On March 7th the late night edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item (from 45:07 here) ostensibly about a bill currently under discussion in Israel’s Knesset. In actual fact, what listeners around the world got to hear was promotion of some repetitive politicised messaging and political campaigning.
Presenter Tim Franks began his introduction to the item as follows:
“It’s long been the proud boast of Israel that – in the words of a whole series of ministers from the Left and the Right – that the country is the only democracy in the Middle East.”
Of course not only Israeli politicians make that claim: so does Freedom House. Franks goes on:
“But there are increasingly loud complaints from some inside Israel that those credentials are at risk of being undermined. The latest point of concern is over something called the Government Transparency Law; a piece of legislation working its way through parliament which, if passed, would require Israeli non-governmental organisations which receive more than half their annual budget from a foreign government to publish their accounts.”
However, if listeners at this point thought they were about to hear an explanation of the background to that story and why the initiators of this bill found it necessary to propose such legislation, they would soon have been disappointed. Franks continues:
“Among those who’d be affected would be a group called the New Israel Fund which describes itself as the leading organisation advancing democracy and equality for all Israelis. The NIF’s new president is Talia Sasson. What’s the problem with being asked to publish accounts?”
In fact that claim is inaccurate because (as Franks should know having taken part in events organised by its UK branch in the past) the New Israel Fund is not registered as a non-profit organisation in Israel and hence it would not be affected by this legislation. Further, the US-based organisation claims to raise most of its annual budget from individual donors and foundations.
However, some of the NGOs in Israel which receive funding from the NIF as well as from foreign governments would be affected by the proposed legislation. So in fact listeners are actually about to hear (unbeknown to them) from the representative of an organisation which, despite being based and registered in the US, is campaigning against that legislation alongside Israeli NGOs – at least one of which has received a grant specifically for that purpose from an EU-linked foreign source.
Tim Franks makes no effort to correct the misleading impression given by Sasson with her claim that the legislation is aimed at NGOs on the Left of the political map.
Sasson: “Every NGO in Israel needs to give details about their funding to the Ministry of Justice every three months so transparency, there is. So then you ask yourself why this bill is legislating. So my answer is to do delegitimation [sic] to those organisations – mainly targeted as organisations from the Left – as organisations that are acting against the State of Israel. And this is something that I can’t agree to.”
Later on she repeats that implication:
“Why only those organisations that get their funding from foreign countries and not all the organisations in Israel on the Right that get their funding from private people?”
After a few more questions on the topic of the proposed legislation, Franks changes the subject, asking a series of questions which are obviously designed to convey a particular point to listeners.
“I wonder if there’s a bigger point here though which is that you have long espoused, fought for, campaigned for, which is – broadly – it’s the Left-wing vision of Israel is one that is supported by fewer and fewer people.”
“What I’m wondering though is whether your objections are getting to the point where you say that actually Israel no longer has the right to call itself a fully functioning democracy.”
“You often hear the argument from the Left which is that Israel is running out of time. As long as there aren’t two states – an Israeli state and a Palestinian state – Israel is running out of time to remain as a Jewish state and as a democratic state.”
“Well how quickly is Israel running out of time?”
“The question was – how long does Israel have left to sort this out? Is it years? Is it decades? What is it?”
This is not the first time that BBC audiences have heard Tim Franks promoting the notion that Israel is “running out of time”. Almost exactly three years ago in an interview with the Israeli author AB Yehoshua Franks asked:
TF: “Given the continuation of the conflict..erm…given what is happening inside Israel itself, how long do you think Israel has got?”
ABY: “For what?”
TF: “To continue its existence – as a Jewish state.” […]
TF: “If though – sorry to interrupt – if that doesn’t happen; if there isn’t a two state solution, how long do you think Israel has?”
So whilst listeners once again got a generous dose of Tim Franks’ personal political messaging, they did not actually learn anything about the topic which was supposed to be the theme of the item and gained no insight into subjects such as foreign government intervention in Israeli domestic issues or the activities of some NGOs – including various bodies funded by the New Israel Fund – which are involved in anti-Israel lawfare, boycott and delegitimisation campaigns.
Of course some of those NGOs are also among those regularly quoted and promoted by the BBC. It therefore does not come as much of a surprise to find the corporation providing a platform for the amplification of the NIF’s campaigning narrative.