Hosted by Stephen Sackur, the programme was aired on the BBC World News television channel, on BBC World Service radio and is also available as a podcast. A clip from the programme was posted on the BBC News website.
“Stephen Sackur speaks to Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, a prize-winning Israeli novelist who brings a trained psychologist’s eye to compelling stories set in her home country. Hers is a world of moral ambiguity where truth, memory, right and wrong aren’t necessarily what they seem. Does her work tell us something important about the Israeli psyche?”
On several occasions throughout the interview, Stephen Sackur employed fictional characters and quotes from Gundar-Goshen’s novels to try to support his own narratives concerning Israel and Israelis and many of his questions were – predictably – aimed at framing Israel in a specific fashion. [emphasis in italics in the original]
0:40 Sackur: “That is interesting ‘cos it’s searching for the nuance, for a deeper understanding of actions and events. It seems to me that may be difficult in a country, Israel, which I know from personal experience is such a very intense place where people, in a sense, always feel there are existential questions and there are always sides to be taken – our side, their side, good against bad.”
8:29 Sackur: “In some ways your books have magic in them but they also have very difficult, dark stuff in them and when we come back to this theme of your take on truth and lies, you examine and challenge some of the truths that all Israelis think they know and hold very dear, some of them connected with the Holocaust which in your books hangs over so much of your fiction and it’s interpreted in different ways and frankly some people tell lies about what happened […] But also, the story of Israel’s creation. The coming about of the state, the fight in ’47 and ’48 that established the nation. You suggest in one of your books that people who fought in that war don’t always tell the truth about it. That there are serious lies told about how Israel was created.”
11:41 Sackur: “Do you think Israel has a problem with empathy with those who are not – well, we’re talking about Israeli Jews – those who are not Jewish?”
18:46 Sackur: “You live in a country where, if one looks at politics, the majority opinion right now is pretty Right-wing. Binyamin Netanyahu’s been prime minister for a long time. The Likud party looks like it, you know, might well win the next election too. You and a whole bunch of Israeli writers – if I can put it this way – of the progressive Left seem to be out of sync with the majority of the people in your own country.”
In one part of the conversation Sackur brings up the topic of African migrants in Israel in relation to one of Gundar-Goshen’s books. After his guest has clarified that the dilemmas raised in that novel do not apply solely to Israelis, Sackur goes on to contradict her with some obviously pre-prepared material.
13:45 Sackur: “I think that is a really powerful point you make but nonetheless there are some interesting statistics around this which do suggest there’s a difference between Israel and some European countries. For example many people won’t know but there is a significant number of Eritreans and other Africans – but mostly Eritreans – who illegally migrated into Israel in search of a better life. They’re mostly kept in detention centres. Some live illegally in the country. There are believed to be 40 – 50 thousand of them. Israel has recognised the refugee status…actually I think literally of a handful of Eritreans. In…in Europe the EU says that Eritreans who actually make it onto European territory, 90% of them – because of the way Eritrea is – are given refugee status. So there is a difference and it does seem that Israel is absolutely adamant that it doesn’t want to help the outsider in that way.”
Let’s examine Sackur’s claims one by one. Firstly, according to the government office responsible, there were 37,288 migrants in Israel at the beginning of 2018 rather than “40 – 50 thousand” as claimed by Sackur. Those migrants are not “mostly kept in detention centres” – the Holot detention centre was closed a year ago – they “mostly” live in southern Tel Aviv and in additional towns.
While failing to clarify how many of the people he admits “illegally migrated into Israel in search of a better life” have actually made applications for refugee status, Sackur compares an unspecified number – “a handful” – with a percentage. He quotes an EU statistic but without clarifying that in 2017 for example, “90%” in fact related to some 26,900 Eritreans granted protection status (rather than exclusively “refugee status” as claimed by Sackur) in 28 EU countries with a collective population of well over 500 million. So while in 2017 for example Croatia accepted 100% of the applications made by Eritreans, that actually amounted to ten people. Lithuania also accepted 100% of applications – 25 people – as did Latvia – 20 people in all.
Of course those familiar with Stephen Sackur’s track record when interviewing Israelis would not be in the least surprised by this latest promotion of his long evident chosen narrative concerning their country.