BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC’s coverage of the US administration’s announcement on January 16th that it would be withholding part of its donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been extensive.

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

However, the BBC’s reports have consistently failed to provide its funding public with information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or conduct any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, recently visited London – according to the Guardian, in order “to brief Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt”. As the Guardian’s report shows, one of the main talking points in Krahenbuhl’s efforts to solicit donations to his organisation is the claim that cuts to UNRWA’s services are liable to increase radicalisation.

“Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency, added that cuts in support to the already impoverished and demoralised population his organisation supports – many of them victims of recent conflict – risked radicalising a new generation of young Palestinians. […]

“I have just come from the Munich security conference. At every seminar, people were asking the same question: about security and how we combat radicalisation. If you want to ask us how to avoid radicalising Palestinian youth, then it is not by cutting $300m in our funding.””

Another port of call on Krahenbuhl’s London trip was the studios of the BBC World Service – which is of course partly funded by the UK government. The February 19th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item described in the synopsis as follows:

“How will UN’s Palestinian refugee agency make up for loss in funding from the US?”

Presenter Tim Franks introduced the nearly seven-minute-long item (from 30:06 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “Donald Trump, you may have noticed, Tweets a lot. One of his more consequential came right at the start of the year – January the 2nd to be precise. ‘We pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect’ he Tweeted. It was a sentiment he gave voice to at the Davos Economic Forum later that month.”

Recording of Trump: “When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice-president to see them and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support – tremendous numbers; numbers that nobody understands. That money’s on the table. That money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Franks: “Well the practical result of that frustration is that now the vast bulk of US funding is to be withheld from UNRWA – the UN agency set up to look after what are now 5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and across the Middle East. Pierre Krahenbuhl is the boss of UNRWA. He’s currently in London.”

Predictably Franks refrained from informing listeners that the reason there are “now 5 million Palestinian refugees” is that, unlike the UN agency which takes care of all other refugees, UNRWA does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside – even if they live in Palestinian controlled areas – nor “resettlement” in third countries.

Listeners then heard the following conversation:

Krahenbuhl: “The United States has been the single largest and also very predictable and generous donor over decades and in 2017 contributed 364 million [$] to UNRWA and for 2018 has announced a contribution of 60 million so it’s a difference of 300 million. And that has become effective. This 60 million were transferred to UNRWA and that is the indication that we have for this year.”

Franks: “So what are you going to have to cut as a result of that?”

Krahenbuhl: “Well first of all I’m going to mobilise other donors and we’re looking for new funding lines and so we did two things: of course on the one hand with member states and the other, we launched a global public campaign called ‘Dignity is Priceless’ to tap into a lot of sympathy and solidarity that we have witnessed following the announcement by the US and a lot of people who are prepared to come and support.”

Franks: “But are you doing what is partly behind this move by the US – or at least how President Trump has explained it – which is that it is time for other countries, other donors to play a bigger role?”

Krahenbul then raised his ‘radicalisation’ talking point.

Krahenbuhl: “I take your point about the issue of redistribution but you know I don’t have, as commissioner-general, the luxury of having reserves. The only thing that I have is to go back to the member states of the [UN] General Assembly that gave UNRWA the mandate in 1949 to say ‘this is the situation I’m faced with – we need to find solutions’. Because what is at stake is not UNRWA as an organisation. What’s at stake is access to education for 525 thousand students. You know I was just at the Munich Security Conference. You cannot go to a single corridor in the hotel that hosted that without somebody asking ‘are you concerned about further radicalisation in the Middle East?’. So having 525 thousand Palestinian students, boys and girls, who are hoping for a better future no longer having access to education is certainly not an investment in regional security.”

That talking point was not however subjected to any critical examination by Tim Franks even though it would obviously have been helpful to the BBC’s funding public – who also of course fund the UK government Foreign Office which Krahenbuhl came to “brief” – to know what evidence there is to back the idea that nearly seventy years of UNRWA activity has countered radicalisation among the people it registers as refugees.

The current head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, grew up – as the BBC knows – in an UNRWA administered refugee camp and attended an UNRWA run school. Hamas’ current leader in the Gaza Strip – convicted murderer Yahya Sinwar – likewise grew up in an UNRWA refugee camp. One of Hamas’ founders – Ibrahim al-Makadmeh – spent his childhood in UNRWA’s Jabaliya camp and attended an UNRWA school, as did former Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades leader Saleh Shehadeh.

Nevertheless, Tim Franks made no effort to inform ‘Newshour’ listeners of those and many other examples of members of Palestinian terror organisations who contradict Krahenbuhl’s claim that an UNRWA education is “an investment in regional security”.

The rest of Franks’ interview with UNRWA’s commissioner-general will be discussed in part two of this post.

Another BBC makeover on a speech by Mahmoud Abbas

On February 20th the BBC News website published a report titled “Palestinian head Abbas calls for international peace summit” on its Middle East page. The BBC’s account of Abbas’ long speech at the UN Security Council on the same day is as follows:

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called for an international peace conference to tackle the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

In a rare address to the UN Security Council, he said the situation was “no longer bearable” for Palestinians. […]

Mr Abbas told the Security Council that “to solve the Palestine question… it is essential to establish a multilateral international mechanism”.

He blamed the deadlock in the peace process on the US declaration on Jerusalem, which he said violated international law, and on what he called Israel’s “illegal activities” in the occupied territories.

“We call for the convening of an international peace conference by mid-2018 based on international law and the relevant UN resolutions,” he said.”

As has been the case on previous occasions (see here and here), the BBC’s account did not include the parts of Abbas’ speech that do not fit its chosen narrative. BBC audiences therefore remain unaware of the fact that, as he has done in the past, Abbas alleged in this – for him – relatively restrained address that the Palestinians:

“…are the descendants of the Canaanites that lived in the land of Palestine 5,000 years ago and continuously remained there to this day.” 

The BBC also omitted from its account Abbas’ claim that “[t]he Palestinian people built their own cities and homeland and made contributions to humanity and civilization witnessed by the world” and that he negated Jewish history in the region by stating:

“All of this existed before and after the Balfour Declaration issued by the British Government in 1917, a declaration by which those who did not own, giving to those who had no right.”

Abbas also asserted that:

“Our national institutions are recognized by international organizations for their merit and work, which is based on the rule of law, accountability and transparency, and empowerment of women and youth in an environment of tolerance, coexistence of civilizations and nondiscrimination.”

Like Abbas, the BBC rarely addresses issues such as Palestinian Authority corruption or social issues within Palestinian society.

Abbas professed that the Palestinians are “opposed to conventional weapons”, are “committed to fostering a culture of peace, rejection of violence”. The BBC has consistently ignored Abbas’ own incitement to violence and that coming from his party and administration. The issue of payments to terrorists and their families has not received any meaningful BBC coverage.

Abbas also claimed that the Palestinians have “persisted in our efforts to attain peace” while alleging that the failure of past peace efforts is exclusively the result of “the Israeli Government’s intransigence”. He of course refrained from mentioning Arab rejection of the 1947 Partition Plan, the decades of Palestinian terrorism against Jews and Israelis or the fact that a significant number of Palestinian factions reject the existence of Israel in any form whatsoever. 

Abbas used the ‘apartheid’ smear against Israel and advanced the false notion of “the 1967 borders”. While on the one hand citing “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force”, he described areas of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan in 1948 as “our capital” and “part of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967”.

In short, the BBC’s presentation of Abbas’ remarks is once again framed in a manner that excludes from audience view anything which may undermine or conflict with the narrative of a peace-seeking Palestinian Authority that the corporation long since elected to promote.

Related Articles:

BBC reports the parts of Abbas’ OIC speech that fit its narrative

BBC censors parts of Mahmoud Abbas speech once again

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part two

As we saw in part one of this post the lead story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on February 18th focused on the Israeli prime minister’s speech at the Munich Security Conference earlier in the day, with listeners hearing remarkably little about the relevant topic of Iranian activities in Syria and the broader Middle East while contributor Laleh Khalili promoted a grotesque caricature of Israel.

The evening edition of the programme also led with that same story.

“Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a stinging verbal attack on Iran, telling a Munich Security Conference Iran is the “greatest threat to our world”.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the first item on the subject (from 00:45 here), yet again implying to listeners that the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace on February 10th is a matter of opinion: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “We begin though at the Munich Security Conference – a forum for discussing global security threats – where the talk today came with added props and the sense that a conflict between Israel and Iran could be getting closer. A week after the Israelis lost their first fighter jet in more than a decade, in military action which followed what they say was the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his appearance at Munich to deliver a message to Tehran. And it was a none too subtle one: here he is, prop in hand, sending his rhetoric hovering over his fellow conference participant the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.”

Listeners once again heard recorded excerpts from the Israeli prime minister’s speech and the Iranian foreign minister’s speech at that conference before Coomarasamy went on:

Coomarasamy: “So, how does Israel’s closest ally the United States stand on this issue? Well just have a listen to the US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster speaking during Saturday’s question & answer session in Munich.”

Recording McMaster: “What Iran is actually doing is applying the Hizballah model to the greater Middle East in which they want weak governments in power. They want the Arab world to be perpetually weak and they have weak governments in power that are dependent on Iran for support while they grow terrorist organisations, militias, other illegal armed groups that are outside of that government’s control, that can be turned against that government if that government acts against Iranian interests. So that the time is now, we think, to act against Iran.”

Coomarasamy then introduced his contributing guest: a conspiracy theorist who has in the past suggested that chemical weapons used against civilians in Syria may have been an Israeli “false flag” operation aimed at implicating Bashar Assad’s regime.

Coomarasamy: “Now we’re joined now by Lawrence Wilkerson: retired US army colonel who was Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. And you see echoes in what Colin Powell said and did in the run-up to the Iraq war and what you’re seeing and hearing now.”

Wilkerson: “Yes I do and I kind of chuckled to myself when H.R. said what he said because – let’s face it – he was describing Saudi Arabia far more precisely than he was describing Iran. And I had to chuckle when Netanyahu said what he said to Zarif about the drone because as the Lebanese foreign minister said recently – I’m sorry: the Lebanese defence minister said recently – he has an Israeli drone over his head almost 24/7.”

Coomarasamy: “So when you see what the Israeli prime minister did in Munich and hear what he said, what sort of intent do you think is behind it?”

Wilkerson: “This is all propaganda. It’s all bombast, it’s all bellicosity on Netanyahu’s…Netanyahu’s part at least aimed at deflecting some indictments that might remove him from office at any time, reminding me of a mantra that’s going around in the rumour channel inside the Beltway right now here in Washington: will Trump start a war to save his presidency? I think there’s some of that; that’s the political aspect of it. But I understand Prime Minister Netanyahu – just like Israeli prime ministers from the past – has to seem as if he is ten feet tall in order to dissuade those who are arrayed around him from testing him.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify to listeners that no indictments have been issued against the Israeli prime minister to date or that even if they had, the notion that they would be ‘deflected’ by a speech made at a conference is just plain ridiculous. Neither did the BBC’s presenter bother to point out the relevant fact that the source of ‘rumours’ concerning the US administration’s supposed intention of starting a war with Iran is Wilkerson himself and that he published an op-ed promoting such claims (which has been called out for its antisemitic undertones) in the New York Times less than two weeks before this ‘Newshour’ appearance took place.

Coomarasamy: “But the presence of Iran and the influence of Iran in the region; that’s a real concern – isn’t it – to those countries?”

Wilkerson’s reply revealed the redundancy of soliciting military analysis from a former soldier in an army that does not fight wars on its own territory and does not have to defend its own civilian population at such a time.

Wilkerson: “Well it is a concern to the Arab countries to be sure. It should not really be of much concern to Israel because the Israel Defence Force, as I well know, is competent sufficiently to defeat all of them in combination were it to have to do so. Now I’m sure Mr Netanyahu doesn’t want to have to exhibit that competence but he’s gonna play with it as much as he can. If you put the Quds Force, the IRGC, the Syria regular army and every other element that Iran and Syria could marshal, Israel would still outdo it and if that weren’t true it has 200 nuclear weapons to back that up. So this is really a lot of bombastic rhetoric to try and get the other side scared, try to get the other side to do what you want it to do. The real issue here is what are the United States’ interests in this area? And I’m really worried because I see absolutely – and this includes McMaster’s just now uttered statements – I see absolutely no real strategy from the United States. I see a muddling through and I see remarks by H.R. McMaster and others in the administration to be demonstrative of that lack of a strategy.”

Coomarasamy: “Isn’t muddling through better though than all-out confrontation?”

Wilkerson then promoted – as he has done in the past – a context-free caricature of prior conflicts:

Wilkerson: “Well it just depends on what you mean by all-out confrontation. I don’t think…I don’t think we’re looking at an all-out confrontation here. If we’re looking at anything we’re looking at Israel getting ready to do what it does about every six to ten years and that is bomb the bejesus out of Lebanon and maybe bomb the bejesus out of Hizballah in Syria and Lebanon and maybe a few other things. And it feels like it has to demonstrate once again that it can obliterate the rest of the region should it chose to do so.”

Coomarasamy: “But it has lost a fighter jet over Syria [sic] and you know that hasn’t happened for some time.”

Wilkerson: “That actually hadn’t happened for about thirty years but I mean you do lose implements of war when you fight.”

Coomarasamy closed the interview at that point but Wilkerson’s baseless claim that “Israel getting ready to do what it does about every six to ten years and that is bomb the bejesus out of Lebanon” was aired again later on in the programme when Coomarasamy returned to his “top story” at 44:00. Listeners also then heard a repeat broadcast of much of the interviews with Giora Shamis and Laleh Khalili which had been aired in the earlier edition of the programme, including the allegation of “constant fear-mongering” by Israel and the redundant linkage between this topic and the domestic issues facing the Israeli prime minister.

It is of course abundantly clear that when ‘Newshour’ invited Lawrence Wilkerson to comment on this story its producers knew exactly what kind of ‘analysis’ they were going to get. That of course raises the same question that was posed by Liel Leibovitz when the New York Times recently published Wilkerson’s op-ed:

“Why the paper of record would give such a man a spot in its vaunted op-ed page is anybody’s guess, though it’s hard to believe that kooks of other stripes would’ve been welcomed so warmly.”

The answer of course is disturbingly obvious. ‘Newshour’ did not seek to meet its obligation to provide audiences with accurate and impartial information which would enhance their understanding of the background to this highly promoted story. Instead it invited a discredited conspiracy theorist and an activist academic to advance narratives of Israeli ‘aggression’ and ‘expansionism’ and promote the baseless notion of linkage to domestic Israeli politics, all the while downplaying Iran’s actions in the Middle East to the level of a sideshow that distracts from what ‘Newshour’ would have its listeners believe is the ‘real’ story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part one

BBC’s Bell finds conspiracy theorist “interesting”

By His Own Admission, Wilkerson Cannot Be Trusted (Gatestone Institute)

 

 

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part one

The lead story in the February 18th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ was described as follows in the synopsis:

“Israel’s prime minister launches a stinging attack on Iran, telling a security conference in Munich the country is the “greatest threat to our world”. Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would “not allow Iran’s regime to put a noose of terror around our neck”.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy opened the item (from 00:45 here) by insinuating that an Iranian drone may or may not have breached Israeli airspace the previous week. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Coomarasamy: “We begin now at the Munich Security conference – a forum for discussing security threats but today it put a case of insecurity very firmly on display. The conference became the backdrop to a rhetorical clash between Israel and Iran a week after the two countries’ militaries came into conflict over Syria. Well Israel lost a fighter jet in that clash which followed what it said was the interception of an Iranian drone which had crossed from Syria into Israeli territory. It was the first time an Israeli war plane had been downed in more than a decade.”

After listeners had heard excerpts from the Israeli prime minister’s speech and the Iranian foreign minister’s speech at that conference, Coomarasamy introduced his two guests – Giora Shamis of the controversial Debkafile website and Iranian-American SOAS professor Laleh Khalili.

So what did BBC audiences worldwide learn about the activities of Iran and its proxies in Syria and the wider Middle East or why Israel views the Iranian presence and influence on its borders as a threat? The answer to that question is not much. Listeners did however hear quite a bit of dubious, politically partisan analysis from Khalili – none of which was challenged by the BBC presenter.

Khalili: “There are obviously three elements about what is going on at the moment that makes it all a bit scary, the first of which is that the Trump administration is in place which is probably more likely to give a green light to conflict by Israel, although the Trump administration itself is quite divided on this issue with some of the higher echelons of the military not wanting to cause further conflict in the region. The second element is of course the major rapprochement between Israel and the Gulf Arab states and especially Saudi Arabia. The third thing which I think makes things particularly dangerous is the fact that Netanyahu has over the course of his entire rule in Israel been accused of corruption a number of times but now the police have referred him to the attorney general in Israel and of course the wag the dog situation [laughs] is extremely relevant here and could potentially result in further conflict, which is what Netanyahu would want: the more conflict there is in the region, the better it benefits the Israeli security establishment if not the Israeli people.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to question that ‘theory’ or to remind listeners that it was Iran that sparked the recent clash by infiltrating Israeli airspace. After Giora Shamis had mentioned the establishment of Iranian military bases in Syria and additional factors, Coomarasamy asked Khalili about “events on the ground” – meaning the drone infiltration – but allowed her to avoid the question and instead promote more unchallenged propaganda aimed at downplaying Iran’s activities.

Khalili: “The fact is that there are confrontations, whether by proxy or directly, happening between Israel and Iran for decades now and what Netanyahu does – and in fact actually most of the conservative Israeli security establishment do – is constant fear-mongering. The problem is really not with whether or not there are other threats or real threats or real clashes. The problem is with Israel’s militarist, expansionist policies that have essentially become more and more entrenched and more and more fired up whenever Netanyahu feels his own power domestically threatened.”

After Khalili had referred to Netanyahu as “preening quite a bit and posturing quite a bit”, Coomarasamy asked Shamis for his “response to the idea that what is happening now is in part the prime minister of Israel trying to divert attention from his own domestic challenges”, to which Shamis replied that in his opinion, the current Israeli government will be in power for at least another year.

Coomarasamy next asked Khalili about Javid Zarif’s “dismissive” response to Netanyahu and “how worried are the Iranians?”.

Khalili: “They have to consider this but also I’m sure the dismissiveness comes from the direction of remembering how much Netanyahu is into these kinds of theatrics. I mean we haven’t forgotten his UN presentation which was of course the subject of much mirth and mockery later. […] But it is also really important to know that it’s not just the Iranians that are being dismissive. I just have been looking on Twitter and all the people who are at the actual security conference, a lot of the Europeans who are Tweeting are also being in equal measures concerned about Netanyahu’s posturing and also dismissive of, again, its theatrical elements.”

She went on:

Khalili: “…this conflict has been on a low simmer for decades. It’s not new. I mean the fact that the Israeli security establishment have been assassinating Iranian scientists inside Iran and Iranian military people outside of Iran, it’s not like there’s been all love and roses [laughs] for the past few decades and yet this conflict has been going on. But the fact is that the conflict has been ongoing so its being ratcheted up is perhaps what’s interesting, dangerous and worrying.”

Without questioning or qualifying Khalili’s allegations or even reminding listeners of, for example, the relevant topic of Iranian military activities along Israel’s border with Syria, Coomarasamy closed the item there.

The BBC’s public purposes oblige it to “provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”. The unchallenged efforts of activist academic Laleh Khalili to frame the story as being about “theatrics”, “fear-mongering” and Israeli domestic politics – while completely erasing Iran’s activities from the picture – are of course not in the least surprising.  However, such blatant propaganda obviously contributed nothing to BBC audience understanding of the serious topic of Iranian expansion and belligerency in Syria and the Middle East in general or of Israel’s position on that issue.

However, Newshour’s partisan framing of that story was not over yet – as we will see in part two of this post.

BBC News flunks on Palestinian internal affairs yet again

As has been noted here in the past, BBC coverage of internal Palestinian affairs is typically decidedly sparse.

In July 2014 the BBC’s World Editor Andrew Roy told audiences that:

“…the BBC’s one of the few organisations that has permanent offices in Gaza, in Ramallah, in Jerusalem, so we are better placed than many to make sure that we report both sides of the story.” 

The BBC’s interpretation of what “the story” is about is however very limited and its coverage focuses overwhelmingly on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although the conflict is clearly just one story among many in the region, only very occasionally do audiences see stand-alone reports about Palestinian affairs which are not framed within that context and do not have an Israel-related component.

Insight into internal Palestinian politics which would enhance audiences’ comprehension of Palestinian society (as well as the conflict) is relatively rare in BBC coverage. Reporting on social and human rights issues within Palestinian society is even more scarce and thus BBC audiences see a blinkered and largely one-dimensional view of Palestinian life.

Throughout the whole of 2017 (see ‘related articles’ below) the BBC News website published a total of twenty-eight articles relating to Palestinian affairs. In contrast, Israeli affairs were the topic of eighty-two BBC reports.

Six of the 28 reports related to the topic of the chronic electricity shortages in the Gaza Strip:

Gaza electricity crisis: Hamas breaks up protest discussed here

Angry protests in Gaza over crippling power shortages Rushdi Abu Alouf, discussed here

Gaza power cuts: Man shares his tricks discussed here

Palestinian Authority ‘stops paying Israel for Gaza electricity’ discussed here

Gaza residents left in the dark amid Palestinian power struggle Yolande Knell, discussed here

Gaza’s only power plant resumes after Egypt fuel delivery

Four of the reports related to Hamas’ leadership and policy document:

Hamas hardliner Yehiya Sinwar elected as Gaza leader discussed here

New Hamas policy document ‘aims to soften image’ discussed here

How much of a shift is the new Hamas policy document? Yolande Knell, discussed here

Hamas chooses Ismail Haniya as new leader discussed here

Two articles reported on executions carried out by Hamas:

Hamas executes three ‘Israel collaborators’ in Gaza

Gaza Palestinians: Hamas kills three ‘collaborators’

One reported related to the economic situation in the Gaza Strip:

Qatar Gulf row threatens cash crisis for Gaza Yolande Knell, discussed here

Three reports related to social stories from the Gaza Strip:

Gaza conjoined twins ‘need life-saving treatment abroad’ discussed here

Gaza amputees explain their unique friendship discussed here

Gaza commemorates Yasser Arafat anniversary

Three reports related to Palestinian Authority/US relations:

Trump Middle East: Palestinian leader invited to White House discussed here

Palestinians ‘could freeze US ties’ over Washington office closure

Palestinians recall envoy to US  discussed here

One report related to PA censorship:

Palestinian Authority ‘detains rights activist over criticism’ discussed here

Six reports related to the Hamas-Fatah unity deal which did not transpire:

Hamas says it is ready to hold first elections since 2006 discussed here

Palestinian PM in rare Gaza visit as rift with Hamas eases discussed here

Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah end split on Gaza discussed here

Palestinian unity deal: Gazans hope for end to feud Yolande Knell

Hamas must disarm to join Palestinian unity government – US discussed here

Hamas hands PA control of Gaza border crossings discussed here

Two reports related to travel/tourism:

The ancient path through Palestine BBC Travel

The Palestinian dessert few can enjoy BBC Travel, discussed here

On February 19th 2018 what appeared at first glance to be a rare report on a Palestinian social issue appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Gaza women’s TV channel blocked by Hamas” and an Arabic language version of the report was posted on the BBC Arabic website.

“Authorities in Gaza have blocked the launch of a women’s television channel there, just before it was due to go on air.

Officials from the Palestinian militant Islamist group Hamas, which dominates the territory, said Taif TV had not obtained the necessary licences.

However the channel said it had met all the legal requirements.”

The vast majority of the article’s word-count (78%) was devoted to quoting claims and counter-claims regarding the TV channel’s licence.

Notably – in contrast, for example, to the Times of Israel report on the same story – the BBC’s article did not inform readers of angry reactions to the Hamas decision from members of the Palestinian public.

Although the BBC chose to raise the subject of women’s rights in the Gaza Strip in this report, it devoted remarkably little of its word-count to that topic.

“Civil liberties groups have long criticised Hamas for what they say is a poor record on women’s rights in Gaza.” […]

Hamas has long been accused of discriminating against women since it reinforced its hold on power in Gaza after ousting its secular Fatah rivals in 2007.”

That link leads to a report by Freedom House in which just one of the thirty-nine paragraphs gives a very brief and generalised portrayal of the situation of women in the Gaza Strip.

In other words, once again the BBC has failed to make the most of an opportunity to provide audiences with meaningful insight into social issues within Palestinian society.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q1 2017 – part two

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q2 2017 – part two

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q3 2017 – part two

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q4 2017 – part two

Reviewing BBC News coverage of internal Palestinian affairs

 

A border dispute BBC audiences know nothing about

A long-running dispute between Lebanon and Israel concerning land and maritime borders has recently been making headlines again – although those getting their news from the BBC would not be aware of that fact. The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s related visit to Beirut on February 15th (as part of a Middle East tour that was barely covered by the corporation) was not reported and neither were related threats from the head of a terrorist organisation.

As Ha’aretz reported:

“During a press conference in Beirut on Thursday, Tillerson, who arrived in Lebanon as part of his Mideast trip, discussed the growing tensions between Israel and Lebanon, and urged Lebanese leaders to ensure the border between the two countries remains calm.

Lebanon has an unresolved dispute with Israel over the territorial and maritime border issues, in particular concerning Block 9 in the Mediterranean sea which extends partly into waters claimed by Israel. Recently Lebanon has signed an offshore oil and gas exploration and production agreements for the contentious block.”

The US has been trying to mediate between Israel and Lebanon on that issue for some time – as explained in a comprehensive article by Oded Eran of the INSS.

“In late 2011, Israel, out of a willingness to compromise, began to look for diplomatic ways to resolve the developing dispute. In inter-ministerial consultations, the decision was taken not to grant new licenses for the area under dispute in order to facilitate a compromise solution. It was decided not to use UNIFIL as a channel for discussion between Israel and Lebanon, since the mandate of the Force does not refer to the maritime border, and Israel prefers to avoid UN mediation. The Israel interest in mediation led to several contacts by third parties, and ultimately American mediation was the preferred option.

In February 2012, State Department Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Frederic Hof, who was heavily involved in developments in Syria in the framework of the Arab Spring, undertook the task of mediation. Israel reiterated to him its willingness to resolve the dispute by reaching a compromise in direct talks with representatives of the Lebanese government. In April 2012, at separate meetings in London (in view of the Lebanese refusal to participate in a joint meeting), Hof submitted a proposed compromise involving division of the disputed area. On May 2, 2013, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman approved the American proposal, even though it granted Lebanon a larger share of the area. To this day no official response from Lebanon has been received, although according to reports of US diplomats in contact with the Lebanese government, they discussed inter alia depositing the proposal with the UN. From this it appears that the proposal was acceptable to the Lebanese government.”

As the Times of Israel reported, the dispute also includes a barrier which is being constructed by Israel along its border with Lebanon.

“On Monday, Lebanese military officials told their Israeli counterparts during face-to-face talks that the border wall violates Lebanon’s sovereign territory.

Israel has been building the obstacle — made up of a collection of berms, cliffs and concrete barriers — for a long time, but it has only now angered Beirut.”

Prior to the US Secretary of State’s visit to Beirut:

“Lebanon’s top security body on Wednesday instructed the country’s military to confront any Israeli “aggression” on its land or maritime borders. […]

Hezbollah, a powerful terror group considered to have more military clout than the Lebanese army itself, recently threatened to open fire on IDF soldiers building the barrier, Israel’s Hadashot TV news reported last week.”

Of course under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1701, the border area is supposed to be “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL”.  

The day after Mr Tillerson’s visit, Lebanon dismissed the US mediation efforts.

“The speaker of Lebanon’s parliament on Friday rejected a US proposal to resolve a maritime border dispute between the country and Israel.

“The proposal is unacceptable,” Nabih Berri was quoted as telling acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield by the official NNA news agency.”

And on the same day, the leader of the Hizballah terror organisation weighed in.

“Hezbollah on Friday urged Lebanon to stand firm in its offshore energy dispute with Israel and warned it could act against Israeli oil facilities if necessary, as the U.S. mediates between the two countries.

In a televised address, the leader of the heavily-armed, Iran-backed movement, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, described the issue as a “battle for all of Lebanon”.

“If Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council were to decide that (Israeli) offshore oil and gas plants…should be forbidden from working, I promise they would stop working within hours,” he told a rally.”

Yet oddly, while this dispute obviously has the potential to escalate into more than verbal sabre-rattling, BBC audiences are not even aware of its existence.

Promoting a well-worn narrative on the BBC News website

On February 11th the BBC News website published an article headlined “Trump warns Israel that settlements ‘complicate’ peace hopes” on its Middle East page.

Based entirely on an interview given by the US president to an Israeli newspaper, the article opened:

“US President Donald Trump has said Israeli settlements “complicate” the peace process with Palestinians and urged “care” over the issue.

He also told an Israeli newspaper that he did not believe the Palestinians, and possibly Israel as well, were ready to make peace.”

The parts of that interview which the BBC chose to highlight were as follows:

“Asked by editor-in-chief Boaz Bismouth when the US would present its peace plan, Mr Trump said: “We will see what happens. Right now the Palestinians are not into making peace, they are just not into it. Regarding Israel, I am not certain it, too, is interested in making peace so we will just need to wait and see what happens.”

Asked whether Israeli settlements would form part of the peace plan, he said: “We will be talking about settlements. The settlements are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements.””

And:

“In excerpts of the interview published on Friday, Mr Trump said that recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had been a highlight of his first year in office.

“I think Jerusalem was a very big point and I think it was a very important point,” he said.

“The capital, having Jerusalem be your great capital, was a very important thing to a lot of people. It was a very important pledge that I made and I fulfilled my pledge,” he said.”

Readers also found promotion of the corporation’s standard mantra on ‘settlements’ which – in spite of ‘due impartiality’ requirementsfails to inform audiences of the existence of legal opinions that do not conform to the BBC’s chosen narrative.

“More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The BBC’s selected framing was further promoted in a photo caption:

“Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have long been a stumbling block to peace deal”.

As readers who bothered to click on the link to the Israel HaYom article upon which this report is based would see, the US president also answered questions additional topics including Iran’s presence in Syria and Lebanon, the JCPOA, relations between Israel and Gulf states and Egypt’s role in the ‘peace process’.

While the BBC apparently did not consider the US president’s comments on those topics interesting or important enough to report, it did go to the trouble of constructing an entire article around the three responses to the twenty questions asked by the interviewer which could be used to once again promote the political narrative the BBC has chosen to adopt.  

BBC WS tells listeners to go online for part of a story it didn’t tell

The February 17th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item described in its synopsis as being about “Poland’s controversial WW2 death camps law”.

Presenter Rebecca Kesby introduced the item (from 14:06 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Kesby: “Last month the Polish parliament approved a bill to make it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in the crimes of the Nazis during the Second World War. At least six million Poles were killed – about half of them Jewish. Many more fled the country. There’s no question that the country suffered horribly but lately a row has erupted about those Poles who may have colluded with the Nazis and why that word – colluded – is so contentious. Today at a panel discussion at the International Security Conference in Munich, an Israeli journalist challenged the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki about the new law. Here’s part of Ronen Bergman’s challenge.”

Listeners then heard a recording of Ronen Bergman speaking during the Q&A session.

Bergman: “Both my parents were born in Poland – my late mother and my father. My mother received a special prize for good Polish from the Polish minister of education when she was five. Then the war started and they lost much of their family because their neighbours – their Polish neighbours – snitched to the Gestapo that they are holding Jews. My mother was able to save much of her family because she heard during the night that the neighbours are going to tell that they have Jews in their vicinity to the SS the next morning. And after the war my mother swore that she will never speak Polish for the rest of her life – not even a single word. If I understand correctly, after this law is legislated I will be considered a criminal in your country for saying this. What is the purpose, what is the message that you are trying to convey in the world? You are creating the opposite reaction and just attracting more attention to these atrocities. Thank you.”

However, BBC World Service listeners did not hear the Polish prime minister’s response (which can be seen here) and so they did not know that he began by saying:

“It’s extremely important to first understand that, of course, it’s not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators – as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian…. not only German perpetrators.” [emphasis added]

Kesby made no effort to inform listeners of that obviously crucial part of the story before going on to introduce Ronen Bergman.

Kesby: “Well a short time [sic] we managed to get through to Ronen Bergman and he told us more about his challenge.”

Listeners then heard Bergman’s comments on the Polish prime minister’s remarks – without having heard the statements themselves and without it being clarified that “he” refers to Morawiecki.

Bergman: “[….] He did not admit that there were Polish collaborators. He did not use that word; he said perpetrators and the use of that word  – while saying in the same line, in the same sentence, that there were Polish as well as Jews – so like making one line connecting all of them – he said these were perpetrators – meaning criminals – who mushroomed – that was the word that he said – who mushroomed in the sense…so the subtext is basically this: there were criminals in Poland, some of them were Jews, some of them were Poles, and they were the ones who gave Jews to the Gestapo. This is nothing but Holocaust denial and an outrageous lie.”

Kesby then asked:

Kesby: “These terrible events are seventy years old. Why is this such a current issue now?”

Bergman: “Because Poland – or elements in Poland as well as in some other Eastern European countries – are trying to rewrite the history of the Holocaust and there should not be any debate. […] But the Nazi Germans they were the ones who initiated the extermination and they were the ones who managed it. But there were many, many people of some of the local countries that were under German occupation who assisted them and much of the Holocaust could not have been executed without them. Now some of these countries are now trying to say that they were nothing but victims and the Polish government have gone to a much further extent to say that if someone says anything else he’s a criminal.”

Kesby: “And why do you think that it the case? Why do you think there is this sensitivity to admitting what has happened in the past?”

Bergman: “Well I think that nobody wants to admit that he was part of the most vicious crime in the history of humanity. And I think that these countries basically are trying to say that the Germans – and only the Germans – are to blame. They want retribution – meaning compensation – and taking from their shoulders any kind of guilt. […] You know this sort of narrative is something that we always suspected still exists but I think that we have never heard from such a senior official of these countries speaking this language.”

Obviously having belatedly realised that listeners had not heard the remarks from the Polish prime minister’s that were the subject matter of this interview, Kesby closed the item by saying:

Kesby: “That was Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman there and apologies – there wasn’t the full exchange there as I anticipated, of his exchange with the Polish prime minister but it is available online if you’d like to do a search and see both sides of the argument.”

The newly appointed Director of the BBC World Service group recently claimed that BBC World Service radio’s English services “remain the gold standard for international news” and that:

“With global concern growing about disinformation, ‘fake news’ and media literacy, the World Service Group has never been in a stronger position to show the way forward. We spot the stories, see the patterns and make sense of the world for our audiences.”

Obviously sending audiences to “do a search” on the internet in order to find for themselves the crucial part of a story is hardly “the gold standard” of news provision.

 

Serial BBC failure to report rocket attacks comes home to roost

On the afternoon of February 17th an incident took place along the border fence with the Gaza Strip in the Khan Younis region.

“Four IDF soldiers were wounded when an explosive device was detonated on an IDF patrol along the Gaza Strip border on Saturday. Two of the soldiers were in a serious condition and two were moderately hurt, the army said. […]

The [IDF] spokesperson told reporters that the patrol stopped along the border to remove a flag that had been placed at the fence a day earlier during a protest, and that a device planted below the flag then detonated.”

Following that attack the IDF carried out strikes on Hamas military installations in the Gaza Strip. Residents of the Western Negev spent the night in air-raid shelters as alarms went off repeatedly and one house in the Sha’ar HaNegev district was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip – fortunately with no physical injury to the family of five. Further strikes on Hamas and PIJ targets took place after that attack and the following morning another incident took place when two Palestinians approaching the border fence in the southern sector were killed.

On the evening of February 17th the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel Gaza: Four Israeli soldiers injured in border blast” on its Middle East page. The incident that sparked the chain of events was described as follows:

“Four Israeli soldiers have been hurt, two of them seriously, in an explosion near the Israeli-Gaza border.

The army said a Palestinian flag was flying in the area, and when the troops approached they were hit by the blast.”

And:

“No group has so far said it was behind Saturday’s explosion, which happened at 16:00 local time (14:00 GMT) east of the town of Khan Younis.

The army said the explosive device had been planted during a demonstration there on Friday and was attached to a flag.

The troops were approaching from the Israeli side when the device detonated.”

BBC audiences were not informed that the army also commented on Hamas’ involvement in that “demonstration” and others.

“The [explosive] device belonged to rogue organizations and not Islamic Jihad. Hamas is responsible for the incident because it brought protesters to these ‘spontaneous’ demonstrations during the past few weeks, which are then utilized for terror.”

Despite photographs of the damage caused to the house that took a direct hit on its roof being readily available in the Israeli media, the BBC’s report described that incident as follows:

“Israeli media also said a rocket from Gaza fell near a house in the south of the country on Saturday evening. There were no casualties.” [emphasis added]

Readers were told that:

“Correspondents say the border area has been generally quiet in the last few years but there has been an increase in violence since US President Donald Trump’s announcement in December recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

The same statement (together with the claim that “a rocket from Gaza fell near a house”) appeared in an article titled “Israel Gaza: Air strikes follow bomb blast on Gaza border” which replaced the previous one on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the morning of February 18th.

While the “correspondents” who made that statement were not identified, it is of course significant that throughout 2017 BBC journalists based in Jerusalem ignored the vast majority of missile attacks that were launched from the Gaza Strip and that two of the three attacks that were reported were attributed – as in this report – to ‘rising tensions’ following the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In late 2014 and throughout 2015 the majority of attacks launched from the Gaza Strip were not reported in English and in 2016 the BBC ignored all but one attack. The four attacks in 2018 which took place before this latest one were similarly ignored.

It is hence unsurprising that BBC journalists describe the Gaza border area as “generally quiet” despite the fact that – as noted by the ITIC in a summary (Hebrew – see p. 42) of last year’s terror attacks – during 2017 there was a 50% rise in rocket fire against Israel compared to the previous year.

As has been noted here on several occasions in the past, the fact that the BBC routinely under-reports terrorism against Israel – including missile attacks – leads to audiences and BBC journalists alike being unable to put events into their appropriate context when Israel is obliged to respond.

Related Articles:

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

Correction secured to inaccurate BBC News website claim about Gaza attacks

BBC News reverts to ignoring Gaza missile fire

 

BBC News Channel apologises for HMD broadcast errors

In a report aired on January 25th on the BBC News Channel the BBC’s Religion editor Martin Bashir referred to Holocaust Memorial Day as about to be “celebrated” two days later and misquoted Britain’s Chief Rabbi, claiming that he said that “our silence would be to mourn the loss of those six thousand Jewish men, women and children…” [emphasis added]

Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint to the BBC concerning those inaccuracies and received a reply including the following:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding the BBC News Channel’s ‘Afternoon Live’ on 25 January.

We understand you feel our Religion Editor Martin Bashir used insensitive language to describe Holocaust Memorial Day and misquoted the number of Jewish victims.

During this timeframe Martin described events leading up to Holocaust Memorial Day and the people involved in the commemorations.

Please be assured, we strive to present accurate and relevant information throughout our news service. Reporters closely follow these guidelines while providing distinctive descriptions. They often deliver items under pressure and time restrictions, particularly in a live ‘rolling’ news environment.

We regret any editorial oversights but mistakes of this nature can occasionally slip through, despite the best endeavours of our experienced reporters.”

In light of that unsatisfactory response, Mr Franklin submitted a second complaint, to which he received an apposite reply from the Executive Editor of the BBC News Channel.

“I wanted to let you know in person that I think you are quite right to point out the errors in this broadcast.

Regrettably, Martin Bashir misspoke when he said Holocaust Memorial Day was being ‘celebrated’ when he intended to say ‘commemorated.’

I am very sorry for this mistake.

Clearly, too, Martin meant to give the figure of six million victims, not six thousand, and again we are sorry for this mistake.

The correct figure of six million victims was used before the report, and within it by a Holocaust survivor herself, but you are right to say this should not have happened.

While mistakes do occur in live broadcasting, it was very unfortunate that they should have occurred on this subject above all others.

Yours sincerely,

Sam Taylor

Executive Editor BBC News Channel.”

The fact that a member of the public had to submit two complaints before obvious inaccuracies were appropriately acknowledged once again demonstrates the inefficiency of the BBC’s outsourced audience services.

Related Articles:

How the BBC outsources its complaints system