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.
“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.