On October 30th millions of Israelis went to vote for their preferred representatives in elections for 54 regional councils, 122 local councils and 75 municipalities. Understandably, that local story did not receive any BBC coverage – with one exception.
Listeners to the October 30th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ programme heard a report from Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman which was introduced by presenter Martha Kearney (from 47:59 here) as follows:
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Kearney: “Elections are taking place today in Jerusalem for a new mayor and city council. For the first time a Palestinian’s on the ballot running for a city hall seat. It’s proving a controversial move in perhaps the world’s most contested city, divided by its largely Jewish population in the west and Palestinians in the east. The latter have broadly boycotted elections for the city authorities since 1967 when Israel captured and annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognised internationally. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”
Kearney’s claim that this is “the first time” that an Arab resident of Jerusalem has run in local elections is inaccurate. As usual BBC audiences were not provided with any background information concerning the nineteen-year Jordanian occupation and unrecognised annexation of parts of the city or the circumstances which prevailed at the time when “Israel captured” those areas.
Bateman began his report with some scene-setting and signposting.
Bateman: “I joined Amar Awad for an uphill task: the daily school run.”
Awad: “Yeah we are going up to the school of my girls…”
Bateman: “Uh, so you climb over these chairs and over the wall – this breezeblock. OK, and then to a kind of dirt path.”
Awad: “It’s very hard for them because there is no service buses to take them and it’s dangerous. It’s an image that you don’t see in a Jewish neighbourhood.”
Bateman: “In West Jerusalem.”
Awad: “In West Jerusalem, yes.”
Bateman: “It is a common complaint among the more than 300 thousand Palestinians of East Jerusalem. They pay the same council taxes as people in the west but speak of the injustice of neglected services, poor infrastructure, even home demolitions in some cases for lacking planning permits.” […]
Of course people who build without planning permission in municipalities around the world would also likely be subject to demolition orders.
Bateman: “On this, the eve of elections for Jerusalem mayor and city hall, Amar addresses a taboo: that he is thinking of voting. Historically nearly all East Jerusalemite Palestinians boycott the ballot. They see voting as legitimising Israeli control. And here is a man at the centre of Amar’s dilemma: Ramadan Dabash – a Palestinian born in East Jerusalem the year before Israel captured it, giving its Arab inhabitants only resident and not citizen status. He’s on the ballot leading a Palestinian party for seats at city hall. This is a first and he’s promising to demand better services.”
Bateman’s failure to clarify to listeners that residents of east Jerusalem are entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship – and that Ramadan Dabash is one of those who does hold Israeli citizenship – obviously misleads BBC audiences.
Dabash: “I will change all the situation here in East Jerusalem. I’m the first one. I want to make history.”
Bateman: “Of course the Palestinians that have opposed you, that believe you shouldn’t be doing this, say it goes way beyond services: that this is about what it represents. They see it as normalising an occupation.”
Dabash: “Look, if you want to talk about the problem here – occupation, normalisation, Israelisation – so maybe the solution is come 100 years more. We are 51 years until this time. Nobody take care of us.”
Notably, Bateman made no effort to enlighten listeners as to the identity of “the Palestinians that have opposed” Dabash and similarly inclined Jerusalemites. He did however make sure to squeeze the US president into the story.
Bateman: “Meanwhile in downtown West Jerusalem the election bandwagon was trying to move. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu got stuck in a packed Yehuda market [sic – actually Mahane Yehuda market] with his favourite candidate Ze’ev Elkin. The Israeli right-wing feels the wind in its sails, powered by President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The nationalists who balk at the Palestinian vision for their capital in East Jerusalem like to talk of a unified city, meaning under Israeli administration.”
In contrast to Bateman’s “wind in its sails” portrayal, Ze’ev Elkin’s mayoral bid failed.
Bateman next inadequately introduced a contributor from the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research.
Bateman: “Lior Schillat is a former Israeli government advisor turned think-tank director.”
Schillat: “The way we work in modern democracies nowadays is that when there is a representation there is also a support and attention of the municipality to what’s happening. What’s happening in Jerusalem is that one-third of the city does not have those representatives that wake up in the morning and make the phone call to the mayor.”
Bateman: “Some polling suggests a large number of East Jerusalemites would be prepared to vote for the local authority. There’s been some new Israeli government investment in the city’s east. But the boycott is likely to stick says the Palestinian academic Mahdi Abdul Hadi.”
Abdul Hadi: “Today after 51 years they are using one Palestinian who claim as a citizen of Israel to run for election. People will not vote because this is Israelisation. We are not consider as people at all. They are taking our history, our culture, our heritage and claiming this is a Jewish land and not a Palestinian land.”
Failing to explain to his listeners that second derogatory reference to “Israelisation” – the fact that increasing numbers of Arab Jerusalemites want to participate in Israeli economic and political life – and making no effort to challenge Abdul Hadi’s overtly projective propaganda, Bateman closed his report.
Bateman: “The political horizons for city councils may rarely go beyond schools and streetlights and new pavements but Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and so do questions over today’s election.”
Iqbal: “Now, a city mayoral race and city council election may not be deemed to be of international import but these elections are taking place in Jerusalem – probably the most contested and potently political city in the world. For the first time the ballot paper includes a Palestinian who is running for a city hall seat. It’s proving a highly controversial move in a city divided by its largely Jewish population in the west and Palestinians in the east. The latter have broadly boycotted elections for the city authorities since 1967 when Israel captured and annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognised internationally.”
Franks: “We don’t often cover local elections here on Newshour, what with our big-boned global agenda. But the elections that took place today in Jerusalem are happening or did happen in one of the most prized and contested cities in the world. For the first time the ballot paper included a Palestinian who was running for a city hall seat and that proved highly controversial in a city divided between its largely Jewish population in the west and Palestinians in the east. Those Palestinians have by and large boycotted elections for the city authorities since 1967 when Israel captured and annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognised internationally.”
As we see, in all three of these broadcasts the participation of a resident of Sur Baher in municipal elections in Jerusalem was described to BBC audiences both in the UK and around the world as “highly controversial”. Despite that, the BBC made no effort to clarify the identity of the parties holding that view.
BBC audiences were told nothing of Palestinian Authority intervention in local Israeli elections. They were not told that in August of this year the official PA daily newspaper announced that:
“The Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council issued a religious ruling that bans running or voting in the occupation’s municipal elections in occupied Jerusalem… it emphasized that voting or running in the municipal elections is forbidden by religious law, since this matter is subject to the rules of benefit and damage – which the sources of authority for estimating them are the knowledgeable religious scholars who know what the results will be – and there is no doubt at all that the damages that will be caused as a result of the participation are huge compared to the benefits.”
Neither were BBC radio listeners told that Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party put out multiple social media posts instructing potential voters to “boycott the occupation’s municipal elections”.
In other words the BBC chose to tell selected parts of a story while once again concealing crucial information in a report which was repeatedly presented as being about a “contested city” and in which the US president got more mentions than the intimidation of Jerusalem voters and interference in Israel’s democratic process by the Palestinian Authority.