More BBC News promotion of its politicised narrative on Jerusalem

A report headlined “Jerusalem: Jordan condemns Israeli Western Wall railway plan” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East page on February 18th.

The apparent purpose of the report is to inform BBC audiences of the objections of another country to plans to extend a railway in Jerusalem.  

“Jordan has condemned a decision by Israel to advance a plan to build a railway line and station underneath the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City. […]

Jordan called the move a “flagrant violation of international law”.

Foreign ministry spokesman Daifallah al-Fayez urged the international community to “assume its responsibilities to resist the illegitimate and illegal Israeli steps”.”

Readers were not informed by the BBC which particular “international law” relates to the construction of railways.

They did however see one-sided portrayal of parts of the city of Jerusalem, including a frequently used map sourced from the political NGO B’tselem.

“A 3km (2-mile) tunnel will lead to the Western Wall – one of Judaism’s holiest sites – in the city’s occupied east.”

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state.” [emphasis added]

Predictably however, readers were not told that what the BBC chooses to call “East Jerusalem” was invaded and occupied by Jordan nineteen years earlier or that in June 1967 it was Jordan which opened the hostilities on that front. Neither were they provided with any significant background information concerning the Waqf and its status before being informed that:

“Jordan has special responsibility for overseeing the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem – including the compound behind the Western Wall, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount – via an Islamic trust called the Waqf.”

The BBC is obliged under the terms of its Charter to “provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”. Its adoption and exclusive promotion of one-sided politicised narratives which deliberately omit relevant information cannot possibly be claimed to serve audiences in accordance with those obligations.

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BBC News once again misleads on Egyptian Jews

On February 18th another report made for the BBC’s ‘Crossing Divides’ season appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

Produced by Nagham Kasem, the filmed report is titled “The unlikely friendship saving Egypt’s synagogues” and its synopsis reads:

“Two Egyptian women have come together to save the country’s lost Jewish heritage.

Magda, who is Jewish and Marwa, who is Palestinian and Muslim, meet weekly to clean, rescue and repair books, synagogues and cemeteries.

The Jewish community in Egypt shrank after the Israeli-Arab conflict in 1948. Many were exiled or felt forced to leave. With hardly any Jewish people left, the friends are battling to preserve the country’s lost Jewish heritage before it disappears forever.” [emphasis added]

That messaging is repeated in the film itself:

“Egypt once had a thriving Jewish community. But after the Arab-Israeli conflict began in 1948 the number of Jewish people fell from 80,000 to just a handful.

Magda Haroun: “After the establishment of Israel the attitude of Egyptians towards Jews changed.”

Large numbers were expelled or forced out of Egypt.”

Those portrayals would obviously lead BBC audiences to understand that prior to that prior to that unexplained “conflict”, which is inaccurately described as beginning in 1948, all was well for Egyptian Jews.

That, however, is not the case as this timeline of the measures which led to the eradication of Egypt’s Jewish community shows.

This is not the first time that BBC audiences have seen euphemistic or whitewashed portrayals of the history of Egyptian Jews. As has been noted here in the past the persecution of Egyptian Jews  did not, as the BBC suggests, begin “after the establishment of Israel” but long before Israel existed.

“The next step was the nationality laws of 1927 and 1929, which favored jus sanguinis (or right of blood). An Egyptian was from then on defined as somebody who had Arab-Muslim affiliation.

The London Convention (1936) granted Egypt independence under King Farouk, and it was followed by a worsening of the nationality laws. According to additional nationality laws (in 1950, 1951, 1953, and 1956), autochthonous Jews became stateless: 40,000 people were turned into “foreigners” in their own country.”

“In Egypt, a long process of discrimination in the public service began in 1929. In 1945-1948, Jews were excluded from the public service. In 1947, Jewish schools were put under surveillance and forced to Arabize and Egyptianize their curricula.”

Anti-Jewish violencerioting and economic discrimination also predated the existence of Israel.

“Jews in Egypt faced acute problems in the 1940s but these did not set their mass departure in motion. Rioting against Jews occurred in November 1945, then resumed in June-November 1948, the latter time inspired by the war with Israel. An amendment to the Egyptian Companies Law dated July 29, 1947, required that 40 percent of a company’s directors and 75 percent of its employees be Egyptian nationals, causing the dismissal and [loss of] livelihood of many Jews, 85 percent of whom did not possess Egyptian nationality.”

As we see, the BBC continues to erase history in order to promote its own inaccurate narrative according to which the mass departure of Jews from Egypt only happened because of Israel.

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BBC promotes false equivalence between Israel and Hamas

On February 17th a report headlined “Israeli soldiers duped by Hamas ‘fake women’ phone ruse” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

While the story itself is told reasonably, the BBC’s wider framing is worthy of note – mostly because of the information it fails to provide.

The report’s opening line describes Hamas as a “militant group” rather than a widely designated terrorist organisation backed by Iran.

“Dozens of Israeli soldiers have had their smartphones hacked by the Hamas militant group posing as women seeking attention, Israel’s military says.”

In the fourth line readers are told that:

“Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Israel view each other as mortal enemies.”

That simplistic Austin Powers-style portrayal obviously does not inform BBC audiences that Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip two years after Israel had completely disengaged from the territory. Neither does it clarify that both before and since that Hamas coup, Israeli civilians have been the target of tens of thousands of violent attacks perpetrated by that terrorist group.

That of course means that readers lack relevant context concerning the background to what the BBC describes as “a permanent state of conflict” when they reach the last line of the report.

“Israel and Hamas are in a permanent state of conflict and both are engaged in intelligence gathering against one another as part of their ongoing hostilities.”

And on that note of false equivalence between the military intelligence of a sovereign country responsible for the defence of its civilians against terrorism and a scam by a terrorist organisation that seeks the destruction of Israel, the BBC’s simplistic ‘reporting’ ends.

BBC WS radio jumps on the Gaza comparison bandwagon

Last week we saw how an edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ highlighted a redundant comparison between the situation in Idlib, Syria, and the Gaza Strip which was made by interviewee David Miliband of the NGO the International Rescue Committee.

BBC Radio 4 promotes a redundant comparison

The February 13th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Tim Franks – also included an item on the topic of the humanitarian crisis in Idlib (from 30:06 here), most of which was given over to an interview with David Miliband that was also promoted as a stand-alone item.

During that six-minute interview Miliband again brought up the subject of the Gaza Strip in one sentence. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Miliband: “Just to give your listeners a sense; the density of population in the Idlib province is now greater than the density of population on [sic] the Gaza Strip which historically has been seen as one of the most confined areas in the world.”

Franks later brought up that statement again, describing Miliband’s statement as a ‘statistic’.

Franks: “…and as you say – and I haven’t heard this statistic before – the idea that there’s a greater concentration of people there now than there is even in the Gaza Strip…”

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the population density in the Gaza Strip was 5,453 persons/km2 in mid 2019. According to the department of planning in New York City – where David Miliband resides – the population density is around 10,424 persons/km2 and in the city of London, from which ‘Newshour’ is broadcast, the population density is reported to be on average 5,590 persons/km2 with some districts having a population density of 11,200 persons/km2.

As we have noted here in the past when the BBC has promoted the same mantra, there are of course many other cities in the world with a higher population density than Gaza City and other places with higher population densities than the Gaza Strip as a whole. Interestingly, a map produced by the BBC in 2018 shows a higher population density in London than in Gaza.

Nevertheless, the BBC continues to steer its audiences towards the notion that the Gaza Strip is the benchmark for high population density and out of all the things said by David Miliband during that six-minute interview, that -revealingly – was the issue that the ‘Newshour’ Twitter account chose to highlight.

BBC News recycles a well-told Nazareth story

On February 16th the BBC News website chose to feature a fifteen year-old story on its ‘Middle East’ page using the headline “The unlikely hostel easing hostilities” and the sub-heading “An Arab-Jewish owned hostel caused controversy but is being held up as a symbol of change”.

The article itself – credited to a US-based freelancer called Lucy Sherriff who briefly visited Israel two months ago – is headlined “Crossing Divides: The hostel promoting tourism to ease Israel’s tensions” and it also appears on the BBC News website’s page devoted to “Crossing Divides” which is described as “A season of stories about bringing people together in a fragmented world.”

That, apparently, is the sole explanation for the BBC’s publication of a story which has been told on many occasions by various media outlets and other organisations, as well as by the entrepreneurs themselves, since the hostel first opened in Nazareth in 2005 just as the Second Intifada, which severely impacted tourism in Israel, was coming to an end.  

The messaging that Sherriff wishes to promote is amply clear.

“An Arab-Jewish owned hostel caused controversy but is being held up as a symbol of change

“After gruelling and lengthy renovations the hostel opened its doors to the public, and the tourists started to come.

“We definitely had some hard times,” Maoz says. “But now we see the whole old city has changed and there are so many shops and cafes and other hostels that have opened up because we have been here. I worked hard to meet everybody in the community, so they knew that I was here as a friend, and to help.”

Despite no longer living in Nazareth, Maoz still knows most of the shopkeepers by name, and is credited with helping to heal tensions and bring Jewish visitors into the city.”

Sherriff underlines her messaging with quotes and a five-year-old paper from an academic.

“”When I first heard about this hostel opening, I thought wow… this is unusual,” says Alon Gelbman, a professor of tourism management at Kinneret College in Galilee [sic]. “But it became a success story quite fast.” […]

A decade after the inn opened, Prof Gelbman decided to use Fauzi Azar as a case study for his paper on how tourism could be used to heal conflict and divided communities.

“The partnership became a symbol,” says Prof Gelbman. “Because we don’t see too much cooperation between Jews and Arabs.

“And the question we set out to answer was not ‘can peace promote tourism?’, but instead, ‘can tourism promote peace?’ Can we use tourism to encourage more peaceful and better relationships in communities?

“Can we use the fact that people are meeting each other, talking, becoming more familiar with other communities, to start a change, bottom-up?”

Prof Gelbman’s report, which he wrote with Daniel Laven, a professor at Mid Sweden University, concluded that tourism could indeed help create shared interests between communities that are characterised by cross-cultural conflict.”

“Shared interests” (as expressed in the article’s closing quotes from the two entrepreneurs) are of course not the same as “easing hostilities”, “heal[ing] conflict” or “promoting tourism to ease Israel’s tensions” and sharp-eyed Hebrew fluent readers may have noticed the political ‘Nakba’ graffiti in the background of the article’s second photograph.

While the majority of visitors to the BBC News website will of course not click on the link to read the academic paper, those who do will find quotes from “Interviewee B” who is the same Suraida Shomar Nasser appearing in Sherriff’s article.

“Interviewee B described the importance of engaging guests in this story in very strong terms:

I sit with guests – [and] many of them are Jews – and I share with them that [my] grandpa [Fauzi Azar] fought against the occupation. And [sometimes they] ask me, “Do you still call it occupation?” I say, “Excuse me, maybe for me it is still occupation.”. … . Sharing this story with [our] guests is giving us [an opportunity] … to tell [visitors] that here are Arab Christians. Ok, we have Israeli identity cards but it doesn’t mean that we don’t feel [a sense of] belonging to the Palestinians, or we are not Palestinians anymore. […]

Interviewee B sees the guesthouse as a potential empowerment vehicle for acknowledging and validating her family’s experience in this conflict. This is important because of Interviewee B’s minority status in Israeli society. The tourism element is also important here because it is the inn’s guests that create the opportunity to share this experience. Without guests, there would be no audience with which to transfer the story.”

There is no obvious reason for the BBC’s decision to publish this article at this particular time beyond the fact that its messaging and agenda fit the ‘Crossing Divides’ mission of telling “stories about bringing people together in a fragmented world”. However what BBC audiences find is a superficial report by a freelance journalist with no known Middle East expertise on a brief visit to Israel which casts no new light on one already well-told story and makes no effort to provide background information and context to what it blandly touts as “Israel’s tensions” and “divided communities”.

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BBC News blindly repeats FT allegations

On February 14th an entry titled “Amazon accused of bias in the West Bank” appeared in the ‘updates’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

Readers trying to click on the link in the first sentence would discover that they needed a subscription in order to read the Financial Times article that the BBC had chosen to summarise and therefore in most cases would not be able to judge its content for themselves. 

The BBC journalist who wrote this item clearly read the part of the FT article which quotes an Amazon spokesman as saying that if Palestinian customers enter their address and select Israel as the country, they can also receive free shipping through the same promotion, as indicated by the fact that he or she wrote:

“Customers in the territories could get the free shipping if they selected their address as “Israel”, but not if they selected “Palestinian Territories.””

Nevertheless, the BBC elected to blindly repeat the accusations of “bias” presented in the FT’s ‘investigation’ to its own audiences – without informing them that they came from three highly partisan and politically motivated sources: Michael Sfard, the NGO ‘Peace Now‘ and Diana Buttu

The BBC continues of course to claim that:

“Our website, like our TV and radio services, strives for journalism that is accurate, impartial, independent and fair.”

BBC’s Tom Bateman tells part of a story about a Palestinian house ‘in a cage’

On February 14th the BBC News website published a filmed report by the Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman on its ‘Middle East’ page. Titled “Israel-Palestinian conflict: The family with its own checkpoint”, the report was apparently filmed a week earlier and its synopsis indicates that it falls under the category of BBC framing of the recent US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal.

“How is President Trump’s plan to solve the Israeli Palestinian conflict being received on the ground?

The BBC’s Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman went to visit two homes in the occupied West Bank; starting with a Palestinian family whose house is in a fenced off enclave within an Israeli settlement.

Israel has said it intends to formally annex all settlements in the West Bank based on President Trump’s plan.

But the US proposals are rejected by the Palestinians, who say its vision of a state for them is unacceptable.

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 considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The same report was apparently aired on the BBC News television channel and readers will no doubt note the use of hyperbole in the title used in both versions: “The house ‘in a cage’ surrounded by a settlement”.

Similar rhetoric is used by Bateman himself – “like being in a prison, inside a cage” – and by his Palestinian interviewee – “not left me air to breathe”, “we are living in a prison”, “under siege”, “confiscated my land”.

Bateman tells BBC audiences that:

“Israel declared ownership of the land around the Gharib’s house. The settlement was built and the family home was later fenced off as part of the separation barrier Israel said it built for security.”

In addition to failing to note the second Intifada terror war as the context for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence, Bateman does not bother to clarify that the land on which the ‘settlement’ – Giv’on HaHadasha – was built had been purchased by Jews long before the State of Israel came into being, that it had been the site of a Jordanian army camp after the 1948 Jordanian invasion and subsequent 19-year occupation or that claims by the Gharib family that they owned additional land were shown to be unsupported in several court cases.

Later on in the report Bateman interviews a resident of Giv’on HaHadasha. Pointing at the fence he asks her:

“What do you think when you see a Palestinian home behind all this?”

Ilanit Gohar replies: “He chose this, he chose this type of living” but BBC audiences would be incapable of understanding her reply because Bateman did not bother to inform them that the Gharib family refused an offer of compensation for relocation prior to the construction of the anti-terrorist fence in that area in 2008 and that their claims were rejected by the Supreme Court

The compromise reached in that court case was that the fence would be built around the Gharib house (which had been constructed, according to court documents, without building permits) and that the family would have a key to the gate shown in the film. Nevertheless, BBC audiences were told by Sa’adat Gharib that “we live in a prison where they [Israeli forces] can lock the gate [when they like]”.

The aim of Bateman’s report is amply apparent in his closing remarks at 05:26:

Bateman: “What strikes me, you know, when you look at this [fence] with the settlement on the other side, most of the rest of the world has always said, building them by Israel is illegal. But what has changed in the Trump plan is he says OK, they become a formal part of the State of Israel. And as soon as you say that, you then say well these fences and walls that have been built by the Israelis, they become the new borders.”

The story that Bateman has chosen to highlight in this report is of course very much an exception. But by using that atypical example and failing to provide all the relevant background information, Bateman is able to further promote the BBC’s one-sided framing of the US Administration’s proposals to the corporation’s audiences.

Perusal of some of the comments under Bateman’s video shows just how far removed the report is from meeting the BBC’s obligation to provide “accurate and impartial” reporting which will “build people’s understanding”. 

BBC News report on UNHRC blacklist conceals more than it reveals

On the evening of February 12th the BBC News website published a report headlined “UN lists 112 businesses linked to Israeli settlements” which, for reasons unknown, it chose to tag “Trump peace plan”.

The main image illustrating the report appears to show an Arab neighbourhood in Jerusalem near the anti-terrorist fence but is captioned “The settlements are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this”.

That partial but standard BBC mantra is of course repeated in the body of the article.

“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.”

The report promotes a version of a partisan map produced by the political NGOB’tselem’ which has appeared in countless previous BBC News website reports. The map marks the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City as a “settlement” and fails to inform audiences that what are described as areas under “Palestinian civil control” and areas under “Israeli military and civil control” are in fact Areas A and B and Area C as designated under the Oslo Accords, to which the PLO was party.

Readers are told that:

“The UN human rights office has issued a long-awaited report on companies linked to Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The report names 112 business entities the office says it has reasonable grounds to conclude have been involved in activities related to settlements.

They include Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group and Motorola Solutions.”

The BBC does not clarify that the UNHRC’s blacklist also includes the Rami Levy supermarket chain (which is known as a model of co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians) and numerous companies providing services such as transport, water and telecommunications to both Israelis and Palestinians.  

Later on readers are told that:

“In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council mandated the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to produce a database of companies involved in specific activities relating to settlements. […]

Following what it said was a thorough review and assessment of all information available, the OHCHR presented a report on Wednesday identifying 112 business entities that it said, there were reasonable grounds to conclude, had been involved in one or more of those activities.”

BBC audiences are not informed that members of the UNHRC at the time that the resolution (3136) requesting the compilation of that database was passed included human rights ‘beacons’ such as China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Cuba, Qatar and Venezuela. Neither were they given any background information concerning the UNHRC’s infamous and long-standing bias against Israel.

The BBC’s report avoids all mention of the BDS supporting NGOs involved in the compilation of the blacklist. NGO Monitor notes that:

“The list was based on input from BDS groups, including Human Rights Watch. Many of the groups centrally involved receive significant funding from the EU and European governments. […]

Given that 85 of the 112 companies included on the blacklist are also found in the BDS NGO Who Profits’ database, and based on documentation seen by NGO Monitor,  it is clear that the UN relied on this and other BDS actors as its sources of information.”

In light of that serious omission, the BBC’s decision to include part of a quote from Human Rights Watch in its report is particularly notable.

“Human Rights Watch said the list “should put all companies on notice: to do business with illegal settlements is to aid in the commission of war crimes.””

Although the BBC’s report claims that “There were no immediate comments from the companies named on the list”, one such comment is available here.

The BBC report amplifies comments made by a PA official:

“The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, said: “The publication of the list of companies and parties operating in settlements is a victory for international law.”

He also called on the Human Rights Council member states to “issue recommendations and instructions to these companies to end their work immediately with the settlements”.”

However at no point in the article did the BBC bother to inform readers in its own words that there is no prohibition in international law from doing business in occupied or disputed territories.

Neither does the report make any effort to inform audiences of the fact that the UNHRC has taken no such action against companies operating in other occupied or disputed territories anywhere else in the world.  

Given the BBC’s dismal record on informing audiences on the topic of UNHRC bias against Israel, its long-existing editorial policy of promoting a specific politically motivated narrative concerning ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ and its promotion of the BDS campaign agenda, the serious omissions in this report come as no surprise whatsoever.

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Disproportionate focus in BBC News report on UNHRC speech

BBC portrayal of US decision to leave UNHRC – part one

BBC Radio 4 promotes a redundant comparison

The February 5th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’, presented by Shaun Ley, included a pre-recorded interview with David Miliband, president and CEO of the NGO the International Rescue Committee.

During that interview (from 24:42 here) Miliband spoke about the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, Syria, which is under attack from the Assad regime and its Russian allies along with Iranian militias. He noted that hospitals and health centres are being bombed and that vehicles “carrying displaced people are also being targeted”. Ley raised the topic of war crimes in relation to ambulances being targeted and Miliband referred to “international humanitarian law” and “war crimes”.

However in the course of that interview, Miliband also made the following statement (from 26:43):

Miliband: “I want to say to your listeners, we already have one Gaza in the Middle East, in Gaza itself, with about two million people crammed in. There’s a new Gaza being created in the west of Syria with three and a half million people, with terrorist groups in control and with civilian life at daily risk from bombardment and other fighting.”

One can of course find several points on which to take issue with Miliband’s simplistic, if not sensationalist, comparison of Idlib to the Gaza Strip. For example, in that province in Syria hospitals have – as the BBC knows – been deliberately bombed by Russian jets. In the Gaza Strip, not only is that not the case but hospitals receive medical supplies transferred by Israel (139 tons in the week in which this programme was aired alone) and additional products such as food and building materials are also supplied.

For the producers of ‘The World Tonight’, however, that redundant comparison was apparently the most important thing that Miliband said during his five-minute interview – as shown by the fact that it was used to promote the item in the programme’s introduction (from 00:55) along with a reference to war crimes.

Ley: “Also in the programme, the UN Security Council meets tomorrow to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, the last rebel-held province in Syria. The former foreign secretary David Miliband tells me that Western indifference has contributed to a situation in which war crimes are being committed.”

Miliband: “There’s a new Gaza being created in the west of Syria with three and a half million people, with terrorist groups in control and with civilian life at daily risk from bombardment and other fighting.”

Apparently the BBC considers that invalid and irrelevant comparison to be consistent with its supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

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Comparing BBC reporting on strikes on hospitals in Syria and Gaza

BBC Sounds relaunches 2017 series by Middle East editor

The BBC recently re-uploaded the 2017 audio series by its Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen called ‘Our Man in the Middle East’.

Our analysis of the episodes relating to Israel can be found below:

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

A predictable view of Jerusalem from the BBC’s ‘Man in the Middle East’

BBC ME editor gives context-free, omission rich potted history of Israel’s creation

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

BBC’s Bowen resurrects the ‘Arafat was poisoned’ canard on Radio 4

In which the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen repeats his ‘no human shields in Gaza’ claims