BBC News amplifies a false story of the ‘dark Israel’ genre

On July 12th the BBC News website’s Middle East page ran an article headlined “Israel army names new chief rabbi criticised over rape comments” which opened by informing readers that:Chief Rabbi art

“Israel’s military has nominated a new chief rabbi criticised for remarks he made in the past that seemed to condone the rape of non-Jewish women in war.

In an answer to a religious website in 2002, Rabbi Colonel Eyal Karim implied that such an act was permissible.”

The link in that second paragraph directs BBC audiences to the English language version of an article published by Yediot Aharonot in Hebrew on its Ynet website, as well as in print, on the day that this BBC News article appeared.

As the respected media watchdog website ‘The Seventh Eye’ showed on the same day, Yediot Aharonot’s story – including the alleged ‘quotes’ it promotes – is false.

The BBC has enough Hebrew speakers working in its Jerusalem bureau to have been able to determine that amplification of Yediot Aharonot’s false claims is not in line with the BBC’s professed standards of accuracy and that is perhaps why the subsequent paragraph read as follows:

“He [Rabbi Karim]  clarified in 2012 that his words had been taken out of context and that rape was forbidden “in any situation”.”

Nevertheless, the next 96 words of the article were devoted to the amplification of vacuous reactions to the non-story which were lifted directly from the linked Ynet article.chief rabbi art on hp

“But his appointment, which requires the defence minister’s approval, was condemned by a top female politician.

Zehava Galon, leader of the Meretz party, described Rabbi Karim as “not suitable to represent Jewish morality in any way whatsoever”.

“His appalling, racist and violent statement makes women fair game,” she added.

The head of the Israeli parliament’s Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, Aida Touma-Sliman of the Joint Arab List, said: “Col Karim’s ruling on permitting raping non-Jewish women is similar to the fatwa of a murderous organisation that’s not so far from Israel’s borders.””

That was followed by a response from the IDF.

So what was the point of the BBC’s amplification of this second-hand non-story? Obviously it certainly wasn’t to report news or contribute to audiences’ “understanding of international issues” because the ‘news’ is false and the issue non-existent.

Rather, this is yet another BBC report belonging to the ‘dark Israel’ genre: the succession of stories which – often with little or no regard for accuracy – paint a portrait of a country parting ways with democracy that is rife with racism, sexism, xenophobia, government censorship and more.  

The publication of articles such as this of course does nothing to support the BBC’s claim that its reporting from Israel reporting is “impartial” and professional. 

BBC News ignores another Iranian funded terror group

Iran’s financing of terror is not a topic to which the BBC has devoted much serious reporting, despite the ample available evidence available. It is therefore not surprising to see that the following story has to date been ignored by the corporation’s Jerusalem bureau.Iran Hizballah

“Israel announced Monday it had outlawed a Palestinian group it said acted as a front for Iran-directed terror activities targeting Israelis and the regime of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman signed the order outlawing Al-Hirak Al-Shababi (“The Youth Movement”) at the recommendation of the Shin Bet internal security agency, a ministry statement read.

The decision followed “significant information indicating that the group is directed by Hezbollah and Iran to carry out attacks against Israelis, and ignite a wave of violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem at Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” it read. […]

Members of Al-Hirak Al-Shababi were engaged in firebombing and bombing attacks on Israeli targets in the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as stirring unrest on the volatile Temple Mount compound in the city, the ministry said.”

This of course is not the first time in recent months that Iranian efforts to destabilise the region have been ignored by the media organisation committed to enhancing its funding public’s “awareness and understanding of international issues”.  

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BBC’s Knell airbrushes two-thirds of Quartet report out of the picture

Later versions of the BBC News website’s June 30th article concerning that morning’s terror attack in Kiryat Arba included the following:

“Also on Thursday, a senior United Nations official cited a long-awaited report by the Middle East Quartet as saying that hopes for peace between Israel and the Palestinians were being severely undermined by three “negative trends”.

Nickolay Mladenov told the UN Security Council that they were continuing violence, terrorism and incitement; Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank; and a lack of control of the Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Authority.”

As noted here previously, in its July 1st article relating to that report from the Quartet the BBC herded audiences’ attentions towards one of those three “negative trends” in particular by devoting 282 words to the topic of “settlement expansion”, 213 words to the subject of “violence, terrorism and incitement” and a mere 91 words to issues related to the PA’s “lack of control of the Gaza Strip” whilst completely ignoring the Quartet’s concerns about weapons smuggling, cross border tunnels and terrorism.

In case audiences had not quite got the message, an additional article by Yolande Knell appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 1st with some very clear signposting seen in its promotion.

“Fate of settlements core to Israel-Palestinian peace”

Knell settlements art on ME pge

Titled “Israel-Palestinians: Blame and bitterness keeping peace at bay“, the article’s opening paragraphs include some equally overt signposting.

“For retired West Bank farmer Issa Hamed, the idea that Jewish settlements are destroying a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a no-brainer.

From the rooftop of his home in Silwad, north-east of Ramallah, the sprightly 86-year-old points to the red roofs of the settlement of Ofra, set up in 1975.

“At first, they took just one dunam (1000 sq m), where there used to be a Jordanian military camp, then they kept expanding and blocked access for the landowners,” Mr Hamed recalls.

“It became like a cancer growing quickly over the hills.”” [emphasis added]

Knell’s article contains many of the usual features of any BBC report relating to the topic of construction in Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem. As far as Knell is concerned, history begins in June 1967: she makes no effort to inform audiences of the legal status of Judea & Samaria, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip before they were attacked and occupied in 1948.

“Settlement construction began after Israel defeated Arab armies in the 1967 Middle East war. It captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt.”

Moreover, while failing to inform her readers about San Remo and the Mandate for Palestine, Knell does find it necessary introduce the subject of religion – but refrains from mentioning the no less relevant topic of Hamas’ approach to ‘Islamic lands’.

“Some Israelis choose to live in settlements for lifestyle reasons but others are religious nationalists.

They believe God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people – including Jerusalem and the West Bank, which they call Judea and Samaria.”

Readers see the inevitable BBC mantra on ‘international law’ which fails to inform audiences of legal opinions which do not conform to the corporation’s chosen narrative.

“Since the 1970s, left- and right wing governments have encouraged Israelis to move to settlements. There are now at least 570,000 settlers.

Under international law, their presence is seen as illegal, but Israel disagrees. Officials have argued they are built on “disputed”, not “occupied” territory.”

The 1949 Armistice lines – specifically designed not to be permanent boundaries or borders – are misleadingly presented as such.

“The current coalition government includes pro-settler parties and ministers who live inside the so-called “Green Line”, marking pre-1967 boundaries.”

Knell promotes and amplifies the topic of the BDS campaign in her article but, as is inevitably the case in BBC content, fails to inform readers what that campaign aims to achieve: the dissolution of the Jewish state.

“They [Israeli officials] have already fought against EU moves to label settlement products and a civil society campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

“The vast majority of international parties have refrained so far from any serious pressure on Israel,” says Palestinian politician, Mustafa Barghouti, who supports BDS.

“It’s not enough to condemn settlements and say they block peace.”

Palestinians plan to renew their calls for further sanctions, including a ban on products from settlements and companies that invest or work in them.”

Among the links to additional related material promoted to readers of this article is one presented as “The settlement issue”. That link leads to a highly partisan article originally published nine years ago which has already been discussed here.

Beyond her grandstanding of the ‘settlements are to blame’ theme, Knell does little to enhance audience understanding of the issue. After quoting a spokesman from the Yesha Council, she writes:

“It points to the fact that Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza, with the removal of 8,500 settlers, only led to further conflicts.”

Obviously Knell did not consider it useful to her case to discuss that topic further or to try to use that experience to enhance audience understanding of the potential scenarios in Judea & Samaria. Later on, under the sub-heading “What if?”, she makes a brief mention of a topic usually ignored by the BBC.

“If a peace deal was reached, it is generally accepted that many settlements would remain. Past negotiations are understood to have included mutually agreed land-swaps in which Israel would keep its major settlement blocs.”

She then goes on to say:

“However, it is estimated these could leave over 100,000 settlers in the West Bank.”

Knell does not clarify why she apparently thinks that would be an issue and again chooses not to discuss the fact that the evacuation of Israelis from their homes in the Gaza Strip did not prove conducive to ending the conflict.Knell settlements art

If readers are perhaps wondering how much of the column space in her nine hundred and sixteen-word article Yolande Knell devoted to presentation of the two additional “negative trends” cited in the Quartet’s report, the answer to that question is below: eighty-two words in which key points raised in the Quartet’s report are completely ignored.

“Quartet members – the US, EU, UN and Russia – also identify Palestinian violence and incitement and the political situation in Gaza as obstacles to peace.

The Israeli government believes that these are the factors that should be highlighted.

In recent days there has been a series of attacks. An American-Israeli girl was stabbed to death in a settlement near Hebron and an Israeli car in the West Bank was shot, causing it to crash, killing the driver and injuring three passengers.”

Once again we see that the Palestinian Authority’s incitement and glorification of terrorism, together with Hamas’ terrorism, tunnel building, its weapons smuggling and production and its violent rivalry with the PA – all of which are noted in the Quartet’s report – are airbrushed out of an article obviously intended to herd BBC audiences towards one specific view of what – and who – is “destroying a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict”.

While completely consistent with Yolande Knell’s record, this of course is the type of editorialised advocacy journalism which flies in the face of the BBC’s claim to provide its audiences with ‘impartial’ reporting.

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BBC’s Sarona Market attack speculations come unraveled

Readers may recall that in much of its reporting on the terror attack at Sarona Market on June 8th in which four Israelis were murdered and 15 wounded, the BBC found it necessary to stress the proximity of the site of the attack to the Ministry of Defence and the IDF’s headquarters, thus inferring some kind of significance which audiences were left to interpret for themselves.

Sarona complex, Tel Aviv

Sarona complex, Tel Aviv

The two terrorists and an accomplice have now been indicted and during that process it emerged that the location of the attack was chosen randomly.

“The Shin Bet also discovered that alleged terrorists originally conspired to attack passengers traveling on an Israeli train, according to the indictment. The investigation noted that the Sorona market attack was a “random,” last-minute target.”

Ynet reported on the original plan.

“In the indictment handed down, it was written that the two turned to their friend, Yunas Zayn, also a resident of Yatta, with the intent of carrying out the attack. They planned to carry it out on a train and therefore went about gathering information about timetables, journey routes, entrances and exits, gateways and numbers of passengers passing through different stations. They came to the decision to carry out the attack against passengers travelling from Tel Aviv to Haifa.

As part of the attack, the two purchased 30cm knives. They also purchased suits, watches, leather bags, shoes and glasses at the cost of 2,600 shekels. Additionally, they bought rat poison to spread on the knives which would then be used to stab Israelis and maximize the damage caused. In total, the two spent 4,000 shekels on their grizzly plan.”

The BBC’s repeated focusing of audience attention on the proximity of the site of the attack to the Ministry of Defence building and the IDF HQ was obviously rooted entirely in its own journalists’ speculations.

As was noted here back in January when the Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly likewise engaged in redundant speculations concerning a terror attack (which, by the way, still remain in situ), the BBC’s editorial guidelines on accuracy state:

“The BBC’s commitment to accuracy is a core editorial value and fundamental to our reputation. Our output must be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language. We should be honest and open about what we don’t know and avoid unfounded speculation.” [emphasis added]

Moreover, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on “War, Terror and Emergencies” clearly demand a responsible approach from the corporation’s journalists which does not accommodate wild speculation.

“The BBC has a special responsibility to its UK and international audiences when reporting conflict including wars, acts and planned acts of terror, sieges and emergencies. Large numbers of people across the world access our services for accurate news and information.  They also expect us to help them make sense of events by providing context and impartial analysis and by offering a wide range of views and opinions.

At such times, when there may be conflicting information and opinions, and with reliable information hard to come by, we need to be scrupulous in applying our principles of accuracy and impartiality.”

Perhaps if BBC correspondents devoted less of their energies to the promotion of their own speculations concerning terror attacks in Israel, they might find the time to actually describe them in accurate terminology. 

BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly moves on to new pastures

After some five years at the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau, Kevin Connolly is moving on to take up a new post in Brussels – but not before making a final contribution to the mission he describes thus:

“I came here just to play the smallest of parts in writing one chapter of Jerusalem’s story”.

As those who have followed Connolly’s work over the past few years will be aware, it has not infrequently included subtle (and not so subtle) re-writing of past and present chapters of “Jerusalem’s story” and his concluding musings on the June 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (from 16:27 here) are no exception.FOOC 16 6 Connolly

For example, Connolly uses the ambiguous term “line of demarcation” which implies far more permanency than was intended by those who drafted the 1949 Armistice agreement which produced the ceasefire line he is actually describing.

“A stone’s throw from the house lies the line of demarcation which separated the armies of the Arab world from the forces of the newly independent Jewish state back in 1949.”

In Connolly’s account, no belligerent invasion or occupation by the British-backed Jordanian army is evident.

“When the fighting ended in 1949 Jerusalem was grudgingly divided between Israel and the neighbouring Arab Kingdom of Jordan.”

Only one population suffered “dispossession and disinheritance” according to Connolly: the ethnic cleansing of the Old City of Jerusalem has apparently not come to his attention in the past five years.

“Many Zionists were filled with despair. What was the point of this long dreamed of Jewish state if it didn’t contain the place of prayer at the Western Wall or the ancient cemetery on the Mount of Olives? It was a time of bitterness and loss too for many of the Arabs of West Jerusalem and beyond who fled their homes never to return, beginning a story of dispossession and disinheritance that still has no ending.”

While refraining from mentioning the 19-year Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem, he does later find a use for that term:

“The war of 1967 left Israel in control of East Jerusalem, binding together the fractured fragments of Jewish hearts if you’re a Zionist, beginning 49 years of military occupation if you’re not.”

And Connolly even invents a Jordanian “claim” – and a dubious consensus – on belligerently occupied territory which the international community refused to recognise as Jordanian.

“The Palestinians who inherited the Jordanian claim on the east of the city believe it will be the future capital of their independent state and that is what the wider world wants too.”

Not for the first time, Connolly misleads listeners with regard to British history in the region, inaccurately suggesting that Mandate Palestine was a British colony.

“The British mandatory authority was a good government as colonial governments went – but like all colonial governments, it went.”

As we already know, Kevin Connolly thinks those who take issue with inaccuracy and omission in his and his colleagues’ reporting are driven by the wish to promote a “narrative” and his post-factual theory is again amplified in his parting shot.

“Supporters of the Palestinians and of Israel scrutinise everything that’s written about the city, alert for any terminological hint of bias or ignorance or both. Each side has its own lexicon and watches suspiciously for any hint that the news has been written in the words of the other. Is a young Palestinian who stabs an Israeli soldier a terrorist? Or a normal teenager goaded beyond endurance by generations of humiliation? Is an Israeli soldier who shoots a wounded and helpless Palestinian in such an incident a murderer or a young man defending his comrades and his country when they are under attack? There are no answers of course, beyond the answers you favour yourself. Reporting Jerusalem means finding words that convey what has happened and why – but also remembering that neither side recognises the truth of the other. The scrutiny is a legacy of the sense built up over centuries of how the unsettled future of this place matters to millions of people who have never seen it. These words aren’t exempt from that process either; ad nauseam maybe.”

Obviously Mr Connolly finds any examination of his five years of attempts to dictate “one chapter of Jerusalem’s story” tiresome and annoying and so he may be relieved to be moving on to pastures new. Given that the BBC does not refuse to respect the Belgian people’s choice of their own capital as it does in Jerusalem, we might perhaps expect to find Connolly less frequently engaged in negating the Belgian nation’s sovereignty over the City of Brussels.

“Jerusalem in general feels like it belongs to the world…”

“Jerusalem belongs to the ages and it belongs to the world.”

There are of course many of us who are not going anywhere and for whom the way in which the “story” of Jerusalem and Israel is told by brief sojourners such as Kevin Connolly has very real consequences. We remain charged with the task of trying to make certain that the “historical record” promoted by the world’s biggest and most influential broadcaster is both accurate and impartial in order to ensure that public opinion and foreign policymakers who take it upon themselves to intervene in that story are informed by facts rather than politicised journalistic activism.

And if Mr Connolly finds that tiresome, that perhaps says all that needs to be said about the motivations behind his wish to write – rather than observe and record – the story of the city and the country which hosted him for the last five years.   

How the BBC’s Knell censored a report on the Samaritan Passover festival

The April 30th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included a report (from 44:23 here) by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell from the Samaritan Passover festival  on Mount Gerizim in Samaria.Newshour 30 4

In among Knell’s commentary, listeners heard the following:

“During the Passover feast it’s an unusual sight. Samaritans carry both Israeli and Palestinian IDs and here Israeli soldiers and settlers mix – sometimes uncomfortably – with Palestinian firefighters and officials.”

However, Knell’s coy portrayal does not tell BBC audiences what actually happened at the Samaritan festival at which she was present. As Khaled Abu Toameh recounts:

“Things went well for about two minutes on Mount Gerizim, one of the two mountains in the immediate vicinity of Nablus. That was how long it took for the Palestinian guests to walk out in protest at the presence of representatives of the Jewish settler community and IDF officers.

The Palestinian Authority Governor of Nablus, General Akram Rajoub, was an honored guest, as were Nablus Mayor Adli Yaish and dozens of Palestinians.

Rajoub later explained his decision to “vote with his feet”:

“Yes, we withdrew from the ceremony. We respect and appreciate the Samaritan community and have been regularly sharing with them in joyous and sad events. We consider them part of the Palestinian people. But we can’t accept the presence of settlers at the ceremony. Even worse, these settlers were given the privilege to speak at the ceremony, which is why we had to boycott the official event and leave the hall. We’re not prepared to talk to Jewish settlers because we don’t accept their presence among us.”

Shortly thereafter, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction in the West Bank issued a statement strongly condemning the invitation of Jewish settler leaders to the Samaritan ceremony:

“This is a dangerous precedent that must not be allowed to recur. This is something unusual for the Samaritan community to do. We consider them to be part of the Palestinian people and we hope that this invitation does not represent the will of our Samaritan people. They need to fix this and prevent it from ever happening again.”

Raed Dib’i, a senior Fatah official in the West Bank, praised the Palestinian delegation’s decision to boycott the ceremony. He said that the move reflected the Palestinians’ rejection of any form of “normalization with the occupiers and the settler gangs.””

Just days before this report was aired Yolande Knell’s filmed, audio and written reports from Gush Etzion appeared on multiple BBC platforms. In those reports she told BBC audiences that:

“For two years there have been no peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.”

And:

“…I expect more bad news from the Gush Etzion junction. With no hope of a political solution in sight, it offers a worrying glimpse of a future where both sides in this conflict continue to live with simmering tension and outbreaks of violence.”

A reporter truly committed to enhancing audience understanding of why negotiations between Israel and the PLO have been non-existent for two years would of course give a story such as the one above at least as much prominence as the promotion of slogans such as ‘occupation’ and ‘illegal settlements’. Yolande Knell demonstrates once again that she is not that reporter.  

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BBC’s Knell amplifies Hamas PR while sidestepping ISIS-Hamas collaboration

For nearly two and a half years the BBC has managed to avoid producing any serious reporting on the subject of collaboration between Hamas and the ISIS franchise operating in the Sinai Peninsula.

Back in August 2013 the BBC’s Yolande Knell told audiences that:

“Cairo has repeatedly accused Hamas of interfering in Egyptian affairs and has accused Palestinians of supporting Islamist militants in the increasingly restive Sinai region.”

Failing to provide any objective information concerning those Egyptian claims, she then promoted the following statement from Hamas’ Ghazi Hamad:

“They have a plan in order to distort the image of Gaza in order to start propaganda and media campaign against Gaza, against Hamas, in order to show Gaza is like a devil and Hamas is like a devil,” Mr Hamed [sic] said.

“I think they succeeded to do this on the Egyptian street, in the Egyptian society.”

In October 2014 the BBC told its audiences that:

“Egyptian media accuses Gaza’s Hamas administration of aiding militants in Sinai. Hamas denies the charge.”

Since then the topic of collaboration between Hamas and Wilayat Sinai (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) has been the subject of numerous articles and reports from a variety of outlets (see for example here, here, here, here, here and here) but not only has the BBC failed to adequately address the topic in that time, it has even promoted a conflicting narrative.

On March 29th 2016, Yolande Knell produced a filmed report for BBC television news programmes which also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel on alert for attacks by Islamic State fighters in Sinai“. Notably, the word terror does not appear at any point during Knell’s narration and in the synopsis ISIS terrorists in Sinai are described as “militants” and “extremists”.Knell ISIS Sinai report

Knell’s report begins in Eilat where she takes a trip on an Israeli navy boat and then proceeds to the between Israel and Egypt.

“Recently the so-called Islamic State has made threats. A high state of alert extends along Israel’s 240 kilometer border with the Sinai.” […]

IS fighters have made the Sinai into another Middle East stronghold. Here they’re mostly targeting Egyptian security forces but they’ve also struck at Israel. […]

Israel and Egypt admit little publicly but they’re known to be sharing intelligence. Here there’s a constant threat of surprise attacks by Islamic extremists. What increasingly worries both Israel and Egypt is links between militants in the Sinai and groups in Gaza, which is nearby.”

Knell then goes on to make the following statement, notably failing to remind viewers of Hamas’ designation as a terrorist organisation:

“This month Egypt’s interior minister accused the Palestinian group Hamas, which controls Gaza, of helping Jihadists to kill the Egyptian public prosecutor last year, giving them training in the Sinai.”

Given that until that point the entire report related to ISIS, it is obvious that the uniformed viewer would conclude that Knell’s reference to “Jihadists” also means that same group. However – as the BBC itself reported at the time – Egypt does not attribute the murder of Hisham Barakat to the ISIS affiliated Wilayat Sinai group, but to the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, the Egyptian interior minister did not claim that the attackers had received training in Sinai, but in the Gaza Strip.

“On March 6, 2016, tensions between Egypt and Hamas increased when Magdi Abdel Ghaffar, Egypt’s minister of the interior, held a press conference where he accused Hamas of involvement in the assassination of Hisham Barakat, the Egyptian attorney general. The assassination, carried out in June 2015, was attributed to operatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas vigorously denied the accusations but Egyptian sources have repeatedly claimed that Hamas provides military support for Muslim Brotherhood terrorists, including training them in the Gaza Strip.”

Knell continues:

“Palestinians are also alleged to have treated injured IS fighters. I cross into Gaza where Hamas officials strongly deny the claims.”

Viewers then hear once again from Ghazi Hamad.

“We will not allow for anyone from Gaza now to do anything against or to damage or to harm the national security of Egypt and we will not allow for anyone from Sinai to come to use Gaza as a shelter.”

Sharp-eared viewers may have noted Hamad’s use of the future tense and the word “now”. That may well be linked to the fact that a senior Hamas delegation visited Cairo earlier in the month to try to defuse tensions with Egypt. The BBC did not report that visit, so viewers will naturally be unaware of that crucial context to Hamad’s words.

In this report Yolande Knell has once again avoided providing audiences with any serious, objective reporting on the topic of Hamas’ long-standing collaboration with ISIS in Sinai whilst at the same time yet again providing amplification for Hamas’ public relations messaging. She has also misled viewers with regard to the Egyptian allegations concerning Hamas’ collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood in the murder of an Egyptian official.

So much for the BBC’s claim to be the “standard-setter for international journalism”.

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Kevin Connolly gives insight into BBC group-think

The BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly has recently been on the road in order, he tells us in one of the resulting reports, “to find out what governments and peoples in the Arab world are doing to push back against violent extremist ideas”.

In Connolly’s written report about his travels – “Battle of ideas at heart of fight against Islamic State“, BBC News website, March 17th – readers found the following assertion:Connolly Islamists

“Back in 2011, when the street protests of what we used to call the Arab Spring still appeared to represent an irresistible pulse of democratising energy, no-one foresaw that the violent Islamist extremist movements which had long been part of life in the Middle East would be among the main beneficiaries.”

That paragraph is of course very revealing – and inaccurate. In fact there were people who at the time cautioned that the uprisings the Western media so enthusiastically and unquestioningly embraced as heralding the dawn of democracy in the Middle East had the potential to turn out rather differently. One of those scholars was the late Professor Barry Rubin who in February 2011 wrote:

“…the conclusion that the usual rules of Middle East politics have disappeared is greatly exaggerated. If you think that democracy cannot lead to violent Islamists taking power, consider the Muslim-majority country in the region with the longest tradition of democracy: Lebanon, where Hezb’allah and its allies now run things. Consider Algeria, where free elections (you can blame it on the military if you want) led to a bloody civil war. Think about Turkey where, though the regime still operates basically by democratic norms, the noose is tightening (though there it may well not be irreversible).”

In May 2011 Connolly himself conducted an apparently forgotten interview with Israeli minister Moshe Ya’alon who, whilst discussing the prospects for Israeli-Egyptian relations in the light of the ‘Arab Spring’ noted that:

“…what we have to be aware of is that it [a future Egyptian regime] might be the Muslim Brotherhood – might change the course of Egypt.”

Even some BBC journalists recognised the possibility of an Islamist ascendency at the time – as documented in the Mortimer Report on the corporation’s coverage of the ‘Arab Spring’.

“Presenters and correspondents at times appeared almost obsessed with the possibility, if not likelihood, that Islamists – and the Brotherhood in particular – might turn out to be the main beneficiaries of the upheaval, especially if it resulted in a “power vacuum”. The probability of this happening, and the implications if it did, were the points routinely put to every Western expert and policy-maker; and there were many interviews with members of the Brotherhood itself – some rank-and-file, some described as leaders. All of these stressed that their movement favoured freedom and democracy, and did not seek to impose an Islamic order on people against their will. Some of the expert commentators accepted these statements more or less at face value, stressing the Brotherhood‟s evolution towards pragmatism during its long years in opposition and semi-clandestinity, while others were more sceptical. Conspicuously absent in this phase of coverage, however, whether as subjects or objects of commentary, were the “Salafists” – Islamists more rigid and conservative, though perhaps less organized than the Brotherhood – who later turned out to have widespread popular support and ran second to the Brotherhood in the elections.” [emphasis added]

As reflected in Edward Mortimer’s words, part of the reason why Connolly is able to convince himself today that “no-one” foresaw the rise of Islamist extremists five years ago is because he and many of his colleagues had bought into the notion of ‘moderate’ Islamists. That approach is demonstrated in an interview given by one of the BBC’s Middle East correspondents at the time – Wyre Davies – to ‘Wales Online’ in July 2011.

“Asked to what extent in Syria it was ordinary people wanting a voice and to what extent it was Islamic extremists, he said: “I think people over-play the role of Islamic parties. Yes of course in Egypt and Tunisia, these are Islamic countries so you would expect the Muslim Brotherhood and political parties who take some of their moral guidance from Islam to play a role. […]

 “It is ironic that Israel for so long has called itself the only democracy in the region, and yet when democratic movements arise in countries like Egypt, Israel was basically against it. Israel wanted Mubarak to stay in power.

“The West is aware of this. What happens if the Muslim Brotherhood wins the election in Egypt? Now I don’t think they will, but there are some pretty moderate members of the Brotherhood. I don’t think there’s any danger that these major Middle Eastern countries are going to be overrun by Islamic extremists.”” [emphasis added]

In an article written for the Guardian in 2012, Magdi Abdelhadi – who was a BBC Arab affairs analyst at the time of the uprising in Egypt the year before – told readers that:

“It’s true that notorious jihadi groups have been inspired by the teachings of Qutb – namely that modern society is pagan and ungodly and that true Muslims should reject it and take up arms against it.

But the Muslim Brotherhood of today has distanced itself from such ideas and is committed to normal politics.”

Were BBC correspondents less preoccupied with the promotion of a political narrative which requires the framing of Hizballah and the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot Hamas as ‘resistance’ groups, they might have been better placed to view Islamist ideology in all its manifestations in a more informed and objective light. That in turn would have allowed them to listen at the time to the voices Kevin Connolly now erroneously claims did not exist.

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Years of BBC amplifications of Hamas denials unravel

Writing about Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing in August 2013, the BBC’s Yolande Knell told audiences that:Knell Rafah crossing

“Cairo has repeatedly accused Hamas of interfering in Egyptian affairs and has accused Palestinians of supporting Islamist militants in the increasingly restive Sinai region.

“They have a plan in order to distort the image of Gaza in order to start propaganda and media campaign against Gaza, against Hamas, in order to show Gaza is like a devil and Hamas is like a devil,” Mr Hamed said.

“I think they succeeded to do this on the Egyptian street, in the Egyptian society.” “

As was noted here at the time, Knell failed to provide her readers with any information to balance those claims from Hamas’ Ghazi Hamad.

In October 2014 BBC audiences were told that:

“Egyptian media accuses Gaza’s Hamas administration of aiding militants in Sinai. Hamas denies the charge.”

The same month saw the appearance of another BBC report on the topic of the Rafah crossing which also failed to provide audiences with information about Egyptian allegations of collaboration between “Palestinian elements” and ISIS terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula.HRW report Rafah

In September 2015 the BBC amplified a report by the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW):

“The [Egyptian] military aims to eventually clear an area of about 79 sq km (30 sq miles) along the Gaza border, including all of the town of Rafah, which has a population of about 78,000 people, HRW says.

The government says the operation will allow the military to close smuggling tunnels it alleges are used by jihadists to receive weapons, fighters and logistical help from Palestinian militants in Gaza.

But HRW said little or no evidence had been offered to support this justification, citing statements from Egyptian and Israeli officials that suggested weapons were more likely to have been obtained from Libya or captured from the Egyptian military.” [emphasis added]

Once again, none of the information available at the time to balance that claim from HRW was provided to readers.

Courtesy of MEMRI, a very interesting letter has now come to light.

“On February 24, 2016, a letter from an Islamic State (ISIS) fighter to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was posted on social media. In it, the fighter strongly protests the close ties and cooperation between ISIS’s Sinai province and Hamas, particularly Hamas’s military wing.

This letter is the first confirmation of ties between the two organizations that comes from ISIS itself, and a unique firsthand account of the nature of these ties. […]

The letter is by ISIS fighter Abu ‘Abdallah Al-Muhajir, who presents himself as a Gazan who joined ISIS in Syria. […]

With regard to the ties between Hamas and ISIS’s Sinai Province, Abu ‘Abdallah explains the areas in which the groups collaborate: ISIS fighters in Sinai are smuggling weapons into Gaza for Hamas; Hamas is producing weapons and explosive devices for ISIS Sinai; Hamas is providing logistical assistance to ISIS Sinai, including communications systems and hospitalization for its wounded fighters in Gaza; and ISIS Sinai officials are visiting Gaza and dining at the homes of Hamas government and military wing officials.”

Logic would dictate that the BBC is now going to have to review that policy of blindly amplifying Hamas’ denials of what has been known for quite some time and begin reporting this story accurately and impartially to its audiences.

 

Reviewing BBC News coverage of internal Palestinian affairs

In July 2014 the BBC’s World Editor Andrew Roy told audiences that:

“…the BBC’s one of the few organisations that has permanent offices in Gaza, in Ramallah, in Jerusalem, so we are better placed than many to make sure that we report both sides of the story.” 

The BBC’s interpretation of what “the story” is about is of course very limited and its coverage focuses overwhelmingly on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although the conflict is clearly just one story among many in the region, only very occasionally do audiences see stand-alone reports about Palestinian affairs which are not framed within that context and do not have an Israel-related component.

Insight into internal Palestinian politics which would enhance audiences’ comprehension of Palestinian society (as well as the conflict) is relatively rare in BBC coverage. Reporting on social and human rights issues within Palestinian society is even more scarce and thus BBC audiences see a blinkered and largely one-dimensional view of Palestinian life.

For example, news of a legislator threatened with arrest holed up in a parliament building would surely have made BBC headlines were the story in any other location.

“Palestinian Authority policemen tried on Thursday to arrest a female legislator who had accused a cabinet minister of financial corruption.

Eyewitnesses said the police officers were waiting for Najat Abu Baker, an elected Fatah member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, to step outside the parliament building in Ramallah. […]

The PA prosecutor-general summoned Abu Baker for interrogation a few days ago following charges she made against Minister for Local Government Hussein al-A’raj, who is closely associated with President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abu Baker claimed that A’raj had illegally received a sum of NIS 800,000 from the public budget to invest in private water wells. She also claimed that the minister was selling water to residents together with other government officials.”

Despite having an office in Ramallah, the BBC has elected not to cover that story – and many others – to date.

A review of BBC News website coverage of Palestinian stories not directly relating to the conflict during 2015 shows that throughout the entire year, two attempts were made to provide audiences with a view of domestic Palestinian politics.Knell Democracy Day art

On January 20th Yolande Knell produced an article with the promising title “How Palestinian democracy has failed to flourish” and sub-heading “What’s to blame for Palestinians’ failure to hold fresh polls?”. However, the report failed to discuss the state of affairs regarding basic tenets of democracy such as human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law in the areas under PA or Hamas control and instead herded readers towards the view that all ills in Palestinian society are attributable to Israel.

On May 14th Yolande Knell produced an article titled “Palestinian democracy in doldrums after years under Mahmoud Abbas“.

Seven additional news reports relating to five internal Palestinian political stories appeared throughout the year.

On January 18th the BBC News website published written and filmed reports about an incident in Ramallah – “Palestinians throw eggs at Canada’s John Baird” and “Canada’s foreign minister egged in Ramallah by protesters” – but managed to turn the story into one about Israel by showcasing the defamatory ‘apartheid’ trope.

On June 10th Yolande Knell produced a filmed report titled “Could Islamic State’s influence shatter Gaza ceasefire?” (discussed here) and two days later a written article on the same topic appeared under the headline “Can Hamas hold back Islamic State in Gaza?“.

June 17th saw the publication of a report titled “Palestinian unity government ‘to resign over Gaza row’“.

On July 3rd an article headlined “Palestinian forces arrest dozens of Hamas members in West Bank” (discussed here) was published.

July 19th saw the appearance of a news report titled “Gaza explosions target officials’ cars“.

Reports ostensibly about sport drifted into political territory: on January 12th an article about Palestinian football by BBC Sport which also appeared on the Middle East page was turned into a story about ‘the conflict’. On May 20th an article by BBC Sport amplified a Palestinian delegitimisation campaign and the same topic was the subject of another report just over a week later from Kevin Connolly (discussed here).

The same was true of reports about a Palestinian construction project: on February 7th the Middle East page featured written and filmed reports (discussed here) about the newly built Palestinian city of Rawabi. Both those reports are still available online but neither has since been updated to clarify that the water supply issues blamed on Israel which featured so prominently in Lyse Doucet’s various reports were resolved not long afterwards.

Reporting on social issues was confined to three articles. On February 3rd an article appeared under the headline “Palestinian paper apologises over ‘Muhammad cartoon’“.

On March 2nd Rushdi Abualouf produced an article titled “Can music help to de-stigmatise disability in Gaza?” which, whilst raising the issue of social stigma, focused on ‘the conflict’ as the cause of disabilities and ignored the no less relevant subject of congenital conditions.

On March 26th a report by Tim Whewell titled “Saving Gaza’s only grand piano” appeared in the magazine and Middle East sections of the website. A brief reference was made to the issue of attitudes towards music:

“but with […] a steady growth of conservatism in local society, such performances became a thing of the past. After the Islamist militant movement, Hamas, took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, live music events became even rarer.”

Reports portraying the daily life of Palestinians were often politicized:

June 21st: “The ice-cream maker of Gaza” discussed here.

November 20th: “Life as a cancer nurse in Gaza’s main hospital” – discussed here.  

November 24th:  Lyse Doucet “The Palestinian runners pounding the pavements” – discussed here

December 24th: Yolande Knell “Christmas in Bethlehem: Hopes and fears for the future” – discussed here

One report on human rights issues appeared during 2015: on May 27th Kevin Connolly covered the topic of an Amnesty International report concerning  Hamas human rights abuses in an article titled “Gaza: Hamas killed and tortured, says Amnesty” (discussed here). 

Clearly BBC audiences are receiving very little information indeed about topics such as the rights of women, gays and minorities, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly or the internal politics – and power struggles – in PA and Hamas controlled areas.