PA’s anti-Israel campaign at FIFA gets BBC WS amplification again

For years Jibril Rajoub has been exploiting his various sports-related positions in the Palestinian Authority to advance delegitimisation of Israel.

In May 2012, he volunteered to lead a campaign to have Israel expelled from all Olympic unions and committees, stating that he opposes any form of ‘normalisation’ with Israel, including in the field of sports. In June 2012 Rajoub demanded that UEFA cancel Israel’s hosting of the 2013 European Under-21 Championship. 

Not infrequently, Rajoub’s assorted campaigns have been covered on BBC platforms: see for example here, here and here. Over the last two years, the BBC has repeatedly amplified Rajoub’s current campaign against the Israeli football association at FIFA (which is supported by the political NGO HRW) on multiple platforms:

BBC frames anti-Israel delegitimisation campaign as a sports story

Wind in the sails of Jibril Rajoub’s anti-Israel campaign from BBC WS WHYS

Kevin Connolly continues the BBC’s amplification of anti-Israel delegitimisation

BBC WS news bulletins amplify HRW delegitimisation campaign

BBC’s Knell relegates impartiality to the bench in campaigning football report

The latest installment in the BBC’s coverage of Rajoub’s campaign was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on May 9th.  The report by Tom Bateman (from 14:00 here) was introduced by presenter Tim Franks as follows:

Franks: “One of the great myths perpetuated by sports administrators is that sport somehow transcends politics; can fill a pristine space unsullied by grubby squabbling and nationalism. Well this week football’s world governing body FIFA is being asked to wade into one of the most intractable conflicts of the lot: that between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s being asked to rule whether football clubs from Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank should be allowed to carry on playing in Israel’s official leagues. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

As is almost inevitably the case in BBC content, the BBC’s new man in Jerusalem ignored the context to the events which led to Israel taking control of areas previously occupied by Jordan for 19 years.

Bateman: “Fragments of past conflict are hard to avoid here. Beyond Jerusalem’s suburbs, past the checkpoint soldiers under a weight of flack-jackets in the afternoon sun, you can hear the sound of bagpipes. This particular British military remnant belongs to the band of a Palestinian football club in the West Bank premier league – Hilal al Quds. On the sidelines – at least for the match if not in his political life – is Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian football association. Israel, he believes, is breaking FIFA’s rules by allowing in its leagues at least six clubs based in Jewish settlements on the West Bank: land captured by Israel 50 years ago.”

Rajoub: “It’s a crime by the international law. The Israeli federation has no right to organize and administer an official league within occupied territories. The Israeli federation has the right to develop the game within the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel.”

Bateman: “The Israelis say you’re politicising football.”

Rajoub: “No, I’m playing football and I hope that Israelis do understand that they cannot from one side enjoy the statutes and from the other side deny it for the Palestinians.”

Bateman then went to meet the chairman of the football club in Ariel, Shai Berntal.

Bateman: “Well we’re just driving west at the moment and we are heading to Ariel which is one of the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Shai Bernthal [sic] founded the football team when he came here in the 1980s.”

Berntal: “I feel that I belong to this land because [it] is the land of our fathers and mothers from the Bible era. I want to manage the football and to manage the very, very important mission to do a good and genuine football club in Ariel – that’s all.”

Erasing the fact that Ariel is situated in one of the areas that would remain under Israeli control in any realistic agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Bateman continued:

Bateman: “Of course Palestinians will say that this land, this very turf that we’re standing on here is the land that they want for their future state.”

Berntal: “The Jews live here from 2,000 years before them.”

Citing unidentified “critics”, Bateman went on:

Bateman: “He is interested in football, he tells me, not politics. But critics say the two cannot be disentangled in this case. These settlements are considered illegal under international law. Israel disputes this.”

As we see, despite only recently having taken up the post of Middle East correspondent, Bateman has embraced the BBC’s standard mantra on ‘international law’ which fails to inform audiences of the existence of legal opinions that contradict the corporation’s chosen narrative.

Listeners then heard the sound of a clip from a film.

Bateman: “As a new spoof documentary – ‘The 90 Minute War – suggests one of the world’s longest conflicts can be solved in a football match, the real drama may be played out at FIFA’s congress this week. The dispute between the two football associations is now several years old. Israel rejects the complaints. It has long accused Palestinian officials of using sport to glorify terrorism.”

Of course BBC audiences are consistently denied the information which would enable them to know whether “Palestinian officials” do indeed use sport to glorify terrorism and Bateman failed to inform listeners that just a day prior to his report, Rajoub’s Palestinian Football Association organised a tournament named after a terrorist responsible for the murders of 125 Israelis.

Listeners then heard a voice say “I think it’s just a game”. Failing to provide listeners with necessary context concerning Rajoub’s political standing within the PA and Fatah – information which the BBC has repeatedly refrained from providing to its audiences – Bateman went on:

Bateman: “Opponents of the Palestinian FA focus on its boss. Jibril Rajoub – once jailed by Israel for throwing a grenade at a military convoy – has high political ambitions, they say. Alan Baker – a former Israeli diplomat – knew him well. They became Jacuzzi partners during Israeli-Palestinian talks.”

Baker: “We spent hours and hours and hours negotiating and he’s in this for the political power that this gives him among the Palestinian public. The Palestinians are taking an honourable organisation whose purpose is to regulate international football and hijacking it for political ends and politicising it.”

Bateman: “FIFA’s role as referee in this dispute has already seen any decision delayed. This week’s congress may see that extra time extended even further.”

In fact –as Bateman knows – FIFA issued a press release exactly to that effect prior to the broadcast of his report.

The BBC World Service chose nevertheless to broadcast this report once again amplifying Rajoub’s campaign.

While Bateman’s report is certainly not one of the BBC’s worst on this topic, his pseudo-impartial ‘he said-she said’ presentation does not contribute to audience understanding of the story. Considering that BBC audiences have a permanent deficit of information concerning Palestinian glorification of terrorism through sport (and in general), that they rarely receive information on Palestinian Authority internal politics and that their understanding of delegitimisation campaigns against Israel is decidedly limited, it would have been appropriate for Bateman to supply listeners with actual facts rather than repeatedly and unhelpfully telling them what “Israel says”.  

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