In which a BBC Radio 4 guest compares Israel to a drug addict

Hosted as usual by Paddy O’Connell, the March 22nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s weekly current affairs programme ‘Broadcasting House’ (available here) included Lib Dem MP Menzies Campbell and actor David Schneider among its guests. At 53:50 listeners heard the following extraordinary conversation.Broadcasting House 22 3 15

Paddy O’Connell: “David Schneider […] I think you want to talk to us about Israeli politics.”

David Schneider: “Well, yes. So, I’m Jewish and I was very depressed this…ehm…this week because of the…Netanyahu’s re-election. Sometimes…I mean it’s very complex for me as a sort of Left-wing Jew and my attitude to Israel. Sometimes it feels like a sort of family member with a severe drug addiction.”

PO: “With that warning, what are you reading from?” […]

DS: “There was… there was a glimmer of hope – which is on page 33 of the Observer – that the Joint List – which is an Arab-Jewish alliance – has actually won 13 seats. So despite Netanyahu saying there’ll be no Palestinian state – which he’s now backtracked on slightly after the election – and saying Arabs are heading to the polls in droves on the day of the election – which was just chilling – ehm…there is a glimmer of hope in that, sort of, more Israeli Arabs voted and there is, you know…and Arab-Jewish parties were coming together.”

Beyond the very obvious point (although clearly, not to some) that an election in the Middle East’s most vibrant democracy is about rather more than the ennui of English chatterati, Schneider misleads with regard to the Joint Arab List and O’Connell makes no attempt to correct the inaccurate impression given to listeners.

That, of course, is not surprising: the BBC has failed to inform audiences in all of its coverage of the recent Israeli election that the Joint Arab List is made up of four existing political parties, only one of which can accurately be classified as a Jewish-Arab party. That party – Hadash – has one Jewish member (Dov Hanin/Khenin) on its list and there are no Jewish MKs in any of the other three parties comprising the Joint Arab List. Schneider’s inaccurate description of the Joint Arab List as an “Arab-Jewish alliance” is hence based on the fact that one of the four parties it includes has one Jewish MK. Working on that principle, Schneider would also have to categorise the Likud, the Zionist Union, Meretz and Israel Beiteinu parties as ‘Arab- Jewish alliances’ because each of those parties has one Arab MK. 

No less important is the fact that the Joint Arab List includes the anti-Zionist parties Balad and Ta’al and the Islamist ‘United Arab List’. That information – which has not been communicated to BBC audiences at any point in the corporation’s coverage of the election – is critical to appreciation of the remarkable fact that parties which oppose the existence of Israel as the Jewish state participate in Israeli elections and enjoy representation in the Knesset.

In addition to O’Connell’s failure to correct his guest’s inaccurate portrayal of the Joint Arab List, we also see that he refrains from clarifying to listeners that Schneider’s cherry-picked parts of statements made by Netahyahu on the subject of a Palestinian state and regarding the connection between the foreign-funded V15 campaign and Joint Arab List voters are not complete quotes. O’Connell similarly fails to challenge Menzies Campbell’s equally selective paraphrasing of one of those statements later on in the conversation.

Menzies Campbell: “Netanyahu – quite extraordinary to be as overtly right-wing as he was in the last 24 – 48 hours. The one thing you can be certain of: he caused yet more anxiety and annoyance in the White House. Relations between Obama and Netanyahu have never been good. Those last 24 hours before the election will really have been – forgive the vulgarity – right up the nose of the American president.”

DS: “There is an interesting comment in this article though; that one of the Israeli-Arab leaders says that in a way it’s good that Netanyahu’s won because it’ll be so bad now, it’ll increase international pressure on Israel to end the occupation. It could get so bad now that things will have to change.”

That Israeli-Arab ‘leader’ is Balad branch secretary Sami Abu Shehadeh – a popular source for the Guardian and an unsurprising interviewee for the writer of the article promoted by Schneider, who previously cut her activism-cum-journalism teeth at 972 Magazine and two political NGOs. Paddy O’Connell however makes no attempt to clarify the political background to Schneider’s article of choice. Menzies Campbell continues with the following debatable declaration:

MC: “The problem is – the settlements. And you can’t…there’s no leader of the Palestinians who could possibly accept a settlement which didn’t include East Jerusalem as the cabinet of a Palestinian state. The settlements are proceeding at such a pace that it will soon be impossible for that to be the case.”

O’Connell interjects:

PO: “And I certainly make the point that the Israelis did vote so that although you’ve got your disagreements, he was returned, wasn’t he, against the odds.”

Campbell: “But look at…you know…him saying the Arabs are coming to the polls; you’ve got to get out. I mean imagine if a politician here had said the black vote is coming out; you’ve got to do something, or the Jews or, you know… it’s just impossible to conceive.”

The item ends there but what is actually inconceivable is that none of the people in that BBC studio were aware of the very relevant context that the bulk of parties making up the Joint Arab List oppose the existence of Israel as the Jewish state. Perhaps if they widened their own media consumption beyond the Guardian/Observer and the BBC, they would be able to come up with informative and relevant commentary more useful to BBC audiences than the obviously politically partisan and inaccurate caricature presented in this programme. 

The Israel BBC audiences do not see

Israel’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Space – the state body responsible for setting national policy on issues such as international scientific collaborations and research and development funding – has just appointed a new deputy chief scientist.Min Science

“The deputy chief scientist is responsible for overseeing national scientific infrastructure, statewide intellectual property and the taxation of academic institutions, according to the ministry’s website.”

The appointee to that prestigious position is called Dr Tarek Abu-Hamed and he previously served as Director of the Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation at the Arava Institute.

“Abu-Hamed received his BSc in chemical engineering from Ankara University in Turkey and studied for his post-doctorate at Rehovot’s Weizmann Institute of Science in collaboration with the University of Minnesota, focusing his dissertation on oil substitutes for public transportation and renewable energy sources.”

As Yaacov Lozowick points out, what is notable about Dr Abu-Hamed’s appointment to such a senior civil service position is not his ethnicity.

“The thing about Dr. Abu Hamed is that he’s not an Israeli citizen. He’s a Palestinian of East Jerusalem, a permanent resident by legal status, but not a citizen.”

Not a story which fits into the BBC narrative… 

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

By far the strangest choice of location for a filmed BBC report on the topic of the Israeli elections was Ramallah, from where Yolande Knell reported for BBC television news on March 17th in an item titled “Israel election: The view from Ramallah“. Knell opened that report as follows:Knell filmed 17 3

“I’ve just crossed into the occupied West Bank through the Qalandiya checkpoint which is manned by Israeli soldiers and this is part of Israel’s separation barrier. For Palestinians living here these have become symbols of the decades-old conflict with Israel. And while those in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip don’t get to vote in the Israeli elections, they are watching them closely.”

Knell’s claim that “those…in East Jerusalem…don’t get to vote” is of course inaccurate. Residents of East Jerusalem are entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship and those who do so successfully have the right to vote just like any other Israeli. Those who chose not to exercise their right to apply for citizenship obviously voluntarily forgo the right to vote in national elections, although they are still eligible to vote in municipal elections. This is not the first time that the BBC has promoted this inaccurate portrayal of the voting rights of East Jerusalemites.

Knell also fails to inform viewers that residents of PA controlled areas A and B and residents of the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip do of course have the right to vote in Palestinian Authority elections. That perhaps not accidental omission sets the stage for the next part of her report, in which BBC audiences are encouraged to believe that relevant commentary on the topic of the Israeli election is to be had from someone who not only does not participate in them, but represents the largest faction in a body which has not held democratic elections for seats in its own parliament for over nine years and which is governed by a president whose term of office expired years ago.

Knell: “Palestinian officials say the peace process is being ignored by the [Israeli] political campaigners – and it shouldn’t be.”

Fatah’s Husam Zomlot then says:

“You decide, the Israelis, what is it exactly. Are you occupying us? Then it’s too long an occupation – you have to end it. Or do you consider the West Bank and Gaza your territory? Then you want us either citizens or you want us actually being discriminated against. But in all scenarios, it’s your moment of choice and unfortunately I don’t see the Israeli society now debating this.”

This is of course blatant exploitation of the occasion of the Israeli elections for the propagation of unrelated political propaganda and whilst that comes as no surprise, nevertheless it misleads BBC audiences.

Israelis debated these issues over two decades ago and that debate culminated in the Oslo Accords which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the relinquishment of Areas A & B (and the Gaza Strip in 2005) to its control and the framework of final status negotiations to determine the future of Area C. The PA’s decision to scupper those final status negotiations by means of terrorism, its refusal to accept any of the subsequent offers made to resolve the situation and its newer policy of avoidance of face to face negotiations in favour of activity in the international arena do not of course get any mention in Knell’s own little campaigning video.

After having found two people on the streets of Ramallah to endorse her claim that “many believe it doesn’t even matter if the next Israeli prime minister is Left or Right wing”, she closes by promoting the debatable notion that “the Palestinian president says he’ll work to revive peace talks with Israel”.

In less than two months’ time, the British public will also be going to the polls. It is highly unlikely that the BBC’s election coverage will include “UK election: The view from Buenos Aires”, reports in which Spanish officials bemoan the fact that the issue of Gibraltar is not on the British voters’ agenda or interviews with IRA officials claiming that the ‘occupation’ of Northern Ireland has gone on “too long”. Were the BBC to indeed produce such reports, British voters would no doubt question its editorial priorities – and perhaps its collective sanity.

The decision to allow the broadcast of this piece of blatant political propaganda from Yolande Knell, which actively detracts from accurate audience understanding of the topic she is supposed to be covering (as well the broader subject of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general), should likewise be questioned. 

Related Articles:

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – the run-up

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

The BBC, ‘settlements’ and cognitive dissonance

On March 10th a report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Islamic State video claims killing of ‘Israeli Arab spy’“. Since its initial appearance that article about the murder of Muhammad Musallam has been amended several times and whilst in general the report is reasonably accurate, it included a couple of noteworthy points.ISIS art

The third and fourth versions of the report stated:

“The video shows a boy aged about 12 accompanied by an older, French-speaking militant. He issued threats against Jews in France before the boy shot an orange-suited figure dead.”

That wording was slightly changed in the fifth and sixth versions:

“The video shows a boy aged about 12 accompanied by an older, French-speaking militant who voices threats against Jews in France. The boy is then shown shooting an orange-suited figure in the head before firing more shots as the man lies on the ground.”

In the seventh version of the article those words were replaced by the following:

“He [Musallam] is later shown kneeling in an empty field, facing the camera. Behind him stand two figures in camouflage fatigues, one of whom appears to be a boy.

The boy appears to shoot the kneeling figure in the head with a handgun and then to fire further shots into the body.

The video then carries a warning from an older, French-speaking militant aimed at the Jewish people.”

Photo credit: MEMRI

Photo credit: MEMRI

Screenshots from the video publicized by numerous media outlets support the BBC’s original statement that “[t]he video shows a boy aged about 12″ and so it is unclear why it was found necessary to change that to “two figures in camouflage fatigues, one of whom appears to be a boy” [emphasis added].

Whilst the original description of “threats against Jews in France” was indeed less than accurate, it is not clear why the ISIS terrorist’s words were later reclassified as “a warning […] aimed at the Jewish people”. In fact, as noted by MEMRI, the terrorist’s words are indeed threats – mainly against Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis:

“… he praises attacks on Jews in France, […] He threatens that ISIS will soon be attacking the Jews’ “lands and fortresses” and will “liberate Jerusalem” from the Jewish “filth.” He calls upon Muslim ISIS supporters to target several other alleged Mossad agents [including Arab Israelis – Ed] in Jerusalem whose names and addresses appear at the end of the video.”

In the latest version of the article readers find an insert titled “At the scene: Yolande Knell, BBC News, East Jerusalem”. The report also states:

“The 19-year-old left his home in East Jerusalem for Turkey last year, apparently intending to fight in Syria.” [emphasis added]

The Musallam actually family lives in Neve Ya’akov: a neighbourhood of Jerusalem usually described by the BBC as a ‘Jewish settlement’ despite the fact that it was established in 1924 on land purchased by Jews, evacuated during the War of Independence and reconstructed after the Six Day War.

But the prospect of explaining to audiences why an Israeli Arab Muslim family lives in a ‘Jewish settlement’ obviously generated too much cognitive dissonance and so Neve Ya’akov became “East Jerusalem” and thus the standard insert to the effect that “settlements are illegal under international law” could be omitted from this report. 

BBC News website invents ‘1967 ceasefire lines’ in Jerusalem

On the morning of March 6th a terror attack took place in Jerusalem.

“Five people were injured Friday morning in a car-ramming terror attack near a Jerusalem Light Rail station in the north of the city. Four of the wounded were young border policewomen, in their twenties, and the fifth was a civilian bicycle rider in his fifties

A Palestinian man in a private vehicle hit the five as they stood on a sidewalk. He was identified as Mohammad Salima, 21, from east Jerusalem’s Ras al-Amud. After the car attack, he then emerged from the vehicle with a butcher’s knife and attempted to stab passersby, but was swiftly shot and incapacitated by a Border Policeman and a Light Rail security guard at the scene.”

BBC News website reporting on the incident began soon after it took place.

Pigua Jlem 6 3

pigua Jlem on HP

BBC News website Middle East page, 6/3/15

The article underwent numerous changes as the day progressed and it currently appears on the website’s Middle East page under the title “Jerusalem: Israeli police hit in Palestinian car attack” where it is presented together with a short filmed report (also shown on BBC television news) headlined “Jerusalem attack: Driver rams car into pedestrians“.

The current version of the written report opens by informing readers that:

“A Palestinian has rammed his car into a group of Israeli pedestrians in Jerusalem, injuring six policewomen, police say.”

Predictably, the BBC refrains from clarifying the nature of the incident to readers in its own words, instead using the following phrasing:

“Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld described it as a “terrorist attack”, adding that the injured officers are in a “light, moderate condition” in hospital.”

A photograph used to illustrate the report is captioned:

“Police have called the incident a “terror attack”.”

Pigua Jlem photo

Likewise, whilst the report notes that a previous attack took place at the same location last November, it fails to adequately clarify that it and another attack close by on October 22nd 2014 were carried out by perpetrators with links to terrorist organisations.Pigua Jlem filmed 

“It happened on the seam of East and West Jerusalem, on the same junction as a previous attack last year. […]

Last year, Palestinian militants killed three Israelis and an Ecuadorian woman in attacks using vehicles in Jerusalem as tensions soared between Israel and the Palestinians.”

An additional victim of the November 5th attack whom the BBC fails to mention – Jerusalem resident Abd al-Karim Nafith Hamid – died on December 7th.

The article implies to readers that there is some kind of linkage between this latest terror attack and the unrelated topic of the PLO’s recent call for a halt to security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“The incident came shortly after Palestinian officials voted to halt security co-operation with Israel. […]

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) decided to suspend co-operation, part of 1993 peace accords with Israel, at a meeting on Thursday night.”Pigua Jlem written

The BBC fails, however, to clarify to readers that the PLO’s decision does not have any practical effect at this stage.

“A source close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israel Radio that the council’s decision was a recommendation only. Another Palestinian official said that Abbas must issue a presidential order ending the security cooperation with Israel.”

With regard to the location of the attack, in addition to describing it as having taken place “on the seam of East and West Jerusalem”, the article adds:

“Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognised internationally.

It regards the whole of Jerusalem as its “eternal and indivisible” capital, while the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.”

Included in the article is a BBC-produced map of the location of the attack in which the 1949 Armistice Lines are inaccurately – and absurdly, given the above text – represented as the “1967 ceasefire line”.

Pigua Jlem map

One might have thought that the BBC’s incessant promotion of “East Jerusalem” would at least ensure geographical and historical accuracy.

 

On and off the BBC radar: terrorism in Jerusalem and Hebron

As we have often noted on these pages the BBC usually refrains from reporting on non-fatal terror attacks against Israelis and so when an illegal Palestinian infiltrator from the Ramallah area stabbed an Israeli father of four in central Jerusalem on the afternoon of February 22nd it came as something of a surprise to see that the BBC News website did get round to producing an article on the subject a day later.Nir Barkat  

The factor which prompted this exception to the rule can be determined from the title of the BBC report: “Jerusalem mayor overpowers attacker after man stabbed“. Indeed, the mayor of a city overcoming a terrorist with a rugby-style tackle is not an everyday occurrence, but terror attacks of various types on Israeli citizens are, and it is a pity that the BBC is apparently in need of some ‘celebrity interest’ in order to deem such attacks newsworthy. 

Whilst for most people the random stabbing of an identifiably Jewish man in the street by a Palestinian would not leave much room for doubt about the background to the incident, readers of the BBC’s report were informed that:

“The exact motive for the stabbing is not clear, but it is the latest in a series of attacks by Palestinians on Israelis in recent months.”

On the same day that the BBC published the above report the Israeli security services announced that members of a Hamas terror cell in Hebron had been apprehended last month.

“The Shin Bet said it arrested 11 members of the cell in January, and that the group had carried out a failed bomb attack on Israeli troops in the West Bank.

Along with the arrests, security forces seized two sub-machine guns and explosives the cell allegedly planned on using to target Israelis, the Shin Bet said.

The main suspects in the case were named as Suhaib Mamoun Saltan, 20, from Hebron, and his cousin Salam Abbas Saltan, 28, a Hamas operative, who had been convicted and imprisoned by Israel in the past and was also at one time held under administrative detention.”

The BBC – which of course has made no real attempt to enhance its audiences’ knowledge and understanding of the issue of Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in Palestinian Authority controlled areas since the issue came to the fore last summer with the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teenagers – refrained from reporting that story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS promotes Hamas claim of “normal right” to carry out terror attacks

BBC sticks to inaccurate narrative despite Hamas claim of June kidnappings

BBC News report on kidnapping suspects downplays Hamas connections

 

 

 

BBC Weather and a country called null

Thanks to @moidov for bringing the following to our attention via Twitter.

BBC weather app

Of course the BBC – including its weather department – has long refused to come to terms with the fact that Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel and this latest invention of a location called ‘null’ is therefore entirely in keeping with its existing policy.

And if readers are in need of a reminder of the embarrassingly ahistorical foundations underpinning that policy, here it is:

“The [BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards] Committee noted that while there is no expectation that in a two-state solution West Jerusalem would become Palestinian territory, a UN resolution passed in 1947 has not been rescinded. It calls for the whole of Jerusalem to be an international city, a corpus separatum (similar to the Vatican City), and in that context, technically, West Jerusalem is not Israeli sovereign territory.” 

BBC News coverage of worldwide anti-Charlie Hebdo protests omits Jerusalem

The BBC News website’s coverage of demonstrations against the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo which took place in various locations around the world on Friday, January 16th has included a filmed report about clashes in Karachi (“Clashes at Pakistan Charlie Hebdo protest“) and a written report on the same topic, a filmed report about protests in Amman (“Protests in Jordan against Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon“) and a written report about clashes in Zinder (“Charlie Hebdo: ‘Four dead’ in Niger protest“).BBC News logo 2

In that latter report BBC audiences were informed that:

“Protests against the magazine were also seen on Friday in Pakistan, where protests turned violent in Karachi, the Sudanese capital of Khartoum and the Algerian capital, Algiers.”

That same information was repeated in an additional report on more rioting in Niger published the next day (January 17th) along with the following information:

“People in Somalia took to the streets on Saturday.”

Apparently though, there were no BBC journalists available to cover the demonstration held on January 16th at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem - a twenty-minute drive from the corporation’s offices in the city.

“Hundreds of Palestinians attended a rally on Friday afternoon on the Temple Mount against the new cover of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which featured a drawing of the Prophet Mohammad.

In a video uploaded by the Hamas-affiliated Shehab News Agency, protestors can be seen burning a French flag , and shouting: “Burn it burn it! ….. in the cause of God. Allah the greatest. Prophet Muhammad is our leader forever”.”

Considering that the BBC has devoted considerable column space and air-time to the subject of Temple Mount in recent weeks, it is notable that this use of the site as a venue for protest by extremists was not reported. 

‘Hardtalk’ interview with Yehuda Glick reinforces entrenched BBC narrative

The January 7th edition of ‘Hardtalk’ – presented by Stephen Sackur and broadcast on BBC World News and on the BBC News Channel with three additional repeats – featured an interview with Yehuda Glick. The synopsis to the programme appearing on the BBC website reads as follows:Hardtalk logo

“Jerusalem boasts one of the most bitterly contested pieces of real estate in the World – known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. Jews aren’t allowed to pray there, many Jewish religious leaders say Jews should not set foot there; but that consensus is breaking down. Hardtalk speaks to Yehuda Glick an activist who’s been variously described as a dangerous extremist, and a campaigner for religious freedom. Three months ago he survived an assassination attempt. Why does he persist with his divisive campaign on Jerusalem’s holiest ground?”

The portrayal of the campaign for equal prayer rights for non-Muslims on Temple Mount as “divisive” is in tune with themes promoted in much of the BBC’s recent reporting from Israel. Indeed, that campaign was the second most promoted factor (after ‘settlements’) used by BBC journalists to ‘explain’ the rioting, violence and terror attacks in Jerusalem and elsewhere during October and November 2014. Whilst the BBC has seen fit to employ political labels such as “extremist” and “right-wing” to describe people involved in that campaign or visiting the site, similar political labelling for those engaged in rioting, violence and terror ostensibly in response to that campaign was absent from all BBC reporting.

Notably, no effort has been made by the BBC to date to examine the real issues behind opposition to equal prayer rights at a site holy to members of three religions. Whatever one’s opinion on the issue of the implementation of such rights (and the Israeli government has made it perfectly clear on numerous occasions that it has no intention of changing the status quo according to which non-Muslims are not allowed to pray at the site), there is clearly a wider discussion to be had about the acceptance of limits on freedom of religion in the 21st century and the ideologies which form the basis for violent opposition to equality for members of all faiths.

Stephen Sackur, however, passed up on the opportunity to use this interview to present a more in-depth view of the topic to BBC audiences and elected instead to further promote the standard BBC approach to the issue. As readers can see for themselves below, viewers of this edition of ‘Hardtalk’ were not even informed who tried to kill Yehuda Glick on October 29th and that would-be assassin was certainly not depicted as a “provocative figure” or an “extremist” – as Sackur did describe his interviewee. In fact at one point (05:50), Sackur’s unfortunate turn of phrase appears to justify violence.

Glick: “…there is no reason in the world why that [non-Muslims praying on Temple Mount] should cause others to be violent towards…”

Sackur: (interrupts) “Well of course there is a reason because it contravenes the agreement upon which access to Temple Mount is currently governed…”

Purporting to explain the underlying issue to audiences, Sackur promotes inaccurate information:

“For some people watching this who don’t know the situation today, let us just lay it out in simple terms if we can. You know, the Temple Mount as you call it obviously is the site of the first and second ancient Jewish temples built by the kings, you know, thousands of years ago. That matters deeply to you. It is also, right now, today, the site of the third holiest Muslim shrine: the Al Aqsa Mosque – it’s known as Dome of the Rock. Of course generally; the compound described as the Noble Sanctuary. Deeply important to Muslims around the world and the arrangement is and has been for many years that Jews do not go into the compound to pray and have limited – very limited – access to the compound as long as they don’t pray.  

The Al Aqsa Mosque is of course not “known as Dome of the Rock”: the two are separate structures. Notably, Sackur’s explanation does not clarify that Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism – or why – and his claim that under the terms of the status quo agreement Jews have “very limited” access to Temple Mount is inaccurate, with the right of access also protected by the Protection of Holy Places Law.

Notably, every time the conversation does approach the issue of religious freedom, Stephen Sackur interrupts and redirects it elsewhere in accordance with his all too obvious agenda of reinforcing the framing of this story already so well entrenched in previous BBC coverage.

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special edition from Jerusalem – part two

The second part of Tim Franks’ ‘Newshour’ special broadcast from Jerusalem on December 5th (available here from 00:30:00, part one discussed here) began with the following introduction from Franks:Newshour 5 12 Jerusalem special

“When I was posted here a few years ago as Middle East correspondent, one of the dominant stories was over the expansion of Jewish settlements on territory which Israel had occupied in the aftermath of the 1967 war. Undesirable if not downright illegal, said the rest of the world. Israel, for its part, said that the status of the territory was a matter of dispute and in the meantime it needed a place for its burgeoning population to live. So much might be familiar but in the last couple of months the announcement of a big new building development in occupied East Jerusalem has been described as a game-changer and brought furious international criticism. Why?”

Franks’ next interviewee is introduced as follows:

“And the south [of Jerusalem] is where I am now with Aviv Tatarsky. He’s with the think-tank and advocacy group Ir Amim which plots the changes to Jerusalem.”

Ir Amim of course does a lot more than just ‘plot changes': it is an NGO with a clear political agenda which should have been clarified to BBC audiences before they were exposed to its researcher’s unchallenged claims.

Tatarsky: “Right, so we’re just on a lookout very close to Bethlehem on the southern perimeter of Jerusalem where right now it’s open land – open space – but Israel has published the official approval of a plan for a completely new neighbourhood – 2,600 housing units – called Givat HaMatos; that’s the name. And the significance is not only this big move to construct a neighbourhood and – for the world, for the Palestinians – a new settlement beyond the Green Line, but actually that this would really bring together Gilo and Har Homa and together with Givat HaMatos you would have continuous Israeli bloc that would finally separate Bethlehem – the south of the West bank – from East Jerusalem. I think everyone understands – the international community, certainly the Palestinians, also the Israeli government – to end the conflict, to arrive at a peaceful resolution of the conflict, there will be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Now when you decide to cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, actually what the Israeli government is saying: this will not happen; there will not be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Basically we don’t want one and we’re actually interested in keeping the situation as it is.”

Contrary to the statement made by Franks, the plan to build housing in Givat HaMatos is not “new” and it certainly is not from “the last couple of months”. In fact, the BBC has been misreporting that topic since December 2012 – a full two years before Franks’ report went on air – and since that date the BBC has also been claiming that new apartments in Givat HaMatos (around half of which are ear-marked for Arab residents of nearby Beit Tsafafa) would “cut Palestinians in East Jerusalem off from their West Bank hinterland”, just as Tatarsky does.

What no BBC report so far – including this one – has told audiences is that Givat HaMatos is in an area which, under any realistic scenario of a peace deal, would remain under Israeli control. What has also not been made clear is that it would be perfectly possible – and even logical – to construct a road leading from Bethlehem to, say, the Palestinian Legislative Council building in Abu Dis without passing through Givat HaMatos.

Rather than informing audiences accurately about this issue, however, Tim Franks, elects to give a platform to politically motivated sloganeering which does not even hold geographical water. 

Map Givat HaMatos

Next Franks goes to Issawiya to interview one Naim Hamdan whose nephews built a house without planning permission and are apparently now upset that the municipality has since demolished the structure, just as would be the case in any Western country. Franks grants Hamdan a platform to promote an egregious and redundant comparison between the demolition of a structure lacking planning permission and a hypothetical armed mugging in London.

Franks: “What do your nephews think about this?”

Hamdan: “What you will think? When someone stronger than you in the middle of London and hold a gun to your head; give me your money. What you will think when someone come to demolish your home? Are you gonna be happy? I don’t think so. I don’t think so.

Following that listeners hear an unidentified voice say:

“Today we are divided physically, we are divided geographically and we are divided by walls of fear and in many ways a more endemic and more personalized hatred.”

As Franks then informs listeners, that voice belongs to Daniel Seidemann who is introduced as “a lawyer and activist” and who has appeared with similarly inadequate introduction in several recent BBC reports. Franks fails to inform audiences that Seidemann is the founder of the foreign funded political NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem and that he also founded Ir Amim.  That context – had it been supplied with an explanation of the political motivations behind the organisations to which Seidemann is linked – would have allowed BBC audiences to put his ensuing uninterrupted monologue into context.

“We had the horrendous murder of a teenage Palestinian boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir who was abducted and burned alive. You had the outbreak of violence in Gaza. So the only place where Israelis and Palestinians have enough of an interface is Jerusalem and it erupted here. Underneath all of this is a big question. What possesses thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year-old kids – who are the leaders of this uprising – to go out on a nightly basis for five months and clash with the police? They’re not being sent by their parents. They’re not being sent by some sort of authoritarian leader. They’re doing this spontaneously and that’s a huge question and I think the answer to that is they sense they have no future.”

Tim Franks clearly embraces Seidemann’s simplistic and cherry-picked narrative which completely erases from audience view recent Palestinian terrorism (including the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teens in June) and Hamas’ instigation of the summer conflict whilst simultaneously failing to ask why parents and community leaders have made no discernible effort to put an end to such violent rioting or how the background of official PA incitement and glorification of terrorism legitimizes and encourages such acts. He then goes on to reinforce Seidemann’s spurious conjecture by promoting his own, similar picture.

Franks: “That level of disaffection spikes in places like this one: it’s the busy Palestinian neighbourhood in the north of the city called Shuafat where some of the sharpest clashes of recent months have erupted. Shuafat is the place also where the new light railway runs up to from the south of the city. This railway was designed by the city authorities to be – as far as they were concerned – a symbol of how Jerusalem is one united city. But here in Shuafat the train carriages have also been seen by many as a further intrusion from the other side: a target also for teenage stone-throwers. I’ve come to meet three of them.”

Obviously, Jerusalem’s light rail system was designed primarily to provide transport for all the city’s inhabitants rather than for the reasons of symbolism dubiously attached to its construction by Franks. He then goes on to allow his three anonymous teenage “stone-throwers” an unhindered platform to make the unverified claim that they were “imprisoned” because they are relatives of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and fails to make any effort to dig deeper into the kind of mindset which prompts statements such as “his cousin’s blood won’t go just like this without having any revenge” and “throwing stones feeds you dignity”. In fact, the main factor evident in this part of the programme is Franks’ attempt to impose his own Western standards and cultural relativism on the phenomenon of violent rioting by Palestinian teenagers.

Franks continues with an interview with the headmistress of a school in Jabel Mukaber and another with the mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barakat. Interestingly, he chooses to round off the special broadcast with an interview with the former British consul general in Jerusalem, Vincent Fean, who – as readers familiar with his record whilst he was in that position will not be in the least surprised to learn – is “now spending some of his time working to promote the international recognition of the Palestinian state”. Fean uses his unhindered platform to promote an inaccurate portrayal of the reasons for the failure of the last round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO.

Fean: “The reason why he [John Kerry] didn’t do it [reach a peace agreement] last time round is because Israel didn’t want it.”

In his introduction to this special edition of ‘Newshour’, Tim Franks outlined its purpose as follows:

“We’re here because…well, because this city has been in the news for most of recorded human history but in recent months, residents here – you’ll hear from them in this programme – they’ll tell you that an edge, a fear, a sense of division has sharpened. Why and how and what it means for any political resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we’ll be exploring.”

So what did BBC World Service listeners learn about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ in that statement? They were told in the first part of the programme that one cause of tensions is Temple Mount, but provided with an inaccurate portrayal of the background to that topic. In the second half of the programme the focus was on ‘settlements’ and ‘disaffected’ youth with much misinformation and politically motivated manipulation of both those issues.

Listeners were not, however, told anything about the incitement focusing on Jerusalem and Temple Mount in particular coming from the Palestinian Authority and the topic of how that incitement serves the PA’s current strategies was not explored at all. Moreover, Tim Franks provided Fatah official Husam Zomlot with a platform from which to downplay that crucial factor.

The sole achievement of this special programme was in fact to reinforce the same mantras and narratives promoted by other BBC correspondents on other platforms so many times in the past. As usual, only things attributable to Israel are presented as factors contributing to ‘tensions’ and ‘division’. And as usual, Palestinians have no agency and no responsibility in the BBC’s chosen narrative. The very fact that Tim Franks managed to make an entire programme about Jerusalem without even once mentioning the recent terror attacks in that city speaks volumes about the motivations behind its production. 

Had Tim Franks’ trip to Jerusalem culminated in some serious reporting on the issue of PA incitement – which has been conscientiously swept under the carpet by the BBC for the past two months – the exercise would have been justified. As it is, the people who funded Franks’ trip actually gained very little new information which could enhance their understanding of the real background to this issue.

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