Fact checking the BBC’s DFLP profile

The BBC’s profile of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) was published in February 2002 and has not been updated in the seventeen years since then.

That profile includes the following:

“In the 1970s, the group began a relatively small scale campaign of bombings and assaults both in Israel and the occupied territories.”

CAMERA’s Sean Durns has produced a new backgrounder on the DFLP in which he examines that claim.

“Although a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) profile of the DFLP claimed, “In the 1970s, the group began a relatively small scale campaign of bombings and assaults,” the evidence suggests otherwise. In fact, the DFLP carried out numerous attacks during this period, many of them both intricate and infamous.

According to the University of Maryland’s START Global Terrorism Database, the DFLP participated in at least 54 terrorist attacks between 1974 and 2014. With one exception—an Aug. 3, 1974 assault in France that left no victims—every attack took place in Israel or in PA or Hamas-ruled areas. As of 2014, these attacks resulted in at least 50 murdered and twice as many wounded. Twenty-nine of these terrorist attacks occurred after the U.S. de-listed the DFLP as a terrorist organization.”

Read more on the DFLP and its terror record here.

 

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BBC radio listeners get misinformation from Lyse Doucet

The day after the general election in Israel – April 10th – listeners to BBC radio stations heard commentary from the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet who had been ‘parachuted’ in (along with Martha Kearney) to cover the event.

That day’s edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item (from 1:33:13 here) during which listeners again heard Doucet claim that the election had been called by Netanyahu alone. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Doucet: “But in Israel […] it’s not just about winning the election; it’s winning the battle to form a new coalition. And the numbers look like it is the Right-wing, that the prime minister’s been wooing ever since he announced this election campaign, that he looks set to be the man who can do the job. But the arithmetic is still complicated. There’s…Israel also gives a new name to horse trading and electoral promises and electoral…ah…pulling back promises. So we have to wait and see. It’s not going to be straightforward.”

Kearney: “And what are these smaller parties like – the kinds that Benjamin Netanyahu are talking to?”

Doucet: “Let me say another thing about this election. This has told us two things about Israel. One is that in a way Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu both won and lost. Perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu will get to stay in power, get to try to avoid those indictments on corruption and fraud, but he has been…trounced in a way by Benny Gantz. A total newcomer to politics has surged ahead to show Israelis that there is an alternative. So it is in a sense a victory for Benny Gantz but also for the electoral landscape. The far-Right parties who also were the newcomers – people had thought that they may be the kingmakers. As the votes show now they did not enter…they’re not going to enter the Knesset; the parties who were condemned here by many Israelis as being racist and homophobic.”

As we saw in a previous post, Doucet had likewise referred to unnamed “far Right-wing racist parties” – i.e. more than one – in a report the day before even though until that point the BBC had confined itself to categorising one party – ‘Otzma Yehudit’ (Jewish Power) as racist.

A report from Doucet was also aired in the April 10th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 00:44 here) and the same claim was repeated.

Doucet: “This is a man [Netanyahu] who managed to win again even though indictments are looming on three big charges of corruption, bribery and breach of trust. But the attorney general is still expected to press charges and Israel now does not have any legislation which says you can’t indict a sitting prime minister so he’s going to want to have politicians who’ll say ‘well no, you can keep governing even though you’ll have to fight those indictments; it’ll go on in the background but please, Benjamin Netanyahu, keep ruling us’ and that seems to be the message from the political electorate which is moving to the Right – not the far Right. Some of the new far Right parties didn’t manage to make it into the Knesset and some Israelis here see that as a victory for democracy. These were parties described as racist and homophobic.” 

So which “new”, “far Right”, “racist and homophobic” parties (plural) was Doucet talking about? The answer to that question was revealed in the evening edition of ‘Newshour’ (from 34:12 here) presented by Tim Franks.

Doucet: “…it was said that he [Netanyahu] called this election nine months earlier [sic]. He was trying to preempt the attorney general who basically would not be preempted. He came out with his report on the three corruption cases where the prime minister is facing likely indictment before the elections. […] Israel currently doesn’t have any laws which say that you can [sic] indict a sitting prime minister. He was hoping for one of two things: either that there would be a…some kind of acceptance by the parties in his coalition that he can continue to govern even after he’s indicted – in other words while the political [sic – legal] processes take their course.” […]

Franks: “And Lyse, it was said of his last coalition that it was the most Right-wing in Israel’s history. What were…how’s the new one going to shape up?”

Doucet: “There were worries before the election that it would not just be a Right-wing but a far Right-wing government and that prime minister Netanyahu was reaching out to new parties just formed which were racist and homophobic – so much so that even members of the Democrats in the United States and AIPAC, the American Jewish organisation, said that they were not consistent with Jewish values. The way the votes have turned out they did not cross the threshold – at least two of the far-Right parties – to take seats in the senate [sic] so maybe more of the more familiar Right-wing and religious parties which will form part of his coalition.”

The one party which garnered criticism from AIPAC and others is ‘Otzma Yehudit’ which – contrary to Doucet’s claims – is not “new” or “just formed” but has been in existence since 2012. In this election that party ran together with two others on a list called the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP).

Where Doucet got the idea that the URWP “did not cross the threshold” is unclear. The exit polls conducted by the three Israeli TV channels predicted that the list would secure between four and five seats in the Knesset and the final count gave it five seats.

One new party which did not gain enough votes to secure any seats in the Knesset was ‘The New Right’ party headed Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. Nobody has branded that party “racist and homophobic”.

Obviously the BBC’s chief international correspondent did not bother to familiarise herself with the differences between ‘Otzma Yehudit’ and ‘The New Right’ before giving BBC audiences her ‘expert analysis’. Clearly too she did not make any effort to check out the facts before repeatedly telling listeners around the world that there are “racist and homophobic” parties – plural – in Israel.

We have seen before – especially during conflicts – that journalists ‘parachuted’ in to Israel to cover a major event often produce low-quality and inaccurate reporting due to a lack of familiarity with the subject matter. Nevertheless, this is not some junior reporter but the BBC’s chief international correspondent and one would expect that if the BBC is going to go to the expense of flying in extra journalists to report a specific story, it would at least ensure that they are familiar with the basic facts in order to ensure that the corporation’s funding public gets accurate reporting. 

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BBC’s Lyse Doucet reports election campaign speculation as fact

BBC’s peace plan framing and speculations – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the April 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which related in part to an unpublished US administration peace plan and which adhered to existing BBC framing of that subject.

Later on in the same show (from 1:33:59 here), listeners heard a longer item on the same topic introduced by co-presenter Mishal Husain.

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

Husain: “Post-election talks are continuing in Israel with Benjamin Netanyahu expected to be formally named prime minister for a fifth term tomorrow.”

In fact the Israeli president was due to task the candidate recommended by most party leaders with the forming of a new government. Husain went on to cite the same newspaper report referred to earlier by Knell.

Husain: “And then, most likely in June, President Trump is expected to unveil what he’s called ‘the deal of the century’ between Israel and the Palestinians. The Washington Post reports that the plan will involve Palestinian autonomy rather than a sovereign state and ahead of its publication a group of 30 senior European figures including former prime ministers and former foreign ministers have said Europe should reaffirm its commitment to a two-state solution.”

The letter concerned can be found here. Without explaining the concept of the two-state solution, Husain introduced her guest.

Husain: “Well Douglas Alexander – former Labour MP and former Foreign Office minister – is one of the signatories to that letter and he’s with us. […] Why make this statement before we’ve seen what’s in the Trump peace plan?”

Alexander: “Because the core argument of the letter is that statehood for the Palestinians is not a gift to be given or indeed a gift to be denied by Donald Trump but a right to be recognised in international law. For decades the United States has been the key actor in this region trying to secure peace. But I think it’s important to recognise that this administration has taken a series of dangerous steps in a very dangerous region. Whether that’s the withdrawing of funding for the 5 million Palestinians who are supported by the UN Work [sic] and Relief Agency, whether that’s the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, whether it was the recognition last week of Israeli sovereignty in relation to the Golan Heights. So at that point I think as Europeans we face a fundamental choice: are we going to be part of an apparatus of enablement for the permanent annexation of Palestinian land or are we going to continue to speak up for democracy, for human rights and for that two-state solution that’s been the goal for so many years?”

Husain failed to challenge that use of the politically motivated term ‘Palestinian land’ and made no effort to ask Alexander how he proposes to bring about a two-state solution given that the Palestinian Authority does not represent the whole of the Palestinian people and does not control part of the relevant territory. Neither did she inquire how ‘speaking up for democracy’ is served by advancing the creation of a state on territory currently ruled in part by a terrorist organisation which oppresses human rights and in part by an entity headed by a ‘president’ whose term of office ended over a decade ago. Instead, Husain in fact just repeated her first question.

Husain: “But you are making an assumption based on the actions you list about what will be in the Trump peace plan.”

Alexander: “Well let’s look at what Donald Trump has actually done over the last couple of years. His strategy seems to be pursuing a policy systematically to weaken the Palestinian Authority while lifting restraints on Israeli annexation of land in the West Bank.”

Although no land in “the West Bank” has been annexed at all in “the last couple of years”, Husain failed to challenge that falsehood.

Alexander: “And in that sense the destruction is coming from the Trump administration rather than the position we articulate in the letter, which is the end solution has to be based on the long-standing parameters.”

Husain made no effort to remind listeners that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected that “end solution” over the decades.

Husain: “Would you acknowledge though the limited power of European leaders in all of this? It is really the United States which is…which is the key influence on the…on the Israeli government.”

Once again we see the BBC portraying Israel as the only active party in the conflict.

Alexander: “Oh absolutely. I recognise that the United States has a key influence in the region but as Europeans we face a choice. Do we stand by a crushed and marginalised people or do we accede to a view by Donald Trump of the international community. Let’s be clear: this is a Trump administration that fundamentally believes multilateralism is nonsense. Look at the institutions created after the second World War – the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, the World Bank, the IMF, WTO. All of those as far as Donald Trump is concerned are really just a mechanism for small countries to rip off the United States. So we face a choice: do we stand for multilateralism and international law or do we accede to that radical viewpoint?”

Husain refrained from asking what that theory has to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict. She then side-stepped another opportunity to explain to listeners why the two-state solution has “gone nowhere” – even when Alexander replied to her next question with a blatant falsehood.

Husain: “But you seem to be standing for an idea, a pledge – the two-state solution – which has gone nowhere for the last 25 years. Isn’t it time to think about something else?”

Alexander: “I think it’s certainly right to recognise that the Palestinians for 25 years have been negotiating to try to secure that outcome but in the face of what we’re now witnessing from the Trump administration and indeed from the statements we heard from Netanyahu last week, we can pretend that nothing’s changed, we could certainly do that. Or we can do what I think is the just and decent thing by an oppressed and marginalised people who aspire within the rules of international law to something that Israel has enjoyed since 1948 which is a land of their own. That seems to me a perfectly reasonable objective for European politicians.”

The BBC’s idea of balance to that superficial softball interview in which Douglas Alexander was given an unchallenged platform from which to promote assorted distortions and falsehoods was an interview with Israeli MK Sharren Haskel in which an impatient-sounding Husain interrupted her no fewer than eight times and brought the interview to an abrupt close when Haskel began talking about the prioritisation of “weapons, hatred and war” by the Palestinian leadership in the Gaza Strip over the creation of an autonomous entity serving the interests of the Palestinian people.

Once again we see that the BBC’s portrayal of the as yet unpublished US peace proposal adheres to strict and selective framing in which there is no room for information which would enhance audience understanding of the topic, such as Palestinian rejection of that plan, Palestinian rejection of previous proposals, Palestinian rejection of the Jewish state or the twelve-year split in Palestinian leadership which renders the two-state solution irrelevant.

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BBC’s peace plan framing and speculations – part one

BBC’s peace plan framing and speculations – part one

As we have most recently seen in BBC coverage of the Israeli election and in an article by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent, the corporation’s framing a US administration peace plan which has not yet even been made public continues.

That framing has included the failure to clarify to audiences that the Palestinian Authority has already rejected the US initiative even before its publication, the failure to clarify that, significantly, the Palestinian Authority does not represent all the Palestinian factions and a total absence of information concerning Palestinian rejection of past peace proposals.

Additionally, BBC audiences have seen the two-state solution presented as “the formula for peace negotiations” but with that term only partially explained: the all-important phrase “two states for two peoples” is consistently absent from BBC presentation.  Instead, audiences repeatedly see the two-state solution defined according to the Palestinian interpretation of it as meaning a Palestinian state on all of the territory occupied by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC’s framing portrays the success of the as yet unpublished peace plan as dependent upon Israeli actions alone, with the Palestinian side reduced to a passive entity.

That pre-emptive framing continued in two items aired on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme on April 16th. Listeners first heard a report (from 37:28 here) from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell introduced by co-presenter Justin Webb.

Webb: “Israel’s political parties meet the president today following the election of course. Yolande Knell is our correspondent in Jerusalem. What happens then, Yolande?”

Knell gave an explanation of the process of the president’s consultation with the heads of the parties which gained seats in the recent election in order to decide which party leader will be tasked with trying to form a new government before going on:

Knell: “…it’s extremely likely that it will be Benjamin Netanyahu that’s allowed to form the new government because he did win the greatest number of seats in the new parliament [not accurate – Ed.] and because he has support, we know, from the smaller Right-wing and pro-settler parties, he’ll be able to control the majority seats. And Israelis saying this is most likely to be the most Right-wing government in Israeli history. That was also the boast of the last government too. And of course this new government will be put in place – he’ll have 28 days to decide – Mr Netanyahu – if he can put…how he’ll put his government together…ahm…but this will come at a really important time.”

The item continued with pure speculation based partly on an article in a newspaper.

Webb: “Well an important time because Donald Trump says he has a peace proposal and a peace proposal that is acceptable to…ahm…err…the Netanyahu government potentially. In that case, if that were to be announced relatively soon, what would it be?”

Knell: “Well we’ve been looking for a lot of clues. Ahm…of course the big question is could the US abandon the two-state solution: this long-time international formula for peace that envisages the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. It’s been written up in UN resolutions and it’s also been the cornerstone of US policy for over two decades now. But we had yesterday the Washington Post reporting that the US proposal probably wouldn’t include a fully sovereign Palestinian state and then the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo giving a series of congressional hearings over the last two weeks and in questioning he didn’t give too much away for sure ahead of the publication of this long-awaited Trump administration peace plan but he did say that…or he seemed to imply that the idea of the two-state solution was bunched in with what he called ‘a failed old set of ideas not worth re-treading’ and he kept talking, as we’ve heard before, about recognising realities.

What’s also been pointed out really importantly is that the Trump administration and Mr Pompeo didn’t speak out against a campaign promise that was made very controversially by Mr Netanyahu in the last days of the election campaign where he promised to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank where there are Israeli settlements…ah…put them under full Israeli control. And…err…of course settlements seen as illegal under international law but the Palestinians say that would leave them with no contiguous territory for a Palestinian state.”

As we see Knell’s speculative portrayal adheres to the BBC’s standard framing seen to date. The second item on the same topic in this programme will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Plett Usher continues to promote her Israel narratives

BBC News amplifies PLO’s interpretation of the two-state solution

BBC News silent on Abbas’ rejection of Jewish state

BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part one

BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part two

Why is the BBC’s failure to properly report the Jewish state issue important?

 

 

BBC’s ‘shift to the Right’ dogma challenged on just one radio show

As has been documented in our analysis of the BBC’s coverage of the recent general election in Israel, one very dominant trend has been (not for the first time) the repeated promotion in a significant proportion of the reports of the notion of a ‘shift to the right’ in Israel.

The April 9th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ featured several items concerning that day’s election including one (from 12:51 here) in which presenter Ritula Shah interviewed Sharren Haskel of the Likud party and former Labour and Independence parties MK Dr Einat Wilf.

At 14:56 Shah introduced that widely seen BBC claim. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Shah: “Einat Wilf, are you concerned that the narrative, certainly the narrative that’s been set out during the course of this election, is that Israeli politics is shifting towards the Right, leaving your party of the traditional Left far behind?”

The reply to that question probably came as something of a surprise to both listeners and the presenter.

Wilf: “This, it’s almost amusing because every election I go on BBC and always it’s like ‘Israel is shifting to the Right’ when every time the numbers are literally the same. I mean Israel is split in the middle. Israel has been split in the middle for decades now.”

Shah [interrupts] “But don’t you think the Black & White coalition which is challenging Mr Netanyahu – Blue & White; I apologise – the Blue & White coalition that’s challenging Mr Netanyahu is much further to the Right than your party would be?”

Wilf: “In many ways Blue & White – which is also the party I voted for this time – is channelling what the old Labour party was. Many people think of the Labour party as a very Left-wing party but Rabin on the eve…”

The conversation was cut off at that point and after communication was re-established, Wilf repeated her previous statements, adding that Labour:

Wilf: “…was very centrist and in many ways to the Right party. The positions of Rabin on the eve of his assassination were positions that are more to the Right of positions that were voiced by Benjamin Netanyahu. So Blue & White is very much where the old Labour party used to be and what we’re seeing now has really been a bit of a return to the traditional two-party system in Israel. The parties are now larger than they have been in quite some time and the Blue & White is a centrist party. You do not have a shift of Israelis to the Right. You have the decades-long split between Right and Left. In many ways the positions of the Israeli public are much more to the Left than they were decades ago.”

Shah responded to that with:

Shah: “Well if we accept that analysis for a moment…”

Wilf responded to a subsequent question regarding Netanyahu’s “unchallengeable” world view as follows:

Wilf: “What Netanyahu has done – and this is something that needs to be acknowledged – for an entire decade on his watch the number of Jews and Arabs who have died as a result of violent conflict has been the lowest in the entire history of the conflict. It’s not the stuff of Nobel peace prizes but people have been waking up alive after years of suicide buses and being blown to bits in cafés…”

Shah [interrupts] “So security is the key issue.”

Wilf: “Security in the sense of really knowing that people in the midst of a very chaotic Middle East, people have been able to lead a Western life-style which, if you think of it, is quite amazing.”

Shah interrupted her interviewee again at that point and the item ended not long afterwards.

Unfortunately for BBC audiences, that item was the exception to the rule. Only late evening listeners to one domestic BBC radio station heard that informed rebuttal of the BBC dogma of a ‘shift to the Right’. Those reading, viewing or listening to the hours and reams of additional BBC content concerning the Israeli election saw that notion go completely unchallenged. 

So much for ‘due impartiality’. 

 

 

BBC WS ‘Business Matters’ sails close to antisemitic trope

The lead story in the April 10th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Business Matters’ (which ostensibly provides listeners with “global business news”) was, for reasons unknown, the previous day’s general election in Israel.

Listeners first heard (from 1:07 here) some of the more sensible commentary concerning the election aired on BBC stations in recent weeks from the Jerusalem Post’s Knesset correspondent Lahav Harkov.

Referring to Netanyahu, at 5:32 presenter Roger Hearing asked her “why do they keep voting for him?” and – noting the absence of good foreign press reporting on the topic – Harkov responded by citing the fact that the Israeli economy is doing well, that unemployment is down and that international relations are thriving.

Hearing next briefly and superficially discussed aspects of Israel’s economy with one of his two guests before turning to the other – previously introduced as Ralph Silva of the Silva Network but with listeners having been given no indication of what makes a “Broadcasting Analyst Focused on Banking, Technology and Media” qualified to comment on the topic of Israel or the Middle East.

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

[7:21] Hearing: “And…err…Ralph: I suppose the thing also, Israel’s slightly got pushed to the back of the news agenda with everything else that’s been happening in the world and even in the Middle East itself but it is still a very…a place that matters a great deal more that its size would indicate in political terms and of course Mr Netanyahu’s quite closely aligned to Donald Trump.”

Silva: “Well he is and I think that there are some concerns there, especially considering the election campaign. We’ve heard quite a bit about developments in the West Bank and pushing that process forward and making it more stable and more secure and with the US government such as it is, it’s basically in support of that so I think that while we haven’t seen a huge amount of developments in relation to the West Bank in the past couple of administrations, now the situation’s a bit different where they do have support especially from the US now. So I am a little bit concerned because there’s been a lot of rhetoric about the West Bank and about how aggressive they’re going to be in the West Bank and of course an aggressive move there could cause some problems. But I think it’s going to be a space to watch and I think we’re going to see a lot of developments in the next elec…in the next 4 to 5 years.”

With that commentary being as clear as mud, listeners would likely have taken away little more than the notion that some party – apparently either Israel or the US – is going to be “aggressive…in the West Bank”.

Hearing: “And of course there’s also Iran. Within the last few days they’ve advanced moves against Iran, making the Revolutionary Guard there an illegal organisation as far as – a terrorist organisation – as far as the US is concerned. And a lot of people see the moves towards Iran including the sanctions that have been put on – the economic sanctions – as being to some extent dictated by Israel or at least influenced by Israel.”

Silva: “Well certainly and if you listen to the press in the United States that’s exactly what is being said. It’s being said that Trump’s administration is supporting them and I think that there’s this new bravado going on because they feel that – the Israelis right now feel like they got a lot of backing right now and clearly they do. Ahm…and there’s been a lot of aggression and what we have to see is sort of a calming down and so I think after this election – during the election we saw that – but as soon as this election is decided I think we’re going to see a calming down of that. At least history has shown us that there is the calming down right after an election so that’s good news.”

Once again it is difficult to imagine how the BBC can claim that such commentary from a guest whose credentials concerning the Middle East were not clarified can possibly be said to contribute to audience understanding of the topic.

What listeners did hear however was the BBC sailing very close to an antisemitic trope by advancing the unsourced and facile notion that American policy on Iran is “dictated by Israel” rather than based on the US’s own considerations.

That, apparently, is the dismal level of ‘analysis’ that the BBC is capable of providing to its worldwide audiences.

BBC’s Lyse Doucet reports election campaign speculation as fact

On December 26th 2018 an overwhelming majority of MKs voted to dissolve the 20th Knesset and go to elections just over three months later.

“The bill for the dissolution of the 20th Knesset was given final approval by the plenum Wednesday night. The government-sponsored dissolution bill was merged with private bills submitted by MKs Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beitenu), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Ayman Odeh (Joint List).

The bill, which passed by a vote of 102-2 in its third (final) reading, also sets early elections for April 9, 2019. The MKs who voted against the bill were Yehuda Glick (Likud) and Yaron Mazuz (Likud).”

Two days earlier the BBC had correctly told visitors to its website that:

“Israel is to hold a general election in April, the ruling coalition has said.

The political partners decided to call the poll after failing to resolve a dispute over a draft conscription bill for ultra-Orthodox Jews. […]

The ruling coalition was recently reduced to holding a one-seat majority in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) after the then-defence minister resigned in protest over what he said was a weak approach towards dealing with attacks from Gaza, the Palestinian enclave bordering Israel.

By Sunday night it was clear the government faced collapse after ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to withdraw over the draft conscription bill.”

Listeners to two editions of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ on April 9th however heard a completely different account of those events from the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet.

In the programme’s afternoon edition presenter James Coomarasamy introduced an item (from 18:37 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “Now another election now and it was an early call but was it the right one for him? Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be finding out whether his decision to hold an early election today will secure him his record-breaking fifth term in office.”

In contrast to Coomarasamy’s claim that the decision to call an election was made by Mr Netanyahu alone, it was actually taken by the heads of all five coalition parties and – as seen above – endorsed by a majority of Knesset members from parties across the entire political spectrum.

After listeners had heard recordings of statements made by Netanyahu and the Blue and White list leader Benny Gantz at their polling stations, Coomarasamy brought in “Newshour’s very own Lyse Doucet who’s in Jerusalem for us”. Having mentioned the weather and voter turnout percentage, Doucet went on:

Doucet: “There’s a bit of apathy this time round because in effect this election campaign is about only one issue and that is Benjamin Netanyahu. Will he get that fifth term in office and put himself in the history books as Israel’s longest serving prime minister? So the question in this whole election is will Bibi, as he’s known, win and is Bibi good for Israel.”

Seeing as the BBC’s coverage of the run up to the election totally ignored the topic of what concerns the Israeli voter, it is of course hardly surprising that Doucet would come out with that inaccurate and superficial claim. Coomarasamy went on to suggest yet again that Netanyahu had called the election alone.

Coomarasamy: “And at the moment, I mean, he…he’s sounding confident. He sounds as though he made the right decision. I suppose, you know, this early election is…was a gamble. He’s made a gamble before and it didn’t pay off.”

Doucet: “He called early elections – eight months earlier – because he was trying to get in ahead of the attorney general but the attorney general got the best of him and has already indicated that charges are pending – corruption charge, fraud, breach of trust – and so there’s criminal investing…there’s criminal charges pending against Benjamin Netanyahu and he was hoping that he would call these elections and secure his fifth term before the attorney general filed. So this cloud is hanging over his head and what he would like to do is first of all get the high…get his Likud party to get the highest number of seats tonight – but remember: no party in Israel has ever ruled on its own – that he would then be chosen by the president to try to bring…to forge a governing coalition which will be comprised of not just Right-wing parties but far Right-wing racist parties – ah…and that’s causing some concern here – and then be able to pass a new law in the Israeli Knesset which says you can’t be charged when you’re a sitting prime minister. Israel doesn’t have that yet. So that’s the gamble really that he’s dealing with now.”

Until that point the BBC had confined itself to categorising one party – Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) as racist but apparently the BBC’s chief international correspondent sees no problem in branding more than one Israeli political party in that way.

Coomarasamy: “That’s his personal gamble. What’s at stake for the country as a whole would you say, Lyse?”

Doucet: “Well that is the big issue. I mean one Israeli commentator was saying that it’s not just fateful issues on the agenda, it’s the fate of the country which is on the agenda. Israel has been moving steadily to the Right over the past decades, largely fuelled by the failure of peace making with the Palestinians. It’s noticeable that that simply wasn’t an issue at all in these elections. And look at what has happened in the past year thanks to Mr Netanyahu’s greatest champion in the White House, Donald Trump. The Americans have moved their embassy to Jerusalem, they’ve recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – effectively trying to take that issue off the table. They also have recognised the Golan as part of…under Israeli jurisdiction – not Syrian. So in some ways they’ve been trying to move toward resolving these issues and Mr Netanyahu even threatened or even indicated – again, in a bid to get those far Right-wing votes – that he would annex large parts of the West Bank, which takes another issue off the agenda.”

As we have regrettably had cause to note here before, despite the best efforts of BBC journalists to ignore it, the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city specifically stated that it had no bearing on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, noting that “the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties”.

The evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day – presented by Tim Franks – also included a contribution from “our very own Lyse Doucet” (from 45:05 here) in which she again paraphrased anonymous Israeli commentators.

Doucet: “…but I have to say, Tim, that the Israeli analysts are already saying this is a message to Benjamin Netanyahu that you may have snuck in again but your days are numbered.”

Franks: “Right and I suppose there would be a question also, were he to get in, just how long he might be in for because there are these corruption allegations hanging over him.”

Doucet again promoted the falsehood that Netanyahu had called an election all on his own.

Doucet: “He called this election eight months earlier than he had to. He was hoping to get a new mandate before the attorney general published or finished his investigation. The attorney general preempted him. The charges have been published – he’s facing possible indictment on three major corruption, bribery, breach of trust charges. What he wants from…if he does form a new government he will want that government to bring in new legislation which means a sitting prime minister cannot be indicted. He wants legal cover for those charges. It’s…this is quite clearly being discussed here. So it’s not just about winning these elections; it’s about winning his personal freedom as well.”

The as yet non-existent legislation touted by Doucet is known in Hebrew as ‘the French Law’ after similar legislation in France. Four days before Doucet laid out her theory according to which Netanyahu had dissolved the Knesset and called elections all on his own in order to get such a law passed, the Times of Israel reported that:

“Several political allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday they would not back an effort to pass a law giving the premier immunity from prosecution. […]

…several senior ministers said they would not back the law, including Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan from Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“He [Netanyahu] promised he wouldn’t try, and if a proposal like this comes up from others in the Knesset, I’ll oppose it,” Erdan told Army Radio.

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, who helped torpedo a bid in 2017 by a Netanyahu ally in the Likud to pass an immunity bill, said he would continue to oppose it. “Everyone is equal under the law,” he told Army Radio. […]

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who is also seen as a likely coalition partner for Netanyahu should he be tasked with forming the next government, also said he was against a retroactive measure.

He blamed speculation about Netanyahu seeking a measure on “the media.””

Indeed speculation on that topic was rife during election campaigning but senior BBC journalist Lyse Doucet did not report it as speculation: she reported it as fact – even constructing a supporting story about a one-man deliberate dissolving of parliament and subsequent election – without providing any concrete evidence to support her claims.

So much for BBC accuracy and impartiality.

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BBC’s Plett Usher continues to promote her Israel narratives

In December 2017 the BBC News website published an article titled “Trumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift“. In March 2019 the BBC News website published an article titled “Trumplomacy on Golan Heights: What it all means”.  

The latest article in the ‘Trumplomacy’ genre by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent Barbara Plett Usher appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on April 12th under the headline “Trumplomacy: Where are things at with the Mideast peace plan?”. [emphasis in bold added]

The main image illustrating the article is captioned “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) recently became the first high-ranking US official to visit Jerusalem’s Western Wall last month”. In fact previous American visitors to the site have included the US President, Vice-President and former UN ambassador.

Although Israel’s president will only begin meeting with representatives of the lists which won seats in the Knesset in last week’s election on April 15th in order to hear their recommendations for the candidate who should be tasked with forming the next government and that person will then have 28 days in which to do so (with the possibility of a two-week extension), Plett Usher already ‘knows’ what sort of new government Israel will have:

“With a newly elected right-wing government taking shape in Israel this is a good time to check in on the status of the Trump administration’s peace plan.”

Under the sub-heading “How has the [US] policy changed?” Plett Usher instructs readers to:

“Remember that the formula for peace negotiations has been: two states based on the borders of Arab territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war, with mutually agreed land swaps; sufficient security arrangements; a just solution for Palestinian refugees; and negotiations to settle the fate of Jerusalem, the occupied eastern part of which Palestinians claim as their capital.”

While Plett Usher does not specify the source of her “the formula for peace negotiations”, her description is apparently based on non-binding UN General Assembly resolutions such as 3236 and/or the extinct 2003 Quartet road map.

Interestingly, Plett Usher does not bother to inform her readers that the Oslo Accords – the one agreement which resulted from actual negotiations between Israel and the PLO – did not specify the two-state solution as “the formula”.

Significantly, while portraying the “fate of Jerusalem” as the sole issue to be resolved in negotiations, Plett Usher fails to inform audiences that under the terms of the Oslo Accords, other topics she portrays as ‘givens’ – borders, refugees and settlements – are also to be resolved in permanent status negotiations.

Instead Plett Usher promotes the false notion of pre-1967 “borders”, failing to clarify that those were actually armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders. Equally revealing is Plett Usher’s description of land assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland which was belligerently occupied by Jordan and Egypt in 1948 as “Arab territory” and her prior reference to “the occupied Palestinian West Bank”.

In other words Barbara Plett Usher has unquestioningly adopted and promoted the PLO’s stance on that issue.  She goes on:

“But the White House has declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, cut funds to the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, and accepted Israel’s unilateral annexation of other occupied territory, the Golan Heights.”

A journalist with integrity would clarify that the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city specifically stated that – in contrast to the impression Plett Usher is trying to create – it had no bearing on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Today’s actions—recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing the relocation of our embassy—do not reflect a departure from the strong commitment of the United States to facilitating a lasting peace agreement. The United States continues to take no position on any final status issues. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders.”

And if bringing up the topic of cuts in US funding to UNRWA, a journalist devoted to informing readers would also have explained the background to that decision, the controversies surrounding that UN agency and the broader issue of Palestinian refugees.

Going on to reference the anti-Israel BDS campaign, Plett Usher likewise fails to inform readers of that campaign’s aims, thereby denying them the ability to judge the statement she paraphrases.

“The state department’s new envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, has reinforced this Israeli narrative in US policy.

He told us that boycotting goods made in Jewish West Bank settlements was anti-Semitic, even though the settlements are illegal under international law and have expanded to such a degree many question whether a Palestinian state is still viable.”

Plett Usher then bolsters her article’s core messaging to readers with a quote sourced from an organisation she once again signposts as “liberal”.

“The administration’s embrace of the Israeli government’s right-wing positions has alarmed liberal American Jewish organizations.

“What they’ve done so far tells you what they intend to lay out,” says Jeremy Ben-Ami of the J Street lobby group. “They have no intention to lay out what could conceivably resolve the conflict. Instead they will tie American government positions to those of the farthest right of Israel’s political spectrum.””

In her final section – sub-headed “What about the Palestinian reaction?” – Plett Usher qualifies the description of people convicted of violent attacks against Israelis.

“Mr Abbas is very unpopular. But on a recent trip to Jerusalem I was told anecdotally that Palestinians have at least given him credit for standing firm on their three core issues: Jerusalem, refugees and maintaining funds to Palestinian prisoners – whom the Israelis regard as terrorists – despite financial pressure.”

Although the US administration’s proposal has yet to be revealed, the Palestinian Authority has already made its rejection of it amply clear. Nevertheless Barbara Plett Usher’s aim in this article is to convince BBC audiences that when it does appear, that plan is destined to fail because it ‘embraces’ the positions of “the farthest right of Israel’s political spectrum” rather than because the Palestinians have made it a non-starter.

While Plett Usher’s promotion of that narrative comes as no surprise, it is unfortunate that BBC audiences continue to be fed commentary which does little to enhance their understanding of this and additional topics from a person whose impartiality on issues relating to Israel has long been in plain sight.

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Inaccuracies in BBC WS ‘Newsday’ report on Israel election

Listeners to the later edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ on April 9th heard a five-minute item replete with factual errors and misleading claims.

The item was introduced (from 04:23 here) by a presenter who managed not only to pronounce the Israeli prime minister’s first name in three different ways in 44 seconds but also inaccurately described him as Israel’s “longest-serving prime minister”. In fact, only if Netanyahu is still prime minister on July 17th 2019 will he overtake David Ben Gurion – currently Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

The presenter also failed to note that whether or not what she described as “imminent criminal indictments” against Netanyahu will be filed depends upon hearings to be held in the coming months. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Presenter: “Let’s take you to Israel now…eh…Israelis are going to the polls today as the country’s longest-serving prime minister Benyamin [sic] Netanyahu faces his toughest challenge yet. Plagued with controversies and under the shadow of imminent criminal indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, many are still tipping him to win. Let’s speak now to our Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman. Tom, it’s been described as almost a referendum on Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule but now he has a real contender and a challenger…eh…in the former…general – or retired general – Benny Gantz. Let’s talk about Benny Gantz for a minute. What’s he promising and why has he proven such a strong challenger to Binyamin Netanyahu?”

Bateman: “Well Benny Gantz was a chief of the Israeli army. He was actually in position under Mr Netanyahu’s leadership when he was prime minister in this last term.”

Netanyahu’s latest term in office began in May 2015 following elections in March of that year. Benny Gantz retired from army service in February 2015 and so – while Gantz was chief of staff during parts of two of Netanyahu’s earlier terms in office, Bateman’s claim that he was “in position” during “this last term” of Netanyahu’s office is clearly inaccurate.

Bateman went on to promote false equivalence while describing a Hamas rocket attack on a moshav in central Israel last month.

Bateman: “He oversaw the military operation – the all-out conflict between Hamas in Gaza and Israel – in 2014 so he is an experienced general. He entered the race after…they have to have a three year…ah…period of rest away from the military or politics because former generals in Israel are usually pretty hot stuff when it comes to Israeli politics and they can be very popular. He entered this race and he has put up a very serious challenge to Benjamin Netanyahu who, remember, likes to portray himself as the guarantor of Israel’s security. That has been his number one pitching point to the Israeli public and so to have this former chief of staff to come in and who has said that in his view Mr Netanyahu has not been effective on the security front. There has been a military flare-up again between Hamas and Israel during the election campaign and Mr Netanyahu’s rivals, including Mr Gantz, were quick to jump on that and say that he should have been tougher.”

Presenter: “And Mr Netanyahu has been appealing to the Right-wing voter base. How and…and…will that make a difference in the way that people vote given how close the challenge is?”

Once again avoiding the topic of the effects of Palestinian terrorism on Israeli public opinion and the tricky question of how a two-state solution could come about under Palestinian leadership split between Fatah and Hamas, Bateman promoted PLO messaging on the topic of ‘settlements’.

Bateman: “Well the Israeli public has shifted to the Right over the decades, particularly since the Left in Israel saw its last high-water mark in the 1990s in the Oslo peace accords – the peace process with the Palestinians – which has very much been frozen and in many ways begun to fall apart since then. Particularly the Israeli youth are…many of them vehement supporters of the Right wing and Mr Netanyahu. And I think even during this campaign we have seen him tack further to the Right and in the closing days of the campaign he said that he would phase the annexation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, so extending Israeli sovereignty formally over those settlements which have grown in number since he was last elected into office. They’re illegal under international law although Israel disputes this but fundamentally they are seen by the Palestinians as the single biggest obstacle to them establishing a future state. And so what we have seen in this election, I think, with that further appeal to the Right wing is the prospect of the internationally held formula – a two-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians – really moved even further to the margins.”

In addition to Bateman’s promotion of the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘international law’ we see that he also promotes the inaccurate claim that the number of what the BBC chooses to call ‘settlements’ has “grown” since Netanyahu was “last elected into office” – i.e. since the previous election in March 2015.

In June 2017 the BBC itself reported that work had begun on what it described as “the first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank for more than 20 years”. That community – Amichai – will house former residents of Amona which was evacuated in February 2017. No additional new communities have been built by the Israeli government in the past four years and proposals to legalise outposts built without government consent have not progressed. It is therefore unclear on what evidence Bateman bases his assertion that “settlements…have grown in number” since March 2015.

The item continued:

Presenter: “And I mean we…we talk about Mr Netanyahu of course facing a tough challenge but he’s also, you know, facing…ehm…he’s…he could be removed from office under criminal indictments. Mr Netanyahu still faces charges of corruption. How is that affecting, you know, his campaign and how’s that affecting the support for him?”

Bateman: “Well among his most loyal supporters, I mean they’re…they’re…they’re fiercely loyal of [sic] him. They know about the allegations – some might even believe them – but they really don’t care.”

Presenter: “Hmm.”

Only at that point in the item did listeners hear an accurate portrayal of “what will happen next” in relation to the repeatedly referenced legal cases involving Netanyahu but no information was provided concerning Israeli law in such a situation.

Bateman: “I think it possibly has had some effect and it has allowed Benny Gantz to pick up some votes from the Right wing although most of the votes he has taken seem to be coming from the Left. As for what will happen next, well we’re due at some point later this year – the Israeli attorney general – to give Mr Netanyahu a hearing and then those charges could be formally laid against him so you will then have a sitting prime minister with a formal indictment against him which would be a rare or unprecedented situation in Israeli politics and what may happen over the coming days, if he wins the election he has to put together a coalition government. Perhaps there will be a price to membership of the coalition in that parties and their leaders will have to say that they would support him through that process and not resign from government which would then precipitate a collapse of the government and then potentially another general election.”

Once again we see that the profuse amount of BBC coverage of Israeli affairs and the permanent presence of BBC staff in Jerusalem does not preclude shoddy and inaccurate reporting which misleads audiences around the world.  

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