Misinformation from BBC’s Kevin Connolly on From Our Own Correspondent

The March 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item by Kevin Connolly (available from 06:19 here) described as follows in the programme’s synopsis:FOOC 19 3

“…a stunning election victory for Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel — but it means frustration, anger and dismay for the country’s Palestinian population…”

As has been noted here in previous discussions of BBC coverage of the recent Israeli election (see here and here), one topic which all the corporation’s journalists avoided like the plague in all its reporting was that of foreign funding for organisations such as V15 which campaigned to influence the outcome of the election. In this report, however, Kevin Connolly goes a step beyond omission, actively misinforming listeners when he says (from around 09:00):

“…Mr Netanyahu now has the chance to replace a rather fractious and recalcitrant old coalition with a new one, which should prove more manageable. Foreign governments, of course, are far too well-behaved to interfere in the internal politics of a democratic state. But the outside world tends to view Israeli politics through the prism of the state of the peace process with the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

Whether or not US tax-payers’ money was used in the V15 campaign remains to be seen – as the Free Beacon recently reported:

“The head of a progressive U.S.-based group that helped organize the failed get-out-the-vote effort to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel defended the initiative during a panel discussion at J Street’s annual conference on Sunday.

Kenneth Bob, who runs the U.S. nonprofit Ameinu, said around a year ago the group began meeting with board members, political parties, and other progressive organizations to figure out “what can we actually do to impact events on the ground in Israel.”

“It took us on a path to learn about Israeli electoral funding laws, and it brought us to a project that has now gotten a certain amount of publicity thanks to the prime minister of Israel,” said Bob. “We helped put together a get-out-the-vote effort in the Arab community.”

Netanyahu called on his supporters to turn out to vote last Tuesday to counter U.S.-funded efforts aimed at bringing out left-leaning and Arab-Israeli voters. His comments earned rebukes from the White House, which has suggested that he was trying to discourage minority voting.

Bob said Netanyahu’s characterization of the campaign was accurate, although the prime minister overstated how much money it had received.

“When Bibi spoke about the tens of millions of dollars pouring into this effort, my only correction was it wasn’t tens of millions,” said Bob. “He exaggerated a little bit.” […]

Several organizations that have received funding from the U.S. State Department—including OneVoice, Givat Haviva and the Abraham Fund Initiatives—were also involved in the voter-targeting efforts. A bipartisan Senate committee launched an investigation earlier this month into whether any U.S. government funds had been used for this campaign.” [emphasis added]

What is already known, however, is that foreign governments regularly interfere in internal Israeli politics by means of funding for assorted NGOs. Those governments include the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland and Norway – to name but a few of the countries which are considerably less “well-behaved” than Connolly tries to make out.

Connolly then provides listeners with more misinformation:

“Outsiders will want to know what chance there is now of convening talks or what chance they might have of succeeding if they could be convened. The truth is that the process was already feeling pretty moribund. There’s been no movement since an American-brokered attempt at negotiations fizzled out last year. Now, it feels more moribund still.” [emphasis added]

The last round of talks between Israel and the PLO did not “fizzle out” as Connolly claims: they came to an abrupt end when the Fatah controlled  Palestinian Authority opted for a reconciliation deal with Hamas: a terrorist organization which does not recognize either Israel’s right to exist or existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords.

Of course accurate representation of the reasons for the failure of the last round of talks would have put a decided damper on the multi-platform campaign to portray the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon the results of Israel’s election which was evident throughout the BBC’s coverage of that event. This contribution from Connolly may well fit the chosen editorial line, but it is not accurate and deliberately misleads BBC audiences.  

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Background to the BBC’s inaccurate framing of the end of Middle East talks

Revisiting the BBC’s framing of the 2013/14 Israel-PLO negotiations

 

Elections 2015: the morning after – BBC News website coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bowen informed readers that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The article also states:

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

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

The article later states:

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

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

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

Plus ça change… 

 

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

The information below – provided by the Israeli MFA’s Paul Hirschson – will not come as a surprise to readers.

Hirschson jlists tweet 1

Among those foreign journalists who arrived in Israel especially for the election were the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, its chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet and Turkey correspondent Mark Lowen.

Of course an inflated number of journalists means a high volume of coverage and the BBC is no exception to that rule. However, quantity is not necessarily a guarantee of accuracy or impartiality.Connolly filmed 16 3

In the days running up to the election the BBC News website’s Middle East page published four items, beginning with an appeal to Israeli voters for interviews on March 6th which later produced an article titled “Israel election: What do voters want?” – previously discussed here. On March 13th Kevin Connolly asked “Israel election: Will outcome revive peace process?” (discussed here) which focused on the topic of the potential effect of the elections on talks with the PLO, despite the fact that Israeli voters had repeatedly made it clear that was not the main election issue. On March 14th the BBC News website finally got round to providing some very limited background information on the leaders of six of the 26 lists running for election in an article titled “Israel election: Who are the key candidates?“.

The day before the election – March 16th – viewers of BBC television news (and visitors to the website) saw a short item titled “Israel election in numbers – 60 secs” and a filmed report by Kevin Connolly titled “Israel elections: Final day of campaigning” which, interestingly, included footage of Connolly at a rally held in Tel Aviv on March 7th – ten days before the “final day of campaigning” – along with footage from the set of the satirical TV programme ‘Eretz Nehederet’ (‘Wonderful Country’) which was actually filmed nearly two months before the elections.  Interviewed at the time, Connolly told an Israeli journalist from Channel 10:Connolly eretz nehederet

“When we report elections in foreign countries of course we’re always looking for ways to bring them alive and I think nothing brings Israeli politics alive more dramatically than ‘Wonderful Country’. I wouldn’t claim to understand every subtlety of the language but it makes me laugh and that’s the only test it really has to pass.”

 Connolly’s two month-old visit to the set of an Israeli TV programme did not only feature in that filmed report: it also cropped up in his report for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 16th (here from 2:49:25) along with audio from that same March 7th rally.

“The satirical Israeli TV show ‘Wonderful Country’ portrays Benjamin Netanyahu as a kind of song and dance man. The actor who plays him is slick and polished – blue rinse, comb-over and all. Stories alleging extravagance at the taxpayer’s expense get a nod too. Cartoons of giant pistachio ice creams dance along on the screen. The Netanyahus once reportedly got through $3,000 worth of it in a single year.”

But licence fee payers might be relieved to learn that the incisive analysis they received from the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent on the topic of the Israeli elections was not entirely based on his impressions of a satirical TV show he admits he does not fully understand. Listeners to the March 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ (available here from 47:10) also learned that Connolly had been watching party campaign videos (including this one) on the internet when he went through the rather pointless exercise of describing those visual films made in a language the vast majority of his listeners would not understand.

Both internet videos and ‘Wonderful Country’ cropped up again in an article by Connolly published on the BBC News website on March 16th under the title “Israel election: An end or new era for Netanyahu?“.Connolly written 16 3

“But other video visions of Mr Netanyahu are available too.

To the producers of the waspish satirical TV show Wonderful Country he is a rather slick song and dance man.

In one of their most memorable programmes the actor portraying him (complete with luxuriant comb-over) mugged his way through a big production number in which giant cartoon pistachio ice-creams appeared on screen dancing along.

That was a not-very-subtle reference to persistent stories that the Netanyahus have something of a taste for high-living at the taxpayer’s expense.

The bill for pistachio ice-cream at an official residence was much-discussed for a while.”

And – as was the case in his radio and TV reports – Connolly relied on the notoriously unreliable Israeli opinion polls as the basis for his informing BBC audiences that electoral change seemed likely to be just round the corner.

“The coming week promises to be one of the most eventful and most unpredictable in the long and bumpy political life of Benjamin Netanyahu.

The man revered by his supporters as a global statesman and sniffily dismissed by one Israeli newspaper as “former furniture salesman” will know by the end of it if he is to remain prime minister of Israel. […]

The final polls before voting day suggest that things may not be going to plan.

They give the Zionist Union – an alliance of Yitzhak Herzog’s Labour Party and the Hatnuah movement headed by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni – a clear lead over Mr Netanyahu’s Likud.”

That theme also appeared in another article published on the BBC News website on March 16th under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu vows no Palestinian state“.elections written 16 3

“The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he will not allow the creation of a Palestinian state if he is re-elected in Tuesday’s vote.

He was attempting to shore up support with polls putting his Likud party just behind the centre-left opposition alliance, the Zionist Union. […]

Opinion polls published before the weekend suggest that the centre-left Zionist Union is likely to win the most seats.”

The statement which is the subject of the headline to that article was made in an interview (available in Hebrew here) given by Netanyahu to the Israeli website NRG. Whilst the BBC’s representation of the statement is reasonably accurate in this article, the writer obviously intends to suggest to readers that electoral victory for the Zionist Union would bring about a very different approach to the issue of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The centre-left alliance has promised to repair ties with the Palestinians and the international community. […]

Mr Netanyahu has consistently accused his centre-left challengers of being willing to relinquish Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its indivisible capital in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Also on Monday, Mr Netanyahu spoke at a settlement in East Jerusalem and said he was the only person who could ensure the city’s security.

Palestinians seek East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The Zionist Union party co-leader Yitzhak Herzog, visiting the Western Wall on Sunday, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, pledged to “safeguard Jerusalem and its residents in actions, not just words, more than any other leader”.

In fact – as the Jerusalem Post has documented – the Zionist Union’s declared policy is not vastly different from that of previous Israeli governments or from the terms of offers already refused by the Palestinian leadership.

“Zionist Union calls for two states for two peoples and a final-status agreement for a two-state solution that would have the support of the Arab world. Israel’s final borders would include the settlement blocs. Palestinian refugees could not return anywhere within Israel’s final borders and should return instead to the future state of Palestine.

Jerusalem would be strengthened as Israel’s eternal capital, according to the party platform.

It does not mention if Jerusalem would be united or divided, although party leader Isaac Herzog has spoken of a united Jerusalem during the elections. He has also spoken in support of freezing building in isolated settlements to halt Israel’s isolation in the international arena and to allow for the conclusion of a final-status agreement with the Palestinians.

Restitution for Jewish refugees for Arab lands would be included in such an agreement.”

The March 16th edition of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ included coverage from Tim Franks in Israel who, unlike most of his colleagues, was wise enough to take opinion polls with the pinch of salt they deserve. In that item (available from 26:38 here) Franks spoke with Israeli journalist Tal Schneider once again and conceded that her assessments in the interview she gave him last December were – in contrast to his own reading of the issue – accurate.

“She’d pretty much nailed it last time I’d seen her […] when she said that this vote would be about a referendum on Mr Netanyahu and also turn on his handling of the economy.”

Nevertheless, Franks again brought up the topic which was by no means the main issue in this election at the end of his report:

“One thing we haven’t really mentioned so far is how far this election could change the course of possible political negotiations with the Palestinians in the decades-long conflict. And the opinion polls suggest that a healthy majority of Israelis don’t really think that whatever the outcome of the election that will change much.”

The reason for that, of course, is that most Israelis realise that whichever government they elect it will not – in contrast to the impression consistently promoted by the BBC – be capable of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict alone.

So as we see, in the run-up to the Israeli election BBC journalists across the board were promoting the idea of a change of government in Israel based on opinion polls whilst continuing to steer audience attentions towards the subject of the election’s effects on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that the issue was not high up among voters’ priorities.

In subsequent posts we will look at BBC coverage on election day itself and after the results were announced. 

Elections 2015: the BBC’s obsessive compulsive ‘peace process’ disorder

BBC News website coverage of the upcoming election in Israel continued on March 13th with an article by Kevin Connolly which appeared in the Middle East page’s ‘Features & Analysis’ section under the title “Israel election: Will outcome revive peace process?“.

Oddly, the main photograph chosen to illustrate that article has nothing to do with the Israeli election, as can be seen in its original description.

Connolly art elections photo

The BBC however replaced the original caption with one of its own:

“Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been shelved for nearly a year”

No attempt was made to remind readers that the previous round of talks came to an end because the Palestinian Authority chose to form a ‘unity government’ with Hamas.Connolly elections art main

Connolly’s article frames the fate of the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon political developments on one side of the negotiating table. That portrayal is not only obviously absurd but it actually hinders audience understanding of the fact that the reason why that topic is not a major campaign issue in this election is precisely because the majority of Israelis understand that progress on that issue is not dependent on their government alone.

“Outsiders, though, might be surprised that the moribund state of the vexed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has never felt like a major campaign issue.

It is there in the background all the time, of course, as the central historical and strategic issue that his faced this country since the Middle East war of 1967 when it captured Gaza from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan.”

Connolly claims that:

“Voters know that the Zionist Union – the name chosen for the alliance between Yitzhak Herzog’s Labour Party and Tzipi Livni’s movement Hatnuah – would approach the prospect of talking to the Palestinians about a “land-for-peace” deal with more enthusiasm than Mr Netanyahu.”

He neglects to note that a no less enthusiastic Tzipi Livni was Israel’s chief negotiator under the Netanyahu government during the last round of unsuccessful talks. His trite presentation also fails to take into account that Herzog’s vision (including on Jerusalem) is not vastly different from that proposed during the previous negotiations under the Likud-led government or that offered by Ehud Olmert in 2008.

“Herzog said he would try to reignite a process using Egyptian and Jordanian support but that ultimately he wants to negotiate directly with the Palestinians, and that he is ready to go to Ramallah to try to reach a deal.

“It will be my role to change the lack of trust between the leaders and peoples,” he said. “I don’t believe in any unilateral withdrawal. The lessons from Gaza are learned.”

When asked what land he would keep, he said that “in the ideal world, I would like to keep it all.” He said he would keep the Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel blocs, and that the Jordan River would be his security border.”

Towards the end of his article Connolly introduces his readers to the Joint Arab List.

Connolly art Arab list

In fact, the Joint Arab List is made up of four parties – not three as Connolly claims. Brought about by the new regulations concerning the electoral threshold, the combined list includes representatives from the Jewish/Arab far Left party Hadash, the anti-Zionist Balad party, the Ta’al party and the United Arab List (Southern Islamic Movement). Whether or not that unlikely alliance of communists, Islamists and Palestinian nationalists will indeed have the effect of raising the turnout among Arab-Israeli voters (a topic on which Connolly has been wrong before) remains to be seen.

At the end of his article Connolly stubbornly returns to the subject this election is not about with the following statement:

“How quickly the issue [the peace process] re-asserts itself will depend on whether victory goes to the left or to the right.”

Beyond the fact that his claim is debatable if only for the simple reason that Israel is not the only party upon which negotiations depend and the PA has shown in the past year that its strategy has shifted to the international arena, it is revealing to see yet another example of the BBC’s obsessive-compulsive focus on a topic which Connolly himself admits – in an article ostensibly about the Israeli elections – is not on the electorate’s agenda. 

Superficial ‘analysis’ of PLO’s call to end security cooperation from BBC’s Kevin Connolly

March 5th saw the appearance of a report on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the dramatic title “PLO to end historic Israeli security agreement” which opened by informing readers that:PLO security coordination

“The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has decided to end a security co-operation agreement with Israel which dates back to the Oslo Accords of 1993.”

The report further stated:

“The PLO is the representative body for Palestinians and its decisions are binding for the Palestinian Authority. [….]

On Thursday the PLO said its executive committee would meet to implement the decision taken at the central council’s meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah.[…]

Palestinian sources say that the decision is final […]”

However, the ‘done deal’ picture presented by the BBC would appear to be premature and misleading. The Times of Israel notes that:

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

And in addition to the fact that in the meantime security coordination apparently continues as normal, PA officials have reportedly stated that:

“…President Mahmoud Abbas will not cut off security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank until after Israeli national elections on March 17 and only if another Netanyahu-led government refuses to transfer tax funds to the PA…”

Of course this is far from the first time that such a move has been threatened by various Palestinian officials: the same thing happened last month, last year and on numerous other occasions in the past. And that is all the more reason why the BBC should be able to provide its audiences with informative and relevant analysis on the topic of what such a move would mean for the Palestinian Authority and for the ordinary people living under its control.

Instead, readers of this article got the following analysis from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly:

PLO security art analysis

Whilst parroting the Hamas line and claiming that an end to security cooperation would “be a blow to Israeli security”, Connolly notably avoids all discussion of the potential effects of such a decision on day-to-day issues such as the number of security checkpoints (which have been dramatically reduced in recent years) and on the wider subject of the chances of the Palestinian Authority’s survival without Israeli security cooperation. As Khaled Abu Toameh wrote in January of this year:

“Abbas is lucky that the Israeli security forces are still operating in the West Bank, including inside cities and towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Were it not for the IDF and various branches of the Israeli security establishment, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Islamic State would have toppled the Palestinian Authority and beheaded Abbas and his officials a long time ago.”

And as the same writer noted last September:

“Abbas will be able to rein in Hamas in the West Bank only if he pursues security coordination with Israel. […]

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority would not be able to survive for one day in the West Bank without the presence of the IDF, especially given Hamas’s rising popularity among Palestinians in the aftermath of the war.”

Whether or not the Palestinian president (who of course also heads the PLO and its largest faction Fatah – although the BBC neglects to mention that in its report) will eventually issue that presidential order to end security cooperation with Israel remains to be seen but if he does not, BBC audiences will remain unaware of the factors lying behind that decision and if he does, they will be ill-informed with regard to that choice’s effects on future regional developments.  

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

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

AIPAC Bowen Tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That false information was similarly promoted by the BBC on Twitter

AIPAC BBC News US tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Watching the BBC’s Israel election coverage

There are 5,881,696 people in the world who might have a practical interest in the subject matter of the article published on February 17th on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Israel PM Netanyahu criticised for ‘excessive’ spending“.Expenses art  

Those five million and some people are Israeli citizens with the right to vote in the upcoming elections and estimates of how many of them are native English speakers vary, with the more generous appraisals putting the number at around 200,000. Of course even they can hardly be said to be in need of a BBC report on the topic because their local media has covered it (to put it mildly) extensively, including the English language version of Ha’aretz which coincidentally produced a similar article on the same day, along with the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post to name but some.

45.9% of the BBC News website’s visitors come from the UK, 14.5% from the US, 3.6% from India, 2.6% from Russia and 1.8% from Brazil. In other words, the editorial decision to publish a four hundred and nineteen-word article about a report by Israel’s State Comptroller and Ombudsman on the subject of expenses at the Israeli prime minister’s official residences cannot be said to be based either on the degree of relevance that subject has to the website’s audience or the importance of the story in the overall framework of major news events in the Middle East.

Related articles:

BBC News, impartiality and the Israeli elections

Tim Franks on BBC WS Newshour: ‘you make Israel sound like a normal country’

What makes a story newsworthy for the BBC?

Background to the BBC’s claims regarding the Iron Dome missile defence system

Readers may recall that soon after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent saw fit to recycle a link to an article he had written in 2013 questioning the performance rate of the Iron Dome missile defence system on the basis of publications by MIT professor Ted Postol. The same claims were also the basis for two additional reports by the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in April 2013.Iron Dome

The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University recently published a paper by Uzi Rubin in which he examines Israel’s air and missile defence during Operation Protective Edge.

“Skeptics in Israel and the US voiced doubts about the disclosed achievements of the Iron Dome system. US critics used commercial and private videos of rocket interceptions to allege that the system was significantly less successful than claimed. The low number of casualties was attributed by them to the efficiency of Israel’s public alert system and extensive shelter network, as well as the supposedly low lethality of the Gaza rocket warheads. However, a comparison of losses and damages in the 2014 Gaza War to those from the 2006 Lebanon War, when no active defense system existed, refute the critics’ allegations.”

Dr Rubin’s very interesting report can be found here in both English and Hebrew. 

BBC News website reporting of Tel Aviv terror attack

As news broke of the terror attack on the number 40 Dan bus in Tel Aviv early on the morning of January 21st, the BBC News website grabbed its scare quotes and got to work.

All versions of the report titled “Israel bus attack: Tel Aviv passengers stabbed” opened in typical ‘last-first’ reporting style by informing audiences that a man had been shot by the police before informing them why and the same policy was seen on BBC social media. Inverted commas placed around the words terror attack in earlier versions of the report were removed from later editions.

Bus attack 21 1 a

Bus attack 21 1 b

Bus attack 21 1 c

The use of unnecessary punctuation continued, however, on the BBC News website’s Middle East homepage in a link to a filmed report on the same topic.

Bus attack 21 1 on HP 2

The first two versions of the report informed readers that “In November, an Israeli soldier was killed in a knife attack in Tel Aviv, while an Israeli woman was stabbed to death in the West Bank in a separate attack” without clarifying that those two incidents were both terror attacks.

Subsequent versions of the article noted that the terrorist came from Tulkarem, stating that “Tulkarem is a town in the occupied West Bank” whilst in fact it is located in Area A and, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, has been under PA control for two decades.

Later editions of the report also included contributions from the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly.

“Israeli police say there has been a pattern established in recent months where individual Palestinians, without sophisticated weapons, have attacked civilians at random, the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem reports.

Late last year, a number of Israelis were killed in attacks by Palestinians using weapons including knives and even vehicles to run down pedestrians.

Four Israelis were killed in November after two Palestinians armed with a pistol and meat cleavers attacked a synagogue in West Jerusalem.”

In addition to the fact that it would have been more accurate and informative to cite the exact number of people murdered in October and November 2014 instead of “a number of Israelis”, the article originally inaccurately stated that four people were killed in the Har Nof Synagogue attack rather than five as was actually the case. That error was subsequently corrected. Notably, no mention is made of the affiliations of many of those “individual Palestinians” with assorted terrorist organisations.

The report then goes on to state:

“Our correspondent says the latest round of tensions began to increase last year, after the summer conflict in Gaza and disputes over access to religious sites in the old city of Jerusalem.

More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the Israel-Gaza conflict, the majority of them civilians according to the UN.

Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers, and six civilians in Israel, were also killed.”

As we see, readers are not informed that “the summer conflict” took place in Israel as well as the Gaza Strip or that it began because terrorist organisations based there fired hundreds of missiles at Israeli civilians and constructed cross-border attack tunnels. In addition, the article continues the now well-established practice of quoting out of date civilian/combatant casualty ratios which the BBC has not independently verified. The BBC News website found it appropriate to illustrate this report about a terror attack in Tel Aviv with the image below.

Bus attack 21 1 pic Gaza

The BBC’s consistent practice of downplaying or ignoring Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism makes the phrasing of the following segment of this report particularly notable:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for the attack.

The attack was “the direct result of the poisonous incitement being disseminated by the Palestinian Authority against the Jews and their state”, he said.

The Israeli government frequently accuses Palestinian groups of inciting violence.

The government has been angered by Mr Abbas’ efforts to secure Palestinian membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and agreement to a unity government with militant group Hamas.

The Palestinians blame Israeli government policies, particularly the expansion of settlements, for the increase in violence, correspondents say.”

Audiences are not told who those anonymous “correspondents” are, but it is probably not too much of a gamble to assume that they include the same BBC employees who repeatedly promoted the notion that ‘settlements’ were the main reason for the terror attacks during October and November 2014. In fact, whilst this particular terrorist did not mention ‘settlements’ as a motivating factor for his actions, he did cite other factors, including “extremist Islamist television programs”.

Apparently refusing to connect the dots between “a unity government with militant group Hamas” and glorification of terrorism from “a senior Hamas official”, the writer of this report went on to inform audiences that:

“Izzat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, praised the stabbing attack.

Speaking from Qatar, he described it as “a natural response to the crimes of the occupation and terrorism against the Palestinian people”.”

Risheq was not the only Hamas official to condone the attack:

“The event was deemed a “natural response to Israeli terrorism,” by Hamas Spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri, who issued an official statement as events unfolded in Tel Aviv. 

The incident, the statement said, was a response to ongoing “Israeli crimes” against the Palestinian people. “

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum posted this status on Facebook, the Fatah Facebook account lauded the stabbings and some Palestinian media outlets also praised and celebrated the attack with a series of cartoons.

Throughout this report the language used by the BBC to describe the terrorist includes “suspect” (three times), “perpetrator” and “attacker”. The word terrorist is only used in quotes from Israeli sources. The continuing refusal to use accurate language to portray terror attacks in Israel must be assessed together with the BBC’s consistent avoidance of any serious reporting on Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism, its concurrent repeated promotion of subjectively selected factors (such as “expansion of settlements”) as ‘context’ for terror attacks against Israelis, and its transparent attempts to separate the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority from “militant” Hamas despite the existence of a unity government. Together, all those factors continue to obstruct audience understanding of this issue. 

 

BBC reporting on Abu Ein incident: the numbers and the narrative

In addition to the grossly inaccurate account of the circumstances preceding the death of Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein presented in the afternoon version of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on December 10th, the programme’s evening version, presented by Tim Franks, included a report on the same topic by Kevin Connolly (available from 00:39:00 here).Newshour 10 12 Franks

As has been the case in all the BBC’s reporting on this subject, Connolly failed to provide listeners with an accurate representation of the circumstances behind the demonstration at Turmus Aya, saying:

“A group of demonstrators set out for the village of Turmus Aya because they believe that Israel’s marking out land there to build a new settlement of the sort regularly condemned by the international community near the existing settlement of Shilo.”

In fact, the protesters – who were organized by the councils of adjacent villages – arrived at the specific location at the particular juncture because on that day the political NGO Yesh Din, together with the same local councils, presented a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the eviction of the nearby outpost Adei Ad. The demonstration – as stated by the organisation’s lawyer Shlomi Zacharia in the interview here (Hebrew, from 07:24) – was intended to garner publicity for that move, as the presence of film crews obviously informed of the event in advance also indicates. Whilst Connolly may have been told that the demonstrators “believe” there are plans to build a new community in the area, he obviously did not bother to fact-check the existence of any such plans before repeating that hearsay.

Once again, Connolly’s account of the sequence of events is also misleading.

“The Palestinians found the Israeli security forces waiting for them and a confrontation which was perhaps inevitable began quickly. In television images you can see an old man pushed to the ground and getting up and striking Israeli soldiers with a flag pole. There is a lot of violent shoving and tear gas is used. In the midst of it, Ziad Abu Ein finds a camera and begins telling the crew what’s going on. Listen carefully and you can hear him fighting for breath before he begins to speak.

Voiceover: They are assaulting us. This is the terrorism of the occupation. This is their terrorist army; practices terrorism against the Palestinian people. Nobody threw a stone and nobody fought back.

Connolly: Now, within minutes of recording that brief interview Ziad Abu Zain [sic] had died in an ambulance taking him to hospital and it’s still not clear exactly what caused his death. At one point an Israeli Border Police officer was seen to grab him by the throat but perhaps very briefly. He would have inhaled tear gas and there are also stories of him being hit and shoved.”

Connolly fails to clarify that the use of tear gas was in response to an attempt by the demonstrators to approach Adei Ad and that the media interview given by Abu Ein occurred after his provocation of and altercation with the Border Police officer rather than beforehand, as clarified by Channel 10 reporter Roy Sharon here (Hebrew) from 03:16.

Connolly then uses an extended version of the interview with Hanan Ashrawi (who was not present at the scene) also found in his television report on the subject from the same day and, despite the lack of any evidence proving that Abu Ein was “killed”, nevertheless includes that allegation in this item.

Ashrawi: “Well first of all it’s extremely sad that a colleague and an old friend has been killed in such a cruel way. But I’m also…I have a sense of outrage. Ziad was guilty of nothing more than planting olive trees where Israel would uproot trees, was guilty of nothing more than ensuring that we remain on the land where Israel was trying to expel people: that we save the land where Israel was attempting to steal the land.”

No mention is made in this report of Abu Ein’s conviction for the murder of two Israeli teenagers and the injury of over 30 others in a terror attack on Tiberias market in 1979. Neither are listeners informed that when the terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti was arrested by Israeli special forces in 2002, he was hiding in Abu Ein’s house.

The next day, December 11th, the evening version of Newshour (also presented by Tim Franks) included a report by Yolande Knell (from 00:45:00 here) which contained a statement from Saeb Erekat similar to the one used in her television report from the same day.Newshour 11 12 Franks  

Knell’s description of the previous day’s events is as follows:

“Yesterday television crews filmed Mr Abu Ein as he joined dozens of protesters in a demonstration against Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. But Israel’s security forces were waiting for them. After scuffles broke out an Israeli Border Policeman briefly grabbed Mr Abu Ein’s throat and later he fell to the ground, clutching his chest. An Israeli doctor was present at the Palestinian post-mortem examination and Chen Kugel from the National Institute of Forensic Medicine gave Israel’s conclusions.

Kugel: The findings of the autopsy were that the cause of death was a heart attack. Now this type of heart attack is caused by stress and apparently he had a stressful event just before – we all saw it – and we found some bruises in the muscle layer and the sub-cutaneous layer of the neck.

Knell: For the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, it was more clear-cut.

Erekat: Ziad Abu Ein was killed in cold blood. The autopsy report said he had an explosion in the major artery. What caused this was Israeli soldiers suffocating and beating up Ziad Abu Ein. They are fully responsible.”

As was the case in her filmed report, Knell refrains from informing audiences that there is no evidence to show that Abu Ein was “killed” or ‘suffocated’ or ‘beaten’. Note too how she places the evidence-free rhetoric of Erekat on the same level as the scientific opinion of a senior physician. Neither is any attempt made by Knell to inform listeners of Abu Ein’s past conviction for terrorism.

A look at the coverage of this incident across various BBC platforms (see related articles below) shows that in two filmed reports for television, two written articles and three World Service radio programmes, the picture presented to audiences adheres predominantly to the Palestinian narrative.

In addition to hearing or reading differing and conflicting reports from unidentified Palestinian “witnesses”, “medics” and local reporters for foreign news agencies, BBC audiences were presented with two interviews with Hanan Ashrawi, one interview with Abdallah Abu Rahma and two interviews with Saeb Erekat, who was also quoted in one of the written articles. Despite the lack of any supporting evidence, audiences have been told that Ziad Abu Ein’s collapse and subsequent death was caused by inhaling tear gas, being hit and/or shoved, being hit by a tear gas canister, being beaten up, being suffocated and being hit on the head with a helmet – to name but some of the proffered accounts. They have also been told on two separate occasions across all platforms that Abu Ein was “killed” and on three further separate occasions that he was “killed in cold blood”.

In contrast, audiences heard one interview with an Israeli official (the pathologist) and in two other reports the BBC paraphrased statements concerning Abu Ein’s medical condition made by the Israeli authorities. Abu Ein’s terror conviction was only briefly mentioned in one of these reports.

The amplification of unproven, inaccurate hearsay, rumour and propaganda from obviously interested parties is not ‘impartiality’ as demanded by the BBC editorial guidelines. It is the BBC’s job to present its audiences with the verified facts behind a story in order to enable them to become better informed about events – not to blindly repeat the narratives promoted by anyone and everyone willing to speak to journalists.

Unfortunately, this kind of jumble sale journalism, in which all the tales offered to the BBC – however bizarre or disconnected from the facts – are promoted and presented as legitimate news, seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in BBC Middle East reporting.

Related Articles:

Multiple inaccuracies in Kevin Connolly’s filmed BBC report on death of Ziad Abu Ein

BBC’s Knell at Abu Ein funeral: all the rumour not worth reporting

BBC News website’s written reports on Abu Ein continue to spread rumour

Palestinian activist gets open mic for propagation of lies on BBC WS ‘Newshour’