BBC’s Connolly contorts Israeli – and British – history to fit his political narrative

The BBC’s reputation as a reliable source – underpinned by a supposedly unwavering commitment to cast-iron accuracy and impartiality in its reporting – means that members of the public, researchers and educators regard its content as being an authoritative record. The BBC itself relates to its online archive content as “historical record” and its Director of Editorial Policy and Standards has stated that “[h]owever long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it”.

Mr Jordan might therefore care to consider a report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly (available from 00:43 here) which was broadcast in the October 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent”.FOOC Connolly 24 10

Ostensibly providing listeners with a historical angle to the current wave of terror in Israel, Connolly’s report is remarkable for the fact that it once again promotes the notion that the attacks are of a “random and spontaneous nature”, ignoring the issue of incitement and the growing number of cases in which perpetrators have been shown to have links to terrorist organisations.

Concurrently, Connolly’s messaging for listeners includes the employment of statements such as:

“…the readiness with which Israel’s security forces resort to lethal force against Palestinians”

And, referring to checkpoints outside the Jerusalem neighbourhoods from which a very significant proportion of the attackers have come:

“….the sense that restrictions on movement are a form of collective punishment”.

But Connolly’s politically motivated framing of the story reaches its zenith in his inaccurate portrayal of the history of Jerusalem.

“Even the British – eternally torn between the desire to have an empire and the desire to have an empire on the cheap – left some kind of mark.”

“British rule lasted more than thirty years in the Holy Land.”

Mandate Palestine was not of course part of the British Empire, as Connolly implies in those two proximate statements. Britain indeed administered the Mandate for Palestine, but that mandate was established (along with several others) by the League of Nations with the specific aim of reconstituting a Jewish national home: a task which the administrator did not complete in the years before it returned that mandate to the League of Nations’ successor, the United Nations, on May 14th 1948.

Having distorted one very relevant part of the history by erasing the Mandate for Palestine from audience view, Connolly then goes on to promote a blatant factual inaccuracy.

“The British left in 1948, leaving the Arab kingdom of Jordan in control of East Jerusalem and the Old City and West Jerusalem in Israeli hands.”

The uninformed listener would obviously take that statement to mean that Jordanian control over parts of Jerusalem was both recognised and perfectly legitimate: the result of their having been handed over to it by the previous ‘landlord’.

Despite having erased from the picture the fact that Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem actually came about by means of a belligerent invasion of Israel by Jordan (together with four other Arab nations) immediately following Britain’s abandonment of its role as administrator of the League of Nations mandate and Israel’s declaration of independence, Connolly goes on to include a demilitarized zone (surely unexplainable according to his version of events) in his story.

“The route I follow crosses what was then an edgy and dangerous DMZ – a demilitarized zone across which Israel and the Arab world contemplated each other in mutual hostility.”

He proceeds, erasing yet another episode of Jordanian belligerence from his account:

“In the war of 1967 Israel crossed the DMZ and drove the Jordanians out of the Old City and out of East Jerusalem. The victory brought the holy places – the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Jewish Western Wall and the Islamic al Aqsa compound – under Israeli control, where they remain to this day.” [emphasis added]

Here we have yet another example (previous recent ones can be seen here, here and here) of the BBC’s adoption and promotion of the inaccurate narrative whereby all of Temple Mount is al Aqsa and Connolly even portrays the site as exclusively “Islamic” – despite the fact that it is of significance to members of three religions.

He continues:

“…the victory of 1967 brought the Arab population of East Jerusalem and dozens of outlying villages which had belonged to Jordan under Israeli military occupation.” [emphasis added]

Of course those locations were in fact under Jordanian occupation and their later annexation by Jordan was not recognized by the international community, meaning that Connolly’s claim that they “belonged to Jordan” is inaccurate and misleading.

The take-away message promoted to listeners to this report is that the roots of the current wave of violence are to be found in the Israeli occupation of areas that previously belonged to “the Arab kingdom of Jordan”. Not only is that an inaccurate portrayal but in order to frame the story in such a way, Connolly distorts and erases the history of the region in a manner which actively hinders audience understanding of the wider issue.

Given that this report potentially risks wasting public resources by becoming the subject of editorial complaints, the BBC clearly needs to issue prompt corrections to the plethora of inaccuracies promoted by Kevin Connolly.


BBC Radio 4 – contact details

‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on Twitter   


More conspiracy theory amplification from BBC’s Yolande Knell – and why it matters

“No-one becomes a terrorist from a standing start. It starts with a process of radicalisation. When you look in detail at the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were first influenced by what some would call non-violent extremists.

Anti-Israel rally, London, UK, 17/10/2015

Anti-Israel rally, London, UK, 17/10/2015

It may begin with hearing about the so-called Jewish conspiracy and then develop into hostility to the West and fundamental liberal values, before finally becoming a cultish attachment to death. Put another way, the extremist world view is the gateway, and violence is the ultimate destination. […]

First, any strategy to defeat extremism must confront, head on, the extreme ideology that underpins it. We must take its component parts to pieces – the cultish worldview, the conspiracy theories, and yes, the so-called glamorous parts of it as well.

We must demand that people also condemn the wild conspiracy theories, the anti-Semitism, and the sectarianism too.”  (PM David Cameron, July 2015)

Over the past few weeks a particularly inflammatory conspiracy theory has been repeatedly amplified on a variety of BBC platforms. According to that conspiracy theory, Israel seeks or intends to change the status quo on Temple Mount and whilst assorted versions of that libel have been published and broadcast by the BBC, the corporation has to date not told its audiences in its own words that they are baseless. At best, it has opted to tell them that “Israel says” it has no intention of changing the status quo at the site. At worst, it has lent the BBC’s reputation of reliability to such lies.

One example of unchallenged amplification of that conspiracy theory came in a filmed report by Yolande Knell on October 13th. Two days later, the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ broadcast an item by Knell (available from 00:44 here) which – among other things – again promoted the words of the same interviewee.FOOC 15 10 Knell

Presenter Kate Adie’s introduction to the item was notable for her use of qualifying terms to describe terrorists and violent rioters – including minors.

KA: “The Israeli army has been deploying hundreds of troops across the country to try to combat the worst surge in violence there in months. Yesterday police in Jerusalem shot dead two Palestinians who they say tried to stab Israelis in separate incidents. So far this month, seven Israelis have been killed in attacks and at least thirty Palestinians have died – including alleged assailants and several children.” [emphasis added]

Adie continued, failing to provide listeners with the full story behind Mahmoud Abbas’ remarks.

“The Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of executing Palestinian children in cold blood – a remark denounced as lies and incitement by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yolande Knell says the violence if fueling a sense of panic in Israel and raising fears of a new Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.”

Yolande Knell’s relatively long account began as follows: [all emphasis in bold added]

YK: “It’s a scene so familiar that it could be from almost any time over the past three decades. Palestinian teenagers wearing jeans and T-shirts and checkered keffiyeh scarves fling stones and marbles at heavily armed Israeli soldiers. And today there’s a swift response: an army jeep tears down this hotel-lined road in Bethlehem, firing out white ribbons of tear gas. Soon we hear the crack of gunfire. Recently there’ve been almost daily battles like this across the occupied Palestinian territories.

Anti-Israel rally, London, UK, 17/10/2015

Anti-Israel rally, London, UK, 17/10/2015

The anger’s fueled by a row over access to al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City which is built in a place that’s both sacred to Muslims and Jews. Despite official Israeli denials, many Palestinians believe there’s a plan to change long-standing rules and give Jews the right to pray openly at the site they call Temple Mount.

‘This started because Israelis entered our al Aqsa Mosque and disrespected it’ a young protester Ahmed tells me, referring to an incident last month. During a Jewish holiday, Palestinian worshippers clashed with Israeli troops after the forces went briefly inside the mosque in response – they say – to stone-throwing rioters.”

Knell’s description of violent rioters as “worshippers” is obviously misleading, as is her attempt to claim that the rioting was caused by the actions of the Israeli police. All the incidents in which the police have been obliged to keep order at the site over the last weeks began because of organised Palestinian attempts to violently disrupt visits by non-Muslims to the site. This of course is not the first time that Knell has misrepresented those events. The report continues with Knell once again amplifying the particularly inflammatory falsehood that Israel is conducting a “fight” against Islam.

“‘It’s a red line’ Ahmed goes on. ‘All our lives we’ve been dealing with Israel’s occupation as a political struggle but now they’re turning it into a fight against our religion’. The activist has already spent four years in an Israeli prison for rock throwing. Now he hopes for a third Palestinian uprising and tells me he’s ready to go back to jail. On a nearby street I also meet Mustafa who’s 25 and says he’s prepared to die for the nationalist cause. ‘I like to go and throw stones and whatever happens, happens’ he remarks. ‘It’s for al Aqsa, it’s for our martyrs and all our humiliations’.”

Demonstration in London, UK, 2010

Demonstration in London, UK, 2010

Next, Knell revisits one of her regular themes: misrepresenting the anti-terrorist fence in the vicinity of Bethlehem whilst failing to clarify to audiences that it exists because of Palestinian terrorism.  

“The shop worker describes a daily life where he’s hemmed-in by checkpoints, by the concrete wall that surrounds much of Bethlehem – part of Israel’s separation barrier – and expanding Jewish settlements near his home on the edge of the city. Despite his university education, his career prospects are limited. Mustafa connects his feelings of anger to local unrest in the West Bank and the recent spate of knife attacks and shootings across Jerusalem and Israel. Amateur video of almost every assault is posted on social media and he watches them all. ‘Maybe this will be the stabbing Intifada’ he says.”

Downplaying the violence of the first Intifada – during which around a thousand Palestinians were murdered by Palestinian vigilantes – Knell goes on:

“The first Palestinian Intifada which began in 1987 was marked by coordinated popular unrest while the second, starting from 2000, produced suicide bombings by militants. Together, they claimed the lives of over 5,000 Palestinians and over 1,100 Israelis. The latest stabbings have so far caused several deaths and dozens of injuries. Police blame most on lone-wolf attackers making personal decisions to act. But while the intensity and pattern of the violence may not match the experience of previous uprisings, it’s stirred up old fears for Israelis.” […]

Knell’s closing words include whitewashing of the incitement coming from Mahmoud Abbas and completely ignore the issue of incitement from official PA and other Palestinian sources. 

“The Israeli authorities have struggled in their response to the recent crisis. Some far-right politicians are demanding action over Temple Mount. Meanwhile, security officials and the Israeli prime minister have largely held back – worried about exacerbating the troubles. On the Palestinian side, Islamist groups have declared the attacks heroic while the ageing secular president says he supports popular protests but not violence. The current unrest isn’t organized in any meaningful sense. It has no clear and unified goal. It comes as a generation of young Palestinians have lost faith in their leaders. They’ve watched peace talks fail to deliver a promised independent Palestinian state. For all those reasons, it’s very hard to predict what will happen next and whether those who are trying to bring the situation under control really can do so.”

Of course listeners to this programme would be incapable of putting Knell’s makeover of Mahmoud Abbas into its appropriate context because the BBC has studiously refrained from informing its audiences of what “secular” Mahmoud Abbas says to his people in Arabic.

This message, for example, was broadcast on PA TV nineteen times in three days during October 2014.

More recently, this was shown on official PA TV:

Obviously, the fact that the BBC gives unchallenged amplification to conspiracy theories concerning Temple Mount is a problem. The fact that it also refrains from clarifying to its audiences in its own words that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo at that site is another, as is the fact that the BBC has consistently concealed from its audiences the religiously themed rhetoric and incitement fueling the conspiracy theories surrounding Temple Mount.Al Aqsa UK FOAA  

Those problems do not just raise questions about the BBC’s ability to report on this Israel-related topic accurately, impartially and responsibly. They also have the potential to affect British domestic issues because conspiracy theories about Temple Mount and al Aqsa Mosque are by no means confined to the Middle East – as this page from the website of the Leicester-based group ‘Friends of Al Aqsa’ and scenes from the anti-Israel rally held in London just last weekend demonstrate.

Prime Minister David Cameron clearly understands that a vital part of combating extremism in the UK is confronting and exposing conspiracy theories.  With its unrivalled outreach, the BBC is of course well placed to play a part in contributing to that aim – should it so choose. 

More BBC multiplatform mainstreaming of an anti-Israel trope

Obviously not content with the previous amplification of propaganda rhetoric used by anti-Israel campaigners on BBC World Service radio last month, the BBC recently decided to promote business reporter Roger Hearing’s mainstreaming of the same ‘open air prison’ trope on several of its other platforms too.Hearing ice cream Gaza written

The June 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ includes a piece from Hearing introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 22:27 here) as follows:

“It’s nearly a year now since Israeli forces launched air and ground attacks on Gaza in response – they said – to a series of rocket attacks launched from inside the Palestinian territory. More than two thousand people were killed in the conflict and many homes and business properties in Gaza were damaged or destroyed. Rebuilding started soon after a ceasefire was announced last August but progress has been slow. A blockade on the territory imposed by Israel has delayed the arrival of construction materials. Roger Hearing has been to see how one business has carried on despite the difficulties.” [emphasis added]

So, in addition to casting doubt on the reasons for the outbreak of hostilities on July 8th 2014 (almost a month of incessant attacks on civilians, with hundreds of missiles fired rather than “a series”), Adie also fails to distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties, refrains from noting Egypt’s closure of its border with the Gaza Strip and misleads audiences with the inaccurate claim that the slow pace of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is because of Israeli restrictions on the import of dual use goods whilst making no effort to inform them of the terrorism which is the cause of those restrictions.

‘From Our Own Correspondent’ also has a BBC World Service radio version presented by Pascale Harter and Hearing’s report was featured in that programme’s June 20th edition too. Harter’s introduction to the item (from 17:55 here) was notably more accurate and impartial than the one heard by listeners to Radio 4.

“But right now, a glimpse of Gaza as you might not know it. It’s nearly a year since Israeli forces launched air and ground attacks there after weeks in which hundreds of rockets were fired into Israel from inside the Palestinian territory. More than two thousand people were killed in the conflict and many homes and business properties in Gaza were destroyed. It is a very difficult business environment but Roger Hearing finds one entrepreneur winning fame if not fortune.”

A written version of that audio report from Hearing was also promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East and Magazine pages on June 21st and in addition that version of the report was translated into Arabic and promoted on the BBC Arabic website.

All four versions of the report include overly dramatic, context-free descriptions from Hearing.

“…despite the apocalyptic destruction in parts of the city from last year’s war, you do also see a lot of giggling, playing children among the ruins.”

All four versions also fail to inform audiences that, in addition to ice cream making equipment, the Rafah area smuggling tunnels have of course been used to import weapons into the Strip and that metal piping of assorted types is regularly used by terrorists to manufacture missiles.

“He proudly showed us the shiny Italian gelato machines installed in the back rooms of his cafe building. When he was trying to import them, it was hard to convince the Israelis apparently that there wasn’t some other, more threatening purpose for the tall chrome boxes with pipes and chutes and nozzles.

It’s likely at least some of the machines were hauled through the tunnels under the border with Egypt, until that smuggling operation was closed down a few months back. Now that’s a strange image: young men in pitch darkness, sweating to drag huge boxes through rickety holes in the sand, and all so that Gazans could eat fine ice cream.”

Whilst BBC audiences remain serially unaware of Hamas’ activities in Judea & Samaria and in Turkey, they do now at least know that Hamas officials in Gaza like ice cream.

“Very nice,” said Ghazi Hamed, the deputy foreign minister for Hamas. “Everyone here knows Kazem’s.”

All four of these reports conclude with the same canard promoted by Hearing a month earlier in one of his radio reports from the Gaza Strip.

“And I have to say – and this is one of the oddest things – from the decrepit heart of a half-destroyed city in a besieged and blockaded enclave, sometimes described as the biggest open air prison in the world, comes the best ice cream I have ever tasted.” [emphasis added]

The Gaza Strip is of course not “besieged” at all and those who inaccurately describe it as “the biggest open air prison in the world” do so out of clear political motivations. Thousands of people exit and enter the Gaza Strip every year – as anyone who follows the daily reports publicized by COGAT online and on social media will be aware.

But, electing to ignore the facts behind the deliberate misnomer which he has so vigorously promoted over the past few weeks, Roger Hearing continues to mainstream the baseless rhetoric of anti-Israel delegitimisation in a style more suited to the Hamas supporting Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s PR department than a media organization supposedly committed to accurate and impartial reporting. The BBC is undoubtedly capable of identifying the motives and agenda behind the promotion of the inaccurate notion of Gaza as an ‘open air prison’. The fact that it chooses to adopt, amplify and repeatedly mainstream such propaganda on multiple platforms tells audiences all they need to know about the BBC’s supposed ‘impartiality’.

Related Articles:

Mainstreaming anti-Israel rhetoric on the BBC World Service


‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on Twitter

Roger Hearing on Twitter

BBC World Service contact & complaints

BBC Radio 4 contact

How to Complain to the BBC

In which BBC R4 misrepresents an Israeli law and its roots

The September 6th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ was titled “Matters of Life and Death” and included an item by Claudia Hammond, described in the synopsis as follows:FOOC Hammond

“Claudia Hammond discovers that many patients in Israel remain on life support for years”.

 The programme is available here, with the relevant segment beginning at 18:10, or here as a podcast under the different title “The Silent Wards”.  

The item is introduced by programme presenter Kate Adie thus:

“The news from Israel has been dominated recently by events in and around Gaza. On this programme though, we like to give ourselves the space to examine other aspects of life and death. In January this year a former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon died after eight years in a coma following a massive stroke. In many other countries the machines keeping him alive would have been turned off earlier. Jewish law forbids people ending a human life. As Claudia Hammond discovered in Jerusalem, the result is that large numbers of hospital patients spend years on life support.”

Hammond’s item is mostly devoted to the telling of individual stories, with the background she provides to listeners limited to the following segment:

“In most countries a ward like this would not exist and doctors and families in discussion together might have made the decision to turn off Hava’s husband’s ventilator to allow him to die. But since 2005 this has been illegal in Israel and is considered to be killing the patient, even if they’re already dying. The law in Israel was informed by Jewish tradition. But talking to families of other faiths in the hospital here, it seems to have become a cultural viewpoint too.”

Let’s take a look at the accuracy of some of those statements.

Kate Adie claims that “large numbers of hospital patients spend years on life support” but listeners are not told how many people “large numbers” actually are. In January 2011, for example, there were 787 people on life support in hospitals throughout Israel but by no means all would have been long-term chronic patients as that number includes, for example, premature babies and people in ICUs as the result of an accident or an illness. Israel’s population at the time was 7.7 million people: in other words, Adie’s “large numbers” are a few hundred people out of millions.

Adie states that “Jewish law” is the factor responsible for the “large numbers” of patients on life support. In fact Israeli state law is of course a separate issue from Jewish law, which is itself open to many different interpretations and by no means as simple and straightforward as Adie suggests.

According to Hammond, “the law in Israel was informed by Jewish tradition”. In fact the relevant law was the product of years of discussion by a public committee – the Steinberg Committee – appointed in the year 2000 by the Minister of Health. Members of that committee included, for example, Mr Ziad Abu Moch – Director of the College for the Study of Shari’a and Islamic Sciences in Baka al Gharbiya; Father Dr George Khouri – theologist and psychologist, President of the Greek-Catholic Court in Haifa and Sheikh Professor Fadel Mansour – member of the management committee of the Higher Druze Religious Council in Ussafiya and a biologist at the Vulcani Centre. Other members of the committee included experts in civil law, Jewish religious law, ethics, philosophy and medicine.

As we see, Hammond’s claim that the law “was informed by Jewish tradition” is a very partial and selective representation of the facts.

The law itself (a translation can be seen here), although passed in December 2005 actually came into effect in December 2006. Its wording is in fact considerably more nuanced than this BBC report suggests and it provides the opportunity for the patient to define in advance what sort of treatment he or she wishes to receive – or not receive – by means of signed advance directives. Hammond’s claim that “since 2005 this [turning off a ventilator] has been illegal in Israel” is both overly simplistic and inaccurate. Article C, clause 16 (a) for example states:

“Where an incompetent terminally ill patient is suffering significantly, and in respect of whom it has been determined pursuant to the provisions of section 5(b) that he does not want his life prolonged, medical treatment relating to his incurable conditions should be withheld from him, including tests, operations, resuscitation, ventilation, chemotherapy, radiation or dialysis, all in accordance with his wish as ascertained pursuant to section 5(b).”

In addition to its misrepresentation of the law itself, this BBC report clearly sets out to present an inaccurate view of an Israeli law as being synonymous with and defined by Jewish religious law. The political motivation behind that deliberate misrepresentation is all too apparent. 


A written version of this report by Claudia Hammond appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ sections of the BBC News website’s Middle East and Health pages on September 14th under the title “Suspended between life and death“. Unfortunately the inaccuracies evident in the audio version were not addressed before the written version was published. Moreover, they seem likely to be further amplified on BBC World Service radio in the near future. 

‘From Our Own Correspondent’: a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

Readers no doubt remember that on July 5th – three days before Operation Protective Edge commenced – the BBC’s World Editor Andrew Roy appeared on the World Service’s ‘Outside Source’ programme to explain how the BBC ensures equal coverage of what the programme termed “Israel-Palestine”.

Andrew Roy: “Well we try to look at the entirety of our coverage. We’re not minute counting. We are ensuring that across the whole thing we can look back on our coverage of this and say we did give fair balance to each side. So it’s not a minute by minute thing, no.” […]

Presenter: “When you get people complaining that they feel one side has been given more air-time or more favour than the other, what do you do?”

Andrew Roy: “We answer them by giving them the evidence that we’ve tried to put the other side as often as we can.”

Let’s take a look at the accuracy and validity of Roy’s claims by using a test case: BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.FOOC

Between July 8th (commencement of Operation Protective Edge) and the present, eight editions of the programme have been broadcast. The first two (July 10th and July 12th) did not include any content related to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The July 17th edition included an item by Yolande Knell (available here from 00:42) which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie using the description ‘fasting under fire’. Knell’s report focuses entirely on the presentation of life in the Gaza Strip with descriptions of shortages of food, frightened children, reduced business in markets and evacuees. Much focus is also put on the topic of border restrictions with Knell twice quoting interviewees referring to a “siege” which of course does not exist and no explanation given regarding the terrorism which brought about the border restrictions.

On July 19th the programme featured an item by Jeremy Bowen which is available here from 00:45. Whilst the item is introduced as being about the whole Middle East, the BBC’s Middle East editor has his sights firmly set on one tiny part of that region. Using the language of Hamas Bowen tells listeners:

“Gaza’s economy is definitely not able to support a population of 1.7 million people but that’s because of the siege imposed by Israel and Egypt.” [emphasis added]

Like Knell before him, Bowen makes no attempt to tell listeners about the Hamas terrorism which brought about border restrictions.  He later continues:

“And there’s been a reminder in the last few days of the terrible potency of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. [..] But the new war in Gaza shows how the Palestinian –Israeli conflict still has resonance across the world as well as in the region. People care about it, get angry about it in a way that they don’t about other crises and wars. I’m calling what’s happening in Gaza a war though I’m aware that it perhaps is not a perfect description. Some people have even told me I shouldn’t use the word because of the enormous imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. I disagree. Wars are increasingly fought between the strong and the weak. 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. The only long-term way to end this chronic killing is through a permanent settlement of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. It has to be one both sides can tolerate. An imposed peace would just contain the seeds of the next war. But at the moment peace is not conceivable. Even a long-term absence of war is unattainable. What’s the alternative? If nothing changes more and more of these mini wars, which will eventually become major wars.” [emphasis added]

The BBC’s Middle East editor makes no effort to inform listeners that Hamas is not interested in the kind of “permanent settlement” which has been on the table for two decades, neglecting to inform them that Hamas was one of the Palestinian factions which rejected the Oslo accords.

On July 26th listeners to ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ heard Paul Adams. That item is available from 00:50 here and includes the following. [all emphasis in bold added]

“Generations have experienced nothing but occupation, embargo, blockade, war and death. It’s had a slow, brutalising effect. Perhaps that’s why some of them are seized by such a furious desire to tunnel out and seek revenge. For Gaza is a giant prison surrounded by a wall, watch towers and the most sophisticated military in the Middle East.”

Although he makes no effort to inform listeners of the fact that nine years ago, when Israel withdrew, Gaza stood at a crossroads which could have taken it in a very different direction had its leaders not chosen terrorism as their raison d’être, notably Adams does tell of things which – like the rest of his colleagues – he failed to report whilst he was in Gaza

“Of course it would be wrong to suggest that this prison 66 years in the making is full only of the innocent. There are men of violence here. Men who will never, ever accept Israel’s right to exist in the land they still regard as theirs. Men who will store weapons in mosques and schools and take great pride in launching almost entirely indiscriminate rockets from the midst of populated areas, hoping – in the name of resistance – to cause death and fear on the other side. During a week in Gaza I caught occasional glimpses of them; weapons stuffed under shirts, furtive in civilian clothes, moving with purpose through the ravaged streets of Shuja’iya looking for a fight. But when so many of those dismembered and burned by Israeli rockets and shells are not the fighters but women, old people and especially children, then it’s really, really hard not to conclude that the Palestinians are being collectively punished.”

The August 2nd edition of the programme included an item by Chris Morris, available here from 00:42 or here. In addition to Morris’ very graphic descriptions, audiences hear the following. [emphasis added]FOOC Morris

“Because things have got worse; much worse. Could anyone have imagined that twenty years on this would be their fate? Bombed from land, sea and air. Stuck inside the world’s largest prison with nowhere to run. […]

That’s why Hamas’ main demand is now in tune with public opinion: lift the siege of Gaza, open the borders, give people a chance to live.”

Like his colleagues, Morris of course makes no attempt to explain to listeners that it was Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians which brought border restrictions into being.

On August 9th listeners heard a report by Tim Whewell: the first (and last) making any attempt to portray the Israeli side of the story. That item can be heard here or here from 00:45. Especially, given the track record of his BBC colleagues as far as promoting the notion of a mythical ‘siege’ and failing to report on the context and background of border restrictions is concerned, one interesting part of Whewell’s report is this:

“Why, they [Israelis] demand, don’t you – foreign correspondents – ever report that? And again and again I slip into the same argument. We do report the reasons but we also have to report the results and then much of the audience for our reporting concludes that being afraid or traumatized like Honi [phonetic] is bad, but not nearly as bad as being dead – as so many more Palestinians now are. We’re talking now uncomfortably about hierarchies of suffering and Israelis reply ‘so what do you want? More dead Jewish children? Do we also have to die just to make you report the story fairly?’ “

The August 16th edition of the programme featured a report by Kevin Connolly on the children of Gaza already discussed here and with the audio versions available here from 06:00 or here.

As we see, between July 17th and August 16th six editions of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on BBC Radio 4 included items pertaining to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip. Only one of those items presented an Israeli point of view, with the other five not only presenting the opposite viewpoint, but often promoting the terminology of a terrorist organization and failing to provide essential context.

Surely even Andrew Roy cannot possibly claim that any attempt was made to “give fair balance to each side” in that series of programmes.

Related Articles:

BBC pats itself on the back for its ME coverage

Half a picture, half a story: how the BBC compromises its own impartiality in Gaza




BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ does fashionable post-colonial guilt

With the BBC’s commemoration of the World War One centenary well underway, it was not surprising to see that the March 6th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ – broadcast both on BBC Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service – included an item described in the Radio 4 version’s programme synopsis as follows:

“James Rodgers visits a World War 1 cemetery near Jerusalem and ponders how events there 100 years ago influenced the region and still do.” 

The item – which can be listened to here or as a podcast here from about 18:00 – was also featured in the World Service edition of the same programme on March 11th and can be heard here from around 04:43. In that abridged version it was presented under the title “Bearing Witness on the Middle East” and the synopsis reads: FOOC WS 11 3

“Near Jerusalem, James Rodgers has been researching the area’s war graves. As the world gears up to commemorate World War One in Europe, he argues that perhaps we would do better to cast our minds eastwards, and consider how that conflict continues to shape the Middle East.”

The Radio 4 version is introduced by Kate Adie.

“The Great War of 1914-18 may have been largely concentrated in France and Belgium and that’s the focus of most of the commemorations this year. But the largest theatre of war in terms of territory was in fact in the Middle East. It pitted the British and Russians among others against the forces of the Ottoman Empire, supported by the Central Powers – in other words the likes of Germany and Austria. But it also involved all sorts of others, including Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, Berbers, Arabs and Jews. James Rodgers, who’s been writing a book on the region, has been exploring some of the consequences of the fighting.”

The World Service version is introduced by Pascale Harter.

“Coming up: the graveyards in Jerusalem which bear witness to the way World War One shaped the Middle East.”


“Across the Middle East, James Rodgers has been researching the First World War. It’s coming up to one hundred years since the outbreak of what was known then as the Great War. As people prepare for the centenary commemorations by focusing on the devastation it caused for Europe, James takes a walk through a part of the world where it’s still affecting events today.”

Listeners may therefore have quite reasonably concluded that the four minutes or so of former BBC journalist James Rodgers’ item would inform them about the British campaign in the Middle East nearly a hundred years ago. British cemetery Jerusalem

That, however, is not quite the case.

Yes – Rodgers begins with a description of the British war cemetery in Jerusalem and recounts his search for the graves of soldiers commemorated in his local church in London, but he soon goes off on a tangent and a sizeable proportion of his report is devoted to an event which took place twenty-eight years after the end of the First World War.

“I was pointed in the direction of the graves of some of the men from my local parish. They had been killed a few days before Christmas 1917 as British forces sought to consolidate their hold on Jerusalem. Their occupation of the Holy Land then was part of the process – the defeat and dismantling of the Ottoman Empire – which would see the Middle East divided by borders we largely recognize today.

British forces stayed in Jerusalem until 1948. Their commanders came to use the King David hotel – opened in the early 1930s – as their headquarters. This made the building a target for Jewish fighters seeking to drive them out of Palestine. In July 1946 bombers disguised as milkmen blew up the southern wing of the hotel, killing 91 people. Today the king David hosts presidents and prime ministers. Guests sitting in the lobby on my recent visit seemed casually dressed, but snatches of conversations and ubiquitous smartphones and tablet computers suggested they were doing big business.

I had come to learn more about the experience of my journalist counterparts in the late 1940s. Some of them had narrow escapes from the explosion. It was here, explained Maya Morav – the hotel’s PR manager – flicking on the lights to a basement room. Now it’s a hall for conferences and meetings. Then it had been a subterranean kitchen – the place where the bombers left the milk-churns they had packed with explosives. Less than two years later the British Mandate came to an end. British involvement in the Middle East, of course, did not.

When you are covering the Israel-Palestine conflict as a correspondent you need to have history at your fingertips – often more than one version of it. One of my earliest experiences in Gaza was being welcomed and then chastised by an elderly Palestinian refugee. Because I was British he saw me as bearing some of the blame for events of the previous century which had left his family in a shanty town in one of the most crowded parts of the world. Perhaps he had a point.

As events remembering the First World War gather pace in Europe, perhaps the real focus should be on the Middle East where decisions taken then helped to shape Jerusalem, Gaza, Israel, Syria and Iraq as they are today.”

What Rodgers hopes to achieve by urging BBC audiences to focus on geo-political events in the Middle East a century ago is not stated clearly in this report. What is apparent is some degree of fashionable ‘post-colonial guilt’ and an utter disregard for the all-important subject of context – as shown for example in Rodgers’ failure to note that his “elderly Palestinian refugee” actually came by that status as a result of the decision by Arab countries to invade the new Israeli state or his failure to mention the British policies which kept untold numbers of Jews from reaching safety in Palestine before, during and after the Second World War.

Some might consider that Rodgers’ suggestion that those commemorating World War One turn their attentions to the Middle East becomes a little less opaque when one notes that he is not averse to collaborating with the Hamas-supporting Palestine Solidarity Campaign and that the latter organization – in addition to producing its own highly inaccurate propaganda concerning Britain’s record in the region – also promotes and supports the ongoing campaign by the Hamas-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’ (and others) to get Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration.

A dollop of selective post-colonial guilt will surely oil the wheels of that politically motivated campaign. 




BBC reports on a “new debate” in Israel that isn’t, revives old Ha’aretz campaign

The January 25th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, which is broadcast both on BBC Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service, included an item by Josh Spero – editor of the luxury magazine ‘Spear’s’ which describes itself as:

“…the multi-award-winning wealth management and luxury lifestyle media brand whose flagship magazine has become a must-read for the ultra-high-net- worth (UHNW) community. It is also required reading for the affluent financial services community, including the bankers, lawyers and family offices who advise the wealthy.”

It might then have come of something as a surprise to listeners to this edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (available here from 06:15) to find that: Spero FOOC audio

“Josh Spero in Jerusalem asks how best to teach Israeli children about the Holocaust without traumatising them”.

In her introduction to the item, presenter Kate Adie correctly states that:

“The 27th of January was chosen as Holocaust Memorial Day because it’s the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops in 1945. In Israel the Holocaust is commemorated later, either in April or in May.”

Unfortunately she did not bother to inform listeners as to why that is the case or of the significance of Israel’s different date of commemoration – close to the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Adie goes on:

“Commemorating is one thing; teaching another. A new debate has broken out in Israel on how to teach young school children about the Holocaust as Josh Spero found out.”

In fact, the BBC’s “new debate” is three months old.

Spero’s audio report at first appears fairly unremarkable in itself. The interesting part of this story comes when one looks at the written version which appeared on the BBC News website on January 29th under the title “A Holocaust book for young children” in both the Magazine section and on the Middle East page. Spero FOOC written

In that article readers are told that:

“At the moment [Israeli] teachers deal with the subject as they think best, often in the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January, but they are rarely suitably trained.”

In the audio version of that sentence Spero does not mention the date January 27th, so that is clearly an inaccurate addition by the website’s editors.

With regard to the “new debate” around which this item is centred, the article states:

“In newspaper opinion pieces, writers recalled the traumas they had suffered when Holocaust education had been done badly.

One remembered being shown the movie Night and Fog aged 14, with footage from the death camps of “mountains of bodies being bulldozed”, leaving him “tormented”, while another still suffered nightmares 30 years after a teacher showed him, aged seven or eight, photos of what he called “walking corpses in striped pyjamas“.”

Diligent readers who bother to click on the links provided by the BBC will note that the author of the second article is a woman rather than a “he” and that both those articles date from November 2013 and both come from Ha’aretz – a fact not revealed in the audio version. That second article is also included, together with an editorial, in a side-box of quotations from Ha’aretz articles on the subject. sidebox Holocaust educ art

The opening paragraph of the written article states that:

“News that Israeli children are to receive compulsory lessons about the Holocaust provoked an outcry from pundits who were traumatised by teachers when they were young.”

Hence, readers who clicked on the links to see the sources of these three articles may by now have concluded that just one newspaper exists in Israel, seeing as the only apparent evidence of that “new debate” being touted by the BBC is to be found on the pages of Ha’aretz and the BBC does not provide links to any other sources.

So what are the actual facts behind this BBC-promoted saga?

In 2010 the Israeli State Comptroller (Mevaker HaMedina) criticized Holocaust commemoration in the education system saying that the Ministry of Education “did not instruct the kindergarten teachers and teachers who dealt with teaching the Holocaust and did not provide them with pedagogic material in order to enable them to cope with the complex questions involved in the teaching of this sensitive subject.”.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum took up the challenge of preparing suitable material for use in classes of differing ages during the hours already devoted to teaching the subject in the run-up to Holocaust Remembrance Day. In October 2013 Education Minister Shai Piron announced the new proposal.

Josh Spear’s claim that “[t]he storm […] broke out when education minister Shay Piron announced that Holocaust education was to become compulsory for all Israeli schoolchildren” is not an accurate one. In contrast perhaps to their European counterparts, Israeli children take part in annual commemorations from a very young age and cannot fail to be aware of the siren marking the occasion, the media coverage of the subject and the fact that for many families in Israel, the Holocaust is part of their personal history. Hence, Holocaust education already exists and this latest initiative is designed to help teachers who have been asking for better pedagogic resources on the subject for years. 

But, as Ben Dror Yemini pointed out in an article last November, the new proposal became the focus of an overtly political campaign on the pages of Ha’aretz rather than anything which can be honestly described as a “debate”.

Interestingly, the BBC has chosen to revive and amplify that now old Ha’aretz campaign and has inadvertently illustrated once again that it would be prudent for BBC employees and contributors to widen their reading of the Israeli media beyond the pages of Ha’aretz if they wish to inform themselves – and of course their audiences – of domestic Israeli affairs. 

BBC correspondent compares anti-terrorist fence to Berlin wall, fails to mention terrorism

h/t DA

It is with tedious regularity that we find ourselves addressing here the subject of breaches of accuracy and impartiality guidelines in the programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ which is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (10.97 million listeners per week) and on the BBC World Service (192 million listeners). 

The programme’s latest edition – broadcast on Radio 4 on October 31st and scheduled for broadcast on the World Service on November 4th – includes an item by Andreas Gebauer of the BBC World Service. The item can be heard here from 11:32 or here

FOOC R4 edit

FOOC WS edition

The synopsis to the World Service edition of the programme reads as follows:

“A story of the divisions between people – and another of how they can begin to crumble. Seeing the “separation barrier” which separates Israeli from Palestinian settlements in the West Bank brings back childhood memories of Berlin’s Wall for Andreas Gebauer. The two were built for completely different reasons – yet their psychological impact can be oddly similar.”

The synopsis of the Radio 4 edition states:

“Andreas Gebauer finds parallels between Israel’s security barrier and the Berlin wall which he first saw as a young boy”.

Kate Adie’s introduction of the Radio 4 version begins thus:

“Israel this week released twenty-six Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal connected to the latest peace talks between the two sides. The Israeli prime minister has been telling his parliament he’s making a real effort to secure a peace deal with the Palestinians. Precisely what’s been discussed isn’t being revealed. The Palestinians are known to be concerned about the four hundred mile-long separation barrier Israel has built in the West Bank to prevent – it says – attacks being launched against its citizens. Seeing it has reminded Andreas Gebauer of another wall; the one that divided Berlin and his native Germany.”

In other words, rather than taking the opportunity provided by the recent release of convicted terrorists to impart some insight to BBC audiences as to how the families of their victims regard this event, the BBC chooses to use it as a hook upon which to hang yet another pernicious ‘opinion piece’ on one of Israel’s means of preventing exactly such acts of terror, promoting the meme of the ‘Berlin wall’ comparison so often employed by anti-Israel activists. 

Adie’s claim of a “four hundred mile-long separation barrier Israel has built in the West Bank” is clearly inaccurate. The anti-terrorist fence has not been completed and the sections so far constructed – 69% of the project as of August 2012 – are 491.9 kms (305.6 miles) long. Neither is the fence “built in the West Bank” as Adie claims. Its route is determined by security and topographical considerations with most of it situated on the 1949 Armistice lines.

As is all too often the case, Adie’s snide insertion of the words “it says” implies to listeners that the rationale behind the fence’s construction is to be doubted and conceals from them the long-known facts proving its effectiveness.

“A comparison of the above data shows a decrease of slightly more than 90% in the number of attacks: from an average of 26 attacks a year before the fence, to three attacks after erection of the anti-terrorist fence. This means a decrease of more than 70% in the number of Israelis murdered: from an average of 103 slain per year before the fence to 28 after erection of the fence. Similarly, this means a drop of more than 85% in the number of wounded: from an average of 688 a year before the fence to 83 wounded per year after it was built. ”

Andreas Gebauer begins his piece with the biblical story of the fall of the walls of Jericho, but soon moves on to pastures political.

“Now, a new wall has gone up in Canaan. It snakes its way across hills, follows motorways, hugs buildings, cuts through roads and farms. In the hilly countryside it stands out; an ever-present reminder of the unresolved Middle East problem.”

Apparently not aware of the fact that Canaan ceased to exist in the Iron Age, Gebauer is obviously equally oblivious of the fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict is – as the past three years have amply demonstrated – far from being “the unresolved Middle East problem”. He continues:

“Of course I knew it would bring back memories of the Berlin wall which I’d first seen as a young boy. When you stand next to it, as I did east of Jerusalem, the similarities are eerie. The same prefabricated slabs, the same watch-towers, even the graffiti – some angry, some witty. Only this wall seems to be much higher – eight meters, I later find out – more than twice as high as the Berlin wall.”

Gebauer does not bother to point out to his listeners that less than 10% of the anti-terrorist fence is actually a wall, with the vast majority being a chain-link fence. Neither does he clarify that the sections which are constructed of concrete slabs are designed to prevent snipers from shooting at civilians – an issue which East Germany did not need to take into account when its wall was constructed for entirely different reasons. Gebauer goes on:

“To most Palestinians it’s impenetrable: not only to would-be attackers, but also to the mass of Palestinians looking for work. The few Palestinians that are allowed to cross it may have to wait for up to four hours at the checkpoint.”

Gebauer’s historical difficulties continue: he airbrushes from his account the establishment of the Palestinian Authority under the terms of the Oslo Accords twenty years ago by suggesting that residents of PA controlled areas “looking for work” should have free access to areas in which they neither reside nor are citizens. In fact, the number of Palestinians allocated permits to work in Israel is currently at its highest since the start of the second Intifada in 2000. 48,000 permanent permits and 3,000 temporary permits are allocated to Palestinians and a further 27,000 work in industrial zones or communities in Judea & Samaria. During the month of Ramadan this year, over 200,000 Palestinians were issued with permits to visit Israel and in the first half of 2013, 4,545,854 Palestinians crossed into Israel. 

According to Gebauer, however, those numbers represent a “few”.

Gebauer then recounts a personal anecdote before continuing:

“So, much bigger was their [the German people] surprise when a few years later they saw a new wall go up just east of Jerusalem. Not dividing the city, but keeping out its Palestinian hinterland. The Israeli economy may be doing well, but that Palestinian hinterland is clearly suffering. Bethlehem, just a few miles from Jerusalem, shows all signs of massive unemployment, stagnation and squalor.”

Again, Gebauer ignores the fact that Bethlehem, along with what he bizarrely terms Jerusalem’s “Palestinian hinterland”, is under Palestinian Authority control and responsibility – and has been for nearly two decades. He continues:

“On the hill opposite, sheltered by the wall and overlooking the countryside like a modern medieval castle, sits Har Homa – one of the many Israeli settlements that have sprung up east of Jerusalem.”

Here we once again see BBC’s partial adoption of the terminology used by the Palestinian Authority to describe neighbourhoods of Jerusalem – in this case a suburb built largely on land which was purchased by Jews before 1948. Gebauer goes on:

“They look well-built, in their gleaming white concrete, their roofs not cluttered up with black water tanks like those of the Palestinian houses. Unlike the settlements, most Palestinian towns and villages receive water for only a few hours a day.”

Yet again, Gebauer makes no attempt to explain to his listeners that the water supply to Palestinian towns and villages in Areas A and B is the responsibility of the Palestinian Water Authority according to the terms of the Oslo Accords and so any supply problems which may exist should be addressed by that body. He continues:

“When you travel through the West Bank you can’t help feeling that most of it has already been incorporated into Israel. The road numbers are Israeli. The bathing complex on the Dead Sea is Israeli. The Qumran Caves – where centuries-old Jewish scrolls were found – form part of an Israeli national park. The road along the River Jordan, with an electrified fence facing the neighbouring Kingdom of Jordan, is dotted with small Israeli settlements. The only Arab presence is a derelict barracks, vacated by the Jordanian army when it left in a hurry in 1967.”

Gebauer’s “road along the River Jordan” is route 90 – and it has an Israeli road number because, like the rest of the roads in the area, it was constructed by Israel. Between the north of the Dead Sea and the Bazaq (Mehola) crossing, Gebauer would have had to pass numerous Arab towns and villages including Jericho (population 17,000), Zubaydat, Marj Na’je, Fasa’il, Bardale, Tel Albeida and Tel Al Khama. Apparently he was unable to distinguish them from “small Israeli settlements” just as he is clearly unable to tell the difference between an electronic monitoring fence marking an international border and an “electrified” one. He goes on:

“And yet, there is a huge Arab presence, even in Israel proper. Head north to Galilee and you encounter numerous Arab villages and towns, the minarets of their mosques and the steeples of their churches shining proudly in the sun. Their residents – now more than 1.6 million – were allowed to stay after 1948, even given Israeli citizenship.”

The use of the phrase “allowed to stay” of course fails to reflect the fact that Israel’s Declaration of Independence included a specific call to Arab residents of the area at the time:

“We appeal – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”

Gebauer continues:

“The wall makes a re-appearance on the way back to the airport, next to the motorway leading from Galilee to Tel Aviv. Behind it, the Palestinian town of Tulkarem. To the right, in the distance, the high-rise blocks along the Israeli coastline. This is the point where Israel proper is barely ten miles wide; no distance for a good enemy army.”

Where exactly Gebauer accessed the motorway (Route 6) we do not know, but whether it was at the Ein Tut interchange or the Ir’on interchange, he would have travelled quite a distance before having any view of the short section of the anti-terrorist fence near Tulkarem which is constructed from concrete. Apparently, the road’s proximity to Tulkarem – a town with a history of terrorist infrastructure – did little to enhance Gebauer’s understanding of the need for protection from sniper attacks and other types of terrorist activity or his comprehension of the fact that the function of the anti-terrorist fence is not to halt “a good enemy army” engaged in conventional warfare.

Route 6

Gebauer then begins his conclusion:

“Yet whether the wall is the answer to Israel’s undoubted security needs is questionable. Walls may – for a while – bring relief to a symptom; they don’t solve the problem itself.”

Ironically, Gebauer has managed to get through his entire item without naming “the problem itself” – terrorism – and he is not about to rectify that.

“The Berlin wall certainly saved East Germany from imminent economic collapse, but it didn’t rescue it in the long run, creating hardship and huge resentment in the process. Similarly, Israel’s security barrier is unlikely to be the long-term answer. It’s a blot on the landscape and doesn’t help Israel’s image.”

Apparently “image” and aesthetics trump civilian lives in Gebauer’s world.

“What’s required now are two wise and courageous politicians to emerge on both sides and fortunate circumstances. We may have to wait for a while, but so did the people of Berlin.”

Beyond its multiple accuracy failures, this broadcast is clearly no more than a politically motivated polemic which adopts both its theme and its language from the repertoires of anti-Israel campaigners. What it certainly does not do is to provide BBC audiences with any “insight” (as claimed in the programme blurb) into why the anti-terrorist fence had to be built or why its presence is still a regrettable necessity. Gebauer’s total abstention from any serious mention of the subject of Palestinian terrorism indicates that he did not intend to inform his audiences at all: his frankly repugnant ‘moral’ posturing and his co-opting of childhood memories are merely a vehicle for the promotion of an all too transparent political standpoint – in clear breach of BBC guidelines on impartiality. 

BBC’s Kevin Connolly tries wit, promotes jaded memes

The BBC programme ‘From our own Correspondent’ – broadcast on Radio 4 and the BBC World Service – promises its audiences:

“Insight, wit and analysis as BBC correspondents, journalists and writers take a closer look at the stories behind the headlines.”

On March 16th 2013, the broadcast included an item by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly (available here from 21:58), the synopsis of which reads: 

“People in Jerusalem are awaiting the imminent arrival of Barack Obama. Kevin Connolly speculates on what may emerge from the trip and wonders if, afterwards, streets will be named in honour of the American president! “

Connolly’s attempts at wit unfortunately come across as more embarrassingly parochial than amusing.

“Foreigners tend to be commemorated here, naturally enough, according to the degree of enthusiasm they showed for the Zionist cause. So you’ll find streets named after Balfour and Lloyd George alongside roads named after men who are now otherwise figures of total historical obscurity. The back bench British MP Josiah Wedgwood, for example, or the colonial official Wyndham Deedes. The street map of Jerusalem can seem more like a ‘who’s he?’ rather than a Who’s Who.”

<i><i>Josiah Wedgwood</i></i>

The ‘Josiah Wedgwood’ sailed from Italy in April 1946 with some 1,250 Holocaust survivors aboard. Arrested by the British off the coast of Haifa in June 1946, its passengers were interred in Atlit.

Of course it actually might be of some benefit to Mr Connolly’s listeners’ familiarity with Israel’s history (and Britain’s too) were the reporter to refrain from dismissing a figure such as Colonel Josiah Wedgwood as obscure before familiarizing himself with the latter’s tireless campaigning against British limitations on Jewish immigration to Palestine and against restrictions on entry to Britain for persecuted European Jews in the pre-war years. 

The most notable feature of this report though is the slick manner in which several beloved BBC memes are inserted into it. The introduction to the item begins with presenter Kate Adie saying:

“Barack Obama arrives in Israel next week. It’s the first foreign trip of his new presidency and it promises to be a tricky one; not least because he and the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu don’t apparently get on.” [emphasis added]

Later on we have Connolly repeating that meme:

“Mr Obama is widely thought not to have warmed to Mr Netanyahu personally, but Congress loves him.” [emphasis added]

Thought by whom? The listener is not made privy to the source of the BBC’s ‘Chinese whispers’.

Another rather suspect meme promoted by Connolly comes in this passage:

“Obama did come here as a presidential candidate: a prudent step to woo the Jewish vote at home and to please the powerful pro-Israel lobby.” [emphasis added]

Connolly also informs listeners that:

“There will be much talk of Iran whilst President Obama is in Israel. Its nuclear ambitions worry most Israelis and they sometimes seem to obsess Prime Minister Netanyahu.” [emphasis added]

Can we then assume that if a neighbouring enemy country which had vowed to wipe Britain off the map was developing nuclear weapons, Kevin Connolly would not expect his prime minister to be preoccupied with that issue?  

And we also have an insertion of the much touted – but entirely unfounded – meme that all would be sweetness and light in the Middle East if only the Israelis and the Palestinians would make peace.

“One reason perhaps why there was no visit in that first Obama term was the sudden fluidity of the Middle East – a kind of breaking of the political pack-ice after decades of stagnation. America suddenly needed changing policies for changing times in Tunisia and Libya and – above all – Egypt. [….] In those long years of stagnation there was an unspoken belief that the key to unlocking everything was to find peace between Israel and the Palestinian people of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” [emphasis added]

As ridiculous as that “belief” may be, it was – and is – certainly not “unspoken” as Connolly claims. But one really would expect that analysts and commentators (and Western politicians) would have learned from the past two and a quarter years of Middle East turmoil that the fact that their own assessments and predictions proved redundant time and time again shows just how little of the region’s dynamics they actually understand. That applies just as much to the concept of the ‘peace process’ as the key to regional stability as it did to the ‘expert’ schools of thought which assured us that revolution would not happen in Libya and Syria, that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was ‘moderate’ and democracy-loving and that Bashar al  Assad was a ‘reformer’. 

The BBC’s seemingly limitless obsession with ‘the peace process’ as the only show in town – even as Al Qaeda affiliated militias stalk the Syrian side of Israel’s northern border and a Hamas minister tries to establish terror cells in PA controlled territories – is dismal testimony of the standard of Middle East-related “analysis” and “insight” it offers to its audiences. 

Kevin Connolly tweaks the Israeli political map

Apparently still unable to let go of the subject of the Israeli elections, the BBC featured another report on the subject by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly in its January 26th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ – broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service. 

A podcast of the programme can be downloaded or heard here.  Connolly’s report begins at 01:26, but it is also worth listening to the introduction by the programme’s presenter Kate Adie from 00:39, in which she once more repeats the unquestioned mantra of “the deadlocked peace process” as one of the “pressing regional matters”. Alternatively, a fairly accurate transcript of Connolly’s radio report can be read in the magazine section of the BBC News website.

Moving on past the rather laboured introduction, we reach Connolly’s assessment of democracy in the Middle East; one which seems riskily hasty if one considers the track record of elected Islamist regimes in the region so far.  

“Israeli officials have long made the point that theirs is the only democracy in the Middle East – a claim that calls for a little tweaking or qualification in the light of Egypt’s elections last year.”

But the real intention of this report by Connolly seems to be to persuade audiences that the BBC’s pre-election analysis was not as far off the mark as they may think. 

You see, if you happened to think that the BBC’s energetic promotion of the notion that Israelis were about to elect a right-wing government was mistaken then, according to Connolly, it is you who are wrong. And in order to explain just how wrong you were, Connolly says:

“What is interesting about this election is that the dynamic new force in parliament comes not from the far-right of Israeli politics as many expected, but from the centre.

A new party called “There is a Future” is the second-largest force in the new Knesset.

It is led by a popular television personality called Yair Lapid. If you are British or American, you will have to imagine David Dimbleby or David Letterman stepping down from the screen to sort the country out.”

So far, so good. But Connolly then continues:

“Using the term “centrist” in the context of Israeli politics is not always helpful.

I suspect that to many Europeans, it conjures an image of a leader who would be much less tough in negotiations with the Palestinians than Mr Netanyahu would.

But Mr Lapid does not believe that Israel should have to divide Jerusalem with the Palestinians in a future peace deal – one of the core elements of the two-state solution that the wider world continues to believe in.

That Mr Lapid is labelled a centrist perhaps shows you where the centre of gravity of Israeli opinion on such matters lies these days.”

So you see, the BBC was not wrong: Israelis did elect a far-right government after all, because Kevin Connolly has just ‘shown’ that in Israeli politics – which apparently should be defined in European terms and solely in relation to the ‘peace process’, ignoring aspects such as economic policy – even the Centre is Right. 

And how does he pull that off? By blinkering his audience into focusing on one single issue – the subject of the possible re-division of Israel’s capital city – which Connolly should know is just one of many issues defined in internationally recognized agreements as subjects for final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The fact that Yair Lapid – or any other Israeli – may consider the division of Jerusalem undesirable is not a rejection of negotiations with a Palestinian Authority genuinely interested in reaching a settlement. 

Of course Connolly’s convenient tweak of the Israeli political spectrum does nothing to explain why, in all its pre-election coverage of the Israeli Right (and only the right), did the Yesh Atid party barely get a mention. Rather embarrassingly, Connolly also seems to have forgotten that only three days previously he himself wrote the following words:

“But the sudden and decisive lurch to the right that many predicted hasn’t happened.

The results show that there’s plenty of life on the left and the centre of Israeli politics too.”

Unfortunately, this latest report by Connolly appears to indicate that not only is the BBC nowhere near engaging in the much-needed self-criticism shown to be so necessary by its coverage of the Israeli elections, but that it appears to be determined to avoid that introspection like the plague, even if it makes itself and its correspondents look very silly in the process.