For well over a year the BBC has been telling its audiences dark – though consistently inaccurate – tales of supposed cultural censorship in Israel.
December 2015, BBC World Service: BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist.
January 2016, BBC News website: How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?.
January 2016, BBC World Service: BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’.
February 2016, BBC Radio 4: How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom.
March 2016, BBC World Service: BBC WS yet again promotes inaccurate claim of Israeli book ‘ban’.
November 2016, BBC World Service: In which the BBC WS stereotypes over 7,000 Israelis as ‘fanatic’ and ‘racist’.
On April 12th BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight‘ jumped on that bandwagon with a filmed report by the BBC’s West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy that was heavily promoted (see here, here, here and here) on Twitter.
The seven minute long report was also uploaded to Youtube where it is presented as follows:
“While the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians remains frozen, Israel is itself divided, not least on issues of culture. There have been fights over plays, music, books, the funding for the arts and academic awards. The populist culture minister – a rising star of the right – is rarely out of controversy. So what is that culture war all about? Thomas Fessy has been finding out.”
Fessy’s report opens with showcasing of a play called ‘Palestine, Year Zero’ and viewers are told that “it deals with an insurance assessor who is estimating the cost of damage done to Palestinian homes by the Israeli authorities” before they see equally context-free subtitles on screen saying “In 2016: 34 homes demolished, 130 people evicted”.
A journalist committed to providing his audiences with an objective view of the story would of course have clarified at this point that the play in question is a political as well as artistic project and that its writer received ‘guidance’ and ‘assisstance’ from individuals and NGOs (eg ‘Zochrot’) that campaign for the elimination of the Jewish state. Fessy, however, tells his viewers that:
“Before it was first performed the office of the culture minister, Miri Regev, assessed it. A complaint had been lodged because the play apparently contained messages of incitement that undermined the state and insulted its symbols.”
Viewers then see the play’s writer and director recount how “scared” she was of people coming to watch rehearsals because of the suspicion that they “had been sent by the culture minister”.
While a complaint concerning the play was indeed lodged, the ominous picture painted by Fessy does not – according to the play’s writer – reflect the whole story and in fact no ministry representative ever visited rehearsals.
Having presented BBC audiences with that partial story, Fessy then goes on to explain the ‘rationale’ behind his report.
“Israel likes to project an image around the world that it is an open society in which dissent is not persecuted. But there’s a growing fear here that a new generation of political leaders wants to shut down critical voices. Some say the culture minister, Miri Regev, is trying to gain control over cultural production, putting the vitality of this country’s culture and its freedom of creation in jeopardy. Many talk of a culture war that has been declared against Israeli artists.” [emphasis added]
Exactly who those “some” and “many” are is not disclosed to viewers.
“Here is a culture minister who has called artists arrogant, hypocritical and ungrateful and she rails against the liberal elite. She set out a so-called loyalty in culture plan, threatening to condition support for cultural institutions or on the contents they present or the place where they perform.”
Later viewers see footage from last November taken in Kiryat Arba as Fessy tells them:
“One of her [Miri Regev] other battlefields: the Jewish settlements. We followed her to Kiryat Arba in the occupied West Bank. That night was the first time that the national theatre had ever come to perform here – a move that many say normalises the residence of settlers in occupied territory, or Judea and Samaria in biblical terms.” [emphasis added]
Fessy once again refrains from disclosing to viewers who the “many” he quotes actually are and he makes no effort to clarify that the financial aid given to theatre groups is financed by taxes paid by Israeli citizens living on both sides of the ‘green line’. He fails to tell audiences that while that may indeed have been the first performance by ‘Habima’ in that specific location, the theatre company has appeared in what he would call “the occupied West Bank” (i.e. in communities in Area C) in the past – long before Miri Regev became culture minister and despite his transparent attempt to create false linkage.
“The culture ministry issued a memo that’s become known as the loyalty form. From now on, cultural institutions that would perform in the occupied West Bank would benefit from a financial bonus. Those that wouldn’t may face funding cuts.”
Failing to provide viewers with the name of the organisation he describes as campaigning “to end the occupation”, Fessy devotes part of his report to a tour of Hebron by an Israeli actress, portraying it as an effort on her part to express dissent.
“But some of the performers want to make their feelings clear. […] Not a word – but her tour said it all.”
Throughout the whole seven minute and twelve second-long report, viewers see just 37 seconds of footage presenting an alternative view of the story. A man at the ‘Habima’ performance in Kiryat Arba is given three seconds of airtime while commentator Isi Leibler accurately and succinctly explains the issue in 34 seconds.
Nevertheless, Fessy chooses to close his report with take-away messaging concerning “a society turning its sights inward” and “censorship”, invoking “the peace process” which of course has absolutely nothing to do with the story.
“As the peace process with the Palestinians remains frozen and with new leaders leaning to more populist agendas, Israel is for now busy fighting on the cultural front.”
Once again we see that the BBC is intent upon promoting – with more than a pinch of artistic licence – a politically motivated non-story concerning an alleged “shut down” of “critical voices” and a “culture war” that simply does not exist.