Wishing all our readers celebrating Pessah and all those celebrating Easter happy holidays!
Wishing all our readers celebrating Pessah and all those celebrating Easter happy holidays!
When Israel announced last week that it had destroyed a nuclear reactor in the Deir ez Zor region of Syria over a decade ago, the BBC News website described the facility’s purpose as “suspected” and BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondent Tom Bateman opined that the reason for the timing of the announcement was “to add a sharper military edge to American diplomatic pressure on Europe to toughen its stance on the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers” while ignoring other no less plausible factors.
In the March 28th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘, listeners heard presenter Julian Marshall (from 18:06 here) describe the al Kibar facility in similar language and give a portrayal of the intention of the announcement which is not supported by material presented later on in the item. As is usually the case, BBC audiences heard Hizballah described as an “armed group” rather than a terror organisation.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Marshall: “Israel conformed for the first time last week that it destroyed a suspected nuclear reactor being built in Syria over a decade ago. Israel officials say the public acknowledgement was meant as a message to their country’s enemies that they’re prepared to act against any serious threat. During Syria’s civil war two of those enemies – Iran and the Lebanese armed group Hizballah – have expanded their presence and influence in the country as they fought on the side of President Bashar al Assad. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been looking at the impact.”
Knell: “An Israeli military video shows fighter jets a decade ago bombing the nearly complete al Kibar facility in eastern Syria. International experts said it was very likely the site was a nuclear reactor but Syria denied it. And Israel is only now confirming it carried out the strike. So why now? Its Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot:”
V/O Eizenkot: “The message of the attack on the Syria nuclear reactor in 2007 was that Israel will not tolerate the development of abilities that threaten the existence of our state. That was the message in 1981 when we attacked Iraq’s nuclear facility and again in 2007 and this is the future message to our enemies.”
Obviously Eizenkot did not say in that March 21st interview that “the public acknowledgement was meant as a message to their country’s enemies” as claimed by Marshall, but that the strike itself on the reactor over a decade ago was the message. Knell went on to promote the same theory as her Jerusalem bureau colleague with regard to the intention of the announcement, claiming that Iran is “now” seen as a threat – when in fact, as the BBC itself has reported, Israel has been voicing concerns about Iran’s nuclear capabilities for many years – and making no mention of Iran’s long history of serial threats against Israel.
Knell: “Israel’s news shows quickly pointed out the link to Iran. It’s now seen as an existential threat because of its nuclear programme and there are fears about its plans in neighbouring Syria. Already Israel’s believed to have hit one Iranian base under construction there. Recently Fox News reported on another one.”
Fox News anchor: “New satellite photos reveal Iran has established another permanent military base outside Damascus.”
For almost five years (since May 2013) the BBC has been telling its audiences that Israel is ‘involved’ in the civil war in Syria.
However, Knell then presented listeners with a different view:
Knell: “The defence analyst at Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Amos Harel, says that for seven years Israel’s tried to keep out of the Syrian conflict. Now increasingly it’s being drawn in.”
Harel: “Now comes a different stage of the war because it’s rather evident that the Assad regime has won this game, so to speak, and that the sides that helped Assad are more or less fighting for the spoils and this could be dangerous for Israel. One is the growing Iranian presence at the region and specifically in the southern Syria. You have militia that may be present there. And the other is the growing role of Hizballah.”
Knell: “A new video game brought out by the Lebanese Shiite armed group Hizballah which is backed by Iran. Players fight alongside government forces in Syria against rebels including so-called Islamic State. Hizballah’s lost hundreds of men in this war but Mohanad Hage Ali from Beirut’s Carnegie Middle East Center says its military strength has grown.”
Ali: “They’re trying out their different capabilities whether on the ground or the new weaponry that they’re using and trying to expose as much as they can from all of their fighting force to the conflict in Syria to gain experience. They are also training other forces; they set up a number of groups. And all of these supposedly will be part of their influence in Syria for a very long time.”
Refraining from informing listeners that Hizballah has tens of thousands of missiles at its disposal and making no mention of the fact that weapons transfers to Hizballah are prohibited under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1701,Knell went on:
Knell: “That’s a big worry for Israel, which just completed joint military training with US troops. These exercises were routine but reflect current fears. One simulated a massive missile attack. Israel has struck in Syria dozens of times, acting – it says – to stop Iran adding advanced weapons to Hizballah’s arsenal. Although for now, Hizballah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem considers war unlikely.”
V/O Qassem: “I clearly express the view of Hizballah that it’s ready to confront any aggression if Israel decides to carry out any foolish action but it doesn’t seem to be the right circumstances for Israel to decide to go to war.”
Notably, Knell did not bother to mention the border dispute that the BBC has to date failed to report as a factor for potential “escalation”.
Knell: “The danger lies in an unplanned escalation. Last month this happened. The IDF shot down an Iranian drone after it infiltrated Israeli air space and then struck at its control site in Syria. One of its jets was hit by a Syrian missile and crashed. Israel launched attacks on Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria. Russia apparently calmed the situation but it was a reminder how a bloody civil war could turn into a wider regional one.”
For five years the BBC has been promoting the erroneous notion that Israel is involved in the war in Syria. It has repeatedly failed to clarify to its audiences that strikes on Iranian weapons bound for Hizballah or responses to cross-border fire from Syria do not mean that Israel is “involved” in that war but are responses to the Iranian and Hizballah aggression against Israel that long predates that conflict.
While this report may indicate that at least one BBC journalist has rethought that mantra, the fact that the corporation consistently fails to provide serious coverage of relevant issues, such as the failure of UN SC resolution 1701 to achieve its aims, Iranian arming and funding of Hizballah (which the BBC serially refuses to describe as a terror organisation) and Iran’s establishment of a military presence in Syria, means that BBC audiences lack the information crucial to understanding of the background and context to any future developments.
Earlier this month we noted plans for an upcoming six-week long stunt dubbed the ‘Great Return March’ that has been organised by factions in the Gaza Strip and is primarily aimed at the international media.
“In the coming weeks, Hamas plans to set up tent encampments along the Gazan border with Israel, where thousands of the strip’s denizens will be housed, with the intention to march hundreds of Palestinians every day—including the elderly, women and children—to the border fence in “return marches.”
Not least in light of multiple incidents of border infiltration from Gaza during the past week (which have also gone unreported by the BBC), the likelihood of violent incidents is high – as explained by Yoni Ben Menachem:
“Its [Hamas’] basic premise is that the large media presence on the Palestinian side will provide enough protection for the Palestinian marchers to overcome the “fear barrier,” approach the border fence with Israel, and try to cross it.
In Hamas’ estimation, IDF soldiers will act with great caution and won’t use live ammunition due to the media presence among the marchers.
No country in the world would agree to tens of thousands of demonstrators, accompanied by various kinds of media, infiltrating their borders and trying to get into their territory. Hamas is making cynical use of Palestinian refugees living in the Gaza Strip as cannon fodder against the IDF, who have to protect the border fence and cannot allow infiltration.”
In the meantime, the ITIC has noted a British link to Hamas’ plans.
“One of the activists involved in media preparations is Zaher Birawi, a Palestinian activist based in Britain who is affiliated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and who in the past played a central role in organizing convoys and flotillas to the Gaza Strip.”
Readers may recall that in addition to playing a role in convoys and flotillas, Zaher Birawi was also involved in the organisation of the 2012 ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ and was previously director of the UK-based Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) – an organisation banned in Israel due to its Hamas affiliations.
More recently Birawi has been active in the role of chairman of the London-based EuroPal Forum – an organisation which appears to have replaced the Council for European Palestinian Relations (also banned by Israel) which became defunct after its director – Arafat Shoukri , who was also involved with the Palestinian Return Center – left the UK for Qatar (and a job with Al Jazeera) around 2014.
The JCPA reports that in addition to Birawi:
“…others connected to PRC and its initiatives are joined by other UK Muslim Brotherhood affiliates in the newly launched global “70th anniversary of the Nakba” Campaign. […]
On March 14, 2018, the Popular Conference of Palestinians Abroad held a press conference in Beirut, where it announced the launch of its “70th anniversary of the Nakba” Campaign […]. The campaign is held in cooperation with the Palestinians in Europe Conference […] Ziyad al-Aloul, a senior UK-based activist suspected of affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, serves as spokesman of the Popular Conference of Palestinians Abroad.”
Al Aloul has previously been involved with the Muslim Association of Britain (which was chaired by Birawi between 2001 and 2003) and the ‘European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza’ (ECESG) which participated in the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla and with which Arafat Shoukri was also involved.
The JCPA notes that organisers of the ‘Popular Conference of Palestinians Abroad’ also include Essam Youssef of the UK-based, BBC investigated charity ‘Interpal‘ and Majed al Zeer of the Palestinian Return Center.
Apparently though the BBC does not consider the connections of British based activists and organisations to a potentially incendiary publicity stunt staged by more than one designated terror group to be of interest even to its domestic audiences – and not least British MPs who supported the Palestinian Return Center’s successful bid to gain UN accreditation or those who have in the past been briefed by Zaher Birawi on topics such as “violence in the occupied territories” or attended ‘EuroPal’ events in Parliament.
Episode one will be shown on BBC One on Friday, March 30th and on BBC Four on Sunday, April 1st.
“In the first episode, Lachlan follows Jesus’s last days on earth, travelling from the north of what is now Israel to Jerusalem. It’s a pilgrimage that millions undertake and a story of love and suffering that has inspired some of the world’s most remarkable masterpieces. […]
Along the way, in a series of surprising encounters, Lachlan meets locals who have their own take on daily life in the Holy Land. This is personal odyssey for Lachlan, exploring the places his father painted but never saw, rooted in the past but brimming with life in the present day.”
Episode two will be shown on BBC One on Sunday, April 1st and on BBC Four on Monday, April 2nd.
“Lachlan Goudie traces the story of Mary through the gospels with a personal question – why is the life of the Mother of God barely described in the Bible, but so well-represented in art?
He looks at her role in the story of the Resurrection and the subsequent events up to Pentecost, fifty days after Easter. In Nazareth he visits the well where legend states the teenage Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, and at one of seventeen Churches of the Annunciation sees the wealth of imagery that has helped secure for Mary a place in the hearts of the faithful. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, now in a grotto beneath the Church of the Nativity, he watches and draws pilgrims from all over the world. […]
During this journey Lachlan discovers that Mary and her miraculous story are inspiring not just to Christians. Mary the Mother of Jesus is a major figure to Muslims, the only woman named in the Koran.”
On March 26th BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programmes understandably devoted a considerable amount of airtime to the topic of the letter put out the previous evening by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the JLC criticising the leader of the British Labour Party and calling for a protest outside Parliament.
One of those programmes – ‘World at One’ – seemed to attempt to present listeners with a more comprehensive view of the background to the story than others, but did that portrayal really give audiences the full view?
Kearney: “At half past five this afternoon Jewish community leaders are gathering at Westminster in a protest against Jeremy Corbyn, accusing him of siding with antisemites again and again. They say it’s their first protest against a mainstream political party since the Second World War. The Labour leader has responded by saying ‘we recognise that antisemitism has occurred in pockets within the Labour Party, causing pain and hurt to our Jewish community in the Labour Party and the rest of the country’. He added ‘I’m sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused’. These accusations have been levelled at Jeremy Corbyn for years.”
Kearney: “In 2012 he offered his backing to a street artist whose mural, featuring antisemitic stereotypes, was due to be removed after complaints. Jeremy Corbyn replied ‘Why? You’re in good company’. He compared the mural to Rockefeller destroying one made by Diego Rivera because it included Lenin. But last week Jeremy Corbyn issued a statement saying ‘I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on’.”
Kearney then cited her next example of “accusations…levelled at Jeremy Corbyn”.
Kearney: “In 2009 Jeremy Corbyn welcomed members of Hamas and Hizballah to the UK and referred to them as friends. He later refused to apologise for this in an interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 news.”
Listeners then heard some of the less angry parts of that 2015 interview, including the claim from Corbyn that Hamas and Hizballah are “part of a peace process” and:
“I’ve also had discussions with people from the Right in Israeli politics who have the same view, possibly, that the State of Israel should extend from the river to the sea as it is claimed people from the Palestinian side do.” [emphasis added]
On the topic of his describing members of the two designated terrorist organisations as ‘friends’, listeners heard Corbyn say:
“I’m saying that people I talk to…I use it in a collective way, saying our friends were prepared to talk. Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hizballah and what they do? No.”
Martha Kearney did not however inform listeners that in the original March 2009 speech in which he repeatedly called Hamas and Hizballah ‘friends’, Corbyn also spoke about Hamas – an organisation committed to the destruction of Israel under its overtly antisemitic founding charter – as follows:
“The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake…”
Neither were ‘World at One’ listeners told that – despite the ‘explanation’ they heard for his use of the term ‘friends’ and the claim that it does not mean that he agrees with Hamas and Hizballah – Corbyn clearly expressed his opposition to the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their own state: a stance categorised as antisemitism under the IHRA working definition.
“We are opposed to Zionism and what Israel is doing towards the Palestinian people. […] Our argument – and I refuse to be dragged into this stuff that somehow or other because we’re pro-Palestinian we’re anti-Semitic: it’s nonsense. What we’re in favour of is a Palestine where everybody can live. They can’t live if you’ve got Zionism dominating it all.”
Martha Kearney’s next example referred to a story the BBC failed to report accurately at the time.
Kearney: “In 2016 Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, apologised for writing a series of antisemitic posts on Facebook, including arguing for Israel’s population to be transported out of the Middle East. Then, while defending Naz Shah, the former London mayor Ken Livingstone claimed that Hitler had been a Zionist. He was suspended but not expelled from the Labour Party and spoke to the ‘World at One’.”
Listeners then heard parts of Kearney’s 2016 interview with Livingstone, including his insinuation that “people” were “smearing and lying about” him and the claim that “if you’re a bigot, you’re not going to join the Labour Party”.
After parts of the letter written by the Board of Deputies and the JLC had been read out, Kearney went on:
Kearney: “During the 2015 Labour leadership contest Jeremy Corbyn took calls from listeners on the ‘World at One’. One of them was Lee Barnett from Richmond.”
Listeners heard a recording of Mr Barnett speaking about antisemitism and Holocaust denial “posted by those who say they’re your supporters” followed by Corbyn responding that he had spent his life as a campaigner against racism and mentioning his mother’s presence at Cable Street in the 1930s – but without substantially addressing the caller’s points. That 2015 recording continued with Martha Kearney saying to Corbyn:
Kearney: “But there have been questions raised about the kind of people that you associate with: story in the papers today about the fact that you invited Diane [sic] Abu Jahjah to the Commons as a special guest. Now this is a man who’s talked about ‘hoax gas chambers’.”
Corbyn: “Sorry, who?”
Kearney: “You’ve not met him?”
Corbyn: “No. Well I’ve…I saw the name this morning and I asked somebody who is he.”
Kearney: “Right so this was somebody who…so you definitely didn’t invite this man to the Commons as a special guest?”
Corbyn: “Well my views are that the Holocaust was the most disgraceful and vile process of the history of the twentieth century, if not the wider world. And that has to be understood by successive generations and has to be understood by all our children in schools. That surely is important. The idea…”
Kearney: “So just to be absolutely clear on this: there’s an accusation which I think you’re denying. I’m giving you the opportunity to deny it.”
Corbyn: “The idea that…the idea…”
Kearney: “You didn’t invite this man?”
Corbyn: “I’m sorry; can I answer please? The idea that I’m some kind of racist or antisemitic person is beyond appalling, disgusting and deeply offensive. I’ve spent my life opposing racism. Until my dying day I will be opposed to racism in any form.”
Kearney closed that section of the item there, moving on to another related topic. Remarkably though, despite having aired Corbyn’s recorded response denying knowing who Dyab Abou Jahjah was, Kearney did not bother to inform listeners that – as the BBC itself reported in August 2015 – Corbyn subsequently claimed that he “must have forgotten meeting him in 2009”.
Dyab Abou Jahjah (whose organisation had published a Holocaust denying cartoon three years earlier) was in fact at the same March 2009 ‘Stop the War Coalition’ meeting at which Corbyn called Hamas and Hizballah ‘friends’. Abou Jahjah was subsequently banned from visiting the UK by the British government: a decision he blamed on “the lobbying of the Zionists” while claiming that “MP Corbyn is filing a complaint against this disgrace”.
Although this programme clearly did attempt to provide the BBC’s domestic audiences with more background to the story than other Radio 4 programmes aired on the same day, it is notable that while listeners did hear rather a lot of Jeremy Corbyn’s fairly standard evasive responses to the long-standing criticism against him, parts of the story that are highly relevant to full audience understanding of it – such as the fact that he did meet Dyab Abou Jahjah and his self-professed opposition to Jewish self-determination – were airbrushed from the portrayal.
Misrepresentation of Jesus as a Palestinian has long been seen in the Palestinian media and that politically motivated historical revisionism is sanctioned and propagated by the Palestinian Authority and members of its dominant party Fatah.
Those watching BBC One’s faith and ethics debate show ‘The Big Questions’ on March 25th may however have been surprised to see that ahistorical notion go completely unchallenged during a discussion (available in the UK here) titled “Would Jesus be labelled an extremist today?”.
Panellist Shaykh Ruzwan Mohammed opined (from 09:34 in the video below):
“I think what you have to do is to put the person [Jesus] in his proper context.”
He went on to say:
“But I think it’s an issue of…he’s Palestinian. He was probably dark-skinned.”
Presenter Nicky Campbell responded to that claim with one word: “exactly”.
Remarkably, neither Campbell nor anyone else taking part in the debate bothered to relieve viewers of the erroneous – and politically motivated – idea that Jesus was a Palestinian.
On March 27th an article titled “Jeremy Corbyn told to act on ‘stain’ of anti-Semitism in party” was published in the ‘politics’ section of the UK page on the BBC News website.
Relating to the previous day’s protest organised by two British Jewish community bodies, the article includes an insert ostensibly intended to help readers understand the story.
Titled “What is anti-Semitism?”, the insert commences by giving a definition attributed to the Oxford English Dictionary.
“Anti-Semitism is “hostility and prejudice directed against Jewish people” (OED)”
BBC audiences are then told that:
“Campaigners for Palestinian rights – a popular left-wing cause – say they are against Zionism rather than anti-Semitic”
The insert goes on to give an explanation of Zionism which, notably, does not include the term self-determination.
“Zionism refers to the movement to create a Jewish state in the Middle East, roughly corresponding to the historical land of Israel, and thus support for the modern state of Israel. Anti-Zionism opposes that.”
Obviously an insert purporting to explain antisemitism to BBC audiences should have clarified that according to the IHRA working definition (adopted by the UK government, among others), opposition to the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in the Jewish state is defined as one possible manifestation of antisemitism.
“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
Finally, the insert presents readers with a dose of the Livingstone Formulation:
“But some say “Zionist” can be used as a coded attack on Jews, while others say the Israeli government and its supporters are deliberately confusing anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to avoid criticism”
As regular readers will be aware, this is far from the first time that the BBC has promoted the notion that “the Israeli government and its supporters” deliberately and dishonestly raise the issue of antisemitism in order to delegitimise criticism of Israel.
Neither is this the first time that the BBC has tried – and failed – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism to its audiences. Indeed, this insert was obviously for the most part recycled from the opening paragraphs of a ‘backgrounder‘ first published in April 2016.
In other words, in nearly two years of BBC coverage of the issue of antisemitism within the UK Labour party, audiences have not once been informed of the existence of accepted definitions of antisemitism which have already answered the question of whether anti-Zionism – i.e. the denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination – is an expression of antisemitism.
Moreover, it is obvious that even the high profile of the latest related story covered in this article did not prompt the BBC to come up with an accurate definition of its core issue.
Given the fact that the BBC still does not work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism and in light of its own record on that issue and its repeated failure to inform audiences what anti-Zionist groups such as the PSC and the BDS campaign really stand for despite frequently showcasing their agendas, that is perhaps hardly surprising.
But this insert does demonstrate once again is that the BBC is currently incapable of properly serving its funding public’s interests on this topic.
Those getting their news from the BBC News website will not be aware that late last week the United States passed legislation relating to the Palestinian Authority’s payment of salaries to convicted terrorists and the families of terrorists.
“The Taylor Force Act, legislation that cuts American funding for the Palestinian Authority over its payments to convicted terrorists and their families, officially became a law on Friday evening, after President Donald Trump signed a large budget bill that the act was a part of. The PA protested the passage of the legislation, which is named after Taylor Force, an American citizen murdered in a terror attack in Tel Aviv two years ago.
The bill was first introduced by Republican lawmakers in March of last year. Over the last 12 months, it has gone through a modification process that produced wide bipartisan support for it. The final version that became part of the wider budget bill includes a number of exceptions for projects that will continue to receive American funding, such as hospitals in East Jerusalem, wastewater programs and child vaccination initiatives.
It should be noted that the legislation will not affect the budget that the United States provides to the Palestinian Authority’s security and intelligence forces, which is separate from funding that goes toward dealing with civilian issues within the PA. […]
In a statement it [the White House] said that it “commends the Congress for including the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits most U.S. foreign assistance that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority (PA) until the PA ends the abhorrent practice of providing payments to terrorists and their families in reward for acts of violence.””
Visitors to the BBC News website have to date not seen any reporting on that topic either on the US or Middle East pages. Even the predictable reaction from BBC regular Husam Zomlot did not receive any coverage.
“The PLO excoriated Congress on Friday for passing the Taylor Force Act, a law that threatens to freeze State Department funds to the Palestinian Authority unless it ends its longstanding practice of compensating terrorists and the families of terrorists convicted in Israeli courts.
The PLO envoy to Washington, Husam Zomlot, dismissed the effort as politically motivated. The pressure “does not work, and severely damages the prospects for peace in the Middle East,” he said. […]
The bill, Zomlot said, “punishes” the PA, “which is the only agency committed to peace and nonviolence, and undermines the American-Palestinian bilateral relationship and decades of US investments in the two-state solution.
“The Taylor Force Act represents the most recent effort in this 30-year-old trend of legislations that deliberately targets the Palestinian people,” Zomlot continued, accusing the US Congress of “flagrant bias.””
As regular readers know, the subject of the PA’s payment of salaries to terrorists is one that the BBC more often than not chooses to avoid, despite its relevance to members of the public in the many countries which donate aid to the Palestinian Authority – including of course Britain. Although familiarity with this issue is also key to BBC audience understanding of both the eternal PA budget deficit and the background to Palestinian terrorism, as we see the corporation continues to under-report the topic.
On the evening of March 25th the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the JLC put out an unprecedented letter criticising the leader of the British Labour Party and calling for a protest outside Parliament the following day.
The BBC News website reported that story on its UK page on March 26th in an article titled “Jewish groups attack Jeremy Corbyn over anti-Semitism“.
“”Enough is enough,” Jewish groups have said in a letter accusing Jeremy Corbyn of failing to tackle anti-Semitism. […]
The letter – drawn up by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council – said there has been a “repeated institutional failure” to properly address anti-Semitism.
It accuses Mr Corbyn of being unable to “seriously contemplate anti-Semitism, because he is so ideologically fixed within a far left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities”.
The organisations refer to Mr Corbyn’s apparently supportive message to the creator of an allegedly anti-Semitic mural in 2012 and his attendance at “pro-Hezbollah rallies”.” [emphasis added]
That last paragraph includes a link to a BBC report from March 23rd headlined “Jeremy Corbyn regrets comments about ‘anti-Semitic’ mural” in which readers are also told that the mural was “allegedly anti-Semitic”.
“Jeremy Corbyn has expressed “sincere regret” at failing to look more closely at an allegedly anti-Semitic mural in London before questioning its removal.”
Readers are also offered another item of related reading dating from the previous day titled “Tom Watson apologises over ‘anti-Semitic’ mural row“.
“Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson says Jeremy Corbyn was right to express regret for sending an apparently supportive message to the creator of an allegedly anti-Semitic mural.”
Clearly the question of whether or not that 2012 mural included antisemitic imagery is crucial to audience understanding of this story. Obviously too, the BBC is very reluctant to provide an answer to that question.
In addition to the repeated use of the word ‘allegedly’ and punctuation implying that the question is open to interpretation, all three of those BBC reports state that the artist “has denied being anti-Semitic”. At the same time opposite views of the topic from both Watson and Corbyn are quoted.
“He [Corbyn] added: “I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic.”
“My reaction is that is a horrible anti-Semitic mural that was rightly taken down,” he [Watson] said.”
The Jewish Chronicle’s Stephen Pollard notes that:
“The work, Freedom for Humanity, was painted near Brick Lane in London’s East End by “graffiti artist” Kalen Ockerman, who goes by the name of Mear One.
Its intent was obvious. It showed businessmen and bankers sitting counting their money. Not only did they look like obvious caricatures of Jews – in a style reminiscent of Nazi propaganda in the 1930s – the artist himself confirmed they were intended as such, writing: “Some of the older white Jewish folk in the local community had an issue with me portraying their beloved #Rothschild or #Warburg etc as the demons they are.”
Anyone with even a basic knowledge of politics, history and the world would see that the work was caricaturing Jews. And, to be blunt, anyone denying that is indulging in sophistry of the most pathetically unconvincing kind.
Indeed, the then Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfar Rahman, himself ordered council officials to “do everything possible” to remove the mural, agreeing that “the images of the bankers perpetuate anti-Semitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial institutions.”
To repeat: this was not a controversial view. The artist himself held it, publicly.”
However, with concerns about antisemitism within the second largest party in the UK parliament now prompting the mainstream British Jewish community to take such an action for the first time in decades, it is obviously essential that Britain’s national broadcaster be capable of providing its audiences with a clear and accurate view of the story.
And that necessarily includes being able to unambiguously describe antisemitism as such – without the equivocal punctuation and qualifying terminology all too frequently seen in BBC content.
Menendez: “…and later in the programme we’ll hear from a Palestinian gynecologist who lost his three eldest daughters when an Israeli tank shelled his home in Gaza. But he’s somehow turned tragedy into an appeal for reconciliation.”
Later on (at 34:45 here) listeners heard a long interview – lasting nearly eight minutes – which appears to have been conducted for no reason other than the fact that the guest happened to be in London for a variety of speaking engagements.
A clip from the interview was also later promoted on social media and notably its accompanying synopsis includes at least some of the relevant context that was completely absent from the interview broadcast to millions of listeners around the world.
“The shelling took place as Israel was involved in operations against Hamas. The army said troops had fired shells at suspicious figures in Dr Abuelaish’s house, believing they were observers directing sniper fire. He denies that any militants were hiding in or firing from his house.”
Menendez introduced the prerecorded interview as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Menedez: “Now to a very tricky question: how would you react if three of your children were killed in an incident by a tank shell? And if it happened just three months after your wife – their mother – died from leukemia? Well many of us would probably fall apart, unable to cope with such unimaginable, unbearable tragedy. But this is precisely what happened to Palestinian gynecologist Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish in Gaza in 2009 when part of his house was destroyed by an Israeli tank during the three-week conflict of that time.”
Listeners heard nothing whatsoever on the topic of why that conflict – Operation Cast Lead – began and no mention was made of the thousands of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians which preceded it. Menendez continued:
Menendez: “And yet Dr Abuelaish hasn’t fallen apart: quite the opposite. He’s made a new life for himself and his remaining children in Canada and turned his tragedy into a powerful plea for reconciliation. The BBC reported on what happened to Dr Abuelaish at the time. It was also well-known to Israeli TV viewers during the conflict because of his friendship and interviews with one reporter. In fact after the attack on his house – straight after – he called him live on air, partly to summon medical help for the injured. Well here he is being interviewed by us in the days after.”
Archive recording of Abuelaish: “They are sitting there, four daughters, two nieces, in their own room and I started to play with my youngest child whom I carried on my shoulders. And just seconds after I left their room, the first bomb. I started to scream, looking at them. Bodies, parts here and there. The heads. What can I do at that time?”
Menendez: “Well Dr Abuelaish came into the Newshour studio a little earlier today. I began by asking him what he remembered of the day his daughters were killed.”
Abuelaish: “It lives with me, it runs with me. I see my daughters. I talk to them and on daily basis I am reminded because the situation in the Gaza Strip is the same situation. And the suffering. And I see it in everyday suffering in this part of the world; in Syria, in Yemen, in Afghanistan I see in these children my daughters to remind me and live with me all of the time. And my daughters who are asking me what did you do for us? Did you forget us? I say to them I will never forget you. I am determined to keep moving. The tragedy is there, the tragedy is not the end of our life and we must not allow the tragedy to be the end of our life. And, thank God, we succeeded.”
Menendez: “Do you remember the panic though in those immediate moments afterwards? And also your thought process that led you to ring your Israeli friend because that’s a crucial part of what happened afterwards isn’t it?”
Abuelaish: “Of course; at that moment we were under fear, under attacks from everywhere. We are expecting the worst all of the time. But thank God to give me the wisdom and to think rational at that moment and to direct my face to God and to call my friend who was supposed to interview me. So I called him to expose the secret and to show that there are human civilians who are killed on daily basis and to put an end to this tragedy.”
Menendez: “That was…it was also about getting some medical help, wasn’t it?”
Abuelaish: “For the severely wounded; my daughter, my niece, my brother and the others who were under threat. So I asked to stop the shelling and to take them to the Palestinian hospital and then from there to be transferred to the Israeli hospital where I used to work.”
Menedez: “And what sort of reception did you get when you ended up in those Israeli hospitals? I mean was there sympathy, great sympathy?”
Abuelaish: “Of course. It opened the eyes of the Israeli public about the human face of the Palestinian people. But do we need to be killed in order to show the other that we are human? We are neighbours and we need to live as neighbours, as equal human beings and that human life of the Palestinians is equal to the human life of the Israelis.”
Failing to challenge Abuelaish’s repeated assertion that Israelis do not view Palestinians as human beings, Menendez went on:
Menendez: “Why do you think your house was shelled?”
Abuelaish: “From my side there is no reason to be kill my daughters or be targeted. We are human civilians sitting in our home. There was no reason.”
As the synopsis to the promoted clip indicates, the BBC is well aware of the background to the incident and hence knows that Dr Abuelaish’s daughters were not “targeted”.
“The IDF concluded Wednesday that Israeli tank shells caused the deaths of four Palestinian girls, including three daughters of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, when his house was accidentally attacked on January 16, during Operation Cast Lead. Following the investigation, the army confirmed that two shells had hit the building. […] The IDF said that a Golani Brigade force was operating near Beit Lahiya when it came under sniper and mortar fire in an area laden with explosives. After determining that the source of the fire was in a building adjacent to Abuelaish’s home, the force returned fire. While the IDF was shooting, suspicious figures were identified in the top floors of the doctor’s house, and the troops believed the figures were directing the Hamas sniper and mortar fire, the army said. Upon assessing the situation in the field while under heavy fire, the commander of the force gave the order to open fire on the suspicious figures, and it was from this fire that his three daughters were killed, said the IDF. Once the soldiers realized that civilians, and not Hamas gunmen, were in the house they ceased fire immediately, continued the army.”
Moreover, having covered this story many times, the BBC is most likely aware that Dr Abuelaish had been advised to leave his house prior to the incident.
“The IDF Spokesman’s Unit stressed that in the days prior to the incident, Abuelaish – who had worked before at Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center and had very good connections with Israelis – was contacted personally several times by officers in the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration to urge him to evacuate his home because of Hamas operations and the intense fighting that was already taking place in that area for several days. In addition to the personal contact made directly with the doctor, the IDF issued warnings to the residents of Sajaiya by dropping thousands of leaflets and by issuing warnings via Palestinian media outlets. The IDF said it regretted the incident and the loss of life, and that the doctor had been updated with details of the investigation as well. Considering the constraints of the battle scene, the amount of threats that endangered the force, and the intensity of fighting in the area, the investigators concluded that the forces’ action and the decision to fire towards the building were reasonable. Abuelaish, speaking on Channel 2 Wednesday, thanked all those who worked to find the truth about the incident and accepted the findings, saying that mistakes can happen.”
Concealing all that relevant context to the story from listeners, Menendez continued:
Menendez: “Have you had an apology from Israel for what happened?”
Abuelaish: “That’s the most painful part. Last March we went there to testify at the court and my daughter – who was severely wounded and she lost the sight in her right eye – when they ask her how do you feel, she said I feel in pain as if I am killed another time to prove that I am a victim. And we are asking just for apology.”
Menendez: “Why? What does it signify, that apology? Is it an acknowledgement of the terrible mistake that happened?”
Abuelaish: “Acknowledgement that we are human. That they are human beings. To give them the dignity and the right of apology. The acknowledgement of their existence.”
Menendez: “So why do you think it hasn’t happened, given how high-profile your case has been?”
Abuelaish: “You need to ask the politicians, the leaders. We need that courage. To acknowledge and to respect and to value human life and to have that moral courage to say we made a mistake, we take responsibility for what happened, we apologise. And then we can all move forward. I moved forward and my daughters are kept alive through good deeds and spreading hope in a time of despair in this world.”
Menendez: “And how have you managed to maintain that hope? How did you stop it turning to hate? Was it a conscious effort?”
Abuelaish: “Of course it’s a conscious effort because as a medical doctor the only possible thing I believe in is to return my daughters back. I can’t return them back but I can keep them alive and I see them while I am talking to you. I see them. They are in front of me. It’s my faith which help me a lot.”
Menendez: “Did you feel the hate bubbling up on occasion?”
Abuelaish: “I never feel and I say to people if you face any tragedy, if you face any harm from anyone, don’t allow hatred to approach you. Hatred is destructive, contagious disease to the one who carries it. Hatred is a poison. We need to be strong in order to move forward.”
Menendez next adopted the common BBC practice of referring to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the main issue in the Middle East.
Menendez: “Do you see any hope at the moment in the Middle East? There seems to be very little common understanding between the two sides. They seem as far apart as they’ve ever been.”
Abuelaish: “They are far apart but both are alive and that’s the hope. In medicine, as long as the patient is still alive there is hope. And the Palestinians and the Israelis and the Middle East; the people there are alive but it needs wisdom and the international community and all of the people to work together from violence to inclusiveness to partnership and sharing and to understand that the human life and the freedom is the most precious thing.”
Menendez: “But do you think though that people on both sides have stopped seeing the other side as human beings?”
Abuelaish: “We need justice and justice means putting yourself in the position of the others. And when we speak about both sides, both sides are not equal. We need to equalise between them, the Palestinian and the Israelis because the Palestinians are suffering on a daily basis. We need to equalize between them and to live as good neighbours, as equal citizens in independent states. We need to humanise not to politicise. We are disconnected. How close are we as neighbours but how far from each other. See my Israeli friends who live in Ashkelon close to the Gaza Strip. They don’t know what is happening in Gaza Strip which is a disaster. Can you sleep and your neighbour is hungry? Can you eat, can you run a normal life and your neighbour without electricity, without freedom? And our neighbours are disconnected from what is happening in the Gaza strip and the world is also watching what is happening.”
Failing to clarify to listeners that the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip has nothing to do with Israel or that Gaza’s freedom deprived residents have been under Hamas rule for over a decade, Menendez closed the interview at that point.
Readers can judge for themselves whether or not Menendez’s repeated claim that Dr Abuelaish has “turned his tragedy into a powerful plea for reconciliation” is supported by his interviewee’s entirely one-sided messaging. However, in an item in which words such as ‘Hamas’, ‘terrorism’ and ‘rocket attacks’ did not appear even once and vital context was omitted, it is blatantly obvious that BBC World Service audiences did not hear a balanced account of this story.