BBC’s Stephen Sackur does ‘the Israeli psyche’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



BBC reframes a story about a man denied entry by his own country

On February 18th an article by the BBC’s Addis Ababa correspondent Emmanuel Igunza appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Africa’ and ‘Middle East’ pages under the headline “Niger man deported by Israel marooned in Ethiopian airport”.

“A Niger national who was expelled from Israel has been stuck at the international airport in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, since November after his home country refused to take him back.”

Igunza’s account of the story of “24-year-old Eissa Muhamad” went as follows:

“He had been living in the Middle Eastern state since 2011, having left Niger’s north-western Tilaberi region as a 16-year-old in search of a better life.

He said he paid traffickers to take him across Libya and Egypt before he entered Israel by foot.

Once in Tel Aviv, Mr Muhamad survived by doing odd jobs in hostels and in a sweet factory until April 2018 when he was arrested for being in Israel without proper documents.”

In other words, it is patently clear to the BBC’s correspondent that Eissa Muhamad entered and remained in Israel illegally. He continued: 

“After several months in detention, Israel issued him an emergency travel document and put him on an Ethiopian Airlines plane, via Addis Ababa, to Niger in November. But on arrival in Niamey, Niger’s capital, he was refused entry by Niger’s authorities who alleged his travel document was false.

“They didn’t want me in Niger. They didn’t accept me,” Mr Muhamad said.”

Igunza did not bother to inform readers of the relevant fact that Niger severed diplomatic relations with Israel in 2002 before going on:

“After more than a week of being detained in Niger he was deported back to Israel. But Israel refused to accept him and detained him again for several weeks.

“They tied my hands and legs and forced me into a plane back to Niger which refused to accept me again,” the 24-year-old said.

Then the travel document issued by Israel expired when he was stuck in transit at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport after Niger refused to accept him for a second time.”

A month before this BBC article was published Eissa Muhamad told a somewhat different story to another journalist. [emphasis added]

“Muhamad tells me he has been deported twice from Israel in 2018. When he returned to Niger the first time, Muhamad’s Israeli travel documents were still valid, so he turned around and booked another flight back to Israel. When he arrived in Israel, authorities confiscated his travel documents and deported him again back to Niger. When Muhamad returned to Niger the second time, authorities requested proof of citizenship but he failed to produce valid documents, either Israeli or Nigerien, to support his citizenship.

Muhamad remained in Nigerien custody for eight days before being deported back to Israel via Ethiopia on an Ethiopian Airlines flight. When he arrived at Bole International Airport in Ethiopia, Ethiopian authorities, in collaboration with the Israeli government,  prevented him from boarding his connecting flight to Israel. They informed him that Israel was not willing to accept him, and since then, he has been stranded inside the airport, stuck between Niger and Israel.”

Whichever of those versions of the story is more accurate, obviously the core story here is about a man from Niger refused entry by his own country. That story received just one sentence of treatment in Igunza’s report:

“The BBC has repeatedly tried to contact Niger’s foreign ministry and its embassy in Ethiopia without success to ask why their authorities believed the document was false.”

In comparison, the country which Muhamad entered and remained in illegally got four paragraphs of coverage:

“Israel’s immigration department defended itself, saying in a statement issued to the BBC that Mr Muhamad had been deported because he had been in the country illegally.

“He is a citizen of Niger. It has nothing to do with us because he was expelled from here and when he arrived in Niger, he refused to co-operate with the authorities. How is Israel connected? He is not an Israeli,” the statement said.

It rubbished [sic] allegations that the emergency travel document was a fake.

“The Laissez Passer is a transit document for foreigners. It was legally designed precisely for such cases,” the statement said.”

In addition, Igunza gave generous promotion to the view of a campaigning NGO which the BBC has quoted in the past in stories relating to African migrants.

“An Israeli non-governmental organisation working with migrants and refugees said Mr Muhamad’s case was similar to that of other migrants expelled from Israel.

“Other migrants deported from Israel with the Israeli travel document have been refused entry to their countries of origin, or other countries en route, because the authorities claim the Israeli travel documents are false, ” the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said in a statement.

“In 2016 we published a report, Forgotten in Prison, which details the cases of migrants who are faced with the same problem,” it added

It also wants Israeli officials to investigate Mr Muhamad’s allegation that he was brutally assaulted while in detention.

“What is required now is that Eissa Muhamad be returned to Israel so that his accusations of brutality at the hands of Israeli immigration authorities can be investigated, and a solution found so that he may return to Niger,” said Shira Abo, [sic] the organisation’s spokesman [sic].

Additional signposting to readers of this article comes in the form of an embedded video dating from March 2018 titled “The Eritrean runner fearing deportation from Israel”, an image captioned “Many migrants who enter Israel illegally end up in detention centres” and a link to a report from February 2016 by Kathy Harcombe titled “Israel’s unwanted African migrants”.

It is hence amply clear that BBC audiences were steered towards the view that it is yet another story about Israel’s treatment of African migrants rather than one about Niger refusing to give entry to one of its own citizens following his deportation from a country which he entered illegally.

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BBC Africa misrepresents campaigning reports as ‘scoop’





BBC policy on use of term migrants ignored in WS report about Israel

h/t BF

As readers may be aware, the BBC sometimes appends a footnote to relevant articles concerning its use of the term migrant.

“A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.”

That editorial policy was also the subject of an article published on the BBC News website in August 2015.

However, listeners to the January 2nd edition of the BBC World Service radio podcast “Africa Today” heard presenter Bola Mosuro repeatedly use terminology that does not conform to that editorial policy.

Mosuro:”Coming up: Israel gives over thirty thousand refugees and asylum seekers just three months to leave the country voluntarily. If not, they will face indefinite jail terms or be forcibly repatriated.” [emphasis added]

In addition to her use of partial language to describe migrants, Mosuro’s claims that they “face indefinite jail terms” or being “forcibly repatriated” are inaccurate. Repatriated of course means being sent back to one’s own country but that is not what the programme entails.

In August last year Israel’s High Court of Justice unanimously passed a ruling on the issue.

“The High Court of Justice on Monday allowed Israel to continue with its controversial practice of deporting illegal migrants to an unnamed third country, but said the government cannot jail those who refuse to go for more than 60 days.

The judges unanimously rejected a petition by human rights groups against the deportation practice, but stressed that the deportations could only to be carried out with the agreement of the migrants.

The court also ruled that the Israeli authorities had to first ensure that the third country was safe.”

Introducing the item itself (from 00:56), Bola Mosuro again employed language that is not in line with the BBC’s stated policy of using the term migrants and also contradicted her own previous claim of repatriation. [emphasis in bold added]

Mosuro: “We start in Israel where more than 34,000 refugees or asylum seekers have been served notice. The refugees, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, were told by the immigration and border authorities yesterday they have just 90 days to leave the country. If they do not leave voluntarily, the Israeli authorities will jail them or deport them to either Uganda or Rwanda – two nations they’ve made agreements with. The details of these deals have not been made public to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which has expressed concern. Walpurga Englbrecht, who is the UNHCR representative in Tel Aviv said what they do know.”

Englbrecht’s explanation further clarifies that Bola Mosuro’s use of the term ‘refugees’ is inaccurate and misleading.

Englbrecht: “So those who are going to leave voluntarily will receive a grant of $3,500 and also a paid air ticket. And those who are targeted are those without a pending asylum claim – meaning that they have never applied for asylum or they were rejected – and those who submitted claims for asylum after the first of January.”

BBC audiences later heard Englbrecht promote unverified claims found in media reports which have since been refuted by the Rwandan government.

Englbrecht: “And unfortunately there has been further developments according to which – again, what has been reported in the media – it is said that Rwanda did agree to also accept those who are going to be forcefully relocated to this country.”

When the BBC reported last month on similar schemes in Europe, it described the people offered grants as migrants or asylum seekers rather than refugees.

“[Germany] has long offered migrants and asylum seekers financial incentives to leave its shores, and until 28 February 2018 it’s prepared to pay out extra. […]

According to Dr Jeff Crisp, a Fellow at the Chatham House think tank, so-called “voluntary return” programmes for asylum seekers have been around for at least 20 years, and everywhere from Australia to the UK and Canada has tried them. […]

Sweden currently offers grants of 30,000 Krona (£2,653; $ 3,550) for lone migrants and 75,000 for families, paid as a lump sum in US dollars.

And in spring 2016, nearby Norway made headlines for adding a 10,000 kroner “bonus” onto its existing rewards package for the first 500 asylum seekers to apply.”

Not for the first time we see that BBC coverage of stories concerning migrants in Europe and in Israel lacks consistency.

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Differences in BBC coverage of migrants in Europe and in Israel

Three inaccuracies and an omission in one BBC News sentence

The sentence below is to be found in an article published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 8th:accuracy

“In October last year, an Eritrean immigrant was shot and beaten to death by an angry crowd after being mistaken for an Arab militant in the town of Beersheba, prompting concern about mob reactions to people thought to be suspicious.”

Habtom Zerhom was not an “immigrant” but an Eritrean asylum seeker. The investigation into the incident showed that the cause of his death was internal bleeding from a gunshot wound – i.e. he was not “beaten to death” as claimed by the BBC. The incident occurred when Zerhom was mistaken for a second terrorist – not an “Arab militant” – during a terror attack at Be’er Sheva bus station on October 18th 2015 which is completely erased from this portrayal of events.

In addition to those omissions and inaccuracies, the link provided leads to a BBC report from October 2015 which, as has been noted here before, inaccurately represents the victim’s name and age, calling him “Mr Mulu” aged 19.

So much for editorial standards of accuracy.

“You have an implied contract with your audiences. You’re asking them to trust you to check that what you’re saying is true and that your overall account isn’t misleading.”

BBC World Service conflates fact and fiction in promotion of ‘racist’ Israel

BBC World Service radio has a programme called ‘Focus on Africa’ which purports to provide listeners with “reports and analysis of the day’s political, economic and sports news from across Africa”. The programme includes a section titled “Art from Focus on Africa” where audiences can “listen to interviews, news and reviews of arts from Africa” and indeed most of the items in that category relate to African artists and performers.

On March 2nd however the programme included an interview (which was also promoted separately on social media) with a writer who is not from Africa. The synopsis to that clip reads:Focus on Africa 2 3

“Tens of thousands of illegal migrants from Africa live in Israel, many of whom come from Eritrea and Sudan.

What kind of story might unfold if an Israeli citizen becomes involved with one of those migrants? What challenges might they face personally and socially?

These are questions explored by Israeli author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen in a new novel called Waking Lions.

She has been telling BBC Africa’s Mary Morgan more about the book’s central character.”

Much of the item relates to Gundar-Goshen’s novel about what she describes as a “Left-wing liberal doctor who votes for the right party” but is “completely unaware of the fact that he’s actually a racist”. However at one point presenter Mary Morgan takes the conversation away from fiction:

“How do you think most Israelis feel about and interact with African migrants?”

Listeners then hear the following assertion from Gundar-Goshen:

“Well I think most Israelis interact with African migrants but they just don’t think about it. It’s the people who clean our houses. It’s the people who clean our table. Israel is a very white society. It’s not like here. So almost all the black people that you meet are illegal refugees and I think things that will sound racist here are not even considered racist in Israel. Like the sentence when he [the novel’s main character] says ‘they all look the same for me’. I think to your eyes like this is like someone would never even dare to say. This is something that you say only inside your heart. And in Israel this is actually something that you could say and be OK.” [emphasis added]

The claim that “Israel is a very white society” can of course only be made if one ignores the fact that as of 2009, 50.2% of Israeli Jews were of Mizrachi or Sephardi background with origins in Africa and Asia. It can only be made if you ignore the 1.5% of the Israeli population of Ethiopian descent along with the Israelis with roots in places such as Yemen and Cochin, the African Hebrew Israelite community, around 10,000 black Bedouin of African descent and additional sections of Israeli society.

The BBC World Service did manage to ignore all that – with the result that listeners were fed information which, whilst it may well serve the purpose of promoting the interviewee’s work of fiction, certainly leaves them with a distorted and inaccurate view of the facts concerning a country which is actually far more diverse than “here” – i.e. the UK. 

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In which the BBC’s Addis Ababa correspondent decides who is Jewish

BBC Africa misrepresents campaigning reports as ‘scoop’

It is not difficult to discern when the BBC is running a campaign rather than merely reporting a story. One indication is the promotion of an item on multiple platforms and such was the case on February 3rd when listeners to the 6 am news bulletin on BBC Radio 4 were told that:

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. Migrants from Eritrea and Sudan say they’re fleeing violence. Israel says they are a threat to security but strongly denies acting illegally.”

The news bulletin on the same station one hour later – at 7 am – further expanded the topic.

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. There are about 45,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants in Israel. Kathy Harcombe has more details.

KH: The Israeli government calls them infiltrators who pose a threat to the security and identity of the Jewish state. But the migrants from Eritrea and Sudan say they’re fleeing violence and persecution. Israel doesn’t forcibly deport them but has introduced a policy that gives the choice to leave for a third country in Africa or be jailed indefinitely. Those third countries, the BBC has been told, are Rwanda and Uganda. Lawyers taking the Israeli government to the Supreme Court argue that increasingly tough measures against the migrants amount to a breach of the UN Refugee Convention. Israel however says that it has no doubt that it is acting legally. Rwanda has never confirmed the deal and the Ugandan government has denied that any such agreement exists. It’s also told the BBC it’s now investigating how migrants who claim to have been sent from Israel are entering the country.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 3 Breakfast show on the same day also heard similar promotion of that story in the 8 am news bulletin.

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. It’s alleged the migrants are made to choose between going to prison indefinitely and being sent away. Israel’s government says it’s acting legally.”

All that, however, was only the aperitif. Throughout the day, reports from BBC Africa’s Kathy Harcombe were to be found on a variety of BBC platforms.Migrants story Newsday

BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newsday’ broadcast an audio report which was also promoted separately on social media under the inaccurate and misleading title “Israel accused of illegally deporting Africans“. Harcombe’s expertise in her subject matter was demonstrated in her opening sentence:

“Deep in the Negev desert in Israel – hours away from the capital Tel Aviv – is the Holot detention centre.” [emphasis added]

Using very questionable wording with religious associations, the BBC News website promoted a written article by Harcombe headlined “Israel’s unwanted African migrants” on several of its pages including the Magazine, Middle East and Africa pages.

migrants stroy on ME pge

Filmed reports shown on BBC News television programmes were also promoted on the website under the headlines “Israel ‘sending away African migrants’” and “Life in Israel camp is a ‘waste of time’“.migrants story filmed 1

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme heard another audio report  – from 38:59 here – which also included an inaccurate reference to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital and was introduced by Eddie Mair as follows:

“BBC Africa has gathered evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law.”

All of the above news bulletins and reports present the story as though it were a BBC scoop, with repeated use of the claim that “the BBC has gathered evidence” or “found evidence”.

In fact, there is nothing new or “secretive” about this story at all: it has been in the public domain for nearly two years and related court cases initiated by a coalition of NGOs (which includes ACRI, Kav LaOved and Physicians for Human Rights)  have been going on since April 2015. Lawyer Anat Ben Dor, who appears in most of Harcombe’s pieces, has provided legal representation for that coalition of NGOs in these court cases but that fact and the name of the organization she represents is not adequately communicated to BBC audiences in some of the reports.

Harcombe steers audiences towards the mistaken belief that the migrants in Israel are without exception refugees with commentary such as this from her audio and filmed reports:

“The people here say that they came to Israel to seek refuge from conflict or persecution. But the Israeli government has granted asylum to fewer than 1%.”

She does not clarify what that percentage actually means (1% of the total number of migrants? 1% of those requesting asylum?) and she does not inform audiences that in fact, whilst almost 50,000 Sudanese and Eritreans have illegally entered Israel, only about 1,800 of them had requested asylum as of January 2014. 67% of the mostly younger male migrants who entered Israel via Egypt come from Eritrea and 25% from Sudan and – as Harcombe should know because the BBC has reported the story – the status of migrants from Eritrea has also come under discussion in Europe – including in the UK.

Harcombe’s headline-grabbing claims of “breach of international law” are based on her assertion that:

“By failing to ensure the safety of its unwanted African migrants, some legal experts say Israel is in breach of its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.”

A decision from Israel’s Supreme Court in 2015 (paragraph 4) provides information concerning Israeli efforts to ensure the welfare of those leaving Israel for a third country, including the inspection and confirmation of implementation of agreements with that country by envoys of the Israeli government (including meetings with migrants) and the appointment of a personal contact in Israel’s Population and Immigration Bureau for each person moving to a third country in order to facilitate communication if problems arise.migrants story written

BBC audiences are not told how Harcombe managed to locate and contact the “two men who say that they were abandoned as soon as they got off the plane” whose stories form the basis of the allegations in these reports and the backbone for the claim of a scoop.

However, it is not unreasonable to assume that contact with those two men may have been facilitated by the campaigning NGOs which are obviously the source of this story. Last year a representative of one of those organisations – Sigal Rozen who is interviewed in Harcombe’s written article – produced a report that includes remarkably similar stories which were collected by Harcombe’s other interviewee, lawyer Anat Ben Dor. The background to the BBC’s repeated claims that it has “found evidence” or “gathered evidence” therefore requires clarification.  

Clearly, this BBC ‘scoop’ is in fact a self-conscripted contribution to the PR efforts of a campaign being run by a coalition of political NGOs.  That in itself does not come as much of a surprise: the BBC has a record of reporting on the issue of African migrants in Israel which includes the regurgitation of a report from Human Rights Watch, the amplification of allegations of racism from a very dubious anti-Israel campaigner and one-sided reporting which has serially failed to present the viewpoint of the people of the neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv where the majority of the migrants live.

However, the BBC’s funding public has the right to know that such an energetically promoted multi-platform ‘scoop’ is in fact part of a political campaign. Audiences also have the right to expect transparency concerning any third-party involvement in locating and recruiting interviewees and BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality dictate that the political agendas of the campaigning NGOs which are obviously the source of these multiple reports should have been made known to viewers, readers and listeners. 


Differences in BBC coverage of migrants in Europe and in Israel

The August 21st edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Have Your Say’ included an item (from 34:00 here) in which, prompted by an article from Al Jazeera, participants discussed whether the people from the Middle East and Africa arriving in Europe should be called migrants or refugees.

Among those taking part in the discussion was the BBC’s head of newsgathering, Jonathan Munro, and from 40:00 listeners heard his view on the issue.WHYS migrants

“Well first of all, Ben, I think it’s a really important discussion to have and the language is really sensitive and it’s important to get it right. We’ve seen […] huge numbers of people moving; 40,000 through the Macedonia border for example this month alone, we think. The language that we use is…we’re perhaps not in the same place as Al Jazeera on this, though I think we are in the same sort of debate as they’ve been. I don’t think there’s anything wrong actually with using the word migrant and the word refugee. The vast majority of people that we’re seeing coming through those borders – whether on land or by sea – are both migrants and refugees. The issue […] is more about dehumanisation of people in the way we cover it, which isn’t just a language issue. When you’re seeing 40,000 people coming through over a period – a relatively short period of a number of weeks – what we’re hearing on our radios and seeing on our screens are images and sounds that portray the volume of people. And the way to dehumanise them is just to do that and the way to keep them human beings – and this is a much more important point it seems to me than the vocabulary – is to talk to them, to hear their stories as individuals, as human beings as opposed to as part of a trend. […] And it’s that humanity which is, you know, actually more important than vocabulary boundaries that some broadcasters might choose to put in place. We’re not in the game of saying certain words aren’t appropriate as long as they’re accurate and they reflect the story. The more important thing for us is to keep the human beings at the heart of it.”

Unfortunately, those sentiments and intentions have not always applied to the other side of the story – the people affected by sudden influxes of large numbers of migrants – in the BBC’s reporting on African migrants in Israel. Not only have BBC audiences never heard the points of view of the residents of places such as south Tel Aviv or Eilat but the BBC has used the subject matter of African migrants to actively promote the notion of Israel as a racist society.

“It’s a confluence of being non-Jewish and non-white which causes the vociferous hatred.”

In January 2014 Kevin Connolly told BBC audiences that:

“There’s a special factor, I think, in all of this in Israel which doesn’t really apply in other countries and that’s the fact that the government looks at non-Jewish immigration – legal or illegal – as a threat to the Jewish nature of the state. Israel was created specifically to be a Jewish state in the eyes of the Netanyahu government and anything which carries some sort of demographic threat to that identity in the long term, like the influx of non-Jewish African migrants, is seen as a threat to that special status. So Israel doesn’t just look at illegal immigration like this through the same prism as other countries like the countries of Western Europe or the United States; it also looks at it through that very particular prism and sees a very particular threat to its own nature.” 

No comparable ‘analysis’ was proffered to BBC audiences when, twenty months later, EU member state Slovakia said it would only take in Christian refugees from Syria. Whilst reporting on attacks on centres for asylum seekers in Germany, the BBC made sure to clarify that “[t]he attacks and protests horrify most Germans” and “most Germans have been welcoming to asylum seekers, but a small minority has been vocal in its opposition”.

Also in January 2014, BBC audiences were encouraged by Richard Galpin to view Israeli policies concerning migrants as going against international norms.

“So this is why we’re seeing these demonstrations now – the people are really concerned about what’s going to happen and feel now is the time that the international community needs to act so that the laws which the Israeli authorities are applying to people here, stopping them getting asylum effectively and trying to get them to leave Israel, that those laws are changed.”

No such suggestion appeared in BBC coverage of proposals by the UK government to imprison illegal workers and oblige landlords to evict tenants who are illegal immigrants and “the language that the politicians are using” does not appear to be an issue for the BBC when politicians are British.

Particularly interesting is a BBC report from July on changes in the approaches of the Danish, Norwegian and British governments to Eritrean migrants. Readers of that report were told that:

“A Danish Immigration Service report, from November 2014, suggested that Eritrea’s policy towards returnees had become more lenient. It was based on a fact-finding mission, but did not name its sources. […]

The report was criticised by Danish media and Human Rights Watch, which described it as “more like a political effort to stem migration than an honest assessment of Eritrea’s human rights situation”.”

Interestingly, in September 2014 when Human Rights Watch produced a report concerning Eritreans in Israel, the BBC did not make do with a one-sentence quote but published an entire article titled “Israel ‘coercing Eritreans and Sudanese to leave’” – the bulk of which was a rehashed version of HRW’s press release.

The subject of migrants and refugees is a very sensitive one wherever the story happens to take place and Jonathan Munro’s points are obviously relevant. So too, however, are the issues of consistency in BBC reporting, the avoidance of double standards dependent upon geography and the elimination of any underlying political agenda of the type all too often apparent in the BBC’s reporting on Israel’s attempts to deal with an issue now also affecting Europe.

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Variations in BBC portrayal of fences, walls and barriers


Variations in BBC portrayal of fences, walls and barriers

Recent weeks have seen the appearance of a relatively large volume of BBC reports relating to the subject of fences.

A 175 km-long fence being constructed along the Hungarian-Serbian border with the aim of keeping migrants and asylum seekers out of Hungary has been the topic of several BBC reports – written and filmed.

“…it’s an ugly reminder of the Iron Curtain that used to divide Europe from east to west. […] The government’s out to send a double message: to prospective asylum seekers – stay away; there’s no place for you here. And to the Hungarian tax payer – we will pull out all the stops to protect you from the foreign hoards.”

Decidedly less polemic language is seen in BBC reports concerning the British government’s £12 million investment in fencing and other security measures in Calais – also with the aim of keeping migrants out of their country. Interestingly, fact that the UK is paying for fence construction on French soil does not appear to be an issue and insinuations of racism as a factor influencing the British approach to the issue of migrants do not appear in the way they frequently do in BBC coverage of the topic of African migrants in Israel.Tunisia ct fence

Last month the Tunisian government announced a plan to construct a 160 km-long barrier along its border with Libya as part of its counter-terrorism strategy. Notably, the BBC News website article informing audiences of that news portrayed the reason for the construction of that barrier in clear terms. Originally titled “Tunisia to build Libya wall to counter terror threat” and now going under the headline “Tunisia to build ‘anti-terror’ wall on Libya border“, the article opens:

“Tunisia has announced plans to build a wall along its border with Libya to counter the threat from jihadist militants.

It would stretch 160km (100 miles) inland from the coast, and be completed by the end of 2015, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid told state TV.

The Tunisian army would build the wall, which would have surveillance centres at certain points along it, Mr Essid said.”

In contrast with the terminology regularly used to portray Israel’s anti-terrorist fence, the BBC does not qualify the structure’s aim with “Tunisia says” and obviously did not find it necessary to ‘balance’ the Tunisian government’s description of the wall’s purpose with input from the terrorist organisations it aims to thwart. Insofar as we are aware, the BBC has also not found it necessary to issue its journalists with a ‘style guide’ instructing them on the approved terminology for this barrier or any of the others above in order to “avoid using terminology favoured by one side or another in any dispute“.

However, despite that factual portrayal of the Tunisian government’s plan, audiences were also provided with an opinion piece titled “Big walls can cause big problems” from a person with no apparent qualifications on the subject of counter-terrorism. The messaging in that article is very clear.Big walls art

“In our series of letters from African journalists, Ghanaian writer Elizabeth Ohene looks at the problems around building big walls. […]

But more often than not, and if you are a country instead of a person, you can’t move and so you try to find ways to keep out the unpleasantness.

And so we build walls. But then walls can cause more trouble than they solve. […]

We build walls to divide and keep out and therein lies the problem.[…]

There is nothing in history that would lead us to believe that the highest walls can keep out unwanted people or keep in people who want to get out.”

That article includes an insert presented under the subheading “Great divides: Past and present” and its first entry reads:

“Israel began building barrier in and around the occupied West Bank in 2002: 720km planned by completion”

As is all too often the case in BBC coverage, readers are not told why Israel reached the decision to build that fence and its record of preventing what Ms Ohene coyly describes as “unpleasantness” is concealed. Had it not been, her claim that “[t]here is nothing in history that would lead us to believe that the highest walls can keep out unwanted people” would have been considerably less convincing.

In May of this year the IDF published figures relating to the anti-terrorist fence’s efficacy. Since the fence’s construction, suicide bombings have decreased by 100% and shooting attacks by 93.5%, bringing a dramatic fall in the number of Israeli civilians killed by terrorists. Unfortunately for members of the BBC’s audience trying to put both the Israeli security barrier and similar measures in other countries into context, that information is not included in the BBC narrative on the subject.

Related Articles:

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3



BBC interviewee and source banned from German parliament

Readers may recall that last month BBC Trending’s Anne-Marie Tomchak produced a filmed report titled “Israel’s unwelcome African ‘infiltrators'” which was widely publicized on various pages of the BBC News website. As was noted here at the time:Trending African migrants 1

“Tomchak’s entire report is constructed around the video posted by David Sheen…[…] Anne-Marie Tomchak should obviously also have adhered to BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by ‘summarising the standpoint’ of her interviewee and main source, providing rather more information than the meaningless description “campaigner”.”

In that post we noted some of David Sheen’s prolific anti-Israel activities – none of which were communicated to BBC audiences in order to enable them to put Sheen’s claims into their appropriate context.

Recently, the source of that material upon which an entire BBC report was based has been making headlines in Germany.

“Blumenthal and Sheen, who are often hosted by groups campaigning for BDS, have been in Berlin for the past few days. They were scheduled to speak at several events, including one at the Volksbühne theater on November 9 and another one hosted by some members of The Left (party) at the German parliament on November 11. […]

However, Gregor Gysi, the leader of The Left, as well as several prominent left-wing politicians and other public figures, opposed giving Blumenthal and Sheen prestigious platforms like the Volksbühne and the German parliament for fear that they would repeat their usual anti-Semitic rhetoric demonizing Israel as the Nazi Germany of our time. […]

But while party leader Gysi had announced that the event at the German parliament would also be cancelled, the two party members who had invited Blumenthal and Sheen defied his decision and hosted them in a conference room available for the use of MPs. […]

After their presentation, Blumenthal and Sheen reportedly insisted on a meeting with party leader Gysi, and when this meeting was not granted, they apparently waited for Gysi in the hallway near his office, accosted him when he left to go to the bathroom and pursued him aggressively through the corridors until he managed to shut the door of the bathroom stall. Astonishingly, Blumenthal and Sheen felt their conduct was something to be proud of: they filmed their harassment of Gysi, posted the clip on YouTube and promoted it on Twitter, boasting about having forced him to seek shelter in the toilet – and unbelievably enough, they even demanded an apology from Gysi.

Unsurprisingly, the German media reacted with shock and bewilderment. The popular Bild posted the blunt headline “Lunatic Israel-haters pursue Gysi into the loo” and featured several screen shots showing a clearly distressed Gysi – who, it should perhaps be noted in this context, survived brain surgery and a heart attack 10 years ago. Berlin’s B.Z. featured similar pictures under the headline “Political thugs [Polit-Pöbler] chase Gysi through the Bundestag [i.e. parliament building];” the magazine Focus headlined their story “Shocking incident: Enemies of Israel chase Gysi through Bundestag,” while Spiegel Online run the headline “Harrassed leader of The Left: Israel critics pursue Gysi into the loo.” The high-brow Zeit reported about “Gysi’s uninvited guests,” noting that Blumenthal and Sheen were “hostile” to Israel and had “aggressively” tried to confront Gysi. The headline in the respected Welt read: “Gregor Gysi flees from anti-Zionists to the toilet;” the report noted that the video of the incident showed “scary” and “grotesque” scenes reminiscent of a “hunt” or a “school mobbing.” “

Bloomberg adds:

“Both men [Sheen and Blumenthal] are banned from entering the German parliament in the future, according to an e-mailed statement today by the chamber’s president, Norbert Lammert.

“Every attempt to exert pressure on members of parliament, to physically threaten them and thus endanger the parliamentary process is intolerable and must be prevented,” Lammert said, according to the statement.”

Anne-Marie Tomchak’s report remains available to BBC audiences online; still with no information advising viewers of its source’s political agenda – in clear breach of BBC guidelines on impartiality. In addition to addressing that urgent issue, the above-described events in Germany obviously further indicate that a review of BBC Trending’s sourcing policies is in order. 

BBC Trending breaches editorial guidelines by failing to adequately identify ‘campaigner’

October 15th saw the appearance on the BBC News website’s Middle East And Magazine pages of the latest in a growing collection of BBC reports about African migrants in Israel which – rather than informing audiences of the real issues behind that very complex issue – employ the topic to promote the theme of Israel as a racist society.

Titled “#BBCtrending: Israel’s unwelcome African ‘infiltrators’“, the filmed report by Anne-Marie Tomchak opens:Trending African migrants 1

“In Israel, even the polite term for thousands of African migrants is ‘infiltrators’. But in this widely shared video the anti-African chants were much more offensive. It was posted on Youtube a week ago by a campaigner.”

In fact, the Hebrew word מסתננים is not used exclusively to describe African migrants, but anyone who has crossed a border illegally – as all those migrants have. Tomchak’s report goes on to feature an interview with the “campaigner” who posted the video, with that description also being the term used to describe David Sheen in the on-screen text appearing in her report.

Sheen: “This latest rally that I captured on film – there were about approximately about 120 people there – Jewish Israelis – marching through south Tel Aviv in the direction of a park that is often frequented by African immigrants to Israel. It’s a confluence of being non-Jewish and non-white which causes the vociferous hatred.”

Tomchak makes no attempt to examine the veracity of Sheen’s claim and continues:

“Tens of thousands of Christian and Muslim Africans have come to the Jewish state. They call themselves refugees. The state calls them illegal immigrants. The people in this video were protesting against a High Court decision to close a detention centre where thousands of Africans are held. Now many could end up on the streets.”

Next viewers see a ‘balancing’ interview with Michael Freund of the Jerusalem Post who explains:

“One can also understand the residents of south Tel Aviv who for many years now have seen their neighbourhood overtaken by an influx of illegal migrants. A sense of lawlessness now pervades that part of the city.”

Tomchak fails to expand on that very relevant aspect of the story, going on to say:

“There’s been a mixed reaction online to this video. African migrants have taken to social media to highlight their circumstances. We contacted the man behind this page who said he was in one of the centres.”

Anwar Suliman: “I’m leave my country 2003 when the war start in Sudan in Darfur. Sudan is bad, you know, the war. The situation is dangerous. Where I can go?”

Tomchak: “Israel sees itself as a country offering sanctuary for many fleeing antisemitism and persecution. As the intense debate over this video shows, dealing with asylum seekers hits a very raw nerve.”

Tomchak’s entire report is constructed around the video posted by David Sheen which in fact showed just one of the demonstrations which took place in south Tel Aviv following the High Court’s decision on September 22nd. With the purpose of Sheen’s video obviously being to publicise the issue of racist chants at that gathering and his subsequent commentary referring to “vociferous hatred” supposedly caused by the fact that the African migrants are “non-Jewish and non-white”, it would of course have been appropriate for Tomchak to inform viewers that the participants in that particular demonstration were mostly a group of far-right activists (Sheen claims 120 – the Jerusalem Post reported “several dozen”) rather than a cross-section of Israeli society as a whole.

Anne-Marie Tomchak should obviously also have adhered to BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by ‘summarising the standpoint’ of her interviewee and main source, providing rather more information than the meaningless description “campaigner”.

It would, for example, have been highly relevant to inform BBC audiences that David Sheen has written for a number of outlets, including Ha’aretz, along with additional ones identified with specific political views and/or anti-Israel campaigning: 972 Magazine, Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada and an obscure outlet called Muftah which, in its ‘about’ section notably states:

“While we are committed to free speech, we do abide by certain red lines. First, we will not publish pieces that advocate violence, war, occupation, or racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination. Second, we are solidly pro-Palestinian and will not publish pieces that are contrary to this perspective.”

BBC audiences should also have been informed that Sheen recentlygave evidence‘ supposedly showing Israeli ‘incitement for genocide’ at the latest gathering of the self-appointed anti-Israel pseudo-legal farce titled ‘The Russell Tribunal on Palestine’. The fact that Sheen is currently on a speaking tour in the US and collaborating with the anti-Israel, BDS –supporting SJP and has also collaborated with anti-Israel activist Max Blumenthal  is information which would have helped BBC audiences to put Sheen’s claims into their correct context.

But predictably, BBC audiences were not informed of the political motives of Anne-Marie Tomchak’s main source because the prime aim of this report is to keep the pilot light of ‘Israel as a racist society’ burning. Just in case audiences did not get the message, Tomchak’s item was presented on the website together with a series of additional reports under the heading “Read more” which clearly signpost the conclusion viewers were intended to take away.  

Trending African migrants 2

The issue of African migrants in Israel is a complex one about which BBC audiences have yet to be adequately informed and Tomchak’s report certainly contributes nothing to the BBC’s obligation to “build a global understanding” of the issue. Rather, Tomchak actually misleads audiences by promoting Sheen’s politically motivated simplistic ‘explanation’ of the topic and compromises the BBC’s impartiality by providing a platform for the delegitimisation of Israel by an inadequately identified professional campaigner.