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. 

16 comments on “BBC’s Paul Moss promotes politically motivated stereotypes of Israelis

  1. I entertained some visitors from The UK last year. And the year before that, some visitors from Germany.

    The interesting thing was that both parties stressed to me after their visits that Israel was nothing like how it is portrayed in the media. And I took them to many places including Arab towns and villages BUT, not to the area occupied by the Palestinian Authority. I can remember now, one German women, specifically waiting for my attention at the airport before they left to tell me that.

    Needless to say, both groups were very appreciative of Israel, its industriousness and it’s vibrant vitality.

    I often wonder about the media types that get sent to Israel. Is it the bigotry that they bring with them that makes them who they are? Or is it editorial pressure to make them ‘Get the goods’?

  2. “Is it the bigotry that they bring with them that makes them who they are? Or is it editorial pressure to make them ‘Get the goods’?”

    It’s probably some of both, depending on the reporter.

    I once went to a talk by the wonderful Khaled Abu Toameh, who said that he had often suggested stories to visiting journalists. They would respond that they’d love to write that story but their editors wouldn’t accept it (because it didn’t fit the “party line”).

    Then there’s this item from Tom Gross (very old–November 2001):

    “…it was long enough for Rusbridger and Katz… to see with their own eyes that the Israeli soldiers were courteous and polite to Palestinians. They saw that Palestinians were allowed to cross the checkpoint, both by car and on foot, in a matter of seconds. And they saw by contrast how the same soldiers were refusing religious Jews — who wished to go and pray at the nearby holy site of Rachel’s Tomb — entry to Bethlehem.

    On our drive down one of Bethlehem’s main streets, we passed Palestinian-owned cars of a similar standard to those we had just seen being driven by Israelis in Jerusalem. Rusbridger and Katz also had a chance to observe that the local Arab shops were well stocked.


    Two weeks later, Rusbridger wrote about his trip in a cover story for The Spectator in London…. Rusbridger began his Spectator article as follows:

    In the last, dying days of apartheid I visited South Africa… A couple of weeks ago I made my first trip to another much written about country, Israel. As with my earlier journey I found a lot that was shocking, but this time I was genuinely surprised. Nothing had prepared me for finding quite so many echoes of the worst days of South Africa in modern Israel.

    • There’s no doubt about Rusbridger’s clear anti-Israel agenda, as visible from his Guardian’s output on the subject.

      The Guardian group of newspapers political stance is something akin to the BBC. One example that shows this distortional bias very clearly is visible in their webpage – “Israel and the Middle East – Key Events”

      Lest anyone think the following highlight is an oversight, I can tell you that I did notify Rusbridger as chief editor to no avail.

      This is education – Guardian style

      For the year 1994 the only event shown is “1994 – Baruch Goldstein, a demented Jewish zealot in the flashpoint West Bank town of Hebron, goes beserk in the town’s most historic mosque, killing 29 Arabs with his assault rifle. “?

      Amazingly ignored as key events are:
      1. May 1994 – The Gaza/Jericho agreement in Cairo between Israel and the PA giving autonomy to the Palestinian Authority in those areas – Surely a Key Event

      2. July 1994 – The Israel/Jordan peace treaty – Surely a Key Event

      In light of the only event that this paper does show, would it not be equitable to also have had:
      3. 40 Israelis murdered by demented terrorists in numerous beserk attacks throughout that year – most following the granting of autonomy to the PA?

      But the Goldstein incident is all that the Guardian wants the reader to know as the ‘key event’.

  3. Don’t forget his sneering at those praying- in my experiance flying easyjet the stewedesses announce when those who wish to prayu can, thus everyone will know, and there are toilets to the front as well
    For the record I am ‘charedi’ and follow thhe opinion that it is better to pray in ones seat if one has to pray on the plane. However the disingenous way the author portrays it shows a rather nasty bias.

  4. “…despite admitting that he speaks neither Hebrew nor Russian…”. How could he even understand, never mind earn a BBC living from commenting on what was happening on the plane or in Israel?

    Could Duvidl please have his job? Duvidl also speaks French and German. The BBC could send him to Europe as well. He also has a friend who speaks English, Amharic and Tigrinya, like Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia. How about the BBC employing this friend as their own correspondent instead of the monoglot-Moss?

    • Come to think of it, monoglot-moss sounds like a common Beeboid fungal infection. Duvidl is compelled to versify:

      Monoglot moss

      That poisonous leftist, the monoglot-Moss;
      For telling the truth he does not give a toss.
      Beeb’s Bowen should fire him; his monoglot boss.
      To poor Beeboid humour he would be no loss.

  5. “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.”

    Not only is this true, the aid represents a substantial back-door subsidy to the US military-industrial complex. Any attempt to reduce it will be fiercely opposed by the likes of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, etc. whose weapons Israel “buys” with these earmarked funds.

    For example, the F35 program desperately needs Israel to be supplied with those planes so that the manufacturers can receive, via the Israeli aid backdoor, the money they need to justifying manufacturing enough to bring the price per plane down and make the program work with being seen to receive a subsidy. Israel has, in the past, been prevented by contract putting its owen electroics and other systems into US weaponry to ensure that the subsidy flows back to the USA.

  6. This thread puts me in mind of the following story:
    A Jewish man sits next to two Arab men on a flight from New York to Miami. The Jewish man kicks off his shoes and settles down. Some time later, one of the Arabs starts to get up and says he would like to get himself a coke. Since he was by the aisle, the Jewish man says, “I’ll get it for you,” and goes off in his stockinged feet. While he was gone, one of the Arab men spit into the Jewish fellow’s left shoe. The Jewish guy returned and handed one of them his coke and sat down again.

    30 minutes later, the other Arab man started to rise and said that he too would like a coke. Again the Jewish man says “no problem, I’ll get it for you”, and goes off to fetch it. This time, his right shoe gets spat into.

    As the flight was ending, the Jewish man slid his shoes back on and through his socks, he felt the squishiness. He immediately figured out what had happened and exclaimed, “When will it end!!?? When will all this enmity cease, the hatred, the anger, the spitting in shoes and the pishing in coca cola!!??”

  7. Last month I went to see Argo at the Finchley Lido Vue. There was a dispute culminating in a standoff regarding the occupancy of 2 seats near us, with 2 Asians refusing to vacate in favour of the black couple who appeared to be in possession of the rightful tickets for those seats. As the film was about to start, the 2 asians caved in and went off to another row nearby, where a new altercation broke out as they enforced their right to their actual seats, eventually dispossessing the occupants in their turn, well into the film. What did this all signify, I pondered, as the occupants of the US embassy in Tehran cowered, to the sound of crunching and munching of giant vats of popcorn and troughs of takeaway chicken.

  8. Fair enough. Now have someone collect the bill from the UK for defending them on our dime (the US) for 50 years.

  9. I’m an Israeli and took flights abroad many times. While I agree that some Israelis can be pushy and not very polite I have to say that NEVER in all the flights I took there was such a scene as described in this article. Sometimes there’s an argument between 2 passengers over a sit but that is usually resolved without the need of an air steward’s intervention and never in all my flights the pilot had to intervene or there was a general problem or there was a problem with access to or out of the toilet. So either Paul Moss has been very unlucky to be in a specially difficult flight or he’s plain exaggerating.

    • I’ve been flying to Israel and back (from Manchester) quite regularly for about 30 years now, initially with El-Al, and more recently with Thomsons and Jet 2. The only delays in taking seats that I’ve noticed in all that time (beyond the usual all-flights-everywhere ones re. loading the overhead lockers), were when people saw friends and acquaintances, and stopped to have a chat with them then and there, rather than waiting until the flight was ongoing and the seatbelt sign had been switched off. The only time I’ve not been able to use any toilet on any of these flights is when it has been out of order. My only comment on why such flights are generally a bit ‘unusual’ is that the Manchester Jewish community (which I’m not a member of because I’m not Jewish and I don’t live in Manchester) is apparently fairly tightly-knit, and passengers on these flights do tend to socialise much more during these flights than passengers on ‘average’ flights, simply because evidently more of them know each other already! The result is, it all becomes a bit more like a club coach trip than the ‘average’air flight. But I’ve never witnessed any unpleasantness at all – quite the opposite, in fact! The only downside I’ve found is, when I’m flying in to Manchester late, and have to work in the morning, it can make it quite hard to take an in-flight nap …..

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