As we saw in a previous post, the BBC News website’s reporting on the October 12th announcement from the US State Department regarding withdrawal from UNESCO did not provide BBC audiences with the background information essential for understanding of one of the three cited reasons for that action – anti-Israel bias. Rather, in addition to repeatedly placing that phrase in scare quotes, the article told readers of “perceived anti-Israel bias” at an organisation that passed no fewer than 46 anti-Israel resolutions between 2009 and 2013.
So did listeners to BBC World Service radio fare any better? The same story was the topic of an item aired in the October 12th edition of the programme ‘Newshour‘ which was introduced by presenter Tim Franks (from 17:57 here) as follows:
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Franks: “The US has announced it’s pulling out of the UN’s cultural organisation UNESCO and it’ll be joined by Israel. The State Department said that the decision comes out of concerns with what it called ‘continuing anti-Israel bias’ at the agency. The formal withdrawal will come into effect at the end of next year.”
Franks then introduced the item’s sole interviewee:
Franks: “Crystal Nix-Hines was President Obama’s appointee as the US ambassador to UNESCO until earlier this year.”
Nix-Hines: “I think it’s a terrible decision for the US to withdraw from the organisation it helped found in…right after World War Two to promote peace and international cooperation around the world. And it’s, you know, yet another example of the Trump administration withdrawing from the international community and abdicating its leadership role.”
Franks: “Well you say it was set up in the wake of the Second World War with noble intentions; the argument now is that it has departed from those aims and it is a highly politicised and – in the words of its critics – anti-Israel talking shop.”
Nix-Hines: “Well there’s no question that the resolutions have come out of the executive board adopted by member states have been incredibly inflammatory and quite frankly…ah…offensive. But the thing that people don’t realise is that because the United States has a seat at the table on the executive board, we’re able to block the implementation of those resolutions. We vote no every single time. Sometimes we’re the only member to do so and because of that the UNESCO secretariat does not enforce the resolutions because they aren’t adopted by consensus. By staying out of the organisation, giving up our seat on the executive board, we now lose that critical ‘no’ vote and the resolutions are free to proceed.”
Franks made no effort to pursue the topic of the factors lying behind the politicisation of UNESCO or to explain to listeners that the stream of resolutions (sponsored and supported by assorted Arab states) that erase and deny Jewish history and heritage in the region are part of a long-standing Palestinian campaign to delegitimise Israel. With the BBC often failing to report – or reporting badly – on Palestinian actions at UNESCO, most listeners would be unable to fill in the blanks for themselves. He continued:
Franks: “Well except that I suppose the argument could be used that, I mean, essentially you’re accepting the criticism of UNESCO for having a slant – a bias – against Israel, for denying the Israeli or the Jewish cultural and religious and historical links to sites in Jerusalem, the site in Hebron and actually, you know, using your veto is one thing but actually walking away from the organisation is a…a braver and more honest thing to do until it sorts itself out.”
Nix-Hines: “I disagree. You can’t effect change if you’re not part of the organisation and working to encourage positive change.”
Nix-Hines went on to claim that “UNESCO is the only international organisation that teaches Holocaust education” and “the only organisation that is really doing anything serious to develop educational tools to help young people resist violent extremism and encourage tolerance and multiculturalism” before making a statement that Franks chose not to explore further.
Nix-Hines: “And why should, you know, a power like the United States let the Palestinians and their supporters drive us out of an organisation that we helped found and we’re moving in the right direction?”
Franks’ final question related to the possibility of change at UNESCO that might “persuade the US to reverse its decision”. His interviewee’s response included further political comment:
Nix-Hines”…we [the US delegation] encouraged the organisation to return to that depoliticised time. And they could still do that and it would be a positive step in the right direction. But nonetheless it’s important to stay engaged in these international organisations – as the Obama administration realised – to promote real change.”
Listeners to this item once again heard superfluous qualification appended to the phrase anti-Israel bias. They heard one particular view of the US administration’s announcement – along with one particular shade of political comment – with no alternative view offered.
They did not however hear Tim Franks present any sort of serious challenge to the person who represented the United States at UNESCO for two and a half years on the question of why she and others failed to make any progress in ‘depoliticising’ the organisation in that time.
Listeners to another BBC World Service radio programme the next day heard a repeat of some of Nix-Hines’ comments. That broadcast will be discussed in part two of this post.