How will the BBC cover Israel’s election?

BBC News website coverage of the last Israeli election in September 2019 was relatively limited in comparison to its reporting on previous election campaigns in 20132015 and April 2019.

As Israelis prepare to head to the polls yet again on March 2nd, BBC audiences have seen even less coverage of the run-up to the 2020 election with just three related articles having appeared last December and no additional reporting since then apart from amendments made in late February to a profile of Benny Gantz which the BBC has been recycling since April 2019.

BBC News website kicks off 2020 election reporting

Reviewing BBC coverage of the Likud leadership primary

BBC audiences hence currently have no idea how many (29) or which lists are running in the election and on what platforms. They do not know how many people are entitled to vote or that some of them will have to use special voting facilities for people in isolation due to exposure to the Corona virus. Even a limited-edition ice-cream created especially for the election has failed to rouse the BBC’s interest.

However documentation of the BBC’s coverage of Israeli elections over the past seven years has shown that regardless of which lists are in the running or which issues are at the forefront of voters’ minds, the corporation manages to reduce the story to one narrative.

Back in January 2013 we made the following observations in relation to BBC coverage of that year’s Israeli election:

“Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances.”

Two years later we noted that:

“The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities.”

In April 2019 we commented:

“Overall, the BBC News website’s selective coverage of the 2019 election conformed to the agenda evident in the corporation’s reporting of the two previous ones. Israel was once again portrayed as a country ‘shifting’ to the right and that alleged shift was depicted as the exclusive reason for the predicted failure to make progress in ‘the peace process’.”

And last September we noted that “the BBC’s overriding interest in promoting a political narrative means that it continues to adhere to that well-worn formula”.

There is of course very little reason to anticipate that coverage of the upcoming election will deviate from that long-standing chosen narrative, particularly given that the BBC’s recent framing of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan was overseen by its Middle East editor – who is once again in the region, apparently to cover the election.

Related Articles:

Israeli election coverage continues to advance a new narrative

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ promotes half a story from 2014

In the February 26th edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk’ presenter Stephen Sackur interviewed the director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.

The interview was aired on the BBC News and BBC World News television channels (available in the UK here) and an audio version was aired on BBC World Service radio.

“HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur speaks to Dr Yasser Abu Jamei, director of Gaza’s biggest mental health program. The past few days have seen rising tension in Gaza – Islamist militants fired rockets into Israel; the Israelis responded with air strikes aimed at the Islamic Jihad group. Hardly unusual and certainly not the stuff of international headlines but that in itself is telling. In Gaza conflict is the norm, so too an economic blockade that has long choked the economy. What happens to a people living with trauma and collective despair?”

Despite BBC editorial guidelines concerning “Contributors’ Affiliations” which state that audiences should be informed of “their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints”, that information was not provided in relation to the GCMHP or its founder, whom Sackur brought up during the conversation.

Stephen Sackur’s introduction to the interview made no mention of the core issue of Hamas terrorism and even cancelled out the trauma suffered by residents of southern Israel with his use of the word “unique”. Failing to explain why there are people classed as “refugees” in a territory under the exclusive control of Palestinians for almost a decade and a half, he described his interviewee as: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “…an experienced psychiatrist working in a place which poses unique and daunting mental health challenges. The Gaza Strip is home to 2 million people. The majority are young, impoverished and classed as long-term refugees. They’ve been raised in a place of conflict where bomb-blasts, insecurity and sudden death have been constant facts of life. Not only that, Gaza is a densely populated enclave cut off from the outside world by fortified barriers. Israel and Egypt control access in and out for people and goods. It is, in short, a mental health pressure cooker and from time to time the lid blows off. Anger, violence, despair, drug addiction, childhood trauma: all are commonplace. But what can under-staffed, under-resourced mental health professionals do to help? Are the people of Gaza suffering extreme levels of mental illness or simply reacting normally to a uniquely grim situation?”

The interview followed a sadly predictable pattern, with Sackur failing to effectively challenge most of his interviewee’s politically motivated talking points. Even when he did raise issues such as Hamas’ staging of the ‘Great Return March’, the Hamas-Fatah feud and incitement in Palestinian school text- books, he failed to adequately challenge the inadequate responses given.

After the broadcast of the programme, the BBC News website chose to upload a clip to its ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “Mental health: Coping with the trauma of living in Gaza”. The video’s synopsis includes the following:

“In 2014 Dr Jamei’s family home was bombed in an Israeli strike and he lost a number of family members.”

The clip itself begins with that event.

Sackur: “I am very mindful that in 2014 your own family home was bombed, destroyed, by an Israeli military strike. Tell me how many members of your extended family were lost.”

Abu Jamei: “Ah…well we live in an area that is the eastern side of Khan Younis and unfortunately my family endured the biggest loss when it comes to the number of people. You know every single life matters a lot to everyone, you know, but in that simple attack 27 people were killed including three pregnant women and I think seven…seven children. A three-storey building was levelled to the ground basically, you know…”

BBC audiences were not provided with any further context to that account.

The day after that incident – which took place on July 20th 2014, the political NGO B’tselem noted that:

“B’Tselem’s initial findings indicate that the likely target of the attack was Ahmad Suliman Sahmoud, a member of Hamas’ military wing, who was visiting a member of the family.”

Sahmoud was identified (number 446 on the list here) as an Izz al-Din al Qassam Brigades commander.

The IDF Magistrate Advocate General subsequently launched an investigation into that incident.

The results of that investigation (number 12 here) showed that: [emphasis added]

“…on 20 July 2014, IDF forces carried out an aerial strike on a structure in use by Palestinian terrorist organizations for military activities against IDF forces maneuvering in the area. The strike intended to target the military infrastructure in the structure as well as a command level military operative, who according to real-time intelligence was commanding military operations against IDF forces from within the structure. During the planning and execution stages of the strike, which took approximately 24 hours, additional information about the structure was received, which corroborated the understanding that the structure contained military infrastructure that presented clear and immediate danger to IDF forces maneuvering in the area.[…]

Contrary to the allegation [inter alia from B’tselem – Ed.], it was found that a number of warnings were issued in the area of the strike, using various means, which called on civilians to evacuate from the area. It was further found that it would not have been possible to provide a specific warning to those present in the structure prior to the strike, as such a warning was expected to frustrate the objective of the attack. Moreover, it was also found that because the precise location of the military activity in the structure was not known, the strike could not be limited to a particular portion of the building. […]

After reviewing the investigation’s findings, the MAG found that the attack process in question accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements. The decision to attack was taken by the competent authorities, and the attack was aimed at a military objective – a structure used by Palestinian terrorist organizations for military activities against IDF forces maneuvering in the area, and a command level military operative present therein.”

That information was denied to BBC viewers and listeners worldwide even though it has been in the public domain since August 2018. In other words, BBC audiences were given a partial account which conceals essential information and thus prevented from forming their own opinions on the incident as well as about the interviewer and interviewee presenting it in that one-sided fashion.

Related Articles:

BBC claims that Israel targeted a centre for the disabled in Gaza shown to be inaccurate

BBC reports on Wafa hospital shown to be inaccurate

Clarifications required for BBC reports on Shati incident

Revisiting BBC reporting on July 2014 Shuja’iya market incident

BBC News passes up on the chance to correct Gaza misinformation

A BBC story from August 2014 still in need of clarification

Revisiting the BBC’s claims about a 2014 story from Rafah

Revisiting the BBC’s 2014 reports on Gaza’s power plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s promotion of an ‘epic novel’ and an appealing narrative

This week BBC Radio 4 has been airing a serialised reading of a book published on February 25th in ten episodes which will continue next week. The synopsis to the first episode describes the novel as follows:

“Colum McCann’s epic new novel of friendship, love, loss, and belonging.

Bassam and Rami inhabit a world of conflict that colours every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on, to the schools their daughters, Abir and Smadar, each attend, to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate. Their worlds shift irreparably after ten-year-old Abir is killed by a rubber bullet and thirteen-year-old Smadar becomes the victim of suicide bombers. When Bassam and Rami learn of each other’s stories, they recognise the loss that connects them and attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace.

In Apeirogon – named for a shape with a countably infinite number of sides – Colum McCann creates an epic novel inspired by the real experiences of Palestinian Bassam Aramin and Israeli Rami Elhanan who, after each losing a child, came together to promote peace.”

Media interviews are of course a significant part of the marketing of any new novel and McCann gave a lengthy interview (from 00:18 here) to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Open Book’ – presented by Mariella Frostrup – on February 23rd.

“Colum McCann tells Mariella about Apeirogon, his suitably multi-sided book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, inspired by two fathers who have both lost their daughters. A soaring mixture of reportage, mythology, poetry and ornithology, among many other things, McCann makes the case for it as a “novel” with a universal message.”

Near the beginning of the interview Frostrup tells listeners that:

“The two bereaved fathers came together through an organisation called Combatants for Peace, their experiences having made them less certain about the polarised world views they once both held in youth.”

Listeners are however told nothing about the agenda of that political NGO or the organisation with which the two men are currently associated.

In other interviews McCann has stated that before he spent a week in Israel and the Palestinian controlled territories in 2015 he was “completely ignorant of what was going on there” and at 11:29 listeners hear a little about his learning process, which apparently included consultation with “one of my great heroes” the political activist Raja Shehadeh and reading Mahmoud Darwish.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the interview concerns McCann’s view – exaggerated in the opinion of this reviewer – of the importance of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I think it is one of the central questions as to who we are and where we are and I think we all identify with it in some way, in a way that’s different to other conflicts. There’s something about Jerusalem, there’s something about that being the birthplace of so many things that we’re drawn to and confused by and we’re wondering why all this is happening.”

The Guardian’s review of the novel states:

“For all its grief, Apeirogon is a novel that buoys the heart. The friendship of Bassam and Rami is a thing of great and sustaining beauty. There’s a picture of the two of them, asleep together on a train in Germany, travelling from one speaking engagement to the next. They lean against each another, Rami – the older man – supporting the smaller Bassam as he sleeps. This, the novel suggests, is the solution to the conflict: something as simple and easy as friendship, as the acknowledgement of a shared experience, as love.” [emphasis added]

The reassuring notion that “something as simple as friendship” and “love” are the solution to the conflict of course avoids the basic fact that Smadar Elhanan was murdered – along with two other teenage girls who are not mentioned in this programme – by Hamas suicide bombers in an attack intended to kill human beings simply because of their Israeli identity.

The reduction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the tidy and appealing narrative promoted in McCann’s book perhaps explains why the BBC – itself no stranger to the promotion of simplistic narratives concerning that issue – decided to dedicate two weeks of radio broadcasts to a novel which frames that conflict in terms far more palatable and comfortable to its audiences than actually exist.

BBC News website runs a headline portraying antisemitism as ‘just fun’

On January 27th the BBC News website published a report titled “Auschwitz 75 years on: Are anti-Semitic attacks rising?”. Attributed to the corporation’s ‘Reality Check team’, the article cites surveys and reports on antisemitic incidents from three European countries and from bodies including the Kantor Center.

Notably the BBC chose to erase the massive rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups against Israeli civilians which led to both Operation Cast Lead and Operation Protective Edge by describing those two defensive operations as “Israeli conflicts in Gaza”.   

“For example, the latest report from Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center on anti-Semitism worldwide, found the number of major violent incidents in 2018 had been at a relatively high level. However, it was still well below the levels seen around the times of Israeli conflicts in Gaza in 2008-9 and 2014, for example.” [emphasis added]

Nevertheless, we see that just a month ago, the BBC was aware of the rise in antisemitism in Europe.  Consider then the way in which the same website elected to report the blatant antisemitism on display at the Aalst carnival in Belgium this past weekend.

On February 24th the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ page published a 475-word report which it chose to headline “Belgian city of Aalst says anti-Semitic parade ‘just fun’”.

That messaging also opened the report:

“A Belgian city has defended as “just fun” a carnival featuring caricatures of Orthodox Jews wearing huge fur hats, long fake noses and ant costumes.”

One hundred and fifty-four words were given over to promotion of the talking points of the spokesman for the city’s mayor, including the notion of antisemitism as “freedom of speech”.

“The Aalst mayor’s spokesman told the BBC “it’s our humour… just fun”. […]

“It’s our parade, our humour, people can do whatever they want,” he said. “It’s a weekend of freedom of speech.””

One can only wonder whether the BBC would find it likewise appropriate to promote the notion of “freedom of speech” in relation to grossly offensive stereotypical portrayals of other religious and ethnic groups or, for example, the LGBT community.

The report ‘balanced’ that promotion of the city spokesman’s view with statements from three sources:

“Israel, Jewish groups and Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès were among many who strongly condemned the costumes in Sunday’s parade in Aalst.”

A total of 136 words were used to report the condemnations from all those sources.

In other words, the BBC decided to give more space to the defence of the display of antisemitism in Aalst than to those condemning it.

The report included a reference to a story which was ignored by the BBC at the time.

“The city drew much criticism for parading caricature Jews last year – so much so that it was dropped from Unesco’s cultural heritage list in December. After the outcry, Aalst itself had asked to be taken off the list.”

In fact, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage said it was withdrawing the carnival “over recurring repetition of racist and anti-Semitic representations” at the event. As the Jerusalem Post pointed out, this year’s event included “more and worse antisemitic tropes and themes than in the past”.

The BBC News website, however, chose to run a headline portraying that racism as “just fun”.

Related Articles:

BBC News passes on follow-up to story it reported in March

 

 

A third BBC report from Beit Ijza highlights omissions in previous two

As documented earlier this month, a filmed report by Tom Bateman of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau was published on the BBC News website and aired on the BBC News television channel on February 14th.

BBC’s Tom Bateman tells part of a story about a Palestinian house ‘in a cage’

We noted at the time that:

“In addition to failing to note the second Intifada terror war as the context for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence, Bateman does not bother to clarify that the land on which the ‘settlement’ – Giv’on HaHadasha – was built had been purchased by Jews long before the State of Israel came into being, that it had been the site of a Jordanian army camp after the 1948 Jordanian invasion and subsequent 19-year occupation or that claims by the Gharib family that they owned additional land were shown to be unsupported in several court cases.

Later on in the report Bateman interviews a resident of Giv’on HaHadasha. Pointing at the fence he asks her:

“What do you think when you see a Palestinian home behind all this?”

Ilanit Gohar replies: “He chose this, he chose this type of living” but BBC audiences would be incapable of understanding her reply because Bateman did not bother to inform them that the Gharib family refused an offer of compensation for relocation prior to the construction of the anti-terrorist fence in that area in 2008 and that their claims were rejected by the Supreme Court.”

Just over a week later, on February 22nd, an audio version of Bateman’s report was the lead item in that day’s edition – titled “A Family Fenced In” – of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’. The synopsis reads:

“President Trump’s plan for peace in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories would allow Israel to apply its sovereignty to all the Jewish settlements as well as swathes of strategic land in the West Bank. The Palestinian leadership has rejected the plan outright saying it would create a “Swiss cheese state”. Our Middle East Correspondent Tom Bateman spent time on two sides of a fence that separates an Israeli settlement from a Palestinian family with its own checkpoint.”

Presenter Kate Adie similarly introduced the item (from 00:31 here), failing to clarify that the “Palestinian leadership” had rejected the US plan long before they had seen its content. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “First; President Trump has a plan for peace for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Tensions are high as the American proposals would allow Israel to apply sovereignty to all the Jewish settlements – held as illegal under international law – as well as swathes of strategic land on the West Bank. The Palestinian leadership has rejected the plan outright. Tom Bateman has been on both sides of the fence to take soundings.”

While Bateman may indeed have physically “been on both sides of the fence”, his report makes it very clear which side is the focus of his monologue and with which side listeners are supposed to sympathise.

Providing no context concerning the history of the area – including the highly relevant illegal Jordanian occupation between 1948 and 1967 – Bateman commenced with some very obvious framing of the story which included further repetition of the BBC’s standard partisan mantra concerning the alleged ‘illegality’ of Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria.

Bateman: “Israel captured the West Bank in 1967. Sa’adat Gharib was born over a decade later – a Palestinian boy growing up under Israeli occupation. He watched the territory around him close in. Now he lives in a house surrounded on all sides by a six-meter-high fence with a sliding metal gate. It was installed by the Israeli army, who he says can seal the family into their home at any time. On the map his family’s bungalow appears as a blip, an enclave. On the other side of the wire, an Israeli settlement that grew to dominate the land surrounding Sa’adat’s house.

We drove to see him on the second Friday after President Trump announced his so-called ‘Deal of the Century’. At one checkpoint tyres burned and the smell of tear gas seeped into the car as soldiers confronted a Palestinian protest. Tensions have been rising. The Israelis and Americans have started joint work on a map of all the West Bank settlements ready for Israel to formally annex them. Most of the rest of the world opposes this. The settlements, illegal under international law, thread through the land the Palestinians want as their future country. Their leader calls the Trump plan’s design a Swiss cheese state. Israel’s prime minister says it’s the opportunity of the century.”

Listeners then heard Bateman paraphrasing statements from his interviewee which they later find out he knows not to be true.

Bateman: “On Sa’adat’s driveway the fence rises around us. We look at the homes of the Israeli settlement a few meters away on the other side. He tells me he feels under siege. ‘The settlers confiscated my land’ he says. ‘They haven’t left me air to breathe’. His father built the bungalow in the late 70s. Then, Israel declared the territory around the house state land. Swathes of the West Bank were treated in the same way. Israel adopted an old land law introduced in Palestine in the 19th century. That was when the ruling Ottoman sultan could declare public ownership of any lands he said hadn’t been used to grow crops or keep livestock. Israel used this as a legal basis in the 1980s to claim land for settlements. Sa’adat’s father challenged this at the Israeli courts, claiming ownership of the land around his house. He lost. The judges ruled much of the territory had been bought by Jewish owners in the 1920s.”

Bateman did not bother to inform Radio 4 audiences that the 1858 Ottoman Land Code was also used by the British during their time as administrator of the Mandate for Palestine or that had Israel not used that Ottoman law post-1967, it would be in breach of  Article 43 of the 1907 Hague Regulations which refer to “respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country”.

Failing to inform listeners that the US proposal does not propose uprooting either Palestinian or Israeli residents of Judea & Samaria from their homes (and of course makes no claim of US ‘ownership’ of the land), Bateman went on:

Bateman: “Sa’adat aims to respond to the American plan by staying put. ‘Trump doesn’t own this land’ he says. But the settlers see his home at the edge of the Palestinian village of Beit Ijza as a potential breach in the sprawling separation barrier which cuts through the land here and disconnects the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. The network of walls and fences was built at the height of the Second Intifada – or Palestinian uprising – in the early 2000s and Israel maintains it was and remains essential for its security, to protect Israeli civilians from attack.”

Refraining from clarifying that “attack” actually means Palestinian terrorism and that it is that terrorism which made the checkpoint he later describes necessary, Bateman continued:  

Bateman: “The iron meshwork that surrounds Sa’adat’s home contains sensors that alert the army should anyone try to climb the fence and get into the settlement. The police can then monitor the feed from cameras trained on his property. As his children run towards us, I spot a love heart scrawled on his side of the wall. Sa’adat describes the feeling of being under surveillance 24 hours a day. ‘It’s like living in a prison’ he says before adding ‘actually, in a real prison there’s someone to feed you, to take care of you’.

We leave the enclave to go to the settlement. It’s a few meters away and should be a 30-second drive but it takes an hour and a half. We have to head through the city of Ramallah to a military checkpoint on the road to Jerusalem where Sa’adat and most Palestinians may not pass. It’s our only route from the lives of those Palestinians we visited to the Israelis next door.

Ilanit Gohar greets me in the settlement of Givon HaHadasha. The name means new Givon, named after a biblical city whose residents were said to have built the walls of Jerusalem. We walk this side of Sa’adat’s fence, peering through the wire at his house, a few meters – but a world – away. You can feel the impact of the Israeli security all around. A jeep rushes along a military road that tunnels under Sa’adat’s driveway. Israel’s security dominance also forms the core of President Trump’s plan. It says the proposed Palestinian state would be demilitarised while Israel would use blimps, drones and aerial equipment for the so-called early warning station inside Palestine to keep watch.”

In the closing lines of his report it emerged that Bateman also knows of the second court case involving the Gharib family.

Bateman: “Ilanit, a young lawyer and resident of the settlement, keeps walking – perhaps in range of some of the security cameras around Sa’adat’s house. ‘He chose to live like this’ she tells me, referring to an offer of compensation if the family moved. ‘It was ruled this land belongs to Israel and not to him’ said Ilanit. ‘We can’t move him, he won’t move us’ she says as she calls President Trump’s plan a historic breakthrough. Annexation is fabulous she tells me, not only for the residents of this settlement but for all the people of Israel.”

The main question arising from this audio report is if Tom Bateman knew about both the Ghraib family’s failure to prove in court ownership of part of the land they claimed and their later refusal to accept compensation for relocation (with the situation described in all three of his reports being the result), why did he fail to provide that information to BBC audiences who saw the two previous filmed reports and why did he wait over a week to include that information in his radio report for non-international BBC audiences?

 

 

What can BBC audiences expect if the ‘Great Return March’ returns?

The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reports that Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip intend to renew the ‘Great Return March’ rioting (which was suspended in December) next month.

“Maher Muzher, a member of the Commission of the Great March of Return, a group consisting of various Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, said on Saturday that the organizers are planning mass demonstrations near the border with Israel on March 30 to commemorate the second anniversary of the weekly protests, which also coincides with Land Day. […]

Recently, the organizers of the weekly protests decided to change the group’s name to The National Commission for the Great March of Return and Confronting the Deal, reference to US President Donald Trump’s recently unveiled plan for Mideast peace.

Muzher said that work has begun to prepare for the mass demonstrations. “We will continue to work towards mobilizing a large number of people to participate in the popular and peaceful protest against the occupation,” he said. “We want to send a message to the Israeli occupation that the Great March of Return is continuing in order to achieve our goals and express rejection of the Trump deal which aims to liquidate the Palestinian issue. Our people will win, and the deal will collapse.”

Khaled al-Batsh, a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad official and member of the commission, said that the weekly protests will resume on March 30. “We have decided to resume the marches of return,” he said. “They will be an important tool to express our rejection of the Trump deal.”

Hamas, meanwhile, called on Palestinians to step up protests against the Trump plan. Hamas’s representative in Lebanon, Ahmed Abdel Hadi, urged Palestinians to launch more protests against the Trump plan in the coming days. “Our heroic people who foiled previous projects will, god willing, also thwart this malicious deal and expel the occupation,” he said in a statement. “We will return to our homes in beloved Palestine, and we will pray at the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jerusalem is ours, and it is the capital of our state. The whole land is ours, from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea.””

As regular readers will be aware, BBC coverage of the weekly ‘Great Return March’ violence between March 2018 and December 2019 was remarkable for its promotion of very specific framing which:

  • Erased the fact that around 80% of those killed during the violent rioting at the border have been shown to be affiliated with various terror organisations – primarily Hamas.
  • Erased or downplays the violent nature of the events by failing to provide audiences with a representative view of the number of attacks using firebombs, airborne incendiary devices, IEDs, grenades and guns, the number of border infiltrations and the number of rockets and mortars launched.
  • Erased or downplayed the violent nature of the events by uniformly describing them as ‘protests’, ‘demonstrations’ or ‘rallies’.
  • Failed to provide adequate context concerning the stated aims of the events including ‘right of return’ and lifting of counter-terrorism measures.
  • Erased or downplayed Hamas’ role in initiating, facilitating, organising, financing, executing and controlling the events and portrayed terrorists as ‘militants’.
  • Cited casualty figures provided by “health officials” without clarifying that they are part of the same terror group that organises the violent rioting.

Even before the ‘Great Return March’ events began in March 2018 the organisers described their aim as being to stage events “that the whole world and media outlets would watch”. The BBC definitely played a part in ensuring that would be the case and with no evidence to indicate that editorial policy on that topic has shifted, if the events do indeed recommence next month, audiences can likely expect more promotion of the same jaded themes and euphemisms alongside the omission of vital information and context.

Related Articles:

BBC News sticks to year-old formula of reporting on ‘Great Return March’

The BBC’s ‘Great Return March’ great disappearing act

Mapping changes in BBC reporting of Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’

BBC News website unquestioningly amplifies UNHRC’s report

BBC Two’s ‘One Day in Gaza’ adheres to existing BBC practice

BBC film exposes falsehoods in two previous reports

BBC News report on PIJ attacks focuses on Israel’s response

On the morning of February 24th the BBC news website’s ‘Middle East’ page published a report concerning a sequence of events that took place the previous day.

Those events were presented in reverse chronological order with the article’s headline  – “Israel says it struck Islamic Jihad sites in Gaza and Syria” – telling audiences only of the last episodes in the series of incidents.

The report’s first five paragraphs related to Israeli strikes against Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip and Syria. The PIJ was presented as a “Palestinian militant group” (a euphemistic portrayal twice repeated later on in the report) despite the fact that it has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the UK government since 2001. Once again readers found unqualified BBC promotion of standard Syrian regime propaganda. [emphasis added]

“The Israeli military says it has launched air strikes against a Palestinian militant group in Gaza and Syria in response to rocket fire.

Israel’s military said it had struck Islamic Jihad targets in southern Damascus and the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

In a rare acknowledgement of a strike on Syria, the Israeli military said it targeted “a hub of Islamic Jihad’s activity”.

Syria said its air defences shot down most of the Israeli missiles.

Four people were wounded in Gaza, health officials say, but there have been no immediate reports of fatalities from the Israeli strikes.”

BBC audiences were not informed of the nature of the PIJ targets in Syria (although a BBC Jerusalem correspondent knows what they were) or that at least two members of the terror group were killed in that strike. The Times of Israel reports:

“The IDF said its fighter jets targeted the main base of the Iran-backed terror group in Syria, which it said was used to develop new weapons and to manufacture “tens of kilograms of [ammonium perchlorate]” rocket fuel each month.

The military said the site, in the Damascus suburb of al-Adleyeh, was also used for training exercises for members of the organization “both from the Strip and on the northern front,” referring to Lebanon and Syria.”

The BBC’s report continued in reverse chronological order:

“The strikes were launched after southern Israel was hit by a barrage of at least 20 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip earlier on Sunday. There were no reports of casualties.”

The BBC’s portrayal of “at least 20 rockets” reduces by a third the number actually launched. As is more often than not the case, BBC audiences were told nothing of how those rocket attacks had affected local residents or of the related closure of schools, roads and railway lines on the day this article was published.

The article went on to portray events which preceded the rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

“The hostilities began on Sunday morning, when Israel said it killed an Islamic Jihad member along its border fence with the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s military said the the [sic] man was attempting to plant an explosive device.

A video shared widely on social media showed an Israeli bulldozer scooping up the body of the man, provoking anger among Palestinians.

Some Palestinians called for retaliation and hours later, rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, setting off air raid sirens.”

The IDF released filmed evidence of the two PIJ terrorists planting the IED at the border fence but the BBC nevertheless chose to portray that event as something that ‘Israel says’ took place. While the BBC did tell readers of “a video” showing “an Israeli bulldozer”, they were not informed of the related fact that two Israeli civilians and the remains of two Israeli soldiers are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Neither were audiences informed that the mourning tent set up for the person the BBC chose to describe as “the man” included a photograph of him in military uniform carrying a weapon.  

The BBC found it appropriate to remind audiences of previous incidents:

“Violence between Israel and Islamic Jihad flared up last November, when an Israeli air strike killed a senior commander of the militant group in Gaza.

Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians were seen earlier this month too, days after US President Donald Trump unveiled his peace plan.”

Audiences were not however informed of a much more recent incident in which Palestinian Islamic Jihad snipers opened fire at is Israeli forces.

To summarise: two Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists tried to plant a bomb intended to kill Israelis at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel but were thwarted. Additional PIJ terrorists then fired over 30 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians in ‘retaliation’. The Israeli army responded with strikes on the terror group’s military assets in the Gaza Strip (including a rocket launching squad) and in Syria. The following day the BBC News website published a report with a headline and first five paragraphs relating to the last chapter in that chain of events, while having produced no stand-alone reporting on the rocket attacks against Israeli civilians which had commenced eleven hours earlier and devoting one sole two-sentence paragraph to that topic in this report.

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BBC News uncritically amplifies Iranian regime claim on voter turnout

On February 21st the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page published a report which is currently headlined “Iran elections: Hardliners set to sweep parliamentary polls”.

Readers of the latest version of that report are told that:

“Observers say authorities were hoping for a high voter turnout as a sign of support for the regime.

Voting was extended three times on Friday because of a “rush of voters”, state TV quoted the interior ministry as saying. The polls have now closed.”

Similar statements amplifying the Iranian regime’s claims of a “rush of voters” appeared in two earlier versions of the report.

Not only is there no evidence of the BBC having independently verified that claim before amplifying it, but reports from other sources suggest that turnout was in fact low, particularly in Tehran.

Radio Farda reported that:

“Officials in charge of holding Iran’s parliamentary elections have been making contradictory remarks about the the turnout which appears to be very low in at least several provinces.

For weeks Iranian officials have been saying that high voter turnout in the elections will prove the ineffectiveness of U.S. policies toward Iran so a higher turnout appears to be highly important to the regime.

Authorities sound concerned about the participation rate in today’s elections. Mahmoud Alavi, Intelligence Minister, expressed hope that by the end of the polls the number of participants in the election would reach “an acceptable level”. […]

Fars News Agency has claimed that on the basis of figures compiled by 6:00 pm the turnout is estimated to be 39 to 40 percent of the eligible voters at the national level and 30 percent for Tehran.”

AP reported that:

“By comparison, the 2016 parliamentary election saw 62% turnout. On Friday, election officials kept the polls open an extra five hours in an effort to boost turnout. Iran’s leadership and state media had urged people to show up and vote, with some framing it as a religious duty.”

An article at the Jerusalem Post states:

“Iran kept its voting booths open late on election day Friday. Officials claimed it was so more people could vote, claiming there were long lines. But videos showed few people voting. It appears that turnout was low and the government kept the polls open late to beg people to come. ISNA media in Iran noted that turnout looked to be only 20% or 12 million of the 60 million who could have voted. If that number ends up as the official tally, it will have been a disaster for the regime.”

Iran expert Dr Raz Zimmt noted that according to unofficial figures, voter turnout appears to have been a little over 40% – the lowest since the 1979 Islamic revolution – and that in Tehran voter participation appears to stand at less than 30%.

In other words, there appears to be no justification for the BBC’s unquestioning amplification of the Iranian regime’s claims.

All versions of the report tell readers that:

“More than 7,000 candidates were vying for 290 seats in the parliament, known as the Majlis. It is part of Iran’s mixed system of democratic and theocratic governance, under which the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say in the most important matters.” [emphasis added]

Quite how the BBC squares that claim of “democratic…governance” with its own next paragraph is unclear.

“More than 16,000 contenders – including 90 mostly reformist members of the current Majlis – were disqualified from standing by the Guardian Council, a vetting committee loyal to Mr Khamenei.”

The BBC does not bother to explain to readers why the Guardian Council is “loyal to Mr Khamenei”.

The Atlantic Council explains:

“These are the most uncompetitive elections in years because the Guardian Council—a vetting body of six clerics appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and six jurists appointed indirectly by him—has disqualified dozens of reformist candidates, including at least eighty sitting members of parliament. With the exception of the first post-revolutionary parliamentary elections in 1980, the Islamic Republic’s parliament has only ever allowed a narrow range of politicians to run for office. But this time the Guardian Council has gone much further, effectively expelling the reformist faction of the regime from the political realm.

On paper, running for parliament is open to all Iranians who are between the ages of 30 and 75 years old, hold at least a Masters degree or the equivalent, have finished their mandatory military service (for men), and have shown their commitment to Islam (with the exception of those running for the five seats reserved for religious minorities).”

That is not a “mixed system of democratic and theocratic governance” by any stretch of the imagination and indeed the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index rates Iran as an authoritarian regime ranked 151 out of 167 countries.

As usual (see ‘related articles’ below) this report promotes the notion of ‘moderates’ and ‘hardliners’ and uncritically amplifies Iranian regime propaganda concerning its nuclear programme.

“Foreign powers suspect Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, although Iran insists its nuclear activities are for purely peaceful purposes.”

Once again the BBC’s coverage Iranian affairs falls embarrassingly short.

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More BBC News promotion of its politicised narrative on Jerusalem

A report headlined “Jerusalem: Jordan condemns Israeli Western Wall railway plan” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East page on February 18th.

The apparent purpose of the report is to inform BBC audiences of the objections of another country to plans to extend a railway in Jerusalem.  

“Jordan has condemned a decision by Israel to advance a plan to build a railway line and station underneath the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City. […]

Jordan called the move a “flagrant violation of international law”.

Foreign ministry spokesman Daifallah al-Fayez urged the international community to “assume its responsibilities to resist the illegitimate and illegal Israeli steps”.”

Readers were not informed by the BBC which particular “international law” relates to the construction of railways.

They did however see one-sided portrayal of parts of the city of Jerusalem, including a frequently used map sourced from the political NGO B’tselem.

“A 3km (2-mile) tunnel will lead to the Western Wall – one of Judaism’s holiest sites – in the city’s occupied east.”

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

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

Predictably however, readers were not told that what the BBC chooses to call “East Jerusalem” was invaded and occupied by Jordan nineteen years earlier or that in June 1967 it was Jordan which opened the hostilities on that front. Neither were they provided with any significant background information concerning the Waqf and its status before being informed that:

“Jordan has special responsibility for overseeing the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem – including the compound behind the Western Wall, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount – via an Islamic trust called the Waqf.”

The BBC is obliged under the terms of its Charter to “provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”. Its adoption and exclusive promotion of one-sided politicised narratives which deliberately omit relevant information cannot possibly be claimed to serve audiences in accordance with those obligations.

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BBC News once again misleads on Egyptian Jews

On February 18th another report made for the BBC’s ‘Crossing Divides’ season appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

Produced by Nagham Kasem, the filmed report is titled “The unlikely friendship saving Egypt’s synagogues” and its synopsis reads:

“Two Egyptian women have come together to save the country’s lost Jewish heritage.

Magda, who is Jewish and Marwa, who is Palestinian and Muslim, meet weekly to clean, rescue and repair books, synagogues and cemeteries.

The Jewish community in Egypt shrank after the Israeli-Arab conflict in 1948. Many were exiled or felt forced to leave. With hardly any Jewish people left, the friends are battling to preserve the country’s lost Jewish heritage before it disappears forever.” [emphasis added]

That messaging is repeated in the film itself:

“Egypt once had a thriving Jewish community. But after the Arab-Israeli conflict began in 1948 the number of Jewish people fell from 80,000 to just a handful.

Magda Haroun: “After the establishment of Israel the attitude of Egyptians towards Jews changed.”

Large numbers were expelled or forced out of Egypt.”

Those portrayals would obviously lead BBC audiences to understand that prior to that prior to that unexplained “conflict”, which is inaccurately described as beginning in 1948, all was well for Egyptian Jews.

That, however, is not the case as this timeline of the measures which led to the eradication of Egypt’s Jewish community shows.

This is not the first time that BBC audiences have seen euphemistic or whitewashed portrayals of the history of Egyptian Jews. As has been noted here in the past the persecution of Egyptian Jews  did not, as the BBC suggests, begin “after the establishment of Israel” but long before Israel existed.

“The next step was the nationality laws of 1927 and 1929, which favored jus sanguinis (or right of blood). An Egyptian was from then on defined as somebody who had Arab-Muslim affiliation.

The London Convention (1936) granted Egypt independence under King Farouk, and it was followed by a worsening of the nationality laws. According to additional nationality laws (in 1950, 1951, 1953, and 1956), autochthonous Jews became stateless: 40,000 people were turned into “foreigners” in their own country.”

“In Egypt, a long process of discrimination in the public service began in 1929. In 1945-1948, Jews were excluded from the public service. In 1947, Jewish schools were put under surveillance and forced to Arabize and Egyptianize their curricula.”

Anti-Jewish violencerioting and economic discrimination also predated the existence of Israel.

“Jews in Egypt faced acute problems in the 1940s but these did not set their mass departure in motion. Rioting against Jews occurred in November 1945, then resumed in June-November 1948, the latter time inspired by the war with Israel. An amendment to the Egyptian Companies Law dated July 29, 1947, required that 40 percent of a company’s directors and 75 percent of its employees be Egyptian nationals, causing the dismissal and [loss of] livelihood of many Jews, 85 percent of whom did not possess Egyptian nationality.”

As we see, the BBC continues to erase history in order to promote its own inaccurate narrative according to which the mass departure of Jews from Egypt only happened because of Israel.

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