In any country – including Britain – one can find extremist groups with a racist and/or discriminatory agenda. It is however highly doubtful that the BBC would broadcast a report in which a leader of the BNP or the EDL claimed to have the support of the whole of the British people without that statement being challenged or qualified.
On February 9th a filmed report by freelancer Camilla Schick appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Jerusalem Jewish group on anti-Arab patrol“. The report is about the fringe group ‘Lehava’ and it opens with statements from an unidentified interviewee. Later on Schick speaks to a woman who identifies herself as part of a counter group called ‘Speaking in the Square’ and asks her whether Lehava is “mainstream Israeli”.
Woman: “Not mainstream Israeli…ahm….”
Schick: “But a significant minority.”
Woman: “A minority.”
That exchange does not of course clarify to BBC audiences that Lehava is a small fringe group with very limited following. Later on in the report Schick interviews the group’s leader and the misleading impressions already received by viewers are further compounded.
Schick: “Do you think that your views represent a large section of Israeli society?”
Gopstein: “We are the majority. Most of the nation are with us.”
Schick: “So you would argue that because it’s Jewish law that only Jews can marry Jews, that actually a majority of people in Israel believe in what you do?”
Gopstein: “We do what all the people here think.”
Schick presents no challenge to Gopstein’s delusional and patently inaccurate claims; evidently preferring to leave audiences with the false impression that his group’s extremist ideologies and agenda are supported by “a majority of people in Israel”. She makes no effort to inform audiences of the criticism of the group from the public and politicians alike (even though the BBC has reported on such condemnations in the past) or of the legal and police action taken against its activists.
Although Lehava was established in 2009, the synopsis to the version of this report appearing on the BBC News website clearly attempts to create linkage between that group’s activities and the current wave of terror attacks against Israelis.
“As tensions between Israelis and Palestinians remain high amid spiralling violence, relations between the two communities have become more strained.
Each side views the other with suspicion and hostility, a mood often visible on the streets.
In Jerusalem, an ultra-nationalist Jewish group called Lehava has been organising patrols aimed at stopping Jewish Israelis from even talking to Arabs.
Lehava says it wants to protect Jewish identity – but Left-leaning Israelis monitoring it have condemned Lehava as racist and violent.”
This filmed report is actually just part of an item which appeared on the BBC World News programme GMT. Presenter Lucy Hockings’ very similar introduction to the film also promoted the notion of linkage between the activities of Lehava and the current wave of violence whilst promoting the notion of equivalence.
Hockings: “We take you now though to Israel where tensions between Israelis and Palestinians remain high and relations between the two communities are becoming even more strained. In Jerusalem an ultra-nationalist Jewish group called Lehava has been organizing patrols aimed at stopping Jewish Israelis from even talking to Arabs. Lehava says it wants to protect Jewish identity but Left-leaning Israelis monitoring it have condemned them as racist and violent. Camilla Schick has more.”
After the airing of the clip, Hockings interviewed a member of Lehava named Eli Rakov. During the conversation, viewers again saw an attempt to link Lehava to the current violence in the form of a sub-title reading “Israeli Palestinian tensions: relations between 2 communities becoming more strained”.
Hockings closed that interview with a question which again implies that the current wave of violence can be linked to the activities of Lehava.
“But can I ask you – if you have now got weddings taking place under police protection because your group is there chanting things like ‘death to Arabs’; there is this feeling even that you are creating a climate in which dialogue is offensive and racist – how do you think there can ever be peace in your country?”
In addition to the fact that the placement of Schick’s filmed report as a stand-alone item on the BBC News website clearly misleads BBC audiences by promoting the inaccurate impression that Lehava’s extremist agenda has support from the wider Israeli public, there is an additional aspect to both versions of this report which is worthy of note.
As abhorrent and offensive as Lehava’s agenda and activities are, they are by no means new and have little if any connection to the current wave of terrorism in Israel which – not for the first time – is misleadingly represented by the BBC in equivalent terms such as “tensions between Israelis and Palestinians” and “strained” relations “between two communities”.
Given that the BBC has for five months studiously avoided producing any serious reporting on the issue of the incitement and glorification of terrorism from official Palestinian sources which underpins the ongoing wave of violence and often includes racist themes, it is particularly remarkable that it now chooses to showcase and inflate a fringe Israeli group in order to promote the notion that it is that group’s offensive and racist dialogue which is the barrier to “peace in your country”.