BBC uses unverified quote to advance its narrative

I must admit that the enthusiastic style of the BBC’s October 17th article, headlined “Israel forced to release study on Gaza blockade“, raised ironic smiles in this household – coming as it does from an organization which has spent years (and hundreds of thousands of pounds) avoiding the release of a report of its own. 

The actual context to the study in question is only briefly revealed by the BBC writer right at the end of the article:

“The Israeli defence ministry said the “red lines” study was only ever a draft but was aimed at ensuring there was not a major health crisis.

“The quantification was not done in order to arrive at a minimum threshold or restrict the quantities, but… to ensure that there was no shortage,” an official at the Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) told the Haaretz newspaper on Tuesday.”

The bulk of the article, however, is dedicated to presenting the politically motivated point of view of the highly partisan NGO ‘Gisha‘, including the rather bizarre claim that:

“Gisha says the research contradicts Israel’s assertions that the blockade is needed for security reasons.”

Also quoted in the article is UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, Robert Turner, who – apparently having missed the Palmer Report memo from his parent organization – not only mistakenly declared the blockade to be “illegal under international law”, but also appears to have forgotten that in 1951 his own organization also produced a report in which (clause 31) the allocation of UNRWA food rations to Palestinian refugees was set at 1,600-1,700 calories per person/day. 

Towards the end of the article, the following unsupported and un-sourced claim appears:

“Israeli government officials now acknowledge the food restrictions were partly intended to put pressure on Hamas by making the lives of people in Gaza difficult, says the BBC’s Jon Donnison in Gaza City.

In 2006, Israeli government adviser Dov Weisglass was widely quoted as having said: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” “

Whether it was Donnison or an anonymous editor who saw fit to include the Weisglass “quote” is not clear, but its use is very interesting.

One would expect that a reputable journalist would only use a quote if its authenticity could be verified, either due to the fact that it appears in print –written by the person quoted, of course –or was recorded. So is that the case with the Weisglass “quote” used by the BBC as support for its claim that Israel deliberately restricted food supplies to the civilian population of Gaza?

In order to determine that, we need to do a little detective work. 

Reports of the quote first began circulating in February 2006. Hamas had won the majority of seats in the Palestinian elections the month before and a newly formed government under Ismail Haniyeh was about to be sworn in. The international community (the main source of the Palestinian Authority’s income through donations) and Israel were worried that the considerable amounts of money transferred to the PA would be used by the new Hamas-run government for terror purposes and so economic sanctions were proposed by the Quartet (the UN, the EU, the US and Russia) and Israel. 

On February 15th 2006, the Israeli news site Ynet reported on a high-level meeting of government ministers, advisors and representatives from the security services at which the strategy of economic sanctions was discussed. The Ynet article quoted unnamed ‘political sources’:

 “The political sources who took part in the meeting, quoted Weisglass as saying: “We must cause the Palestinians to become thinner, but not die.”

 Weisglass, responding to the source, said: “I never said such a thing.” “

The next day, Ha’aretz’s Aluf Benn, apparently informed by “a Jerusalem source”, had a different version of the quote in his article:

“It’s like a meeting with a dietician. We have to make them much thinner, but not enough to die” 

On February 19th, 2006, the Israeli financial journalist Sever Plotzker – also writing on Ynet – claimed (without providing a source) that Weisglass had spoken of a policy of “economic diet” towards the Palestinians. 

On the same day, writing in Ha’aretz, Gideon Levy – the Israeli journalist who has made quite a successful career out of demonising his own country – embellished the story with laughter at Weisglass’ alleged remark from the meeting’s participants. Levy claimed that Weisglass had said “It’s like a meeting with a dietician. The Palestinians will lose weight, but they will not die”. Levy provided no source however: the best he could do was to claim “so it was said” –without even stating by whom – in support of his allegations.  

From then on, the alleged quote – in its multiple forms, which surely should raise any reasonable person’s suspicions – took on something of a life of its own, particularly in far-Left and/or anti-Israel circles. 

On February 27th 2006, David R Francis of the Christian Science Monitor used it (un-sourced) in another different form:

“The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger”

Francis’ article was in turn used as a ‘source’ – along with an equally unverified version of the quote from a 2008 article by Edward Said’s nephew Saree Makdisi in The Nation – by the anti-Israel blog Mondoweiss in 2009.   

April 2006 saw the Guardian’s Conal Urquhart use one version of it in an article for the Observer. In December 2008, the (again un-sourced) quote was used by British comedian, former Socialist Workers Party member and pro-Palestinian activist Mark Steel in an article in the Independent and in 2010 it was used by Media Lens , apparently using a defunct AFP article as a source, as did the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department in November 2006. 

The alleged quote has also been used – un-sourced – by political NGOs and activists such as Machsom Watch, Jeff Halper of ICHAD and B’tselem

More recently, the quote has been cited on the Lenin’s Tomb blog (run by SWP member Richard Seymour), where it was sourced from Richard Silverstein, who in turn sourced it from the New York Times, which attributed the quote to “the Israeli news media”. All well and good, except that – as we know – the Israeli media itself had nothing but hearsay and an outright denial from Weisglass himself to go on. 

So perhaps the Middle East Editor of BBC Online, Tarik Kafala, would like to disclose to the BBC’s audience (in the name of accuracy and impartiality) his verified source for this quote, because – whilst nobody else seems to be able to find one – it is of course inconceivable to think that the trusted and often quoted BBC would be lifting un-sourced  quotes from such sources as Richard Silverstein, Media Lens and Mondoweiss, purely in order to make political hay.

Isn’t it? 

30 comments on “BBC uses unverified quote to advance its narrative

  1. Hadar Sela is an undoubted star of investigative journalism, sourcing material authoritatively and reading background material extensively. Would that the BBC and the media in general would follow this example.

    The discovery of the UNWRA stingy calorie count recommending 1600-1700 calories per day per Palestinian was a true revelation, especially in the light of Israel’s typically much more generous calculation.

  2. Brilliant Hadar.

    So UNWRA’s recommendation is not quoted, but a fictitious one IS? And Al Beeb says it wants to protect its reputation for reliable and trustworthy news?

    From when?

  3. Fascinating to see the piles of food in the UNRWA warehouse. No doubt, to avoid being accused of calculating how much food is needed to avoid starvation they just order food in random amounts, I suppose. Perhaps Israel should do the same.

  4. Other BBC News: Following his appearance before mocking MPs yesterday over the Late Sir Jimmy Savile’s child abuse for six decades on BBC premises, BBC director-general for 19 weeks George Entwistle is given British bookmakers odds of 2 to 1 to be fired from his job.

    Meanwhile, bookmaker Ladbrokes is refusing to take bets on the collapse of the BBC itself, saying the issue is “too sensitive”. Several BBC executives have today refused to give interviews speaking live on camera to Sky TV. Also the National Society for the Protection of Children has announced it has now taken 161 telephone enquiries from alleged victims of the late Sir Jimmy.

    Duvidl’s conclusion: Not only is George Entwistle toast, but, so is the BBC.

  5. I would like everyone to look on the Internet
    look up booking a holiday in gaza look up 4&5 star hotels and also look up that you want to book a the best wedding venues and also best places to sightsee lookup best resturants and shoping malls and markets to go to . Also look up that you want to buy luxury properties then see for yourselfs the real truth . Dose everybody think that all these biased news reporters from the BBC CNN algezera extra when they are reporting from the gaza stripe that they are staying in tents I don’t think so they are staying in the best places in gaza they are lying the places they show everyone on the news are slum areas but I would say look at the slum areas in Africa India some places in the uk the USA France exetra they are worse don’t let the propergandist pull the wool over your eyes . Iv seen with my own eyes . These places . The properganda againt Israel makes me sick to my stomach . Hundreds of rockets have been raining down on Israel for along time now in the last 2 weeks over two hundred rockets have been fired into Israel not one word have been said on any news station . But yesterday on the BBC showed that Israel has fired on the gaza Streep but never mentioned why Israel had taken that action they just gave the impretion once again that’s what israel just dose that sort of thing just for laughs . Good luck looking into the truth about the gaza strip oh look up coffee bars and olimpic size swimming pools whilst your at it x

    • Duvidl’s conclusion: Not only is George Entwistle toast, but, so is the BBC.

      Well Duvid. Entwistle may be toast but, I doubt that the BBC is. It still does some great programs. The problem is that whenever there is any suggestion of something impinging on politics, a tsunami of radical delusional extreme left narrative is adopted. The only solution is to clean out most of the senior management, most of the editors and most of the reporters too. Especially, the BBC correspondent of the BBC.

      But I wouldn’t like to see the BBC closed down. 30 years ago, I would have given 95% trust to what I see or hear on a BBC report. Now, I simply give very little credence to anything with any political context broadcast by the BBC.

        • “It still does some great programmes.”

          Do please name them and then set them against the poisonous leftist propagandist prorammes in all areas of information education and entertainment. There is a gross imbalance. And this imbalance is funded by a three billion pound budget taxed at £145.50 per annum from the British licence fee TV taxpayer.

          Then there are the great programmes this £3bn budget omits, e.g. sport-no live TV premiership football or cricket, no business programmes apart from light entertainment Apprentice and Dragon’s Den, no viewers queries programme, etc.

          More important is the recent history of a chain of BBC scandals; irritating the Queen under whose charter the BBC operates, cheating the public with phone-in competition revenues, the Russel Brand/Jonathan Ross debacle and now the big one, 53 years of child abuse covered up by still-living BBC management past and present. Today’s headline in the Sun:

          The public has had enough and will never let this rest until the BBC is dissolved. You doubt the BBC is toast. Duvidl begs to disagree.

          • I have no truck with the BBC’s reporting of the Middle East, but frankly, the allegations by you, Duvid and Clap Hammer that the BBC adopts a “radical delusional extreme left narrative” or “poisonous leftist propagandist programmes” display more about your own political views than those of the BBC.

            It is certainly arguable to suggest that the BBC has been/is “left of centre” in its overall outlook, although I tend to disagree for various reasons (for example, the BBC is not a monolith, and its many channels, departments and media operate pretty much independently editorially, and secondly, they tend to take an “opposition” approach, being less forgiving of whichever party is in power. As the Tories are currently the main party of government, the Beeb can appear to take a slightly left of centre view, but this changes over time) but “radical”? “Extreme”? “Propagandist”? This bears absolutely no relation with reality.

            If your idea of “centre” is FOX news or the Daily Mail, then I suppose the BBC by comparison is extreme left, but not by any dispassionate measure.

          • Duvid. Your ignorance of the BBC demonstrates better than anyone else ever could your total lack of credibility. I have better things to do than to dissect your rant piece by piece, but let me take one point you make.

            “No business programmes apart from light entertainment Apprentice and Dragon’s Den”. A simple search picks up:

            – World Business Report (World Service)
            – Business Daily (World Service)
            – In The Balance (World Service)
            – Wake Up To Money (Radio 5 Live)
            – Mind Your Own Business (Radio 4)
            – Asia Business Report (BBC News Channel)
            – Business News (
            Not to mention all the business and economics covered in daily news bulletins across all the BBC’s TV and radio stations and regular coverage of business topics on current affairs programmes such as Newsnight (BBC2), Question Time (BBC1), This Week (BBC1) and Panorama (BBC1).

            Robert Peston, the BBC’s Business Editor, has become one of the most widely recognised factual broadcasters in Britain over the last few years. And this is from the BBC which broadcasts “no business programmes apart from light entertainment”.

            Pish. Tosh. Nonsense.

  6. The eu un extra are only shown what hammas want them to see including mps they show the slum areas but they don’t show them all the things iv seen the real gaza Streep the gaza Streep is about 70 miles long by about 25 miles wide these officals are not shown all over gaza oh by the way when you go to the hospitals if you visit any of the hospitals look on the packeging it has even down to bandages overt erring on it not Arabic writing not one muslium langeuage writing on any of the packergin . Sorry for spelling I have dyslexia .

    • Sorry on the medication and everything in these hospitals has everite ( Hebrew ) writing on it not one Arabic or muslium writing on any of medication even down to bandages extra sorry for spelling .

  7. Very, very nice researched article Hadar. These ‘hate Israel’ people are tripping up over each other all the time. The only thing that they excel in is ‘hate of Israel’.

  8. Except that the ” quote” is consistent with what actually happened.

    eg extracts from the list of items that Israel has refused to allow into Gaza ( fuller list available on request )

    lentils, pasta, jam. tinned fruit, fresh meat,jam, chocolate, fruit juice,potato chips,milk products,tea, coffee, musical instruments school books, fishing rods, shoes.

    Clearly an attempt at dietary restriction. Interesting that foodstuffs with a particularly big bang for the dietary buck, that is lentils, pasta, milk products were banned.

    Further Weisglas has considerable form when it comes to putting his hoof in his mouth. E.g. ” The Gaza pullout was intended to put the peace process into formaldahyde “

  9. Rich A, why does Israel owe Gaza anything? The governing body of Gaza has a policy, openly stated in its charter, of eradicating Israel and exterminating every last Jew on earth. In the last few days, they have fired scores of rockets indiscriminately at civilian population centres in Israel. Meanwhile Israel provides Gaza’s power (even though Hamas bombs the Israeli power station providing it!) and thousands of tonnes of food and other supplies every week. Thousands of Gazans receive free medical treatment in Israel every year. What does Gaza give Israel in return?

    Are you a beeboid? Sounds like it.

  10. Rich A, I was just wondering whether you think Palestinians are ever responsible for themselves and their actions?

  11. I am not talking about debts. Merely pointing out that the quote attributed to Weinglas is consistent with what actually happened, which gives some vredence to the attributation.

    • Rich A, you do talk tosh.

      I heard that in 1945, Harry S Truman said “Let’s blow those slitty-eyed bastards to smithereens. They are all sub-humans anyway, so who cares?” before ordering the dropping of the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I don’t have any source to back up my quote, but hey, the bombs were dropped, so I guess the quote must be accurate!

      N.B. For the simple-minded, I wish to spell out that I MADE THIS “QUOTE” UP in order to make a point.

  12. Rich A, perhaps Arafat’s decision to launch the second intifada, after he had been offered a state (again), had something to do with killing the peace process? Or maybe it was the election of the fascist Hamas, which, when given Gaza to govern, once it was Judenrein, spent its resources on killing more Jews, rather than building the institutions and infrastructure needed for a state.

    That’s what actually happened.

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  17. Labenal: entirely false analogy. If it were claimed that Truman had said ” We are going to nuke Hiroshima ” and he then indignantly claimed ” I did not say that”. Would you not think that the fact that he did nuke Hiroshima made his denial highly suspicious ?

    Adam: waffle as per usual

    • Rich, no. It is not a false analogy. Yes, there was a blockade on Gaza, put there to attempt to stop the flow of military/terrorist hardware into Gaza and save Israeli lives. Yes, nuclear bombs fell on Japan, in an attempt to end the war and save American lives.

      You can disagree with the blockade and/or the bombs for all sorts of reasons – political, effectiveness, strategically. Fine, but no, there was no effort to “put Gaza on a diet”, just as the bombs weren’t dropped for racist reasons. That is why it is a good analogy. At the same time as the alleged restrictions you identify, Israel also provided Gaza with truckloads upon truckloads of food and other necessities precisely in order to AVOID any sort of humanitarian crisis.

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  19. Rich A, with such a substantive, intellectually rigorous response, there is no comeback.

    I didn’t know we had a “usual”.

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