In which a BBC Radio 4 guest compares Israel to a drug addict

Hosted as usual by Paddy O’Connell, the March 22nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s weekly current affairs programme ‘Broadcasting House’ (available here) included Lib Dem MP Menzies Campbell and actor David Schneider among its guests. At 53:50 listeners heard the following extraordinary conversation.Broadcasting House 22 3 15

Paddy O’Connell: “David Schneider […] I think you want to talk to us about Israeli politics.”

David Schneider: “Well, yes. So, I’m Jewish and I was very depressed this…ehm…this week because of the…Netanyahu’s re-election. Sometimes…I mean it’s very complex for me as a sort of Left-wing Jew and my attitude to Israel. Sometimes it feels like a sort of family member with a severe drug addiction.”

PO: “With that warning, what are you reading from?” […]

DS: “There was… there was a glimmer of hope – which is on page 33 of the Observer – that the Joint List – which is an Arab-Jewish alliance – has actually won 13 seats. So despite Netanyahu saying there’ll be no Palestinian state – which he’s now backtracked on slightly after the election – and saying Arabs are heading to the polls in droves on the day of the election – which was just chilling – ehm…there is a glimmer of hope in that, sort of, more Israeli Arabs voted and there is, you know…and Arab-Jewish parties were coming together.”

Beyond the very obvious point (although clearly, not to some) that an election in the Middle East’s most vibrant democracy is about rather more than the ennui of English chatterati, Schneider misleads with regard to the Joint Arab List and O’Connell makes no attempt to correct the inaccurate impression given to listeners.

That, of course, is not surprising: the BBC has failed to inform audiences in all of its coverage of the recent Israeli election that the Joint Arab List is made up of four existing political parties, only one of which can accurately be classified as a Jewish-Arab party. That party – Hadash – has one Jewish member (Dov Hanin/Khenin) on its list and there are no Jewish MKs in any of the other three parties comprising the Joint Arab List. Schneider’s inaccurate description of the Joint Arab List as an “Arab-Jewish alliance” is hence based on the fact that one of the four parties it includes has one Jewish MK. Working on that principle, Schneider would also have to categorise the Likud, the Zionist Union, Meretz and Israel Beiteinu parties as ‘Arab- Jewish alliances’ because each of those parties has one Arab MK. 

No less important is the fact that the Joint Arab List includes the anti-Zionist parties Balad and Ta’al and the Islamist ‘United Arab List’. That information – which has not been communicated to BBC audiences at any point in the corporation’s coverage of the election – is critical to appreciation of the remarkable fact that parties which oppose the existence of Israel as the Jewish state participate in Israeli elections and enjoy representation in the Knesset.

In addition to O’Connell’s failure to correct his guest’s inaccurate portrayal of the Joint Arab List, we also see that he refrains from clarifying to listeners that Schneider’s cherry-picked parts of statements made by Netahyahu on the subject of a Palestinian state and regarding the connection between the foreign-funded V15 campaign and Joint Arab List voters are not complete quotes. O’Connell similarly fails to challenge Menzies Campbell’s equally selective paraphrasing of one of those statements later on in the conversation.

Menzies Campbell: “Netanyahu – quite extraordinary to be as overtly right-wing as he was in the last 24 – 48 hours. The one thing you can be certain of: he caused yet more anxiety and annoyance in the White House. Relations between Obama and Netanyahu have never been good. Those last 24 hours before the election will really have been – forgive the vulgarity – right up the nose of the American president.”

DS: “There is an interesting comment in this article though; that one of the Israeli-Arab leaders says that in a way it’s good that Netanyahu’s won because it’ll be so bad now, it’ll increase international pressure on Israel to end the occupation. It could get so bad now that things will have to change.”

That Israeli-Arab ‘leader’ is Balad branch secretary Sami Abu Shehadeh – a popular source for the Guardian and an unsurprising interviewee for the writer of the article promoted by Schneider, who previously cut her activism-cum-journalism teeth at 972 Magazine and two political NGOs. Paddy O’Connell however makes no attempt to clarify the political background to Schneider’s article of choice. Menzies Campbell continues with the following debatable declaration:

MC: “The problem is – the settlements. And you can’t…there’s no leader of the Palestinians who could possibly accept a settlement which didn’t include East Jerusalem as the cabinet of a Palestinian state. The settlements are proceeding at such a pace that it will soon be impossible for that to be the case.”

O’Connell interjects:

PO: “And I certainly make the point that the Israelis did vote so that although you’ve got your disagreements, he was returned, wasn’t he, against the odds.”

Campbell: “But look at…you know…him saying the Arabs are coming to the polls; you’ve got to get out. I mean imagine if a politician here had said the black vote is coming out; you’ve got to do something, or the Jews or, you know… it’s just impossible to conceive.”

The item ends there but what is actually inconceivable is that none of the people in that BBC studio were aware of the very relevant context that the bulk of parties making up the Joint Arab List oppose the existence of Israel as the Jewish state. Perhaps if they widened their own media consumption beyond the Guardian/Observer and the BBC, they would be able to come up with informative and relevant commentary more useful to BBC audiences than the obviously politically partisan and inaccurate caricature presented in this programme. 

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12 comments on “In which a BBC Radio 4 guest compares Israel to a drug addict

  1. “I was very depressed this…ehm…this week”

    It is perhaps to be appreciated that Mr. Schneider is restricted solely to BBC comedic tasks at this time.

  2. Pingback: Elections 2015: was the BBC’s coverage impartial? | BBC Watch

  3. “…the Middle East’s most vibrant democracy…”
    Sounds a bit like the old Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times, and may your democracy be vibrant.

        • Ok, let’s make it easy to start with – name another democracy in the Middle East. My guess is that there’s only one so it both most vibrant and most frothy by definition. But it does sound like a Chinese curse.

          • I do appreciate the temptation to make it easy. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

            It really rather depends on what you call a democracy.

            According to the Democracy Index (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index), Israel does not qualify as a democracy. It’s only a ‘flawed democracy’ alongside Tunisia.

            If we loosen our corsets a little to consider democratic any country which eligible members elect representatives, then we must also include Kuwait, Lebanon, Turkey, and Morocco.

            However, props to Israel for the vibration!

          • Well, there are many ways to look at it. According to http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_in_the_World#Middle_East_and_North_Africa, Israel is miles ahead of the rest of the region, with only Tunisia joining the “free” countries and that just in the last year.

            And according to the index you refer to, Israel scores 7.63, above most of Eastern and Southern Europe, way above the region’s average of 3.65 and just short of the “full democracy” threshold of 8. So the challenge to find another stable democracy in the region is still standing.

            Kuwait and Morocco are classified as authoritarian regimes by the way so I find your comparison rather stretched.

          • As you so rightly say, there are many ways to look at it.

            Actually, in the round, my own opinion is that Israel is the most democratically developed country in the region, and I consider its achievements in that regard, flawed as they are, laudable in so few decades from a standing start. I have high hopes. Like you, I also scratch my head somewhat at the Freedom House classification of Morocco as a democracy. But I guess that’s the point: it depends how you look at it.

            I do find it encouraging that the Israel-propagandist hasbara brigade have stopped saying “the only democracy in the region” and started saying “the most vibrant democracy in the region.” Comical choice of adjective, but it’s a brief yet significant withdrawal of head from sand.

          • I’m not sure what you mean. Israel was for decades the only democratic state in the region. Now that Tunisia has made the transition, there is another albeit very fragile democracy in the MENA region. Israel remains the only stable democracy in the area, with a proven track record of civil liberties and care for human rights, whichever way you look at it.

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