On January 22nd the BBC News website published an article titled “Switzerland ‘made secret deal with PLO’ after bomb attacks” in which Imogen Foulkes gave a reasonable account of the story and its significance.
“Controversy is growing in Switzerland over an alleged secret deal, made almost 50 years ago, between the Swiss government and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
The agreement, detailed in a new book, was apparently designed to prevent terrorist attacks on Swiss territory.
In return, Switzerland would offer diplomatic support to the PLO. […]
Almost half a century later, with many countries experiencing terror attacks, it seems outrageous to some Swiss that their own government might have done deals with groups classed as terrorists.
What is more, the relatives of those who died in the bombing of the Swissair flight may be justified in feeling angry that no one has ever been brought to justice, especially as Swiss investigators had identified a Jordanian national as the mastermind behind the attack.”
Foulkes mentioned in her article that the Swiss foreign minister at the time used “a member of the Swiss parliament as an intermediary” in his dealings with the PLO, but did not go into further detail. However, in the January 22nd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’, presenter Owen Bennett Jones conducted an interview (from 37:40 here) with that “member of the Swiss parliament”.
OBJ: “And the information has been revealed in a new book by a journalist who wrote that part of the deal-making was organized by a very well-known and long-standing Swiss member of parliament who has also been a UN rapporteur for a bit as well – Jean Ziegler from Geneva – and his wife apparently had contacts in the PLO and they were able to tell the Swiss foreign minister who was who within the organization. Well I spoke to Jean Ziegler earlier: what was his role in this deal?”
Listeners would have noticed that throughout the item both Bennett Jones and Ziegler used the euphemism “Palestinian militants” to describe terrorists who attacked, blew up and hijacked airliners. With no challenge from the BBC presenter, Ziegler also described the PLO as a “Palestinian resistance organization” and misled listeners by describing that organization as having been “just founded” at the time (1970) when in fact the PLO was established in May 1964 – long before there was any ‘occupation’ to ‘resist’.
Ziegler noted that part of the deal was “to open official diplomatic office of the PLO in Geneva at the United Nations; European headquarters of the United Nations.”
Notably though, Owen Bennett Jones made no attempt to inform listeners of the contemporary significance of this story.
Jean Ziegler was indeed “a UN rapporteur for a bit”: he spent a highly controversial term as the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food between 2000 and 2008. Ziegler also co-founded – and received – the infamous (and now defunct) ‘Muammar Al Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights’.
But – as shown on the UN HRC commissioner’s website – Ziegler’s UN career is not a thing of the past. He currently functions as a member of the UN Human Rights Council’s advisory committee (despite opposition to his appointment from the Swiss parliament and the US Ambassador to the UN) and – ironically – in that capacity even co-authored a report on ‘Human rights and issues related to terrorist hostage-taking’.
Considering that regularly the BBC uncritically quotes and promotes statements and content produced by the UN HRC as though they were written in stone, it would have been particularly helpful to BBC audiences to have the dots joined between this past story of a man with sufficient contacts inside a notorious terrorist organization to be able to help broker a self-preserving capitulation to its agenda – including the opening of the door to the UN – and the current advisor to that body’s highly politicised and controversial Human Rights Council.