Remember the BBC’s 2013 Iron Dome story?

Readers may remember that around this time last year the BBC News website published items by Jonathan Marcus and Kevin Connolly which suggested to audiences that Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system might not actually work. 

Jonathan Marcus’ article titled “Israel’s Iron Dome: Doubts over success rate” appeared on March 12th 2013 and that was followed on April 22nd by two items from Kevin Connolly: a filmed report also shown on BBC television news programmes and a written article.

Recently however, the US embassy in Tel Aviv’s chief defence attaché put forward an interesting proposal.

“A U.S. general proposed on Monday that Israel upgrade its anti-missile systems to include neighboring Jordan and possibly Egypt, and an Israeli official cautiously welcomed the idea.

The two Arab countries that have full peace treaties with the Jewish state share some of its concern regarding the disputed nuclear program of Iran and the civil war wracking Syria – both states with long-range missile arsenals.

Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba is also under threat from short-range rockets fired by Islamist militants in the largely lawless Egyptian Sinai – though they have more regularly targeted the next-door Israeli resort of Eilat.

Brigadier-General John Shapland, chief defense attache for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, raised the idea of extending Israel’s anti-missile umbrella in comments to a security conference in the city.

“If we were able to build a regional defense capability in, say, Jordan, that capability could easily defend Israel, Jordan and even Egypt, if you so desired, adding one more layer to your multi-layered defense,” he told Israeli officials and experts gathered at the INSS think-tank.”

Oh dear. It seems as though Brigadier-General Shapland has not been keeping up to speed with the BBC News website’s revelations.

Inaccurate map used to illustrate BBC reports on Klos-C weapons interception

On March 5th an article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus titled “Israel’s clandestine battle with weapons smugglers” appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. KlosC Marcus art

The article is obviously intended to provide audiences with background and context to the incident earlier on the same day in which Israeli naval forces seized a ship transporting Syrian-made missiles from Iran to Sudan, with their eventual destination being the Gaza Strip.

On the whole, the article is both accurate and informative but it is marred by one feature. As Jonathan Marcus correctly notes:

“In the March 2014 case – unusually – the Israelis say that the weaponry actually originated in Syria from where it was flown to Tehran.

It was then put on board the Klos-C at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

From there it went to Um Qasr in Iraq, before heading back out of the Gulf and round to the Red Sea where it was intercepted.

The Israelis say that it was due to dock in Port Sudan, from where the weapons would have moved overland through the Sinai Peninsula and ultimately into the Gaza Strip.”

However, the map inserted into the article does not accurately reflect the written information provided by Jonathan Marcus. Rather, it misleads readers by tracing an “intended route” for the ship which ends up in south Sinai, somewhere near Sharm el Sheikh.

KlosC BBC map

In fact, the vessel’s destination was Port Sudan.

KlosC IDF map destination

As is explained in this video:

“The ship is headed to Port Sudan but is stopped before reaching its destination. Israeli naval forces intercept the vessel and prevent the weapons from reaching the Gaza Strip. Without this initiative, the rockets would have been smuggled via land through the Sinai peninsula and into Gaza.”

KlosC route

The same inaccurate map – which oddly states that it is sourced from the IDF – also appears in the additional BBC article on the subject, discussed here

Related Articles:

BBC employs smoke and mirrors in report on Iranian weapons smuggling ship

IDF intercepts deadly Iranian arms shipment in Red Sea (J.E. Dyer)

Update: 

March 7th: The inaccurate map has now been removed from both the above BBC reports.

 


Source of 2012 BBC story on faux Israel ‘briefing document’ in racist tweet row

Over the years, quite a few mainstream media organisations have been taken in by various notoriously imaginative ‘scoops’ published by the American anti-Zionist blogger Richard Silverstein.

Readers may recall that in August 2012 (before the launch of BBC Watch), the BBC joined those dubious ranks by publishing two written items on its website based on Silverstein’s false claim to have acquired a “briefing document” which allegedly detailed Israel’s plans to attack Iran “sometime before November 6th [2012]“, as he told the BBC in an additional audio interview with the World Service which is appended to both reports. Silverstein audio

One of the written reports was titled “Israel ‘prepared for 30-day war with Iran’” and the other was a piece going under the title “‘Leaked Israel memo': propaganda or Iran war plan?” by BBC diplomatic/defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus. Both those items are still available on the internet – as is the audio interview – and the BBC responded to criticism at the time by bizarrely defending its decision to run stories based on a fictional document. 

Seven months later, in March 2013, we noted here another report by Jonathan Marcus on a subject which had also featured in a Silverstein article. Mr Marcus took umbrage and responded in our comments section.

BBC source Richard Silverstein has recently been in the news yet again. For more on that saga – which will probably not come as much of a surprise to those familiar with the record of the “American journalist” as he was described by the BBC World Service – read our colleague Adam Levick’s reports over at CiF Watch – see (in chronological order) here, here and here.

This latest row certainly reinforces the impression that insufficient critical thinking was employed by the BBC before the use, promotion and amplification of material from a source with a clear political agenda.

 

Bang goes the BBC diplomatic correspondent’s theory of ‘moderated’ Iranian Holocaust denial

Readers may remember that back in October 2013 the BBC’s Diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus came up with a theory of ‘moderated’ Iranian Holocaust denial. 

“Prime Minister Netanyahu instructed Israeli diplomats to absent themselves from the UN chamber when President Rouhani was speaking. Iranian comments moderating their long-standing denial of the Holocaust perpetrated against the Jews by the Nazis during World War II won Tehran few brownie points in Israel.” [emphasis added]

Marcus’ conclusion was apparently reached after listening to the linguistic gymnastics of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, with the latter having claimed that Holocaust denial appearing on the official website of Iran’s Supreme Leader was a case of ‘lost in translation’.

 “This is the problem when you translate something from Persian to English,” he said. “You may lose some of the meaning. This has unfortunately been the case several times over. The point is, we condemn the killing of innocent people whether it happens in Nazi Germany or whether it is happening in Palestine.”

Over to MEMRI:

“In a September 29, 2013 interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, in which Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was questioned about Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s statements that the Holocaust is a “myth,” Zarif claimed that Khamenei is not a Holocaust denier and that the statements – which can be found in English on his official English-language website – were a “bad translation” and “out of context.” Khamenei had made the statements in a February 2006 speech to Iranian Air Force officers.

However, a MEMRI investigation reveals that FM Zarif’s claim is false; in Khamenei’s original statements, which can be accessed on Khamenei’s official Persian-language website, Khamenei did indeed call the Holocaust a “myth.”

Furthermore, in mid-December 2013, Khamenei’s office re-released Khamenei’s 1998 statements of praise for the work of the late convicted French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy, on the occasion of the anniversary of Garaudy’s 1998 trial in France.”

Read the rest of MEMRI’s report – including the original statements in Farsi – here.

 

 

BBC’s Marcus promotes ‘moderated’ Iranian Holocaust denial

Although it did not stay up for long, visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 30th 2013 were offered the opportunity to read BBC diplomatic/defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus’ supercilious chiding of the Israeli government for not being in step with the latest fashion under the title “Iran-US ‘rapprochement’ challenges Israel’s Netanyahu” – presented under the heading “Features & Analysis”.

“In the United States this week, Prime Minister Netanyahu risks appearing like a ghost at the feast; a travelling salesman whose wares have lost their appeal; a man whose warnings against Iranian perfidy seem out of tune with the moment.”

Marcus Iran US 1

Although Marcus admits that the spectacle of smiles, soft phrasing and one phone call “has provoked a wave of euphoria among commentators and even some diplomats”, he does not offer any serious analysis on the subject of whether that “wave of euphoria” – also being ridden by the BBC – has any justification.

Revealingly, Marcus presents Israel as the lone party pooper out in the cold and in order to do that, he has to funnel the entire ‘Iranian issue’ into the packaging of a deal curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, whilst ignoring other no less relevant issues such as Iran’s support for Bashar Assad’s regime and its involvement in international terrorism. Significantly, he ignores the fact that even the media’s current favourite ‘Mr Nice Guy’ has clearly stated that he would “never give up his country’s right to enrich uranium“. 

Of course Israel is not the only country in the Middle East to be underwhelmed by the sight of Western politicians and journalists swooning over Hassan Rouhani like teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert – although BBC audiences are told nothing about that. The Bahraini foreign minister’s recent UN speech revealed some of that country’s concerns.

“…noting the need to inscribe organizations such as the Lebanese Hezbollah on the international list of terrorist organizations in view of their criminal terrorist acts aimed at terrorizing peaceful civilians and generating instability and chaos. ” […]

“The first among these challenges is the need to put an end to Iranian intervention in the internal affairs of the countries of the region and its occupation of the three Emirates’ islands: Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa”… 

Likewise, the press in other Gulf States – along with additional commentators – reflects concerns in other countries which are no less threatened by Iran’s nuclear ambitions than Israel.

“Saudis now feel that the Obama administration is disregarding Saudi concerns over Iran and Syria, and will respond accordingly in ignoring “U.S. interests, U.S. wishes, U.S. issues” in Syria, said Mustafa Alani, a veteran Saudi security analyst with the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center.”

The most notable paragraph in Marcus’ article, however, is this one, which comes under the interesting sub-heading of “‘Unhealthy’ negativity”: [emphasis added]

“Prime Minister Netanyahu instructed Israeli diplomats to absent themselves from the UN chamber when President Rouhani was speaking. Iranian comments moderating their long-standing denial of the Holocaust perpetrated against the Jews by the Nazis during World War II won Tehran few brownie points in Israel.”

Marcus Iran US 2

Marcus – in line with many of his colleagues in the media – appears to have persuaded himself that a few recent strategically chosen words and phrases, uttered by less than a handful of dignitaries, signify a “moderating” of Iranian Holocaust denial for which Israelis should be grateful – and he now seeks to herd his readers towards the same conclusion.

Marcus’ interpretation of comments made by Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister is of course based on what might be politely called selective hearing. Ten days before the appearance of Marcus’ article the BBC News website published an item on Rouhani’s NBC interview in which it completely ignored the parts of the conversation relating to the Holocaust.

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

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

Rouhani’s “I’m not a historian” line appeared again in a later controversial interview with CNN which received partial coverage from the BBC with no mention of Rouhani’s subsequent remarks which revealed little in the way of “moderation”, at best clearly questioning the scale of the Holocaust.

“Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemnable. The dimensions of it which you say, is the responsibility of historians and researchers to make those dimensions clear. I am not a historian myself.

However, this point should be clear: If a crime took place, that crime should not be a cover for a nation or group to justify their crimes or oppression against others. Therefore, if the Nazis committed a crime, and however much it was, we condemn that, because genocide or mass murder is condemned.

From our viewpoint, it doesn’t matter if the person killed is Jewish, Christian or Muslim. From our viewpoint, [it] does not make difference. Killing an innocent human is rejected and condemned. But this cannot be a reason for 60 years to displace a people from their land and say that the Nazis committed crimes. That crime [too] is condemned; occupying the land of others is also condemned from our viewpoint.” [emphasis added]

On September 8th the BBC claimed that Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had “distanced himself from the Holocaust denials of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad” in a Tweet in which Zarif in fact related to Ahmadinejad’s “perceived” Holocaust denial. Since then, Zarif has publicly said that “the Holocaust is not a myth” whilst at the same time blaming “bad translation” for the fact that a statement on the official website of Iran’s Supreme Leader describes the Holocaust in exactly such terms (and regime-controlled media continues down the same route) and using antisemitic Nazi analogies.

“This is the problem when you translate something from Persian to English,” he said. “You may lose some of the meaning. This has unfortunately been the case several times over. The point is, we condemn the killing of innocent people whether it happens in Nazi Germany or whether it is happening in Palestine.”

As Chemi Shalev wrote on September 30th in Ha’aretz:

“But Iran’s ongoing Holocaust denial, absolute or partial, is much more than a personal or even collective affront. It is a telltale sign, first and foremost, of the Iranian regime’s abiding anti-Semitism, as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum makes clear: “Holocaust denial and distortion are generally motivated by hatred of Jews, and build on the claim that the Holocaust was invented or exaggerated by Jews as part of a plot to advance Jewish interests.”

Consequently, if the blatant Holocaust denial of Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a clear-cut manifestation of their “hatred of Jews,” then the more sterile version of Holocaust distortion offered by Rohani and his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is but a refined version of the exact same odious sentiment.”

For some reason, Jonathan Marcus seeks to persuade BBC audiences that Israel should be gratefully giving out “brownie points” to any Iranian official who does a mealy-mouthed makeover on Ahmadinejad’s previous performance. The waters of that “wave of euphoria” appear to have turned Mr Marcus’ critical and analytic faculties rather soggy. 

Related articles:

R4 ‘Today’ expounds BBC ‘World View’ on Iran

BBC presents airbrushed picture of Rouhani NBC interview

BBC continues to portray a ‘moderate’ Iranian regime

The Guardian engages in Rouhani Revisionism in report on “Holocaust” remarks

Rouhani Fever and CNN

Denying the denial in Iran

 

Which themes got most exposure on the BBC News website in August?

The volume of articles concerning Israel which appear consistently on the BBC News website has been recorded over the last six months in our series of articles titled “BBC Israel focus in numbers”. There we record not only the appearance of an article, but also its exposure in terms of the number of days it is left up on the webpage. A closer look at the exposure of some of the articles published throughout the month of August 2013 suggests an interesting trend. 

The longest time any Israel-related article was left up on the Middle East homepage was eight days, with four articles falling into that category, including Jon Donnison’s attempt to persuade readers that Gaza has “some of the highest population densities in the world” which was discussed here. Two other articles which appeared on the website for eight consecutive days were Jonathan Marcus’ “Does Middle-East peace process matter?”  and Bethany Bell’s “Scepticism all round amid renewed Mid-East peace talks”

The fourth article left up for eight days was titled “Palestinian shot dead by Israeli troops on Gaza border” . Another article about an incident in Jenin, titled “Palestinian killed in Israeli raid in West Bank” , was left up on the webpage for seven consecutive days whilst the report on the riots in Qalandiya headlined “Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli police” was viewable for three days running.

A report titled “Israeli jets bomb Lebanon target after rocket strike” was viewable on the Middle East homepage for six consecutive days. In contrast, the BBC report on the missile fire which caused the Israeli response only appeared on the website for a matter of hours. 

A report on the closure of Eilat airport due to security assessments stayed on the website for two days whilst another article about an air-strike against terrorists in Sinai was viewable for seven consecutive days.

Here at BBC Watch we have frequently remarked on the BBC’s tendency to fail to report many if not most of the terror attacks – attempted and executed – against Israeli civilians. But according to the statistics for August, it appears that even when the BBC does report on threats or attacks against Israelis, those reports are given less exposure than articles dealing with Israeli responses to terror attacks or Israeli counter-terrorism activities in which there are Palestinian casualties. We will of course continue to monitor this apparent trend.

A great deal of the Israel-related content which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page during August was connected to the renewal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Three main categories of subject matter – often all appearing in the same report – can be identified: the issue of the talks themselves, the accompanying ‘goodwill gesture’ release of 26 Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorist acts and the subject of Israeli construction which the BBC promoted vigorously throughout the month as ‘sabotaging’ the renewed talks – even though that was clearly not the case. 

Articles about the talks themselves included “Livni urges Israel coalition to support peace talks” which appeared on the website for three days and “Israel-Palestinian peace talks to resume in Jerusalem” which includes standard BBC presentations of the subject of Israeli building and ran for two days. The backgrounder titled “Q&A: Israeli-Palestinian talks in Jerusalem“, which also presents Israeli construction as ‘sabotaging’ talks, ran for two days on the Middle East homepage and an article called “Israel-Palestinian peace talks resume in Jerusalem” likewise including promotion of the same theme appeared for four consecutive days. 

Articles about the prisoner release included “Israel names 26 Palestinian prisoners for release” which ran for one day and “Profiles of Palestinian prisoners set to be released” which likewise ran for one day – but not on the Middle East page. Also appearing for one day was the article titled “Palestinian prisoners ‘moved’ before Israel release” which actually devoted the majority of its content to the subject of Israeli building tenders.  That subject also appeared in Kevin Connolly’s “Little hope for talks among Israelis and Palestinians” which ran for three consecutive days.

Other reports promoting the theme of construction in neighbourhoods the BBC describes as “settlements” as a threat to peace talks included “Israel widens Jewish settlement subsidies” which ran on the Middle East page for five consecutive days, “Israel backs new Jewish settlement homes” which ran for several hours before being replaced with “New West Bank settlement homes anger Palestinians” which ran for one day and “Kerry: Israeli settlements move was expected” which appeared for two days. 

Thus we see that audience exposure to written articles promoting the notion of Israeli construction as a threat to peace talks throughout August was considerably greater than, for example, exposure to the issue of terror as an obstacle to peace. Obviously, the BBC’s reputation for impartiality depends not only upon actual written or spoken content, but also on the editorial decisions behind the prioritising of some reports over others. 

Related articles:

Filmed reports on the BBC News website’s Middle East page in August

BBC Israel focus in numbers – August 2013

BBC’s ‘Israeli building threatens peace talks’ meme in numbers

How many times over the last week have readers of the BBC News website been told that Israeli building tenders in Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria threaten to “sabotage” peace talks?  

On Sunday, August 11th they were told so in no fewer than three separate reports: “Israel backs new Jewish settlement homes, “New West Bank settlement homes anger Palestinians and the filmed report by Kevin Connolly which also appeared on BBC television news “New Israeli settlement homes anger Palestinians- which stayed up on the website for an additional four days. 

August 12th saw the appearance of an article titled “Israel names 26 Palestinian prisoners for release in which the same meme was also promoted, as well as an item by Jonathan Marcus entitled “Does Middle-East peace process matter? in which he misleadingly suggests that a construction freeze was part of the “understanding” reached in order to resume the latest round of talks. That article has been featured on the website for eight days – and counting.

On August 13th the BBC published an article called “Kerry: Israeli settlements move was expected which also promoted the notion that Israeli building would “sabotage” the talks. The same day also saw the appearance of a report by Kevin Connolly titled “Little hope for talks among Israelis and Palestinians in which the same meme was advanced. That report stayed on the website for three days in all. Another article titled “Palestinian prisoners ‘moved’ before Israel release devoted over half its word count to the subject of Israeli building. 

August 14th saw the appearance of three reports – one written (“Israel releases 26 Palestinian prisoners ahead of talks) and two filmed – both titled “Israel frees Palestinian prisoners“, both by Yolande Knell (see here and here) and both of which also appeared on BBC television news as well as on the website again the following day.  All of those reports purported to report on the release of Palestinian prisoners, but all of them also promoted the ‘building sabotages peace talks’ meme. Also on the same day an article by BBC Monitoring entitled Q&A: Israeli-Palestinian talks in Jerusalem was published in which the subject of building tenders was reported to have caused “dismay” to Palestinians. 

On August 15th (and for three additional days afterwards) the BBC News website carried a report titled Israel-Palestinian peace talks resume in Jerusalem  which promotes the claim that: 

“Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem have continued to overshadow the resumption.

The issue halted the last direct talks in September 2010 and Palestinian representatives have accused Israel of trying to sabotage the latest negotiations.

In recent days Israel has announced plans for more than 2,000 new settlement homes.

Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official Yasser Abed Rabbo said the settlement expansion was “unprecedented”.

“The talks might collapse any time because of the Israeli practices,” he told Voice of Palestine radio.”

As we see, a regular reader of the BBC News website would have been exposed to the meme that Israel announced the issuing of building tenders on August 11th as a means of “sabotaging” the renewed talks – and hence a threat to peace in general – in no fewer than thirteen reports published on the website in the period August 11th to August 15th inclusive. Naturally, the promotion of that meme was often accompanied by now standard misleading BBC slogans such as:

“Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

And:

“The issue of settlement-building halted the last direct talks.

These collapsed in September 2010.”

During the same week, Israel released twenty-six convicted terrorists and murderers as a ‘goodwill gesture’ aimed at encouraging the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. As was widely documented by the BBC itself, those prisoners were received at official Palestinian Authority organized celebrations in which the man holding the highest office in the PA – Mahmoud Abbas – literally and figuratively embraced the men as heroes, glamourising and glorifying their acts of terrorism.

The BBC, however, does not appear to consider the Palestinian Authority’s public glorification of terror just hours before renewed talks were set to commence as an attempt to “sabotage” those talks or a threat to ‘Middle East peace’ and so the number of articles exploring that angle which visitors to the BBC News website would have read in the same period of August 11th to 15th is zero.

Were the BBC’s coverage of these renewed talks truly accurate and impartial it would not refrain from informing its audiences of the fact that, even whilst sitting at the negotiating table, the Palestinian Authority continues to incite its people against Israel, to glorify terror and to spend 6% of its budget on salaries for convicted terrorists. As it is, BBC audiences have so far read no analysis on the subject of how those factors might influence the talks, but they have been spoon-fed a meme on Israeli building which bears uncanny resemblance to the campaign currently being run by the PLO.  

 

BBC’s Marcus invents a “cloudy understanding” about Israeli building

An article entitled Does Middle-East peace process matter? by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus  first appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on Monday, August 12th. As of August 18th, it was still there. 

Marcus article MEPP on HP

One of the main points promoted by Marcus in the article is that an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict is an issue of prime importance for the Middle East as a whole.  Apparently even he realizes how flimsy that claim sounds after thirty-two months of relentless violence and civil war in the region during which more people have been killed by their own countrymen than throughout the whole Arab-Israeli conflict and the death toll still rises daily. Hence, Marcus both plays up and plays down the issue by writing:

“But two major trends underpin Mr Kerry’s efforts – and for many analysts they make an Israel-Palestinian peace more important now than ever. […]

The other trend is the chaos and uncertainty ushered in by what used to be called the “Arab Spring”.

Popular upheavals have degenerated into military take-over, near anarchy, full-scale civil war and the renewal of bitter sectarian violence.

The crisis in Syria has called into question the very borders of some of the states established in the wake of the departure of the colonial powers after World War II. It is clear that these processes are profound and will unfold over a considerable time period.

It is not so much that an Israel-Palestinian peace will solve any of these problems. It will not. It won’t even contribute to resolving them.” [emphasis added]

Very true, of course, but unfortunately that statement is followed by this one:

“But Western diplomats believe that a resolution to one of the world’s most intractable disputes could lance a diplomatic boil that inflames passions and tensions way beyond the Middle East and contributes to making a very bad regional situation even worse.”

The notion that sectarian violence in Iraq (which last month saw the highest death toll since 2008) is in any way influenced by progress – or lack of it – in peace talks between Israel and Palestinian representatives is of course absurd. The idea that Bashar al Assad will retire to write his memoirs and play golf, that strife in Egypt will be eased or that Iran will stop persecuting Bahais if only Livni and Erekat manage to sign a piece of paper is downright comic. Western diplomats – perhaps hampered by the culturally dependent notion that if there is a problem, it must have a doable solution: a premise which does not always work in the Middle East –  may indeed “believe” such fairy tales, but that is no reason to promote them to the BBC’s audiences. 

But as long-time observers of the Middle East well know, the Arab-Israeli conflict excuse has for years been used to deflect public attention away from issues plaguing the broader region as a whole and it is therefore all the more disappointing to see an article passing as ‘analysis’ promoting the same jaded myth. The BBC would serve its audiences’ interests much better were it to acknowledge that the canary in the Middle East mine which is the refusal to accept Israel’s existence merely reflects a wider pathology which also rejects equal rights for women, religious and ethnic minorities and gays.

Marcus’ other main theme is the decidedly frayed at the edges idea that ‘time is running out for the two-state solution’.

“One trend is the growing belief in many quarters – you hear it explicitly from British Foreign Secretary William Hague – that the opportunity for a “two-state” solution, a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip living alongside Israel, is fast running out.

“The window for a two-state solution is closing,” Mr Hague noted in December last year.”

Indeed he did. Hague has also said exactly the same thing on many other occasions too, including November 2012, October 2011 and July 2010. And if readers are perhaps tempted to ask themselves the philosophical question of how much time can something be running out of time, it is probably worth remembering that the ‘time is running out’ notion was being promoted as far back as January 2004 by the man who probably did more than any other to prevent a two-state solution from coming into being – Yasser Arafat.

Of course, like the ‘Israeli/Palestinian deal is the key to regional peace’ notion, the ‘time is running out’/’window of opportunity closing’ meme is employed as a tactic to put pressure upon Israel, as can be seen by Marcus’ next sentence:

“According to this view the occupation risks becoming permanent, raising profound questions about the nature of Israel’s democracy and for the way the country is viewed abroad, especially in the West.”

Isn’t it strange how the repeated failure of the Palestinian Authority to come to the negotiating table, to stop incitement and the glorification of terrorism, or the refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to renounce terror, do not apparently raise “profound questions….especially in the West”? And isn’t it even stranger that the BBC does not (in the interests of audience understanding, accuracy and impartiality) go anywhere near such subjects, instead sticking cosily to the FCO party line?

Marcus also does a neat little smoke and mirrors trick in this article: take a look at the following paragraph:

“There are the almost ritual concessions to get talks going – the release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel; a cloudy understanding either to freeze or restrict new construction in Israeli settlements; and the equally public announcement of new building anyway as a conservative Israeli government seeks to placate domestic opponents of the peace talks to its right.” [emphasis added]

Of course in actual fact, no such “understanding” – cloudy or otherwise – was ever reached before the current round of talks.

“An Israeli diplomatic official […]characterized Palestinian anger over Sunday’s announcement of new construction tenders in Jerusalem and the large settlement blocs as “theater” intended for both an international and Palestinian audience. […]

He added that it was clear to both the Palestinians and the Americans that Israel did not commit to a settlement freeze either before or during the coming negotiations.

Two weeks ago Netanyahu told the cabinet that the Palestinians had rejected his offer of a limited construction freeze in the settlements outside the large blocs instead of a prisoner release.”

If the BBC indeed “aspires to remain the standard-setter for international journalism” as it claims – or if it wishes to remain even slightly relevant in the competitive arena of online media presence – it really is going to have to ditch the damaging habit of acting as a self-conscripted PR outfit for the Palestinian Authority.  

Two headlines in two hours for BBC report on Quneitra

A report published on the Middle East page of the BBC News website at 09:38 GMT on June 6th 2013 claimed in its opening sentence:

“Syrian rebels have taken over a UN-run border crossing in the Golan Heights after heavy clashes with regime forces.”

bbc quneitra

Later, the report went on to say: BBC quneitra 2

“Israeli army radio and Syrian activists reported that clashes were continuing on Thursday in the Golan Heights, close to the ceasefire line with Israel, which captured part of the plateau in 1967 and later annexed it in a move that has not been recognised by the international community.

“The rebels have seized the crossing near the old city of Quneitra in the occupied Golan Heights,” Rami Abdelrahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters news agency.

Explosions and heavy shelling could be heard in the area.

“The sounds of shelling are very loud,” Raya Fakhradin, who lives in nearby Majdal-Shams, told the BBC.

“Everybody is scared. People have been stocking up on food supplies so that they don’t need to leave their homes.”

Majdal Shams is about 19 kms from Quneitra. Significantly more “nearby” are the kibbutzim Ortal, Ein Zivan and Merom Golan.

map quneitra

The article continued:

“Israel has not said which opposition group has taken over the Quneitra border crossing, and there has been no comment from the UN peacekeeping force which normally operates it and patrols the demilitarised zone.

Israeli officials have increasingly voiced fears the civil war in Syria could spill over their borders: They are worried the Golan Heights could be used to launch attacks against Israel, due to the number of Islamist extremists among the rebel forces.”

In fact, the situation was far from as clear as this BBC report claimed. Whilst a rebel militia apparently did gain control of the area early on Thursday morning, reports published by Ynet and the Jerusalem Post even before the BBC article was posted suggested that Syrian government forces had retaken the area within a relatively short time. Some of the shelling by Assad’s forces was shown in video footage posted on Youtube by a rebel militia and the fighting is apparently still ongoing, with reports of injured UN observers and an Austrian statement of intent to withdraw its forces from UNDOF. 

Less than two hours after the publication of the original article, at 11:16 GMT and using the same URL, the headline was changed to read “Syria conflict: Army ‘retakes Golan Heights crossing“.

bbc quneitra 3

The relevant parts of the body of the report also underwent considerable change and a side box of analysis by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus was added in which – not for the first time – it was stated that:

 “On occasion, Israeli positions have come under fire and the Israeli army has fired back.”

bbc quneitra 4

As we have previously noted here, the use of the word “positions” will suggest to most readers that exclusively military installations have come under fire from Syria. As anyone following developments closely knows, that is patently not the case, with mortar shells having fallen in or near civilian communities and the BBC having frequently failed to report those incidents. 

Also not mentioned by the BBC in this report was a related incident which took place the same morning (Thursday) at the Rifka Ziv hospital in Tsfat (Safed) in which the emergency and trauma rooms had to be evacuated when staff discovered a live grenade on the person of an unconscious Syrian wounded in the fighting in Quneitra who had been brought to the hospital for treatment. 

SONY DSC

Quneitra

BBC trumpets Hizballah narrative of ‘resistance’

“Bitter taste”. That was the curious choice of wording used to headline a May 23rd article about Hizballah by BBC diplomatic/defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the Middle East page of the BBC News website.

Marcus Hizb 1

A click on the link leads to a report titled “Europe’s stance on Hezbollah hardens” which is illustrated with an image equally bizarrely captioned:

“Hezbollah’s embrace of Assad regime during the bitter Syrian conflict has hardened European hearts against it” [emphasis added]

The use of such emotion-orientated language may well cause readers to wonder if they are reading about reactions to a candidate in a phone-in TV talent contest rather than evidence-based assessments of an international terror organization.

Disappointingly for any readers seeking accurate information on the subject of Hizballah, Marcus chooses to perpetuate the myth of a separate ‘military wing’ to that organization. 

“The British government is pushing its European partners to designate the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. This comes in the wake of the organisation’s role in an attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and the recent conviction of a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus.”

“Up to now, only Britain and the Netherlands have placed the military wing of Hezbollah on their national terrorism blacklists. Germany now seems more willing to designate Hezbollah’s military arm, and this has given some impetus to the British move.”

In fact, the 2004 designation of Hizballah as a terrorist organization by the Netherlands rightly makes no distinction between its ‘military’ and ‘political’ wings, as shown on page 19 of the General Intelligence and Security Service Report for that year.

“Investigations have shown that Hezbollah’s terrorist wing, the Hezbollah External Security Organisation, has been directly and indirectly involved in terrorist acts. It can also be concluded that Hezbollah’s political and terrorist wings are controlled by one co-ordinating council. This means that there is indeed a link between these parts of the organisation. The Netherlands has changed its policy and no longer makes a distinction between the political and terrorist Hezbollah branches. The Netherlands informed the relevant EU bodies of its findings. “

Of course Hizballah itself is perfectly aware of the potential effects of designation upon the organisation as a whole, as expressed by Hassan Nasrallah in 2005.

“[EU designation] would dry up the sources of finance, end moral, political and material support, stifle voices, whether they are the voices of the resistance or the voices which support the resistance, pressure states which protect the resistance in one way and another, and pressure the Lebanese state, Iran and Iraq, but especially the Lebanese state, in order to classify it as a state which supports terrorism.”

Bizarrely, the BBC’s diplomatic/defence correspondent only now seems to have discovered the fact that Hizballah is an Iranian franchise – a fact which has been obvious to most other people with any knowledge of the Middle East for years.

“Hezbollah seems to have thrown in its hand with President Assad, confirming the views of many of its critics that it is playing out a wider game plan inspired by Tehran.”

The outstanding feature of Marcus’ article, however, is its adoption of the lexicon and narrative of the terrorists he writes about. [emphasis added]

“The British move to list Hezbollah’s military wing comes as the image of the Lebanese organisation – long hailed in the region as one of the principal resistance forces against Israel – is coming under strain.”

Marcus does not take the trouble to explain to his readers what lies behind the romantic-sounding propaganda slogan “resistance”, as laid out in Hizballah’s original 1985 “open letter”.

“We see in Israel the vanguard of the United States in our Islamic world. It is the hated enemy that must be fought until the hated ones get what they deserve. This enemy is the greatest danger to our future generations and to the destiny of our lands, particularly as it glorifies the ideas of settlement and expansion, initiated in Palestine, and yearning outward to the extension of the Great Israel, from the Euphrates to the Nile. 

Women are seen watching Nasrallah at an event marking Resistance and Liberation Day, May 25, 2013.

Women are seen watching Nasrallah at an event marking Resistance and Liberation Day, May 25, 2013. Photo: REUTERS

Our primary assumption in our fight against Israel states that the Zionist entity is aggressive from its inception, and built on lands wrested from their owners, at the expense of the rights of the Muslim people. Therefore our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated. 

We vigorously condemn all plans for negotiation with Israel, and regard all negotiators as enemies, for the reason that such negotiation is nothing but the recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist occupation of Palestine. Therefore we oppose and reject the Camp David Agreements, the proposals of King Fahd, the Fez and Reagan plan, Brezhnev’s and the French-Egyptian proposals, and all other programs that include the recognition (even the implied recognition) of the Zionist entity.” [emphasis added]

Neither did the revised 2009 Hizballah “manifesto” demonstrate any change in its attitudes towards Israel:

“Similarly, twenty-four years of organizational development and political integration have not led to any shift in Hizbollah’s fervent opposition to any negotiated agreement between Israel and the Arab world. The group continues in its “absolute refusal to [accept] the very principle of the choice of settlement with the Zionist entity, which is based on recognizing the legitimacy and existence of this entity and giving up to it the lands it usurped from Arab and Islamic Palestine.” “

The move by EU countries to finally designate Hizballah as a terrorist organization is, of course, both necessary and long overdue. Whilst Jonathan Marcus’ analysis of the reasons behind that shift may be useful, the fact that he is apparently unable to avoid the temptation of adopting and promoting the terrorist organisation’s own narrative with regard to the euphemism of “resistance” does not enhance BBC audience’s understanding of Hizballah or the basis for its designation.