In June 2014, whilst appearing on the BBC radio 4 programme ‘Desert Island Discs’, Raja Shehadeh gave the following account of his family’s decision to leave Jaffa for their second home in Ramallah in the spring of 1948.
“Jaffa it’s very hot and humid in the summer and so they had a summer-house in Ramallah. When hostilities began they decided it’s safer in Ramallah because it was getting rather dangerous actually – physically dangerous – so they decided, towards the end of April, to take that short drive down to Ramallah – short drive from Jaffa – and my father always thought that if the worst happens – that is the partition – Jaffa was going to be on the Arab side so they will always be able to go back. And they took very few things with them and they were never able to go back.”
That did not prevent Zeinab Badawi from making the following inaccurate and misleading claim in her introduction to the March 16th 2015 edition of ‘Hardtalk’ shown on the BBC World News channel. The same claim appears in the programme’s synopsis on the BBC website.
“My guest today is the award-winning Palestinian author and lawyer Raja Shehadeh. For three decades he has written many books about human rights and the Israeli occupation. His family were forced to leave Jaffa in 1948 and settled in Ramallah on the West Bank where he lives today.” [emphasis added]
Notably, Badawi makes no attempt to inform her audience of Shehadeh’s activities beyond “author and lawyer”: no mention is made of his record of political activism with organisations such as Al Haq and Palfest, meaning that viewers – in clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – are denied the ability to put his comments into their appropriate context.
Predictably, Shehadeh uses the platform provided by the BBC to promote the well-worn language and distortions of anti-Israel campaigning. No less predictably, little effort is made by Badawi to counter that propaganda.
Audiences hear mostly unchallenged references to Israelis as ‘colonisers’, promotion of the ‘apartheid’ trope and comparison to South Africa, the claim that “Israel never left Gaza” along with description of the Gaza Strip as a ‘large prison’ and the claim that the Arab-Israeli conflict is “the most important issue in the world today” and “at the core of the problems of the Middle East”. Shehadeh distorts history both actively and by omission with viewers hearing, for example, an account of his father’s post-1967 proposals which is devoid of any mention of the Khartoum Declaration and a euphemistic representation of the 2013/14 round of negotiations which eliminates the Palestinian Authority’s decision to run those talks aground by means of its reconciliation deal with Hamas.
And so here we have yet another example of the role played by the BBC in mainstreaming anti-Israel delegitimisation and defamation by means of a passive-aggressive failure to challenge the falsehoods and factual distortions promoted by an inadequately introduced political activist.