The BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell produced two similar reports – audio and written – concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary, one of which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on November 1st (from 14:06 here) and the other published in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd under the title “Balfour Declaration: The divisive legacy of 67 words“.
As has been the case in all the BBC’s coverage of the centenary (including a previous report by Knell), her portrayal of the document itself erased from audience view the part safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” and no mention was made of the 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands.
In the audio version, Knell’s paraphrasing failed to clarify to listeners that the document specifically referred to the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities.
Audio: “…Britain pledged its support for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine which, it said, shouldn’t prejudice the rights of existing non-Jewish communities.”
Written: “It stated that the British government supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.
At the same time, it said that nothing should “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.”
As was seen in additional BBC coverage, these two reports also promoted the notion of “competing narratives” without providing audiences with the tools to judge their validity.
Audio: “Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports now on how the Balfour Declaration is at the heart of two competing narratives.”
Written: “The British peer Arthur Balfour barely makes an appearance in UK schoolbooks, but many Israeli and Palestinian students could tell you about him.
His Balfour Declaration, made on 2 November 1917, is taught in their respective history classes and forms a key chapter in their two very different, national narratives.”
Both reports promoted Palestinian Authority/PLO messaging portraying the Balfour Declaration as the cause of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but without adequate clarification of the fact that the conflict actually began decades before the State of Israel came into being and that the Arab riots of the early 1920s targeted long-existing Jewish communities in places such as Jaffa and Jerusalem.
Audio: “Meanwhile the Palestinians are planning protests and demanding an apology from the UK government. They see its historic decisions as the source of their unresolved conflict with Israel.”
“The Palestinian education minister Sabri Saydam says it [the Balfour Declaration] led to the modern conflict with Israel.”
Saydam: “We continue to remind our pupils of the pain that’s resulted from the Balfour Declaration, the misery the Palestinians continue to witness every day. The prolonging of the Israeli occupation is seen to be a by-product of the Balfour Declaration.”
Written: “It [the Balfour Declaration] can be seen as a starting point for the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
BBC audiences also found some debatable portrayals of history in these two reports – as will be discussed in part two of this post.