On April 25th an article billed “Israel PM snubs German foreign minister” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page with the sub-heading “Sigmar Gabriel had refused to call off talks with Israeli human rights activists”.
The report itself – headlined “Israel’s Netanyahu scraps talks with German minister over rights groups” – opens with a description of the NGOs concerned in the same terms.
“Israel’s prime minister has cancelled talks with Germany’s foreign minister after he refused to call off a meeting with Israeli human rights activists.
Sigmar Gabriel had been due to meet Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
Mr Netanyahu had warned he would not see Mr Gabriel if he met the groups Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.”
The fact that the BBC chose to describe those two political NGOs as “human rights activists” should not be surprising: after all, both ‘B’tselem‘ and ‘Breaking the Silence‘ are among the campaigning NGOs (overwhelmingly from one end only of the political spectrum) that are routinely quoted and promoted in BBC content.
However, in breach of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality, the BBC has a longstanding policy of consistently refraining from adequately informing its audiences with regard to the foreign funding, agenda and “particular viewpoint” of the NGOs it promotes in Israel-related content – including ‘B’tselem‘ and ‘Breaking the Silence‘.
In this particular report readers are told that:
“Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers, gathers anonymous testimony from within the military about alleged abuses of Palestinians by the army.
Israeli authorities have accused it of making unreliable accusations.”
They are not however informed that a significant proportion of those ‘testimonies’ have been shown by persons completely independent of the “Israeli authorities” to be false, exaggerated or unverifiable.
With regard to B’tselem, the BBC’s report states:
“B’Tselem is one of Israel’s leading human rights groups and has come under similar criticism.”
Readers are not told that B’tselem was one of the sources of dubious casualty figures (also used by the BBC) during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas or that it engages in ‘lawfare‘ campaigns intended to delegitimise Israel – the one country it openly admits to wanting to see “punished” by the international community.
Both ‘B’tselem’ and ‘Breaking the Silence’ are generously foreign funded campaigning NGOs with a clear and specific political agenda. The BBC’s anodyne portrayal of those groups as ‘human rights activists’ is a barrier to audience understanding of this story.