BBC News ignores a case of UN anti-Israel bias

Back in March 2016 the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel rejects database of settlement-linked firms” that related to a resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council the previous day and which was discussed here.

“The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem says the database will provide a resource for any organisation wanting to divest from companies involved in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

It will potentially include a number of Israeli and international firms working in industries from banking to construction and security services, our correspondent adds.”

Recently an Israeli communications company received a letter from the UNHRC which has been making local news.

“The UNHRC recently sent a letter to the CEO of Bezeq, a major Israeli telecoms firm, accusing it of promoting settlement activity in Israel and of providing cellular services to areas that the Council believes are Palestinian territory. […]

The UNHRC threatens to add Bezeq to its database of companies operating in what it claims are Israeli settlements and the occupied Palestinian territories.

“Bezeq owns approximately 40 real estate properties in the West Bank used for telecommunications infrastructure, and operates antennas throughout the West Bank,” the UNHRC wrote in its letter.”

“Bezeq provides landline, cellular, internet, and cable TV services to residents of settlements in the West Bank,” according to the UNHRC, which considers this activity a violation of its accords.”

Apparently some 150 such letters have been sent by the UNHRC.

“The United Nations reportedly sent letters to some 150 Israeli and overseas companies, threatening to add them to its blacklist of firms operating in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. […]

An unnamed western diplomat told Haaretz that more than half of the companies that received the warning letter were Israeli, about 30 were from the US and the remainder from countries including Germany, Norway and South Korea. The diplomat added that [UN Human Rights Commissioner] Hussein also sent copies of the letter to foreign ministries of several countries who are home to companies which may be added to the blacklist.”

Despite the fact that numerous international companies do business in additional locations  categorised as occupied territories (e.g. north Cyprus, Western Sahara), the UN Human Rights Council has not passed resolutions mandating the creation of a database of businesses operating in any location other than those it views as being occupied Israel.

In recent days BBC audiences have seen and heard a number of reports concerning the UN (for example here, here and here) in which the phrase anti-Israel bias was placed in scare quotes and that bias was described in qualifying terms such as “perceived”.

The BBC, however, has ignored the story of the letters sent by the UNHRC that demonstrate clear anti-Israel bias at the United Nations. 

Related Articles:

BBC fails to tell the whole story of UNHRC anti-Israel resolution

BBC fails (again) to give audiences the full story in UN HRC article 

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BBC’s chief international correspondent claims Hamas changed its charter

On October 12th the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ opened with an item concerning the preliminary agreement signed by Hamas and Fatah on that day.

Presenter Rebecca Kesby introduced the item (from 00:45 here) with promotion of the inaccurate implication (also heard in previous editions of ‘Newshour’) that the 2006 PLC elections took place only “in Gaza” and failed to inform listeners of the full complement of countries and bodies (including the EU) that proscribe Hamas or of the violent nature of the terror group’s 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip.

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

Kesby: “We begin in the Middle East because after a bitter feud lasting a full decade, rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah say they’ve come to a deal over the governing of the Gaza Strip. Hamas – which is described as a terrorist organisation by both the US State Department and Israel – won a landslide victory in elections in Gaza back in 2006. The following year it wrested full control of the territory from Fatah, which controls the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank  and relations between the two groups have been dire ever since. But with the help of Egypt, they’ve now managed to negotiate an agreement which was signed today in Cairo. A senior Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip, Zakariya al Agha, confirmed the signing of the deal.”

Listeners then heard a voice-over translation of statements made by al Agha.

Agha v/o: “We reached an agreement at dawn today regarding all the issues we had been discussing during this current round of talks in Cairo and nearly all the issues on which we had differences have been settled.”

Kesby: “Well Mr al Agha said that Palestinian citizens would see the benefits after the details had been finalised.”

Agha v/o: “All the measures under discussion should be resolved very shortly, whether they are in regards to government employees, electricity or other issues. There will be a breakthrough soon and the citizens of Gaza will feel the results of this agreement.”

With a bizarre reference to “the Middle East” – the vast majority of which would not of course be affected one iota by any reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah – Kesby went on:

Kesby: “So how might this deal change things more widely in the Middle East and will Fatah’s resumption of a partnership with Hamas help or hinder the stalled peace process with the Israelis? Joining us live on the line now is our chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet and, Lyse, first of all let’s try to get a bit more detail on exactly what has been agreed ‘cos it seems that Fatah will take over the civilian control of Gaza but Hamas it seems will keep its military wing?”

Doucet: “Well that is exactly one of the issues that we’re still waiting to hear details on. You heard the Fatah representative; he said ‘all the issues’ and then he said ‘nearly all the issues’.  Let’s go by what they have announced in Cairo; the two sides say they have agreed on. And that is that when it comes to what is essentially the only real crossing – aside from the Israeli…the heavily controlled Israeli crossings – the only exit for Hamas, the residents of the Gaza Strip with the outside world is the Rafah crossing with Egypt. By November the first Hamas’ own security…ah…security forces will have left that crossing and will be replaced by the Presidential Guards of the Palestinian Authority. In other words it will underline that there is only one security force and it is under the overall Palestinian Authority. And there was a statement to suggest that those forces would spread to other parts of the other of the edges of the Gaza Strip. We also heard that – yes, as you mentioned – the administrative control, which will be hugely important. He mentioned the electricity shortage. Gazans are living with about two to three hours of electricity a day and that is an impact noxious on Gazan homes, the hospitals don’t have enough electricity so people’s …ah…people’s health is being affected. Cars don’t have enough fuel.”

Doucet did not bother to tell listeners that the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip is the result of deliberate Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas before she went on to make a curious assertion.

Doucet: “The United Nations has been urging all sides to try to end the rift and this is what we think has pushed Hamas to finally negotiate.”

Who “we” are is unclear but remarkably, Doucet erased both growing domestic dissent and the Dahlan factor from her portrayal. She continued:

Doucet: “But the question you mentioned; 25,000 men under arms in the Gaza Strip – the military wing of Hamas. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has said ‘we don’t want a Hizballah’: in other words, an independent armed group operating in Gaza. But so far we haven’t heard…in fact Hamas has said ‘we’re not going to disband our military wing but we will work more closely with the Palestinian Authority’. Will that be enough? Certainly not for Israel.”

As has been unanimously the case in BBC coverage of the latest potential Hamas-Fatah deal since the story first broke in September, Doucet refrained from telling audiences that any ‘unity government’ which avoids disarming Hamas’ terrorist militia in the Gaza Strip will fail to meet the Palestinian Authority’s commitments under existing agreements with Israel. Instead, the issue was portrayed as being about Israeli ill-will.

Apparently ignorant of the vicious violence that took place in 2007 when Hamas launched its armed take-over of the Gaza Strip and ignoring its subsequently augmented terrorism against Israeli citizens and its brutal abuse of the residents of Gaza, Rebecca Kesby went on to promote a ditsy notion unconnected to reality.

Kesby: “And so when Hamas took over the running of Gaza it did seem – didn’t it Lyse – to be crossing into the mainstream; trying to look a bit more like a legitimate political party. Is this a retreat then for them on the political process? And if so, where does that leave relations with Israel because they have been prepared to speak to Fatah but if Fatah’s now in partnership with Hamas again, does that strain relations again with the Israelis?”

Doucet: “Well I remember the elections in 2006. Fatah – and indeed the outside world, including the United States – were shocked that Hamas had won these elections and so the talk was let them bring them in to the democratic process; let them show that they can be a legitimate governing force. By the next year, however, they had completely taken over the Gaza Strip and for the last decade there has been that rift. Now since that time, Hamas has constantly been under pressure to change its founding charter which still talks about the destruction of the State of Israel. The listeners may remember that they made some changes to that charter in the last year. It was seen as a huge breakthrough by Hamas but still it fell short for Israel.”

Doucet’s claim that Hamas “made some changes to that charter” is of course inaccurate. The policy document launched in May did not replace or change the existing charter at all – as the BBC News website reported at the time. Unfortunately for BBC World Service audiences, however, this is not the first time that they have heard the falsehood now promoted by Doucet. She continued, using the partisan language of terrorist groups that call themselves ‘resistance’:

Doucet: “So there’s still a big question-mark about Gaza [sic – Hamas] whether it is a resistance movement or a governing movement. It says it is both because bear in mind that the so-called peace process is basically going nowhere. So Hamas feels why should we then give in, give up all of our rights or our bargaining positions if in fact that process is going nowhere.”

By now Doucet was obviously making it up as she went along: her attempt to persuade BBC audiences that Hamas continues to be a “resistance movement” because the peace process is stalled is obviously contradicted by the fact that Hamas has rejected any sort of engagement in that process since its founding thirty years ago. She continued:

Doucet: “And you mentioned earlier the question will this help the negotiating process? Well no, because Israel does not want to sit at the same table with Hamas and the United States in the past – and I’ve heard this from Palestinian officials – has tried to stop any reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. It wants them to be brought in, to stop, to end its armed wing, to change its charter, to accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel and it shows no sign of doing that yet, even though it has said it wants to basically run the Gaza Strip – wants to be part of the Palestinian Authority.”

Such requirements are of course not – as Doucet would apparently have listeners believe –capricious demands made by Israel and/or the United States: they are in fact what is known as the Quartet Principles (recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and adherence to previous agreements) and were endorsed by the UN Security Council in 2008. Had Doucet bothered to clarify that to her listeners, their understanding of why the disarming of Hamas is such a crucial issue and why the peace process cannot progress if a new Palestinian unity government does not adhere to those principles would obviously have been enhanced.

Doucet closed with a curious take-away message:

Doucet: “It [Hamas] doesn’t…it’s not a movement like Islamic State and the other extremist groups.”

Although BBC reporting on the reconciliation in progress between Hamas and Fatah has to date been superficial and has for the most part failed to provide audiences with the information necessary for proper understanding of the issues behind the story, one might have expected that a journalist holding the title of BBC chief international correspondent would have been able to do better.

However, Doucet’s promotion of inaccurate information concerning the Hamas charter and the terror group’s approach to the peace process, along with her failure to properly explain why a Hamas-Fatah unity government which does not adhere to the Quartet Principles will stall the peace process and her often dubious analysis, failed to meet the BBC’s obligation to accurate and impartial reporting.

Related Articles:

BBC News continues to mislead on Gaza electricity crisis

BBC News sidesteps the topic of Hamas disarmament yet again

BBC fails to clarify to audiences significance of PUG failure to disarm Hamas

Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part two

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part three

BBC’s Bateman misleads on US and Israeli approach to Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’

BBC WS radio on US withdrawal from UNESCO – part two

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Business Matters’ describes itself as providing listeners with “global business news“. Apparently that type of news was in short supply on October 13th because the day’s lead story was entirely unrelated to that topic.

“Israel has followed the US in announcing its intention to leave Unesco, the UN’s cultural organisation. We examine the reasons why and ask what it means for Unesco’s future.”

The caption to the photograph used to illustrate the programme’s webpage reads as follows:

“Picture: the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City”

As readers may recall, the employment of the term “Al Aqsa Mosque compound” – rather than the BBC style guide stipulated titles Temple Mount and Haram al Sharif – was first seen in November 2014 immediately after the PLO published a ‘media advisory’ document informing foreign journalists of its “[c]oncern over the use of the inaccurate term “Temple Mount” to refer to Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem”. That directive is of course part and parcel of the PLO’s tactic of negation of Jewish history and it is therefore particularly ironic that this caption accompanies a report concerning a UN body where that tactic has become a regular feature.

Presenter Fergus Nicoll introduced the item: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Nicoll: “In a moment our main headline: Israel says it will join the United States in its withdrawal from the UN’s cultural agency UNESCO. We’ll discuss that. […]

[01:23] We’ve got a lot to get our teeth into today, starting with the relationship between Washington and the United Nations – specifically some of the UN’s constituent agencies. It’s often been a prickly, even hostile, affair. The UN educational, scientific and cultural organisation – UNESCO for short – is a case in point. Washington pulled US funding back in 2011 after Palestine was admitted as a member state of UNESCO despite having a non-member observer status in other parts of the UN structure. That funding cut prompted UNESCO to suspend US voting rights. So, does it matter that President Trump has now announced a formal withdrawal of US membership? UNESCO’s director general Irina Bokova thinks so.”

The US announcement was in fact made by the State Department rather than by the president.

Bokova: “I express my deep regret. If you go back into history we will see not only that the United States is a founding member of UNESCO. The whole idea that you can build peace through education, science, culture, communication is basically an American idea.”

Nicoll: “The full US withdrawal will come into effect at the end of 2018. Crystal Nix-Hines was President Obama’s appointee as the US ambassador to UNESCO until earlier this year.”

Listeners then heard edited parts of an interview broadcast the previous evening on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ which was previously discussed here.

“I think it’s a terrible decision for the US to withdraw from the organisation it helped found in…right after World War Two to promote peace and international cooperation around the world.

Well there’s no question that the resolutions have come out of the executive board adopted by member states have been incredibly inflammatory and quite frankly…ah…offensive. But the thing that people don’t realise is that because the United States has a seat at the table on the executive board, we’re able to block the implementation of those resolutions.

…giving up our seat on the executive board, we now lose that critical ‘no’ vote…”

With listeners having already heard two negative views of the US announcement, Nicoll then introduced his first interviewee – Professor David Bosco – who began by stating the obvious.

Bosco: “When the United States is out of the organisation its ability to impact the organisation’s budget, its staffing, its priorities certainly becomes minimal. The relationship has not been good for several years and the US hasn’t been paying its dues because of the issue of Palestinian membership but at least the US was an observer, was involved in, you know, the deliberations for example about who will be the next director general of UNESCO.”

Nicoll next steered the conversation towards “the question of partisanship”, with Bosco claiming “you do find  that it’s during Republican administrations that relations [between the US and the UN] have been more fraught”. Nicoll next asked whether additional countries would be likely to follow suit and Bosco’s answer included the following:

Bosco: “I don’t think you’ll see other major players follow suit because I think the Trump administration’s image and rhetoric is so toxic right now that I don’t think others will want to be seen to be following in their wake.”

Nicoll then posed the following question:

Nicoll: “I’d like to get your take on the fundamental core question here: is UNESCO really anti-Israel?”

Bosco: “Well, so first of all it’s not a question of whether UNESCO in terms of its director and its staff and its employees are. Because when it comes down to it the things that lead it to be accused of being anti-Israel are resolutions passed by UNESCO members. In that sense I mean UNESCO, I wouldn’t say, is any more anti-Israel than the UN general assembly is or the UN human rights committee [sic] and there are valid cases to be made that they have unduly focused on Israel. And I think that goes for UNESCO as well. There was recently a resolution about the status of Jerusalem or there was a mention [sic] of Israel as an occupying power in Jerusalem that was seen as very hostile by Israel and by the United States. I think anti-Israel views are very strongly held by many of the members of UNESCO – I think I would put it that way. I think it’s a relatively low-cost way for the US and the Trump administration to signal their displeasure with what they see as an anti-Israel bias at the UN and their general kind of dislike of many of the things that the UN does.”

In other words, once again BBC World Service audiences did not get any factual information concerning the scale of anti-Israel bias at UNESCO (and other UN branches) and were not told that the stream of UNESCO resolutions (sponsored and supported by assorted Arab states) erasing and denying Jewish history and heritage are part of a long-standing Palestinian campaign to delegitimise Israel. 

Nicoll then moved on to his two programme guests – Nancy Koehn and David Moser – mentioning an article he’d read which just happens to include comment from his previous interviewee.

Nicoll: “So Nancy, I was reading one piece – it was quite interesting – suggesting this was a kind of left field announcement; no American voter would have expected, you know, Mr Trump would give much attention to a group like UNESCO that looks pretty harmless on the face of it.”

Koehn’s reply included the following:

“…nothing will surprise – or increasingly little surprises, I think – the American citizenry in this incredible turbulence of the last ten months of the Trump administration when it feels like ten years to many of us because there’s so much happening and coming out of the White House on a daily basis.”

On the topic of the announcement itself Koehn told listeners:

“…the timing is not good. It just doesn’t make good diplomatic sync optical signalling sense for the United States to withdraw from an organisation created in the wake of World War Two to foment unity among nations […] at a moment when the world is growing increasingly volatile and divisive. It’s just – as we say in the business world – lousy optics.”

Turning to David Moser, Nicoll suggested that:

Nicoll: “…effectively, you know, if you throw, you know, your toys out of the pram – you say I’m not playing with this anymore – you don’t get a say anymore.”

Moser replied that he did not think that the current US administration “want a say in this domain anyway”, adding:

Moser: “This is all about education, science and culture: not exactly three main priorities of this administration.”

Quoting a French ambassador, he went on:

Moser: “…the ideals of UNESCO are in America’s DNA. Well America’s DNA has suddenly this season mutated. It’s a different kind of DNA. […]

For Trump this is low-hanging fruit. This is exactly the kind of thing that he does not value.”

Listeners later heard Moser claim that “the United States is stepping back from the world order and taking less of a decisive role, leaving a gap for China to fill”.

Nicoll next repeated Bosco’s questionable theory that “you can’t blame the institution – it’s the members of the institution”, adding:

Nicoll: “I guess you could say historically across the UN that’s true. The United Nations security council isn’t the way it is as such; it’s the behaviour of the P5 including, you know, the US votes on Israel, China, Russia’s votes on other issues.”

The last word in this long item went to Koehn who opined that:

Koehn: “So if Trump is in effect thumbing his nose at UNESCO – a low hanging fruit indeed – […] again it says something about the president’s perceptions of US responsibilities and US presence in the global community that […] the US pulls back, the US thumbs its nose at.”

In this BBC World Service programme and in the edition of ‘Newshour’ aired the previous evening which addressed the same topic, listeners heard a total of five uniformly negative opinions of the US State Department’s announcement to withdraw from UNESCO – with no alternative views offered at all. They likewise heard monochrome commentary on the story from the point of view of US politics: hardly an example of the BBC’s supposed commitment to “due impartiality”.

In neither programme, however, did listeners hear an accurate, comprehensive and impartial portrayal of the extent of – and reasons behind – the anti-Israel bias at UNESCO that prompted the US to take the step under such copious discussion.

Apparently the BBC World Service needs to be reminded that it is obliged to “provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio on US withdrawal from UNESCO – part one

BBC policy on portrayal of UN anti-Israel bias on display again

 

BBC WS radio on US withdrawal from UNESCO – part one

As we saw in a previous post, the BBC News website’s reporting on the October 12th announcement from the US State Department regarding withdrawal from UNESCO did not provide BBC audiences with the background information essential for understanding of one of the three cited reasons for that action – anti-Israel bias. Rather, in addition to repeatedly placing that phrase in scare quotes, the article told readers of “perceived anti-Israel bias” at an organisation that passed no fewer than 46 anti-Israel resolutions between 2009 and 2013.

So did listeners to BBC World Service radio fare any better? The same story was the topic of an item aired in the October 12th edition of the programme ‘Newshour‘ which was introduced by presenter Tim Franks (from 17:57 here) as follows:

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

Franks: “The US has announced it’s pulling out of the UN’s cultural organisation UNESCO and it’ll be joined by Israel. The State Department said that the decision comes out of concerns with what it called ‘continuing anti-Israel bias’ at the agency. The formal withdrawal will come into effect at the end of next year.”

Franks then introduced the item’s sole interviewee:

Franks: “Crystal Nix-Hines was President Obama’s appointee as the US ambassador to UNESCO until earlier this year.”

Nix-Hines: “I think it’s a terrible decision for the US to withdraw from the organisation it helped found in…right after World War Two to promote peace and international cooperation around the world. And it’s, you know, yet another example of the Trump administration withdrawing from the international community and abdicating its leadership role.”

Franks: “Well you say it was set up in the wake of the Second World War with noble intentions; the argument now is that it has departed from those aims and it is a highly politicised and – in the words of its critics – anti-Israel talking shop.”

Nix-Hines: “Well there’s no question that the resolutions have come out of the executive board adopted by member states have been incredibly inflammatory and quite frankly…ah…offensive. But the thing that people don’t realise is that because the United States has a seat at the table on the executive board, we’re able to block the implementation of those resolutions. We vote no every single time. Sometimes we’re the only member to do so and because of that the UNESCO secretariat does not enforce the resolutions because they aren’t adopted by consensus. By staying out of the organisation, giving up our seat on the executive board, we now lose that critical ‘no’ vote and the resolutions are free to proceed.”

Franks made no effort to pursue the topic of the factors lying behind the politicisation of UNESCO or to explain to listeners that the stream of resolutions (sponsored and supported by assorted Arab states) that erase and deny Jewish history and heritage in the region are part of a long-standing Palestinian campaign to delegitimise Israel. With the BBC often failing to report – or reporting badly – on Palestinian actions at UNESCO, most listeners would be unable to fill in the blanks for themselves. He continued:

Franks: “Well except that I suppose the argument could be used that, I mean, essentially you’re accepting the criticism of UNESCO for having a slant – a bias – against Israel, for denying the Israeli or the Jewish cultural and religious and historical links to sites in Jerusalem, the site in Hebron and actually, you know, using your veto is one thing but actually walking away from the organisation is a…a braver and more honest thing to do until it sorts itself out.”

Nix-Hines: “I disagree. You can’t effect change if you’re not part of the organisation and working to encourage positive change.”

Nix-Hines went on to claim that “UNESCO is the only international organisation that teaches Holocaust education” and “the only organisation that is really doing anything serious to develop educational tools to help young people resist violent extremism and encourage tolerance and multiculturalism” before making a statement that Franks chose not to explore further.

Nix-Hines: “And why should, you know, a power like the United States let the Palestinians and their supporters drive us out of an organisation that we helped found and we’re moving in the right direction?”

Franks’ final question related to the possibility of change at UNESCO that might “persuade the US to reverse its decision”.  His interviewee’s response included further political comment:

Nix-Hines”…we [the US delegation] encouraged the organisation to return to that depoliticised time. And they could still do that and it would be a positive step in the right direction. But nonetheless it’s important to stay engaged in these international organisations – as the Obama administration realised – to promote real change.”

Listeners to this item once again heard superfluous qualification appended to the phrase anti-Israel bias. They heard one particular view of the US administration’s announcement – along with one particular shade of political comment – with no alternative view offered.

They did not however hear Tim Franks present any sort of serious challenge to the person who represented the United States at UNESCO for two and a half years on the question of why she and others failed to make any progress in ‘depoliticising’ the organisation in that time.

Listeners to another BBC World Service radio programme the next day heard a repeat of some of Nix-Hines’ comments. That broadcast will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC policy on portrayal of UN anti-Israel bias on display again 

BBC WS radio listeners told that Nazareth is a ‘Palestinian city’

The October 14th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item (from 38:06 here) that was introduced by presenter Paul Henley as follows:

Henley: “Now a film called ‘Wajib’ by the Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir has been shown at the London film festival. The film is the only Arab entry in competition and follows a father and his estranged son who must come together to hand-deliver his daughter’s wedding invitations to each guest, as is the custom in…in Palestine.”

The BBC Academy’s style guide specifically states that the corporation’s staff:

“…should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

Henley’s choice of words is even more egregious in light of the fact (not clarified to listeners) that the film’s story is based in Nazareth in northern Israel. Nevertheless, listeners heard another reference to ‘Palestine’ just seconds later.

Henley: “Now my colleague Razia Iqbal spoke to Annemarie for Newshour and she asked her how difficult it was as a Palestinian to keep politics and art separate.”

Jacir: “I don’t think it’s possible to make a film in Palestine that’s not somehow political because that’s just daily life. It’s everywhere. It’s in the way you travel, it’s in parents dropping their kids off to school, you know, you get round a checkpoint or not.”

Later on in the interview (40:53) listeners heard the following statements from Bethlehem born, Saudi raised, US educated Annemarie Jacir:

Jacir: “I think the Palestinians that are living in, you know, historic Palestine in a city like Nazareth – which is the biggest Palestinian city [sic] in Israel – they aren’t…who are they represented by? You know they are Israeli citizens on paper but they’re second, third class citizens. They don’t have the same rights. They’re not represented by the Israeli government for sure. They’re definitely not represented by the Palestinian Authority and so I feel like it is a community that lives a contradictory life and they’re struggling to find an identity…the identity and also, yeah, a political representative.”

Arab-Israelis living in Nazareth or anywhere else in Israel of course have the same rights as any other citizen – including the right to vote for their chosen parliamentary representatives. Eighteen (i.e. over 20% – reflecting the proportion of minorities in the population as a whole) of the current members of the Knesset are Arab-Israelis, Druze or Bedouin representing six different political parties (three of which – in contrast to Jacir’s claim – are part of the current coalition government) and surveys repeatedly indicate that the majority of Arab-Israelis view Israel in a positive light.  

Despite that, Razia Iqbal failed to present any challenge whatsoever to Jacir’s politically motivated, inaccurate and materially misleading claims and swiftly moved on to the next topic.

And yet, the BBC continues to claim that it provides its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards”.  

 

BBC policy on portrayal of UN anti-Israel bias on display again

The October 12th announcement from the US State Department regarding withdrawal from UNESCO was the subject of an article that originally appeared on the BBC News website’s US & Canada and Middle East pages under the interestingly punctuated title “US quits Unesco over ‘anti-Israel bias'” and several hours later had its headline changed to “Israel to join US in quitting Unesco“.

The first five versions of the article carried the original headline with versions 2 and 3 telling BBC audiences that:

“…last year, Israel suspended cooperation with Unesco after the agency adopted a controversial resolution which made no reference to Jewish ties to a key holy site in Jerusalem.”

And:

“…earlier this year, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Unesco for declaring the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank a World Heritage site.”

The UNESCO resolution mentioned in that first paragraph was passed in October 2016 and the site warily described by the BBC as having “Jewish ties” is none other than the holiest place in Judaism – Temple Mount. BBC reporting at the time failed to provide audiences with the background information which would enable understanding of that resolution’s context: the long-standing Palestinian campaign to erase Jewish heritage and history that is part of its tactical delegitimisation of Israel. 

The resolution to which the second paragraph refers was passed in July 2017 and BBC reporting at the time likewise inaccurately claimed that the Israeli prime minister had condemned UNESCO’s designation of the location as a World Heritage site when in fact Israel’s objections were rooted in UNESCO’s designation of the old city of Hebron as a ‘Palestinian’ site – and the consequent erasure of its Jewish history and heritage – rather than in any objection to conservation per se. 

Only in version 4 of this article (which appeared well over two hours after its initial publication) was some clarification added to that second paragraph:

“…earlier this year, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Unesco for declaring the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank a Palestinian World Heritage site.

He accused Unesco of ignoring Judaism’s ancient connection to the city, which includes the crypt where its matriarchs and patriarchs are buried.”

An insert of analysis from Jonathan Marcus that was added from version 4 onward included the following: [emphasis added]

“But it is the organisation’s perceived anti-Israel bias that is the fundamental issue here. It has condemned Israel in the past for its activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and earlier this year it designated the old city of Hebron a Palestinian World Heritage Site – a step Israel insisted denied centuries of Jewish history there, not least the Tomb of the Patriarchs that dates back to biblical times.”

UNESCO’s bias against Israel is of course more than just “perceived” – as recorded by UN Watch, between 2009 and 2013 inclusive:

“UN Watch has counted no less than 46 UNESCO resolutions against Israel, one on Syria, and zero on Iran, North Korea, Sudan or any other country in the world.” 

UNESCO’s outgoing director general has criticised the body she headed in the past and the previous UN Secretary General admitted ‘disproportionate’ focus on Israel at the UN as a whole, as did his predecessor as far back as 2006. Earlier this year the full complement of US Senators sent a letter to the new UN head demanding an end to the “unacceptable” anti-Israel bias at that organisation and former US officials including  Susan RiceHillary Clinton and Samantha Power have made the exact same point. In March 2015, while speaking to the UN Human Rights Council, the then US Secretary of State John Kerry said:

“No one in this room can deny that there is an unbalanced focus on one democratic country,” he said, decrying the fact that no country other than Israel has a permanent agenda item on the council’s schedule. “The (council’s) obsession with Israel actually risks undermining the credibility of the entire organization.”

Bizarrely though, the BBC continues to put the phrase anti-Israel bias in scare quotes and to portray endemic UN bias to its audiences as “perceived”.

Related Articles:

BBC report on UNESCO row marred by lack of context and previous omission

Another deficient BBC News report on UNESCO denial of Jewish heritage

Third time unlucky for BBC audiences trying to understand UNESCO charades

Superficial BBC WS report on PA’s latest UNESCO stunt

BBC erases the real story in report on UNESCO’s Hebron resolution

The missing word in BBC R4 reporting on UNESCO Hebron resolution

BBC ME correspondent: Jewish history in Hebron is a ‘view’

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ dodges the issue of UN bias against Israel

 

 

 

BBC News continues to mislead on Gaza electricity crisis

The announcement of a preliminary agreement between Hamas and Fatah on October 12th was the subject of a long report that appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the optimistic headline “Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah end split on Gaza“.

“Hamas and Fatah have signed a landmark reconciliation deal in Cairo in a key step towards ending a decade-long rift between the two Palestinian factions.

The deal will see administrative control of the Gaza Strip handed to a Fatah-backed unity government.

Egypt has been brokering the reconciliation talks in Cairo.”

Over 20% of the report’s word count presents background to the decade-long rift between Hamas and Fatah but readers found very little concrete information concerning the terms of the agreement which is the article’s subject matter.

“On Thursday, negotiators said the new deal included the handing over of control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt to the Fatah-backed government, which will be handed administrative responsibilities by December.

The Palestinian Accord Government said it will also station forces in the Gaza Strip by December “at the latest”.” […]

“Fatah’s lead negotiator, Azzam al-Ahmad, said the plan was to “carry on implementing all the clauses of the agreement, especially those related to solving the crisis of the [Gaza] employees”.

Tens of thousands of civil servants employed by the Palestinian Authority have been out of work since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2006.” […]

“Earlier this month, Hamas allowed the Ramallah-based Palestinian government to take over public institutions in Gaza as part of a reconciliation process between the two rival administrations.”

The BBC’s report did not clarify to readers that the many issues still to be agreed upon between Hamas and Fatah include the fate of Hamas’ own civil servants. Another major point yet to be resolved is of course the fate of Hamas’ armed militia. The BBC’s 817 word report devoted just 25 words to that topic:

“However, the fate of Hamas’ security forces and 25,000-strong military wing, has been one of the thorniest issues preventing reconciliation and remains to be resolved.”

In line with the usual editorial policy, the report made no effort to inform readers why that issue is crucial not only to ‘reconciliation’ between the two factions but also to meeting the Palestinian Authority’s obligations under existing agreements as well as to the future of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. Readers would hence have been unlikely to fully understand the selected quoted comments from an Israeli spokesperson.

“In response to Thursday’s announcement, an Israeli government official said that any unity deal “must include a commitment to international agreements”, adding that Hamas must disarm and recognise Israel.”

Despite the BBC having refrained from reporting the appointment of US Treasury designated Saleh al Arouri to the position of deputy leader of Hamas’ political bureau earlier this month, a photo caption in this article indicates that the corporation is aware of his new position.

“Fatah’s Azam al-Ahmed (right) and Hamas deputy head of the politburo Saleh al-Aruri sign the agreement”

Although the BBC’s report featured comment on the agreement from a variety of sources including Hamas’ Salah Bardawil and Sami Abu Zuhri, readers were not informed of comments made by the man who actually signed it on behalf of Hamas.

“Speaking after the agreement was signed, Arouri, who headed the Hamas delegation that negotiated the deal, said Palestinian unity was vital “so that we can all work together against the Zionist enterprise, which seeks to wipe out and trample the rights of our people.””

In the past BBC audiences have often seen unhelpful reporting on the subject of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip: reporting which has not only failed to provide a clear and factual explanation of the reasons behind that crisis but on occasion has even steered audiences towards the inaccurate impression that it is connected to Israeli counter-terrorism measures along its border with Gaza. This latest BBC report unfortunately continues that policy of promoting inaccurate information:

“Since 2006, the two countries [Egypt and Israel] have maintained a land and sea blockade on Gaza in an attempt to prevent attacks by Gaza-based militants. The measures have also aggravated electricity and fuel shortages.” [emphasis added]

Once again we see the BBC making do with superficial presentation of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal story that fails to meet its obligation to provide reporting “of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues”.  

Related Articles:

BBC News sidesteps the topic of Hamas disarmament yet again

BBC fails to clarify to audiences significance of PUG failure to disarm Hamas

Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part two

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part three

BBC’s Bateman misleads on US and Israeli approach to Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC WS history show yet again promotes political narrative

The subject matter of programmes in the BBC World Service radio history series ‘Witness‘ is often tied to an anniversary on or around the time of broadcast. That, however, was not the case in the programme’s October 4th edition – titled “Israel Withdraws From Gaza“.

Unusually, presenter Mike Lanchin travelled to the Gaza Strip to make a programme less than nine minutes long and also produced a filmed version which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 4th under the title “‘My house was occupied by Israeli soldiers’“.

In the audio version listeners heard a substantial amount of commentary from Lanchin himself, much of which was inaccurate and failed to provide them with the full story. In his opening words, Lanchin described the Gaza Strip as “Palestinian territory” without providing any explanation of the area’s history – and not least the fact that it was included in the territory designated by the League of Nations for the creation of the Jewish homeland.

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

Lanchin: “Today we’re going back to 2005 when Israel completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip after nearly 40 years of occupation. Around 8,000 Jewish settlers were evicted and all Israeli military personnel were withdrawn from the tiny Palestinian territory. I’ve been hearing from one young Gazan woman who was there when the Israelis left.”

Listeners then heard archive recordings from the time of the 2005 disengagement followed by the programme’s sole interviewee, Maisoon Bashir.

Bashir: “The people in the settlement they are very upset and angry because they don’t like to leave Gaza. And we hear the sound of the people in the settlement shouting ‘no; we don’t leave’.”

After a similar archive recording, Lanchin went on to present an editorialised account of the disengagement.

Lanchin: “There’d been weeks of violent confrontations between Jewish settlers and Jewish policemen and women and soldiers; a cause of anguish and shame for many Israelis. But now Israel’s 38 year occupation of Gaza was at an end. For 12 year-old Gazan Maisoon Bashir it was a moment of celebration.”

Bashir: “I was so happy because the simple thing that I am Palestinian, this is my land and you have to leave. And yes; they did.”

Following a recording of some sort of military confrontation, Lanchin purported to provide some historical background but could not even get the date of the Six Day War right – and that inaccuracy also appeared in the programme’s synopsis.   

Revealingly, Lanchin described that war as ‘Israel’s’ war and failed to clarify to listeners that the Gaza Strip had been belligerently occupied by Egypt in 1948 and that Jordan had belligerently occupied Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem during the same conflict.

Absurdly describing an area which is between 30 to 55 kilometres wide as being “on the west bank of the River Jordan”, Lanchin inaccurately suggested that the people who chose to go to live there and in the Gaza Strip were ‘moved in’ by Israel. That inaccuracy also appeared in the filmed version in archive material from Jeremy Bowen and of course the accuracy of terminology is important because it is that false account of events which is used as the basis for the claim that Israeli communities in those areas are (or were) ‘illegal’.

Lanchin: “Israel had first captured the 40 kilometre long and 10 kilometre wide Gaza Strip during its Six Day War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria in October 1967. It then began moving its own people in – both to Gaza and to the newly occupied territories on the west bank of the River Jordan.  Over the next three decades, thousands of Jewish settlers set up home in heavily populated Gaza. One of the settlements – Kfar Darom – was built opposite Maisoon Bashir’s family home.”

Lanchin made no effort to inform listeners that the community of Kfar Darom was first established as a kibbutz in 1946 on land purchased in 1930 by a Jew from Rehovot called Tuvia Miller or that a Jewish community had existed in Gaza until 1929, when it was evacuated by the British mandate administration due to Arab rioting.

Bashir: “I remember just opening the windows of my room. I see the soldier in the settlement. When I ask my father who is here in this place? They are Jewish people.”

Lanchin: “It was a sight that Maisoon grew up with just across the dusty road from her home. Jewish settlers – many of them with young families – living in large, well-built compounds with schools, synagogues and shops, protected by Israeli soldiers. Maisoon’s family had lived in that part of central Gaza for several generations and had tomato and date plantations there. Her father was an English teacher and the principal at the local school.”

Bashir: “I remember that we go to the sea with my father in vacation, play in the garden, go with my grandfather to the greenhouses – the tomato greenhouses – and I remember that my aunts they visit us, my friends. So you feel like you are a normal person.”

Nowhere in his report did Lanchin make use of the words terrorists or terrorism. Instead terrorists were described as ‘militants’ and listeners heard practically nothing about the scores of fatal and debilitating attacks (including rocket and mortar fire) against Israeli civilians living in communities in the Gaza Strip.  

Lanchin: “But for Maisoon and her family such moments of normality were rare. Militant attacks on the settlements were becoming increasingly common. In 2000 there was an upsurge in the violence both in Gaza and in the occupied West Bank.”

Following an archive recording from the time of the second Intifada, Lanchin went on to repeat an inaccurate narrative frequently promoted in BBC content.

Lanchin: “The second Intifada – or uprising – against the Israeli occupation was sparked by a visit by the then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the holy site of Haram al Sharif – or Temple Mount – in the Old City of Jerusalem.”

After another archive recording, Lanchin allowed Bashir to promote memories of unsupported speculation.

Lanchin: “Maisoon was at home when she first heard gunfire close by.”

Bashir: “The first thing that we hear that shooting from the Israelien [sic] soldiers – very heavy – and we feel like they would kill us. We were in this room. My father was in a school and my mother ask all of my brother and sister to enter this room because it’s the most safe one.”

Lanchin: “The next day more Israeli soldiers arrived and they proceeded to tell the family that they had orders to occupy their home, claiming that it had a strategic position as the tallest building in the neighbourhood.”

Bashir: They put all my family in one room and the rest of home was the things of the soldier. And they told my father that this place is like a military place. You have to understand that no-one allowed to enter your home and you cannot use the rest of your home. Soldiers live here and there so I feel like this is not my home. I ask my mother what’s that?”

Lanchin: “Friends and relatives begged Maisoon’s father to leave.”

Bashir: “My father say no. This is my place of my grandfather and I will die here.”

Lanchin: And so for the next five years Israeli soldiers occupied the top floors of the house, using it as a look-out post, while Maisoon and her brothers, sisters, mother and father were confined to the rooms down below. The family was allowed out in the day time but had a strict night-time curfew and strict controls on who could come and go. Their land round the house was destroyed.”

Lanchin failed to clarify why a plantation of trees would likely be seen as a security risk in a location in which terrorists repeatedly attacked a nearby civilian community. He then allowed Bashir to suggest that she did not have free access to school despite bringing no evidence to support that allegation.

Bashir: “I keeping all the night dreaming the day that the Israeli soldier will leave my home, my house, so I can go freely to school and do whatever I want.”

Lanchin: “But for Israel Gaza was proving a difficult occupation to maintain. Palestinian militant attacks inside Israel – many planned from within Gaza – were on the increase. Israeli military operations in response only served to strengthen the Gazans’ hatred of the occupiers. And so, by now prime minister Ariel Sharon unveiled plans to leave Gaza and to build a wall and a fence to separate the Palestinian territories from Israel as a way of defending against further militant attacks. By September 2005 the last of the 3,000 Israeli soldiers and the 8,000 Jewish settlers had left Gaza. As they pulled out, they destroyed their former homes, schools and synagogues.”

In fact the synagogue in Kfar Darom, along with several others, was not “destroyed” by Israel but was burned down by Palestinians shortly after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Listeners then heard a conversation between Lanchin and Bashir that took place in Gaza.

Bashir: “The whole thing that we see right now here is completely change.”

Lanchin: “Yeah, there’s no sign of the settlement now. There’s some rubble in the back.”

Bashir: “I trying to remember.”

Lanchin: “Trying to remember.”

Bashir: “Yeah.”

Lanchin: “More than a decade on, I’m with Maisoon on the flat rooftop of her home which once served as a military look-out for the Israeli soldiers.”

Bashir: “And here was like the road for the Israelien [sic] jeep and the bulldozer and this place for the soldiers here.”

Lanchin’s closing remarks failed to adequately clarify to listeners that the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip did not bring an end to Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians – or why. While describing the territory as “largely closed off to the outside world” he failed to explain the role of Hamas’ policies in creating that situation and refrained from explaining that under the terms of the Oslo Accords the Gaza Strip’s coastal waters and airspace remained under Israel’s control and that no changes were made to those terms in subsequent agreements between Israel and the PA signed after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. 

Lanchin: “On this scorching sunny morning in central Gaza it’s hard to imagine the tension and fear that dominated the lives of people like Maisoon and her family. Yet all you have to do is look around at the half-standing buildings damaged in the repeated military confrontations that have taken place since withdrawal between Hamas militants who now rule Gaza and the Israelis and you’ll understand how little has been achieved in the intervening years. Today Gaza remains largely closed off to the outside world with its borders, airspace and waters controlled by Israel and Egypt. Hamas still threatens more attacks on Israel. Maisoon – who’s now 25 – longs to go abroad to study and although she comes across as a confident young woman brimming with energy, when she speaks there’s a sadness and a resignation underlying her words.”

Bashir: “I used to be a positive – as my father told me – but you have to look to the reality and the reality right now is a very difficult. I wish that in the future it will be like Palestinian, Jewish together to speak and doing. OK but before that, give me my rights.”

Lanchin: “Maisoon Bashir was speaking to me, Mike Lanchin, in Gaza for this edition of ‘Witness’.

This report by Mike Lanchin is not, as noted above, timed to coincide with an anniversary and its featured interviewee does not have a particularly historically important story to tell. One might therefore wonder why Lanchin travelled all the way to the Gaza Strip to interview a specific person who was a child at the time of the disengagement.

Maisoon Bashir describes herself as follows:

“I have been asked to introduce myself. I am wondering how I should, as an activist or a journalist, who tries to raise the voice of Palestine? Both are true, but I prefer to introduce myself just as a Palestinian girl, because my nationality is a testament to the authenticity of my homeland and the injustices borne by my people.”

Her activism is given a platform at a site called ‘We Are Not Numbers’ that is linked to a political NGO currently called ‘Euro Med Rights’ (which has Richard Falk as chair of its board of trustees) and which was founded by a self-described “social justice activist” called Pam Bailey who is also associated with Code Pink. Bashir’s writings have also been posted at the Hamas linked outlet MEMO.

BBC audiences, however, were not informed that they were in fact listening to a political activist (in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality) and neither were they given any insight into how Mike Lanchin was introduced to her story or why he visited the Gaza Strip (where the BBC has a staffed local office) to interview her.

Once again we see that the radio show touted by the BBC World Service as a ‘history’ programme is in fact used as a vehicle for the advancement of one-sided political narrative.

Related Articles:

BBC World Service misleads on Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine

BBC exploits Sharon’s death for more promotion of second Intifada falsehood

Resources:

Programme e-mail: witness@bbc.co.uk

Programme Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bbcwitness

BBC World Service contact details 

 

 

New BBC complaints procedure finalised following consultation

Earlier this year the BBC launched a public consultation concerning its interim complaints procedure.

“In April 2017 the BBC published an interim Complaints Framework to reflect the new governance and regulatory arrangements that came into effect in April 2017. Under these arrangements, the BBC Board has oversight of the complaints process and Ofcom is the independent regulator for most types of BBC complaints.

In July 2017, as required by the Charter, the BBC opened a consultation on the Framework. This consultation closed on 16 August 2017.”

Following that consultation, the BBC has finalised its new complaints procedure (effective from October 3rd 2017), which can be found here.

The submissions made by organisations (not individuals) can be read here and include BBC Watch’s submission.  

The BBC’s response to the submissions made can be found here.

Among the points raised by BBC Watch was that of the different reference numbers at the various stages of complaint: a practice which is obviously confusing. The BBC responded to that point as follows:

“The current technology for making complaints online and for the allocation of reference numbers, does not allow for the same reference number to be used by the complainant throughout the process. However, the BBC will endeavour to rationalise this when the current system is due for reprocurement.”

Another issue highlighted by BBC Watch was that the generic responses received by complainants at Stage 1a in cases in which there is a high volume of complaints often do not address the points raised. The BBC’s response is as follows:

“The use of generic responses to large numbers of complaints on a same issue was introduced by the BBC in an earlier review of the complaints framework as a way of speeding up the process of replying to complaints. We continue to believe that this is the most efficient and timely way of dealing with high volume complaints on the same subject. Complainants who receive a generic response will continue to be notified that their complaint is being dealt with in this way, and why. And they continue to have the ability to escalate their complaint should they feel that a particular issue raised in their original complaint has not been addressed.”

BBC Watch also raised the issue of the 30-day time limit around complaints relating to online material, pointing out that the complaints procedure contradicts the BBC’s own guidelines on Removal of BBC Online content and that if the content is still on the BBC website, the complaint should still be admissible. The BBC’s response is as follows:

“In response to the issue raised about 30-day time limit for editorial complaints (especially in relation to online material), the BBC has reviewed the text and concluded that the current wording is sufficient as it states that complaints may be considered after that date if there is a particular reason for this. This should give assurance to licence fee payers that complaints about online material more than 30 days old will be dealt with appropriately.” 

In addition, BBC Watch highlighted the issue of the word restriction in the online complaints form and the inability to add supporting documents such as maps. The BBC responded:

“For editorial and general complaints, we are satisfied that the character limit in the online form and word count limit for complaints in writing should remain as is. The framework does make clear that lengthier complaints will be considered in certain circumstances.”

Related Articles:

Have your say on the BBC complaints system

OFCOM begins new role as BBC’s external regulator

How to complain to OFCOM about BBC programmes

How to Complain to the BBC

 

 

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

In part one of this post we saw how an item by Trevor Barnes relating to the Balfour Declaration that was aired in the October 1st edition (from 18:14 here) of the BBC Radio 4 ethics and religion show ‘Sunday‘ promoted assorted historical inaccuracies.  

Trevor Barnes’ fourth interviewee likewise began by promoting an inaccurate claim, suggesting (from 21:10) that “Israel and Palestine” were British colonies.

“I think Britain doesn’t come out of any of the colonial history of Israel and Palestine in that good a light.”

Barnes: “Chris Rose – director of the Amos Trust; a Christian organisation working in the West Bank and Gaza.”

That description of the Amos Trust is grossly inadequate and fails to inform listeners of that NGO’s political agenda and anti-Israel activities as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality require.

Rose: “Even Balfour himself a couple of years later on said that Zionism be right or wrong is more important than the wishes of the 700,000 Arabs. Our call is to the British Government now, if it is determined to celebrate the Balfour Declaration, to do so in the only real meaningful way by working tirelessly for full equal rights for everybody who calls it home.”

The statement by Lord Balfour shoddily paraphrased by Chris Rose (who has in the past attributed Palestinian terrorism to “high unemployment and poor amenities“) comes from a memorandum written by Balfour in 1919 and its context – the question of the selection of mandatories in various regions of the Middle East – is important. 

“Without further considering whether the political picture drawn by the Covenant [of the League of Nations] corresponds with anything to be found in the realms of fact, let us ask on what principle these mandatories are to be selected by the Allied and Associated Powers

On this point the Covenant speaks as follows:—

‘The wishes of these communities (i.e., the independent nations) must be a principal consideration in the selection of a mandatory.’

The sentiment is unimpeachable; but how is it to be carried into effect? To simplify the argument, let us assume that two of the ‘independent nations’ for which mandatories have to be provided are Syria and Palestine? Take Syria first. Do we mean, in the case of Syria, to consult principally the wishes of the inhabitants? We mean nothing of the kind. According to the universally accepted view there are only three possible mandatories—England, America, and France. Are we going ‘chiefly to consider the wishes of the inhabitants’ in deciding which of these is to be selected? We are going to do nothing of the kind. England has refused. America will refuse. So that, whatever the inhabitants may wish, it is France they will certainly have. They may freely choose; but it is Hobson’s choice after all.

The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‘independent nation’ of Palestine than in that of the ‘independent nation’ of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the form of asking what they are. The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

Referring to Chris Rose, Trevor Barnes continued – with noteworthy use of the word Jewish rather than Israeli:

Barnes: “His claim is that the second half of the declaration has still to be honoured. While the first half favoured a Jewish homeland, the second reassured explicitly – quote – ‘that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities’ which Chris Rose says hasn’t happened in practice, though for the Board of Deputies Richard Verber defends the Jewish record on religious freedom post-Balfour.”

Verber: “Well there are many cases in Israel proper where religions do indeed co-exist in harmony. Jerusalem has its flash-points but you go and you see Jews, Muslims, Christians, Bahai, Druze walking around. Many have their own areas and places of worship. Israel is of course the only place in the Middle East where Christians are free to worship without persecution.”

Rose: “If you live in Bethlehem you may well not be able to go up to Temple Mount to pray, to worship. If you want to go and worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre you pretty won’t be able to do that and so while yes there’s religious freedom in that respect, there has to be recognised that there’s also major constrictions on freedom of movement which restricts people from having their religious freedom.”

Unsurprisingly Chris Rose did not bother to tell listeners that residents of Bethlehem and other areas that have been under Palestinian Authority control for over two decades can apply for permits to visit religious sites in Jerusalem (among other reasons) or that “constrictions on freedom of movement” are the unfortunate outcome of Palestinian terrorism. While Trevor Barnes did tick the impartiality box by paraphrasing the Israeli view, he too failed to make any reference to Palestinian terrorism. Listeners were then told that Jewish self-determination is a “hotly contested concept”.

Barnes: “Chris Rose of the Amos Trust. For its part the Israeli government has repeatedly said that such restrictions as there are are driven solely by security concerns and by the imperative legitimately to ensure the country’s survival. And in essence, says Richard Verber, the right of Israel to exist in the first place is at the heart of any religious definition of that hotly contested concept Zionism.”

Verber: “Zionism is a religious imperative. It’s a core belief in Judaism today. The word Zionism is clearly a newer invention – we’re talking here 19th century – but the idea of there being a desire among the Jewish people to have autonomy in their own homeland dates back 3,300 years when the Jewish people first entered what was then the land of Canaan – Cna’an. I think Jewish people have long understood the importance of living alongside their religious brethren; whether that be Christian or Muslim or indeed any other stripe or people of no faith at all.”

Barnes: From its inception Zionism itself did not have the backing of all Jews – especially religious Jews who argued that a return to the land of Israel was to be the work of the Messiah and couldn’t be engineered by any human agency. Events of the Second World War and the Holocaust, however, put paid to many reservations and the promise of the Balfour Declaration was made actual in 1948. Indeed Richard Verber for the Board of Deputies argues that the founders of the State of Israel referenced the Balfour Declaration, repeating and reinforcing a commitment to civil and religious freedom. The Amos Trust, however, isn’t convinced and they’ve launched a campaign ‘Change the Record’ calling for equal rights for all in the holy land.”

Listeners then heard a recording promoting that political campaign currently being run by the inadequately presented political NGO: a campaign which aims to persuade the British government that “the seeds of today’s injustice, inequality and violence were sown by the Balfour Declaration in 1917”. 

Barnes went on to say:

Barnes: “Those celebrating – rather than mourning – the Balfour Declaration dispute that reading of events. But either way Nicolas Pelham says it changed the religious make-up not just of Palestine but of much of the Middle East.”

Pelham: “Until the Balfour declaration, under the Ottoman Empire religious communities had lived essentially as that – as holy communities – and what the Balfour Declaration does is to transform religious communities into religious national movements so that instead of sharing space they have conflict over space. Instead of having holy communities in the region, we have holy lands and the battle between sects for control of the land.”

Listeners to this unbalanced item heard inaccurate and blatantly politicised ‘history’ and were steered towards the false impression that the Middle East was a region blessed with idyllic inter-religious harmony until the day Arthur Balfour put pen to paper. They were also informed that Jewish self-determination is a “contested concept” and exposed to an ongoing political campaign run by a partisan NGO that engages in delegitimisation of Israel.

How this item by Trevor Barnes can be said to meet BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality is unclear.  

Related Articles:

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Reviewing BBC portrayal of the Balfour Declaration

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

BBC’s Connolly contorts Israeli – and British – history to fit his political narrative