BBC’s Yolande Knell promotes Muslim Brotherhood messaging

“…there were many interviews with members of the Brotherhood itself – some rank-and-file, some described as leaders. All of these stressed that their movement favoured freedom and democracy, and did not seek to impose an Islamic order on people against their will. Some of the expert commentators accepted these statements more or less at face value, stressing the Brotherhood’s evolution towards pragmatism during its long years in opposition and semi-clandestinity…”

Source: ‘A BBC Trust report on the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of the events known as the “Arab Spring”’ – June 2012

One might have perhaps thought that in the four years which have passed since the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt, BBC correspondents would have had the opportunity to garner enough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood to prevent them from repeating the same face value acceptance – and amplification – of its messaging as was seen in BBC coverage of the events at the time.Knell MB art

However, if the article titled “Muslim Brotherhood: From rapid rise to sharp decline” produced by Yolande Knell on April 13th is anything to go by, not only is that is definitely not the case, but Edward Mortimer’s description of Muslim Brotherhood statements being naively “accepted … at face value” by BBC “expert commentators” may be in need of review.

Knell has no comment to add on the use of the phrase “democratic process” by a supporter of an organization which states that its intention is to create a state ruled by religious law which discriminates against women, non-Muslim minorities and others.

“On Saturday, a court confirmed death sentences on the group’s General Guide, Mohammed Badie, and others for planning attacks against the state.

But another man, Ahmed, insists they have done nothing wrong.

“God willing, we’ll see the democratic process get back on track soon,” he says.”

Neither does Knell make any effort to explain the reasoning behind her promotion of the notion that the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole is ‘relatively moderate’.

“Yet many in Egypt accept the clampdown on the Brotherhood, believing it failed its test in power, and across the entire region the fate of this relatively moderate Islamist organisation has undergone a dramatic turnaround.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines the political sense of moderate as “not radical or excessively right- or left-wing”. The aim of running a state ruled by Sharia law cannot accurately be described as anything other than radical and right-wing and of course there is little evidence of ‘moderation’ on the part of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or the movement’s Qatar-based  ‘spiritual guide’ Yusuf al Qaradawi.

‘Moderate’ political organisations obviously do not support terrorism or cultivate links with its perpetrators – but a journalist who uses the makeover term “political faction” to describe a terrorist group which just months ago launched thousands of missiles at civilians will obviously be oblivious to that nuance.

“Not far away, in the Palestinian territories, Hamas – which is aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood – is also suffering from the organisation’s demise.

Its leaders were treated like VIPs in Egypt during the Brotherhood’s brief reign.

But in February, a court in Cairo joined Israel, the United States, the European Union and others in pronouncing Hamas a terrorist organisation.

In Gaza, which is controlled by the political faction, ordinary people feel more isolated than ever. […]

Across Gaza, the green flags of Hamas still flutter defiantly above the mangled metal and rubble of homes destroyed in last summer’s war with Israel.” [emphasis added]

Knell’s take-away message to readers comes right at the end of her article:

“But throughout much of the Middle East, there is a sense that times are changing.

And what worries many is that just as the Muslim Brotherhood, the grandfather of Islamist groups in the region, is in decline, so fanatical ones – like Islamic State – are gaining momentum.

The danger is that efforts to suppress the Brotherhood could radicalise its younger supporters and help swell the ranks of the extremists.”

Yolande Knell does not reveal to her readers the identities of the worried “many” who apparently believe that the political aspirations of young Middle Eastern Muslims are to be found exclusively on a scale lying between ‘moderate’ Islamists and ‘fanatical’ ones and hence promote the highly debatable claim-cum-threat that the decline of the Muslim Brotherhood could “swell the ranks of the extremists”.

However, a clue to the potential source – and background motivations – of that claim promoted and amplified by Knell comes in the form of a report published by Associated Press about the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan which appeared almost a month before Knell’s article saw the light of day. Interestingly, the two pieces show some curious similarities.

In a section of her article about the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood Yolande Knell writes:

“A new, officially licensed branch defines itself as strictly Jordanian, saying it has cut ties to the regional movement, so it is not identified as militant.”

The earlier AP article states:

“The new, officially licensed Brotherhood offshoot defines itself as a strictly Jordanian group, saying it cut ties with the regional movement to avoid being branded as militant.”

Yolande Knell writes:

“The legal status of the other, larger faction is less clear, but it is keeping its links to the wider Brotherhood.”

The earlier AP article states:

“The larger Brotherhood faction, still loyal to the regional movement, alleged the government engineered the division to weaken the group.[…] The status of the second faction now remains unclear.”

Yolande Knell writes:

“The danger is that efforts to suppress the Brotherhood could radicalise its younger supporters and help swell the ranks of the extremists.”

Readers of the AP report were informed that:

“In Jordan, some warned that the government’s apparent divide-and-control policy could backfire by pushing more Brotherhood supporters into the ranks of extremists like the Islamic State group, seen as the main threat to the country’s stability.”

And:

“Some warn the government crackdown could radicalize Brotherhood supporters and help swell the ranks of the Islamic State group.”

In other words, Yolande Knell’s supposedly impartial take-away message to Western audiences on the topic of the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have come straight (or perhaps via AP) from the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood horse’s mouth.

So much for ‘standard-setting’ journalism.

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Knell’s follow up on Cremisan Valley marred by BBC mantras

BBC Jerusalem Bureau correspondent Yolande Knell has invested quite a bit of energy over the past three years into promoting the topic of the court case concerning the route of the anti-terrorist fence in the Cremisan Valley.  

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The same topic has also appeared in other BBC content.

On April 3rd 2015 Knell reported on the Supreme Court decision given the previous day (according to which the Israeli authorities will have to find an alternative route for that particular section of the anti-terrorist fence) in an article titled “Israeli court rejects Cremisan Valley West Bank barrier“.Knell Cremisan

Despite Israel’s Supreme Court having accepted a petition presented by a non-Israeli municipality and tens of individuals who are not Israeli citizens in a case concerning the route of a structure described by the court as “one of the ways of dealing with the threats of terror and with the aim of preventing and avoiding the infiltration of terrorists into Israeli territory”, Yolande Knell chose to downplay that exceptional aspect of the story, instead opting to focus readers’ attentions on the standard BBC mantras relating to the anti-terrorist fence and ‘settlements’.

“Construction of the barrier began in 2002, during the second Palestinian intifada or uprising, following a wave of suicide bombings.

Israel said it was an essential security measure to prevent attacks.

However, Palestinians see it largely as a land grab because much of it was built inside the occupied West Bank.

Jewish settlements and additional land have been left on the Israeli side.

Settlements are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees.”

As has been noted here before with regard to that last sentence:

“Though that mantra has been repeated countless times over the years, it is not accompanied by a definitive cited source (because of course there isn’t one) and its claim is erroneously presented as being contested only by the government of Israel. In other words, the BBC’s standard formulation egregiously ignores the existence of legal opinions which contradict its own adopted narrative.”

The standard BBC insert on the topic of the anti-terrorist fence, which inevitably includes the phrase “Israel says” and inaccurate description of the structure as a “land grab”, is no more impartial.

“The systematic failure to present audiences with the readily available factual evidence which proves the anti-terrorist fence’s efficiency – rather than the subjective presentation of “Israel says” – is clearly a failure to distinguish “opinion from fact” and a major “omission of an important perspective”.  The fact that a standard formula has been employed for over a decade also represents a failure to adhere to the demand for “impartiality over time”, presenting the same jaded “land grab” theme over a long period of years in which no such thing has happened.”

Knell’s description of Gilo and Har Gilo is equally political:

“In the Cremisan Valley, Israel’s defence ministry argued it was seeking added protection for the settlements of Har Gilo and Gilo. Israelis view these as Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.”

As was the case in one of her previous articles on the subject, Knell refrains from informing audiences of the status of the land upon which Gilo was built, preferring to promote the standard Palestinian narrative of all Jerusalem neighbourhoods in areas occupied by Jordan during the War of Independence – including those on land owned by Jews before 1948 – as ‘settlements’. She also predictably avoids the topic of the terrorism directed at Gilo from nearby Beit Jala during the second Intifada.

At the beginning of her report Knell inaccurately informs readers that:

“Fifty-eight Christian families would have been cut off from their land.”

Those who bothered to read on discovered that was not the case:

“The Israeli authorities had said there would be access between the sites and for Palestinians trying to reach their land through gates operated by soldiers.”

Like the rest of Knell’s coverage of this story over a period of three years, this article passed up on the opportunity to provide BBC audiences with the comprehensive background necessary for audiences to understand both sides to the story in favour of the promotion of a specific political narrative.

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BBC’s Knell returns to the Gaza rubble

More than an entire month has gone by since BBC audiences got their last ‘reporter in the Gaza rubble’ fix from Lyse Doucet and so it came as little surprise to see the baton handed to Yolande Knell on April 1st.

Knell’s written and filmed versions of the same story – “Gaza family ‘tricked’ into selling Banksy painting for $175” and “Palestinian ‘tricked’ over Banksy art” – both appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.Knell Banksy written  

In the written report readers learned that:

“A Palestinian man says he was tricked into selling a mural by the artist Banksy that is estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Rabie Darduna told the BBC he was given less than $175 (£118) for the image drawn on the only remaining door of his house in Gaza.

It was one of thousands of homes destroyed during last year’s war.

Banksy visited Gaza in February and used the rubble as a canvas for his politicised graffiti.”

That story was also covered at the time by the BBC’s Gaza correspondent Rushdi Abualouf.

In the filmed version of Knell’s report shown on BBC television news programmes, viewers heard the following context-free introduction:

“Their lives in ruins: thousands of families in Gaza lost their homes in last year’s brutal war with Israel.”

Throughout the report Knell continues to use the story of a man who now regrets selling something he got for free after he discovered its proper value as a hook upon which to hang her real message.

“And when the British artist Banksy made a surprise visit here a month ago, this rubble inspired his politicized art.”

“The street art that Banksy left here in Gaza […] is meant to highlight the destruction here…”

“Back in Gaza the Darduna family can’t get over this cruel twist of fate. Banksy painted on their destroyed house to show he cares about Palestinians’ plight but now they’ve lost his unexpected gift they feel their suffering even more acutely.” [emphasis added]

At the bottom of the filmed report’s synopsis, audiences are invited to click on a link titled “Writing on the Wall” which leads them to the BBC’s ‘iWonder’ website. That site is billed as a project intended to “educate and inform” and “a ‘one-stop-shop’ for factual and educational content” and so – as we have noted here before – one might expect it to stick to accurate and impartial facts.Knell Banksy filmed

The page to which that promoted links leads includes, however, the following context-free politicized slogans: [all emphasis added]

“Banksy is the most well known graffiti artist in the world, even though he has never revealed his true identity. Quirky and political, his work has satirised oppression in Palestine, hypocrisy in politics and capitalist greed in London.”

Continuing his use of public spaces to display his work, he choose one of the most controversial walls in the world.

In 2005, to comment on Israeli involvement in Palestine, Banksy travelled to the Middle East and targeted the West Bank wall. His satirical stencils criticised Israeli militarism and oppression. The works provoked fierce debate in the media over whether a wall judged to be “illegal” by the International Court of Justice could in fact be vandalised. Banksy described the wall as “the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers”.

Yes – that is what the BBC apparently defines as “educational content”.  

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Elections 2015: was the BBC’s coverage impartial?

We are often told that the impartiality of BBC content should be judged “over time” and some guidance as to what that term means can be found in this section of the BBC’s editorial guidelines.

“In achieving due impartiality, a ‘series of programmes’ may be considered as a whole.

The term ‘series of programmes’ applies to the following:

Content that deals with the same or related issues, within an appropriate period, and are clearly linked.

This may include a strand with a common title; different types of linked programmes (such as a drama with a following debate); a clearly identified season of programmes or items on the same or similar subjects; or a set of interlinked web pages.  Such programmes, items or web pages need to achieve due impartiality across the series, and online content should include links or signposts to the other online elements.

The intention to achieve due impartiality in this way should be planned in advance.”

With BBC coverage of the recent Israeli election now having come to a close, we can examine the question of whether due impartiality was achieved in the ‘series of programmes’ relating to that topic.Knell filmed 17 3

All the relevant BBC content – written, audio and filmed – already discussed on these pages is available in chronological order under ‘related articles’ below.

The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities. So, whilst BBC audiences heard or read occasional brief references to ‘economic issues’, ‘the cost of living’ and ‘house prices’, they were never actually provided with any in-depth background information on those topics and hence were incapable of appreciating why – for example – a previously non-existent party (Kulanu) won ten seats in the incoming Knesset.

The BBC’s disproportionate focus on the topic of the ‘peace process’ can be illustrated by taking a look at the number of Palestinian commentators interviewed and quoted by the BBC in just three days of coverage, beginning with the day of the election itself.

17/3/15: Husam Zomlot – filmed report by Yolande Knell – BBC television news & website

                Husam Zomlot – audio report by Yoande Knell – ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

                Raja Shehadeh – interview ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

                Sabri Saydan – interview ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

18/3/15: Mohammed Shtayyeh – filmed report by Lyse Doucet – BBC television news & website

                 Saeb Erekat & Mahmoud Abbas – quoted in written report on BBC News website

                 Hanan Ashrawi – audio report by Kevin Connolly – Radio 4 ‘PM’ (here from 41:50)

19/3/15: Yousef Munnayer & Mustafa Barghouti – interviews ‘Newshour’, World Service radioNewshour 19 3

Despite extensive use of the ‘peace process’ theme and the generous airtime given to Palestinian interviewees, not one BBC report raised the topic of Palestinian responsibility for the lack of progress in negotiations and the related topic of long overdue elections for both the Palestinian Legislative Council and the PA president was likewise not even briefly mentioned.

Israeli politicians interviewed in the same three-day period included Ayman Odeh of the Joint Arab List (17/3 – filmed report by Jeremy Bowen), Yitzhak Herzog (17/3 ‘Newshour’) and Nahman Shai (17/3 ‘Newshour’) of the Zionist Union, first-time Likud candidate Sharren Haskel (17/3, ‘Newshour’), Rachel Azaria of Kulanu (18/3, ‘Newshour’ – here from 34:55) and Moshe Ya’alon of Likud (19/3).

In other words, BBC audiences heard and read more commentary on the Israeli election from Palestinian contributors than from Israeli politicians standing for election.

Little attempt was made to introduce BBC audiences to most of the 26 parties competing in the election or to explain the differences between their positions. Background information on the topic of the Israeli electoral system was mostly confined to references to the fact that the system makes a coalition government almost inevitable.

The topic of the foreign-funded campaign to influence the outcome of the election was completely ignored in all BBC coverage even though that factor played a role in influencing the election’s result and foreign intervention in elections in a democratic country should obviously have been a big story.Connolly filmed 16 3

Whilst the BBC put considerable focus on the statement made by the Israeli prime minister on March 17th concerning the related issue of busing of Joint Arab List voters to the polling stations, it did not report at all on the comments (or later fall-out) made at the Left-wing rally in Tel Aviv on March 7th – even though a BBC team was present at the event.  Despite the fact that Zionist Union leader Herzog later cited that incident as having affected his party’s performance “without a shadow of a doubt“, BBC audiences remain completely unaware of it ever having happened, just as they were not informed of assorted statements made by members of the Joint Arab List.

When answering criticism of his organisation’s coverage of Israel, the BBC’s director general recently claimed:

 “It is hard… tough. We do aim to give as impartial coverage as we can across the period.”

In this case it is not difficult to see that the BBC came nowhere near to achieving “due impartiality over time” – primarily because its journalists chose to cover the Israeli election almost exclusively from an angle which, whilst of only minor relevance to the issue itself, coalesced more with their own pre-existing views and agenda. And whilst audiences were fed reams of material on “the Palestinian view”, their understanding of what should have been the story’s actual subject matter – the factors influencing the election’s result – was hampered by selective omission of information and a distinct lack of interest in anything which got in the way of the story’s chosen framing.  

Lord Hall might care to ponder the fact that it would be much less “hard” and “tough” to cover Israel-related news accurately and impartially were the journalists working for his organisation to stick to reporting the stories that exist rather than instead promoting the stories they want to tell.

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The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ devoted part of its March 17th afternoon edition to the subject of the elections being held in Israel on that day.Newshour 17 3 aft

In the first part of the programme (from 00:45 here) listeners heard from Tim Franks talking briefly to voters at a polling station in the Kiryat Yovel neighbourhood in Jerusalem before conducting interviews with Yitzhak Herzog and Likud campaign manager Aron Shaviv.

The more notable part of the programme however came at 26:40 when the focus switched from the subject of the people contending and voting in the election to a topic the BBC has stubbornly shoehorned into a great deal of its election coverage, with presenter Razia Iqbal saying:

“Let’s hear now about a group often at the centre of the debate in any Israeli election, though not this one. Whilst much of the focus this time has been on internal social and economic issues and the perceived security threat from Iran, there’s been relatively little debate about the conflict with the Palestinians. From Ramallah in the West Bank, Yolande Knell reports now on the Palestinian view.”

Knell’s report was in fact just a version of her filmed report from Ramallah which had been slightly modified for radio and it included the same inaccurate claim about the voting rights of some Jerusalem residents and the same misleading propaganda from Fatah’s Husam Zomlot.

But that obviously did not satisfy the BBC’s urge to make this story about something it was not and so Iqbal then conducted a lengthy interview with Raja Shehadeh whom she described merely as an “award-winning Palestinian writer and human rights lawyer”, without making the required effort to inform listeners of Shehadeh’s political activities which are obviously very relevant if audiences are to be able to put his contribution into its correct context.

Predictably – and with more than a little help from Razia Iqbal – Shehadeh painted a picture in which Palestinians were portrayed solely as passive victims.

RS: “Unfortunately the Palestinians in the past used to hold their breath when there were Israeli elections and hope for a more moderate party or unity government. But they’ve hoped so often in the past and been disappointed…”

Iqbal made no attempt to remind listeners that, for example, the Palestinian Authority initiated the second Intifada during the office of a Labour government headed by Ehud Barak and following the Camp David talks.

RS: “Well you know the problem is that Israel has moved to the right and so even the Herzog party – the Zionist Unity [sic] party – doesn’t offer the minimum that Palestinians look for in order to have hope because they do not promise to remove any settlements, they do not promise to share Jerusalem as a joint capital for the Palestinian state and the Israeli state. The minimum that they are willing to offer comes below the minimum that Palestinians believe is necessary to move forward in the peace process.”

In addition to failing to challenge the chimera of “Israel has moved to the right”, Iqbal also refrained from questioning Shehadeh with regard to the results of the 2005 removal of all Israeli villages from the Gaza Strip and some in Samaria – a move which clearly did not prompt the Palestinians to make any “move forward in the peace process”.

In relation to the Joint Arab List, Shehadeh claimed:

“But they have problems of their own and the system in Israel does not give them much leverage over what they can do in terms of policy….that will affect the Palestinians in the occupied territories.”

Iqbal failed to clarify to listeners that the Joint Arab List had already ruled out joining a coalition government – and hence having any input “in terms of policy” – before the election even took place. She also failed to remind listeners that it was Netanyahu’s government which froze building for ten months in Judea & Samaria in an attempt to kick-start talks in 2009/10 and released dozens of convicted terrorists in 2013/14 for the same reason when Shehadeh said:

“…my view is that Netanyahu has been such a negative person – a negative approach and impact on the whole atmosphere in the region – that perhaps if he goes there might be a little more hope even though the policies of the parties who are expected to win are not much better.”

Neither did she challenge this fanciful statement:

“…the Palestinian Authority certainly has indicated over and over and over again that they are willing to make peace on the basis of a two-state solution but the Israelis are not listening at this point.”

In other words, the entire five-minute interview with Shehadeh was – like Knell’s interview with Husam Zomlot – no more than opportunistic use of the Israeli election to promote political propaganda which steers BBC audiences towards an inaccurate view not only of the election itself, but of the wider issue of the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

The evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on March 17th (from 00:30 here) also featured contributions from Tim Franks in Jerusalem focused around the topic of the exit polls which had just been announced. Listeners heard from Kevin Connolly and Yolande Knell at the Likud and Zionist Union HQs respectively as well as short interviews by Mark Lowen with two Israeli voters in a Tel Aviv pub. Franks was joined by Israeli journalist Emmanuel Rosen but, despite the opportunity that presented to finally inform listeners about the background to the main issues of the election, Franks yet again (as we have already seen in much of the BBC’s other coverage) brought the focus back to the topic the election was not about.Newshour 17 3 evg

“The rest of the world cares about Israel not because of the economy – which has been a central issue in this election – but because of its regional relations and of course its relations with the Palestinians. Were there to be a national unity government – as some people, including you, suggest could well be a possibility – will that just mean that there is no chance of any political breakthrough one way or the other with the Palestinians?”

When Rosen pointed out that the fate of negotiations “depends on the Palestinians” too, Franks responded:

“Indeed, but in terms of a new initiative from the Israelis?”

Later on in the programme (from 26:30) Franks interviewed candidates from the Labour and Likud parties. Like Emmanuel Rosen before him, Nachman Shai noted the “deciding power” of Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party in the formation of any coalition, but Franks again passed up on the chance to finally provide BBC audiences with some background to that new party, despite the fact that the BBC had barely covered the topic. Notably, Franks cut off Sharon Haskell as she spoke about a factor which had important influence on the election results: the intervention of foreign funded interest groups. Hence, BBC audiences did not get to form any understanding of how the final results of the election were affected by that factor.

From 33:20, Franks once again took the focus away from the issues upon which the election was fought.

“Well, given that this election was in large part about the economy but it did also turn on differing visions of whether there should be a Palestinian state at all, what’s the view from Ramallah – the Palestinian city of Ramallah? Sabri Saydam is an advisor to the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.”

Saydam presented the following uninterrupted monologue:

“It’s obvious that we’re repeating history now. We’re seeing the old lessons being repeated again where there is no bloc that’s to lead Israel. If anything, whether Right or Left, we’re talking about a Zionist movement in Israel that’s picking up momentum. We see the resurrection of Barak’s ‘no promises to the Palestinians’ now being resurrected with Herzog. We see Netanyahu moving to the right or centre right by saying there will be no Palestinian state, so there is no mood of celebration for the Palestinians. The only glimpse of hope is the united front of the Arab parties that have now formed the third bloc in Knesset and can veto any government that comes into being: that’s the only hope. Other than that there is no excitement here and there is no hope in any future government that comes into the scene. Only one indication in the Palestinian street that says maybe the comeback of Netanyahu will be an excellent thing to have because Netanyahu is the only person that can make a blunder out of PR and can really misrepresent Israel in every possible way that serves the Palestinians.”

As readers have no doubt concluded from these and other reports already covered on these pages, the BBC has insisted upon dragging the focus of much of its coverage of the Israeli election away from the issues it was actually about and deflecting audience attention to the topic of its choosing. Back in December 2014 when the election was first announced Tim Franks said to an Israeli interviewee:

“You make Israel sound like a normal country when you’re talking about economic problems, about value added tax, housing and so forth. But of course the reason the outside world is so interested in Israel is because of the wider issues with the conflict, with the Palestinians and so forth.”

Three and a half months later we hear him saying:

“The rest of the world cares about Israel not because of the economy – which has been a central issue in this election – but because of its regional relations and of course its relations with the Palestinians.”

In other words, members of the BBC’s audience who perhaps thought they would gain some insight into what this election was all about, what worries Israelis and the complex political system in Israel had no chance of their expectations being fulfilled because the BBC decided long ago that the story itself would not set the agenda. Instead, it chose to devote its coverage to the issue upon which it thinks audiences should be focusing. The result of that is that more airtime was given to ‘views from Ramallah’ than to informing audiences about the views of the people who actually determined the result of the election in places where the BBC rarely treads such as Kiryat Shmona, Shlomi, Sderot and Arad. 

Remarkably – as readers have no doubt already noticed for themselves – despite the plethora of Palestinian interviewees seen and heard in BBC coverage of the Israeli election, at no point did any BBC journalist raise the topic of the absence of democratic elections in the PA controlled areas during the last decade and how that factor – and the underlying reasons for it – might be having an effect on the peace process. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatah’s Husam Zomlot then says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The third and fourth versions of the report stated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: MEMRI

Photo credit: MEMRI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yolande Knell exploits BBC’s Democracy Day for political messaging

On January 20th the BBC ran a special cross-platform project titled ‘Democracy Day’ to mark the 750th anniversary of the establishment of the first parliament of elected representatives at Westminster. The contribution to that project appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page came in the form of an article by Yolande Knell which was promoted under the heading “Democracy in doldrums” and carried the sub-heading “What’s to blame for Palestinians’ failure to hold fresh polls?”.Knell DD on HP

The answers supplied to that question in Knell’s article – titled “How Palestinian democracy has failed to flourish” – were as predictable as both the topics she chose to avoid and the messaging unrelated to the article’s subject matter which she elected to promote.

The two descriptions of Hamas in Knell’s article are as follows:

“In 2005, after the Palestinian Islamist militant group, Hamas, participated in elections for the first time, it took over several local councils, including Qalqilya.”

And:

“In 2006 Israel banned Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organisation, from campaigning in East Jerusalem and blocked its inclusion on ballot papers in the sector.” [all emphasis added]

Of course Israel is far from the only country to classify Hamas as a proscribed terrorist organization; so do the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan. In addition, Jordan and Egypt have banned Hamas and Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organization, as do New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Had readers been informed of those facts, they would have been in a better position to understand the background to the following part of Knell’s article:

“…Hamas went on to win a decisive victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 – winning 74 of the 132 seats.

Turnout was high at 78% and international monitors said the vote was largely free and fair.

But the result was met with dismay by Israel and Western donors – which prop up the Palestinian Authority (PA).

They refused to deal with Hamas politically unless the group renounced violence and its commitment to the destruction of Israel. Funds to pay for vital services were stopped or diverted.”

Indeed, the international community in the form of the Quartet (composed of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia) refused to deal with a government run by a terrorist organisation which, in addition to refusing to renounce violence and recognize Israel as its predecessor had done, also refused to honour the existing agreements signed between the Palestinian National Authority and Israel (and witnessed and guaranteed by some Quartet members) which had created the former institution.Knell Democracy Day art 

However, the simplistic take-away messaging which Yolande Knell chose to promote to BBC audiences is as follows:

“We’re only allowed democracy if the West likes our choices,” comments one Qalqilya shopper as he reflects on this troubled political history. “They supported us when we went to the ballot boxes but did a u-turn when Islamists won.”

The issue of the refusal of Hamas and other groups to renounce terror as an obstacle to democracy does not come under discussion in Knell’s report and neither does the fact that Hamas cannot be accurately described as a democratic body in itself. Its violent military coup against the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip is described by Knell in the following euphemistic terms:

“While a new unity government was briefly set up a year later, it was soon dismissed amid bitter infighting between Fatah and Hamas.

This led to the political bifurcation of the West Bank – where Fatah reasserted its authority – and the Gaza Strip – where Hamas ran a rival administration.”

Her so-called discussion of Palestinian democracy also fails to make any mention of the Hamas practice of carrying out extra-judicial executions and its institutional persecution of religious minorities, women, gays and political rivals.

Knell bases her article around the town of Qalqilya and that provides the opportunity for some of her inevitable politically motivated messaging, despite the fact that it is irrelevant to the supposed topic of her report.

“The mayor points to a large map on the wall that shows Qalqilya virtually encircled by concrete sections of the separation barrier that Israel has built in and around the West Bank. The barrier is made up mainly of chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, but in some areas consists of 8m- (25ft-) high walls.

Israel says the barrier is needed to protect it from Palestinian attackers but it also restricts the movements of ordinary Palestinians and cuts them off from profitable agricultural land.”

No effort is made to provide audiences with the all-important context of the terrorist infrastructure in that town which made it the source of many terror attacks during the second Intifada, including the Dolphinarium attack. In line with the usual BBC practice, Knell fails to inform readers of the proven effectiveness of the anti-terrorist fence and employs the standard ‘Israel says’ nod to impartiality.

Knell also fails to inform her readers that Qalqilya is in Area A and that, like the vast majority of the Palestinians, its residents have lived under the control of the Palestinian Authority for two decades. Of course had she included that vital context, her article’s money quote would have been considerably less effective because readers would have realized that most of the Palestinians do not live “under Israeli occupation” at all.

“We’re a democratic society. It’s in our blood,” Mr Dawood says. “We have long had different political factions and ideologies. There are public consultations. But in the end we cannot have a real democracy under Israeli occupation.” [emphasis added]

Knell makes no effort to point out to readers that issues such as freedom of the press, freedom of association and rights for women and minorities are entirely under the control of the Palestinian Authority. She also fails to clarify the important point that Palestinian basic law stipulates that “the principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation” – a fact which obviously has considerable influence on the degree of democracy in Palestinian society.

With regard to the issue of the absence of presidential and PLC elections, Knell writes:

“Although a new unity deal was struck between Hamas and Fatah last April, so far their technocratic government has failed to pave the way for promised elections across Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the latter annexed by Israel in a move not recognised internationally.”

Her tepid portrayal fails to adequately clarify that the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement stipulated that elections would be held six months after its implementation – i.e. in January 2015 – and she makes no attempt to discuss the political background to the Palestinian unity government’s failure to call elections or to enhance readers’ understanding of why the Fatah-dominated PA might not be too keen to gamble on the current status quo.

With the BBC generally avoiding any meaningful coverage of internal Palestinian affairs, this article could have gone some way towards rectifying that had Yolande Knell been more interested in her mission to inform BBC audiences on international issues than in promoting her standard political messaging.

As it is, BBC audiences remain little the wiser as to why Palestinian democracy is in “the doldrums” or what is the state of affairs regarding basic tenets of democracy such as human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law in the areas under PA or Hamas control. Instead, readers once again herded towards a view of passive Palestinians lacking agency to change anything in their society because whatever ills there are – it’s always Israel’s fault. 

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Even the Guardian goes where the BBC refuses to tread

On November 28th 2014 BBC World Service radio audiences were told by the corporation’s man in Gaza Shahdi Alkashif that Israel was not permitting the entry of building materials into the Gaza Strip.Kerem Shalom

On December 2nd 2014 another Gaza-based journalist snapped a photograph of cement being sold on the black market after having gone through the UN supervised mechanism designed to prevent exactly such a scenario.

On December 8th 2014 the BBC’s Yolande Knell produced two reports on the topic of building materials for the repair and reconstruction of structures damaged during the summer conflict, neither of which addressed the issue of black market trade in those materials  or the efficacy of the UN monitored mechanism designed to prevent them from being diverted from their intended use to the purposes of terrorism.

Both Knell’s reports used quotes from UN officials and UNRWA’s Robert Turner was provided with a platform from which to promote (once again) political messaging on the subject of the restrictions on the entry of dual use goods imposed by Israel.

Knell: “The huge sale of destruction means it’s taking longer than expected to assess the damage. UN officials also blame Palestinian politics for delays in reconstruction and say ultimately Israel needs to lift its tight border restrictions. Their efforts can only achieve so much.

Robert Turner: The mechanism is a significant step. It’s important to ensure that the families that were affected by the conflict can rebuild their homes. It’s not a replacement for the lifting of the blockade. If there’s going to be peace and security, if there’s going to be stable Gaza, then the blockade needs to be lifted.”

Since those reports – which clearly attributed the slow pace of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip primarily to factors linked to Israel – the BBC has not revisited the issue. However, on December 25th the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont published a report which includes the following observations.

“Amid mounting criticism of the pace of the rebuilding effort, the Guardian has established that a controversial UN-designed mechanism to control the supply of building materials – and prevent them falling into the hands of the militant group Hamas – has been widely corrupted. […]

The mechanism for allowing the entry of materials into Gaza – including the monitoring of the distribution and use of concrete – was designed by the UN special envoy Robert Serry to satisfy Israeli government concerns that cement should not be diverted to Hamas for military purposes, including tunnel building. […]

Under the scheme householders are assessed to see if they qualify for rebuilding materials, then registered and issued with a coupon allowing them to buy a specified amount of materials from warehouses monitored by a UN-administered inspection regime.

During a recent visit to cement warehouses in Gaza, however, the Guardian [saw] cement being resold a few feet outside the warehouse doors at up to four times the cost within minutes of being handed over to householders with coupons.”

Additionally, a report from YNet from December 28th notes that:

“Israel has proof that Hamas has purchased cement from more than 8,000 homeowners in Gaza who received the building material from the United Nations, in cooperation with Israel, in order to repair their homes.”

The BBC has shown no interest to date in investigating growing evidence of the failure of the UN mechanism to prevent building materials being diverted to Hamas or in informing audiences of the corruption bringing about that failure. Despite having given generous coverage to the topic of the Cairo donor conference back in October 2014, it has also refrained from investigating claims made in an AP report from December 22nd regarding the failure of funds pledged at that conference to arrive.

“International donors have so far failed to deliver billions of dollars in aid money that was promised to rebuild the war-battered Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said Monday, saying the rift between rival Palestinian factions is deterring foreign governments from sending aid.

In the wake of a 50-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants over the summer, international donors promised $2.7 billion to help rebuild Gaza at a conference in Cairo in October. But Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa said “not even one penny” has been received from major donors such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.”

Although the last BBC report on the topic of construction materials appeared on December 8th, audiences continue to be shown images of damaged and destroyed buildings in the Gaza Strip in reports not always directly relating to rebuilding (see recent examples here and here). The picture emerging from the Guardian’s report, however, is that thousands of those structures could have been repaired already were building materials not being diverted to Hamas.

So far the BBC has shown no interest in reporting on why reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is really faltering. Instead, its audiences are left with an inaccurate picture of reconstruction hampered by Israeli policies. That narrative is promoted by the BBC together with officials from the UN: the very organization which is failing to adequately oversee and enforce the mechanism supposed to both ensure the repair of civilian housing and to ward off the onset of another conflict by preventing construction materials being diverted to the purposes of terrorism. 

More narrative-inspired reporting from Bethlehem by BBC’s Yolande Knell

The December 27th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item (available here from 01:48) described as follows in its synopsis:Knell Bethlehem FOOC

“…why Yolande Knell in Bethlehem is looking forward to two more Christmases in the coming weeks…”

A very similar written version that audio report from Knell’s appeared on the Magazine and Middle East pages of the BBC News website on December 28th under the title “The town with three Christmas Days“. It opens by telling BBC audiences that:

“Christmas comes but once a year – unless you live in Bethlehem, where three different Christian denominations celebrate on three different days.”

Obviously Bethlehem is far from the only town in the region in which different Christian denominations celebrate Christmas on different dates. Towards the end of her report Knell states:

“Many Palestinian Christians see themselves as custodians of Christmas and its colourful traditions.

The dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land adds a sense of urgency to their celebrations. Nowadays many young people in the West Bank choose to emigrate because of the difficult economic and social conditions created by Israel’s occupation.”

Knell’s over-simplified claim of a “dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land” misleads audiences by failing to distinguish between Israel – where Christian communities thrive and grow – and the PA ruled areas where their numbers continue to decline. Of course the vast majority of Palestinians in the PA-controlled territories do not live under “Israel’s occupation” at all with control of Bethlehem, for example, having been handed over to the PA in accordance with the Oslo Accords two decades ago. However, Knell continues to promote the mantra which has dominated previous BBC reports on the topic of Palestinian Christians, according to which emigration is entirely attributable to factors connected to Israel. And as we have seen in much other BBC reporting on the issue, Knell studiously avoids the long-standing but under-reported topic of intimidation of Christians.

“Christian families have long been complaining of intimidation and land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority.

Many Christians in Bethlehem and the nearby [Christian] towns of Bet Sahour and Bet Jalla have repeatedly complained that Muslims have been seizing their lands either by force or through forged documents.

In recent years, not only has the number of Christians continued to dwindle, but Bethlehem and its surroundings also became hotbeds for Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters and members.

Moreover, several Christian women living in these areas have complained about verbal and sexual assaults by Muslim men.

Over the past few years, a number of Christian businessmen told me that they were forced to shut down their businesses because they could no longer afford to pay “protection” money to local Muslim gangs.

While it is true that the Palestinian Authority does not have an official policy of persecution against Christians, it is also true that this authority has not done enough to provide the Christian population with a sense of security and stability.”

Interestingly, a BBC feature from 2011 called “Guide: Christians in the Middle East” (much of which is now sadly out of date due to events in Syria and Iraq) did briefly mention non Israel-related factors affecting Palestinian Christians.Knell Bethlehem written Mag

“Some Christian leaders also cite the rise of radical Islam in the area as a growing pressure on Christian communities.”

At the beginning of the audio version of Knell’s report presenter Kate Adie informs listeners that:

“Yolande Knell has lived in the city [Bethlehem] just a few miles south of Jerusalem for four years now…”

Despite that fact – or perhaps because of it – BBC audiences continue to be fobbed off with one-dimensional reporting from Yolande Knell which presents Palestinians exclusively as passive victims of Israeli policy and actions whilst concurrently refraining from any attempt to report on the internal Palestinian affairs which affect their lives.

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