BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Reporting by BBC Jerusalem bureau staff on the topic of Coronavirus has so far focused mainly on Bethlehem (see ‘related articles’ below), apparently resulting in quarantine for one journalist. More recently the corporation chose to turn its attention to a location in which to date no cases of infection have been reported.

On March 13th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ heard a report by Tom Bateman (from 23:34 here) which was introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy as follows:

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

Coomarasamy: “Well the World Health Organisation may have identified Europe as the current epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak but it also has an eye on those countries and territories which have yet to be affected whose health services are far weaker than those of the developed Western world. Among them is the Gaza Strip where more than two million people live in tightly packed conditions and where the WHO believes that urgent global intervention would be necessary if cases of Covid19 are recorded. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

On March 14th the same report was aired on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend’ (from 30:45 here) with presenter Alex Ritson telling worldwide listeners:

Ritson: “Let’s remind you of our top story: the World Health Organisation has warned that any spread of Coronavirus to the Gaza Strip would need urgent global intervention. There have been no confirmed cases there so far. The health system is already under significant pressure and more than two million people live in densely populated conditions. From Jerusalem, here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Listeners to both editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 14th also heard the same report (from 14:06 here and from 19:03 here) which was introduced by Ben James thus:

James: “Now the World Health Organisation says the full extent of the Coronavirus outbreak will only become clear when places with weak, underdeveloped health services are tested. Among those is Gaza, where more than two million people live in tightly packed conditions. The BBC’s Tom Bateman begins this report in a local hospital.”

A filmed version of Bateman’s report apparently also exists.

The WHO’s latest update on the situation in the Palestinian Authority controlled territories and the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip – dated March 13th – makes no mention of “urgent global intervention”. The source of that dramatic claim promoted in two of those introductions is apparently one of Bateman’s interviewees.

As regular readers know, BBC audiences are in general very badly placed as far as understanding the underlying status of medical care in the Gaza Strip is concerned because although they are told plenty about the dire state of medical services in the Gaza Strip, they rarely hear about the PA actions which exacerbate that situation such as the longstanding insufficient supply of medications

Bateman began his report with an unrelated story.

Bateman: “Ten-year-old Mansour is having kidney dialysis in a packed children’s ward. His father can’t afford the cost of a transplant for him, which would mean travel to Egypt or Jordan. This is the story of Gaza’s hospitals: outdated, hard pressed and lacking many medicines and supplies. And now the health system must prepare for Coronavirus.”

As ever, Bateman did not bother to inform listeners why Gaza Strip hospitals lack medicine and equipment. Listeners then heard that:

“We have in Gaza barely between 50 to 60 ventilators. Serious cases would require at certain stage that they need to be on ventilators. And if we have hundreds, then you would imagine what we need to deal with these hundred cases.”

Bateman: “Dr Abdelnasr Sohob is from the World Health Organisation. There have been no confirmed cases of Coronavirus so far in Gaza but it’s on the borders and medics are warning of little capacity to cope with a sustained outbreak.”

Sohob: “Gaza with these facilities can deal with the first shock of 50 to 100 cases with the current resources. After that I think the international community has to step in to assist Gaza.”

Apparently that latter sentence is the source of those dramatic introductions.

Listeners then heard shouting before Bateman referred to a story which the BBC did not bother to report at the time. He went on to promote a much-used BBC narrative concerning population density and an entirely context-free reference to “Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers”.

Bateman: “A protest last month near a newly-built hospital in the town of Khan Younis. Some locals burned tyres and waved banners after reports Coronavirus patients could be brought there. Anxiety is spreading. More than two million people live in one of the world’s most densely crowded places. The UN’s refugee agency for Palestinians says health workers have learned from the most recent medical crisis: the so-called March of Return protests that saw thousands of Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers at the perimeter fence. After those emergencies, it says there are Coronavirus plans to triage patients at hospital entrances and clear public wards of non-essential cases.”

Bateman next interviewed a mother who recounted how she had cleaned the house and taught her children personal hygiene.

Bateman: “Lena Tahar is reading with one of her four children. Gaza’s schools have shut until at least the end of this month as a precaution. For her, like many Palestinians, even the hand-washing advice is hard with an unclean water supply and regular power cuts.”

Listeners were not told of the reasons for the clean water and power shortages in the Gaza Strip.

Bateman: “In Gaza City the disinfectant spray squads are out on the streets.”

Listeners heard the “head of protective health department in Gaza municipality” tell them that his team was:

“Spreading the material that kills the microbe, kills the virus. Inshallah this procedure cover all the problem and solve the problem.”

Bateman: “But it might take more than that. There’s already been disquiet at more sweeping measures – like the month-long emergency declared in the West Bank with more than 30 confirmed cases – weren’t adopted initially by Hamas in Gaza. It’s feared infection could thrive amid the Strip’s deep poverty and in the crowded refugee camps – problems that are compounded by the tangled politics here. Israel and Egypt’s crippling blockade – meant to stop weapons getting to Hamas militants – the recent bouts of fighting with Israel and the deep split between the two main Palestinian factions all add to the crisis.”

Bateman made no effort to clarify that the “recent bouts of fighting with Israel” were the result of attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (or how they “add to the crisis”), how exactly that “deep split” between Hamas and Fatah affects healthcare, water, sewage and electricity supplies in the Gaza Strip or why there are “refugee camps” in a territory which has been under Palestinian control for fifteen years.  

Bateman: “But some residents like Ibrahim Abu Leila hope the isolation could help ward off the latest health threat.”

Abu Leila V/O: “More than 11 years of blockade by land, by sea, by sky. The people that arrive here are counted. They come one day or two days and they leave. We don’t have hotels that tourists stay at so we don’t meet them, thank God. Maybe some good can come from the bad.”

Of course hotels do exist in the Gaza Strip and while normal tourism is understandably virtually non-existent in a destination ruled by a terrorist organisation, journalists, conflict tourists, foreign delegations and UN staff certainly do visit.

Bateman closed his report:

Bateman: “Gaza has so far avoided any confirmed Coronavirus cases. People know its impact could stretch their health system to the limit.”

That same observation is of course true in many other places around the world but as we see, the BBC made the most of the Coronavirus story to widely re-promote many of its long-standing mantras concerning the Gaza Strip even though no cases have been reported there so far.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 airs superficial report on Israel’s Coronavirus measures

The limits of BBC News reporting from PA controlled territories

Hamas announcement puts a BBC narrative into perspective

 

 

BBC News erases relevant background from report on Palestinian riot

On March 11th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Palestinian teenager killed in West Bank clash”. BBC audiences were told that:

“A Palestinian teenager has reportedly been shot dead by Israeli forces during a clash in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian medics said Mohammed Hamayel, 15, was hit in the face by live ammunition near the village of Beita, south of the city of Nablus.

Israel’s military said 500 Palestinians took part in what it called a violent riot, hurling rocks towards its troops and setting tyres on fire.”

Apparently the BBC is not convinced that 500 people throwing rocks and petrol bombs is a violent riot and so found it necessary to qualify that description. No such qualification was seen however concerning the claim of the use of “live ammunition”. AP reported that witnesses stated that the IDF had used rubber coated bullets and in response to an enquiry from CAMERA, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus confirmed that the army used only rubber bullets.

The BBC’s account of the background to the story is based entirely on Palestinian sources:

“The area has been the scene of growing tension in recent weeks.

Palestinians say a group of Jewish settlers has been trying to take control of a hill in the middle of several of their villages.

A witness told the BBC that Palestinians had gathered on Wednesday following rumours the settlers were heading to the hill.

When Israeli forces arrived Palestinians threw stones at them, and the soldiers fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas from drones, the witness said.

Palestinian health officials said a further 17 people were injured.

The settlers had reportedly been organising an archaeological tour of the hill, saying it hosted a site of Biblical significance.”

The actual background to the story was reported by Kan 11’s Gal Berger a week before the BBC’s report on the March 11th incident was published.

The hill is called Tel Aroma and it is located between the Palestinian village of Beita and the Israeli community of Itamar, south of Nablus/Schem. It is situated in Area B (i.e. the Palestinian Authority has civil control and Israel controls security) and is the site of a fortress dating from Hasmonean times (1st century BCE).

In late February a tour to the site was planned by a group of Israeli families. Palestinians – organised by the Nablus branch of Fatah – had previously erected a flagpole at the site and the night before the planned trip hundreds gathered on the hilltop in order to prevent it from taking place. The Palestinians rioted throughout the day and the trip was cancelled. Similar disturbances have continued since then and those acts of violence were praised by the PA president Mahmoud Abbas at a televised Fatah meeting on March 1st.

“What I saw in Nablus was great. This was the right thing to do. They need to understand that we are fighting with our eyes, our hands, our legs, and with everything, and that we will not allow them to toy with us. We are teaching them lessons. When they see unarmed people, people who have no weapons… Women and children chase [the Israelis] who run away from them… It makes me happy to see this. Really. This is our way to accomplish what we want. This is our way to accomplish what we want. By means of peaceful resistance, and with these efforts… The sisters should be in front at the protests. This is the most important thing. Seeing the girls beating up a policeman or a soldier really fills my heart with joy. This is how we want our peaceful popular resistance to be. This is our way to vanquish our enemies, and to achieve our independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Abbas’ blatant incitement and the fact that the rioting at Tel Aroma is organised by the Nablus branch of Fatah naturally did not make it into the BBC’s report. Unverified allegations from PA officials concerning “settlers…trying to take control” of the hill of course did.

Predictably, the final part of the BBC’s report included amplification of the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ along with exclusive promotion of the Palestinian narrative.

“About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel has always disputed this.

Palestinians have long called for the removal of the settlements, arguing that their presence on land they claim for a future independent Palestinian state makes it almost impossible to make such a state a reality.”

As we see, the account provided by the BBC relies on and dovetails with the narrative promoted by PA and Fatah officials. So much for the corporation’s obligation to provide “accurate and impartial news”.

Hamas announcement puts a BBC narrative into perspective

Earlier this week the Times of Israel reported that:

“The Hamas-run Health Ministry has urged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to avoid travel abroad as the coronavirus continues to spread around the world.

No cases of the virus have been reported in Gaza, where more than 2 million people live, including many in densely populated neighborhoods.

“We call on citizens to not depart the Gaza Strip — unless totally necessary — in order to preserve their well-being,” the ministry said in a statement on Saturday. […]

The ministry also said that all persons returning to Gaza via the Rafah crossing would be required to quarantine themselves in their homes for two weeks.”

That announcement may come as something of a surprise to those accustomed to the BBC’s cross-platform portrayal of the topic of travel to and from the Gaza Strip – including that sourced from Hamas officials.

“Those in Gaza have great difficulty in travelling at all. There are only two crossings out: Rafah and Erez, controlled by Egyptian and Israeli authorities respectively.” (BBC Culture, September 2019)

“… we are under siege, we can’t…we can’t leave Gaza, you know. You need to wait one year if you decide to leave to study or to attend a festival outside of Gaza. So they need their rights.” (BBC World Service radio, August 2019)

 “…it’s just another reminder of how wrong it is that we can’t travel. It’s, you know, it’s unjust.” (BBC Radio 4, August 2019)

“…many young people, I mean, have simply never left Gaza. There’s huge restrictions on freedom of movement. I mean some people you talk to describe it as like living in an open-air prison.” (BBC Radio 1, May 2019)

“It’s not easy because Gaza’s like prison. It’s closed from all sides. The gates of Gaza are controlled by the occupation.” (BBC World Service radio, BBC News channel, BBC World News, May 2019)

“More than half of Gaza’s two million inhabitants live in poverty and rely on aid. And they’re prevented from leaving what is one of the most densely populated regions on earth.” (BBC Two, May 2019)

As has been noted here before, at the Erez crossing into Israel:

“Every day an average of 1,000 Gazan residents enter Israel through Erez Crossing. The vast majority of these people are those in need of medical treatment, but it also includes businessmen, industry professionals, students, individuals going to pray on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and others.”

The Gaza Strip of course also has a border with Egypt and the territory’s other pedestrian crossing into a neighbouring country is located on that border. The Rafah crossing into Egypt has been mostly open since November 2017 and last May Ha’aretz reported that:

“According to data compiled by aid agencies affiliated with the United Nations, 60,907 Palestinians left Gaza via Egypt in 2018…”

While travel to and from the Gaza Strip may certainly not be straightforward, the Hamas-run health ministry’s announcement clearly shows the BBC’s standard portrayal of the subject to be partial and misleading. 

BBC travel show brings in political activist on Jerusalem archaeology

The March 8th edition of the BBC World News and BBC News TV channels programme ‘The Travel Show’ included an item billed as “Jerusalem’s Underground History” (available in the UK here)

“This week, Rajan Datar explores the hidden treasure underneath the streets of Jerusalem. He walks on recently excavated 2,000 year old roads and discovers old church chambers from the time of the crusaders. “

At 38 seconds into the report viewers were told of a “controversial” archaeological excavation and Datar went to visit the City of David site, taking a tour of the Pilgrimage Road. Viewers heard that the site was “discovered by accident” in 2004 but were not informed that British archaeologists actually dug there in 1894 and that further excavations were conducted during the Mandate period and the Jordanian occupation.

Viewers heard that:

Datar: “The Pilgrimage Road runs from the ancient Siloam Pool to Temple Mount – also known as Haram esh [sic] Sharif in Arabic – at the top.”

They were not informed of the road’s purpose – who was making a pilgrimage and to where – and Datar went on to visit additional parts of the City of David site.

At 04:54, the item took a political turn. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Datar: “Whilst the project team insist upmost safety for the local residents is the priority, that isn’t quite how everybody feels, especially among the Palestinian community who live here in Silwan, above the City of David site, which they call Wadi Hilweh. Local residents say cracks and sloping like this to dozens of houses have been caused by the excavation, complaining it’s like enduring an earthquake. None the less, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected those claims.”

In fact, only a small part of Silwan lies “above the City of David” site and related legal cases have been rejected by the Supreme Court on more than one occasion.

At 05:27, Datar brought in “Aziz, a travel writer and guide” to give “the alternative Palestinian perspective”. Despite BBC editorial guidelines concerning contributors’ affiliations, viewers were not told that Aziz Abu Sarah is also (as the BBC should know, having interviewed him in 2018) an activist associated with political NGOs.

After viewers had heard Abu Sarah complain that a project documenting biblical Jerusalem does not “tell you the story of the Palestinian residents” in Jerusalem or “the history of the Islamic groups that have lived in Jerusalem” – without clarifying that the Muslim conquest in Jerusalem took place in the 7th century – they saw Datar visit a Crusader site underneath a business in the Old City. While Abu Sarah claimed that “we didn’t know this exists a year and a half, two years ago”, similar Crusader era structures were discovered long before that timeframe.

At the end of the item Datar told viewers:

Datan: “So here’s the rub: in Jerusalem any excavation is going to be both amazing and controversial at the same time.”

Obviously Jerusalem has multiple layers of history which visitors can explore at a variety of sites and museums in addition to the City of David. What makes archaeology ‘controversial’ however is politicisation of the topic and Datan appears to have bought into that with the help of an inadequately presented political activist whose “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” were not disclosed to viewers.  

Related Articles:

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BBC News misleads on “limits” on Iranian nuclear programme

On March 3rd a report appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “IAEA ‘asks Iran to explain possible nuclear activities at three sites’”. The article opens:

“A global watchdog has reportedly criticised Iran for not answering questions about possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities at three locations.

A leaked International Atomic Energy Agency document sent to member states said requests for access to two of the unidentified sites had been denied.”

The IAEA is of course not merely “a global watchdog”: it is autonomous organisation within the United Nations system and it is charged with verifying Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA.

The report goes on:

“It is not clear what IAEA inspectors suspect might have happened at them.

But it is thought the activities took place in the early 2000s.

That is long before Iran struck a landmark deal with world powers that placed limits on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.”

That framing whitewashes the fact that Iran ratified the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970, that the IAEA found Iran to be non-compliant in 2005, that the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in 2006, passed a related resolution in 2007, another in 2008 and another in 2010. In other words, the BBC’s suggestion that “limits” on the Iranian nuclear programme only came into effect after the JCPOA was agreed is inaccurate and misleading.

Later in the report readers find the inevitable BBC amplification of the claim that “Iran insists its nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes” and a misleading map which has appeared in previous BBC reports. Only in the article’s final sentences are they told that:

“Despite Iran’s denials, evidence collected by the IAEA suggests that until 2003 the country conducted “a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device”. Some of those activities allegedly continued until 2009.”

Readers are told that:

“The confidential IAEA report seen by journalists in Vienna on Tuesday said Iran had failed to co-operate with investigations into three sites of interest.

“Iran has not provided access to the agency to two locations… and not engaged in substantive discussions to clarify agency questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities,” Reuters news agency quoted it as saying.”

And:

“Diplomats said the three sites did not include one where the IAEA said last year that inspectors had detected uranium particles of man-made origin.

The inspectors are believed [sic] to have taken samples from a location in Tehran’s Turquzabad district – the area where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has alleged Iran had a “secret atomic warehouse”. Iranian officials have insisted the site was merely a carpet-cleaning factory.”

However the BBC did not inform readers that Reuters also reported that:

“…the IAEA at first resisted public pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit a site he cited in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 2018, calling it a “secret atomic warehouse” mentioned in a trove of data seized by Israeli intelligence agents. Tehran has said the site is a carpet-cleaning facility.

But the IAEA inspected the site in February of last year, diplomats say, and gathered environmental samples that showed traces of uranium that Iran has yet to fully explain.

Now the agency is seeking access to one or more sites mentioned in that trove, which Israel refers to as the “atomic archive” of information on Iran’s former nuclear weapons program.”

Towards the end of the BBC’s report readers are informed that:

“The leaked IAEA report said Iran had responded to the questions about the three sites by saying it would “not recognise any allegation on past activities”.”

The report did not clarify that, contrary to Iranian claims, the IAEA has the authority to carry out inspections it deems necessary.

When, in 2018, Israel made public the data obtained concerning Iran’s nuclear programme, the BBC reported that information as being “nothing new”. Apparently the IAEA now believes that it is necessary to investigate sites named in that data but the BBC has not clarified that point to its audiences.

Related Articles:

BBC News continues to parrot Iran’s nuclear messaging

BBC Radio 4 airs superficial report on Israel’s Coronavirus measures

The March 6th edition of the BBC radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included a report (from 16:48 here) which suggests that following the discovery of seven Coronavirus cases in Bethlehem on March 5th and the subsequent introduction of measures by the Palestinian Authority which included the closure of the Church of the Nativity, the BBC decided to send a reporter to that town.

Presenter Shaun Ley introduced the item. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Ley: “Now, as governments try to contain the spread of Coronavirus, some of the strictest quarantine measures anywhere in the world are in place in Israel, where 21 cases gave been reported. So far, it’s closed its borders to more than ten countries, and ordered travellers recently arrived from places like France Germany and Spain to self-isolate for fourteen days. Yesterday the first cases were confirmed in the West Bank in the town of Bethlehem. Within hours the main checkpoint from there into Israel had been shut down. The prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he’s unafraid to take harsh measures to try to contain the virus. But how stringently are they being followed and is there a wider economic impact to consider? Our Middle East correspondent Anna Foster begins her report in Bethlehem.”

Anna Foster commenced with the debatable claim that the Church of the Nativity is “the world’s oldest church” and by promoting the notion that Bethlehem – which has been under exclusive PA control for nearly a quarter of a century – is “occupied”.

Foster: “The sight of the ancient wooden door being firmly locked made headlines. The world’s oldest church where Christians believe Jesus was born, forced to close its doors as Coronavirus reached the occupied territories. I watched as the final visitors scrambled to touch the metal star that marks the spot. Hand after hand rubbing it without any soap and water in sight.”

Foster spoke to some German tourists who did not seem to be paying particular attention to instructions concerning self-isolation before going on:

Foster: “In Israel tens of thousands of locals and tourists are now in self-quarantine. But if you’re on holiday and not following the Hebrew media, how do you find out if you’re affected and what you should be doing?”

Listeners were not told that there are numerous non-Hebrew media outlets in Israel reporting daily on that topic or that both the Ministry of Health and the ambulance service provide information and help lines in English and other languages. Instead, Foster asked a worker at a hotel in Jerusalem:

Foster: “Should you be trying to tell them more though, because the government would want you to pass that information on for them, wouldn’t they?”

Moving on to the Old City in Jerusalem, Foster noted the reduction in the number of tourists.

Foster: “Israel is proud of its proactive approach to containing Coronavirus but shop owners like Mohammed can already see the impact of keeping tourists away.”

When her interviewee complained that business was already in decline because of “the situations between the Israel and the Palestinians” Foster did not explain to listeners the effects of Palestinian terrorism and violence on the tourism industry.

As we see, listeners to this superficial report did not in fact find out why the Israeli government has implemented “some of the strictest quarantine measures anywhere in the world” or what steps are being taken to help sectors impacted by the situation.

Neither did they hear anything of the co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which has included the evacuation of tourists from PA controlled areas and the supply of testing kits and training.

“COGAT has been working in the past two weeks to assist the Palestinian Authority in curbing and preventing a coronavirus outbreak in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip.  Under the stewardship of Civil Administration Health Coordinator Dalia Basa, 250 coronavirus test kits have been transferred from Israel to the PA. Furthermore, joint training sessions for Israeli and Palestinian medical personnel were organized for the professional study of the virus, the protection of medical personnel, and the testing of patients suspected of being virus carriers.

In addition, COGAT has made available to the Palestinian public through its digital platform – the unit’s website and Arabic language social media pages (Al-Munassiq) – the Israeli health ministry guidelines on prevention and protection from the virus spread and ways to deal with contagion and outbreak.  The information published in Arabic is available to the entire Palestinian public in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip.”

That information would of course have been far more useful to BBC audiences trying to understand how Israel is handling the situation than interviews with a couple of random tourist industry workers in Jerusalem.  

BBC’s Donnison misleads on Israel’s election result

Listeners to the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 3rd heard a report about the previous day’s election in Israel. Presenter Jon Donnison introduced the item (from 18:56 here) with promotion of the notion that the Likud party had secured a “victory”. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Donnison: “Now, to Israel and after a third election in less than a year, it looks like – according to partial results anyway – like the Houdini of Israeli politics, Benjamin Netanyahu, arguably the most successful and certainly the most durable politician of his generation, has just about pulled off another victory.”

Donnison’s reference to “another victory” misleads listeners by concealing the fact that in the election held in April 2019 Netanyahu’s party secured the same number of seats (35) as its main rival Blue & White and in the election held in September 2019, Blue & White secured 33 seats while the Likud party got 32.  

Fortunately for BBC audiences around the world, Donnison brought in Anna Foster to report from Jerusalem and she put his claim into perspective.

Foster: “Now it’s not a victory just yet because those votes need to be counted, they need to be verified. So far this is all based on exit polls which show that his [Netanyahu’s] Right-wing block will have potentially 59 of the 61 seats that he needs to form a governing coalition in the Knesset. So he’s only part way there and there’ll be a lot of negotiations to be done in the next few days.”

Given that the BBC correspondent in Jerusalem obviously understood the picture accurately, one must ask why ‘Newshour’ producers allowed Donnison’s misleading introduction to pass.

Anna Foster went on to explain that:

Foster: “…if he [Netanyahu] does end up having 59 or potentially 60 seats, what he needs to do is bring across an MK from a different party. Now that is not as easy as it may sound to get somebody to cross the floor because there are penalties. If he manages to…to woo somebody across from Blue & White for example, that person would not be able to serve as a minister or deputy minister in the Knesset and when that particular Knesset session ends, they would not be able to stand again for any of the parties currently represented. So it makes Mr Netanyahu’s negotiating hand somewhat difficult. What can he offer them? There are places on committees potentially that might…that might tempt somebody across but anybody who does that is very much limiting their future political life so it’s not going to be an easy horse trade.”

That portrayal of the sanctions against individual MKs who cross the floor is largely accurate (in addition, they would not be permitted to form a new party) but it only tells part of the story. As explained by Dr Assaf Shapira at the IDI, two additional scenarios also exist.

“A number of the slates elected to the twenty-third Knesset are actually joint lists made up of a number of independent parties. If an independent party decides to split from its list after the elections it will not face any sanctions. For example, if the Gesher party, headed by Orly Levy, decides to leave the joint list of Labor-Meretz-Gesher it will not face any sanctions. Such a move would be treated as a party splitting (as opposed to individual defections). In fact, the newly independent group would then either become an independent faction – or it could join an existing list already in the Knesset. Parties that decide to split do not face sanctions. 

An additional possibility is that one-third of the MKs elected to the Knesset on a particular list decide to break away. Such a move (that also must include a minimum of two MKs) will also be defined as a list that split into two independent factions and individual MKs who decided to defect.

In fact, the break-away MKs can either form new factions or join an existing one. And what about possible sanctions? They will be able to join the government and run in the next elections, but, if the split takes place in the first two years of the Knesset’s term, the new faction will not be eligible for public funding usually available to parties.”

Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see a BBC journalist in Jerusalem who clearly made an effort to understand the details of the story she is reporting and who provided audiences with fact-based pertinent information to enhance their understanding rather than promoting the usual jaded BBC narratives.

BBC promotes linkage between elections on two continents

Among the BBC News website’s generous coverage of the US administration’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal in late January was an article by Aleem Maqbool in which readers were told that:

“White Evangelical Christian Americans formed a strong voting block for Donald Trump in 2016, with around 80% voting for him.

Many Evangelical Christians believe that God promised the Holy Land to Jews and that their return to power across the whole territory will bring about the Second Coming of Christ.

But that is not only helping to shape policy because President Trump wants their votes again in November.

There are also Evangelicals within the Trump administration itself, like Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who have reportedly been pushing for the kind of support for Israel’s expansionist aspirations as detailed in the new plan.

Those aspirations all but do away with the notion of having sovereign Palestinian and Israeli states existing side by side, as previous US administrations had said they wanted.”

Readers were not provided with any context. For example AP reported in January that:

“Trump won a clear majority of white evangelical Protestant votes in 2016 […] [b]ut those evangelicals’ alignment with the Republican Party predated Trump and has risen steadily since 2009, according to data from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.”

And:

“Trump has not greatly outperformed his GOP predecessors with white evangelicals”.

Neither did Maqbool’s monochrome portrayal provide any information concerning the prominence of the issue of Israel in comparison to other issues (such as abortion or social justice) among Evangelical voters.

Listeners to the March 2nd edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme however found that narrative repeated, along with the promotion of linkage to the election in Israel.

Presenter Mishal Husain introduced the item (from 46:47 here) with the inaccurate claim that the US proposal concerns only “the Palestinians”: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Israelis are voting today in their third general election in a year after neither prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor opposition leader Benny Gantz were able to form a government on the previous two occasions last year. This time Mr Netanyahu is claiming credit for Donald Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century on the Palestinians. And this is a vote that could affect Mr Trump’s re-election hopes in November as his stance on Israeli policies is linked to that of his Evangelical Christian supporters. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports.”

Bowen began his report at the archaeological site of Megiddo, claiming that: 

Bowen: “This place gives you an idea of the power and influence of Christian Evangelicals’ view of Israel has in the US. I can see one, two, three, maybe five groups of American pilgrims praying, reading the bible and who share this strong belief that America needs to support Israel because of the vital part it plays in their religious beliefs.”

He spoke to one of those tourists, Ray Armstrong.

Bowen: “Now Christian Evangelicals in the US have a strong interest in Israel, don’t you? You feel a strong affinity.”

Armstrong: “We do. So we are a large – at this time, for better, for worse – a large political influence.”

Bowen: “Now President Trump has been very forward in his support for Israel, recently in his Deal of the Century as he calls it [sic]. Do you think that’s the kind of thing that Evangelicals would support?”

Armstrong: “I think there will be those Evangelicals who will. I think we need to be thorough in our thinking. I think we need to understand consequences of our words. We just need to be careful in what we do and how we go about it.”

That rather vague response did not deter Bowen from continuing to tout his debatable hypothesis.

Bowen: “It is only about six months since the last election and this is the third time in a year but the Americans, by publishing Donald Trump’s plan, have made changes to the political landscape. It’s enabled prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say that this is a great deal for Israel and if you want it, vote for me; I’m the only person who can deliver it.”

Ignoring the obviously highly relevant fact that the US proposal was rejected by the Palestinians even before it was published, Bowen moved on to Shiloh where he promoted very dubious linkage between the beginning of construction of a school and the US proposal published in late January.

Bowen: “And it’s not just politics: the physical landscape of the place is changing, as it’s changed over many years, with the expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land.”

Notably, throughout Bowen’s report BBC audiences were given no evidence to support Mishal Husain’s opening claim that the outcome of the March 2nd Israeli election “could affect Mr Trump’s re-election hopes in November”.

Bowen’s efforts to link the Israeli election to the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal (even though the election cycle began over a year before that proposal was published) were also evident in a filmed report aired on BBC television news programmes.

Bowen: “The prime minister is claiming credit for Donald Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century – an attempt to end the conflict on Israel’s terms. It allows Israel, in defiance of international law, to annex settlements built on land Palestinians want for a state.”

Viewers were also given an inaccurate and simplistic view of the background to the Arab-Israeli conflict:

Bowen: “And as ever, it’s come down to control of the land. That’s always been at the centre of the conflict, a century ago and today.”

In addition they heard Bowen (who only last October asserted that “there haven’t been all that many” Palestinian terror attacks “in recent years”) claim that US policies of the past three years are “sharpening the conflict on the ground” with no concrete evidence provided to support that allegation.

Bowen: “The big changes, political and diplomatic and especially President Trump’s out and out support for the Israeli government is sharpening the conflict on the ground and you can see it in places like this. Conflict is normal for yet another generation. The election won’t change that.”

The narrative the BBC has chosen to promote is very clear: the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan – which has been portrayed by Jeremy Bowen and his colleagues in a uniformly negative light since even before it was made public – is, according to the corporation’s Middle East editor, first and foremost the product of Trump’s dependence upon Evangelical Christian support to get re-elected in November, and has the added effect of aiding Netanyahu’s election campaign by creating “changes to the political landscape”.

On the Israeli front, that “highest calibre” analysis has yet to bear fruit, with Netanyahu’s party (after 99% of the votes were counted) having secured just one more seat in the Knesset than it did in April 2020 – nine months before the US plan was made public.

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More BBC Israel pre-election framing from Tom Bateman

 

 

More BBC Israel pre-election framing from Tom Bateman

As we saw previously, pre-election reporting from the BBC’s Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman focused on simplistic portrayal of the Arab Israeli vote and the Joint Arab list in a filmed report published on the BBC News website. Bateman also produced a similarly themed audio report for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (part of which was previously discussed here) in which he visited the Galilee village of Gush Halav, also known as Jish.

Presenter Paul Henley introduced the item (from 45:05 here). [emphasis in italics in the original]

Henley: “Israel will have its third election in a year on Monday; testament to deadlock in the political system, with Benjamin Netanyahu unable so far to get the majority he needs for his leading Right-wing block. But going into this election the Arab Israeli parties are claiming to be making significant ground. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Bateman opened by describing his walk through the village with its mayor, linking a questionable statement about the weather with a widely condemned incident which took place last month.

Bateman: “These hills of northern Israel are sun-drenched even in the winter but the Arab Israeli residents here recently came under attack. […] In Jish Jewish extremists slashed hundreds of tyres and warned Arabs against assimilation. The police are investigating but have made no arrests.”

As we see, despite knowing that the police “have made no arrests”, Bateman nevertheless claimed to know the identity of the perpetrators. As for his claim that “Arabs” were “warned…against assimilation”, the graffiti concerned actually read “Jews wake up and stop assimilating” – as reported in the English language local press.

Just as inaccurate is Bateman’s blanket description of the residents of Gush Halav (Jish) as “Arab Israeli”: the majority of the village’s population are in fact Maronites.

Bateman went on to ask his host “what’s it like being an Arab Israeli?” and listeners heard Bateman paraphrase his response.

Bateman: “’We live here for better or for worse’, he says. ‘We don’t have the same rights as the others but we try to preserve our community, our heritage, our existence. And we will stay here’.”

Bateman made no effort to clarify to listeners that all Israeli citizens have the same rights regardless of ethnicity, including the right to run for public office, before going on to introduce one of the people who also appeared in his filmed report.

Bateman: “I meet Ayob Farah on the beach in Haifa – a mixed city of Arab and Jewish Israelis. He sings satire about fellow Palestinian citizens of Israel, as he prefers to be called, who will vote. He says they may only end up propping up a rival government to Mr Netanyahu that won’t help them either.”

Listeners then heard Bateman’s reference to a small part of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal, which he failed to note had already been rejected by the leaders of both main parties before his report was aired.

He closed his report:

Bateman: “The ice cream sellers outnumber the political canvassers overlooking the Mediterranean coast here. After all, this is the third election in a year. Its ingredients have been similar to the last two. Mr Netanyahu warns that his main rival Benny Gantz will have to rely on the support of Arab parties to win. A security risk to the Jewish state, he suggests. While the Joint List of Arab parties is aiming for an increase – up to 16 MPs in the 120 seat parliament – but the sentiment for many of their supporters is likely to remain it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always wins.”

Once again Bateman made no effort whatsoever to inform BBC audiences worldwide which parties make up the Joint List and what kind of political views they represent – thereby denying them the ability to judge why some might perceive members of that list as “a security risk”. And yet again Bateman lumped Israel’s multi-faceted ethnic groups into the simplistic category of Arab Israelis in order to promote his own framing.

BBC’s Bateman sketches a simplistic portrait of the Arab Israeli vote

On March 1st – the evening before Israel’s election – the BBC put out a report by its Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman which focused on the Joint Arab List.

Visitors to the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page found a filmed report titled “Israel elections: Will the Arab Israeli vote swing the third election in a year?”.

“Parties representing Arab citizens of Israel believe they could see a high turnout among their voters in the country’s third election in less than a year, on 2 March.

The success of the ‘Joint List’ alliance – a bloc of Arab parties, could help shape the overall result by boosting support for Benny Gantz, the main rival to long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But many Arab Israelis feel their rights have been eroded by Israel’s right wing government, and some are refusing outright to take part in the election.”

Bateman travelled to Haifa to interview four Arab Israelis – one boycotting the election and three intending to vote.

Bateman: “Israel has been in political deadlock for a year. They are now onto their third election. And this time round one of the groups claiming to have momentum are the Arab Israeli parties. There are getting on for 2 million Arab citizens of Israel, that’s about a fifth of the population.”

Bateman: “If more Arab Israelis turn out to vote [than last time] and vote for their parties and get more MPs in parliament it could on the one hand, create more of a block to Benjamin Netanyahu being able to put together a right-wing coalition and potentially more support for his main rival, Benny Gantz.”

By the time that latter statement was aired, the head of the Joint Arab List had made it clear that scenario was unlikely.

Viewers were told that:

“The Joint List of Arab parties became the third biggest group at the last election.”

The Joint Arab List was also the third biggest group in the 2015 election but in the April 2019 election the four parties it comprises did not run as a combined list.

“Their leader Ayman Odeh thinks that their turnout will grow this time because his voters say they are fed up with Mr Netanyahu’s policies. During this election, his party has also been reaching out to left-wing and minority Jewish voters. Last time, a fifth of Arab citizens voted for majority Jewish parties.”

Interestingly, BBC audiences did not get to hear from any of those Arab Israelis who do not vote for the Joint List and so with the exception of that one sentence, the Arab Israeli vote was misleadingly portrayed as a uniform block – as reflected in the film’s opening caption: “Arab Israelis and the third election”.

“Mr Netanyahu often cites democratic participation by all groups as a source of pride for Israel. Historically, participation by Arab citizens has been high. In a close race, Arab Israeli turnout could help shape the overall result.”

Obviously the level of turnout of 20% of any nation’s citizens would “help shape the overall result”, regardless of ethnicity.

Also remarkable is the fact that at no point in this report were BBC audiences informed which parties make up the Joint List and what kind of political views they represent. Ayman Odeh did indeed court certain sectors outside his list’s usual base during this year’s campaign but, as the Times of Israel pointed out:

“A more significant obstacle between the Joint List alliance and its coveted Jewish votes is its inclusion of the Islamist Ra’am party and the Balad party, which contests Israel’s Jewish character.

Odeh is the secular leader of Hadash, a political offshoot of the Israeli Communist Party and other leftist groups. […]

But it’s not just Hadash that’s on the ballot. It’s the entire Joint List alliance — and many potential Jewish voters recoil at the words of Balad’s terrorist-supporting female MK Heba Yazbak, feel threatened when they see Palestinian flags at protests, and can’t vote for a party of which some members oppose LGBTQ rights.”

So while BBC audiences heard the opinions of a philosophy student who would not vote and three women who would – along with claims such as “a lot of racism against us” and “second class citizens” – they were told nothing of the policies of “their parties” which make up the Joint Arab List or how those policies have affected efforts to form past governments.

This of course is not the first time that BBC audiences have seen simplistic reporting on the topic of Arab Israeli voters: Kevin Connolly likewise portrayed that sector in monochrome terms in 2013 and 2015

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