Weekend long read

1) At the FDD Svante Cornell and Brenda Shaffer analyse ‘Selective Policies on Occupations, Protracted Conflicts, and Territorial Disputes’.

“Setting policies toward territories involved in protracted conflicts poses an ongoing challenge for governments, companies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Since there are multiple zones of disputed territories and occupation around the globe, setting policy toward one conflict raises the question of whether similar policies will be enacted toward others. Where different policies are implemented, the question arises: On what principle or toward what goal are the differences based?

Recently, for example, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided goods entering the European Union that are produced in Jewish settlements in the West Bank must be clearly designated as such. At the same time, however, neither the ECJ nor the European Union have enacted similar policies on goods from other zones of occupation, such as Nagorno-Karabakh or Abkhazia. The U.S. administration swiftly criticized the ECJ decision as discriminatory since it only applies to Israel. Yet, at the same time, U.S. customs policy on goods imports from other territories is also inconsistent: U.S. Customs and Border Protection has explicit guidelines that goods imported from the West Bank must be labelled as such, while goods that enter the United States from other occupied zones, such as Nagorno-Karabakh, encounter no customs interference.”

2) At the Tablet Liel Leibovitz gives his view of the US administration’s peace proposal.

“There’ll be time enough, in the days and weeks to come, to parse the fineries of President Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century. For now, though, one thing must be said: The plan introduces an element that’s been sorely missing from Washington’s approach to the Middle East for at least two decades—reality.

Talk to any of our best and brightest diplomats, analysts, and pundits, and you may be forgiven for thinking the region was reached not by plane but by wardrobe. Like a sandy Narnia, the land imagined in Foggy Bottom was one governed not by people and interests but by concepts and frameworks, best understood not by hitting the ground but by visiting the Council on Foreign Relations.”

3) The JCPA documents Iranian opposition to the US proposal.

“As expected, President Trump’s peace plan received widespread condemnation from official Iranian spokesmen as well as most media outlets in Iran. […] Iranian media emphatically broadcast the condemnations of the plan by the Palestinian organizations (Hamas and Islamic Jihad) and by the Palestinian Authority Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hizbullah. The press called for a unified Muslim front against the plan.

Iranian leader Khamenei webpage presented an updated eight-minute video on January 29, 2020, describing all the “traitorous” peace treaties signed between Israel and the Arab states, including the Oslo Accords, Camp David (2000), the Arab Peace Initiative, and the “Deal of the Century.” At the end of the video, the Iranian solution is presented in which the Iranian leader stressed that the “military, political, ethical, and cultural activities must be continued in order to liberate Palestine until those who oppressed the Palestinians will agree to a Palestinian referendum.””

4) The ITIC provides a profile of the new leader of ISIS.

“British daily The Guardian has recently disclosed the identity of ISIS’s new leader who succeeded Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (who died in a targeted killing by the United States on October 27, 2019). According to The Guardian, the new leader’s name is Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi, and his codename is Haji Abdullah or Abdullah alQardash (The Guardian, January 20, 2020). The decision on the appointment of the new leader was taken by the Shura Council, ISIS’s supreme body authorized to take significant decisions of this kind. The change in leadership has so far passed quite smoothly. ISIS still refrains from revealing the name or the codename of the new leader, apparently due to security reasons, mentioning only the codename Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurashi.”

 

 

 

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

Following on from Jeremy Bowen’s report on the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan, viewers of BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on January 28th were presented with a report by Orla Guerin which was introduced by presenter Huw Edwards as follows:

Edwards: “At least ten Palestinians have been injured in clashes with Israeli forces amid protests against the plan that’s been unveiled in Washington. The demonstrations in the Israeli occupied West Bank came as the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said that his response to the Trump deal was ‘a thousand times no’. Our international correspondent Orla Guerin has spent the day in the West Bank gauging Palestinian opinions on the plan.”

Edwards did not bother to clarify that those opinions were given – and formed – before the details of the plan had even been made public. Guerin began her report at a crossing between Palestinian Authority controlled areas and Israel.

Guerin: “Bethlehem before sunrise. Palestinians rushing to a day’s work in Israel; those lucky enough to have permits. Movement is tightly controlled. That’s life under Israeli occupation. And few here today were expecting a new dawn from the White House.”

“Luck” of course has nothing to do with those work permits. Security considerations and the applicant’s absence of links to terrorism do. Guerin of course made no effort to inform viewers that between 1967 and the year 2000 there were no restrictions on movement and that such measures were only introduced after the Palestinians chose to launch the terror war known as the second Intifada.

She went on with a vox pop interview:

Guerin: “Do you have any hope for the peace plan from Donald Trump? No, no, no says Ibrahim, a father of seven. They don’t want to give the Palestinians their rights. The plan has failed even before it’s announced. A view echoed over coffee in Ramallah. That’s an hour away – or triple that if there are delays at Israeli checkpoints. Here we met some of the Oslo generation; Palestinians who grew up with the peace accords signed in 1993. They say the Trump deal ends that era and it’s time for a new strategy.”

Guerin’s coffee shop interviewees are of course not random Palestinians but inadequately presented selected activists. The first of those – portrayed by the BBC as a “community organiser” is Fadi Quran who works as campaigns director for the political NGO Avaaz and is fond of using the baseless ‘apartheid’ smear.

Quran: “It finally spells the death of the peace process that many assumed would lead to a Palestinian state and instead opens the door for us as a new generation to begin building a type of resistance movement based on what Nelson Mandela did.”

Guerin: “So this is the end of the peace process as we know it?”

Quran: “This is the end of what I would call the illusion of a peace process.”

Guerin then turned to an interviewee presented as a “writer”. Mariam Barghouti has had articles published at anti-Israel outlets such as ‘Middle East Eye’, ‘Mondoweiss’ and ‘MEMO’. Erasing the fact that Ramallah has been under exclusive Palestinian Authority control since 1995, Guerin asked:

Guerin: “Do you think you think you will still be living under occupation in ten years’ time, in twenty years’ time?”

Barghouti: “Everything, all Israeli policies against Palestinians are happening at such a high speed that it’s terrifying to think of where we’re gonna be five years from now.”

Guerin: “And tonight on the streets of Ramallah, a vow to return to the Intifada – the Palestinian uprising. The crowd here was small; sand and fury perhaps but also weariness and resignation. Well, Palestinian leaders have called for more protests tomorrow at what they have dubbed the fraud of the century. They have few other cards to play.”

Obviously Guerin does not consider negotiation to be one of the “cards” available to the Palestinians. She closed her report with an anonymous quote.

Guerin: “America and Israel are now moving in lockstep and the deal unveiled today has sent a stark message to the Palestinians. In the words of one analyst it boils down to this: you’ve lost, get over it.”

That unnamed analyst is Robert Malley of the NGO International Crisis Group (ICG). At least we now know what genre of Middle East analysis Orla Guerin prefers.

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

A report by the BBC’s Middle East editor which was aired in the January 28th edition of BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ just hours after the presentation of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan gives a good view of how the BBC has decided to frame that topic.

Presenter Huw Edwards’ introduction included the statement that “no Palestinian officials were involved” in the drafting of the plan but audiences were not informed of US efforts to get them onboard.

Interestingly, Edwards stepped a little outside the usual BBC framing according to which ‘the occupation’ is responsible for all the region’s ills with a mention of 1948 but quickly returned to the party line by claiming that efforts to secure an end to the conflict have been thwarted solely by the building of Israeli communities. Viewers of course heard nothing either from Edwards or from Jeremy Bowen about the Jordanian invasion and occupation of areas assigned to the creation of a Jewish homeland under the Mandate for Palestine.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Edwards: “Now President Trump has unveiled his plans for what he claims is a credible peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, including a promise to keep Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. Mr Trump announced the proposals at the White House alongside the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president said the deal would work but no Palestinian officials were involved and tonight they rejected the proposals as a conspiracy. Now at the heart of the conflict is a dispute over land, ever since the creation of the State of Israel back in 1948. The UN backs the creation of a separate Palestinian state but Israeli West Bank settlement on land captured back in 1967 has complicated that so-called two-state solution. Israel also captured the eastern half of Jerusalem which Palestinians want as the capital of a future state. Let’s go now to our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen for the latest in Washington.”

Jeremy Bowen began his report by showcasing the commentary of anonymous “critics” and gratuitous bandying about of the ‘apartheid’ smear.

Bowen: “President Trump says he has a whole new way of making peace after years of failed negotiations, giving Israel the security it deserves, giving Palestinians the state they crave. But critics of what he’s proposing have used words like coercion of the Palestinians to describe what he’s talking about and even the word apartheid. So, the stakes are high but the chances of things getting better are low.”

He then presented his framing of the proposal.

Bowen: “In the East Room of the White House it felt more like a party than a press conference. Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated each other. Their entourages clapped and whooped. […] And now comes a document that attempts to seal Israel’s victory in a century-long conflict, which Palestinians will read as surrender terms – not a peace proposal. It almost exactly replicates Mr Netanyahu’s deepest beliefs about Israel’s security and its right to the land most of the rest of the world says is occupied Palestinian territory.” […]

Once again BBC viewers were not provided with any factual historical context concerning Israel’s “right to the land”. Bowen went on:

Bowen: “In Gaza tonight Palestinians demonstrated. Their side has been deeply divided. Opposition to the Trump document could finally unite them. The Palestinians were already boycotting the Trump administration because of its root and branch support for Israel. The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t a party to the proposals and rejected them straight away.” […]

Yet again audiences were not informed that it was the Palestinians who chose not to be “a party to the proposals” or that Abbas’ rejection of the plan began long before its details were made public. Failing to provide any context to the Six Day War, Bowen attempted to frame the US proposal as being significantly different from previous ones but refrained from informing viewers of Palestinian rejection of all previous offers of statehood.

Bowen: “They’re arguing about land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. For a generation the international consensus has been that no peace is possible without a Palestinian state on the land, with a capital in Jerusalem. Today the land is sliced up by walls, wire and checkpoints. The Trump plan wants to throw out the old consensus, to offer a sort of state to the Palestinians if they agree to restrictions approved by Israel. And Israel has a chance to get bigger, with what looks like a green light to annex territory it wants, like here in the Jordan Valley.”

Making no effort to clarify that the US plan gives the Palestinians a chance to make the territory they control “bigger”, Bowen closed with cynical speculations concerning the timing of the publication of a plan which has been in the works for years and promotion of the orientalist view that the inevitable result of “frustration, anger and hopelessness” for Palestinians he apparently believes have no agency is violence.

Bowen: “The timing suits the two leaders: a distraction from elections and serious charges. High crimes and misdemeanors for Trump, bribery and corruption for Netanyahu. This may be the deal of the century for the Israeli government but it’s not for the Palestinians. It could create a sense of frustration, anger and hopelessness which in such a combustible part of the world is dangerous.”

Clearly BBC One viewers were not provided with an objective or informative view of the US administration’s proposals in this report. That, however, was obviously not its objective. The BBC Middle East editor’s superficial framing of the topic can be summed up in two sentences from the beginning and the end of his report:

“And now comes a document that attempts to seal Israel’s victory in a century-long conflict, which Palestinians will read as surrender terms – not a peace proposal.”

“This may be the deal of the century for the Israeli government but it’s not for the Palestinians.”

That, as far as Jeremy Bowen is concerned, is all BBC audiences need to know.

 

 

 

 

BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ viewers misled on 1949 Armistice lines

The January 28th edition of BBC’s Two’s ‘Newsnight’ included a report by the programme’s diplomatic editor Mark Urban on the topic of the peace plan launched by the US administration earlier in the day.

The report featured contributions from two interviewees, the first of whom was brought in immediately after viewers had seen images of Tel Aviv and had been told that “viewed from Israel, it’s certainly a significant intervention”, despite the fact that the interviewee is a British citizen based in London.

The second interviewee, brought in to give the Palestinian view, is a Canadian citizen of Palestinian heritage. Diana Buttu was presented as “Former legal adviser, Palestinian negotiating team”. That “negotiating team” is of course part of the PLO but that point was not clarified to viewers.

Buttu’s first contribution was as follows: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Buttu: “If you look at the settlements, he’s decided that all of the settlements will be allowed to stay. When it comes to borders…despite the fact that settlements are illegal…when it comes to borders, he hasn’t recognised the 1967 borders and instead is going to allow Israel to take large swathes of Palestinian land and annex…ahm…annex the Jordan Valley. When it comes to refugees, completely off the table and when it comes to Jerusalem it’s only a question of access and not even of the ability to have Jerusalem as our capital or even as a shared capital.”

The fact that viewers saw no effort made to challenge that partial portrayal of ‘settlements’ as ‘illegal’ is perhaps unsurprising – though not acceptable – given that the BBC itself regularly promotes the same partial mantra. Audiences likewise saw no challenge to the concept of “Palestinian land” even though the BBC’s style guide points out that “Critics of the phrase say it is not strictly accurate because, for example, the West Bank was captured from Jordan in 1967”. 

The failure to challenge the false notion of “the 1967 borders” – actually cease fire lines drawn up under the 1949 Armistice Agreement which were specifically defined as not being borders – breaches the same BBC Academy style guide which states:

“The Green Line is a dividing line or a boundary. If you call it a border you may inadvertently imply that it has internationally recognised status, which it does not currently have.”

Buttu’s second contribution to Urban’s report purportedly explaining the US peace plan to BBC audiences was as follows:

Buttu: “Let’s be clear; this isn’t a deal. This is a demand that Palestinians submit to Israeli dictates and that’s it. And they’ve tried this in the past. It’s failed in the past. And it should fail because we as Palestinians shouldn’t be forced to live less than human beings. We shouldn’t be forced to be less than equals. We should be treated as equals and the world should be now putting sanctions on Israel to make sure that Israel’s not allowed to be above the law and that we’re no longer treated as though we’re beneath the law.”

Anyone familiar with Diana Buttu and her record of promoting falsehoods to the media would not be surprised in the least by her hyperbole and distortions. Most BBC viewers, however, have probably never heard of her and so it was Newsnight’s responsibility to ensure that falsehoods such as the notion of “1967 borders” were adequately challenged so as to avoid misleading viewers.

As we see, Newsnight fell short of that responsibility, just as it failed to clarify why – as stated by Urban – “there was no Palestinian partner in the room”.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newsday’s one-sided ‘peace process’ reporting – part one

BBC’s Tom Bateman misleads on the Oslo Accords

A report headlined “Trump’s Middle East peace plan: Smiles and sorrow on the ground” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page late on January 28th. Written by the corporation’s Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman, much of the article recycles vox pop interviews in Jerusalem which appeared in his audio report aired on BBC radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 2:48:40 here) earlier the same day.

The written report, however, commences with an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the Oslo Accords. Bateman writes:

“Palestinians and Israelis know from decades of history that past peace initiatives are strewn with turbulence, division and bloodshed.

But the Oslo Accords of the 1990s also left a structure in place, however fragile, that was meant to become the basis for a permanent peace – the so-called “two-state solution”.

It calls for an independent Palestinian state made up of the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, alongside a secure state of Israel along the territorial lines shown on the map before the 1967 Middle East war.”

The Oslo Accords in fact make no mention of the two-state solution and do not ‘call for’ a Palestinian state. They certainly do not dictate that the end-product of negotiations would be “along the territorial lines shown on the map before the 1967 Middle East war” – i.e. the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

That was made clear by by Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, in a piece for the Atlantic marking the 25th anniversary of the agreements in which he wrote: [emphasis added]

“The Oslo process was supposed to have provided the blueprint, with its requirement for a series of confidence-building interim steps that would help Israeli and Palestinian leaders absorb the political costs of the difficult compromises needed finally to achieve peace. The Oslo Accords did not spell out those compromises; they did not provide for a Palestinian state, nor for a solution for Jerusalem, which both sides seek as their capital, nor for the Palestinian refugees who claim a “right of return.” They only provided that the final-status issues were to be negotiated and concluded within five years of the signing.”

As our colleagues at CAMERA pointed out when the New York Times promoted (and subsequently corrected) the same inaccurate claim last year:

“Virulent critics of Israel acknowledge the same. In the New Yorker, Rashid Khalidi wrote that “In Oslo and subsequent accords, the Israelis were careful to exclude provisions that might lead to a Palestinian political entity with actual sovereignty.” Palestinian statehood, he continued “are never mentioned in the text.” Avi Shlaim stated in the Guardian that the Accords “did not promise or even mention an independent Palestinian state at the end of the transition period,” and reiterated in the Journal of Palestine Studies that “The most basic criticism [of the Accords] was that the deal negotiated by Arafat did not carry the promise, let alone a guarantee, of an independent Palestinian state.”

In the New York Times itself, Henry Siegman pointed out that “The Oslo accords obligated Israel to engage in negotiations of ‘final status’ issues, but the accords provided no hint as to what Palestinians had a right to expect as the outcome of those negotiations. Indeed, the very term ‘Palestinian state’ did not appear in the accords.”

So how did Tom Bateman come to promote those inaccurate and misleading claims about the Oslo Accords? As we have previously documented, since December 2016 the BBC has taken it upon itself to repeatedly amplify the PLO’s maximalist interpretation of the ‘two-state solution’ and an additional example of amplification of PLO talking points is evident later on in Bateman’s article:

“The Trump document says applying Israeli sovereignty to the settlements would be compensated by land swaps to Palestinians. It would also recognise Israeli sovereignty over the strategically important Jordan Valley, a key swathe of land in the West Bank important for agriculture running along the border with neighbouring Jordan. […]

But Palestinians say the move will entrench apartheid.”

Bateman makes no effort to inform his readers why Palestinian smears concerning ‘apartheid’ are redundant.

Sadly for members of the BBC’s funding public trying to understand this story, instead of accurate reporting and impartial analysis, all Tom Bateman has to offer is regurgitated PLO talking points.

Related Articles:

NY Times errs on Oslo and two-state solution  (CAMERA)

UK Media Watch prompts Financial Times correction to false Oslo claim  (UK Media Watch)

Examining the BBC’s claim of Palestinian support for the two-state solution

 

 

BBC Radio 4 listeners hear a context-free story from Jeremy Bowen

As we saw earlier the January 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included speculations from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen concerning the US president’s then upcoming meeting with the leaders of two Israeli political parties.

After that short (two minutes and 46 seconds) discussion, presenter Sarah Smith turned (from 1:50:02 here) to the topic of PTSD, in connection with the announcement by the BBC’s Africa editor that he would be giving up his position due to that condition. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Smith: “You’ve talked in the past about your own experiences with it and yesterday our much-admired colleague Fergal Keane announced he’s stepping down as the BBC’s Africa editor as a result of PTSD he suffered from his experience of reporting. Did you know this was something that Fergal was going through?”

Bowen: “He’s been wrestling with these kinds of things for quite some time and I assume it’s up to him to talk about all of this. But, you know, I think for all of us journalists – and it’s something that’s particularly ingrained in us in the BBC – is that, you know, it’s not about us. We don’t particularly like [laughs] talking in public about these things.”

Examples of Bowen not particularly liking “talking in public about these things” include:

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Jeremy Bowen’s pink shirt

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen’s annual reminder of why BBC coverage of Israel is as it is

BBC’s Bowen tells his annual Lebanon story on Radio 4

BBC’s Bowen on CAMERA complaint result: still ‘indignant’ after all these years

The BBC ME editor’s response to criticism of his recent reporting

Bowen later went on:

Bowen: “During the course of being particularly, you know, involved in particularly dangerous moments in wars I had my own brush with PTSD. I didn’t develop the full condition but I suffered from the symptoms, which is one stage on the road, after a Lebanese colleague of mine was killed by the Israelis. They fired a tank shell into the back of his car. I’d just got out. I was only about 100 yards away. He managed to force his way out through the window before he died. He was on fire. I couldn’t get up there. When I tried to get up there the Israelis tried to kill me. They opened fire on me with a heavy machine gun.”

At no point during that four minute and 22 second-long item were listeners provided with any explanation of the context to that event and Bowen referred to “the Israelis” as a group as having “tried to kill me” without clarifying the actual situation. 

As we have documented here in the past, early on the morning of Tuesday May 23rd 2000 – the day before the completion of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon – a tank crew stationed on the border fence near Kibbutz Menara received an intelligence alert concerning the likelihood of terrorists firing anti-tank missiles at IDF tanks and armoured vehicles. Later in the day, the crew spotted a Lebanese vehicle transporting men in civilian clothing and suspected that these were Hizballah terrorists carrying equipment for firing an anti-tank missile. The tank crew was given permission to fire at the suspected terrorists. 

Later it emerged that the men were actually a BBC film crew headed by Jeremy Bowen and that driver Abed Takkoush had been killed. The IDF investigated the incident and issued an apology. Understandably, that tragic incident appears to be still very much at the forefront of Bowen’s mind, although he does not appear to accept that it was possible to mistake three men travelling in a war zone in a car with Lebanese plates, and carrying camera equipment, for Hizballah terrorists dressed – as was very often the case – in civilian clothing. 

Jeremy Bowen’s accounts of the trauma he experienced nearly 20 years ago must of course be considered within the framework of the position he chose to accept five years later – Middle East editor.

That position makes it incumbent upon him to tell that story responsibly, by including the relevant background information and context.

When Jeremy Bowen fails to do that and instead, as in this case, gives a completely context-free account of “Israelis” trying “to kill me”, the result is the spread of that partial and distorted version of events in the public sphere such as in this subsequent report in the Daily Express.

Related Articles:

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

 

BBC News again ignores Palestinian electricity debt

As regular readers know, the BBC has for years avoided the issue of debts owed to the Israeli company which supplies electricity to the Palestinian distributor in PA controlled areas.

BBC promotes selective narrative on PA economy

BBC again avoids informing audiences about PA debt to Israel

BBC sidesteps the story of PA electricity debt to Israel

BBC audiences are therefore unaware of the latest chapter in that long-running saga.

“Israel’s state-owned electric company said Wednesday it was ending power cuts to the West Bank after the Palestinian Authority paid over half of its outstanding debt.

In September, the Israel Electric Corporation began cutting power in parts of the West Bank over the NIS 1.7 billion ($500 million) debt owed by the main Palestinian power distributor for the West Bank.

On Wednesday, the IEC said it had received NIS 920 million ($267 million) from the Palestinians.

“The electric company will cease the power cuts over the debts,” a statement from the IEC said, adding it would hold further negotiations with the power distributor and the Palestinian Authority on the repayment of the remainder of the outstanding funds.”

The company owing the debt is the Jerusalem District Electricity Company – JDECO.

“JDECO buys electricity from the IEC and distributes it to hundreds of thousands of customers in East Jerusalem, Ramallah/Al-Bireh, Bethlehem and Jericho.”

While the subject of utilities such as electricity and water features frequently in BBC reporting on the Palestinians, the long-running story of the PA’s failure to pay for electricity supplied by Israel is not considered newsworthy.

Related Articles:

A Gaza Strip water story that BBC audiences are unlikely to hear

BBC News reporting on new Lebanese government avoids relevant facts

January 22nd saw the appearance of a filmed report titled “Lebanon protesters angry over new government” on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page. The video’s synopsis reads:

“Protesters in Lebanon have returned to the streets, saying the new government formed on Tuesday does not meet their demands.

They had been calling for an overhaul of the political system, the formation of an independent, non-sectarian cabinet, and an end to government corruption.

The new cabinet was announced after months of deadlock. PM Hassan Diab said it would be a “rescue team” that would work to meet protesters’ demands.

But the demonstrators say the ministers were selected by the entrenched political elite that they blame for Lebanon’s problems.”

Produced by Rana Taha of BBC Monitoring, the video itself tells BBC audiences that:

“After months of deadlock, Lebanon finally has a new government but it has not eased demonstrators’ anger. Protesters took to the streets after the new cabinet was announced. This led to confrontations with security forces. The protesters had wanted a government of technocrats to overhaul the political system. They say the new ministers are still backed by the old political forces.”

Rather than explaining that opaque last sentence, the video goes on with a weighty section focusing on a different topic.

“The new cabinet includes the Arab world’s first ever female defence minister. Zeina Akar is one of six women appointed to the cabinet.”

After showcasing assorted Tweets relating to that appointment, the video closes:

“The country has been without a government since October when PM Saad Hariri was forced out amid mass protests. He was replaced by Hassan Diab who says the new ministers are technocrats. Some are happy the government is in place. But others are questioning the ministers’ expertise.”

As we see, BBC Monitoring carefully avoided any mention of specific political factions in that superficial report, meaning that viewers were left none the wiser about how Lebanon’s new government came into being.

As Jonathan Spyer explains:

“The new government is the product of escalating popular protests under way since October 15. The protests are in response to Lebanon’s dire economic state. Demonstrators were demanding the formation of a government of ‘technocrats’ qualified to address the urgent issues facing the country and untainted by contact with Lebanon’s enormously corrupt political parties.

The new government appears to be an attempt to create the superficial appearance of such an administration. Its 20 ministers were presented by Prime Minister designate Hassan Diab as ‘specialists’, non-partisan and without loyalties to this or that political bloc.

Few Lebanese are likely to be convinced by this claim.  The ‘specialists’ in question are individuals whose names were put forward by the political parties. The composition of the new government emerged in a process of wrangling and horse trading between these parties.

But crucially, parties and movements broadly associated with the west and with Saudi Arabia stayed out of the negotiations. Individuals linked to prominent pro-western and anti-Iranian political trends such as the former Prime Minister’s Mustaqbal (Future) Movement and the Christian Lebanese Forces are not to be found among the new ministers.  The Progressive Socialist Party of Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt is also not represented.

The government that has emerged from this process comprises individuals linked to movements which are part of only one of the existing power structures – the one associated with Hizballah and Iran.

The new administration is being described by Lebanese commentators as a government of ‘one color,’ Lebanon’s first of this kind.  The color is that of Hizballah and Iran’s banners.

Hizballah itself controls only two ministries in the new government.  But the Christian Free Patriotic Movement led by Gebran Bassil, and the Shia Amal movement, both closely associated with Hizballah, control much of the rest. Smaller parties also associated with this bloc make up the remainder.”

So is the BBC really not aware of the background to the new Lebanese government? A written report also published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on January 22nd shows that is not the case.

“Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister in October in response to mass protests over corruption and mismanagement.

The Hezbollah movement and its allies chose university professor Hassan Diab to replace him last month, but they could not agree the cabinet’s make-up. […]

Mr Diab’s candidacy was backed by the biggest Shia Muslim factions, Hezbollah and Amal, and President Michel Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement.

Mr Hariri’s Sunni-led Future Movement, the Christian Lebanese Forces party and the Progressive Socialist Party of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt decided not to participate in the new government.

After more than a month of negotiations over portfolios, Mr Diab announced on Tuesday night a cabinet of 20 ministers who he insisted had no political loyalties. […]

“The cabinet is composed primarily of advisers and appointees representing the main political oligarchs and parties allied with Hezbollah,” wrote Paul Salem, president of the Middle East Institute.”

As we see the BBC understands perfectly well that the new government in Lebanon is, as its quoted analyst wrote, “politically aligned with the pro-Hezbollah and pro-Syrian axis in Lebanon”. One must therefore ask why it wastes public resources by having BBC Monitoring produce a video which completely ignores that elephant in the room and why the written report which does acknowledge Hizballah’s influence over the new government fails to make any mention of the obviously relevant fact that it is an internationally designated terrorist organisation. 

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

The January 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item (from 1:47:16 here) relating to an invitation extended two days earlier to two Israeli leaders to meet the US president in Washington.

The White House press secretary’s statement read:

“President Donald J. Trump will welcome Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to the White House on January 28, 2020. LTG. (Res.) MK Benjamin Gantz, Blue and White Chairman, has also accepted the President’s invitation to come to Washington. The United States and Israel are strong partners, and the Prime Minister’s visit is an opportunity to discuss our shared regional and national security interests.”

On the same day the US Vice-president said:

“President Trump asked me to extend an invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the White House next week for talks” on regional issues, including peace…” 

‘Today’ presenter Sarah Smith introduced the item as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Smith: “Donald Trump, using his usual humility, calls it ‘the deal of the century’: a proposed Middle East peace deal that he might be ready to unveil next week.”

As we have noted on these pages in the past (see for example here and here) when the BBC has promoted that highlighted claim, it is – as documented by AFP journalist Joe Dyke – unsupported and the hook for Smith’s snide reference to “humility” is actually a media generated myth. She continued:

Smith: “Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, will be there if he does. Good morning Jeremy. Some of the details of this came out of course via Twitter – being that this is President Trump – where he said ‘reports about details and timing of our closely-held peace plan are purely speculative’. But given that he put that on Twitter himself, that is presumably as good as an announcement that he’s ready to reveal it.”

In fact no “details…came out” at all via that one Tweet from Trump but Bowen was ready to play along with Smith’s speculations, adding more than a few of his own about possible elements of the US plan which he appears to have gleaned second-hand from the same Israeli media outlets which reported that Gantz would refuse the invitation to go to Washington. On the evening of January 25th, the accuracy of such journalistic speculations was evident when Gantz announced his intention to travel to Washington the following day.

BBC audiences learned nothing concrete or factual at all from Bowen’s repetition of speculations in unidentified “reports”. They did however see how the BBC is already framing this topic, portraying the as yet unpublished US plan as one “which will absolutely include all of Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel’s agenda”.

So much for the BBC’s obligation to offer audiences “a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers”.

BBC R4’s ‘World at One’ misleads on the Holocaust

The January 23rd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ included several items relating to the World Holocaust Forum event held on that day at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, one of which was an interview with Holocaust survivor Dr Martin Stern.

Presenter Sarah Montague introduced the run up to that item (from 07:36 here) as follows:

Montague: “The ceremony underway at the moment in Jerusalem is thought to be one of the largest gatherings of world leaders in Israel’s history. It’s being held at Yad Vashem and it’s brought representatives from all over the world to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Yad Vashem’s the country’s memorial to the six million killed in the Holocaust, the majority of whom were Jews. More than a million of those died in Auschwitz.” [emphasis added]

The Holocaust is defined as follows by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

“The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.”

And similarly by Yad Vashem:

“The Holocaust was unprecedented genocide, total and systematic, perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, with the aim of annihilating the Jewish people.”

Montague’s claim that Jews were “the majority” of “the six million killed in the Holocaust” – and the resulting implication that some of those killed in the Holocaust were not Jews – is hence inaccurate and misleading. As the USHMM goes on to clarify:

“During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted and killed other groups, including at times their children, because of their perceived racial and biological inferiority: Roma (Gypsies), Germans with disabilities, and some of the Slavic peoples (especially Poles and Russians). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals.”

If Montague’s intention was to refer to groups of people other than Jews who were targeted by the Nazis during the Second World War, then her quoted figure of six million is likewise inaccurate.

photo credit: USHMM

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