BBC’s Newsbeat adds redundant ambiguity to report on blogger’s tweets

An article produced by the BBC’s Newsbeat division appeared on the Newsbeat website and the BBC News website on January 22nd under the headline “L’Oreal hijab model pulls out of campaign after backlash“.

The story was introduced as follows:

“UK beauty blogger Amena Khan says she’s pulling out of a L’Oreal campaign.

In a post on Instagram she says she’s stepping down from the campaign “because of the current conversations surrounding it”.

Her decision follows the discovery of tweets she wrote in 2014, which some have branded as “anti-Israel”.” [emphasis added]

Later on readers were told that: [emphasis added]

“It follows accusations that she expressed “anti-Israel” views in a number of tweets from 2014.

Newsbeat has not seen the tweets as they have now been deleted but in her post, Amena apologises for them, saying she’s sorry for the “upset and hurt” they’ve caused.

“Championing diversity is one of my passions, I don’t discriminate against anyone,” she adds.”

Newsbeat could have taken a look at the Daily Mail’s report on the story (published over an hour before the final version of the BBC’s article appeared) which includes screenshots of some of Khan’s 2014 tweets.

Daily Mail

A simple internet search – which Newsbeat apparently failed to do – turns up screenshots of other examples of Khan’s now deleted anti-Israel rhetoric.

Obviously the qualifying language and equivocal punctuation that was used in this report to suggest to BBC audiences that the anti-Israel nature of Khan’s Tweets is open to interpretation is misleading and it would be appropriate for Newsbeat to correct the article accordingly.

 

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BBC fails to produce follow-up reporting on Gaza power story

Back in November 2017 we noted that BBC reporting on the electricity shortages in the Gaza Strip had come to an abrupt halt.

“When the long-running electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip was exacerbated by the Palestinian Authority’s decision to cut payments for electricity supplied to the territory in April of this year, BBC audiences saw coverage of that topic (albeit often lacking accurate background and context) on a variety of BBC platforms. […]

After Hamas and Fatah announced their latest ‘reconciliation’ in mid-September, BBC coverage of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip suddenly waned and no further reporting on the topic has since appeared.

However, if BBC audiences perhaps assumed that reason for that dramatic drop in coverage is that the Hamas-Fatah ‘unity deal’ (which was reported profusely and enthusiastically by the BBC) has solved the long-standing crisis, they would be mistaken – as the Times of Israel reports.”

Just as those getting their news from the BBC were told nothing of the Palestinian Authority’s continued refusal to renew payment for the electricity supplied by Israel to the Gaza Strip after the latest Hamas-Fatah ‘unity deal’ was announced in September 2017, they also saw no reporting on the reversal of that decision at the beginning of January 2018.

“The Palestinian Authority said on Wednesday that it is ready to resume paying for all of its share of electricity for the Gaza Strip, ending more than six months of restrictions for the already power-starved Strip. […]

Abbas had dramatically reduced payments to Israel for the electricity — effectively slashing the supply — in a bid to pressure Hamas to loosen its grip on Gaza.

The PA has now requested that Israel now resume supplying another 50 megawatts to Gaza’s power lines, restoring the provision of electricity to Gaza to what it was prior to June 2017, said Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh in a statement to the official PA news site Wafa.

The return of the regular power supply to the Strip would mean Gazans would again see six to eight hours of electricity a day, rather than two to four hours a day they received during the reduction.” 

A few days later full power supply was resumed.

“Israel is to restore its full share of electricity supply to the Gaza Strip from Monday, ending more than six months of restrictions for the already power-starved Strip, officials said.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz on Sunday instructed the Israel Electric Corporation to increase the supply to maximum capacity, after more than half a year of a 40% reduction after the Palestinian Authority intentionally decreased payments to Israel.

Israel’s 10 power lines into Gaza, which can provide up to 120 megawatts, will be “fully operational” by Monday night, at the request of the PA, the Defense Ministry said.”

Despite its vigorous promotion of the story between April and September 2017 – which not infrequently led audiences to mistakenly believe that the crisis was connected to Israeli counter-terrorism measures – the BBC has not produced any follow-up reporting informing audiences of the developments in the story.

Related Articles:

Gaza’s electricity crisis continues but BBC reporting does not

 

 

 

BBC News inaccurately reports an Israeli story from the sixties

On January 19th an article written by the BBC Hindi journalist Zubair Ahmed was published on the BBC News website’s ‘India’ and ‘Middle East’ pages under the title “Israel’s Indian Jews and their lives in the ‘promised land’“.

The article relates to one of the communities of Jews who immigrated to Israel from India – Bene Israel – and readers are told that: [emphasis added]

“…the biggest crisis faced by the community was in 1962 when the chief rabbinate prohibited Bene Israelis from marrying Jews from other communities.

Dr Weil said the community was up in arms. “They used to conduct sit-in strikes outside the chief rabbinate’s office saying they were Jews for more than 2,000 years and had the right to marry who they wanted.”

It took two years, but they finally succeeded in seeing their demands fulfilled.”

But is that account accurate? Did Israel’s Chief Rabbinate really ban members of the Bene Israel group from marrying other Israeli Jews in 1962?

Here is an article published in the ‘Herut’ newspaper on October 20th 1961 under the headline “The Chief Rabbinate rules: ‘Bene Israel’ from India are Jews and marriage with them is permitted”.

As the Jerusalem Post recounts: [emphasis added]

“Despite the fact that Sephardic Chief Rabbi Itzhak Nissim stated in 1961 that there was no foundation to prohibit marriage between Bene Israel and other Jews, and that “the sect of the Bene Israel in India is of the seed of the House of Israel without any doubt,” several rabbis in Israel still refused to marry Bene Israel to other Jews.

In 1962, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate appointed a commission of four rabbis to meet with representatives of the Bene Israel to research their customs. Apparently concerned about previous intermarriage and mamzerut, the committee learned that divorce was not an aspect of their culture at all, and they did not permit widows to re-marry, as per Indian customs at the time. This also meant that any concerns regarding the practice of levirate marriage (man’s duty to marry brother’s widow if she is childless) or halizah (ceremony to avoid levirate marriage) were not relevant.”

In late February 1962 the JTA reported that:

“The Chief Rabbinate was accused this weekend by Indian Jews settled in Israel with having “reversed” a ruling which ended a lengthy dispute over the status of such Jews in regard to marriage with other Jews in Israel.

The Chief Rabbinate had ruled last October that members of Indian Jewry, known as Bene Israel, were full Jews and could therefore wed other Jews. The Actions Committee of Bene Israel, charged that new directives for such marriages were a reversal of the October ruling.

The charge was based on the fact that the new directives required Israeli rabbis to ascertain whether Bene Israel applicants for marriages had parents and forebears who were Jews and also instructed rabbinical registrars to refer the applicant to the district rabbinical court “where doubts existed.”

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim issued a statement in reply, expressing surprise about the Actions Committee charge. He said that similar regulations applied to all marriage applications in Israel.”

A few days later the then President of Israel – Itzhak Ben-Zvi – issued a statement on the topic.

“President Ben-Zvi came out vigorously today in support of the recent Chief Rabbinate’s decision permitting marriages with the Bene Israel immigrants from India. He declared that the decision should be welcomed by all leaders and members of the Bene Israel community in Israel.

The President made his statement in a comment on criticism of recent directives given by the rabbinate to marriage registrars concerning inquiry into the Jewishness of parents and grandparents of Bene Israel marriage applicants. He hailed the decision recognizing Bene Israel members as full Jews. He expressed the hope that the directives would not be misinterpreted to the extent that such criticism might negate the decision.

The President also said that he felt that the leaders of the Bene Israel community had no justification for objecting to the questions since rabbis had a complete right to question all marriage applicants concerning such Jewish matters. His statement was expected to sooth the controversy and serve as a cue for moderation both for rabbis performing such marriages and for Bene Israel members.”

‘Herut’ August 1964

That statement from the president did not however succeed in calming tempers and the Bene Israel group launched a series of protests and hunger strikes, culminating in a resolution passed by the Knesset in 1964.

“The series of demonstrations spurred the Knesset to take action, passing the Bene Israel resolution on August 16, which was read in an emergency Knesset session the next day. The resolution stressed the equal rights of Bene Israel, condemned the Chief Rabbinate and called upon it to dispel any feelings of discrimination among Bene Israel and the general public. It passed with a 43 to 2 vote. […]

“The Israeli government reiterates that it sees the Bene Israel community from India as Jews… without any restrictions or differences, equal in their rights to all other Jews in all respects, including matters of matrimony,” then-prime minister Levi Eshkol stated at the special Knesset session.” […]

The Chief Rabbinate responded to the Knesset resolution, revoking all references to the Bene Israel in the directive and substituting it with a general order which was made applicable to anyone whose family status was in doubt. […]

In other words, while the Bene Israel community doubtless suffered discrimination and some individual rabbis did for a time refuse to perform marriage services, the BBC’s claim that in 1962 “the chief rabbinate prohibited Bene Israelis from marrying Jews from other communities” is inaccurate and misleading.

 

 

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

In part one of this post we saw how Mustafa Barghouti was given an unchallenged platform on two editions of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday‘ from which to promote anti-Israel propaganda and falsehoods while supposedly discussing the US administration’s withholding of donations to UNRWA.

In a later edition of that same programme – presented by Lawrence Pollard and Shaimaa Khalil – listeners heard from Dr Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank before Mustafa Barghouti was brought in (from 05:02 here) for yet another interview. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Pollard: “Well let’s speak now to Mustafa Barghouti who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council which was the parliament of the occupied territories. Welcome back to the programme, sir. Very briefly, what will the effect of this move be?”

Barghouti: “Well this is another irresponsible, reckless and harmful decision of President Trump. It represents an act of collective punishment against the victims of Israeli ethnic cleansing that took place in 1948. It’s a collective punishment against millions of Palestinian refugees and it will affect their humanitarian needs. This means that hundreds of thousands of children will not be able to go to school. This means that hundreds of thousands of people will not be able to receive healthcare. It means that hundreds of thousands of elderly people and disabled will be deprived from humanitarian support and it is a political act. It is clearly a political act from the side of the president of the United States…”

Pollard: “Sure.”

Barghouti: “…who is complicit in Israeli policies to liquidate the rights of Palestinian refugees to come home to the place they were displaced from which is an international United Nations resolution.”

The resolution to which Barghouti refers is of course UNGA resolution 194 which is non-binding but Pollard failed to clarify that fact to listeners just as he avoided informing them that there is no factual basis to Barghouti’s egregious claims of “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians by Israel.

Pollard: “As I understand it there is now going to be a shortfall in the budget but it’s not an immediate cessation of the budget so there is time for other countries to step forward. Don’t you think that there are plenty of countries that are going to be more than happy to embarrass – as they would see it – Donald Trump and step up and pay? So the real effect – I mean you’re talking about the effect as if the money disappeared now – but the real effect on the ground might not be so bad in practice.”

Barghouti: “Not really because UNRWA itself is already suffering from a deficit that happens every year because during the last few years UNRWA is not getting sufficient support to run all the services.”

Pollard: “OK that’s…I’m really sorry to interrupt you but you just heard our previous talker saying that was because of poor administration. You would reject that?”

Barghouti: “It’s not true. It’s not true. The poor administration lies in the fact that the United States is giving $4 billion [sic] to Israel for building a huge army and building nuclear power. The bad administration and bad planning relates to United States USAID agency which is actually spreading corruption in many countries instead of doing development. And if Mr Trump wants to reform, he should start with his own. He should start with reforming USAID agency before attacking a United Nations agency that is providing very basic humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people.”

Making no effort to correct Barghouti’s inaccurate claims regarding US military aid to Israel, Pollard went on:

Pollard: “OK, that’s an interesting distinction. Can I ask; in the background – I think most people agree – is not…I mean, you know, the main issue is not a complaint about administration of aid; it’s a bigger political story. It’s intended to drive the Palestinians – as Mr Trump would say – back to the talking table. From the comments for example of Mahmoud Abbas, there’s no chance of that happening. Would you agree with Abbas?”

Barghouti: “No, Mr Abbas didn’t say that. Mr Abbas said we never left the table of negotiations but it is Israel that is refusing to negotiate. And Mr Abbas said that President Trump has taken off the table the issue of Jerusalem, the issue of refugees, the issue of settlements and wants us to come to an empty table. How can we negotiate when Mr Trump and Netanyahu, with whom he is complicit, are removing all issues of negotiations and deciding the outcome before negotiations start?”

Pollard: “Mmm.”

Barghouti: “The problem is that there is an Israeli military occupation that has become the longest in modern history for 50 years and a problem of refugees who were displaced by ethnic cleansing since 70 years by Israel. That is the problem and you cannot have peace unless those issues are resolved and unless Palestinians are given the right to be living in peace and equality to everybody else.”

Pollard: “Right and can I ask in your opinion – because we’ve heard pretty dire warnings from inside the UN agencies themselves – about how this will increase extremism, anger and so on. Do you think that is the effect that you will see? You were mentioning the practical effect on the ground in terms of clinics and schools but in terms of mentality, in terms of attitudes, what effect will this have?”

Barghouti: “This is…this is seriously dis…this is an act that is seriously going to affect the stability in the region for sure. This is going to affect people in Jordan, in Lebanon, in Syria – which is suffering a lot already – and of course it will be destabilising but more important, it eliminates any ability of the United States administration to play a positive, constructive role in any future peace process.”

Pollard: “And just at the time that we’re expecting their latest peace proposals. Mustafa Barghouti – many thanks indeed – a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.”

As we see, listeners to ‘Newsday’ on January 17th heard very generous coverage of the “top story” concerning the US decision to withhold part of its donations to UNRWA. The majority of the opinions heard, however, were strongly critical of the decision and the sole exception was in the contributions from Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

05:06 edition: Jan Egeland (Norwegian Refugee Council), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

06:06 edition: Antonio Guterres (UN), Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO)

07:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

08:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

09:06 edition: Jonathan Schanzer (FDD), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

10:06 edition: Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

Obviously that imbalance in itself compromises the BBC’s claim to produce impartial reporting “reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion“. Moreover, listeners heard numerous inaccurate and misleading claims from both Gunness and Barghouti that presenters made no attempt whatsoever to challenge or correct. No attempt was made to raise any of the serious issues surrounding UNRWA’s functioning and agenda despite their clear relevance to the story. Barghouti was not asked about the Palestinian Authority’s own prioritisation of payments to convicted terrorists over schools and healthcare for people registered as refugees but living under its control even though Schanzer did raise that issue. And of course not only were Barghouti’s repeated falsehoods concerning Israel allowed to stand unquestioned but no right of reply was given to enable rebuttal of those propaganda smears.

Related Articles:

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

BACKGROUNDER: The Palestinian Claim to a “Right of Return”  (CAMERA)

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

 

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

As we have already seen, UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness gave two interviews on the same topic to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ on January 17th that were aired in three of the show’s six editions.

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

An additional interviewee brought in to discuss the story of US aid donations to UNRWA on the same programme on that day was Mustafa Barghouti.

Listeners heard presenters Karnie Sharp and Paul Hawkins introduce the item as follows (from 00:37 here): [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sharp: “But let’s go to our top story this hour. It’s the decision by the United States to withhold millions of dollars in aid funding for the united relief agency for Palestinians known as UNRWA which is the UN Relief and Works Agency.”

Hawkins: “The Trump administration has sent $60 million to keep the refugee agency operating but it’s decided to withhold the remainder of the $125 million donation and it wants other countries to pay more. Speaking at a news conference, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was worried by the decision.”

Gutteres [recording]: “I am very concerned and I strongly hope that in the end it will be possible for the United States to maintain the funding of UNRWA in which the US has a very important share. UNRWA is not a Palestinian institution. UNRWA is a UN institution created by a UN resolution and UNRWA is providing vital services to the Palestinian refugees both in the occupied territories and in Jordan, in Syria and in Lebanon.”

Sharp [01:42]: “Let’s now talk to Dr Mustafa Barghouti who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. […] What’s your reaction or the Palest…the reaction of the Palestinian Authority to this news?”

Barghouti: “Well this decision by the Trump administration is another irresponsible, reckless and harmful decision which is…which represents in our opinion an act of collective punishment against millions of Palestinian refugees who have been victims of occupation and the policy of Israeli ethnic cleansing that displaced them from their country in 1948 and they are also still subjected to the policy of apartheid and racial discrimination by Israeli occupation. It’s an act of collective punishment against people who will now suffer deprivation, who will lose education, who will lose healthcare. It’s a punishment of elderly people, people who are disabled, who have very basic humanitarian needs and we don’t understand why the United States continue to be complicit in Israeli policies. We don’t understand why they are using this irresponsible and inhuman act to punish Palestinians collectively and in our opinion it’s also a political decision. Clearly they are fulfilling Israeli wishes to liquidate the rights of the Palestinian refugees to return to the homes they were displaced from in 1948.”

Sharp made no effort whatsoever to challenge the falsehood that Palestinians were displaced from “their country” in 1948, the description of that territory as ‘occupied’ or the lies of “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid and racial discrimination”. Neither did she bother to clarify to listeners that Barghouti’s advocated ‘right of return’ is a scenario that any serious commentator knows will not happen. She did, however, challenge Barghouti’s description of the US decision as a “punishment”.

Sharp: “OK Doctor, but they have made it clear that it isn’t a punishment and it’s not a complete withdrawal of all the funds: it’s half of it.”

Barghouti: “The UNRWA United Nations agency is suffering already from a big deficit of its budget and when you cut off $65 million from their budget, which is more than 50% of the American contribution, it means you are driving this agency into bankruptcy. We are talking…they are already laying off doctors, nurses, teachers. You are talking about millions of Palestinian refugees not only in Palestine itself – in the West Bank and Gaza – but Palestinian refugees in Syria, which is suffering from terrible humanitarian situation, in Lebanon, in Jordan. Those children will be deprived now from the possibility of accessing education. The people who are suffering from diseases will be deprived from getting their medications and so many people will suffer.”

Sharp: “Sure.”

Barghouti: “Some people will lose their shelters. So it is an act of collective punishment against people who are…who are not victim…who are not…who have not done anything wrong.”

Sharp: “Sure but let’s look at it from the United States point of view. They are the biggest contributor here. They’re asking for reforms and they say we don’t believe that taking care of other nations and other people have to rest solely on the shoulders of the United States. That’s a fair comment, isn’t it?”

Barghouti: “No because if they are talking about reform, why now? Why they are not talking about reform for instance of World Health Organisation or food prog…food [unintelligible] or any other UN agency? No; these are political decisions that Mr Trump is taking to punish Palestinians and to force Palestinians to take wrong political decisions that affect their future. In other words Mr Trump is only fulfilling the wishes of Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, who’s trying to kill the issue of Jerusalem, to kill the issue of refugees and practically to block any possibility for future negotiations and for peace in this place. This action by the United States government will only create more instability in this region and you are talking about six million [sic] refugees who are deprived, who have suffered in their lives for six…for 70 years from being displaced by Israeli ethnic cleansing and now they are being punished by the government of the United States.”

Once again making no effort to challenge Barghouti’s “ethnic cleansing” lie or his misrepresentation of the number of people registered as refugees, Sharp closed the interview there.

In the next edition of the programme, listeners heard an edited version of that interview (from 01:22 here) in which – once again – Barghouti’s falsehoods were amplified without any challenge whatsoever.  

Barghouti: “This decision by the Trump administration is another irresponsible, reckless and harmful decision which is…which represents in our opinion an act of collective punishment against millions of Palestinian refugees who have been victims of occupation and the policy of Israeli ethnic cleansing that displaced them from their country in 1948 and they are also still subjected to the policy of apartheid and racial discrimination by Israeli occupation. It’s an act of collective punishment against people who will now suffer deprivation, who will lose education, who will lose healthcare. And we don’t understand why the United States continue to be complicit in Israeli policies.”

Moreover, Barghouti was brought back for yet another interview on the same topic in a later edition of the programme which will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

 

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, listeners to the early edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ on January 17th heard two very similar opinions on the story of US aid donations to UNRWA from NGO head Jan Egeland and from the UN agency’s spokesperson Chris Gunness.

In a later edition of the same programme, Gunness was interviewed again (from 02:09 here) by presenter Shaimaa Khalil.  

Gunness began by telling listeners that: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Gunness: “The reason why UNRWA’s budget runs out when it does is because the number of refugees we serve goes up and up and up because without a political resolution of their plight, their children remain refugees and that is the case with UNHCR refugees and other refugee populations around the world.”

While Gunness has been promoting that claim for years, it bears closer examination because, as pointed out by Steven J Rosen:

“Unlike its sister agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is responsible for millions of non-Palestinian refugees worldwide, it [UNRWA] does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside nor “resettlement” in third countries.”

Rosen notes that:

“In 1950, its first director told the General Assembly that the “agency has decided that a refugee is a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.” His definition made no reference to descendants.

Not until 1965, fifteen years after its creation, did an UNRWA commissioner-general decide, against objections from the United States government, to create “an extension of eligibility, subject to need, to the third generation of refugees (that is, to children of persons who were themselves born after 14 May 1948).” […]

In 1982, or thirty-two years after its creation, UNRWA took another step forward by extending eligibility to all generations of descendants. It did so by obtaining a General Assembly resolution instructing UNRWA “to issue identification cards to all Palestine refugees and their descendants” without any limitation on how many generations of descendancy this practice would continue. […]

UNRWA went still further in 1992 by adding a provision that those descendants of Palestine refugee males who “are eligible to register for UNRWA services” and are registered with UNRWA, should be “referred to as Registered Refugees or as Registered Palestine Refugees” though they do not meet UNRWA’s own standard of having lived in Palestine prior to May 1948.”

Regarding Gunness’ claim “that is the case with UNHCR refugees”, Rosen notes:

“UNHCR confers derivative refugee status on the basis of family unity where there is a relationship of dependency. “As a matter of general practice, UNHCR does not promote the reunification of … grandchildren… unless they can be determined to be eligible under the principle of dependency.” This can mean financial dependency, “but also taking emotional dependency into consideration.” […]

It is true that, UNHCR’s basic standard is the nuclear family and that subsequent generations are given derivative refugee status only on an exceptional basis while UNRWA automatically grants grandchildren and great-grandchildren refugee status. But UNRWA defenders such as Gunness can argue that the two agencies are guided by the same basic principles.”

Unchallenged by Khalil on that important point, Gunness (who in his previous interview claimed to “maintain the highest standards of neutrality”) continued:

Gunness: “And the refugees we serve are not only just going up in number but the vulnerabilities they face are also intensifying. In Syria there’s this cruel war raging into its 7th year. In Gaza we see a blockade – a collective punishment in violation of international law – and in the West Bank we’ve seen 50 years of Israeli occupation.”

That Gunness failed to offer any legal basis for his allegations concerning the blockage and refrained from mentioning the terrorism that made it necessary is not surprising. As former UNRWA senior official James Lindsay has noted:

“In 2008, UNRWA issued comparably fewer calls for engaging Hamas. Instead, it has focused on criticizing the Israeli blockade of Gaza […]. In this regard, the agency echoes the Hamas view of the conflict with Israel. For example, when UNRWA ran out of fuel supplies in late April–early May 2008, it implied that its shortage was caused by the Israelis (who were blocking deliveries to Hamas but not to UNRWA) rather than by Hamas’s actions (which included allowing demonstrators to prevent delivery of fuel to UNRWA as well as intimidation of the Petrol Station Owners Association, which subsequently refused to distribute fuel delivered to Gaza by Israel). This propensity to echo Hamas views extends to other issues as well.”

Gunness continued:

Gunness: “What we need to resolve UNRWA’s budget problems is a political settlement. We need a just and durable solution for 5.3 million Palestine refugees who to this day, 70 years after their original exile and dispossession, have remained exiled. They remain stateless and in many cases they are deeply vulnerable. That is what causes UNRWA’s budget problems. UNRWA is an expression of the political failure of the political echelons to bring dignity and resolution to a community that for far too long has been deprived of those things.”

As also noted by Lindsay, UNRWA’s idea of a “political settlement” echoes Palestinian claims of ‘right of return’:

“Regarding the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, UNRWA’s sympathies are not with resettlement or “repatriation” to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but with “repatriation” to Israel.”

Shaimaa Khalil made no effort to question Gunness on the issue of the estimated 2 million people defined as Palestinian refugees who hold Jordanian citizenship before going on to ask:

Khalil: “But what do you say to the point being made that the United States has the right to know where the money is going and the point that UNRWA has poorly planned the resources?”

Gunness’ answer to that question repeated claims he made in the first interview of American ‘praise’ for UNRWA during a visit by its commissioner-general to Washington last November. Khalil went on:

Khalil: “Just on the point that your budget is over a billion dollars – this is just $125 million [sic] that’s being withheld. Don’t you think that other countries could step in and provide that amount?”

After Gunness answered that UNRWA is “going after other donors”, Khalil asked him “how will this shortfall affect your operations?” to which (despite having claimed in the previous interview that “what is at stake [is] nothing less than the security and stability of the Middle East”) he replied:

Gunness: “Well let us be clear. The commissioner-general said in his statement that we intend to robustly defend our mandate and we are determined that services will not be impacted. And that remains our position. It is premature to talk about cuts. We will do everything I can…we can a) to go after additional funds and b) to protect the mandate and make sure that the dignity of these people living in such fragile and vulnerable circumstances can continue to be protected with the services that we deliver.”

As we see, not only was Gunness not asked any in-depth questions about UNRWA’s record and agenda that would help BBC audiences understand this story better but his inaccurate and misleading claim concerning hereditary refugee status and his politically motivated allegations concerning Israeli counter-terrorism measures were not challenged at all.

Moreover, not only was the same interview rebroadcast in a later edition of the same programme (from 00:35 here) but the BBC World Service also chose to promote a slightly edited version of it on social media.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part two

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ provides a platform for UNRWA’s political campaigning

 

Weekend long read

1) As has been the case in past years, BBC audiences did not see any coverage of the events earlier this month marking the anniversary of the founding of Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement. The ITIC has published a report on some of those events.

“January 1, 2018, was the 53rd anniversary of the founding of the Fatah movement. Various events were held in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip to mark the day. Among the participating institutions were universities and colleges in Judea and Samaria. Events at academic institutions were mainly organized by Fatah student movements, which held marches and demonstrations, and put on presentations. […]

The Fatah movement, on which the PA is founded, integrated unambiguous themes into events marking the anniversary, among them the glorification of shaheeds who died in suicide bombing and mass “self-sacrifice” attacks and encouragement for suicide bombing attacks.”

2) At the Times of Israel, Yaakov Lappin takes a look at the security challenges facing Israel in 2018.

“According to figures released in December by the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, security forces foiled no fewer than 400 significant planned terrorist attacks in 2017. These include 13 planned suicide bombings, 228 gun attacks, 50 bombings, eight kidnappings, and 94 vehicle and knife attacks. The Shin Bet was able to disrupt 148 Hamas terrorist cells that were operating in the West Bank in 2017 alone. Many of these attacks were planned by local Hamas cells, with the assistance and funding of Hamas’s headquarters in the Gaza Strip, and the newly established Hamas presence in Lebanon, which is under Hezbollah’s protection.”

3) Writing at the Algemeiner, Ben Cohen discusses the academic cited by Mahmoud Abbas in the recent speech that was grossly under-reported by the BBC.

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s angry speech on Sunday castigating the US and Israel drew on the work of an Egyptian academic who dedicated his career to denying the existence of an independent Jewish people with political rights.

In his speech, Abbas described the late Egyptian academic Dr. Abdel Wahab Elmessiri as “one of the most important people that spoke about the Zionist and Jewish movement.”

On Israel, Abbas said, Elmessiri “described this entity with these words: ‘The significance of Israel’s functional character is that colonialism created it in order to fill a specific role; it is a colonialist project that is not connected to Judaism, but made use of the Jews so they would serve as pawns, and they were, under the motto ‘the Promised Land’ and ‘the Beloved Land,’ and they brought them here.’””

4) The Times of Israel’s David Horovitz addresses the significance of that speech by Abbas with regard to Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

“Unsurprisingly, Abbas made no mention of Olmert’s extraordinary peace proposal during his two-hour-plus anti-Israel, anti-Trump and anti-peace ramble before members of the PLO leadership in Ramallah on Sunday. Yet that appalling speech nonetheless provided the dismal explanation of why the man charged with leading his people to statehood had, nearly a decade earlier, rejected the best chance he would ever have to achieve that declared ambition.

Out of Abbas’s embittered 82-year-old mouth came the truth: He himself believes the vicious propaganda disseminated first by his late and unlamented predecessor Yasser Arafat and then maintained during his own 13 years at the helm of the Palestinian Authority.”

 

The BBC’s narrative on ‘East Jerusalem’ omits relevant context

Although the BBC has been telling its audiences that “the Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state” for many years, since the US president’s announcement of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6th 2017 that messaging has been promoted on a variety of BBC platforms on an almost daily basis.

BBC portrayals of the topic usually include the narrative seen in a frequently reused backgrounder on Jerusalem produced by Yolande Knell in which audiences were led to believe that a Palestinian capital in “east Jerusalem” is an already agreed component of the two-state solution rather than a topic to be discussed in final status negotiations.

“Of course, Palestinians see things starkly differently. They want east Jerusalem as their capital.

And that’s part of the long-standing international formula for peace here, known as the “two-state solution”.

Knell also portrayed the two-state solution in terms that dovetail with the PLO’s interpretation of that term.

“Basically the idea that an independent Palestinian state would be created alongside Israel, along the boundaries that existed before 1967, it’s written up in UN resolutions.” [emphasis added]

Of course the prime motivation behind Palestinian claims to a capital in the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 is control over Temple Mount but the BBC repeatedly fails to adequately clarify that important point to its audiences.

Neither does it bother to inform them of the Palestinian Authority’s record on upholding agreements it has already signed with Israel regarding other holy places.

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, freedom of access to and worship at holy sites was guaranteed.

“The agreement guarantees freedom of access to and freedom of worship at the holy sites, and defines access arrangements for the holy places located in Areas “A” and “B”. With regard to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, special arrangements are set out in the agreement which will also guarantee freedom of access and freedom of worship.”

“ARTICLE 32
Religious Sites

  1. Responsibility over sites of religious significance in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (hereinafter – “Holy Sites”) will be transferred to the Palestinian side. In Area C, this responsibility will be transferred gradually to Palestinian jurisdiction that will cover West Bank and Gaza Strip territory except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, during the further redeployment phases, to be completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the Council.
  2. Both sides shall respect and protect the listed below religious rights of Jews, Christians, Moslems and Samaritans:
  3. protection of the Holy Sites;
  4. free access to the Holy Sites; and
  5. freedom of worship and practice.
  6. a. The Palestinian side shall ensure free access to, respect the ways of worship in and not make any changes to, the Jewish Holy Sites listed in List No. 1 of Schedule 4.
  7. The Palestinian side shall ensure free access to, and respect the ways of worship in, the Jewish Holy Sites listed in List No. 2 of Schedule 4 .
  8. Schedule 4 shall be updated commensurate with the gradual transfer of responsibility in accordance with paragraph 1.
  9. The holy site of Nebi Musa shall be under the auspices of the Palestinian side for religious purposes.
  10. During religious events that take place three times a year and other special occasions that shall be coordinated with the Israeli authorities, Palestinians shall have the right to religious pilgrimage to the Al-Maghtas [in Jordan – ed] under the Palestinian flag. Safe passage will be provided from the Jericho Area to Al-Maghtas for this purpose.”

Obviously Israeli Jews are not able to visit the synagogue in Gaza City today and visits to additional sites on that list are either virtually impossible or severely restricted. Some of those holy and historically important sites have been vandalised, including Joseph’s Tomb which – as the BBC reported at the time – was set ablaze by Palestinian rioters in October 2015. 

Holy places to which access is supposedly guaranteed by the Oslo Accords have also been the scene of numerous terror attacks and planned attacks – most recently on January 15th when an explosive device planted at the entrance to Joseph’s Tomb was discovered just before a visit by worshippers. That incident did not receive any BBC coverage whatsoever.

Some of the religious sites included in the Oslo Accords – Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of Machpelah – have been the subject of motions instigated by the Palestinian Authority and passed by UNESCO that are designed to negate their Jewish heritage. Holy sites in Jerusalem have also been the subject of deliberately politicised UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish history.

Despite its public purpose obligation to provide audiences with “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them” the BBC has not produced any content relating to the failure of the agreement that the Palestinians signed over two decades ago to guarantee freedom of access for Jews to religious sites under the control of the Palestinian Authority and to safeguard those sites.

However, the BBC’s copious multi-platform amplification of the simplistic narrative according to which a Palestinian capital in ‘East Jerusalem’ is the “formula for peace” continues apace.  

Related Articles:

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

The top story in the various editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ aired on January 17th was described as follows:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say. It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

In the early edition of that programme, listeners around the world heard from two contributors voicing similar opinions. The item was introduced (at 00:48 here) by presenter Paul Hawkins as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Hawkins: “But first to the news that the US is withholding millions of dollars in aid for the UN relief agency for Palestinians known as UNRWA. The White House has sent $60 million in its kind of first installment of 2018 but it’s withholding the remaining $65 million and has urged other countries to pay more. The US is UNRWA’s largest donor and supplies nearly 30% of its total budget of over a billion dollars. Here’s the reaction of Jan Egeland, a former UN undersecretary general and current head of the Norwegian Refugee Council.”

Despite the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality, as is all too often the case listeners were not given any information regarding that NGO’s political agenda and activities before they heard its representative speak.

Egeland: “This is horrible news for us who are actively trying to provide humanitarian relief in the Middle East to all parties including to Palestinian refugee children. UNRWA is the number one provider of education, health care, even food and shelter for Palestinian refugees and their children: people who in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria have nowhere else to go, no job opportunities, no hope. It is a dangerous politicisation of humanitarian aid that grown, well-fed politicians and diplomats say we will now cut relief to the most vulnerable people because we disagree politically on, for example, the future of Jerusalem. Cannot do like that.”

Later on in the same programme (at 18:30) Hawkins returned to the same topic and after a short introduction, brought in UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness.

Hawkins: “First of all the US State Department says that this decision is not aimed at punishing anyone, it’s not punitive and they just simply want your agency to reform itself. Do you believe them?”

Gunness: “Well first of all let me say that this reduction of US funding is regrettable, it is abrupt and it is harmful. The decision threatens one of the longest standing, most successful and innovative human development endeavours in the Middle East and at stake is the access of over half a million boys and girls to over 700 UNRWA schools. At stake is the dignity and the human security of millions of Palestine refugees. We tend to the sick, the elderly, the dying, the vulnerable children and women. So that is what is at stake: nothing less than the security and stability of the Middle East

As far as reform is concerned, UNRWA has always been open to reform and the United States, most recently to our commissioner-general on a visit to Washington in November, was fulsome in its praise of UNRWA and its reforms. We remain committed to reforms but we have to say that this decision is extremely worrying because at stake is, as I say, the dignity, the human security of millions of Palestine refugees.”

Despite the rosy picture painted by Gunness, past US donations to UNRWA have not come without conditions and criticism.

Hawkins: “Well you say you remain committed to the reforms – it seems like the current White House administration is fed up with the agency being committed to reforms but not actually following them through. We’ve spoken to one expert who’s heard from the White House that UNRWA…when the US provides around $200 million a year to UNRWA, the agency burns through the budget within its first eight to ten months and then it has to go round asking for more money and this is the kind of thing that the US is a bit fed up with.”

Gunness: “Well as I said the US has consistently commended our high impact, our transparency and our accountability and as I’ve just said this was reiterated once again during the visit to Washington last November. The reason why, as you say, we burn through our budget is that the number of refugees continues to grow. The vulnerabilities they face in places like Gaza – because of the blockade – in Syria – because of the war that is now in its 7th year – and in the West Bank where the occupation is 50 years old. The reason why the budget of UNRWA goes up is because the numbers are going up and what we say to all stakeholders of the political echelon is what will stop this and what will put UNRWA out of business is a just and durable solution for the refugees in accordance with international law and based on UN resolutions. That is what is going to obviate the need for UNRWA to – as you put it – burn through the budget. So let’s get some political action to resolve the refugee issue because year on year the numbers are going up and there is increasing demand therefore our budget goes up.”

Hawkins made no effort to help listeners understand what part UNRWA’s unique policy of automatically awarding hereditary refugee status plays in causing the number of Palestinian refugees to rise, why refugee camps still exist in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas or why Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship are still classified as refugees. 

Hawkins: “Just very quickly because we’re running out of time, Chris – apologies for that – but there’s also been a few questions raised about UNRWA’s…about the money that UNRWA provides – a lot of it going to political activity and what some may think is a questionable use of funds.”

Gunness: “Well we are one of the most audited of UN organisations on the planet. We maintain the highest standards of neutrality. The aid pipeline which we have is…it guarantees…I don’t understand where you say…I don’t understand where these accusations are coming from. Our funds are used for the purposes they’re intended for and that is a matter of public record and it’s something which we achieve to the satisfaction of all our major donors.”

The interview ended there, with no further questioning of Gunness’ (frequently touted) claims of “neutrality” despite his own well-documented activities and the agency’s record of political advocacy.

Once again, BBC audiences heard nothing of the UNRWA employees who were elected to the Hamas political bureau, of the Hamas tunnels dug underneath UNRWA schools  or of the antisemitic incitement posted on social media by UNRWA employees.  

That, however, was not Gunness’ only interview on ‘Newsday’ on that particular day and his second appearance will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part two

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ provides a platform for UNRWA’s political campaigning

 

 

 

BBC’s Knell reports on the Tamimi case again – and raises a question

On January 17th the BBC News website published yet another report about Ahed Tamimi – its fourth item in less than a month.

Written by Yolande Knell, the article is titled “Ahed Tamimi: Spotlight turns on Palestinian viral slap video teen” and much of its content is recycled from an audio report by Knell that was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme the previous week.

As was the case in that radio report, Knell’s written article does not inform BBC audiences that the video she describes in her opening paragraphs was filmed by Ahed Tamimi’s mother, Nariman, or that the latter has collaborated (along with additional members of the family) with B’tselem’s ‘armed with cameras’ project. Knell does however provide readers with a link (the only one in the article) to Nariman Tamimi’s Facebook account.

Throughout the article Knell describes Ahed Tamimi in the following terms:

“To some she’s a modern-day Joan of Arc.”

“…Ahed Tamimi is now a famous Palestinian prisoner…”

“For many Palestinians, Ahed is a hero of their nationalist struggle for the digital age. They see her standing up to the reality of Israeli occupation, defending her home with her bare hands.”

Knell tells readers that:

“Aged 11, Ahed was filmed threatening to punch a soldier after her older brother was arrested. Two years ago, she bit a soldier trying to detain her younger brother.”

As was the case in the audio report, she did not bother to inform readers that Tamimi’s then 12 year-old brother was throwing rocks at the time.

The four interviewees who appeared in Knell’s audio report – Ahed Tamimi’s lawyer Gabi Lasky, her father Bassem Tamimi, Israeli MK Anat Berko and former IDF chief prosecutor Lt-Col (res) Maurice Hirsch – are also quoted in this written report.

As was noted here when the indictment against her was issued at the beginning of the month, in addition to charges of assault and stone-throwing, Ahed Tamimi was also charged with incitement.

“Regarding the incitement charge, the MAG [Military Attorney General] cited a statement given by Ahed to her mother, who was filming the December 15 incident on Facebook Live. Immediately following the squabble, Nariman asked her daughter what kind of message she wanted to convey to viewers.

“I hope that everyone will take part in the demonstrations as this is the only means to achieve the result,” she said. “Our strength is in our stones, and I hope that the world will unite to liberate Palestine, because [Donald] Trump made his declaration and [the Americans] need to take responsibility for any response that comes from us,” Ahed added, apparently referring to the US president’s decision last month to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Whether it is stabbings or suicide bombings or throwing stones, everyone must do his part and we must unite in order for our message to be heard that we want to liberate Palestine,” she concluded.”

However, in one of her final paragraphs Knell presents BBC audiences with a very different interpretation of Tamimi’s call for violence.  

“At the end of the online video, Ahed calls for large demonstrations as “the only way to reach results”, but says US President Donald Trump must bear responsibility for any Palestinian violence, including stabbings and suicide attacks.”

Interestingly, a report in the Jerusalem Post shows that Tamimi’s lawyer Gabi Lasky used a remarkably similar claim in court.

“Gaby Lasky, a high-profile human rights lawyer and Meretz activist who is defending Tamimi, told the court Monday that the Palestinian teen mostly was protesting US President Donald Trump’s declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

She said Tamimi’s message was “Trump needs to take responsibility” for a negative decision which led to an outcry of Palestinian protests.”

And that raises the question (not for the first time) of whether Yolande Knell is a reporter or a political activist who compromises the BBC’s reputation for impartiality. 

Related Articles:

BBC News website promotes the Tamimi clan again

BBC News omits a relevant part of the Tamimi charges story

BBC radio’s inconsistent coverage of charges against Ahed Tamimi