifications attached to all the above reports – if only to prevent an unnecessary waste of public funding in dealing with any such complaints.