BBC News tells audiences Israeli fears of terror attacks are ‘paranoia’

During the first three weeks of October 2015, ten Israelis were killed and 112 wounded – eleven of them seriously – in forty stabbing attacks, four shootings and five vehicular attacks which took place throughout the country.

On October 23rd, however, BBC News told its audiences that Israelis are suffering from either a collective psychosis ‘characterised by delusions of persecution’ or ‘unjustified suspicion and mistrust of other people’ – depending on which definition of the word paranoia BBC editors intended their headline to communicate.

Paranoia Connolly

Either way, it is obviously extremely hard to believe that if British citizens had been subjected to such a wave of terror attacks, the BBC would characterize their mood as unjustified or disconnected from reality by using the term ‘paranoia’. And it is of course equally unlikely that after over fifty attacks on British citizens in three weeks, the BBC would still be avoiding the use of the word ‘terror’ – as it continues to do in its current coverage of Israel.

In that article – which appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page – the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly promotes the notion of equivalence between the distress of Israeli Jerusalemites who have seen at least sixteen terror attacks resulting in five fatalities in their city in the last three weeks with that of Palestinians who, according to his account, are inconvenienced by roadblocks and suspicious looks.

“But at times of rising tensions and rising casualty figures like this, the two populations that normally lead parallel lives share something very profound in common.

They are united by their fears for the dangers their families might face and by the deep urge that’s within all of us to keep our children safe.”

In the section of his report devoted to the neighbourhood of Issawiya, Connolly writes:

“Even in better times there is deep resentment in Issawiyah at the practical outworking of the occupation – Palestinians in villages like this pay the same local taxes as Israelis in West Jerusalem but strongly feel they don’t receive the same services.

They point to the condition of the roads and pavements and the absence of recreational facilities.

“There are Jewish districts where they have parks for their dogs,” one man told me, “And here we don’t even have a park for our kids.””

He of course refrains from informing readers that residents of Issawiya were at the forefront of opposition to the creation of a national park on their doorstep.

Although he describes the inconvenience of roadblocks implemented to try to deal with terrorism, Connolly does not provide audiences with relevant context, failing to clarify that a very significant proportion of the perpetrators of attacks during the first three weeks of October came from Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem.

“There is an Israeli checkpoint at the main entrance to the village. The local people say that if anyone throws stones at the soldiers who man it, they close the road and force commuters returning from Jerusalem to wait in their cars for anything up to an hour.”

Connolly tells readers that:

“Fear for the safety of children does unite the two communities, although the fears are different.

Israelis worry their children might be the victims of a politically-motivated street attack – Palestinians fear the readiness with which Israeli police and soldiers resort to lethal force, especially if they live in a part of the West Bank where it is easy to get caught up in street protests.” [emphasis added]

Those “street protests” are of course more accurately described as organised violent rioting and Connolly’s apparent belief that Palestinian parents lack the agency required to prevent their offspring from participating in such activities is quite remarkable.

Connolly closes his article with promotion of a dominant – yet inaccurate – theme seen in much BBC coverage in recent weeks.

“…the fears and anxieties triggered in this latest round of violence here are individual and deeply personal just as the attacks appear to have been spontaneous. […]

But the random nature of the violence and its lack of an apparent link to any known organisation is going to make any kind of diplomatic or political intervention here even harder than usual.”

Yet again the BBC conceals the incitement from assorted Palestinian factions which has fueled this wave of terrorism – and the known links of some of the perpetrators to terrorist groups – from audience view.

In addition to his written report, Kevin Connolly also produced a similar audio one which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on October 24th. The item (available here from 01:49:43) opens with the following introduction from host James Naughtie.

“As if he didn’t have enough on his plate, the American Secretary of State John Kerry has begun a round of diplomacy trying to reduce tension in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories where an upsurge of violence has left about 60 people dead in the last few weeks. Most of the dead are Palestinians. Some have died in the familiar violent clashes with the Israeli security forces in the West Bank but some of the deaths have occurred when individual Palestinians not known to be members of militant groups have made stabbing attacks on Israelis and then been shot by the police or the army. It’s a new kind of attack and its left people in both communities anxious and frightened.”

Could audiences determine from that introduction that one-sixth of those casualties are Israelis murdered in terror attacks? Would they understand that those killed whilst engaged in violent rioting include some 17 people from the Gaza Strip and that the border fence there has been breached by such rioters on several occasions? Would they also comprehend that Naughtie’s portrayal of “some” Palestinians shot whilst carrying out terror attacks (and not only stabbings, as he inaccurately states) actually means that they number around half of the Palestinian fatalities and that a similar number of terrorists have been caught alive?

One doubts very much that Radio 4 listeners went away with an accurate perception of events from that introduction and in addition, they were certainly misled by the inaccurate claim that such terror attacks are “a new kind”. Moreover, with the BBC having failed to provide its audiences with an accurate picture of Palestinian terrorism during the nine months preceding October 2015, listeners would have no way of knowing that Naughtie’s claim is inaccurate.

As in his written article, in that audio report Kevin Connolly promotes the notion of equivalence between victims of terror and their attackers, fails to provide context when describing the inconvenience caused by roadblocks and erases the all-important issue of incitement by portraying the attacks as “random and spontaneous”.

“We think of Jerusalem as a place of division – and so it is – but in times of rising tension and rising casualty figures, there is something that unites its two peoples: the grinding daily fear about how you keep your family safe.”

“On the way into the outlying Palestinian village of Issawiyeh there’s an Israeli checkpoint – an irritation for local people arriving home from their daily work in Israeli West Jerusalem.”

“The US Secretary of State John Kerry is working on all of this now, trying to calm fears. But what can politicians do when attacks are random and spontaneous and fears so personal and so deeply felt?”

Kevin Connolly apparently believes the narrative of equivalence he promotes in these two reports. He is obviously comfortable with promoting the idea that a pensioner murdered in a shooting attack on a city bus, a 59 year-old deliberately run over and then hacked to death with a meat-cleaver and a young father stabbed to death whilst walking with his family are just the same as the people who decided to carry out those attacks and were shot by security forces rushing to the scene.

He is also clearly at ease with promoting the myth that attacks on Jews for no other reason than the fact that they are Jews which are praised and glorified by Hamas and PA officials alike are “spontaneous” and “random”. And, as we see in these two reports, he has no qualms about promoting the narrative that the emotions of people who are experiencing “not a very nice feeling” and traffic inconveniences are the same as those of people who fear that they may be targeted by a terrorist simply because of who they are after seeing over 50 such terror attacks in a matter of a few weeks.

Whilst Connolly’s adopted narrative may serve to provide space-filling material for assorted BBC platforms and advance a political agenda, it certainly does nothing to contribute to meeting the BBC’s obligation to enhance audience understanding of this particular “international issue”.




BBC’s Connolly refrains from using the word terror in report on terror attack

In addition to the written article on the BBC News website in which the October 1st terror attack which resulted in the deaths of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin was reported, the incident was also the subject of an item (available from 02:43:03 here) by Kevin Connolly on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on the morning of October 2nd.Pigua Henkin family Today 2 10

As can be seen in the transcript below, both Connolly and programme host James Naughtie managed to avoid all use of the word terror in that three-minute report on a terror attack.

JN: “The Israeli army is searching for the killers of a Jewish couple who were shot dead in their car in front of their four children. Hundreds of soldiers are now being deployed close to Nablus in the occupied West Bank. Our Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly is on the line from Jerusalem. Just tell us what happened in this incident, Kevin.”

KC: “Well this married couple – Eitam and Na’ama Henkin – they were driving on a dark country road between two Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories – the nearest big city being Nablus – when they were fired on from a passing car. Now the parents were both killed – they were pronounced dead at the scene – but remarkably their four children aged between nine years and four months old – they were all in the back seat of the car – they were all unhurt.

It’s a hugely traumatising incident of course – immediately the area was flooded with emergency services and with soldiers. There is an intensive search going on; part of the role of the soldiers too is to try to keep a lid on rising tensions which of course you always see in the aftermath of this kind of shooting and of course today it is Friday prayers here in Jerusalem so there’s also a huge police operation around the Old City because any killing like this does immediately produce a predictable rise in sectarian tensions.”

JN: “And of course it is a tense moment – well it’s always a tense moment – but we’ve had this week Prime Minister Netanyahu saying that he would restart negotiations with the Palestinians immediately without preconditions but that the Palestinians weren’t interested and we’ve had President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority at a flag-raising ceremony at the UN saying he’d more or less given up on the Israelis. I mean episodes like this coming in the middle of it all just make it more and more unlikely there’ll be any progress.”

Listeners then heard Connolly equate the deaths of Palestinians – the majority of whom were killed whilst carrying out terror attacks or whilst engaged in violent rioting – with those of Israelis murdered in deliberate terror attacks.

KC: “I think that’s right. I mean I sometimes think, Jim, that the politics of it all feels as though it’s going on as a kind of abstract – almost in the background to the sectarian realities on the ground. I mean we were just going back through our own news archive here. It’s far from scientific but we would say that more than twenty Palestinians have died in political violence on the West Bank this year, at least a half a dozen Israelis. Often there’s a level of tension that bubbles away somewhere below the level, frankly, that you need to make global headlines.”

As readers will recall, the BBC has failed to report half of the Israeli fatalities resulting from terror attacks since the beginning of the year and as of the end of August, its coverage of fatal and non-fatal terror attacks stood at 0.81%.

Connolly ends with uncritical amplification of the narrative promoted by the Palestinian Authority in its quotidian incitement, encouraging BBC audiences towards the view that Jews celebrating their holidays “ratchets up the tension” rather than terrorism and violence fuelled by the incitement the BBC perennially fails to report.

“This week it’s the Jewish religious festival of Sukkot; that’s one of the times of year when Jews traditionally make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. That means, of course, that they move towards the Western Wall in the old city; that means they’re close to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Many in the Arab world see that as a kind of attack on their religious identity. That ratchets up the tension too and of course the basic truth of this place is that the kindling you need to start these kind of fires of sectarian violence is lying around somewhere to hand all the time and it takes only a little spark, like last night’s killings, to ignite it.”

Notably, Connolly erased from his report both the celebrations on the Palestinian street which took place after the murders of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin and the statements praising the terror attack which were put out by leading officials from Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.Pigua Henkin family art 2 10

Those topics were also absent from the BBC News website article titled “Israel hunts West Bank for couple’s killers” which appeared on the site’s Middle East page on the afternoon of October 2nd. As was the case in the prior report which this article replaced, no mention was made of the fact that the attack was claimed by a group linked to the Fatah party’s armed wing. Instead, this article also promoted the amorphous notion of “tensions” – with no clarification concerning their roots.

“It [the terror attack] comes amid a period of tension between Israel and the Palestinians, which has seen clashes in Jerusalem. […]

There has been a recent flare-up in tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, with violent confrontations between security forces and Palestinian youths in a compound holy to both Jews and Muslims in East Jerusalem.”

Coming as they do after weeks of unsatisfactory reporting on the topic of the violent rioting seen on Temple Mount, these reports are further examples of the results of an editorial policy which causes the BBC to fall short of its remit of enhancing “awareness and understanding of international issues”.

A good place to start in order to begin meeting that remit would of course be the employment of accurate language. Of the six cases of fatal attacks on Israelis targeted purely because of their ethnicity which have taken place during the last nine months, three have been completely ignored by the BBC and three reported without any mention of the word terror. That editorial policy is clearly not fit for purpose. 

BBC’s ECU upholds complaint from the UK’s pro-Hamas lobby

As readers will recall, last month the BBC rejected complaints concerning Jeremy Bowen’s interview with the head of the Hamas terrorist organisation and last week the head of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit finalised his dismissal of complaints concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during an interview with a member of the Parisian Jewish community in January.Complaint pic

However, those who do not make a habit of visiting propaganda outlets such as ‘Electronic Intifada’ and the Russian state-run ‘RT’ may be unaware of the fact that complaints concerning another BBC interview conducted in March 2015 have apparently been upheld by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit.

Writing at her regular ‘Electronic Intifada’ slot, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Amena Saleem claims that:

“A BBC investigation has found that one of its senior presenters, Sarah Montague, breached the organization’s editorial standards on impartiality in a radio interview she conducted with Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon in March.

The investigation was carried out following allegations of pro-Israel bias against Montague’s interview by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and a number of concerned individuals who complained to the BBC.”

According to RT, the PSC’s complaint included the following point:

“In Montague’s interview with Ya’alon, the senior BBC journalist failed to address misleading statements by the Israeli defense minister.

According to a transcript, Ya’alon said Palestinians “enjoy already political independence. They have their own political system, government, parliament, municipalities and so forth. And we are happy with it. We don’t want to govern them whatsoever.”

The PSC has challenged Ya’alon’s statement, claiming Palestinians live under occupation and, in Gaza, under siege.”

Amena Saleem informs her readers that the same BBC employee who refused to acknowledge the antisemitic nature of Tim Willcox’s “Jewish hands” remarks in Paris came up with the following ruling.

“Last week, all complainants received an email message from Fraser Steel, the BBC’s head of editorial complaints, on behalf of the ECU.

Steel, announcing that he would be upholding the complaint, wrote: “Mr. Yaalon was allowed to make several controversial statements … without any meaningful challenge, and the program-makers have accepted that the interviewer ought to have interrupted him and questioned him on his assertions.””

Yes – Fraser Steel apparently accepts that it is “controversial” to state self-evident, provable facts about the Palestinian Authority’s political system. That of course is all the more bizarre given the BBC’s frequent description of Hamas as “the democratically elected” ruling body in the Gaza Strip. 

Ironically, on numerous occasions in the past the BBC has failed to conform to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality when interviewing both Amena Saleem and other members of the opaquely funded anti-Israel, pro-Hamas lobbying and campaigning group with which she is associated.

For some time now the nature of the BBC’s relationship with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been a topic of interest and the corporation’s swift capitulation to political pressure following the publication of an article last summer about Hamas-supplied casualty figures and the subsequent ‘top-down’ dictated alterations made to that article – along with additional ‘damage control’ – brought the issue further into public view.

In addition to further highlighting that subject, the upholding of this blatantly politically motivated complaint by the head of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit also serves to indicate yet again the inherent flaws in the BBC’s self-regulating complaints system and the urgent need for that topic to be addressed.

Related Articles:

BBC’s capitulation to political pressure on Gaza casualty figures: tip of a bigger iceberg?

Selective PSC outrage over BBC impartiality and integrity

BBC Breakfast’s Jenny Hill enables PSC antisemitism washing

Unhindered promotion of PSC speaker’s propaganda by BBC News

Why does the BBC Trust’s ESC pretend that the 1947 Partition Plan is a thing?



BBC responds to complaints about Jeremy Bowen’s ‘Today’ interview

Members of the public who contacted the BBC regarding a claim made by Jeremy Bowen during an interview in the April 14th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme have informed us of the receipt of the following template response from different members of staff at the BBC Complaints department.BBC brick wall

“Thanks for contacting us.

We have raised your concerns with the production team who have provided the following response;

“Thank you for taking the time to contacting us [sic], I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy Jeremy Bowen’s contribution to the programme’s items on persecution of Christians on 14 April.

His interview was an analysis of the situation of Christians in Middle Eastern countries, he talked about the various threats and how Christians in various parts of region feel.

He also set this in an historical context, saying Christians had been leaving the Middle East for many years, and that this is why there are communities in South America.

At the end of the interview, after he mentioned Egypt and Lebanon, he said “Palestinian Christians feel threatened not just from extreme Islam but by what the Israeli government might be doing”. He was describing the mood of Palestinian Christians, not the policies of the government of Israel.

Jeremy is the BBC’s Middle East Editor, he has extensive experience of reporting on the ground and his analysis is based on that.”

Rest assured your feedback is very important to us and as such we have placed your concerns on an overnight report. This is a document which is made available to senior staff, programme editors and news teams across the BBC and means your comments can be seen quickly and can be consulted in future broadcasting and policy decisions.

Thanks again for getting in touch.”

Were we to take the ‘Today’ programme production team’s claim that Bowen “was describing the mood of Palestinian Christians, not the policies of the government of Israel” at face value, we would of course have to note that Bowen did not clarify that intention to listeners. Having mentioned the very real threats to Middle East Christians posed by “extreme Islam”, in the same breath he went on to cite “what the Israeli government might be doing” – thus leading listeners towards the mistaken belief that Palestinian Christians do have reason to “feel threatened” by unspecified Israeli government actions just as much as they have cause to fear Islamist extremists.

As readers are no doubt aware, this is the third recent response (see related articles below) from the BBC relating to content produced by its Middle East editor in the last few weeks and it is no more satisfactory than its predecessors.

Related Articles:

BBC responds to complaints about Jeremy Bowen’s interview with Khaled Masha’al

BBC responds to complaint about Jeremy Bowen’s ‘Holocaust card’ Tweet

BBC ME editor’s analysis of threat to Christians: IS, extreme Islam – and Israel

h/t: MG, SI

The April 14th edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme included an interview (available here for a limited period of time from 01:49:45) with Cardinal Vincent Nichols on the subject of his recent visit to displaced Christian communities in Iraq.Today 14 4

 Immediately after that interview, presenter Mishal Husain brought in Jeremy Bowen (from 01:54:35) for further analysis of the issue of the plight of Christian communities in Iraq as described by Cardinal Nichols and listeners heard an ‘interesting’ interpretation of the cause of Islamist violence against Christians in that country.

MH: “On the line is our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. Jeremy, listening to Cardinal Nichols, it’s a reminder that although we may see the fight against IS and the position in the Middle East at the moment often through sectarian…in sectarian terms and through that sort of prism, this has been traditionally a religiously diverse part of the world.”

JB: “Yes. In Syria and Iraq there was a delicate mosaic – a very interesting mosaic – of different faiths which really has been shattered now. In Iraq, in the last…since 2011…since the war started there…sorry; in Syria I should say…2011…but in Iraq it’s been going on since the invasion by American-led forces in 2003 in that since then, the population of Iraqi Christians has been reduced pretty much by more than half. And there have…it’s been a catastrophe for them which started before the rise of Islamic State, which started as a consequence of the invasion. And if you talk to the Christian communities in other parts of the Middle East as I often do, a lot of them will look to that example of Iraq and say we do not want to be like Iraq and now they’ll also say of course we don’t want to be like what’s been happening in Syria too.” [emphasis added]

Following a question about the possibility of Iraqi Christians from the Nineveh Plains being able to return to their homes, Husain said:

MH: “Perhaps we’ve only just recently woken up to the reality of what’s been happening to minority communities in this part of the world because of all the headlines and the attention that’s been grabbed by Islamic State. From what you’re saying, this is a much longer phenomenon.”

JB: “Well, Christians have been leaving the Middle East for an awfully long time. There are well-established groups of émigré Middle Eastern Christians in all sorts of countries – in South America for example; one region of the world. But…ehm…what has changed; the rise of extreme Islam – which of course has resulted in the killing of many Muslims – has also resulted over the last ten years or so in a lot of Christian communities being dislocated and it’s become particularly acute since the rise of Islamic State. And it’s not just Islamic State either: Christians in Egypt feel very threatened there by different kinds of religious extremism. There is still a large community of Christians in Egypt, also in Lebanon – they’re pretty well established in Lebanon and strong but they again feel pressure. And Palestinian Christians as well feel threatened from not just of course from extreme Islam, but they also feel threatened by what the Israeli government might be doing. So all round the place when you look at it, it’s difficult.” [emphasis added]

Bowen of course provided no fact-based support for his fallacious claim that Palestinian Christian communities are “threatened” by Israel and neither did he inform listeners that the Christian community in Israel is both safe and thriving.

But no less remarkable is the fact that Bowen would clearly have listeners believe that, in terms of threats to Middle East Christian communities, “what the Israeli government might be doing” (whatever that bizarre phrase is supposed to mean) can and should be seen as being on a par with the religiously motivated persecution and slaughter of Christians (and of course other minorities) by Islamist extremists.

And that, dear readers, is from the man whose entire job was created with the stated intention of “providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”. 




Jeremy Bowen exploits Radio 4 news bulletin for Hamas PR promotion

Listeners to the 8 a.m. news bulletin broadcast during the April 1st edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard items about the UK elections, zero hours contracts, a study concerning the drug Paracetamol, the P5+1 talks with Iran, the Nigerian presidential election, EU milk quotas, the death of a Getty heir and the hospitalization of singer Joni Mitchell.Today 1 4 15

In among those actual news stories they also heard an additional fabricated news item (from 02:06:35 here) which took up over a minute and a half of that ten-minute news segment.

News presenter: “The political leader of Hamas, Khaled Masha’al, has accused the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of killing the peace process. He also condemned the activities of Jihadist groups which he said were against the teachings of Islam. Khaled Masha’al was speaking to our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

Bowen: “Khaled Masha’al nearly died in 1997 in a bungled Israeli assassination attempt on the orders of Benjamin Netanyahu; then in his first term as prime minister. Now Mr Masha’al says the re-elected Israeli prime minister has killed the peace process and the chances of a negotiated two state solution.”

Masha’al [voice-over]: “Even in the eyes of the Americans and Europeans, Netanyahu is the most extreme leader and the one who likes to shed blood the most. That’s why we’re expecting difficult times with him. And it’s the responsibility of the international community to put a stop to his stubbornness and Israeli extremism.”

Bowen: “Mr Masha’al heads an organization that’s classified as a terrorist group by the United States and Britain among many others. But he seemed to be calibrating his comments to catch the prevailing mood of anger in the White House towards Mr Netanyahu after his sharp turn to the ultra-nationalist Israeli right in the last days of the election campaign. Mr Masha’al called for a sovereign independent Palestinian state and an end to the occupation of land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. So did the White House chief of staff earlier this week.”

Bowen’s embarrassingly puerile attempt to persuade listeners to Radio 4’s most widely heard and influential programme that the US Administration is on the same page as an internationally recognized terrorist organization of course depends on listeners being kept in the dark with regard to the fact that Hamas regards all of Israel as ‘occupied land’ – not just the areas previously occupied by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967 – and rejects Israel’s right to exist, thus making a two state solution unviable.

Perhaps the ‘Today’ editor would care to clarify both the editorial considerations behind the omission of that and other important context and the broader decision to misleadingly present Bowen’s transparent propaganda to Radio 4 listeners as ‘news’.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen facilitates Hamas PR binge

 More enablement of Hamas propaganda from BBC’s ME editor



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. 

BBC’s Mike Thomson entrenches an inaccurate narrative

The Foreign Affairs correspondent for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, Mike Thomson, recently produced a feature on the subject of the kidnappings and murders of Naftali Frenkel, Gil-ad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach on June 12th 2014 and Mohammed Abu Khdeir on July 2nd 2014.

That feature appears on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “The lost sons“.  Additionally, an audio version of Thomson’s report was broadcast by the BBC World Service on January 23rd in the programme ‘The Documentary’ under the title “The Lives And Deaths Of Naftali and Mohammed” and the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme featured segments from the audio version on January 22nd (from 2:40:20 here) and on January 23rd (from 2:50:27 here).Kidnappings on WS

On one level, all versions of this feature present the personal stories of two families – Frenkel and Abu Khdeir – coping with the loss of their sons. The chosen format naturally promotes equivalence between the two murders and Thomson does not adequately clarify the differences between them. Whilst he does inform listeners that a Hamas cell carried out the murders of the three Israeli teenagers, the fact that the operation was financed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip is not adequately explained. Neither the issue of the logistical help that the two murderers obviously received from their community during the three months in which they were on the run nor the widespread support for the kidnappings in Palestinian society (which went completely unreported by the BBC at the time) gets coverage in Thomson’s various reports. Significantly too, no mention is made of the condemnation of the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir at all levels of Israeli society or the fact that he was recognized as a victim of terror by the State of Israel, which entitles his family to monthly financial benefits.

In both the website version and the World Service radio version of the feature, conspiracy theories about the deaths of the three Israeli teenagers are amplified. Whilst one must obviously question the editorial justification for the inclusion of such baseless claims at all, credit is due to Mike Thomson for challenging part of them – although not the one made in the audio version which falsely asserted that the boys were soldiers.

“But Mohammed’s parents insist, despite all the evidence, that Naftali and his two Israeli friends weren’t actually murdered at all – they died in an accident and the Israeli government used the deaths to fuel anger against Palestinians.

His mother says the Israeli government “wanted to bomb Gaza and planned to use this as a justification”.

I ask how widespread is this belief. She replies: “Everyone knows this story, not only us. We didn’t come up with this story.”

But, I point out, senior Hamas figures have admitted that members of the organisation carried out the killings.

Hussein says: “I am not a politician, I am an ordinary man and didn’t hear of this story. The story that we know is that they died in a traffic accident.” “

However, in the World Service audio version Thomson’s conclusion regarding those bizarre conspiracy theories is that they “show the depth of distrust” between Israelis and Palestinians and he makes no attempt to place them within the broader – and highly relevant – context of the baseless rumours and incitement seen in official Palestinian media or heard in sermons in PA mosques on a quotidian basis.

In that same audio version broadcast on the World Service, Thomson adopts the usual BBC practice of failing to meet its own supposed standards of impartiality by refraining from any mention of the existence of legal opinions which do not conform to the spirit of his statement:

“Under international law the West Bank is occupied territory…”

He goes on to say:

“…but many Israelis, like the speaker you are about to hear, still see it as part of Israel and use biblical language to describe it.”

The speaker is an IDF officer who was responsible for the coordination of the search operation for the three teenagers and the “biblical language” Thomson obviously finds worthy of note is the term Judea and Samaria. Of course that term was universally in use  – including by the British mandate administration – until Jordan’s belligerent occupation and later unrecognized annexation of the districts of Judea and Samaria, after which the term ‘West Bank’ was invented in order to cement that occupation in language. In Thomson’s case that rebranding clearly worked.

A particularly significant aspect of this feature is its vigorous promotion of a theme which the BBC has been pushing for months.

Kidnappings Thomson tweet 1

In the introduction to the item in the January 22nd edition of the ‘Today’ programme, listeners were told that:

“The murders further fuelled hatred and bitterness on both sides, sparking riots in the West Bank, rocket attacks by Hamas and the Israeli invasion of Gaza.”

The next day listeners to the same programme were told that:

“After a summer war in Gaza and bloody clashes on the West Bank, Israel has suffered a winter wave of attacks, the latest wounding a dozen bus passengers in Tel Aviv. The catalyst for much of this was the abduction and murder of four teenagers – three Jewish and one Palestinian – in June and July.”

In the written version appearing on the BBC News website, audiences are told that:Kidnappings Thomson tweet 2

“These brutal killings, and those of two other innocent boys, have had far-reaching consequences. Riots in the West Bank, a war in Gaza and a deepened divide between Israelis and Palestinians.”

In the audio version broadcast on the BBC World Service, listeners heard Mike Thomson say:

“There is little doubt that the slaughter of these four innocent and like-minded boys proved a catalyst for the deaths and injuries of thousands more people last summer.”

Since the hostilities ended six months ago, it has become standard BBC practice to promote the narrative of the conflict of summer 2014 as having taken place exclusively “in Gaza”, erasing any mention of the fact that in Israel thousands of southern residents had to leave their homes and millions ran for cover in air-raid shelters from over four thousand missile attacks launched at civilian targets throughout the seven weeks of hostilities.

It is also apparently BBC policy to mislead audiences by downplaying or erasing from audience view the hundreds of missiles launched at civilian targets in Israel between the date of the kidnappings – June 12th – and the commencement of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th. It was of course that surge in missile fire which was the reason for Israel’s military action rather than the kidnappings and murders of the three teenagers, with the later discovery of dozens of cross-border tunnels prompting the subsequent ground operation. The military operation could have been avoided had Hamas elected to take advantage of the ample opportunities it was given to stop the missile fire before July 8th but the terrorist organisation chose not to do so – for reasons by no means exclusively connected to Israel such as the PA’s refusal to pay Hamas employees after the formation of the unity government. 

Over the last six months this same distortion of the background to Operation Protective Edge has been seen time and time again in BBC content. Accurate and impartial representation of Hamas’ motives for instigating that conflict has been usurped by a simplistic narrative promoting the notion of a ‘cycle of violence’ which actively prevents BBC audiences from forming a realistic understanding of events. Mike Thomson obviously put a lot of work into this feature and hence it is all the more unfortunate that one of its main themes is based on an inaccurate narrative which it in turn goes on to further entrench. 


This is why the BBC’s making do with Tim Willcox’s Twitter apology is pernicious

The January 20th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme contained a report by Sanchia Berg titled “Jewish school pupils trained to respond to armed attack“. The item includes the following:Sanchia Berg report

Sanchia Berg: “The headmaster said on several school trips pupils had been verbally abused by people who were angry about Israeli government policy and unfairly blamed British Jewish children. One child was threatened. Rabbi Efraimov:”

Rabbi Efraimov: “Nothing actually happened to the child but the child was told that he will be beaten up unless Palestine is freed.”

SB: “By other children? By adults?”

RE: “My understanding was that it was by young adults. The description was adults in their early twenties.”

SB: “And how old was the child at the time?”

RE: “The child was ten.”

One may of course ask where on earth young British adults would have got the idea that British Jewish schoolchildren – or British Jews in general – have anything to do with Israeli government policy, real or imagined.

And that is exactly why the BBC’s attempt to fob off criticism of Tim Willcox’s statement just after the Paris terror attacks (“…the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands…”) by claiming that an apology on Twitter is sufficient is so pernicious.

Precisely because of the fact there are people in the UK who make threats to British ten year-olds whilst invoking a fabricated connection between them and a conflict thousands of miles away, the BBC still needs to issue a prominent on-air statement clarifying that Willcox’s statement was not merely “poorly phrased”, but that the linkage he promoted based on the premise that Jews anywhere in the world hold collective responsibility for the perceived actions of the State of Israel is both false and antisemitic.

Likewise, the BBC needs to urgently address the fact that Willcox has not been alone in adopting and promoting a canard used – as we see above – by antisemitic bullies.

Obviously the BBC’s funding public would not tolerate its national broadcaster (which is of course committed by Royal Charter to the promotion of education and sustaining civil society) adding credence to racist or prejudicial notions about other groups within British society. Ensuring that the same standard applies to British Jews entails tackling the ignorance which causes racism to be passed off as political comment. 

BBC’s Matthew Price produces superficial report on charity audit

On December 12th the BBC News website published an article titled “Audit ‘clears Islamic Relief’ of terror funding claim” by Matthew Price; the chief correspondent for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. In addition to appearing on the website’s UK page, the article was also posted on the Middle East page where it remained for three consecutive days.Islamic Relief art

The article opens by informing readers that:

“Britain’s biggest Islamic charity says an audit of its activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has found no evidence to support accusations it has funded terrorism.”

In the next paragraph readers learn that the audit was commissioned by the organization itself.

“Islamic Relief Worldwide denied claims made first by Israel and later the United Arab Emirates and hired leading auditors to review its West Bank work.”

Further along readers also learn that the public is not being informed which company carried out the audit, although it is obviously a very efficient one because it managed to carry out the work “in a few days”.

“It [Islamic Relief] says the audit, carried out over a few days in September this year, shows “absolutely no evidence” of any link to terrorism.” […]

“The charity is not publicly saying which company they paid to do the audit – but they do say it is a leading global audit firm.

Islamic Relief says because of what it calls the “sensitivities in the region” it has agreed with that firm not to identify it.”

Although the BBC report does not relate to the topic of the publication of the report, we learn from Reuters that it too will be kept from the public view.

“Islamic Relief has not named the ‘leading global audit firm’ which carried out the investigation or published the audit because of what it calls “sensitivities in the region” and the need to ensure people’s safety.”

Via the charity itself we also discover that “a number of major stakeholders” have been given access to the audit, one of which we can conclude from the BBC’s report is the DEC

“The Disasters Emergency Committee, which brings together 13 leading UK charities to deal with acute crises, said in a written statement that it “has considered the independent audit report which reviewed Islamic Relief’s operations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

It added: “We are satisfied that Islamic Relief has robust systems in place to ensure aid money is properly accounted for and spent appropriately. The DEC is not aware of any evidence that Islamic Relief has used aid funds inappropriately in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” “

Matthew Price refrains from informing readers that the chief executive of Islamic Relief Worldwide, Mohammed Ashmawey, also sits on the DEC board of trustees.

Price does however inform BBC audiences that:

“Israel has not responded so far.” […]

“Neither the Ministry of Defence in Israel nor the Israeli embassy in London would comment on the report.”

Reuters journalists apparently put a little more effort into getting an official Israeli response:  

“A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London said on Friday that Israel stood by its designation of Islamic Relief as an “unlawful association” and repeated a previous statement that the charity funnelled millions of dollars a year to Hamas.”

So, to recap the story so far: a charity banned in Israel because of Hamas ties commissions and pays for an audit by an unidentified company which produces a report not made accessible to anyone other than a selected few chosen by the charity itself and, on the basis of the charity’s own interpretation of the unpublished findings, the BBC rushes to inform its audiences (on the same day that the charity puts out its press release) that the organization is above-board, implying that Israel’s reasoning for banning the charity is invalid.  

Clearly the BBC is remarkably unperturbed by the blatant lack of transparency displayed by Islamic Relief Worldwide. It also apparently lacks any journalistic curiosity with regard to the methodology used in this audit such as, for example, the critical questions of how the auditors chose to define “links to terrorism” and “funding terrorism”. As John Ware explained in an article from August of this year, the answers to those questions are far from obvious, but very important: an issue which clearly Matthew Price did not find cause for concern.

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