BBC News website framing of Israeli PM’s Australia visit

Last week the BBC News website published two articles relating to the Israeli prime minister’s official visit to Australia.

1) ‘Israeli PM criticises UN ‘hypocrisy’ on historic Australia visit‘, February 22nd 2017.

2) ‘Australian ex-PM Kevin Rudd berates Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu‘, February 23rd 2017.australia-visit-1

The first article is 447 words long including sub-headings. Two hundred and thirty of those words were devoted to the topic of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a further 86 words to a version of an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” which has been seen in previous reports.

Twenty-three words were used to promote a theme which has been evident in several recent BBC reports: a supposed ‘policy shift’ on the two-state solution on the part of the US administration.

Sixty-one words were devoted to amplification of criticism of the visit, together with a link to a partisan statement from individuals including anti-Israel activists.

Background information concerning the official visit was provided in 27 words and just seventeen words were used to describe its aim.

“Mr Netanyahu is in Australia for talks about expanding co-operation in cyber security, technological innovation and science.”australia-visit-2

The second article is 349 words long including sub-headings. Forty-nine words were devoted to background information. The rest of the article was given over to amplification of criticism of the visit including a link to statements made by one individual.

In summary, 45% of the 796 words produced by the BBC concerning the Israeli prime minister’s visit to Australia amplified criticism of that visit. 39% of the total word count was given over to the topic of ‘the conflict’ while 9.5% of the word count provided background information concerning the visit.

A mere 2% of the total word count related to the aim of the official visit, with BBC audiences receiving no information whatsoever about the research and travel agreements signed between the two countries.

Clearly the framing chosen by the BBC for this story was a lot less about providing audiences with an objective and informative account of the first official visit of an Israeli prime minister to Australia than it was about influencing audience perceptions through promotion of a politically motivated narrative.

Related Articles:

BBC News website’s explanation of the two-state solution falls short

BBC News and the US ‘major policy shift’ that wasn’t

 

 

BBC avoidance of term ‘terrorist’ in Israel stories surfaces again

h/t ML

As we have seen in previous posts, the BBC’s description of the man killed by Elor Azaria in Hebron last March have ranged from “Palestinian attacker” through “wounded Palestinian” to simply non-existent. None of the BBC’s reports used the word terrorist.today-21-2

BBC Radio 4, however, came up with different terminology.

Listeners to the 06:30 news bulletin in the February 21st edition of the ‘Today’ programme heard the following report (from 32:49 here) from newsreader Kathy Clugston: [emphasis added]

“A military court in Israel is due to sentence a soldier for the killing of a wounded Palestinian fighter. Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter last month in a case that’s caused division and strong feeling in Israel. He shot dead a man who was injured after he tried to kill members of the Israeli army.”

Once again we see that the BBC’s ineffectual editorial guidelines on ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’ (adherence to which is entirely subjective and selective), together with the chronic failure to differentiate between the aims and actions of perpetrators of politically motivated violence, prevent the BBC from presenting a consistent, uniform approach to the subject of terrorism which adheres to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

More narrative driven BBC portrayal of the ‘peace process’

The February 15th meeting between the US president and the Israeli prime minister in Washington DC saw the BBC vigorously promoting the theme of a “major policy shift” on the part of the US administration with regard to the two-state solution:

BBC News and the US ‘major policy shift’ that wasn’t

BBC Radio 4 amplifies PLO interpretation of the two-state solution

BBC WS continues promotion of two-state solution narrative

The next day – February 16th – the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel-Palestinian conflict: US ‘thinking outside box’” which included clarification from a senior official.

‘The US ambassador to the UN has said her country “absolutely” supports the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

But Nikki Haley also said the Trump administration was “thinking outside the box as well”, suggesting it was open to other possible solutions.

For many years, the US has advocated the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel.

But Mr Trump indicated on Wednesday he would not insist on that. […]

“We absolutely support the two-state solution but we are thinking out of the box as well,” Ms Haley said on Thursday, “which is – what does it take to bring these two sides to the table? what do we need to have them agree on?”‘

Despite that clarification, the BBC continued to push the theme of a ‘policy shift’ and on the same day published an article titled “PJ Crowley: Trump unveils a subtle but vital shift in US policy” on its website’s ‘US & Canada’ page as well as in the ‘features’ section of the website’s Middle East page where it has, at the time of writing, remained for eight consecutive days.crowley-art

Ostensibly intended to help BBC audiences understand why the two-state solution has not been realised to date, the article states:

“A playful exchange between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu actually said a great deal about the dim prospects of a successful negotiation with the Palestinians under current circumstances. […]

…the parties themselves are farther apart on the substance of the process – the borders of a Palestinian state, Israeli security arrangements within a Palestinian state, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem – than they were at the end of the Clinton administration.”

Crowley’s ‘explanation’ of that situation begins with Israeli politics. Notably he entirely erases from his analysis the relevant issues of the Palestinian terror attacks that followed the Oslo Accords, half a decade of terror during the second Intifada and the rise in missile attacks that followed Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip. 

“The centre of Israeli politics has moved markedly to the right; the left that embraced the essential bargain of the Oslo process, land for peace, has receded.

The existing Israeli governing coalition is not wired to make concessions. In fact, it is pushing Mr Netanyahu to increase the settlement presence in the West Bank while accelerating construction in East Jerusalem.”

Readers are then told that:

“In 2009, the Obama administration demanded a freeze to all settlement activity. Israel reluctantly agreed, although some growth continued within settlements Israel would keep in any final deal.

Rather than accelerate negotiations, settlements became a bone of contention within them. When the 10-month settlement moratorium ended, so did direct negotiations.”

Once again Palestinian actions are erased from the portrayal given to BBC audiences. The article neglects to inform readers that the Palestinians refused to engage in negotiations throughout 90% of the ten-month long US dictated construction freeze declared at the end of November 2009. Only at the beginning of September 2010 did the Palestinians agree to commence direct negotiations and as the construction freeze’s pre-designated time frame drew to a close on September 26th, Abbas demanded its extension and threatened to end the talks if he did not get his way, with the result that on October 2nd 2010 the negotiations ended. 

Next readers of this article are told that:

“Secretary of State John Kerry tried to achieve a framework agreement during Mr Obama’s second term, but his one-year effort fell short.”

That laconic sentence of course refers to the 2013/14 round of talks that came to an end after the Palestinians had opted to reject a framework proposed by the US, to join international agencies in breach of existing commitments and to opt for reconciliation with Hamas.

The article goes on to describe Israeli construction as a “fundamental problem” for the Palestinians without clarifying that prior to Obama’s 2009 insistence on a construction freeze, they were perfectly able to conduct negotiations on numerous occasions even though building was ongoing at the time.

“Mr Netanyahu may moderate the current pace of settlement activity but he is not going to stop it. The Palestinians will continue to see settlement activity as a fundamental problem.”

The pertinent issue of the Hamas-Fatah split is addressed in this article as follows:

“The Palestinians are deeply divided. In 2006, Hamas won an unexpected majority of seats in the Palestinian legislature over Mr Abbas’ Fatah Party. The Palestinians have lacked political unity ever since.

Today, Hamas, not the Palestinian Authority, is the de facto government in Gaza. Full elections have not been held in more than a decade.”

However, the fact that Hamas is not a member of the body – the PLO – that conducts negotiations with Israel is not clarified and neither is the very relevant fact that Hamas rejects the two-state solution or that Fatah rejects one of its basic requirements: recognition of Israel as the Jewish state.

Recent weeks have seen a dramatic spike in the amount of content produced by the BBC relating directly or indirectly to the topic of the two-state solution and the ‘peace process’ in general.

In common with most of that content, this article once again fails to give BBC audiences the full range of information needed to enhance their understanding of why negotiations between Israel and the PLO have yet to bear fruit. Palestinian actions, choices, policies and decisions are erased from view while the story is framed as being about a “moribund”, “fading” two-state solution which is endangered primarily by Israeli construction and – lately – by a supposed “shift” in US policy.

Clearly that framing is not the result of an aspiration to meet the BBC’s public purpose remit but by the drive to promote a politically motivated narrative.

Related Articles:

Examining the BBC’s claim that Israeli building endangers the two state solution

 

 

BBC and Sky News promote different headlines to English and Arabic speakers

Last October we documented a case in which the same story was presented with differing headlines on the BBC’s English language and Arabic language websites.

The practice reappeared on February 21st in reports concerning the sentencing of the Israeli soldier Elor Azaria.

Visitors to the BBC’s English language website found an article titled “Israeli soldier gets 18 months for killing wounded Palestinian attacker” and while the word terrorism was absent from the report, the opening paragraph also used the term “attacker”.

“An Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian attacker in a high-profile case that split opinion across the country has been jailed for 18 months.”

In contrast, the word “attacker” did not appear in the headline of the Arabic language version of same story which was published on the BBC Arabic website under the title “Israeli soldier sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for killing wounded Palestinian”.

azaria-english-arabic-bbc

Sky News also produces content in both English and Arabic and it too presented the story with differing headlines for different target audiences.  The headline of the English language version of the story read “Israeli soldier jailed for 18 months for killing wounded Palestinian attacker” while the article in Arabic was titled “Lenient sentence for the Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian.”

azaria-sky-english-and-arabic

Related Articles:

BBC headlines for same story differ according to target audiences

BBC’s double standard terror terminology on view again

BBC WS continues promotion of two-state solution narrative

As has already been documented here, following last week’s visit by the Israeli prime minister to the White House both the BBC News website and BBC Radio 4 told their audiences of a “major policy shift” on the part of the US administration. [emphasis added]

“A White House official says a two-state solution may not be the only option to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, signalling a major policy shift.”

“US President Donald Trump has dropped decades of US policy insisting on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“…President Trump appeared to tear up what has been the US foreign policy objective under his three most recent predecessors – Democrat and Republican alike.”

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on February 15th heard similar messaging in the lead story (from 01:22 here) which was introduced by Paul Henley as follows:newshour-15-2-17

“First, President Trump has given a warm welcome to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is on a visit to the White House. The two leaders held a joint news conference full of mutual praise.”

Following a number of audio clips from the press conference, the item continued:

Henley: “Probably the most eagerly awaited question was whether President Trump would change the US’s long-standing policy of promoting a two-state solution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is how he responded.”

Trump: “I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while that two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians…if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

Henley: “So what is the reaction to what’s been interpreted by some as the ripping up of 30 years of US policy on Israel? Our correspondent in Jerusalem, Jonny Dymond, has been giving me his assessment.” [emphasis in bold added]

That messaging was then reinforced by Jonny Dymond. [emphasis in bold added]

Dymond: “I think it represents a pretty serious shift – albeit one which was perhaps clouded by Trump’s oratorical style. Before we’d heard from President Trump and from the unnamed White House official who trailed this policy shift, the policy was pretty clear. It was that there was a two-state solution and that’s what negotiations would drive towards. Ah…ah…the State of Israel and a Palestinian state emerging next to it and the Palestinians had signed up to that, the Israelis had signed up to that with some caveats.”

Like his colleagues from the BBC News website and BBC Radio 4, Dymond presented “the Palestinians” as a homogenous group, refraining from pointing out to audiences that the Palestinian faction which gained the most votes last time elections were held certainly has not “signed up” to the idea of a two-state solution or that Hamas’ rival faction Fatah refuses to countenance a crucial component of the two-state solution concept: recognition of Israel as the Jewish state. He went on:

Dymond: “It was US policy, it was the policy of the EU, it was the policy pretty much agreed upon by a number of Arab states as well. Ehm…now the president has said ‘well, take your pick; one-state solution, two-state solution’. He has effectively said the US no longer has an end point for negotiations. It will no longer drive negotiations towards any particular end point. And that is a pretty big shift in policy given that the two-state solution has been the policy for – what? – three decades or so.”

Once again BBC audiences were told that the two-state solution has been accepted policy for decades despite the fact that the Oslo Accords of the 90s make no reference to a two-state solution, leaving the issue of the final, permanent status of the territories to be negotiated between the parties.

The item continued with Dymond – in accordance with what is now standard BBC framing – describing Area C as “Palestinian land” despite the fact that under the terms of the Oslo Accords, its final status is to be resolved through negotiations.

Henley: “And we hear that many in the Israeli government are cheered by the presence of Donald Trump in the White House and his obviously warm stance towards Israel. Are they cheered because there’s any more prospect of a peaceful resolution to this long-running conflict or simply because they think that Donald Trump will fight their corner?”

Dymond: “Oh very much the latter; that they think that Donald Trump is a supporter of Israel and will not place what they see as undue pressure on Israel over issues such as building in Palestinian land – the settlements – and forcing Israel to make painful compromises towards an eventual deal. And I think we saw and heard in the news conference which the two men gave an extraordinary level of amity from Donald Trump towards both Mr Netanyahu as an individual and also towards Israel in general. The language was extraordinary and the one moment where he mentioned the possible compromise…ah…which was on the issue of building in Palestinian land known as settlements, he said I’d like to see you pull back on settlements for a little bit. It was hardly the kind of hard line with which Mr Netanyahu was greeted when he went to see Barack Obama and they made it very clear – the administration then made it clear that as far as they were concerned, settlements were a red line. There was nothing like this. This is a much, much more friendly administration for Israel in general and for Mr Netanyahu in particular.”

As we see in this item and others (see ‘related articles’ below), February 15th brought multi-platform BBC promotion of the inaccurate notion that the US administration had changed its policy regarding the two-state solution as well as inaccurate portrayal of the Oslo Accords as including the two-state solution and inaccurate claims of a Palestinian consensus regarding acceptance of the two-state solution.

Clearly the editorial policy behind all those reports was based on narrative rather than fact and clearly none of these reports contributed to meeting the BBC’s remit of providing its audiences with accurate and impartial information which would enhance their understanding of the topic of the two-state solution.  

Related Articles:

BBC News and the US ‘major policy shift’ that wasn’t

BBC Radio 4 amplifies PLO interpretation of the two-state solution

 

 

 

BBC’s double standard terror terminology on view again

On the afternoon of February 21st the lead stories on BBC News website’s main homepage, World page and Middle East page were presented using the same headline:

“Israeli soldier gets 18 months for killing”

BBC News website homepage

BBC News website homepage

BBC News website 'World' page

BBC News website ‘World’ page

BBC News website 'Middle East' page

BBC News website ‘Middle East’ page

That headline failed to inform BBC audiences that the person killed was a terrorist and that information was likewise absent from the sub-heading on all three pages which told readers:

“Victim’s father calls sentence a “joke” in a case which split opinion in Israel on the use of force”

Although it is impossible to know how many of the people who read that headline clicked on the link to the article, those who did found a report which – in typical BBC style – refrains from using the terms terror, terrorist or terrorism in its portrayal of an Israel-related story. 

“An Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian attacker in a high-profile case that split opinion across the country has been jailed for 18 months.” [emphasis added]

In contrast, visitors to regional pages of the UK section of BBC News website on the same day did find such terminology used in the headlines and text of domestic stories.

uk-terror-story-1

terror-uk-art-2

Once again we see that the claims concerning “consistency” and “impartiality” made in the BBC’s editorial guidelines concerning ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism‘ do not hold water.

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BBC promotes political NGO in coverage of Azaria verdict

 

BBC Radio 4 amplifies PLO interpretation of the two-state solution

The February 15th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ included an item (from 19:53 here) relating to that day’s meeting between the US president and the Israeli prime minister in Washington.twt-15-2

In that item, presented by Shaun Ley, listeners heard yet another baseless claim of a shift in US policy along with the inaccurate suggestion that the two-state solution formed part of the Oslo Accords. [emphasis added]

Ley: “Now for a quarter of a century a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been the default position of diplomats and politicians alike. It would mean an independent Palestine set up alongside Israel. Tonight at a White House news conference with Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Trump appeared to tear up what has been the US foreign policy objective under his three most recent predecessors – Democrat and Republican alike.”

Listeners then heard a recording of the US president speaking at that press conference which was apparently intended to support Ley’s claim that Trump had changed US foreign policy.

Trump: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while that two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians…if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

Ley continued with what has become a standard BBC theme: promotion of ‘settlements’ as the main obstacle to an agreement, with numerous no less relevant factors such as the Hamas-Fatah split, Hamas’ rejection of the two-state solution or the PA’s refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state obscured from audience view.

“Mr Netanyahu certainly received a much warmer welcome here than he had when President Obama was in the White House and he appeared to be enjoying the experience. There was an awkward moment though when, having talked about the need for compromise, the president raised the thorny issue of Israeli settlements: a longstanding obstacle to any deal.”

Another recording from the press conference was then heard.

Trump: “As far as settlements; I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. I would like to see a deal being made. I think a deal will be made. I know that every president would like to. Most of them have not started till late because they never thought it was possible. And it wasn’t possible because they didn’t do it. And I think we’re going to make a deal. It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand.”

Netanyahu: “Let’s try it.”

Trump: “Doesn’t sound too optimistic…good negotiator.”

Netanyahu: “That’s the art of the deal.”

Ley then inaccurately told listeners that Netanyahu’s reply “Let’s try it” related to the topic of settlements rather than to a deal.

Ley: “Well you may just have heard, just before the end of that clip was Mr Netanyahu apparently replying to the challenge over settlements with the words ‘let’s try it’. But on the question of two states or one the Israeli prime minister said too much time over the years had been devoted to labels rather than substance.”

Netanyahu: “So here’s the substance: there are two prerequisites for peace that I laid out several years ago and they haven’t changed. First, the Palestinians must recognise the Jewish state. Second, in any peace agreement Israel must retain the over-riding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan river because if we don’t, we know what will happen.”

Ley: “This evening the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Donald Trump’s call on Israel to pull back on settlement building and pledged to work with the Americans. Manuel Hassassian leads the Palestinian mission in the UK. He believes President Trump made a terrible mistake.”

Listeners then heard Manuel Hassassian again promote the inaccurate notion that the two-state solution was included in the Oslo Accords. They also heard him make the false claims – completely unchallenged by Shaun Ley – that the 1949 Armistice lines are “borders” and that the definition of the two-state solution is that a Palestinian state would be established on all of the land occupied by Jordan and Egypt in 1948.

Hassassian: “For the last 24 years when we embarked on the peace process, everybody agreed that the two-state solution would be the solution that will end the conflict and end the occupation – meaning that the Palestinian will have a state on the borders of 1967 as a result of the Security Council resolutions 234 and 388. There is a international consensus. International community talking all the time about a two-state solution.”

Seeing as UNSC resolution 388 relates to Rhodesia, Hassassian may have intended to say 338. However, neither UN Security Council resolution 234 nor 338 make any reference to a Palestinian state but Ley failed to challenge Hassassian on that too, continuing:

Ley: “But that consensus has achieved over 25 years next to nothing. Isn’t there an argument that actually on the ground people have long since given up on the idea of a two-state solution because they haven’t seen it…it’s been a convenient parking space for talking. It’s been a way of saying ‘oh look: we have something that we’re aiming for but then we don’t actually have to do anything about it’. Isn’t at least the consequence of this to throw all the pieces up into the air and force people to start talking for real?”

Hassassian: “Yes, the two-state solution and the peace process for the last 24 years have brought nothing except pain and humiliation and suffering for the Palestinian people. We have not seen any breakthrough in this peace process because I think the United States, personally, was not an honest broker of peace and they never really put any pressures on the Israelis to halt settlements. And settlements now are the major impediment to any kind of agreement and a lasting solution.”

Ley’s failure to challenge Manuel Hassassian on the claim that “settlements now are the major impediment” to an agreement is of course unsurprising since he too had made that same claim just minutes earlier, showing the extent to which the BBC has adopted the PLO’s talking points. Similarly failing to ask Hassassian why the PA initiated the second Intifada in 2000, why the PA refuses to recognise Israel as the Jewish state or what the PLO intends to do about Hamas’ refusal to accept the two-state solution, he continued.

Ley: “I mean President Trump did challenge the prime minister on this. He said can you…can you hold off on the settlements for a little bit.”

Hassassian: “Well basically he said it’s a problem but he did not really challenge Netanyahu to stop settlements. Since Clinton administration the US position has always been a two-state solution known [knowing] that the borders will be the 1967 borders.”

Clinton peace plan

Clinton peace plan

That claim too is of course false: the Clinton parameters (which were rejected by the Palestinians) clearly included land swaps and did not advocate a two-state solution based on mythical ‘1967 borders’. Hassassian went on:

“Now this is a dramatic shift in Trump’s policy to look at the peace process as something between two partners that can work out a solution with the blessings of the United States, short of a Palestinian state and more appeasing basic to Netanyahu. And the idea of Trump moving the embassy of the United States to Jerusalem is against international law…”

Ley: “Which he repeated again today. He repeated again today he is considering doing that or looking very seriously at it.”

Hassassian: “If he does that he is just ruining the entire peace process. He is defying the international law and he knows very well that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a breach to all kinds of agreements; to all UN Security Council, believing that Jerusalem is the united capital – the eternal capital – of the State of Israel. That will dramatically shift the entire game and the entire negotiations and the entire peace process. If he does that, this is a recipe for another intifada or a reaction and he is going to lose partners from the European Union that have adamantly supported the two-state solution when East Jerusalem is considered to be an occupied city. If he does that then there is no role for the United States as a gavel holder or as a shepherd to this entire peace process. He is opening a Pandora’s box of conflicts with the Europeans, with the Islamic world, with the Arab world, with the international community, defying UN Security Council resolutions and where does that leave us?”

Apparently uninterested in Hassassian’s unveiled threats of violence and failing to clarify to listeners that the Quartet – which includes the EU – calls for “a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem”, Ley closed the interview there.

The BBC’s remit includes the priority of enhancing “UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”. Obviously the inaccurate and misleading claims made by the presenter together with his complete failure to challenge the falsehoods and propaganda promoted by his interviewee did nothing to contribute to meeting that objective.

BBC News and the US ‘major policy shift’ that wasn’t

On February 15th visitors to the BBC News website came across two articles telling them that the new US administration had changed that country’s policy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Israel-Palestinian conflict: Two-state solution not only option, US says:

“A White House official says a two-state solution may not be the only option to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, signalling a major policy shift. […]

For decades successive US governments have backed a two-state solution – the idea of establishing an independent Palestinian state that lives side-by-side with Israel.

But on Tuesday, an unnamed senior White House official suggested the US would support any form of final peace deal reached between Israel and the Palestinians, retreating from its long-term insistence of a two-state formula.” [emphasis added]trump-policy-change-art

Trump relaxes US policy on Middle East two-state solution:

“US President Donald Trump has dropped decades of US policy insisting on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [emphasis added]

The BBC was of course not the only media outlet to promote that theme but, as Yair Rosenberg explained at the Tablet, it is not fact-based.

“Yesterday, President Donald Trump made a fairly straightforward statement about the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was promptly inflated into a geopolitical earthquake by much of the media. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said. “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians-if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

As I noted at the time, this formulation did little to alter American support for the two-state solution in practice, since both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict do not “like” the one-state solution:

[D]ecades of polling shows that while Israelis and Palestinians narrowly support a two-state outcome, they are decidedly opposed to a one-state endgame, which many see as a recipe for strife and civil war. Most recently, a joint 2016 survey by Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, and the Israel Democracy Institute, found that 68% of Palestinians oppose the one-state solution, as do 64% of Israelis.

Thus, given Trump’s own qualifications, his words functionally did nothing to change traditional U.S. support for the two-state solution as the preferred solution of both parties. As Ilan Goldenberg, a former Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiator under John Kerry, put it, “One state is being overhyped in this instance as long as Trump keeps talking about what works for both parties.” But you wouldn’t know this from reading some of the breathless reports that followed Trump’s initial statement on Wednesday.”

Rosenberg also analysed why the media – including the BBC – got this story wrong.

“The press, however, has been primed for a major Trump shift on Israel policy since day one, and has been interpreting events through that distorting lens. Searching for a dramatic sea change that simply has not arrived, reporters latched onto Trump’s largely anodyne comments about two states as confirmation, only to have their preconceived notion quickly dashed on the rocks of reality.

Of course, Trump may well decide to withdraw U.S. support for the two-state solution at some point in the future. But there is no evidence that he has done so. The histrionic hubbub surrounding his recent comments, then, should serve as a cautionary tale for media outlets about the power of narrative assumptions to overtake the actual facts.” 

BBC’s ME editor ditches impartiality in portrayal of ‘international law’

h/t RM

When Jeremy Bowen was appointed to the post of Middle East editor in 2005, that role was described as follows:

“The challenge for our daily news coverage is to provide an appropriate balance between the reporting of a ‘spot news’ event and the analysis that might help set it in its context.

This challenge is particularly acute on the television news bulletins, where space is at a premium, and because the context is often disputed by the two sides in the conflict. To add more analysis to our output, our strategy is to support the coverage of our bureau correspondents with a Middle East editor. 

Jeremy Bowen’s new role is, effectively, to take a bird’s eye view of developments in the Middle East, providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent. His remit is not just to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting, but also to find stories away from the main agenda.”

On February 15th a report by Jeremy Bowen concerning that day’s meeting between the US president and the Israeli prime minister was broadcast on BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’. Revisiting the ‘blank cheque’ theme he promoted days earlier on BBC 5 live radio, in that report, Bowen told viewers that:

“Before he was elected president Mr Trump seemed ready to give Israel a blank cheque on the Palestinians. Mr Netanyahu authorised thousands more homes for Jews in the occupied territories, in defiance of international law, within days of Mr Trump’s inauguration.” [emphasis added]

BBC audiences are used to reading and hearing the BBC narrative on international law which goes along the lines of:

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

In this case, Bowen not only did not bother with the qualification “Israel disputes this” but, despite his remit of “providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”, failed to inform viewers of the existence of alternative legal opinions on that issue.  

Moreover, when challenged on Twitter, Bowen appointed himself legal expert, ruling that alternative views to the narrative he chooses to promote are false.

bowen-tweets-intl-law-3

The BBC knows full well that the legal position on this issue is not unanimous. The backgrounder on ‘settlements’ that was first published in late December on the BBC News website states:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter. […]

A UN Security Council resolution in December 2016 said settlements had “no legal validity and constitute[d] a flagrant violation under international law”. However, like previous resolutions on Israel, those adopted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter are not legally binding.”

Nevertheless, the man charged with enhancing BBC audience comprehension of ‘complex stories’ and providing information which would throw light on context that is ‘disputed’ obviously prefers to reduce this particular one to facile black and white.

This example raises an additional issue too. When the BBC covers stories concerning disputed territory in places such as Cyprus or in Western Sahara it does not find it necessary or appropriate to provide its audiences with an opinion on what is legal or illegal. The difference of course is that the BBC has not adopted a campaigning role in relation to those locations.  

 

BBC’s ‘The Big Questions’ brings in pro-BDS NGOs to talk Israel trade

h/t SJ

The first discussion topic in the February 12th edition of BBC One’s “moral, ethical and religious” debate programme ‘The Big Questions’ was titled “should we trade with Israel now settlements are recognised?” and it was introduced by host Nicky Campbell as follows:big-questions-12-2

Campbell: “On Tuesday, Mrs May held talks at Downing Street with her opposite number in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Increasing trade and investment with Israel was high on the agenda. The day before, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed a bill legalising settlements on privately owned Palestinian land on the West Bank, in direct contradiction to a UN Security Council Resolution. Mrs May was clear that Britain opposes settlement activity and believes the two-state solution is the best way to bring peace to the region. Should we trade with Israel now the settlements have been recognised? Well, I’ve been doing debates on this issue for 30 years now. And it’s never that quiet. It’s very, very impassioned on both sides. We shall attempt to proceed in a civilised direction.” 

The programme is available here or to those in the UK here.

In addition to Ryvka Barnard – senior campaigns officer at ‘War on Want’ – panel guests included Kamel Hawwash of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain, Paul Charney of the Zionist Federation and Tom Wilson of the Henry Jackson Society.

Notably, audiences were not provided with background information concerning the rich history of anti-Israel campaigning by both ‘War on Want’ and the PSC, the antisemitism which has come to light in both those organisations.  Neither were audiences informed of the obviously relevant fact that both organisations support the boycott campaign (BDS) against Israel – which is actually the topic of this discussion. 

Compared to some previous editions of the programme in which Israel related topics were discussed, this one was noteworthy for the fact that baseless anti-Israel propaganda and Nazi analogies promoted by some speakers were in several cases – though not all – challenged by the host, panel members or members of the audience. 

However, as can be seen from the transcript below, historical context was frequently lacking with, for example, uninformed viewers remaining none the wiser with regard to the fact that the final status negotiations concerning Area C have yet to come about because the Palestinians chose to launch the second Intifada or the fact that Israel came to control Judea & Samaria because Jordan chose to attack once again in 1967. Similarly, viewers were given a monchrome impression of ‘international law’ which was not challenged by the host. [emphasis in bold added]

Transcript:

Campbell: “Now, Ryvka from War on Want, many would say, ‘Are you serious? Come on! We have trade deals with Saudi Arabia, with China, with Russia, with the United Arab Emirates, some of the worst human rights abusers on the planet – none of them a democracy like Israel is. How can you possibly justify this?'”

Barnard (WoW): “Well, I think there’s a major issue with the UK. The UK should be putting human rights and international law at the centre of all of its trade negotiations with all countries.”

Campbell: “Should we stop trading with all those countries?”

Barnard: “I think it’s a question to be brought up. I think we can’t talk about trade without talking about human rights and international law. That’s why it’s important for the UK to take action right now, move beyond words and suspend its trade relations with Israel because of its systematic violations of international law.”

Campbell: “If we stop trading with countries with human rights abuses, at a time when we need friends, we’d go out of business.”

Barnard: “I think what happens when you continue trading with human rights-abusing regimes like Israel, you’re basically incentivising human rights abuse and you are giving a green light to say that violations of international law, doing things like building settlements, demolishing Palestinian homes, is OK. You know, we might say on the side, we don’t like it when you do that, as Theresa May did, but incentivising them with trade and especially things like the arms trade – the UK Government has approved over £100 million worth of arms exports to Israel in 2016 alone – those arms are used in violence against Palestinians. So it’s a real double standard to say ‘no settlements’ on one hand but then to be giving arms to the country that is building them.”

Campbell: “You refer to Israel. Paul, good morning Paul; chairman of the Zionist Federation, former tank commander with the IDF. There’s a couple of things I need to ask you and then we’ll throw it out. I want to hear from the audience, because, of course, hands going up already. But Ryvka referred to, in unequivocal terms there, Israel as a human rights abuser. How would you respond to what she said there?”

Charney (ZF): “Well, that needs to be qualified. Israel, certainly by Freedom House, is recognised as the only free country in the Middle East. It has a very strong democracy. It has a Supreme Court which is not subservient to the executive. It will look at this legislation and it will decide whether it’s legal or not. There is a huge social housing crisis amongst the Palestinians and amongst the Israelis and these towns that are expanding need to expand. So, it is a controversial issue and you can disagree, but the same time, if the UK disagreed with every country, with every political decision, certainly it wouldn’t be dealing with China, it wouldn’t be dealing with India over Kashmir, it wouldn’t be dealing with Turkey over Northern Cyprus, and the opposite would be true. It’s not like Spain would cease dealing with the UK over Gibraltar, or Argentina would cease dealing with the UK over the Falkland Islands. What we need is to understand to put this into perspective, that the settlements are an issue but they’re one issue, since 1967, that needs to be dealt with in the much larger framework of a peace agreement which the Palestinians require and when they want to build a home in a state for themselves more than they want to destroy and boycott Israel. When that priority changes then peace can be achieved.”

Campbell: “Let’s go to the audience first. Right behind Paul. Good morning. Your microphone is coming! This gentleman here.”

Audience Member 1: “We’re in an age where Trump wants to build walls and impose travel bans and impose restrictions on people based on their religion or identity and, surely, what we want to be doing is reaching out to countries, reaching out to different communities…

Campbell: “Israel for example?”

Audience Member 1: “…and to Israel…and to engage and to challenge, constructively, and to say this is wrong but also to say, we recognise you are a democracy, we want to work with you. We want to build those trade links, build those partnerships, improve relationships for all the peoples in the world, rather than being isolationist.”

Audience Member 2: “You keep saying it’s a democracy. It’s not a democracy. It’s a democracy similar to what South Africa was in the apartheid time. You know, so many people are disenfranchised, they don’t have any say in the running of Israel and they keep saying it is a democracy. The Palestinians…”

Campbell: “It has women’s rights, it has trades-union rights, it has Gay rights. That is one angle on it.”

Audience Member 2: “It’s the biggest concentration camp in the world. It’s almost a prison.”

Campbell:  “OK, let’s get a…Paul, do you want to respond to that? I need to be very careful bringing the points back and forth, so that it is fair.”

Charney: “You have to be very careful with the terminology that you use, and that’s hugely harmful for what is recognised internationally as a democracy. As we said, we have all the minorities as heads of Supreme Court, as doctors, as heads of hospitals, heads of universities. Minorities from across the board; Arab, Druze, Christian. And this is recognised across the Middle East as a beacon for what could be seen as a free country that all the rest of the countries around can look and see this is what we want to have. This is the beacon. This is your ultimate.

Campbell: “Gentlemen there, first of all, there is a point you made, the first speaker, so what’s your name?”

Audience Member 1: “Leon.”

Campbell: “The point Leon made I want to put to you, Professor Hawwash, which is an interesting and many would think a very significant one. First of all, good morning. How are you?

Audience Member 3: “Good morning. Very well, thank you. I mean, I’m just shocked that you have reduced the Palestinian question and the crisis in the Middle East to a housing problem. I think you said that it’s a housing problem that exists for Israelis and Palestinians and you are expanding these towns because there is a housing crisis that needs to be addressed. It’s the continued colonisation of Palestine. You’re demolishing houses. You are chasing and removing, and let’s call it out for what it is. It’s ethnic cleansing going on in these areas that have gone on for decades.”

Campbell: “OK, I’m going to put that point to Tom. OK, go on Leon, come back on it.”

Audience Member 1: “I think it’s really important to have a debate but we need to be so careful with our language because we want to have a civilised debate here and using words like ‘concentration camps’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ is really offensive, not just to Jews but to all people who have actually suffered that extreme genocide and persecution. So please don’t use language like ‘concentration camps’ because it is not concentration camp.”

Audience Member 2: “Well, it’s a fact, isn’t it? It is a fact. All these people have been disenfranchised. I mean, the building settlements, Palestinian houses are being demolished.”

Campbell: “Professor Harwwash, let me put a point to you that Leon did make, that trade means links, means diplomacy, means influence. It means you can make progress. OK, Zimbabwe. We have sanctions on Zimbabwe. We have absolutely zero influence there. We cannot help the people who are suffering egregiously at the hands of Mugabe and his thugs. The only way we get to Zimbabwe is through the back channels of South Africa, and that’s difficult enough. Would you want to create a situation where we have no influence, no trading links with Israel?

Kamel Hawwash (PSC): “You said you have been covering this topic for 30 years and during this period the number of settlers in the West Bank has increased by something like 100,000, to now 600-700,000 people. It will reach a million unless we do something to stop it, because if people really are interested in peace, you need to look at the situation of the Palestinians, who didn’t choose to be occupied, to have their land taken, to have another state created in our homeland – and I speak as a Palestinian. We didn’t choose any of that. So what this is about is the rights of the Palestinian people. Paul talked about housing, building houses. It’s just ludicrous. These houses are built for only one type of person: a Jewish Israeli. Not for Palestinians. If Israel was serious about solving the housing crisis, why doesn’t it open up the settlements out to Palestinians? Even better, not build on someone else’s land.”

Campbell: “Paul?”

Charney (ZF): “It’s never been Palestinian land. You’ve never had a state and we want to help you create a safe, but prior to ’67 it was owned by the Jordanians and the Jordanians would not allow you to own your own land. And prior to that the British and prior to that it was the Ottomans. This land is called ‘disputed’ for that very fact. We want to help you.”

Hawwash: “Do we Palestinians exist as a people?”

Charney: “We want to help you.”

Hawwash: “Do we Palestinians exist as a people, do you think? Do you recognise us as a people?”

Charney: “Absolutely. And you should have a state and you should live alongside us and you should…”

Hawwash: “Right, so why don’t you put pressure on the Israeli government?”

Charney: “…put down your arms and stop glorifying terrorists.”

Campbell: “Wait, wait! Let me intervene right there. So, Tom, is this not the situation now, with the settlements having been legitimised in the Knesset? Does that not put a…someone mentioned a wall just now; does that not put a massive wall up to the possibility of a two state solution? Massively counter-productive.”

Wilson (HJS): “This is a proposed law. We’ll see if it gets through the Supreme Court, because Israel does have quite strong checks and balances on its democracy. I think it’s very concerning that we think the presence of Jewish people in the West Bank in some way negates there being able to be a Palestinian state. Why is it assumed this Palestinian state has to be Jew-free? Why couldn’t Palestinian state have a Jewish minority, just as Israel has an Arab and Muslim minority? I don’t think we can criminalise an entire community just because they’ve ended up on the wrong side of an Armistice line. The fact is, as we’ve said, there are about half a million people there, they are not going anywhere so it’s better that we learn for the two sides to be able to accept a minority within one another’s countries.”

Campbell: “Ryvka, do you want to come back on that?”

Barnard (WoW): “Yes, I think it’s important for us to recognise that the settlements, like people have referred to, it’s been a policy of the state of Israel for decades now and the reason why settlements exist in the West Bank is not because they ended up on the wrong side of the Armistice line. It’s a policy of expansion and colonisation, as somebody has mentioned. And it’s against international law – and that’s undisputed. And it’s against UK policy.

Campbell: “Would you boycott…as a consumer, would you boycott products from Israel?”

Barnard: “Absolutely.”

Campbell: “How do you feel when you use Google, because they have a major research and development centre in Israel? How do you feel about that?”

Barnard: “It think it’s less about an individual consumer, though. People should make…”

Campbell: “You just said you definitely would do that. If you had a list of choices would you radically transform your habits and stop using Google?”

Barnard: “I think the important thing is for the UK Government to take action in line with its own policy. So the UK foreign policy recognises settlements as illegal under international law. It’s important for the UK to act on that policy. You know, we talked a little bit about engagement and you raised the question of whether the UK would have more influence through engagement. If viewers remember Margaret Thatcher’s days in relation with South Africa, the policy was constructive engagement. Now, in retrospect, it’s recognised that that actually prolonged apartheid and that actually allowed apartheid to deepen. Constructive engagement as a policy was rubbished after apartheid fell finally, because of economic pressure like sanctions. So I think it’s important for us to recognise that as an important tool that the UK Government has and it is time again to move beyond words and condemnation and into action.”

Campbell: “Paul? And then we’ll come to more from the audience in a second. Paul, just come back on that.”

Charney (ZF): “Yes, I just like to bring something constructive into it, and the blame game is not going to get us to a peace deal and I’d like to see the Palestinian Authority take more control over its own people and over the peace process and be wanting a Palestinian state more than it wants to destroy and denigrate an Israeli state. I think there is goodwill around the world and in Israel to help you do that. But you must remember that with all the wars that came in, that Israel had to defend itself. It has given back the Sinai. It has given back Gaza. It is ready to concede…”

Campbell: “What about the gentleman’s point that a proportion of our audience…a proportion of our audience…I’m just going to put that to him…a proportion of our audience will be wondering, and it’s the point represented by that gentleman: taking land from people, land that is not yours. How do you respond to that?”

Charney: “Firstly, this is disputed territory with Palestinians living on it and Jews living on it. Please allow me to speak. Please allow me to speak.”

Hawwash (PSC): “No, it isn’t disputed territory. It is occupied. It’s illegally occupied.”

Charney: “When the Israelis left Gaza, every inch of Gaza, all the Palestinian land, gave it back and said ‘Create a state! We are leaving you greenhouses. We are leaving you businesses’, what was created was a mini terrorist state with only the development of bombs and warfare. The problem is that if Israel does the same thing immediately and retracts from the West Bank, we’re going to have the same extremist ideology coming out of there. We cannot trust and rely without a strong security presence. We cannot trust and rely on these states like Hamas to automatically become democratic and allow Gays and Christians to flourish. That’s not happening.”

Campbell: “Kamel, Professor Hawwash, I will be with you. You will have the next voice on the front row, and Ibrahim will be in as well. And Tom will be back. First off though, more audience comments. Leon, you’ve had a good say. Let me go to the gentleman at the back. Good morning.”

Audience Member 4: “It is important to realise, I believe, after the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, and other factors coming into the 21st-century, that Britain is no longer the global player in the world that it was in the post-colonial period after 1945 at the end of the Second World War.”

Campbell: “So what should we do?”

Audience Member 4: “The diminishing power, I believe, you know, we haven’t got a responsibility to police the world in the same way and we haven’t got the capability.”

Campbell: “So what do we do about Israel?”

Audience Member 4: “We shouldn’t boycott them in any sense at all because in respect of trading with places like Dubai, trading with places like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, even trading with Pakistan…”

Campbell: “Where there is a blasphemy law.”

Audience Member 4: “…Israel is democratic and free, as the gentleman said.”

Campbell: “A point made earlier on and expressed well by yourself as well. Go on.”

Audience Member 5: “Good morning, Nicky. This question is about trade. My concern is that the Brexit vote will lead to our leaders, Prime Minister May and others, only giving criticisms of countries that are abusing human rights behind their hands, whispering it instead of saying it forcefully.”

Campbell: “Because we need friends?”

Audience Member 5: “Because we need friends. So I worry that that ethical foreign policy that Robin Cook wished for is not going to happen because we are in no position to criticise others.”

Campbell: “Realpolitik. Is there such a thing as an ethical foreign policy?”

Audience Member 5: “I think there should be.”

Campbell: “Professor Hawwash, you pointed at Paul. You wanted to come back.”

Hawwash (PSC): “Yes, in the age of Trump, it seems that trade trumps human rights and that is something we should all oppose and oppose very strongly. Paul talked about the Palestinians should take more control of their people and so on. Well I’ll just give you an example. Under the Oslo Accord, an area called Area C, which is the most fertile part of Palestine, is currently under Israeli security and administrative control. It was to be passed over. It isn’t being passed over. In fact Naftali Bennett – and a number of Israeli ministers – say it should be annexed. They actually have no interest in a Palestinian state emerging. Naftali Bennett only yesterday advising Prime Minister Netanyahu, who’s going to Washington next week, said “Two words you should not use. You should not utter two words, ‘Palestinian’ and ‘state'”. So if there is no Palestinian state, I would very much like to hear from Paul and others what the solution is where there are almost an equal number of Palestinians and Jewish people in that land”

Campbell: “Tom, what’s the solution and how strategically important do you believe Israel is to this country?”

Wilson (HJS): “It is very strategically important in terms of…you know, we’ve got a growing hi-tech economy in Israel certainly, and things like counterterror. But that is by-the-by and I think that the issue here is the moral issue; is the issue of human rights. I think we are being very selective in how we are talking about human rights. I mean, War on Want is being particularly selective with their targeting of Israel for boycotts. They say they care about international law. I don’t hear them calling for boycotts of other countries with similar issues. And on the issue of Palestinian human rights, it seems that many people in this audience are more angry about the building of Jewish houses in the West Bank than they are about the abuse of Palestinian rights by Palestinians. If your starting point is Palestinian human rights why don’t you call out the Palestinian Authority for its extra-judicial killings of Palestinians, for torture of Palestinians, for harassment of journalists and for detention without trial? And yet we hear silence on all of this. The focus is exclusively on finding reasons to boycott and demonise the world’s only Jewish state.”

Hawwash (PSC): “We are talking about Palestinian rights and freedom. What the other side is talking about is simply sustaining the status quo. The status quo has led us to a situation where there is a lot of unhappiness and anger and abuse of the Palestinians by the Israeli state. We need to be free for there to be peace in Palestine.”

Campbell: “Ibrahim Mogra, from the Muslim Council of Britain, do you recognise Israel’s right to exist?”

Mogra (MCB): “Within internationally recognised borders, yes. I think we have brought Israel into our embrace far more than I would have liked to see. They are participants in the football Euro competitions. They are participants in the Eurovision Song Contest and we don’t even share a border with them. So in response to your point about isolating Israel, we have actually remained in at least cultural and political contact with them. The important thing here is international law has to be applied equally across the board. It is not about Israel, whether it’s Saudi Arabia, Pakistan was mentioned, the Gulf states were mentioned, China. Whichever state it is, if we as human beings [who] subscribe to international law, fail to apply the UN resolutions equally across the board, what are we showing to the world? That democracy is selective. That powerful nations will pick on the weaker nations. That self-interest and national interest will trump all the other global interests. So the question here is are we applying the same yardstick to measure all the different behaviours of government? We have gone into Iraq, we’ve gone into Libya because their leaders – corrupt and dictatorial as they were – flaunted UN security resolutions. How many resolutions has Israel overlooked over time? As long as…”

Campbell: “We’ve got to leave it there because we have other things to debate, but your point came across loud and clear. Not that everybody watching is going to agree with it. It’s a perilous line, this debate, always, but I think that was pretty calm. Do you reckon? Do you reckon? Everyone? Yes? OK, let’s do the next one!”