Shana Tova – Happy New Year!

Wishing all our readers celebrating Rosh HaShana a happy, healthy, peaceful and sweet New Year.

 

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The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part two

As was noted in part one of this post, the lead story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on September 17th was centred around the 106 word long statement put out by Hamas earlier that day.

Following the earlier report on that story – which was over twelve and a half minutes long – the same programme also aired an additional item on the topic which brought the total time allotted to the subject to over twenty minutes.

Presenter James Coomarsamy introduced the second item (from 45:06 here) thus:

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “Let’s return now to our main story today: the announcement by the Palestinian group Hamas that it will dissolve the administration that runs Gaza and hold talks with its rival Fatah about forming a government of national unity and holding elections. I’ve been discussing this with the Palestinian academic Khaled Hroub – he’s a professor of Middle Eastern studies and the author of two books on Hamas – and Oliver McTernan, the director of the mediation group ‘Forward Thinking’ who’s been working on bringing the sides in the Middle East closer together. So why does he think Hamas has done this now?”

BBC audiences have heard from both Qatar-based Khaled Hroub and from the director of the UK charity ‘Forward Thinking’ on previous occasions but it would of course have been helpful to listeners trying to put the ‘analysis’ they heard into context had they been informed that McTernan is a proponent of the view that being a terror organisation committed to Israel’s destruction should not disqualify Hamas from governing the Palestinian Authority or being part of negotiations to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Unfortunately, Coomarasamy did not comply with the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality which require the “particular viewpoint” of contributors to be clarified in advance.

Given McTernan’s approach, his promotion of Hamas favoured terminology by inaccurately describing the restrictions on the entry of dual-use goods into the Gaza Strip as a “siege” was not unexpected. Coomarasamy however did not challenge that inaccurate portrayal or the false linkage McTernan tried to create between Israel’s counter-terrorism measures and the electricity crisis in Gaza.

McTernan: “Of course life for ordinary people in Gaza is under tremendous pressure at the moment because it’s almost ten years of siege and that means that the flow of goods, the flow of people and in particular the current situation on electricity – where you have roughly three hours a day for the average person – is putting a lot of strain on ordinary life in Gaza.”

Neither was it much of a surprise to hear McTernan later repeat his long-held view that the international community should have embraced the terror group’s victory in the 2006 PLC election.

McTernan: “…so I think what’s needed now is a wise action by both leaderships [Hamas and Fatah] to say we move into a situation where we can share power and then we go back to the electorate and stand for election and both sides should be committed this time round to fully respecting the outcome of the election. Because 2006 was recognised as one of the most open and fair elections in the Arab world and sadly the international community were responsible greatly for not respecting that outcome.”

The very relevant fact that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that rejects recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the question of how that can possibly align with the Palestinian Authority’s existing commitments to agreements signed with Israel was not raised by Coomarasamy in this item even when McTernan pontificated on what Israel should do.

McTernan: “I think if Israel had wisdom they would see Palestinian division is in fact not in their interest. It’s both in their immediate and long-term interest first of all to see stability both in Gaza and in the West Bank and secondly to allow the Palestinian political leadership to form itself in a way that can truly represent the Palestinian cause and therefore be an effective partner.”

McTernan’s later additional inaccurate references to a “siege” likewise did not produce any challenge from Coomarasamy.

McTernan: “…the reality of the situation in the region is that Abbas or Hamas don’t control the freedom of movement so I think Israel is a big player in this. They control what goes into Gaza, who can come out, who can go in. I think what needs to be looked at is the whole siege of Gaza and I think that will require much more international determination both from the West and from the Gulf countries and Egypt to sort of say to Israel ‘look, it’s not in your interest to keep the siege going’.”

In among McTernan’s barely concealed advocacy of Hamas talking points listeners did hear some relevant points raised by Khaled Hroub, including clarification of the significance of Egypt’s closure of its border with the Gaza Strip, the relevance of Egypt’s concerns about the ISIS presence in Sinai and the fact that after ten years of unaccountable absolute power, Mahmoud Abbas might be less willing to embrace parliamentary limitations and accountability. Those topics were not however explored further.

While over twenty minutes of coverage of a 106 word statement from Hamas might seem generous or even excessive, the binge was not yet over: the later edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day also led with the same story and that will be discussed in a future post.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

On September 17th the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ devoted over a third of its one hour of airtime to its lead story – billed “Hope for Unity in Palestinian Territories”.

“Hamas, who govern the Gaza strip, have agreed to steps towards ending a long feud with their rivals Fatah who govern the West Bank.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the item (from 00:11 here) with an odd portrayal of the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council election as relating to the Gaza Strip only.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

“And we’re going to start with a long-awaited and potentially significant political gesture in the Middle East. It’s not directly related to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians but to the internal Palestinian struggle which has a bearing on the hopes for peace. It’s a gesture that comes from Hamas; the Palestinian faction that won control of the Gaza Strip from its rival Fatah in an election in 2006 and took full control of Gaza by force a year later. Well Hamas is still considered a banned terrorist organisation in many parts of the world and its presided over a decade of increasing desperation for its citizens. Gaza is subject to a blockade by Israel and Egypt and in recent months its citizens have faced an extra squeeze with the reduction of their electricity supply. But now, in talks presided over by Egypt, Hamas has agreed to dissolve the administration in Gaza with a view to holding a future election. We’ll discuss what lies behind that decision and what it might lead to in just a moment but first, a reminder of what daily life is like in Gaza. Najla is a mother of two young children. She was born in Gaza and has lived there all her life and she spoke to Newshour last month.”

Listeners then heard an edited version of the long monologue from the inadequately introduced Oxfam employee Najla Shawa that BBC World Service listeners had already heard on September 3rd. Repeating her claim that the Gaza Strip is “a big prison”, Shawa added to Coomarasamy’s misleading and inaccurate implied linkage between the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip and Israeli counter-terrorism measures in the form of border controls.

Next Coomarasamy introduced Yolande Knell who presented a factual picture of the Hamas announcement previously described by him as a “gesture” – although listeners may have been surprised to hear Knell describe “the administrative committee it [Hamas] set up in March” as “really controversial” given that the BBC has not previously reported on that topic.

Following an account of Egypt’s role in the appearance of Hamas’ announcement, Knell gave an accurate portrayal of some of the methods used by Mahmoud Abbas to pressure Hamas.

“Well some people are quite surprised that they [Hamas] have made these concessions, as they’re seen, particularly for example getting rid of this administrative committee. Previously it had said that it wouldn’t take these kinds of steps until the Palestinian Authority lifted some of the measures that it’s imposed upon Gaza in recent months because we’ve really seen this political divide between Hamas and Fatah deepening recently with President Abbas trying to pile on the political pressure and now you have only four hours on, sixteen hours off when it comes to mains electricity in Gaza. There’s been a longtime energy shortage but it’s got much worse because the PA put up a fuel tax for the sole power plant in Gaza. Then it instructed Israel to reduce mains electricity that it provides to Gaza. This is having effects on hospitals, on waste water management, with sewage being pumped into the sea and it’s also having a big economic effect. It also slashed the salaries for civil servants – PA civil servants – who were still receiving their salaries in Gaza.”

Although Knell has produced one reasonable report on the topic of the Gaza electricity crisis in the past, for the most part content on that topic produced by her and other BBC journalists has encouraged audiences to mistakenly believe that there is a connection between that crisis and Israel.

Coomarasamy then introduced “a view from Fatah” given by Abbas’ advisor Nabil Shaath. However, when Shaath stated that “many of us have some hesitation about the degree to which Hamas will be willing to go to the details”, he failed to question him further, passing up the opportunity to enhance listener understanding of the potential pitfalls that have dogged previous ‘unity’ agreements.

Shaath’s propagandist portrayal of Israel’s government as “colonialist” did not prompt comment or challenge from Coomarasamy.

Shaath: “I do not see how we can face Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing settler colonialist government and we cannot really make use of any potential changes in the world if we are not united.”

BBC audiences used to hearing from journalists and Palestinian commentators alike that Israel is responsible for the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip may well have been surprised by Shaath’s admission of Hamas responsibility for the situation of the people of Gaza.

Shaath: “…Hamas has done much worse. Hamas destroyed their opportunities. Hamas subjected them to risks that they couldn’t take. Hamas led them into a life of isolation…”

Following his conversation with Shaath, Coomarasamy returned to Yolande Knell and – in contrast to the BBC’s written report on the topic – listeners were told of some of the factors that will affect any ‘unity deal’.

Knell: “The devil now I think is in the detail with what happens. We’ve seen this when previous arrangements have broken down. Who are going to be the key players in a national unity government? What’s going to happen about managing the border crossings? Will PA security forces be allowed to function in Gaza once again? What will happen then to the Hamas security forces – which is what you see on the street at the moment doing everything from…eh….controlling traffic.”

Listeners also heard a very rare acknowledgement of the reason for the collapse of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in 2014: an outcome portrayed at the time by the BBC’s Middle East editor as being entirely attributable to Israel.

“Israel of course views Hamas as a terrorist group, as does the US, the EU and others. And we’ve had some Israeli commentators pointing out how this actually makes things very difficult for Mr Abbas because when there was a national unity government agreed more than three years ago, this was a trigger for the failure of the last round of peace talks.”

Knell did however come up with some bizarre spin on the fact that the PA president – whose elected term expired in January 2009 – has no control over – or presence in – part of the territory he supposedly heads.

Knell: “…Israel always accuses Mr Abbas of not representing all the Palestinian people; of being weak in a way.”

Although listeners did hear some important information in this item that has long been absent from BBC coverage, one aspect of the story ignored throughout the discussions on the topic of the reasons behind Hamas’ announcement is that of the public unrest that apparently prompted Hamas to make a large purchase of fuel earlier this month. As the Times of Israel’s analyst noted

“[Hamas leader] Haniyeh understands that, with little hope on the horizon, the severe economic crisis in Gaza can end in one of two ways: war with Israel, which could decimate the movement’s leadership and turn the population against it, or a “Gaza Spring” that would have similar results.

The best he can do under the circumstances is compromise, even if others say he caved in.”

The second item in this programme relating to the same topic will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns 

 

 

Where does the BBC report on air-raid sirens and shelters?

BBC audiences have recently seen a number of items covering the topic of missile launches by North Korea, including reports and a dedicated blog from a Radio 5 live journalist sent specially to the region.

N Korea’s missile: The key questions  August 29th 2017.

“Sending a missile over a state’s sovereign territory is a pretty big deal…”

“North Korea is doing this solely out of spite. They’re doing it solely to threaten Japanese civilians.”

North Korea missile triggers Japan warning alarms  August 29th 2017

“Footage on social media appears to show warning alarms which were triggered in parts of Japan, after North Korea fired a missile over the country.”

A look inside a South Korean public shelter September 13th 2017

“Public shelters have been set up across the country in the event of an attack from the North.”

“When you live here, in the closest village to the border – this is only about three miles away – you need a proper shelter.”

North Korea missile: People under threat react  September 15th 2017

“People living in South Korea and Japan react to North Korea’s latest missile launch.”

“That’s a nice wake-up call. My phone translated as ‘a North Korea missile launch’. What do you do in a circumstance like that?”

“The strongest feeling I have is a feeling of fear. I don’t know when I might be killed. That is the scariest part.”

In contrast, the BBC has produced no English language reporting whatsoever on the dozen actual missile hits so far this year in a region just ninety minutes away from its Jerusalem office that has previously seen thousands of such attacks over the past sixteen years.

 

 

 

Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 17th found the headline “Hamas says it is ready to hold elections” under which they were told that:

“The Palestinian militant group signals it is ready to end its feud with Fatah and hold elections”.

The link leads to a similarly titled report – “Hamas says it is ready to hold first elections since 2006” – which in its original version included closing sentences wrongly implying that the policy document published by Hamas in May replaces its 1988 charter.

The current version of the report includes statements that – in light of the BBC’s chronic avoidance of coverage of internal Palestinian affairs – audiences may have had difficulty following.

“The Palestinian militant group Hamas says it is ready to dissolve the committee that rules Gaza and hold a general election for the first time since 2006.”

BBC audiences were not told of the creation of that ‘administrative committee’ earlier this year or of the significance of that move by Hamas in prompting Mahmoud Abbas’ subsequent financial sanctions against the Gaza Strip.

“Fatah’s deputy leader Mahmoud al-Aloul gave a tentative welcome to the news and called for other issues to be resolved, including control of border crossings.”

BBC audiences were not informed of the election of al-Aloul to the position of vice-chair of Fatah in February.

A series of Palestinian ‘unity governments’ – or proposals for them – have repeatedly come to a swift end in the past but the BBC’s report includes just one opaque sentence on a factor of prime importance to audience understanding of the significance of this latest announcement from Hamas.

“It is not yet clear whether Hamas is ready to place its security forces under Mr Abbas’s control – a major sticking point in the past, Associated Press reports.”

Exactly three years ago a BBC report on the ‘unity government’ of the time included a very similar statement:

“However, a Hamas official told the Associated Press that there were still disagreements over who should be responsible for paying civil servants in Gaza, and whether the PA’s own security forces would be allowed a significant presence in the territory. He described the deal as “partial”.” [emphasis added]

Now as then, the BBC makes no effort to clarify to its audiences that any ‘unity government’ which refrained from disarming Hamas’ terrorist militia in the Gaza Strip would fail to meet the Palestinian Authority’s commitments under existing agreements with Israel.

Neither does it inform readers that if Hamas and other terrorist groups are not disarmed by a PA ‘unity government’ and the territory not brought under the sole control of PA security forces, then the Gaza Strip – along with the rest of the PA-controlled areas – will find itself in a ‘Lebanon-style’ situation whereby the actions of a foreign-sponsored terrorist organisation can continue to spark conflict whenever that suits its own (or its sponsor’s) agenda.

Another important aspect of this story is pointed out at the Times of Israel:

“The main problem with the timing from Fatah’s point of view is that in three days, Abbas is due to meet with Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

One can only imagine how Abbas’s meeting with the United States president will be perceived if he will have just agreed to form a national unity government with a terror group, and especially if he speaks about reconciliation with Hamas in his UN address.

Abbas will want answers from Trump about his administration’s as-yet-unstated commitment to a two-state solution. It would be odd for Abbas to talk up a Palestinian state after agreeing to share power with a group that calls for the destruction of Israel.”

It was of course Abbas’ decision to opt for ‘reconciliation’ with Hamas in April 2014 which brought months of talks between Israel and the Palestinians to an end.

As was the case when the last ‘unity government’ failed to get off the ground three years ago, once again we see that the BBC’s superficial reporting on a potential Hamas-Fatah reconciliation falls far short of providing its funding public with comprehensive information needed to understand the story.

Related Articles:

BBC fails to clarify to audiences significance of PUG failure to disarm Hamas

Dumbed down BBC reporting on the Palestinian Unity Government continues 

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ revisits antisemitism and anti-Zionism

As we know the BBC’s record on preventing, identifying – and correcting – antisemitic discourse in its own content is worryingly dismal. Likewise, the BBC has been unable to explain anti-Zionism to its audiences adequately and attempts to do so have been repeatedly marred by promotion of the Livingstone Formulation. Not surprisingly therefore, the BBC’s coverage of the issue of antisemitism in the ranks of the UK Labour party has also repeatedly been unsatisfactory and unhelpful to its funding public.

Against that backdrop, parts of the September 11th edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ (broadcast both on television and BBC World Service radio) with the British writer Howard Jacobson were noteworthy.

From 08:38 in the video below the topic of conversation turned to antisemitism with Jacobson concluding:

“…it would be madness to suppose it’s [antisemitism] not there and it is here in this country in a particular guise.”

Host Stephen Sackur jumped in:

Sackur: “But maybe sometimes…well…maybe sometimes you see it in places where actually it is something else. And I’m thinking here about the conflation, some would say, the conflation of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment or anti-Zionist sentiment.”

Jacobson: “I don’t conflate it.”

Sackur: “Some do.”

Jacobson: “Well there may be some who do. I mean a lot of people are accused of conflating it when they don’t. They are two separate things but that doesn’t mean that they are bound to be separate things. It is quite true that an anti-Zionist need not be an antisemite but that doesn’t mean that an anti-Zionist is never going to be an antisemite.”

Sackur: “But they are two distinct and different things. One is political and ideological. One is essentially about the hate of a people and a religion.”

Following Jacobson’s reply to that assertion, Sackur changed the subject, claiming that he had already “explored” the topic of Zionism in a previous interview with anti-Zionist Ilan Pappe which in fact took place over three years ago. Sackur then turned the conversation to the topic of antisemitism in the UK Labour party, claiming that “the Labour party has dealt with that”.

Howard Jacobson’s response and Sackur’s subsequent invocation of a controversial letter to the Guardian can be viewed below.

 

BBC contributor on ME links up with UK Hamas supporters

Next month an organisation linked to Hamas (which is of course proscribed by the EU and in part by the UK) will hold an event titled ‘Palestine, Britain and the Balfour Declaration 100 years on’ at the British Library in London.

“The 1917 Balfour Declaration is widely regarded as one of the most formative and far-reaching documents in the modern history of the Middle East. It was the cornerstone of the Zionist project to transform Arab Palestine into a ‘Jewish state’. The Declaration and subsequent events changed not only the demographic map of the region but also its political, social and military configuration as well.

Join Middle East Monitor on the 7th of October at the British Library in Central London to learn more about and discuss the declaration, how it came about, it’s [sic] legal standing and consequences, and to look at Britain’s role in the continued oppression of Palestinians.”

The fact that ‘Middle East Monitor’ (MEMO) is organising such an event comes as no surprise: it is after all the Hamas-linked outfit that invited Raed Salah to the UK in 2011 and it includes among its staff seasoned anti-Israel activists such as director Daud Abdullah (also connected to the PRC) and senior editor Ibrahim Hewitt of ‘Interpal‘. 

Neither is the line-up of speakers at this latest MEMO event much of an eye-opener: no-one familiar with the Hamas-sympathetic anti-Israel scene in the UK would be shocked to find names such as David Cronin, Clare Short and Peter Oborne on the list.

Nevertheless, one name on that list should raise eyebrows – not because he has unsurprisingly agreed to speak at an event run by a group known to be linked to Hamas but because the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist activist academic Avi Shlaim is also a fairly regular (but inevitably inadequately introduced) BBC contributor on Middle East affairs and has even in the past been consulted as an ‘expert’ at the later stages of the BBC complaints procedure.

Related Articles:

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BBC’s inconsistent follow-up reporting on terror trials continues

Earlier this year we noted the BBC’s inconsistent follow-up reporting on terror incidents. While audiences have seen reporting on related legal proceedings months or years later in cases when the perpetrators were Israelis, arrests, trials and convictions relating to attacks carried out by Palestinians very rarely receive follow-up coverage.

Last week three of the perpetrators of an attack that was reported by the BBC nearly two years ago were convicted of manslaughter.

“The Jerusalem District Court convicted Muhammad Abu Kaf, Walid Atrash and an additional unnamed minor of manslaughter for the killing of Alexander Levlovitz on Rosh Hashanah eve two years ago, in an attack marking the beginning of the lone-wolf wave of terrorism.

After the holiday meal, Levlovitz drove two guests home, and was later killed when Palestinians pelted his car with rocks.”

As was also the case when another member of the group that carried out the attack was sentenced last year, the BBC has not produced any coverage of that story.

Reports around the time of the attack which are still available on the BBC News website describe it as follows: [emphasis added]

“Alexander Levlovitz died in a car accident apparently caused by a rock-throwing attack in Jerusalem. […]

Mr Levlovitz died and two passengers were reportedly injured after their car was pelted with stones on Monday. Police are investigating the incident.” (BBC News website, September 16th, 2015)

“An Israeli motorist died earlier in the week in an accident apparently caused by a rock-throwing attack in Jerusalem.” (BBC News website, September 19th, 2015)

Although the circumstances of the attack have since been proven in court, the BBC has once again not shown any interest in providing its audiences with follow-up reporting which would clarify those ambiguous statements and bring its “historical record” up to date.

Related Articles:

BBC’s public purpose remit compromised by failure to report on incitement

BBC’s ‘historical record’ compromised by absence of follow-up reporting

Reviewing BBC News website follow-up reporting on terrorism in Israel

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Begin-Sadat center for Strategic Studies, Dr Alex Joffe examines the concept of ‘settler-colonialism’.

‘The settler-colonial argument against Israel posits that Zionism was an imperial tool of Britain (or, alternatively, that Zionism manipulated the British Empire); that Jews represent an alien population implanted into Palestine to usurp the land and displace the people; and that Israel has subjected Palestinians to “genocide,” real, figurative, and cultural.

According to this argument, Israel’s “settler colonialism” is a “structure, not an event,” and is accompanied by a “legacy of foundational violence” that extends back to the First Zionist Congress in 1897 or even before. With Zionism thus imbued with two forms of ineradicable original sin, violent opposition to Israel is legitimized and any forms of compromise, even negotiation, are “misguided and disingenuous because ‘dialogue’ does not tackle the asymmetrical status quo.”’

2) At the Tablet, Professor Richard Landes writes about “Europe’s Destructive Holocaust Shame“.

‘Of all the post-modern multi-narrative projects, re-centering and problematizing Christian European majority narratives promised quite an academic bounty. The Hebraic contribution could be used to challenge the self-absorbed narcissistic quality of the modern Western grand narrative that so grated on the post-modern sensibility. Certainly, given the abundance of evidence and subjects to explore, it was a promising avenue for research. And how appropriate for Germans to engage in that exploration of a culture which, in their self-destructive madness, their fathers had tried to exterminate.’

3) The Kohelet Forum has published a report documenting “The Scope of European and Multinational Business in the Occupied Territories”.

‘On March 24, 2016, at its 31st session, the UN General Assembly Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted Resolution 31/36, which instructed the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a “database” of business enterprises. The database will focus on one particular issue, which an earlier Council resolution claimed raises human rights issues: that “business enterprises have directly and indirectly, enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements.”

Such an activity—making blacklists of private organizations—is absolutely unprecedented for the HRC. And the current “research” program is focused on only one context: companies working in areas designated as being under Israeli civil jurisdiction in the West Bank under the Oslo Accords. […]

This report is designed to put the HRC’s “database” project in a global perspective. It examines business activity in support of settlement enterprises in occupied territories around the world. This study reveals that such business is ubiquitous and involves some of the world’s largest industrial, financial services, transport, and other major publicly traded companies. Such companies include Siemens, Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas, Santander, Vodafone, Renault, Veolia, Trelleborg, Wärtsilä, and Turkish Airlines, to take just a few examples.’

4) A major study of antisemitism in Great Britain published this week by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) has received a lot of coverage including at UK Media Watch, the Times of Israel and the Jewish Chronicle.

‘Nearly half of people holding anti-Israel views across the political spectrum were revealed in the survey to also believe Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood.

Speaking at Tuesday night’s launch of the JPR survey, Dave Rich, Community Security Trust deputy director of communications, said the findings on left-wing antisemitism emerged after “prominent figures in Labour and Momentum repeatedly abused the memory of the Holocaust in pursuit of anti-Israel politics”.

Dr Rich said the poll findings – which are backed by CST – shattered the claim by some that antisemitism did not exist in Labour because it was an “anti-racist safe space”.’

A ‘dark Israel’ genre BBC News website story jumps the gun

As has been recorded here in the past, the BBC has something of a penchant for the ‘dark Israel’ genre and regularly promotes stories which – often with insufficient attention to accuracy – paint a caricature of a country parting ways with democracy that is rife with racismsexismxenophobiahomophobia, government censorship and suchlike.  

On September 13th a domestic Israeli story which is of little or no interest to foreign readers – but, crucially, belongs to that genre – appeared on the BBC News website under the headline “Ultra-Orthodox Israeli MP quits amid gay wedding criticism“.

Readers were told that Shas party MK Yigal Guetta had resigned from his post.

“An ultra-Orthodox Jewish member of Israel’s parliament has resigned after prominent rabbis criticised him for attending his gay nephew’s wedding. […]

Mr Guetta did not issue a statement after giving up his seat in the Knesset.”

However the story is not quite as cut and dried as BBC audiences were led to believe – as the Times of Israel reported.

“On Wednesday, Guetta wrote to party boss and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri that he would resign and give up his Knesset seat. […]

While Guetta sent a resignation letter to Deri, he did not send one to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who must receive a formal resignation announcement from an MK in order for it to become official.

By law, Shas can kick Guetta — the party’s secretary-general — out of the party, but it cannot kick him out of the Knesset.

Once a Knesset member is elected, only a large majority of fellow lawmakers, backed by an Ethics Committee decision and a very serious breach of the law on his or her part, can force him or her from parliament.”

In fact, MK Guetta was only due to meet with the Deputy Knesset Speaker on the day after the BBC published its report.

The New York Times added:

“Mr. Guetta is now in negotiations with the Shas Party’s council of sages who are said to be less upset about his attendance at the wedding than his disclosure of that information in the radio interview.

A compromise appears to be emerging in which Mr. Guetta would apologize for giving the interview, though not for attending the wedding, and would retain his place in the party and his seat in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

To formally resign he would have to write to the Knesset chairman, a step he has not taken yet.”

Israel is of course far from the only country in which some religious figures take a conservative attitude towards gay marriage but in its apparent rush to publish yet another story promoting the ‘benighted’, ‘backward’ Israel theme, the BBC failed to check the accuracy of its claim that Mr Guetta had already ‘given up his seat’.