BBC’s Stephen Sackur does ‘the Israeli psyche’

The guest appearing in the March 13th edition of the BBC’s interview programme ‘Hardtalk’ was Israeli author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen who has previously appeared in BBC content.

Hosted by Stephen Sackur, the programme was aired on the BBC World News television channel, on BBC World Service radio and is also available as a podcast. A clip from the programme was posted on the BBC News website.

“Stephen Sackur speaks to Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, a prize-winning Israeli novelist who brings a trained psychologist’s eye to compelling stories set in her home country. Hers is a world of moral ambiguity where truth, memory, right and wrong aren’t necessarily what they seem. Does her work tell us something important about the Israeli psyche?”

On several occasions throughout the interview, Stephen Sackur employed fictional characters and quotes from Gundar-Goshen’s novels to try to support his own narratives concerning Israel and Israelis and many of his questions were – predictably – aimed at framing Israel in a specific fashion. [emphasis in italics in the original]

0:40 Sackur: “That is interesting ‘cos it’s searching for the nuance, for a deeper understanding of actions and events. It seems to me that may be difficult in a country, Israel, which I know from personal experience is such a very intense place where people, in a sense, always feel there are existential questions and there are always sides to be taken – our side, their side, good against bad.”

8:29 Sackur: “In some ways your books have magic in them but they also have very difficult, dark stuff in them and when we come back to this theme of your take on truth and lies, you examine and challenge some of the truths that all Israelis think they know and hold very dear, some of them connected with the Holocaust which in your books hangs over so much of your fiction and it’s interpreted in different ways and frankly some people tell lies about what happened […] But also, the story of Israel’s creation. The coming about of the state, the fight in ’47 and ’48 that established the nation. You suggest in one of your books that people who fought in that war don’t always tell the truth about it. That there are serious lies told about how Israel was created.”

11:41 Sackur: “Do you think Israel has a problem with empathy with those who are not – well, we’re talking about Israeli Jews – those who are not Jewish?”

18:46 Sackur: “You live in a country where, if one looks at politics, the majority opinion right now is pretty Right-wing. Binyamin Netanyahu’s been prime minister for a long time. The Likud party looks like it, you know, might well win the next election too. You and a whole bunch of Israeli writers – if I can put it this way – of the progressive Left seem to be out of sync with the majority of the people in your own country.”

In one part of the conversation Sackur brings up the topic of African migrants in Israel in relation to one of Gundar-Goshen’s books. After his guest has clarified that the dilemmas raised in that novel do not apply solely to Israelis, Sackur goes on to contradict her with some obviously pre-prepared material.

13:45 Sackur: “I think that is a really powerful point you make but nonetheless there are some interesting statistics around this which do suggest there’s a difference between Israel and some European countries. For example many people won’t know but there is a significant number of Eritreans and other Africans – but mostly Eritreans – who illegally migrated into Israel in search of a better life. They’re mostly kept in detention centres. Some live illegally in the country. There are believed to be 40 – 50 thousand of them. Israel has recognised the refugee status…actually I think literally of a handful of Eritreans. In…in Europe the EU says that Eritreans who actually make it onto European territory, 90% of them – because of the way Eritrea is – are given refugee status. So there is a difference and it does seem that Israel is absolutely adamant that it doesn’t want to help the outsider in that way.”

Let’s examine Sackur’s claims one by one. Firstly, according to the government office responsible, there were 37,288 migrants in Israel at the beginning of 2018 rather than “40 – 50 thousand” as claimed by Sackur. Those migrants are not “mostly kept in detention centres” – the Holot detention centre was closed a year ago – they “mostly” live in southern Tel Aviv and in additional towns.

While failing to clarify how many of the people he admits “illegally migrated into Israel in search of a better life” have actually made applications for refugee status, Sackur compares an unspecified number – “a handful” – with a percentage. He quotes an EU statistic but without clarifying that in 2017 for example, “90%” in fact related to some 26,900 Eritreans granted protection status (rather than exclusively “refugee status” as claimed by Sackur) in 28 EU countries with a collective population of well over 500 million. So while in 2017 for example Croatia accepted 100% of the applications made by Eritreans, that actually amounted to ten people. Lithuania also accepted 100% of applications – 25 people – as did Latvia – 20 people in all. 

Of course those familiar with Stephen Sackur’s track record when interviewing Israelis would not be in the least surprised by this latest promotion of his long evident chosen narrative concerning their country.

 

 

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A ‘Great Return March’ story BBC audiences have not been told

As readers may recall, last year it took the BBC three months to get round to producing a report concerning the arson attacks perpetrated by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip which resulted in the destruction of thousands of acres of nature reserves, woodland and farm land in nearby Israeli communities.

A two and a half minute BBC News video on a story ignored for three months

While the arson attacks using kites and balloons were somewhat less prevalent during the wet winter months, recent weeks have seen an increase in the use of an additional tactic: airborne explosive devices.

In early January:

“…a bomb was flown into Israel using a large cluster of balloons and a drone-like glider device, landing in a carrot field in the Sdot Negev region of southern Israel shortly before noon.”

In late February:

“An explosive device flown into Israel from the Gaza Strip detonated outside a home in the Eshkol region, causing damage but no injuries on Wednesday night, officials said.

The small bomb had been attached to a cluster of balloons and launched toward Israel from the coastal enclave on Wednesday as part of nightly riots along the Gaza border.”

On March 4th an airborne explosive device exploded between two homes in the Eshkol region and the following day saw two more attacks.

“Two explosive devices borne by clusters of balloons from the Gaza Strip detonated inside communities in southern Israel on Tuesday […]

On Tuesday afternoon, the first device exploded in an agricultural field in the Eshkol region. […]

Hours later, a second device was flown into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip, landing inside a community in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, the local government said.”

The next day also saw two attacks.

“Two explosive devices attached to bunches of balloons were launched from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and detonated above a community in the southern Israeli Eshkol region.”

An additional incident took place on March 9th .

Photo credit: Almog Boker, Channel 13

“Police sappers were called to the Israel-Gaza border area on Saturday after a cluster of balloons suspected of carrying an explosive device landed in Israeli territory.

Hebrew media reported that the balloons carried a warhead from an anti-tank missile.

The balloons were located in the Sdot Negev Regional Council. Police instructed hikers to keep away from the area as they carried out a controlled explosion.”

And on March 11th:

“Two suspicious packages attached to balloons, at least one of which was reportedly an explosive device, were found Monday at different locations in a southern community near the Gaza Strip.

Police sappers were called in to deal with the devices, which landed in areas of the Eshkol Regional Council.”

To date the BBC has not produced any reporting whatsoever on the topic of the airborne explosive devices launched from the Gaza Strip. We can however expect to continue to see BBC journalists giving audiences ignorant and inaccurate portrayals of the ‘Great Return March’ in which terrorism is downplayed or erased and its perpetrators presented as “innocent civilians”.

BBC News employs omission to further a narrative on Israel

The BBC News website recently created a tag called ‘Israel Elections 2019’ which to date includes just five items. Members of the corporation’s funding public could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that there is only one newsworthy name in that election campaign.

The latest BBC News website report appearing with that tag was published on March 11th under the headline “Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot wades into Netanyahu row over Israeli Arabs”.

The report opened with a confused introduction. [emphasis added]

“Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot has become embroiled in a row with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the status of the country’s Arab minority.

“Love your neighbour as yourself,” the Israeli actress said, amid wrangling over the role of Israeli Arab parties in upcoming polls.”

So which is it? “The status” of the 20.9% of the Israeli population with Arab ethnicity or “the role” of the two Arab lists running in the April 9th election?

Only in the article’s thirteenth paragraph did the BBC bother to clarify that in a post replying to another Israeli actress, Netanyahu commented:

“As you wrote, there is no problem with Israel’s Arab citizens. They have equal rights and the Likud government has invested more than any other government in the Arab population.” 

Clearly then this story is not about “a row with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the status of the country’s Arab minority” as claimed in the article’s opening line.

The report continued:

“Mr Netanyahu caused a stir when he said Israel “was not a state of all its citizens”, referring to Arabs who make up 20% of its population.

He cited a “nation-state” law.

The legislation sparked controversy last year.

Arab MPs reacted furiously in July when Israel’s parliament approved the legislation, which says Jews have a unique right to national self-determination in the country and puts Hebrew above Arabic as the official language.”

That link leads to a BBC report dating from July 2019 which was amended after publication to clarify that the legislation “ascribes Arabic “special status” and says its standing before the law came into effect will not be harmed”. As was the case when the BBC first reported on the Nation State Law last July, no comparison between that legislation and similar laws and constitutions in other countries was provided to readers.

Readers had to go down to paragraph twelve in order to find out the reason why the opening paragraphs of article referred to the Nation State Law:

“On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu responded with an Instagram post of his own that referred to the “nation-state” law.

“Dear Rotem,” he wrote. “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and only it.””

The BBC’s article went on to provide background to the story in a section headed “How did the row start?”.

“The spat began on Saturday, when Israeli actress and TV presenter Rotem Sela challenged comments made by Culture Minister Miri Regev in a TV interview about the role of Arab parties in the 9 April general election.

Ms Regev repeated a warning by her and Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party that voters should not choose its main rivals because they might form a governing coalition that included Arab MPs.”

The BBC did not however adequately clarify the highly relevant point that Ms Regev in fact referred to non-Zionist or anti-Zionist Arab parties rather than “Arab MPs” but did go on to amplify claims allegedly made by anonymous “critics”:

“Mr Netanyahu’s critics say comments like those made by Ms Regev are part of a bid to court right-wing voters.”

The report continued:

“At the last election four years ago, Mr Netanyahu apologised after warning that “right-wing rule is in danger” because “the Arabs are voting in droves”.”

That link leads to a BBC report from March 2015 relating to a story the corporation had earlier failed to report properly. As the BBC well knows, the part of the quote it has edited out reads “Left-wing organisations are bringing them in buses” and it continues with a reference to the V15 organisation.  

Notably the BBC avoided the topic of that group’s campaign in all of its coverage of the 2015 election. The following year the BBC likewise ignored the findings of the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concerning US State Department grants which “were used by to build infrastructure that was subsequently turned into an anti-Netanyahu apparatus for Israel’s 2015 elections, in contravention of State Department practice”.

This BBC report closed with amplification of unverified claims:

“Israeli Arabs, descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained after the State of Israel was created in 1948, have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens.

They say they face discrimination and worse provision than Israeli Jews when it comes to services such as education, health and housing.”

As we see, by means of omission the BBC News website has turned a story about an actress and a prime minister posting at cross purposes on social media (as a result of the use of the phrase “a state of all its citizens” which – crucially – is not explained to readers) into yet another politically motivated portrayal of Israel as an undemocratic, discriminatory and indeed racist state.

Related Articles:

How BBC radio programmes misled by adding one letter and a plural

BBC News website framing of Israeli legislation

Inaccurate BBC WS radio portrayal of Israeli legislation

Revisiting a missing chapter in the BBC’s 2015 election coverage

 

 

 

BBC WS radio tries to do Arab-Israeli conflict demographics

During her recent visit to Jerusalem the BBC’s Zeinab Badawi found time to produce a report for the BBC World Service radio edition of the programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

Aired on March 10th, the item was described in the programme’s synopsis as follows:

“Zeinab Badawi’s been to Jerusalem – and heard from carers and parents at a mixed pre-school where Palestinian and Jewish children grow up together and learn to talk out their differences.”

However the introduction (from 06:59 here) given by host Pascale Harter went beyond the topic of Badawi’s afternoon at the YMCA’s bilingual Peace pre-school, with listeners steered towards the facile and downright false view that the only obstacle to “peace in the Middle East” is the Arab-Israeli conflict. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Harter: “Peace in the Middle East is a dream which diplomats have struggled to make a reality for decades now. The question of how Israelis and Palestinians can best live together has tormented the world. With so much bitterness and suffering inherited from the past, how does one begin to sow the seeds for peace in the future? Even though it’s small, one initiative Zeinab Badawi visited recently in Jerusalem is not to be dismissed.”

In among her portrayal of the Jerusalem pre-school, Badawi also chose to give listeners a superficial portrayal of the topic of demographics.

Badawi: “Having a baby in Israel is strongly encouraged by the authorities. There are all sorts of tax incentives and other benefits for new mothers. And the more children you have, the more the benefits accrue.”

Indeed Israeli parents are eligible for tax credits and child allowances similar to some of those received by parents in the UK. Whether or not Zeinab Badawi believes that the British government also “strongly” encourages people to have children by means of such financial benefits is unclear but she does not appear to have considered the possibility that the governments of many countries similarly support their citizens’ life choices. She went on:

Badawi: “Fertility treatment like IVF is made easily available, even to same-sex couples.”

Israel does indeed lead the world in IVF treatment. Badawi however neglected to point out that the treatment – like the financial benefits – is of course available to all eligible Israeli citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity. She went on to present her main point:

Badawi: “The demographics of Israel and the occupied territories feed directly into the debate about the future. The Jewish population in these lands is about six and a half million, with an equivalent number of Palestinians.”

At the end of 2018 the population of Israel was made up of 6,668,000 Jews, 1,878,000 Arabs and 426,000 others. The most recent figures (2017) from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics cite a population of 4,952,168 in the PA controlled areas and the Gaza Strip while the CIA Factbook suggests a lower figure. In other words, in order to present her portrayal of “equivalent” numbers of Jews and Palestinians in “these lands”, Badawi has added the entire Israeli Arab population to the Palestinian population, regardless of whether they identify as such or not.

Making no effort to explain the obviously relevant issue of the hereditary refugee status given to descendants of Palestinian refugees, Badawi went on:

Badawi: “If you add the Palestinian refugee population in neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Syria then even by the lowest estimates the Israeli view is that any right of return for these people would pose a threat to Israel because Palestinians would far outnumber Jews. The birth rate is still high by global standards among both Jews and Palestinians here. In my afternoon at the Peace pre-school I spotted no fewer than four pregnant women.”

Notably, Badawi refrained from clarifying that the core aim of the demand for ‘right of return’ is to eliminate the Jewish state and that such a move would also eliminate the two-state solution that is supported by the international community.

And so, what BBC World Service radio audiences heard in Zeinab Badawi’s account of her brief visit to Jerusalem was in fact a context-free, simplistic and predictably jejune portrayal of a complex conflict which contributed nothing to audience understanding of the issue.

Whitewashing Hizballah on BBC Radio 4

The March 9th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item by Mishal Husain who is currently in Lebanon for a special broadcast from that country on March 11th to mark eight years since the beginning of the uprising in Syria.

Although the report (from 35:20 here) was introduced by both co-presenter Martha Kearney and Mishal Husain as being connected to the topic of “the war in Syria” and UK aid to Syrians displaced by that conflict, its focus soon shifted to a different topic.

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

Husain: “The UK’s just pledged an extra £100 million for Syrians in need and the Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt has told me host countries like Lebanon need ongoing support too. He came to Beirut straight after the government’s decision to ban the political wing of Hizballah – an organisation that’s had elected MPs in the Lebanese parliament for years. It’s part of the current government, controlling three ministries. I’ve been speaking to Amal Saad, professor of political science at the Lebanese University and the author of a book on Hizballah.”

As we see, that introduction (notable for Husain’s promotion of the entirely false notion of separate ‘wings’ of Hizballah) was no more helpful in aiding listeners to understand that they were about to hear from a Hizballah supporter than were the introductions heard by audiences on previous occasions when the BBC brought in Amal Saad for comment.

Listeners also received no information which would help them understand that when Hizballah and its supporters speak of ‘resistance’ against Israel, they in fact mean the destruction of that state.

Saad: “It’s first and foremost priority is resisting Israel and now fighting jihadis.”

Husain: “How entrenched is it in Lebanese politics, in Lebanese society today?”

Saad: “For the past 15 years or so Hizballah has been deeply entrenched in the Lebanese state: in the civil service, also in municipalities – across the board basically. And of course there is also the military and security cooperation that Hizballah has with the Lebanese army and with Lebanon’s security services.”

Listeners heard no mention of the fact that the 2006 UN Security Council resolution 1701 stated that there should be “no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon” and that previous accords pertaining to “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of 27 July 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State” should be implemented. Predictably, neither Husain nor her interviewee bothered to inform listeners that Hizballah is funded and supplied with weapons (also in violation of that UN resolution) by a foreign power.

Husain went on to once again promote the chimera of different ‘wings’ of the terror group.

Husain: “The UK says it can no longer make a distinction between the military and the political wing of Hizballah. Is it a false distinction to make?”

Saad: “I think it was an artificial one and it was a politically expedient one to facilitate dialogue and cooperation with Hizballah in Lebanon. In fact Hizballah is not a party with a military wing. It’s a resistance army and it has a political wing.”

Husain: “And that has meant fighting on the same side as President Assad in Syria and it’s been linked to the Houthi fighters backed by Iran in Yemen. One assumes that that is what the UK means when it says it’s destabilising the Middle East.”

The BBC’s domestic audiences then heard the claim that their own government’s policies are dictated by foreign interests.

Saad: “The British focused a lot on its role in Syria in the parliamentary report. The main argument was about Hizballah’s destabilising role in the region with emphasis on Syria. There was very little about actual terrorist incidents anywhere in the world. The UK is very troubled by Hizballah’s role in the region in the sense that it conflicts with US interests in the region. I think that’s the real problem.”

Despite having been told that Hizballah is a militia, Husain persisted in labelling it as a political organisation:

Husain: “But it is a party which has a history in what you call the resistance to Israel. It’s been responsible in the past for bombings, there were tunnels that have been dug into Israel. You look at all of that and around and then perhaps people say well, this is a valid decision for the UK to have taken.”

Saad: “This is part and parcel of an open war between Hizballah and Israel. There’s a balance of deterrence between the two. Even if we were talking about any transgressions that the UK has decided Hizballah has made, you know, they could try Hizballah for war crimes if they like. But that’s not the same thing as terrorism.”

That part of the item closed with that whitewashing of Hizballah’s terror activities and with no mention of UNSC resolution 1701 or Iran’s role as Hizballah’s mentor and supplier and no explanation of what the euphemism ‘resistance’ really means.

Despite having been told by Amal Saad in very plain terms that the notion of separate wings of Hizballah is “artificial”, Husain then went on to press her point (from 38:35) with Alistair Burt.

Husain: “We did make that distinction for more than a decade. So what has changed?”

Husain: “Last year a minister said that there wasn’t the evidence to proscribe the political wing of Hizballah. What changed between last year and this year?”

And when Burt mentioned the annual ‘Quds Day’ marches in the UK, Husain interrupted him with the following flippant remark:

Husain: “You made this decision on the basis of flags at a demonstration?”

Clearly this item, with comment coming from a Hizballah supporter and numerous grave omissions, comes nowhere near to providing licence fee paying listeners with the “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards” that is supposed to improve their ability to understand their own government’s decision to proscribe Hizballah.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part two

BBC’s Newshour Extra listeners get a partisan ‘explanation’ of Hizballah

Usual mantras in BBC News report on Hizballah designation

 

BBC Culture joins the drip feed of narrative

Readers of reports appearing on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 8th were also offered a feature titled “Startling images of the Middle East”.

That item by Fiona Macdonald of BBC Culture in fact relates to very specific areas of “the Middle East” and showcases a book first published in 2015 by photographer Tanya Habjouqa. The ten-page feature includes images and videos of the photographer talking about her work.

“Tanya Habjouqa’s Occupied Pleasures project reveals moments of black humour in Gaza and the West Bank. She describes finding a unique entry point into a hyper-narrated place.”

“Habjouqa started on the project Occupied Pleasures in 2009. Her images reveal the lives of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank in a nuanced way, offering glimpses of everyday resilience.”

That ‘nuance’ however does not include any background information whatsoever and so the images and narrative are presented to BBC audiences in an entirely context-free manner.

On the second page audiences find a video in which Habjouqa states:

“…Palestine was home. And I was the one sitting at checkpoints and experiencing this Kafkaesque reality…”

In the video appearing on the fifth page Habjouqa tells the story behind some of her photographs concerning a story from 2013.  

“There had been a wedding and I’d missed it. There was a woman who had come in, in a wedding dress and had the wedding party because she hadn’t been given permission to access Gaza because of the blockade. […] And then he paused and he said the most sobering sombre thing, he said ‘you know no matter what they do to us, we will always find a way to live, to love, to laugh.”

BBC audiences are not told that the Egyptian girl had been denied entry to the Gaza Strip by the Egyptian authorities or of the Palestinian terrorism that made the blockade necessary.

On page nine audiences find a video in which an image of “Furniture makers in the West Bank, with Israel’s separation barrier behind them” with no explanation of why the anti-terrorist fence had to be built.

The narrative advanced in this feature is glaringly obvious: Habjouqa states in the last video that her work relates to people who “refuse to let suffering be the definition of their existence”.

How that suffering is related to their leaders’ choices and how those choices brought about the “checkpoints”, “blockade” and “separation barrier” of course goes completely unexplained in this latest chapter in the BBC’s drip fed narrative of Palestinian victims completely devoid of agency and responsibility.  

 

 

Disproportionate focus in BBC News report on UNHRC speech

On March 6th an article headlined “UN rights chief Bachelet warns of threat from ‘gross inequality’” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘World’ and ‘Middle East’ pages.

Relating to an address given by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in Geneva on the same day, 51% of the 335-word report was devoted to one topic.

“She also criticised Israel over its blockade of Gaza, and said she regretted Israel’s “immediate dismissal” of a report by a UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry, “without addressing any of the very serious issues raised”.

UN experts said last week that Israeli security forces might have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity while responding to weekly mass Palestinian protests along the Gaza-Israel border last year.

The experts investigated the deaths of 189 Palestinians and said they found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers had shot at children, medics and journalists, even though they had been clearly recognisable as such.

“All parties concerned should exercise restraint as the date of March 30 approaches,” Ms Bachelet said, referring to the first anniversary of the start of the Palestinian protest campaign.

The Israeli government said the report was “hostile, mendacious and biased against Israel”. It has said its security forces have only opened fire in self-defence or on people trying to infiltrate its territory under the cover of the protests.”

The BBC also chose to tag the report “Gaza border clashes”.

Given the article’s focus on Israel, readers may understandably have assumed that Ms Bachelet’s speech – which lasted over half an hour and included over four thousand words – concentrated primarily on that country.

However, the section of the address highlighted (in part) by the BBC in fact made up just 5.7% of the UN Commissioner’s speech and the BBC did not bother to inform readers that, as noted by the Times of Israel:

“A transcript of Bachelet’s speech made no mention of Palestinian violence and breaches and destruction of the Israel-Gaza border fence during the protests.” 

In the 49% of the article not relating to Israel, the BBC names four other countries: Sudan, Haiti, France and Venezuela. Although Ms Bachelet’s address related to numerous other countries too, BBC audiences were told nothing of her comments on Zimbabwe, Nicaragua, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, Myanmar, Syria and others. Neither did they see any reporting on her comments relating to migration and women’s rights which were more extensive than her criticism of Israel.

Once again the BBC’s disproportionate focus on Israel, which leads to the failure to meet its own editorial guidelines on due accuracy and impartiality, is in full view.

Related Articles: 

BBC News website unquestioningly amplifies UNHRC’s report

BBC Radio 4 tells listeners that Gaza rioters were ‘innocent civilians’

 

 

 

BBC R4 report on antisemitism in the US uses the Livingstone Formulation

If the BBC was making a report about homophobic remarks or racist comments directed at black or Asian people it would be unlikely to solicit a contribution from a person promoting the view that criticism of such statements was intended to “shut down legitimate debate”.

That, however, is exactly what listeners to the March 4th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘World at One’ heard in an item by Gary O’Donoghue which was introduced by presenter Sarah Montague (from 25:03 here) using a rather curious claim. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Montague: “Now then, Labour isn’t the only Left of centre political party having to weather accusations of antisemitism at the moment. In the United States Democrats are having to counter claims that the leftward shift of their party is leading to antisemitic attitudes among some of their new members of Congress. Republicans have been trying to make the most of their political difficulties. From Washington, here’s our correspondent Gary O’Donoghue.”

Using an archive recording of former US president Harry Truman that includes the phrase “the problem of Israel”, O’Donoghue began by noting the longstanding Jewish American support for the Democratic party before asking “So what’s wrong?”. Listeners then heard from a person subsequently identified as Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times.

Weisman: “I think that the Labour party of Britain right now is what the Democratic party dreads and is desperate to avoid.”

O’Donoghue explained:

“…it’s the antisemitism label he’s talking about when he says the Democrats are desperate to avoid Labour’s mistakes in Britain. But why would a party that gets 75% of Jewish American votes risk being called antisemitic?”

Listeners then heard the phrase “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby” read out before O’Donoghue explained:

O’Donoghue: “A Tweet from a new young progressive Democrat elected to the House of Representatives called Ilhan Omar – one of the first two Muslim women ever to sit in Congress. She was talking about the influence of AIPAC – the American Israel Political Action Committee – a powerful lobbying group. The Benjamins is slang for $100 bills carrying, as they do, the face of Benjamin Franklin.”

O’Donoghue then brought in Deborah Lipstadt to explain further.

Lipstatdt: “When you say ‘it’s all about the Benjamins, baby’, that’s using a trope. Whether she was conscious of it or not – she says she was not conscious of it so I don’t know – American politics is infused with money. So if you say only this is about money, again, how come only this and not everything else?”

O’Donoghue went on to tell listeners that Lipstadt “says money is just one of a whole range of tropes that constitute antisemitism” before another recording was heard.

O’Donoghue: “Enter Rashida Tlaib; fellow Muslim freshman in Congress and […] someone else facing accusations of antisemitsm. In her case it was criticisms of fellow Democrats for not backing the so-called BDS movement which promotes boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.”

As ever in BBC content, listeners heard no further explanation of the anti-Israel BDS campaign and its aims before O’Donoghue went on:

O’Donoghue: “And yes, it was a Tweet.

‘They forgot what country they represent. This is the US where boycotting is a right and a part of our historical fight for freedom and equality.’

That, say her critics, manifests another antisemitic trope: that Jews have split loyalties.”

Listeners then heard the BBC’s idea of ‘balance’: promotion of what is known in the UK as the Livingstone Formulation.

O’Donoghue: “But Yousef Munayyer of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights says antisemitism allegations are used to shut down legitimate debate.”

In breach of editorial guidelines stipulating that the “particular viewpoint” of contributors should be made clear, O’Donoghue did not bother to inform his audience of the fact that Munayyer is himself a supporter of BDS and that the organisation he represents mobilises anti-Israel BDS campaigns. Lacking that obviously relevant information, listeners then heard from Munayyer:

Munayyer: “It weaponises one form of bigotry and one form of oppression to help defend and enable another. It is important to be able to say, you know, in one voice that we oppose antisemitism. We also oppose what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians.”

And so we see once again that the BBC’s interpretation of impartiality leads it to amplify claims from inadequately introduced anti-Israel campaigners which actually hinder audience understanding of the issue of antisemitism.

O’Donoghue’s report continued with comment from a representative of a Jewish organisation linked to the Democratic party before he went on:

O’Donoghue: “But it’s not just two members of Congress. Others on the Left face similar allegations. Most recently leaders of the Women’s March organisation have been heavily criticised over their connections to Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, who many regard as overtly antisemitic.”

Failing to provide his British listeners with anything more informative than that tepid portrayal of Farrakhan’s long-standing record of antisemitism and additional forms of bigotry, O’Donoghue brought in Deborah Lidstadt once again before closing his report.

O’Donoghue: “It’s not of course just a problem for the Left. Far-Right white supremacists trade in the same antisemitic ideas. But the Democratic leadership are conscious that a new, younger, more Left-leaning party base could drive a wedge between them and Jewish Americans, already wooed by Republican policies such as pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.”

Remarkably, although there was no room in O’Donoghue’s portrayal of antisemitism in the United States for the no less relevant issue of Islamist antisemitism, he did find the space for promotion of false balance in the form of the Livingstone Formulation – just as has been seen so often in BBC coverage of antisemitism in the UK Labour party.

Related Articles:

David Ward saga: BBC still prevaricating on antisemitism

One-staters get BBC WS platform for promotion of BDS, ‘resistance’ and ‘apartheid’ trope

 

No surprises in BBC News website report on US Consulate closure

A move that had been anticipated since October 2018 was reported on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 4th in an article headlined “US consulate general in Jerusalem merges with embassy”. The story was summed up in the article’s opening paragraphs:

“The US has closed its consulate general in Jerusalem, which covered Palestinian affairs, folding its operations into the new embassy to Israel in the city.

The state department said the merger was made for efficiency reasons and did not signal a change of policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Gaza.

The consulate had acted as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians.

A Palestinian official called the move “the last nail in the coffin of the US administration’s role in peacemaking”.”

That unnamed “Palestinian official” was the PLO’s Saeb Erekat, who is of course rather fond of the ‘nail in the coffin‘ metaphor.

In addition to a 146-word section quoting (and linking to) the US State department deputy spokesman’s statement on the merger, readers found an unquestioning 126-word account of the less extreme parts of a statement from the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi, with a link provided.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said: “The Trump administration is intent on leaving no room for doubt about its hostility towards the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights, as well as its abject disregard for international law and its obligations under the law.”

“Merging the US consulate in Jerusalem with the US embassy to Israel, which is now illegally located in Jerusalem, is not an administrative decision. It is an act of political assault on Palestinian rights and identity and a negation of the consulate’s historic status and function, dating back nearly 200 years.”

Ms Ashrawi said such actions “preclude any possible positive role for the current US administration in seeking peace and stability” in the region.”

Ms Ashrawi and her colleagues have of course been boycotting the US administration since December 2017 and have repeatedly expressed their opposition to a peace proposal which the US has not even yet made public. Apparently though the BBC did not see the irony in the second quote from Ashrawi which it chose to highlight.

Readers of this report also found the following:

“The BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem says the merger marks a significant downgrade of the US diplomatic mission to the Palestinians.”

Bateman did not however clarify why any foreign “diplomatic mission to the Palestinians” should be located outside territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, in a place to which the Palestinians ostensibly do not lay claim.  

Unsurprisingly, the recycled background history presented in BBC’s article made no mention of the unrecognised Jordanian occupation of the city between 1948 and 1967.

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

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

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.”

Obviously if the BBC’s audiences are to fully understand the background they need to be told of the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. They likewise need to be informed of the belligerent Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews who had lived in Jerusalem for generations from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, as well as the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders.

Readers also found the BBC’s usual partisan mantra on ‘international law’ and ‘settlements’ with no mention of the fact that some of the Jerusalem neighbourhoods it chooses to define as such were inhabited by Jews until the Jordanian occupation.

“Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Since the BBC began covering stories concerning the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2016 – and particularly since the US announcement concerning its embassy’s relocation in December 2017 – the comprehensive background information which would enable BBC audiences to fully understand these stories has been serially withheld. As we see in this latest report, that editorial policy continues.

Related Articles:

Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

An overview of BBC News website coverage of the US embassy story

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – February 2019

Throughout the month of February 2019, seventeen items relating to Israel and/or the Palestinians appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page, some of which also appeared on other pages.

(dates indicate the time period during which the item was available on the ‘Middle East’ page)

One item related to security issues:

Gaza protest deaths: Israel may have committed war crimes – UN (28/2/19 to 2/3/19) discussed here

Two items related to aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict:

Hebron: One Street, Two Sides (18/2/19 to 22/2/19) discussed here and here

Hezbollah to be added to UK list of terrorist organisations (25/2 19 to 26/2/19) discussed here

One item related to Palestinian affairs:

US stops all aid to Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza Yolande Knell (1/2/19 to 4/2/19) discussed here

Of the reports concerning Israel, three articles concerned foreign and diplomatic relations:

Warsaw summit: Why Iran is the elephant in the room Jonathan Marcus (12/2/19 to 19/2/19)

Poland PM cancels Israel trip after Netanyahu’s Holocaust comment (17/2/19 to 18/2/19) discussed here

Holocaust: Israel summit scrapped in ‘racism’ row with Poland (18/2/19 to 21/2/19)

One item related to trade:

US to buy Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system (6/2/19 to 9/2/19) discussed here

One report concerned the upcoming general election:

Israel elections: Netanyahu challengers Gantz and Lapid join forces (21/2/19 to 25/2/19)

Three reports related to legal/criminal cases in Israel:

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel PM faces corruption charges (28/2/19 to 1/3/19) discussed here

Benjamin Netanyahu: What are the corruption allegations? (28/2/19) discussed here

Netanyahu and the allegations of corruption Tom Bateman (20/2/19 to 28/2/19) discussed here

One item related to historical subject matter:

A 2,000-year-old biblical treasure BBC Travel (25/2/19 to 27/2/19)

One item related to science:

Israel’s Beresheet Moon mission gets under way Jonathan Amos (22/2/19 to 25/2/19)

One item concerned social issues:

Why I use a Jewish ritual bath after my period Erica Chernofsky (10/2/19 to 14/2/19)

Two additional items did not actually relate directly to Israel:

Niger man deported by Israel marooned in Ethiopian airport Emmanuel Igunza (18/2/19 to 19/2/19) discussed here

Argentina’s Chief Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich attacked during break-in (26/2/19 to 27/2/19) discussed here

As has been the case in previous years (see ‘related articles’ below), the BBC News website continues to cover Israeli affairs far more extensively than it does internal Palestinian affairs.

Related Articles:

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – January 2019

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q4 2017 – part two