BBC tones down British MP’s comments on Jews and the Holocaust

As readers may have heard, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East – David Ward – made a reprehensible comparison between the Holocaust and the Arab-Israeli conflict just days before Holocaust Memorial Day is marked in his country and others on January 27th

The Commentator, which first broke the story, has the details:

“British Member of Parliament David Ward has issued a statement to the ‘Asian Image’ magazine, juxtaposing the Middle East Conflict with the Holocaust.

As Holocaust Memorial Day is to be observed on Sunday, the Liberal Democrat MP, upon signing the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, stated:

“Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.” “

Ward later gave a statement to the Commentator in which he said:

“The Holocaust was one of the worst examples in history man’s inhumanity to man. When faced with examples of atrocious behaviour, we must learn from them. It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treated.”

The situation worsened as Ward gave an interview to Sky News and another interview with him emerged from last November – during Operation Pillar of Cloud – on BBC Radio Leeds, in which he said:

“If all the illegal settlements were vacated and the land given back there wouldn’t be any rocket attacks.”

For more details of, and commentary on, the incident see the Telegraph, the Commentator, Paul David Evans, the Jewish Chronicle, the Independent, Harry’s Place and the Guido Fawkes blog

So how did the BBC relate to the story? Well, it interviewed Ward on Radio 5 live (which can be heard via the link below) – although with nowhere near the tenacity of the Sky News interviewer. It also published an article about the incident on the UK Politics page of the BBC News website. There, it stated that: [emphasis added]

“He accused “the Jews” in Israel of “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians… on a daily basis”.

Ward 2

Except he didn’t. Ward referred to “the Jews” in general. 

So why did the BBC think it appropriate to try to tone down and ‘contextualise’ Ward’s abhorrent remarks? 

Update: read Chas Newkey Burden’s commentary on the subject here.

Update 2: David Ward has now issued an apology. The BBC has published another article on the subject in which it repeats the use of the same phrasing employed in its first report.  

Ward 3

Likewise, the BBC News Twitter account also phrased Tweets promoting its latest report in a manner which clearly suggests that Ward’s remarks related to Israelis instead of “the Jews” as a collective.  

BBC News tweets 26 1

Once again, one must ask why the BBC appears to be trying so hard to blur the antisemitic nature of Ward’s remarks and why in doing so, it seems to be unaware that “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is also defined as antisemitism under the EUMC working definition

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Happy Tu B’Shvat

BBC Watch wishes all those readers celebrating Tu B’Shvat a very happy holiday. 

Tu B'Shvat

BBC quotes Holocaust-denying terrorist-run website

One of the BBC’s many post-election articles appearing in the Middle East section of the BBC News website on January 23rd 2013 was an item entitled “Israeli press considers Netanyahu ‘failure’ ” which presented a round-up of local reactions to the results of the poll. 

Israeli press article

The article – produced by BBC Monitoring – highlighted quotes from articles appearing in several of Israel’s leading newspapers – including Ha’aretz, Yediot Aharonot, Ma’ariv, The Jerusalem Post and Israel HaYom. 

However, for some reason – and despite the title – the writer also considered it worthwhile to quote two non-Israeli sources which were described as being “Palestinian newspapers”.

Filastin & Al Quds

Al Quds has frequently been criticised for its antisemitic content, including its 1997 promotion of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Ziyon’ as fact. Here is one of its more recent cartoons: 

Al Quds cartoon

The Hamas-run website ‘Filastin’ has, as may be expected, supported terrorism against Israeli civilians and published commentary condemning a visit by a PA official to Auschwitz in 2012 which included the statement:

“What is the wisdom in such a simple step that supports the Jews and their crimes?… Neither the Jews nor we believe that Hitler killed six millions Jews,” 

Does the BBC really think that it contributes anything to its audiences’ understanding of the Middle East by reproducing opinions from terror-supporting antisemitic outlets alongside those from legitimate members of the media? 

And perhaps – with Holocaust Memorial Day approaching –  BBC Monitoring and the Editor of the BBC News website could find the time to explain to their licence fee-paying funders why they consider the promotion of material from a Holocaust-denying website appropriate. 

BBC revamps anti-Israel campaigner as “democracy activist”

Here is the BBC engaging in a little self-congratulation and self-promotion on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of its BBC Arabic Service. 

75 anniv BBC Arabic

How many of these congratulations arrived spontaneously and how many were solicited, we do not know, but the portrayal of one of the well-wishers is rather interesting. 

“Mustafa Barghouthi, Palestinian democracy activist and Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, believed the BBC gave too much space to the Israeli voice, but he said its training of Arab and Palestinian journalists – some of whom had become ‘icons of the Arab media’ – had been among the BBC’s ‘most important achievements’. “

mustafa barghouti

Barghouti at one of the weekly demonstrations in Bil’in, 2010. (Photo: Dan Halutz)

Mustafa Barghouthi is indeed the Secretary General of the PNI (aka Al Mubadara), but his classification as a “democracy activist” is somewhat tendentious. 

In 2011 Barghouthi travelled all the way to Greece to proffer his support for the Hamas-enabling ‘Freedom Flotilla 2’. He has attended and spoken at the annual Bil’in conference on several occasions, promoting ‘apartheid’ rhetoric and the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees, and is a prominent advocate of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. 

In April 2012 Barghouthi was a guest speaker at a conference promoting the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees organized by the Hamas-affiliated ‘Palestinian Return Centre’ based in London. He was involved with the ‘Air Flotilla’ (aka ‘Flytilla’) stunt which sought to delegitimize Israel in the same month and was one of the organisers of the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ in March 2012, collaborating with others connected to the Iranian regime, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizballah. 

Prior to the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ event Barghouthi engaged in spreading his often used delegitimizing falsehoods regarding the freedom of worship and ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Jerusalem. On the day of the march itself, he was personally present at the violent riots which took place at the Qalandiya checkpoint.  

The fact that the BBC sees fit to solicit and publish an endorsement of itself from someone prepared to work with affiliates and representatives of terrorist organisations and repressive dictatorships in order to delegitimise a democratic country speaks volumes. The fact that the BBC then describes that man – whose activism is dedicated to the demise of the most vibrant democracy in the Middle East – as a “democracy activist” reveals much about the political views prevalent in the corporation. 

 

Not Right: why did the BBC get the Israeli elections so wrong?

The day after the Israeli elections, with most of the real results in, some furious back-tracking was going on across the board of BBC reporting. All of a sudden, the obviously flawed predictions were attributed to an anonymous “many” in a revealingly titled article by Kevin Connolly:

“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.”

That same message was repeated in an additional article, in which (as well as in another report) it was also suddenly discovered that security was not the main issue worrying Israelis at all, as the BBC had previously claimed

“However, unlike in previous elections, the campaign focused largely on social and economic issues, rather than the prospects for a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians.”

On election day itself, the BBC was still promoting the notion of the “sleepiest election ever” – although it soon had to back-track on that theme too.

sleepiest elections

So why did the BBC – with its multitude of locally based reporters, analysts and ‘expert’ Middle East editors get it so wrong

The obvious answer to that lies in the BBC’s organizational culture. Existing collective assumptions about Israel – influenced by an unchallenged predominant political view – guided interpretation of facts and events and prevented BBC journalists from taking note of local outside analysts other than those which supported their own preconceived ideas. 

Collective perceptions of Israel and Israelis – perhaps coupled with over-confidence in their own expertise – meant that BBC reporters did not even try to find out which issues were important to the Israeli electorate: instead they produced material which supported their own preconceived ideas – beginning long before the election itself, with the promotion of the notion that Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ was part of the Likud election campaign. In addition, a marked lack of understanding of the inapplicability of their own Eurocentric interpretations of terms such as Left and Right or “nationalist” to the Israeli political scene was very evident – especially in relation to the subject of traditional support from specific socio-economic groups for certain parties.

Donnison Livni tweet

Tweet by Jon Donnison, 22/1/13

The term “nationalist” (and even “ultra-nationalist” – whatever that may be!) was, for example, employed exclusively – and with implied disapproval – as a description of parties considered by the BBC to be on the Right of the political map, such as Likud-Beiteinu and ‘Jewish Home’. What the BBC failed to grasp is that many of the other parties which it may have categorized as ‘Left’ or ‘Centre’ are no less committed to the principle of national independence and Zionism – the right of Jews to self-determination in their own nation-state.

Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances. 

Broadly speaking – and we see this reflected time and time again in its reporting; not only in relation to the elections – the BBC absolves the Palestinian side of the equation of any responsibility for the progress of the peace process (or lack of it) and turns Palestinians into child-like creatures lacking all agency. That approach was reflected in a strange report which asked Palestinians in Gaza and Ramallah “what the results [of elections in Israel] could mean for them”.

Twenty years of waiting for the Oslo Accords to produce positive results means that for many Israelis, the subject of ‘the peace process’ with the Palestinians is not the most burning issue on the agenda. According to the BBC’s accepted wisdom, however, that is the only subject of importance – and one which it frequently mistakenly describes as ‘Middle East peace’; as though the rest of the region were a bastion of tolerance and harmony.

There can be no doubt that the BBC’s organizational culture – molded by a largely homogeneous political approach to Israel and the Middle East – is what led it to make such dramatically mistaken assumptions which, in turn, produced seriously flawed interpretations which generated a volume of useless reporting and analysis. 

Such mistakes are, of course by no means the exclusive territory of the BBC, but they are also not confined to the subject of the Israeli elections. This blatantly obvious failure to meet its commitment to “explain the world” accurately and impartially to its licence fee-paying funders should, in theory at least, be the catalyst for some very serious introspection on the part of the BBC. 

 

Promoting the BBC’s preferred Middle East narrative: how is it done?

As of 2011, BBC World News had a weekly audience of 74 million people and it is fair to assume that the number has risen since then. One of its daily programmes is named “Impact” – aired every weekday. 

One report seen by those millions of people around the world this week on “Impact” was produced by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Wyre Davies and it is another version of his previous report on Naftali Bennett of the ‘Jewish Home’ party which appeared on the BBC News website. 

Impact Davies

What is interesting about this report is that it provides a very good example of how an agenda can be subtly promoted, without viewers necessarily being aware of the manner in which they are being manipulated. 

At 1:09, whilst standing – a la Bowen – on a pile of rubble somewhere in what is presumably Area C, Davies says:

“In recent months Mr Netanyahu has tried to re-establish his Right-wing credentials by supporting more building in Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land: settlements seen as illegal under international law. But even that isn’t enough to appease some of his critics and former supporters on the Right. One recent report said that there had been a record surge in settlement expansion. Not enough for those on the religious right – who say Netanyahu is still not tough enough with the Palestinians.”

What does Davies do here? First, he promotes the notion of construction on “occupied Palestinian land”. Of course any construction which is going on is exclusively in Area C – the fate of which is – under the terms of the internationally supported Oslo Agreements – supposed to be determined through negotiations. The fact that Wyre Davies may have personally decided that in his opinion this is “Palestinian land” does not make it so until a negotiated agreement defines it as such.

Secondly, Davies trots out that well-worn old BBC cliché – “illegal under international law”. Which specific “international law”, Davies does not inform his viewers – because he cannot. But importantly, he also neglects his obligation to impartiality by failing to mention the fact that there are many varying opinions on that subject. 

Davies says that “one recent report said that there had been a record surge in settlement expansion” under the Netanyahu government. Davies neglects to name the authors of the report he cites, but one can be pretty certain that he is referring to a recent report by the politically motivated NGO ‘Peace Now’; previously promoted on Twitter by his colleague. 

Donnison Shalom Achshav tweet

Obviously, Davies has not bothered to check his facts regarding the so-called “record surge” he is so keen to promote: in terms of actual construction of housing units, the 2009 – 2013 Netanyahu administration pales in comparison to the 1999 – 2001 Labour government under Ehud Barak. 

Later on in his report, Davies says:

“Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak Obama have never been close. Reports from Washington say that the US president is already resigned to a difficult relationship with an even more Right-wing Netanyahu-led government in Israel.”

The notion that leaders of different countries should be “close” is in itself a bizarre one, but the important thing to note in this passage is Davies’ promotion – again – of a “report” which he fails to name, but uses as ‘evidence’ to support his own claims. That “report” is most likely the acrimonious column by Jeffrey Goldberg published on January 15th – also promoted by a BBC Jerusalem Bureau Tweeter.

Danahar Bloomberg tweet

That Goldberg column, it not surprisingly turned out, may have had political motives of its own:

Tweet Dan Senor

What we see here are two methods used by Davies to promote a specific agenda by framing a story in a particular manner. The first method is by use of carefully chosen language: terms such as “illegal under international law” and “occupied Palestinian Land” do not stand up to scrutiny, but when used frequently enough without presentation of the opposing point of view, they become accepted – though erroneous – terminology which steers audiences towards a preferred narrative. 

The second method is the opaque use of anonymous “reports” to back up the claims used to support a particular narrative. By failing to identify the sources of those reports, Davies denies his audiences the right to judge for themselves whether they are of any value or to seek out other opinions. He assumes a patriarchal attitude which places him in the position of gatekeeper of information, doling it out in accordance with his own agenda. 

In no way can this be considered the accurate and impartial reporting of news. Rather, it is the exploitation of a news event as a platform from which to promote a politically motivated, non-transparent agenda by people who want to be opinion-shapers rather than just plain old reporters of the news.

 

Edited out: the election analysis the BBC scrapped

As described in a previous article, the BBC’s coverage of the 2013 Israeli election campaign up until the commencement of polling was a one-dimensional affair which focused upon creating an impression of a country veering to the political far-Right and turning its collective back on the ‘peace process’. 

Once voting began, Jon Donnison – brought in from Ramallah for the occasion – reported from one Jerusalem polling station on January 22nd in an article which appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website. 

Donnison 22 1Like all the previous BBC coverage, Donnison’s report focused on the Likud and ‘Jewish Home’ parties, once again tapping into the much-promoted theme whereby – bizarrely – ‘peace in the Middle East’ is not only defined solely in terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but also suggesting  that it depends entirely upon one factor in the equation:

“And as Israel goes to the polls, that does not bode well for those hoping for peace in the Middle East any time soon.”

Donnison’s report also included an interview with the Jerusalem Post’s chief political correspondent Gil Hoffman. Or at least, parts of an interview. For – as Hoffman later explained on Twitter – it seems that some things said in that interview just did not fit in with the BBC agenda. 

Tweet Gil Hoffman

For those interested in what Gil Hoffman might have had to say – given the chance – here is a recent article in which he explains the myth of the rightward shift. 

But then, a very curious thing happened. Some hours later, Donnison’s report disappeared and – on the same URL and with the same title and synopsis  – a completely different one by Wyre Davies appeared.

version 2 'Netanyahu seeks re-election'

 Hmm…

Roundup of BBC coverage of the Israeli elections

חיילי גילני מצביעים 21 1

IDF soldiers stationed on Mount Hermon cast their votes on January 21st.

An overview of the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli elections up until the commencement of polling by 5,656,705 eligible voters at 10,132 polling stations on the morning of Tuesday, January 22nd 2013 shows some interesting trends. 

The vast majority of the thirty two contending parties have been totally ignored in all BBC coverage since the elections were announced.

Politicians who did get the BBC’s attention are mostly located on the right of the political map. Avigdor Lieberman was the subject of an item by Kevin Connolly broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on January 7th. Naftali Bennett of ‘Jewish Home’ was the subject of another radio item by Connolly (note the description of Machane Yehuda market as being in “West Jerusalem”) and an article by Wyre Davies. An article on Binyamin Netanyahu focused on the subject of his approach to the subject of settlements. 

More general articles on the subject of the elections also largely ignored the centrist and Left-wing parties. Tsipi Livni’s party got a mention in a December 20th 2012 article by Kevin Connolly, but only in the context of her ability to challenge Netanyahu: readers learned nothing about the policies or personalities of ‘HaTnua’. 

In his January 16th ‘roadtrip’ article, Yuval Ben Ami spent the first third of the piece claiming that a lot of people were going to vote for the Orthodox Shas party and the second part focusing on a perceived ominous rise of the right – with particular focus on Bennett and including a very thinly-veiled analogy between him and the European far-Right of the 1930s. Centrist parties get a mention in name alone. 

Under the decidedly dubious headline “Migrant politics”, the BBC informed us that Russian-born Israelis (most of whom have been in the country for at least 20 years) will be voting for the Right.

'Migrant politics'

Contrary to the picture presented in readily-available opinion polls, Wyre Davies was keen to persuade BBC audiences that the main issue in these elections is security. Kevin Connolly produced a superficial article on the subject of the low turn-out to the polls in the Arab sector which, inter alia, completely ignored the influence of the Northern Islamic Movement.

The BBC’s Q&A on the subject of the Israeli elections gets the number of parties contending wrong, inaccurately describes ‘Jewish Home’ as being one of several “new parties” (it was founded in 2008 and held 3 seats in the 18th Knesset) and provides no information about the policies of Centrist or Left parties. 

“There are 34 parties contesting the polls (14 parties are represented in the current Knesset). They range from extreme left to extreme right, and from secular to ultra-Orthodox, and there are Arab as well as Jewish parties. New parties have emerged since the last elections, most notably the ultra-nationalist religious Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, led by Naftali Bennett, a high-tech millionaire and former adviser to Mr Netanyahu.”

Articles relating to the voters themselves included a ‘man in the street’ item which focused mainly on the Jerusalem area and Yuval Ben Ami’s bizarre piece about a fringe movement of Israeli voters donating their votes to Palestinians. 

A last minute article published hours before the polling stations opened, by Kevin Connolly, focused once more upon Netanyahu’s Likud and Bennett’s ‘Jewish Home’ parties, stating that:

“It is very hard to imagine a government led by Mr Netanyahu and with Mr Bennett somewhere in its ranks negotiating seriously about a two-state solution – something that will anger Palestinians and frustrate American and European leaders.”

That theme was again repeated in an article published just as Israelis began to vote.

The BBC’s overall coverage of this election has presented a picture which disproportionately focuses on one side of the Israeli political map.  Audiences will not only have been unable to learn anything about the policies of Centrist and Leftist parties, but will also know nothing about the people leading them. Subjects such as the involvement of Arab women in the political process – which would likely interest readers and viewers in this ‘Arab Spring’ era – have been completely ignored. 

Overall, the BBC’s selective coverage of the elections has had one very specific agenda: to present Israel as a country lurching rightwards and to depict that perceived shift as the exclusive reason for the predicted failure to make progress on the subject of the peace process.

Neither of those assumptions is anchored in reality, but the BBC continues to selectively tailor the news in order to influence audience perceptions. 

BBC’s Davies continues to promote the Palestinian narrative on E1

The BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Wyre Davies is apparently bored by the Israeli elections.

“Whether you support him or not, agree or disagree with his controversial opinions, you might be tempted to utter the words: “Thank goodness for Naftali Bennett.”

He is young, wealthy and is taking this Israeli election by storm as leader of the Jewish Home party.

He has breathed life into what was otherwise becoming a boring and predictable process.”

So bored, it seems, that he cannot even be bothered to get the name of the party predicted to win the most votes right:

'Yisreal'

In his January 19th article – supposedly about Naftali Bennett – which appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website, Davies has little to say that goes beyond the standard clichés used by the media to depict the Israeli political scene. 

Davies Bennett article

However, Davies does seize the opportunity to slip in a loaded description of the anti-terrorist fence: [emphasis added]

“Alongside the huge and controversial separation barrier, which divides Israel from the West Bank, I met David Newman, a professor in politics at Ben Gurion University.”

The location of Davies’ meeting with Newman has no relevance whatsoever to the content of this article. Hence, Davies’ description is not only gratuitous, but its lack of context – and not least the failure to point out that the fence is considerably less “controversial” in the eyes of those whom it protects from suicide bombings – makes it partial.  

Davies also does not pass up the chance to resurrect the BBC’s repeated promotion of the Palestinian narrative according to which the construction of houses in the area known as E1 would spell the end of a Palestinian state – even re-using the BBC’s much touted map which contributes nothing to audiences’ understanding of the issue.  

“With dozens of Jewish settlements already in the area, Palestinians say that if Israel develops E1 it would cut off East Jerusalem and other parts of Palestinian land from each other – denying the possibility of an unbroken future Palestinian state.”

Davies article E1

As BBC Watch has pointed out in previous articles on the subject, a contiguous Palestinian state would not be prevented from coming into being were building to go ahead on the four square miles in E1. 

map E1 camera

Other mainstream media organisations which previously also unquestioningly reproduced the E1 myth have long since corrected that error. It is notable that the BBC continues to be among the few still promoting that falsehood at any and every opportunity.