Reviewing BBC News website coverage of Israel’s election

In contrast to previous election campaigns in 2013, 2015 and April 2019, BBC News website coverage of the September 17th election was relatively limited with just seven written reports appearing between September 16th and September 22nd.

Nevertheless, some familiar themes were evident in that coverage along with some new ones.

September 16th: Israel election a referendum on Netanyahu, Jeremy Bowen

In that article the BBC’s Middle East editor – whose job it is to provide “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” and “to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting” – employed the standard BBC tactic of presenting history as having begun in June 1967 while erasing the Jordanian occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem from audience view.

“The southern end of the [Jordan] valley, where I am, has been occupied by Israel since 1967, a big part of the land it captured in that year’s Middle East War.”

As has been the case in BBC coverage of all Israeli elections throughout the past six years, this time too the topic of the ‘peace process’ was framed as being exclusively dependent on Israeli actions.

“Usually the valley is a sleepy place. But Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed it into his country’s general election, which is coming up this Tuesday. He declared that if he was returned as prime minister, he would annex the Jordan Valley, and Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The suggestion has been condemned by many of Israel’s friends, including Britain, on the grounds that it would be yet another nail in the coffin containing hopes for peace. Israel would have absorbed land Palestinians want for a state.”

Bowen told BBC audiences that:

“Israel’s electoral system always produces coalitions. Would-be prime ministers need to add their own party’s seats to those of smaller parties who exact a price for giving their support. The ultra-Orthodox have been staunch supporters of Mr Netanyahu. Without their seats, he would not be able to form a government.”

Apparently the BBC’s Middle East editor has forgotten that in 2013, Netanyahu did form a government without the ultra-Orthodox parties.

September 17th: Israel’s election: The most important things to know

In this article BBC audiences found both a problematic video dating from June 2019 in which Israeli citizens living in certain locations are portrayed by the BBC’s Yolande Knell as “illegal” and a partisan map produced by the political NGO ‘B’tselem’ which has often been promoted in previous BBC content.

Once again audiences saw promotion of the Palestinian narrative according to which the prognosis of the ‘peace process’ depends entirely upon Israel, along with the BBC’s habitual but partial mantra concerning ‘international law’.

“The fate of the Palestinians depends on who is in power in Israel, since Israel occupies land which they seek for a state of their own.

Mr Netanyahu says he will never agree to a sovereign Palestinian state with powers like any other country (something which he says will be a serious threat to Israel).

He has also pledged to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and a swathe of land known as the Jordan Valley (which comprises about 30% of the West Bank). Because they are built on occupied territory, the settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

The Palestinians, who want the settlements removed, say such a move would make a Palestinian state impossible and kill the peace process once and for all.”

The BBC promoted the unsupported claim that:

“…Mr Netanyahu is politically right wing and ideologically driven by Jewish claims to the land based on the Bible…”

Readers were told that: [emphasis added]

“In April’s election, Mr Netanyahu won the most votes but failed to form a coalition, which is he why he called a snap poll for 17 September.”

In fact, rather than Netanyahu acting alone as claimed by the BBC, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself and to hold another election.

September 17th: Israel election: Netanyahu in tough fight in this year’s second vote

At the beginning of this report readers were again wrongly informed that Netanyahu alone called an election.

“Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting to hold on to power following one of its closest election races in years.

He called Tuesday’s snap election after failing to form a governing coalition in the wake of an election in April.”

However the article’s final paragraph indicates that in fact the BBC knows that is not the case.

“After April’s election, Mr Netanyahu’s attempts to form a new government failed and he ran out of time in May. He pressed for new elections and Israeli MPs voted by a significant margin in favour of a new poll.”

Readers again found Yolande Knell’s problematic video branding people “illegal” in this report along with the previously seen Palestinian talking points concerning the ‘peace process’ and the BBC’s ‘international law’ mantra.

“Last week, Mr Netanyahu declared he would “apply Israeli sovereignty” in the Jordan Valley if he won. The announcement amounted to a promise to effectively annex 30% of the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians want to be part of a future state.

Amid international condemnation, the Palestinian leadership called the move a war crime which would bury any prospects for peace.

Mr Netanyahu also reiterated a pledge from the last election to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

September 18th: Israel election: Netanyahu and rival headed for deadlock

The same narrative concerning the ‘peace process’ was evident in this report too.

“Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has been in office for 10 years and is vying to win a record fifth term in office.

The 69-year-old, who leads the right-wing Likud party, has pledged to annex Jewish settlements and a swathe of other territory in the occupied West Bank if he is returned to power.

Palestinians, who seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in occupied East Jerusalem, have warned such a move will kill any hopes for peace.”

Readers also discovered that, according to the BBC, Israelis are not allowed to decide on their own capital city:

“Like Mr Netanyahu, he [Gantz] has ruled out ever dividing Jerusalem, which Israel considers its capital.”

September 19th: Israel election: Netanyahu and Gantz compete over leadership

September 21st: Israeli elections: What do the results reveal? Tom Bateman

The problematic video by Yolande Knell was promoted in this report too along with the same messaging concerning the ‘peace process’.

“The campaign led to a hardening of the view among Palestinians that the so-called two-state solution – the long held international formula for peace – is no longer viable, according to the pollster Dr Khalil Shikaki.

“There is no doubt that the debate during the election campaign in Israel has been significantly damaging to the Palestinian willingness to support diplomacy and negotiations,” he says, citing Mr Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the Jordan Valley and all Israeli settlements in the West Bank.”

Once again no effort was made to delve into the question of where that Palestinian “support” for “diplomacy and negotiations” has been throughout the past 26 years since the Oslo Accords were signed or to clarify that some Palestinian factions. including Hamas. explicitly reject such ideas. Significantly though, Bateman did find it appropriate to tout the so-called ‘one-state solution’.

“Dr Shikaki says that instead around a third of Palestinians opt for the idea of a “one-state” outcome – meaning a single country between the Mediterranean and the river Jordan in which every individual has an equal vote; something Israelis would see as risking the end of the Jewish state.”

Bateman also elected to promote disinformation concerning the voting rights of Palestinians.

“While around five million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza cannot vote in Israeli elections, they are affected by the decisions of those who can.”

Arab residents of East Jerusalem are entitled vote in Israeli elections if they have chosen to take Israeli citizenship and Palestinians living under Palestinian Authority rule in parts of Judea & Samaria or under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip of course vote – when their rulers allow it – for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Bateman also chose to use politicised terminology to describe Israel’s Arab population:

“In fact, with nearly all the votes counted, turnout went up to nearly 70%, from 68.5% in April.

Some of that rise was because many more of Israel’s Palestinian citizens – Arab Israelis – voted this time than they did in April.”

Once again we see the BBC promoting a politicised description of Arab Israelis despite the fact that only a minority self-identify as Palestinian.

September 22nd: Israeli elections: Arab parties back Gantz to oust Netanyahu

This article included the same politicised terminology (has there been a memo?) in analysis by Barbara Plett Usher:

“The leader of the Arab grouping, Ayman Odeh, said it wasn’t endorsing Mr Gantz and his polices: but was moving to try and block Benjamin Netanyahu from securing another term, and to send a clear message that Israel’s future must include the full and equal participation of its Palestinian citizens.”

Apparently the BBC considers it acceptable for its journalists to identify people according to their own political narrative rather than to reflect how those people self-identify.

All versions of this report told readers that:

“The Joint List won 13 seats in the election. If Mr Gantz had the endorsement of all 13 seats, he would still fall short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120-seat legislature.”

By the time the later versions were published it was known that the Joint List’s ‘Balad’ faction had rejected inclusion in that endorsement but the BBC did not bother to update its report accordingly.

Back in January 2013 we made the following observations in relation to BBC coverage of that year’s Israeli election:

“Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances. 

Broadly speaking – and we see this reflected time and time again in its reporting; not only in relation to the elections – the BBC absolves the Palestinian side of the equation of any responsibility for the progress of the peace process (or lack of it) and turns Palestinians into child-like creatures lacking all agency.”

Two years later we noted that:

“The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities.”

In April of this year we commented:

“Overall, the BBC News website’s selective coverage of the 2019 election conformed to the agenda evident in the corporation’s reporting of the two previous ones. Israel was once again portrayed as a country ‘shifting’ to the right and that alleged shift was depicted as the exclusive reason for the predicted failure to make progress in ‘the peace process’.

In order to promote that framing, the BBC of course has to ignore the fact that no matter which Israeli political party has won elections over the past twenty-seven years, all attempts to bring an end to the conflict have been met with a negative response from the other side.  

And yet, despite its obligation to “build people’s understanding” the BBC continues its dumbed-down, narrative-driven portrayal of the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon the paper placed in the ballot box by Israeli voters.”

As we see, the BBC’s overriding interest in promoting a political narrative means that it continues to adhere to that well-worn formula.

Related Articles:

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

BBC widens its ‘illegal under international law’ mantra to include people

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 comments on “Reviewing BBC News website coverage of Israel’s election

  1. What did anyone expect from the ‘Biased Bowen Claptrap’ of fantasy reporting. All these years later he continues to blame Israel for his own stupidity, how pathetic.

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