BBC article on Israel & UN HRC omits important context

On January 29th an article appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website on the subject of Israel’s refusal to participate in the UN Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review. 

UNHRC article 29 1

Despite the long-standing evidence of endemic bias against Israel on the part of the UN HRC and its predecessor, the BBC article states: [emphasis added]

“Israel has boycotted a regular review by the UN Human Rights Council, the first time any country has done so.

The move was expected as Israel has long been angered by what it claims is unfair criticism from the body.”

Established in March 2006 to replace the discredited UN Commission of Human Rights, the UN HRC swiftly proved itself to be no better than the body which preceded it. By April 2007 the council had passed nine resolutions condemning Israel – the only country which it specifically condemned. By 2010, the UN HRC has passed 32 resolutions against Israel, with those resolutions forming 48.1% of all the country-specific resolutions. By the end of 2012, the number of resolutions passed by the UN HRC against Israel had risen to 44, with Syria, for example, being the subject of eight resolutions in the same period of time. 

Israel is the only country for which the UN HRC saw fit to establish a permanent and special agenda item, with another of the council’s ten permanent agenda items reserved for all the 192 other countries together. The council’s Special Rapporteur on the Disputed Palestinian Territories – currently Richard Falk – is the only expert mandate with no date of expiry and its brief covers only Israel’s human rights record. Israel is the only country excluded from membership in the UN regional groups, which means – as explained here – that it cannot take part in some UN activity.

“Israel’s is the only UN permanent mission in Geneva denied membership in any of the world body’s five regional groups, a vital element for meaningful participation in UN bodies. Consequently, when the Commission’s fifty-three states, along with the one hundred or so other states that participate as observers, meet in their regional groups to share information on upcoming resolutions or other developments, Israel is the only country left out. Moreover, Israel’s exclusion from full membership in a regional group has effectively prevented it from membership on the Commission. Regimes such as Cuba, Zimbabwe, and Sudan are regularly re-elected.

Although Israel belongs in the Asian group, like its neighbors Jordan or Lebanon, opposition from Arab and Muslim states has barred Israel from joining.”

Bizarrely, despite all those well-known facts, the BBC apparently still considers it accurate to write that Israel “claims” to be subject to unfair criticism.

The article goes on to quote the BBC correspondent in Geneva, Imogen Foulkes:

“Israel’s action has prompted concern that it might undermine the UN’s human rights work, says the BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Geneva.

Human rights experts fear other countries facing awkward questions might follow suit.

Even Israel’s biggest ally, the United States, had urged Israel to take part. The big question now is what – if anything – the UN can do about Israel’s refusal to participate, our correspondent adds.” 

Foulkes fails to make clear to the BBC audience the true nature of these universal periodic reviews when discussing real human rights abusing states. In March 2012 for example:

“A U.N. report ridiculed worldwide for lavishing praise on the Qaddafi regime’s human rights record was unanimously adopted today by the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, with president Laura Dupuy Lasserre overruling the objection made in the plenary by UN Watch.”

And in October 2011 (this link is worth reading in full):

“…the Syrian vice-minister of foreign affairs and his entourage took their places in the Council chamber.  And then the Cubans said: “the Syrian government is working for the human rights of its people.”  The North Koreans said: “we commend Syria on its efforts taken to maintain security and stability.” The Iranians said: “we appreciate the efforts of the government of Syria to promote and protect human rights.”  Ditto Sudan, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Algeria, Lebanon, China, Zimbabwe, Burma/Myanmar, and so on.  

Four days later, on behalf of the three countries charged with compiling recommendations, Mexico reported to the Council:  “Syria received a total of 179 recommendations…It is a pleasure to inform you that 98 recommendations were accepted and 26 shall be considered.” Among the recommendations that “did not enjoy the support” of Syria were “immediately end attacks on peaceful protesters and bring violators to account,” “put an end to secret detentions” and “allow journalists to freely exercise their profession.” At the end of this stage of the UPR, the President of the Council turned to Syria and signed off with “I thank both you and your delegation for your participation in the UPR.”

At the time, there were 2,600 dead Syrian citizens at the hands of their own government. And Assad got the message about the human rights bona fides of the UN.

The next and final stage of the UPR took place in Geneva on March 15, 2012 – by which time there were 11,000 dead.  On that occasion, the Council formally adopted the so-called “outcome” of the UPR – a report containing no findings and no decision to take action.  It was gaveled through without comment from the President with these words:  “May I now propose that the Council adopts the decision on the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of Syria?”  I see no objection.”

There are now over 60,000 dead in Syria.”

The BBC article goes on to state that:

“A joint statement by eight Israeli human rights groups said: “It is legitimate for Israel to express criticism of the work of the council and its recommendations, but Israel should do so through engagement with the Universal Periodic Review, as it has done in previous sessions.” “

It does not, however, bother to inform readers which NGOs made that statement or what their political motivations for doing so might be. 

“After the session, eight human rights groups called on Israel to participate in the UPR process, including Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din.”

This information is particularly significant due to the fact that:

“The official UN document entitled “summary of stakeholder submissions,” which is intended to drive Israel’s UPR, includes allegations from NGOs that object to “the Jewish character of the state,” and demand that “five million Palestinians” should “return” to Israel to seal the deal. “

Beyond its ‘Israel on the naughty step’ tone, does this BBC article contribute to its audience’s understanding of the reasons behind Israel’s decision not to attend the UPR or the deeply problematic nature of the UN HRC specifically with regard to Israel, as well as in general? 

Not in the least. And with the UN HRC’s controversial – and tediously predictable – report on Israeli settlements  released on January 31st (more on that later), that failure to inform accurately becomes even more significant. 


BBC R4 guest promotes Qaradawi as a source of “nuanced understanding”

On January 28th 2013, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an edition of its ‘Beyond Belief’ programme, hosted by Ernie Rea, which supposedly dealt with the subject of contemporary antisemitism in Europe. 

Beyond Belief

The programme can be heard here or as a podcast here. Its guests were Dr Edward Kessler – Executive Director of the Woolf Institute,  Dr Yaakov Wise of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester and Mohammed Ansar (referred to by the host as ‘Mo’ during the broadcast) – described as a “social and political commentator”.  Beyond Belief

After listening to the programme, readers may find much to criticize and comment upon. For example, Rea states unquestioningly that there is “little doubt that Jews fared better under Islam than under Christianity throughout the Middle Ages” and, with equal certainty, later says:

“It does seem that it’s very difficult to criticize the Israeli government without in turn being told you’re antisemitc and some people would say that Jews see antisemitism everywhere.”

Yaakov Wise replies:

“Yes – they tend to be Americans actually, rather than European Jews who, I think, are probably a bit more realistic about…and of course have a lot more experience of living with antisemitism.”

Also notable are the repeated suggestions by Mohammed Ansar that it is “far right activity” on social media which promotes antisemitism, his constant attempts to shift the conversation in the direction of Islamophobia, his claim that “Islam is incredibly inclusive”  and his promotion of Norman Finkelstein (he later made it clear on Twitter that this was the specific piece he was promoting – suggesting to his Twitter followers that they read Chomsky and Pilger too). Mind you, Ansar also thinks that Jesus was a Palestinian.

Ansar tweet 1 Ansar tweet 2

Ansar’s inclusion in a discussion panel about antisemitism – particularly one which highlights the recent case of racist Tweets in France – may seem distinctly odd when one considers that, despite his writings on the subject, only four months ago Ansar endorsed a Twitter account entitled “IsraeltheNazis”. 

However, the part of this programme which is by far the most egregious comes at 23:15 when Ansar says:

“I think it’s really important to recognize also that as well as making the distinction in this country and the West about the distinction between Zionism, Israeli foreign policy and Judaism and Jews, this distinction is also being made in the Middle East – in the Arab territories. We have somebody who’s been considered a very controversial Muslim scholar in the West – Yusuf al Qaradawi – who goes to great lengths to ensure that people have a nuanced understanding and saying if you have difficulty with Israeli foreign policy, if you have difficulty with military occupation, this is something distinct from Judaism and Jews. And so regardless of many of his other statements, I think it’s really important that wherever we work we continue to make this distinction.”

Qaradawi – the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood – has been refused entry to Ireland, the US and the UK. The British ban was the subject of criticism from the Muslim Council of Britain, with which Ansar is associated

“Muhammad Abdul Bari, the secretary-general of the MCB, condemned the ban. He said the UK government had bowed to Zionist and neo-con pressure…” 

So let’s have a look at some of Qaradawi’s promotion of what Mohammed Ansar describes as “nuanced understanding”.

(Transcript available here.)

In his 2003 book ‘Fatwas on Palestine’ Qaradawi wrote:

“[W]e believe that the battle between us and the Jews is coming … Such a battle is not driven by nationalistic causes or patriotic belonging; it is rather driven by religious incentives. This battle is not going to happen between Arabs and Zionists, or between Jews and Palestinians, or between Jews or anybody else. It is between Muslims and Jews as is clearly stated in the hadith. This battle will occur between the collective body of Muslims and the collective body of Jews i.e. all Muslims and all Jews.”

And that – as anyone even slightly familiar with Qaradawi knows – is merely the tip of the iceberg.

This BBC Radio 4 programme was not a live broadcast. According to Ansar himself it was recorded on January 23rd

Ansar tweet 6 23 1

Ansar tweet 5 23 1

In other words, the BBC had five whole days in which to edit out Mohammed Ansar’s misrepresentation and promotion of one of the most reprehensible antisemitic hate-preachers around. But it chose not to do that.

That decision by the programme’s editor turns a broadcast supposedly attempting to discuss and inform on the subject of antisemitism into one indirectly promoting it. It makes the BBC part of the problem rather than a contributing factor to any solution. Beyond belief indeed. 


One to watch out for

Paula Stern from Ma’ale Adumim has written on the Times of Israel blogs of her recent day with a BBC film crew making a documentary in Israel. 

“And when it was all done, I came home and pondered what I would write here. I get the first chance to post about my hours with some BBC employees and a seasoned BBC reporter. They and he will get the last word when the documentary airs. It will be an hour in length, covering hours and hours of footage shot all over Israel – the Negev, the north, Tel Aviv, and Ramallah. From all the hours of walking and driving…a few short sentences will be taken. “

Paula’s impressions are encouraging:

Ma’ale Adumim

“BBC came to Maale Adumim to see, to listen and overall, I think they did.”

“I searched for the bias BBC is famous for; I waited for the agenda to come through. I have to be honest and say they were fair.”

“They said they wanted to show their audience the real Israel, the side the media doesn’t have a chance to show.”

Of course the proof of the pudding is in the editing, but the BBC reporter concerned is apparently John Ware, who has a good track record on understanding Islamist extremism, having made the Panorama documentaries on extremism in Saudi schools in Britain and the Hamas-linked charity Interpal.  

Apparently due to be broadcast around April, this will be definitely a programme to watch out for. 

The BBC, Bell and the blood libel

On January 29th 2013 the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme brought in Stephen Pollard – editor of the Jewish Chronicle – and Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell to discuss the subject of Gerald Scarfe’s cartoon which was the subject of much objection when it appeared in the Sunday Times on Holocaust Memorial Day, and for which the paper’s owner Rupert Murdoch has personally apologized, as has its acting editor.  

Today 29 1

The entire programme can be listened to here or alternatively a podcast of the relevant section can be heard here.  

At 1:38 in the podcast Steve Bell says:

“I think apologizing for this cartoon, which in fact, for once, wasn’t a bad cartoon…I think Stephen Pollard invokes terms like ‘the blood libel’ and kind of genocidal hate rage, he’s attributing this to a cartoon which is actually, it’s sort of like a mirror image of the cartoon that Scarfe did the week before which was about President Assad doing exactly…I think it was clutching the head of a baby the week before which is even considered to be more offensive. Not a squeak about that.”

Not a squeak from the programme’s presenter either – who apparently saw no problem in Bell’s attempt to compare a cartoon of a dictator waging a civil war – which has claimed more lives in under two years that the entire Arab-Israeli conflict – with one of a democratically elected prime minister. Crucially, as Stephen Pollard pointed out on his Editor’s blog:

“It’s a fair point to say that the previous week Scarfe depicted Assad in a similar way, and he’s entitled to his view of Netanyahu, just as the Sunday Times are entitled to print it.

But there’s never been an anti-Alawite blood libel, and the context matters. The blood libel is central to the history of antisemitism.”

Bell goes on: [emphasis added]

“Ahm..the problem with the State of Israel and the – if you like – Zionist lobby is that they never acknowledge the crime of ethnic cleansing upon which the state was founded and that’s a permanent problem. It’s always going to be a difficult issue. It’s always going to set people at odds like this…”

No intervention from the presenter in the name of accuracy or impartiality there either. 

Bell continues:

“If you use the term blood libel as loosely and as ridiculously as that… the blood libel refers I think to a medieval belief that the Jews actually ate their own children – or ate Christian children – which is not actually a current..ahm…idea that’s abroad. Nobody’s actually saying…”

So now we learn that Bell, whom the BBC invited to talk about a cartoon judged by many to be offensive because it invokes the blood libel, does not actually know what the blood libel is. Needless to say, the presenter did not bother to correct Bell’s erroneous assertions on that point and neither did he trouble his audience – many if not most of whom will not have a clue as to what the blood libel is – with a factual explanation of its historic roots and modern interpretations. The BBC’s written ‘explanation’ of the term here also leaves much to be desired. 

BBC explanation blood libel

Later on Bell says: [emphasis added]

“The problem with this argument is, it’s extraneous notions like ‘blood libel’ and.. err.. are dragged in and sensitivities are talked up when there actually don’t….the very word antisemitic – it becomes devalued. They throw it around with such abandon and if there is real antisemitism, it’s actually getting ignored.”

Of course the audience is not informed who “they” are, but we do not need a cartoonist’s imagination to understand Bell’s intentions.

So what did Radio 4 audiences learn from Bell’s participation in this discussion? They found out that there’s a “Zionist lobby” that ignores “ethnic cleansing” of which Israel is guilty and that there is something called the blood libel which involves beliefs about Jews eating children. They also learned that “they” accuse people falsely of antisemitism, which may or may not be real, by invoking the term blood libel.

Had Radio 4 actually tried to get as many erroneous and offensive notions about Jews and Israel as possible into a seven minute item, it would have had difficulty topping this. And yet, the ‘Today’ presenter allowed Bell a free rein, at no point stepping in to correct his distortions. 

This broadcast yet again raises the subject of BBC interviewees who use the platform provided to them to promote untruths – either due to ignorance or as deliberate politically motivated propaganda. 

Can the BBC shirk its obligations concerning accurate and impartial broadcasting by hiding behind the defence that these are an interviewee’s opinions – no matter how wrong or offensive? Or does the BBC have an obligation to correct misleading assertions presented as ‘opinion’ in order to meet its own standards of accuracy and impartiality? 


BBC still airbrushing David Ward’s remarks

In a story which bears more resemblance to an episode of Fawlty Towers by the day, the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip has formally censured the MP for Bradford East, David Ward, with a “don’t mention the Jews” clause included in his letter

The BBC’s report on this latest development has been relegated from the UK Politics and Middle East pages of its BBC News website to the regional ‘Leeds & West Yorkshire’ page. However, the BBC is still trying to pretend that Ward’s remarks pertained to Israeli Jews – as it did in its two previous reports on the incident.

“A Lib-Dem MP who accused “the Jews” in Israel of “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians” has received a letter of censure by the party.”

[emphasis added]

Ward censure art

Even the tepid reaction of the Lib Dem Chief Whip (which, notably, does nothing to address the subject of Ward’s use of an antisemitic Nazi analogy) indicates that the BBC’s repeated attempts to suggest that Ward was referring to Israeli Jews – rather than “the Jews” as a collective – are futile and mistaken.

So why is the BBC still flogging this dead horse?

BBC’s Paul Moss promotes politically motivated stereotypes of Israelis

Can you imagine the BBC publishing or broadcasting a facile report which tries too hard to be funny by tapping into jaded Benny Hill-style stereotypes about certain national characteristics such as Frenchmen who smell of garlic, women-chasing Italians or lazy, siesta-loving Spaniards?

No? Well then prepare to be surprised…or perhaps not.

On January 24th 2013 the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (also broadcast on the BBC World Service) featured an item by Paul Moss. The podcast can be downloaded here (listen from 22:34) or heard here. A very similar written version of the same report was featured on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 27th

Paul Moss

Moss’ piece is entitled “The Middle East conflict at 35,000 feet” and supposedly tells of his recent flight from Luton to Tel Aviv. But Moss decided to turn an account that flight into a contrived analogy for the Middle East conflict as a whole – or at least what he perceives as the Israeli contribution to it. 

And so, despite admitting that he speaks neither Hebrew nor Russian, Paul Moss portrays Israeli passengers on the flight as argumentative and aggressive.

“The Israelis were arguing with the non-Israelis, and indeed with each other – over who was entitled to what territory.

Some were polite, but others more hostile. It was an ugly scene. At one point, I thought people might well come to blows.

And still they could not sort it out. Who was supposed to be in what seat? The plane had not even taken off yet, but already Flight 2085, from Luton to Tel Aviv, had become a microcosm of the Middle East.

Some argued from a point of legal entitlement. They held up their boarding passes, the seat number clearly visible.

“I have a right to be here,” they protested. But others simply pointed out that they had got there first. I felt I had heard this before somewhere.”

Predictably, Moss’ Israeli co-passengers are also pushy, rude and potentially dangerous into the bargain.

“Meanwhile, bolder passengers were simply shoving their luggage – and themselves – into the places they wanted. You might call it “establishing facts on the ground”.”

“Tensions rose and so did voices in English, in Hebrew and in Russian. I only speak one of those languages but I am quite sure I was being treated to a crash course in their finest insults and for the first time I found myself awfully glad that metal implements are no longer permitted in carry-on luggage.”

The laboured analogy and stereotypes continue, with Moss ditching all efforts to display any of that much-touted appreciation of diversity in which his countrymen take so much pride and exhibiting particular disdain for the religious passengers on the flight.

There is, of course, absolutely no point to this article whatsoever. It does not inform the reader about any particular news event and it certainly does nothing to increase audiences’ understanding of the world. All Moss achieves in his shallow, superficial piece is the promotion of stereotypes in order to advance a very clear political agenda. 

However, simplistic agenda-driven reporting on Israel seems to be something of a pattern as far as Moss is concerned. In January 2009, at the time of Operation Cast Lead, he was also in Israel. In one article from the time he reported on Israeli Arabs in Haifa opposed to the operation, implying that they were representative of the whole Arab Israeli population and quoting Leah Tsemel and Ameer Makhoul without disclosing to his readers who they are or what they represent. 

In another article (which does much to explain his attitudes towards Israelis) Moss showcased the opinions of the founder of ‘Zochrot‘, which he described as an “educational charity” and in a third piece Moss uses a visit to Masada to suggest that Israelis are unnecessarily militaristic. The World Tonight 25 1

If readers are wondering what happened once Moss’ flight landed in Tel Aviv, the answer to that is to be found in another radio broadcast from January 25th. The BBC Radio 4 programme “The World Tonight” featured Paul Moss (from 35:43 or as a podcast here from around 29:31) on the subject of “Israel’s view of its international image” in which he argued that Israelis – in contrast to citizens of other countries – should care more about how they are perceived abroad.  

“MPs in most countries will insist it’s their people that [sic] should determine who forms their government and what is in their country’s interests. But Israel, of course, is not like most countries. For a start it gets huge amounts of financial aid from the United States.”

Of course Israel has not received economic aid from the US since 2008 and the vast majority of the military aid it does receive (around 1% of the Israeli economy) is spent in the United States, thus sustaining American jobs. As the Assistant Secretary of Political-Military Affairs at the State Department put it in 2011: “We don’t just support Israel because of a long-standing bond, we support Israel because it is in our national interests to do so”. 

But does the fact that Israel receives US aid at all make it – as Moss claims – “not like most countries”? Hardly: not only is Israel not the biggest recipient of military aid from the US, but if we look at the subject of financial aid in general, we see that in fact, Israel is exactly like most countries.

Foreign Assistance by country

But Paul Moss is obviously not one to allow mere facts to get in the way of the agenda he is trying to promote. 

Moss is, of course, entitled to his own political opinions and prejudices. What he is not entitled to do as a BBC presenter is to allow those prejudices to spill over into his reports, thus compromising the BBC’s reputation for impartiality – even under the pretext of supposedly trying to be funny. 

Priorities on the BBC website’s Middle East page

As violence escalates in Syria, the possibility of the deteriorating situation leading to that country’s considerable chemical weapon stockpile falling into the hands of Islamist extremists and/or Hizballah has been the subject of cabinet meetings in Israel. On Sunday, January 27th, Iron Dome batteries were deployed in northern Israel for the first time. 

On January 26th, the IDF apprehended two Palestinians attempting to firebomb an IDF post near Hawara, later discovering that the pair was in possession of a letter from the Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade relating to a planned terror attack on the town of Alon Moreh. This follows the recent exposure of a terror cell in Ramallah and escalating numbers of events involving stone and Molotov cocktail-throwing in recent weeks. 

You might think that at least one of the above events would get a mention on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. Not so: the BBC’s lead story on Israel – and third in line on its Middle East page – on the morning of Monday, January 28th was one which did not even make the top three items reported in Israeli domestic news. 

ME hp 28 1

Kevin Connolly tweaks the Israeli political map

Apparently still unable to let go of the subject of the Israeli elections, the BBC featured another report on the subject by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly in its January 26th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ – broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service. 

A podcast of the programme can be downloaded or heard here.  Connolly’s report begins at 01:26, but it is also worth listening to the introduction by the programme’s presenter Kate Adie from 00:39, in which she once more repeats the unquestioned mantra of “the deadlocked peace process” as one of the “pressing regional matters”. Alternatively, a fairly accurate transcript of Connolly’s radio report can be read in the magazine section of the BBC News website.

Moving on past the rather laboured introduction, we reach Connolly’s assessment of democracy in the Middle East; one which seems riskily hasty if one considers the track record of elected Islamist regimes in the region so far.  

“Israeli officials have long made the point that theirs is the only democracy in the Middle East – a claim that calls for a little tweaking or qualification in the light of Egypt’s elections last year.”

But the real intention of this report by Connolly seems to be to persuade audiences that the BBC’s pre-election analysis was not as far off the mark as they may think. 

You see, if you happened to think that the BBC’s energetic promotion of the notion that Israelis were about to elect a right-wing government was mistaken then, according to Connolly, it is you who are wrong. And in order to explain just how wrong you were, Connolly says:

“What is interesting about this election is that the dynamic new force in parliament comes not from the far-right of Israeli politics as many expected, but from the centre.

A new party called “There is a Future” is the second-largest force in the new Knesset.

It is led by a popular television personality called Yair Lapid. If you are British or American, you will have to imagine David Dimbleby or David Letterman stepping down from the screen to sort the country out.”

So far, so good. But Connolly then continues:

“Using the term “centrist” in the context of Israeli politics is not always helpful.

I suspect that to many Europeans, it conjures an image of a leader who would be much less tough in negotiations with the Palestinians than Mr Netanyahu would.

But Mr Lapid does not believe that Israel should have to divide Jerusalem with the Palestinians in a future peace deal – one of the core elements of the two-state solution that the wider world continues to believe in.

That Mr Lapid is labelled a centrist perhaps shows you where the centre of gravity of Israeli opinion on such matters lies these days.”

So you see, the BBC was not wrong: Israelis did elect a far-right government after all, because Kevin Connolly has just ‘shown’ that in Israeli politics – which apparently should be defined in European terms and solely in relation to the ‘peace process’, ignoring aspects such as economic policy – even the Centre is Right. 

And how does he pull that off? By blinkering his audience into focusing on one single issue – the subject of the possible re-division of Israel’s capital city – which Connolly should know is just one of many issues defined in internationally recognized agreements as subjects for final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The fact that Yair Lapid – or any other Israeli – may consider the division of Jerusalem undesirable is not a rejection of negotiations with a Palestinian Authority genuinely interested in reaching a settlement. 

Of course Connolly’s convenient tweak of the Israeli political spectrum does nothing to explain why, in all its pre-election coverage of the Israeli Right (and only the right), did the Yesh Atid party barely get a mention. Rather embarrassingly, Connolly also seems to have forgotten that only three days previously he himself wrote the following words:

“But the sudden and decisive lurch to the right that many predicted hasn’t happened.

The results show that there’s plenty of life on the left and the centre of Israeli politics too.”

Unfortunately, this latest report by Connolly appears to indicate that not only is the BBC nowhere near engaging in the much-needed self-criticism shown to be so necessary by its coverage of the Israeli elections, but that it appears to be determined to avoid that introspection like the plague, even if it makes itself and its correspondents look very silly in the process. 


A BBC template response to complaints

On November 7th 2012 an edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme featured a conversation between the presenter and the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Simpson, relating to the re-election of Barak Obama. The relevant portion of the programme can be heard here

At 03:13 Simpson says: [all emphasis added]

“And anyway, Obama has taken a rather different line towards Israel – a more hostile line towards Israel. And he’s still won the election in spite of everything the Israeli Prime Minister could do to discourage Americans from voting for him…”

Later, the presenter says:

“A message of sup…I was going to say support…not a message of support – a message of congratulations (laughs) from Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli (laughs) Prime Minister. But..erm…I wonder what, briefly, will be going through his mind.”

Simpson replies:

“Oh, I should think he’s really disappointed. Err…he threw everything that he could, including calling..err…Mr Obama – effectively calling him weak in dealing with Iran. Including saying …err…more openly that he wasn’t the kind of friend that Israel would have chosen. Ahm..he didn’t use those words, but that was very clear. he must feel that he’s got the wrong president there.”

Several members of the general public have informed BBC Watch that they made complaints to the BBC regarding Simpson’s claim in this programme that attempts were made by the Israeli Prime Minister to influence the US elections. Interestingly, all those who submitted complaints received exactly the same reply from the BBC. 

Dear ******

Reference ***********

Thanks for contacting us about Radio 4’s Today broadcast on 7 November.

Firstly we’d like to apologise for the delay in replying. We realise correspondents expect a quick response and we’re sorry you‘ve had to wait on this occasion.

We understand you believe John Simpson made inaccurate and slanderous comments about the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, during a discussion on the 2012 US Presidential election.

We forwarded your concerns to the Today programme who pointed out that John Simpson specifically said:

”Obama has taken a…more hostile line towards Israel and still won the election despite everything the Israeli PM could do to discourage Americans from voting for him.”

Later he amplified that by saying:

“He (Netanyahu) threw everything that he could including…effectively calling him weak in dealing with Iran including, saying more openly that he wasn’t the kind of friend Israel would have chosen – he didn’t use those words but that was clear – so he must feel he got the wrong President there.”

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the relationship between the two leaders is poor and this has been reported elsewhere in the media. Reuters has referred to “long-strained ties” between the two, while the Telegraph has referred to difficulties between the two:

Meanwhile in the Guardian it was reported how the relationship was dysfunctional:

And how, in a story about Netanyahu’s appearance in a political ad produced by a fringe non-profit group to criticise President Obama, that:

“The ad is the latest in a series of appearances by Netanyahu in the heated US presidential election. The prime minister made a point of being photographed with Republican challenger Mitt Romney on his visit to Israel in July and praised the candidate’s views on Iran. In a Jerusalem press conference on the 9/11 anniversary, Netanyahu criticized the Obama administration’s refusal to notify Iran of a ‘red line’ that would trigger an attack on its nuclear facilities. Complaints by the prime minister’s office about Obama declining a meeting at the UN next week have been eagerly used by Republicans in attacks on the president.”

(Please note that the BBC isn’t responsible for the content found on any external websites.)

The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen also spoke of how: “As expected, Israel is being supported from the United States – despite the poor relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.”

The programme added, in closing, that the poor relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu is an open secret and has been widely reported and commented upon. And it’s part of John Simpson’s job as World Affairs Editor to offer analysis of this kind for our audience.

Nevertheless, we appreciate your concerns about John Simpson’s comments and we’d like to assure you that we’ve registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers. The audience logs are important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

Stuart Webb

BBC Complaints

The most striking thing about this response is its utter failure to answer the substance of the complaints. Readers did not complain about Simpson’s portrayal of the relationship between Netanyahu and Obama, but about his claim of attempts by the Israeli Prime Minister to influence the US elections. 

Of the four references the response provides as evidence for the rejection of the complaints, one is from the BBC itself: a one-line quote from Jeremy Bowen which merely reflects his own subjective assessment of the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. Another reference comes from the Daily Telegraph and two others from the Guardian – the first actually being a reproduction of an AP article which quotes a representative of ‘Americans for Peace Now’.  Interestingly, the BBC apparently finds it legitimate to use articles from other sources (including even the Guardian – singled out on more than one occasion by the CST in its annual report on antisemitic discourse) as ‘evidence’ for its stance, whilst simultaneously stating that “the BBC isn’t responsible for the content found on any external websites”. 

The second of those Guardian links refers to a video made by a third-party in which publicly available footage of Netanyahu speaking about the Iranian nuclear operation was used. Neither it, nor any of the other links provided by the BBC, show evidence of the direct – and massive – intervention which Simpson claimed had occurred. 

As a supposed response to numerous complaints on the same subject, this reply from the BBC is sorely lacking in both substance and respect for its audiences’ intelligence. 

Obsession in numbers: comparing BBC coverage of elections in Israel and Jordan

The day after the elections in Israel on January 22nd 2013, a no less important (and some would say, much more consequential) election was held in the country next door – Jordan. Comparing the BBC’s coverage of the two elections we see some very interesting trends and phenomena. 

The Jordanian elections were the subject of a total of five reports on the BBC News website. Two of those articles were published the day before the election: a Q&A item and an article entitled “Jordan election: Risks of not changing“. On the day of the election itself – January 23rd – two items appeared on the BBC News website: one filmed report and one written item. The day after the election, one report was published. 

In none of those reports do any of the following words or phrases appear: Right-wing, far-right, ultra-nationalist, hardline. The main opposition movement in Jordan – the Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘Islamic Action Front’ – is described as having a “moderate tone”. One adjective used to describe some candidates in the election is “socially-conservative”. 

“As in previous elections, most of the 1,500 candidates are nominally independent but tend to be socially-conservative government loyalists. Their campaign material is long on family heritage – important in a traditional society like Jordan – and short on campaign pledges.”

By comparison, the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli elections began long before the day prior to the vote. In the days and weeks before the elections, the BBC News website published eight  articles – see herehere, here, here, here, here, here and here.  The BBC World programme ‘Hardtalk‘ also addressed the subject of the elections. 

The day before the Israeli elections, the BBC News website published six reports – see here, here, here, here, here and here

On the day of the elections themselves (January 22nd) six new articles appeared on the BBC News website – see here, here, here, here, here and here. One additional report by Jon Donnison was published and then later scrapped. The BBC also created and promoted a designated Twitter list of its correspondents Tweeting about the Israeli elections. 

The BBC News website produced 12 reports on the day after the election (January 23rd) – see here, here, here, here,here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here

So – to compare the numbers – in the days and weeks before both elections, the BBC News website produced no articles on Jordan and nine on Israel. On the respective days prior to the elections, the BBC News website produced two articles about Jordan and six about Israel. On the respective days of elections themselves, the BBC News website produced two articles about Jordan and seven about Israel, with a designated Twitter list created only for the latter. On the respective days following the elections, the BBC News website produced one article about Jordan and twelve about Israel. 

The total number of articles about the Jordanian election was five, whilst the total number of articles about the Israeli election was thirty-four, along with a dedicated Twitter list. 

Can routine elections in a vibrant democracy really be said to justify seven times more coverage than elections held in a monarchy as part of efforts to contain local manifestations of a region-wide wave of public dissent?