Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the BBC News website’s coverage of the session held at the UN General Assembly on December 21st. In this post we will look at coverage of the same topic on BBC World Service radio, beginning with programmes aired before the vote took place.

[all emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

1) ‘OS‘, BBC World Service radio, 21/12/17, presented by Nuala McGovern, from 00:30 here.

McGovern: “You may have heard me say at the very top of the hour about the United Nations; that they’re preparing to vote on a resolution that would condemn president…US President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, she’s just been speaking.”

Listeners then heard a segment from the US ambassador’s speech which would be repeated in additional BBC radio items relating to the same story.

“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.

America will put our embassy in Jerusalem. That is what the American people want us to do, and it is the right thing to do. No vote in the United Nations will make any difference on that.

But this vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN. And this vote will be remembered. Thank you.”

McGovern then brought in the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher, adding her own editorialised comments. 

McGovern: “Ahm…very strong words. I was struck by them listening to Nikki Haley. She is not prepared to apologise in any way obviously for the embassy moving but also seems to be standing firm as in there will be consequences to this vote.”

During the conversation with Zurcher, listeners heard a recording of statements made by the Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at the UN which were also repeated in other programmes.

Cavusoglu: “Before this meeting a UN member state threatened all the other members. We were all asked to vote no or face the consequences. Some are even threatened with the development aid cut. Such an attitude is unacceptable. This is bullying and this chamber will not fall to do that. It is unethical to think that the words and dignity of member states are for sale. Let me put it this way: we will not be intimidated. You can be strong but this doesn’t make you right.”

Later on in the same programme, listeners heard a report from the BBC’s Sally Nabil at the UN.

2) ‘Newshour‘, BBC World Service radio, 21/12/17, presented by Julian Marshall, from 33:04 here.

Marshall: “Members of the UN General Assembly have been threatened by the Trump administration ahead of a vote later today on US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On Monday the United States vetoed a resolution in the UN Security Council calling on the US to withdraw its recognition. That same resolution will now go before the UN General Assembly and ahead of the vote President Trump has threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that go against the US.”

Marshall later brought in the BBC’s Nada Tawfik who told listeners that “when you speak to member states they do expect about 180 countries possibly out of 193 at the UN General Assembly to support this”. When the vote later took place, fifty-two fewer countries supported the resolution than predicted by Tawfik.

The item also included an interestingly timed report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman (from 37:31) concerning evangelical Christian groups from the US touring Israel, with Bateman claiming that members of such groups had voted for Trump in huge numbers and were one of the reasons – together with “support from Jewish donors in the US” – for the US president’s December 6th announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The BBC World Service also aired an item on the story after the UN GA vote had taken place.

3) ‘Newshour‘, BBC World Service radio, 21/12/17, presented by Tim Franks, from 35:58 here.

Franks: “Not all votes at the United Nations are equal. Ones emanating from the UN General Assembly are non-binding but the effects of today’s vote in the assembly could, at least according to President Trump, be long-lasting. He’s warned that the US will remember those countries which voted for the resolution overwhelmingly passed today. The resolution calls on the US to withdraw its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Mr Trump said that the list of yea-sayers would be recounted next time they come asking for aid or help from Washington.”

Listeners then heard the same recording of the Turkish foreign minister’s statements aired in other programmes as well as part of the statement made by the US ambassador to the UN GA.

Franks next interviewed Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, Abdallah al-Mouallimi and began by asking him if he was “concerned about that threat from Nikki Haley and indeed from President Trump”.

Al Mouallimi: “Yes I do hope that this vote will be remembered by the United States because it is a vote in which the entire [sic] international community is making the point that the move taken by the United States is not within its right and it’s not appropriate and should not have been made – certainly not at this time and not outside the parameters of an agreed solution to the situation.”

Franks later asked the Saudi Arabian ambassador what he thought about the statement made by Nikki Haley according to which – in Franks’ own words – “the UN seems to have a particular thing about Israel and a particular thing about Jerusalem and its business is skewed towards taking what they hope are free hits against Israel and against Jerusalem”. Audiences heard the following unchallenged response.

Al Mouallimi: “Well the United Nations should have a special thing about Israel because Israel is an occupying power. It continues to occupy the Palestinian land for now more than 50 years. It continues to deny the Palestinians the right for self-determination. It continues to claim Jerusalem as its own capital without regard to the interests of the Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the city and in the area.”

As we see, the BBC World Service was far more preoccupied with informing audiences about what it portrayed as “threats” issued by the United States than it was with providing them with the context to this UN GA resolution and vote. Notably, with the exception of the recording of Nikki Haley speaking at the General Assembly, listeners did not hear the views of either American or Israeli officials on the story. 



BBC News reverts to ignoring Gaza missile fire

At around noon on December 29th sirens warning of incoming missiles sounded in parts of Israel’s Western Negev region. 

“Three rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip Friday, the army said, in the first such incident in over a week.

Two of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, while the third fell in Israeli territory in the Shaar Hanegev region, on the Gaza border.

Police said they found the rocket at the entrance to a building that had sustained damaged from the fall.

Rocket warning sirens were heard shortly before midday in the Shaar Hanegev and Sedot Hanegev regions, sending frightened residents running to shelters.”

The IDF later responded with strikes on two Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip.

The BBC did not produce any coverage of the incident.

Since the beginning of the year there have been sixteen separate incidents of missile attacks launched from the Gaza strip and five separate incidents of attacks launched from the Sinai Peninsula. The BBC’s English language services have reported just three (14%) of those attacks.

(The table relates only to missiles that landed in Israeli territory and does not include shortfalls, interceptions or failed attacks)

Related Articles:

For the first time this year, BBC reports Gaza rocket attacks on Israeli civilians

Weekend long read

1) At the Middle East Quarterly, Wolfgang G. Schwanitz discusses ‘The “Ottoman Balfour Declaration”‘.

“In October 1917, as British forces knocked at Jerusalem’s gates, the Ottoman authorities declared a string of draconian steps aimed at destroying the Jewish community in Palestine (the Yishuv). Should the Turks be driven from Palestine, threatened Djemal Pasha, governor of the Levant and one of the triumvirs who ran the Ottoman Empire during World War I, no Jews would live to welcome the British forces.

Less than a year later, on August 12, 1918, Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha, Djemal’s co-triumvir, issued an official declaration in the name of the Ottoman government abolishing these restrictions and expressing sympathy “for the establishment of a religious and national Jewish center in Palestine by well-organized immigration and colonization.”

Though issued far too late to have any concrete effect—nearly half a year after the British conquest of Palestine and some eighty days before the Ottoman surrender—the significance of the declaration cannot be overstated. Here was the world’s foremost Muslim power mirroring the British government’s recognition (in the November 1917 Balfour Declaration) of the Jewish right to national revival in Palestine, something that many Muslim states refuse to acknowledge to date.”

2) At the Algemeiner, Ben Cohen writes about a statement concerning the AMIA bombing case made by one of the political NGOs most frequently quoted and promoted by the BBC.

“The influential NGO Human Rights Watch rose to the defense of the previous Argentine government on Wednesday — two weeks after a federal judge indicted former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and several of her senior colleagues for allegedly colluding with Iran in the cover-up of Tehran’s responsibility for the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

In a statement, HRW claimed that there was “no evidence that would seem to substantiate those charges.”

“Relatives of victims of the AMIA terrorist attack deserve justice for this heinous crime,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at HRW. “But, instead of promoting accountability, this far-fetched indictment further tarnishes the credibility of the Argentine judiciary over the AMIA attack investigations.””

3) At the Gatestone Institute, Khaled Abu Toameh reports on a new law in Iraq discriminating against Palestinians.

“Earlier this week, it was revealed that the Iraqi government has approved a new law that effectively abolishes the rights given to Palestinians living there. The new law changes the status of Palestinians from nationals to foreigners.

Under Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator, the Palestinians enjoyed many privileges. Until 2003, there were about 40,000 Palestinians living in Iraq. Since the overthrow of the Saddam regime, the Palestinian population has dwindled to 7,000.

Thousands of Palestinians have fled Iraq after being targeted by various warring militias in that country because of their support for Saddam Hussein. Palestinians say that what they are facing in Iraq is “ethnic cleansing.”

The conditions of the Palestinians in Iraq are about to go from bad to worse. The new law, which was ratified by Iraqi President Fuad Masum, deprives Palestinians living in Iraq of their right to free education, healthcare and to travel documents, and denies them work in state institutions. The new law, which is called No. 76 of 2017, revokes the rights and privileges granted to Palestinians under Saddam Hussein. The law went into effect recently after it was published in the Iraqi Official Gazette No. 4466.”

4) At Mosaic Magazine Professor Martin Kramer discusses “The Fantasy of an International Jerusalem“.

“In the uproar over President Trump’s announcement of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, one constant refrain has been the insistence that, by longstanding international consensus, the city’s status has yet to be decided. In the portentous words of the recent UN General Assembly resolution protesting the American action, “Jerusalem is a final-status issue to be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant United Nations resolutions.”

The most “relevant” of those prior resolutions was the November 1947 resolution proposing partition of Palestine and envisaging, in addition to two independent states, one Arab and one Jewish, an entirely separate status for Jerusalem as a city belonging to no state but instead administered by a “special international regime.”

One might have thought that the wholesale Arab rejection of the entire partition plan, in all of its parts, would also have put paid to the idea of an internationalized Jerusalem. Evidently, however, this fantasy is too convenient to lie dormant forever.

That is why it’s useful to know that, almost exactly three decades before the 1947 UN plan, internationalization of Jerusalem was killed—and killed decisively. Who killed it? Thereby hangs a tale, but here is a hint: it was neither the Arabs, nor the Jews.” 

Mapping the BBC’s branding of declarations on Jerusalem as ‘controversial’

On December 25th the BBC News website published a report titled “Jerusalem: Guatemala follows US in planning Israel embassy move” which opened as follows:

“Guatemala is to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, becoming the first country after the US to vow to do so.

It was one of only nine to vote against a UN resolution which in effect repudiated the US’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Israel’s PM thanked Guatemala’s president, but Palestinians branded the decision “shameful and illegal”.

Donald Trump’s controversial declaration on Jerusalem has been widely spurned around the world.”

Under the sub-heading “Why is Guatemala doing this?” readers were told that:

“President Jimmy Morales made the announcement on Facebook, noting the “excellent relations” between Guatemala and Israel.

He did not say when the move would happen.

Guatemala, along with 12 other countries, had their embassies in Jerusalem until 1980, when they moved them to Tel Aviv after Israel annexed East Jerusalem, in a move not recognised internationally. All other countries still have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Guatemala and Israel have a long history of political, economic and military ties. The Central American country is also a major recipient of US aid – something which Donald Trump threatened to cut to states that voted in favour of the UN resolution.”

Guatemala’s embassy in Israel is currently in Herzliya rather than Tel Aviv but the same erroneous statement also appeared in a report aired on BBC World Service radio programme ‘OS‘ on December 25th. Presenter Ben James told listeners (from 05:35 here) that:

James: “We’re going to talk more about Guatemala’s decision now to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, backing the US president Donald Trump’s controversial announcement that the US recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, expressing that through the location of the embassy.”

James then introduced his colleague Arturo Wallace from the BBC World Service’s Spanish language service BBC Mundo.

Wallace: “A lot of it has to do with, you know, what the United States wanted and Guatemala trying to prove that they are, like, reliable allies from [of] the United States. You know it’s always been a very, very strong relationship. United States is the biggest foreign investor, you know, huge provider of foreign aid. Guatemala, I believe, is the fourth country in the whole world in terms of foreign aid from the United States.”

After telling listeners that a lot of people from Guatemala live in the United States, Wallace seemed to suggest that repercussions against those people could occur if Guatemala did not follow the US’ lead, saying:

“…policies regarding immigration from that would have a big effect on Guatemala’s economy.”

He continued:

Wallace: “But funnily enough Guatemala also has a very strong relationship with Israel. […] Guatemala was actually the second country in the world to vote for the recognition of Israel at United Nations and ever since they have had diplomatic relationships. It was the first country ever in having an embassy in Jerusalem and they kept it there till 1980.”

BBC World Service Middle East analyst Alan Johnston then joined the conversation but had little to add other than more promotion of a now well-established BBC mantra:

Johnston: “…There’s a huge amount of tension on the city [Jerusalem] as a result of President Trump’s move…”

As we see, both these BBC reports steer audiences towards the view that Guatemala’s decision was dictated by its relations with the United States. Guatemala’s foreign minister has rejected such claims.

“The United States did not pressure Guatemala into announcing it will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the Central American state’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

“There wasn’t any pressure. There wasn’t any overture from the United States to make this happen. This was a decision by the government, the state and the foreign policy of Guatemala,” the minister, Sandra Jovel, told a news conference in Guatemala City. […]

Jovel said the plan to put the embassy in Jerusalem “had been considered for the past five months, and things just lined up in a certain way and also the resolutions in the UN and everything contributed to saying that now was the right time.”

Guatemala’s assertion that it decided the move alone, without being pressed by the United States, follows criticism from the Palestinian foreign ministry and a focus on how reliant the country is on US aid and trade.”

Notably, in contrast to its copious portrayal (including in these two reports) of the December 6th US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as “controversial”, the BBC did not use that term to describe the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s December 13th declaration of “East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine”. And when Iran’s parliament declared Jerusalem “the everlasting capital of Palestine” on December 27th, the BBC did not even report that development, let alone brand it as “controversial”.  

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Radio 4 programme synopsis breaches BBC’s own style guide

h/t EM

The BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” – published on the recommendation of the BBC Governors’ independent panel report on the impartiality of BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2006 – instructs the corporation’s staff not to use the term Palestine except in very specific circumstances.

“There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel.

In November 2012 the PLO secured a vote at the UN General Assembly, upgrading its previous status as an “entity” so that the UN now recognises the territories as “non-member observer state”.

The change allows the Palestinians to participate in UN General Assembly debates. It also improves the Palestinians’ chances of joining UN agencies.

But the UN vote has not created a state of Palestine (rather, it failed in its bid to join the UN as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support in the Security Council).

So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.

But clearly BBC journalists should reflect the changed circumstances when reporting on the UN itself and at the Olympics, where the International Olympics Committee recognises Palestine as a competing nation.

Best practice is to use the term Palestine firmly and only in the context of the organisation in which it is applicable, just as the BBC did at the Olympics – for example: “At the UN, representatives of Palestine, which has non-member observer status…”” [emphasis added]

In the past we have seen that guidance ignored on several occasions and in recent months, more frequently.

On December 27th BBC Radio 4 twice aired an edition of the programme ‘Soul Music’ relating to Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. In the synopsis to that programme, BBC audiences were told that:

“For Grammy Award Winning artist John Legend, it’s become an anthem for addressing the criminal justice system of America whilst in Palestine, for ‘Musicians without Borders’ practitioner Ahmed al ‘Azzeh it’s a song that inspires him to work towards a better life.” [emphasis added]

Listeners to this programme about a song heard the following unrelated context-free politicised statements (from 06:17 here) from Ahmed al ‘Azzeh:

“My name is Ahmed al Azzar and I am a Palestinian refugee [who] lives in Bethlehem in the smallest camp. It’s about 200 meters length by 150 meters, where 2,000 people lives there. It is not as anyone would wish to live in.”

Listeners are of course not told that the Beit Jibrin (Azza) camp is located in Area A and has been under the full control of the Palestinian Authority for the past twenty-two years. Neither are they encouraged to ponder the question of why, after over two decades, the PA still keeps part of its population in such camps or why refugee status is inherited by Palestinians. Ahmed al Azzar’s record as a professional activist with an anti-Israel political NGO is not revealed to listeners.

In other words, in a programme supposedly about music, BBC Radio 4 audiences were given a dose of context-free political messaging from a selected interviewee and a geographical description that breaches BBC guidance.

Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part one

The session concerning the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city that was held at the UN General Assembly on December 21st was the subject of several articles published on the BBC News website.

The day before the meeting took place – December 20th – an article headlined “UN Jerusalem vote: US ‘will be taking names’” which was previously discussed here appeared on the BBC News website.

An additional article published on the same day ran under the headline “Jerusalem UN vote: Trump threatens US aid recipients” and like the day’s earlier report, it too promoted the partisan map of Jerusalem produced by the political NGO B’tselem that has been regularly featured in past BBC content and – inter alia – portrays the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem as an ‘Israeli settlement’. The article also included the exact same copy/paste context-lite background concerning Jerusalem seen in previous reports. 

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel occupied the east of the city, previously occupied by Jordan, in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.

 The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries currently maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. However, President Trump has told the US state department to start work on moving the US embassy.”

Following the UN GA vote on December 21st, the BBC News website published an article titled “Jerusalem: UN resolution rejects Trump’s declaration” which was amended numerous times. That article too included the exact same ‘background’ concerning Jerusalem and the partisan B’tselem map. Readers were provided with a break-down of the results.

“The non-binding resolution was approved by 128 states, with 35 abstaining and nine others voting against.”

Later on readers were also told that:

“There were 21 countries who did not turn up for the vote.”

Despite 63 nations (33.7% of the total) not having voted in favour of the resolution, the apparently mathematically challenged BBC Breaking News Twitter account declared that “three quarters” of the 193 UN members had voted for the resolution.

On December 22nd the BBC News website published a ‘guide’ titled “How did your country vote on the Jerusalem resolution?” and on December 23rd an article by Nada Tawfik was published under the title “US plays hardball at UN over Jerusalem vote“.

In that article Tawfik portrayed the chronic anti-Israel bias at the UN as a ‘claim’ made by the current US administration.

What a difference a year, and a new administration, makes. When the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, made her debut at the UN headquarters in New York, she warned: “For those who don’t have our backs, we’re taking names.”

The new Trump administration came in openly hostile toward the international body for being, it claimed, biased against Israel.”

Tawfik’s article also promoted a quote concerning international law that is liable to mislead audiences.

“French ambassador Francois Delattre said the resolution adopted “only confirms relevant international law and provisions on Jerusalem. This vote must not divide or exclude”.”

In summary, the BBC News website published five articles pertaining to the December 21st UN GA vote, three of which included inadequate historic background and promoted a partisan map produced by a political NGO. The additional two articles did not provide any information whatsoever that would enhance audience understanding of the background to the story.

Once again we see that the BBC’s coverage of the topic of Jerusalem is focused on promoting a specific political narrative rather than on providing audiences with the full range of information and opinions needed for them to make up their own minds on the subject.  

Related Articles:

BBC News still promoting information on Jerusalem from partisan NGOs

BBC’s ‘Trump Jerusalem syndrome’ plumbs new depths

The BBC’s multi-platform coverage of the US president’s December 6th announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city has, by any standard, been manic.

Since December 4th BBC audiences have seen dozens of articles and scores of radio and TV reports on that subject – which the corporation has also managed to shoehorn into reporting on topics including Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem and the seasonal Papal address

However, on December 26th BBC World Service radio managed to plumb new depths of hyperbole when, in the synopsis to a clip from its programme ‘Newsday’ that was promoted on social media, it told audiences that:

“Jerusalem has arguably has never felt more divided and anxious following US President Donald Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”

Really, BBC World Service?

Does Jerusalem now feel “more divided” than when Jordan expelled the Jewish residents of the Old City in 1948 and destroyed fifty-eight synagogues? Is the city “more anxious” than it was when Jordanian snipers regularly took pot shots at Israeli civilians from behind the armistice line?

Does Jerusalem really currently feel “more anxious” than during the long years in which Palestinian terrorists regularly targeted Israeli civilians eating pizza, drinking coffee, riding a bus, celebrating a Bar Mitzva or shopping in the market? Is it “more divided” than when residents of the city’s Jabel Mukaber neighbourhood slaughtered early morning worshippers at a synagogue in its Har Nof district?

The BBC urgently needs to get a grip on itself. While its feverish coverage of the US president’s announcement transparently promoted a politically motivated narrative from the start, the continuing frenzied portrayal of that topic is increasingly making the media organisation that describes itself as “a provider of news that you can trust” look simply ridiculous.

Related Articles:

An overview of BBC News website coverage of the US embassy story

How did BBC radio frame the US announcement on Jerusalem?


BBC World Service Group email:

BBC’s Knell deletes history in Jerusalem walkabout on Radio 4

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondentclaims to provide listeners with “insight, wit and analysis from BBC correspondents, journalists and writers from around the world” but which of those was intended to apply to the item by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell that appeared in the programme’s December 23rd edition is unclear.

After all, no journalist can truly be said to have offered ‘insight’ and ‘analysis’ on the subject of Jerusalem if he or she refrains from providing audiences with the relevant context of the city’s historical background – not least that pertaining to the circumstances under which the city was divided for the only time in its history by a nineteen-year long Jordanian occupation.

Nevertheless (but, given the BBC’s record on that issue, not surprisingly) Yolande Knell did just that.

Programme presenter Kate Adie set the scene (from 06:52 here), ironically ignoring the issue of the BBC’s weighty contribution to the phenomenon she described in her opening sentence.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “Jerusalem has rarely been out of the news this month since Donald Trump announced that the US now recognises the ancient holy city as Israel’s capital and will move its embassy there from Tel Aviv. This week a large majority at the UN General Assembly backed a resolution effectively calling on Washington to reverse its decision – despite threats from Mr Trump to cut off aid to those voting in favour. The international view has long been that any change in the status of Jerusalem can only come about as part of a negotiated peace agreement. But what do ordinary Israelis and Palestinians think of all this? Yolande Knell has been to the Old City where she found plenty of food for thought.”

Notably, Adie failed to inform listeners that the resolution passed at the UN GA is non-binding and of course refrained from mentioning the absurdities that lie behind “the international view”.

Having set the scene with descriptions of Hanukkah donuts and sahlab, Knell got down to business.

Knell: “But I’m here to get a taste of public opinion. The future of the city, with its sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, is one of the most intractable issues in the entire Israel-Palestinian conflict. High up in the Tower of David – an ancient citadel – I find Ayelet with her sons who are off school for the Jewish holiday. She praises Mr Trump as bold and honest, although her mother Yirat [phonetic] exclaims, ‘generally speaking we don’t need his statements. We’ve known for three thousand years that Jerusalem is ours’. Most Israelis say the same. Religiously and culturally they see the city as their eternal, undivided capital. And since the creation of the modern state, Jerusalem has been Israel’s seat of government and home to its supreme court.”

Knell then described the Old City – which of course includes the ancient Jewish Quarter – as ‘East Jerusalem’ while making no effort whatsoever to inform listeners of the relevant topic of the ethnic cleansing of Jews from that part of Jerusalem (and others) as a result of Jordan’s belligerent invasion in 1948.

Knell: “But what makes the status of the city so contentious is the part where we’re standing: East Jerusalem. It was captured by Israel in a war with its Arab neighbours fifty years ago and annexed. That move wasn’t internationally recognized – a fact that pains Yirat and Ayelet. They hope the new US decision will lead to what they call more important steps. ‘We have to come here to look at the place where the story of Hanukkah happened’ says Yirat as she points across the Old City rooftops. ‘Over there; that’s Temple Mount’.”

Knell went on to put history supported by archaeological evidence on a par with religious belief.

Knell: “The site where two biblical temples are believed to have stood is the holiest place on earth for Jews. But it’s also the third holiest site for Muslims who believe the prophet Mohammed rose to heaven from the spot under the gleaming Dome of the Rock next to al Aqsa Mosque. Non-Muslims can visit but can’t pray in the compound.”

She then paraphrased her next Israeli opinion:

Knell: “It’s awareness of all these religious sensitivities that worries Rob, a British Israeli who’s also climbed the tower with his children.”

After a brief description of the Hanukkah story, Knell repeated a practice that has previously been seen on numerous occasions in BBC coverage of this story in recent weeks. Rather than informing listeners of the US Embassy Act passed by Congress in 1995 and its reaffirmation in the Senate just months ago, she portrayed the US president as having ‘gone rogue’.

Knell: “Rob doesn’t dismiss the idea that Mr Trump’s pronouncement on Jerusalem – breaking with decades of previous US policy – could end up being a turning point in the Middle East peace process. But at the same time he sees the president as ‘a bit wacky’ and warns his gesture could provoke Arab extremists.”

Knell continued, following the standard BBC formula of amplifying Palestinian claims even after audiences have been told that Israeli claims are null and void because the ‘international community’ says that “any change in the status of Jerusalem can only come about as part of a negotiated peace agreement”. The BBC’s repeated employment of that formula of course suggests to its audiences that recognition of Jewish sovereignty represents a ‘change in the status of Jerusalem’ while Palestinian demands regarding Jerusalem do not.  

Knell: “Palestinians have reacted furiously to the change in the US position. They still want East Jerusalem as the capital of their desired future state and say that Washington can no longer claim to act as an honest peace broker. There have been protests and clashes with Israeli security forces across the Palestinian territories.”

Knell then moved on to Damascus Gate, again describing the food on sale nearby before bringing in the Palestinian side of “public opinion”.

Knell: “I ask Nasser, who’s carrying his prayer mat on the way back from al Aqsa, for his reaction to recent events. ‘Trump’s a crazy man’ he sighs ‘he says he wants to make peace but he’ll just make war’. ‘Jerusalem’s in our hearts’ he goes on ‘this is our land, it’s an Arab city. What about the rights of Muslims and Christians?'”

Knell of course did not bother to inform audiences that only under Israeli rule have all three religions been able to visit and worship at their holy sites in Jerusalem. She went on:

Knell: “Another Palestinian I speak to, Dahlia [phonetic], is a Christian tour organiser who says she can trace her family’s presence in Jerusalem for centuries. She tells me she was disgusted but not surprised by the US president’s declaration.”

Notably, we next learn that – despite having failed to produce any meaningful reporting on the topic over the last weeks – Yolande Knell is aware of the incitement to violence coming from PA officials and various Palestinian factions.

Knell: “But she admits that despite her expectation that all hell would break loose, so far there hasn’t been anything like the uprising that some leaders were calling for. Her fear now is that regional alliances are shifting and that despite recent shows of support at the UN, the Palestinian nationalist cause is no longer an international priority – even for some of its traditional backers in the Middle East.”

Knell closed her item:

Knell: “Returning along the winding streets takes me away from modern politics. I find myself listening to a guide recounting stories of prophets, kings and caliphs of ages past to awe-struck tourists. What’s not yet clear is the extent to which Donald Trump will go down as an important name in the long, rich history of this holy city.”

For over three weeks the BBC has been promoting a monochrome – and hyperbolic – portrait of the story of the US announcement concerning Jerusalem that fails to provide audiences with the historical background necessary for full understanding of the issue, whitewashes US legislation that has existed for over two decades and promotes a partisan narrative. This item from Yolande Knell made no effort to get beyond that template and failed to provide Radio 4 listeners with anything remotely different to what they have been hearing repeatedly since early December.  


Was BBC News reporting of the Pope’s Christmas address accurate and impartial?

On December 25th visitors to the BBC News website’s main homepage, its ‘World’ page and its ‘Middle East’ page found a report presented as follows:

Contrary to the impression given by that presentation, the Pope’s Christmas address did not include any mention whatsoever of the US president or his December 6th announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The BBC article reached by clicking on that link – titled “Urbi et Orbi: Pope calls for peace for Jerusalem” – is 401 words long. Twenty-one of those words related to the US president:

“US President Donald Trump recently announced that America recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The controversial move drew international condemnation.”

Seventy-four words were devoted to the topic of the non-binding resolution passed the previous week by the UN General Assembly.

“Last week, UN members decisively backed a non-binding resolution that said any decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem were “null and void” and must be cancelled. […]

Guatemala has said it plans to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, following Mr Trump’s announcement.

It joined the US and Israel, and Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo, in voting against the UN resolution.

However, 128 countries backed the resolution while others abstained.”

A total of 155 words were used to provide background information – in part politically partisan and lacking sufficient historical context – concerning Jerusalem.

“Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their future capital, and all countries currently keep their embassies in Tel Aviv. […]

Jerusalem is home to sites sacred to Judaism and Islam, and because of its role in the life of Jesus, the city is also one of the holiest places for Christians.

The city’s status goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally and, according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The Papal address itself was given 151 words of coverage with one hundred and three of those words relating to Israel and the Palestinians and a mere 25 words relating to the rest of the world.

“Pope Francis has used his traditional Christmas Day message to call for “peace for Jerusalem” and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

Acknowledging “growing tensions” between them, he urged a “negotiated solution… that would allow the peaceful co-existence of two states”. […]

The Roman Catholic leader gave his Urbi et Orbi speech, which in Latin means “To the city and world”, in Saint Peter’s Square.

“On this festive day let us ask the lord for peace for Jerusalem and for all the Holy Land,” he told the crowd.

“Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful co-existence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders.”

The pontiff’s speech touched on other pressing international issues, from the migration crisis to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, from Venezuela to North Korea.”

BBC audiences would clearly get the impression from that report that the focus of the Pope’s address was on Israel and the Palestinians and that he merely “touched on” other issues.

However, examination of the actual 932 word address delivered by the Pope shows that while he used 118 words to speak about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he devoted 439 words to speaking about other topics including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Africa, Venezuela, North Korea, Ukraine, Myanmar, Bangladesh, children of unemployed parents, migrants and child labour.

So while 80.5% of the BBC’s coverage of the speech related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in fact that topic featured in just 21.2% of the parts of the address relating to specific countries and issues and in 12.7% of the speech as a whole.

Obviously the BBC News website cannot claim to have reported that Papal address in a manner that accurately and impartially reflects its content and its focus.

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part two

h/t RB

As we saw in part one of this post the BBC’s Christmas reporting from Bethlehem presented a uniform portrayal of diminished numbers of visitors to the city that was attributed exclusively to “increased tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli army since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”.

BBC World Service radio listeners were not spared politicised messaging either. The December 24th edition of ‘The Newsroom’ opened with an item about Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem (from 00:06 here) in which listeners were told by presenter Jackie Leonard that the Patriarch of Jerusalem “reached Bethlehem after being driven through a checkpoint at the Israeli separation barrier”. Leonard went on:

Leonard: “Marwan Kattan runs the five-star Jacir Palace Hotel in Bethlehem. He says bookings have plummeted after the United States recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel sparked violence in the occupied West Bank.”

Kattan: “Every year we are fully booked in Christmas and the New Year. This year we have it; before it was over-booking but when the uprising started, everything cancelled. What he said; uprising started; we lose everything.”

Reporting from Bethlehem, the Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman then told listeners that:

Bateman: “…there is of course the backdrop of growing hostility and, you know, on a near daily basis now ever since Donald Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem we’ve had clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians, not least here in the West Bank, here in Bethlehem and also on the Gaza border and that diplomatic stand-off between the Palestinian leadership and the United States.”

However, Jackie Leonard then went on to allude to information concerning tourism previously undisclosed to BBC audiences and the conversation began to go somewhat off message.

Leonard: “Now we’ve heard from the Israeli tourism ministry saying that they expect to see the number of Christian pilgrims increase. What are you seeing with tourist numbers?”

Bateman: “Well certainly tourism, the tourist economy in Bethlehem has taken a severe dent over the last ten days or so. I was talking to a hotelier last night who said that many hotels had really been emptied after the Trump announcement. Now a lot of that was the domestic tourists – the Palestinian Christians both from the West Bank and also Palestinians from inside Israel who traditionally come here often in the week before Christmas and many of these simply cancelled and didn’t come.

As for international tourists, well many have been here today. I mean I was talking to some Irish pilgrims from Dublin a little earlier on. Having said that, some of the religious leaders have said that groups have been cancelling and I think there is no doubt that the tourism economy in Bethlehem has suffered. But as you say, I mean, overall, more broadly, the Israelis have made the point that, you know, the number of Christian pilgrims coming to the holy land overall has risen by a significant amount when you compare it to the years before.”

Leonard then asked Bateman about security at the Christmas events in Bethlehem and his answer included the following:

Bateman: “In terms of the clashes that have taken place, well, they haven’t been to the scale that many had feared or predicted after Donald Trump’s announcement but they have taken place on a regular basis. They do tend to be very localised and in areas that are quite predictable so, you know, tourists can avoid, really, with a fair amount of ease. But I think what it has affected, of course, is the mood.”

As we see, Tom Bateman knows that the response to calls for violence instigated and encouraged by Palestinian bodies has been limited and that tourists can in fact easily avoid problematic locations. He did not, however, bother to inform BBC audiences of an additional and relevant part of the picture: the fact that Palestinian officials ordered limitations on the Christmas festivities.

“Church and political officials in Bethlehem and Gaza canceled all non-religious Christmas celebrations in protest over the recent decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests,” said Bethlehem’s mayor, Anton Salman. […]

Christmas celebrations were restricted to religious rituals across the Palestinian territories in protest, the official Palestine TV reported Monday.”

Although that deliberate cancelling of festivities (along with a similar – but failed – attempt by the mayor of Nazareth) could obviously account for some cancellations by tourists, the BBC is clearly not interested in letting its audiences know that just as Palestinian officials jeopardised Christmas tourism by calling for violence and bloodshed in response to the US announcement concerning Jerusalem, they have also given tourists much less of a reason to visit Bethlehem by cancelling parts of the festivities.

Just as the BBC never portrays Palestinians as having agency or being responsible for the violence they choose to instigate, the corporation’s narrative does not include own goal political posturing by Palestinian leaders which harms the tourist industry upon which many Bethlehem residents rely.

Instead, as we see in these BBC Christmas reports from Bethlehem, the narrative the corporation has chosen to promote once again lays the blame at the door of any party other than the Palestinians themselves and this year the BBC has chosen to uniformly promote simplistic and politically motivated messaging blaming the US president for the results of choices made by Palestinian leaders.  

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part one

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

Palestinian falsehoods on Christianity amplified by BBC’s Plett Usher

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part one

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part two