BBC R4, WS mark Israeli independence with ‘nakba’ and ‘one-state’

h/t AS, RS

The April 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ – presented by Sarah Montague – included an item (from 33:34 here) that used Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations as a hook on which to hang the promotion of a political narrative and a campaign.

Montague began by inaccurately claiming that the day of the broadcast was the day upon which Israel was founded according to the Hebrew calendar. In fact, the date of Israel’s Declaration of Independence is the 5th of Iyar, which this year fell on Friday, April 20th.

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

Montague: “In the Hebrew calendar it was 70 years ago today that Israel was first founded. To mark the establishment of the Jewish state there will be 70 hours of celebrations in the country. Going by the Western calendar, the date of independence was May the 14th in 1948 and as in every year since then, Palestinians will mark that same event, which they call ‘al Nakba’ – the day of catastrophe – as a time of mourning and anger. Our correspondent Caroline Wyatt’s been looking back to 1948 and talking to a Palestinian writer and an Israeli Rabbi who both live in the UK about what the creation of Israel means to them today.”

Caroline Wyatt found it appropriate to open her item began with an archive newsreel recording in which the founders of the Jewish state were portrayed as “lawless” and “thugs”. She apparently failed to recognise the irony of a newsreel that described the same British authorities which had actively prevented Jews in both the pre and post-war eras from reaching safety in Mandate Palestine as the representatives of “law and order”.

Archive recording: “Against a background which daily gains resemblance to war-scarred Europe, Palestine is now gripped with almost unrestricted racial warfare. With British influence waning and United Nations actions still delayed, the lawless elements of Jew and Arab populations take over from the servants of a policy of law and order.”

Wyatt: “This was the drama of Palestine as Pathé News headlined its war report in January 1948. It was the year after the newly formed United Nations accepted the idea of partitioning Palestine. One zone for the Jews, to be known as Israel, and the other zone for the Arabs who formed the majority of the population there at the time. It was a plan accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine but rejected by Arab leaders, so the fighting continued.”

Archive recording: “In the back streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Jaffa the thugs of both sides build up the armoured cars for war against each other. In between them – victims of the struggle – stand the great majorities of civil people on both sides.”

Wyatt: “The last of the British soldiers that had been there under the British mandate that administered Palestine for a quarter of a century withdrew from the region on May the 14th 1948 – the day before the mandate was due to expire.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording of Ben Gurion preparing to read out the declaration of independence – an event which Wyatt inaccurately claimed took place “at midnight” when in fact it took place at 4 p.m. so as not to run into Shabbat.

Wyatt: “At midnight that same day David Ben Gurion, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared the State of Israel. For many Jews it was the culmination of over two thousand years of hope – and the beginning of 70 years of struggle of the Palestinian people. Professor Eugene Rogan is the director of St Antony’s College Middle East Centre at Oxford University.”

BBC audiences are of course familiar with the style of commentary on the Middle East advanced by Eugene Rogan but nevertheless his promotion of the falsehood that there had been an entity called the “State of Palestine” before May 14th 1948 is remarkable.

Rogan: “The founding of Israel meant very different things to the different stakeholders in the Middle East. For partisans of the Zionist movement it was the realisation of a generation’s old aspiration: to establish a statehood for the Jewish people. Coming in the aftermath of the Holocaust, it seemed to vindicate the greatest of hopes at a time when the Jewish people had suffered their worst of catastrophes. But of course for the Palestinian Arab people, the creation of the State of Israel came at the expense of their homeland: the State of Palestine as it had been ruled under British mandate since 1920. And so for them, rather than this being a moment of joy or triumph, it was a moment of their catastrophe and they’ve called it that ever since. They refer to it as the Nakba – the Arabic word for catastrophe.”

Listeners next heard from another academic who has also been a BBC contributor in the past and whose resume includes having been an advisor to Yasser Arafat – although that was not clarified.

Khalidi: “I’m Ahmad Samih Khalidi. I come from an ancient Jerusalemite Arab family. I was born and lived in exile. I am a writer and commentator. Currently I’m associated with St Anthony’s College at Oxford. I am myself a product of the Nakba. I was born in 1948 and my whole life of course has been determined by this experience, as has that of all my contemporaries, my family and everyone, really, who I relate to on a daily basis.”

Wyatt: “Ahmad Khalidi has spent much of his adult life involved in trying to help find a peaceful resolution for this one land claimed by two peoples.”

Khalidi: “This was an entity that had taken over my homeland, dispossessed my people, so there was an ongoing struggle and Israel was seen as an aggressive state that had dispossessed the people of Palestine and was bent on expanding its presence in the region. Later as I grew up it became more apparent to me that this was something that I personally had to do something about.”

After an ostensibly ‘neutral’ academic and a Palestinian voice, Wyatt introduced her ‘balance’ – an American-born, UK resident interviewee who has a “complex” relationship with Israel.

Wyatt: “So what about those for whom Israel has been a refuge? In north London I go to a deli – Falafel Feast – to meet an Orthodox Rabbi, Natan Levy, who’s known in the UK for fasting over Ramadan – an attempt to bring about greater understanding between Muslims and Jews. He says his relationship with Israel has long been a complex one.”

Levy: “When I was growing up in America we had family members that had the trauma – not just the history – but the trauma of the Holocaust was really real. My mum had a bag packed for us; each of the children had a bag packed at the front door. Just in case something should go horribly wrong we could grab our bags and our passports and run to Israel, the Holy Land, that was always seen – even before I’d ever been there – as the place of safety. We all have Israeli passports and my oldest daughter was born there.”

Wyatt: “Yet Natan Levy’s attitude towards Israel has changed over time.”

Levy: “So for my yeshiva – the place where I learned to be a Rabbi – was actually in the West Bank. There I guess you would say I was a settler with the ideologies that went along with being a settler. This land is all ours, promised in the Torah – in the Old Testament – and slowly I came to realise; we were on top of the hill and at the bottom of the hill was a Palestinian farm that had also been there for generation upon generation. And bit by bit it seemed like everyone was in a sort of prison. Everyone was kept separate. The fences were too big and eventually we began a bit of conversation with the people at the bottom and their story, like ours, was filled with longing and hope and deep trauma. And the more I spoke to them, the harder it was to justify being on top of the hill and having a fence between us.”

Levy studied at a yeshiva in Gush Etzion – an area in which Jews had purchased land and built communities years before the arrival of the British-backed invading Jordanian army in 1948. Radio 4 listeners were of course not informed of those narrative-spoiling facts and similarly Wyatt did not bother to clarify the role of Palestinian terror in her portrayal of ‘growing fences’.  

Wyatt: “Over the years the fences in Israel have grown, while hopes of a deeper dialogue on peace have withered. Ahmed Khalidi describes himself now as deeply pessimistic about the prospects.”

Khalidi: “The outlines of a two-state solution have slipped away. I think this one-state reality has now taken over. It’s becoming more deeply entrenched. I’m not suggesting that there is some kind of ideal solution out there that will emerge from this one-state reality. In fact one of my concerns is that the one-state reality may end up as a one-state nightmare. But if we don’t have partition and we can’t have a genuine one-state reality in which the two sides can live together, then we’re going to have a state of perpetual conflict.”

The item ended with that unchallenged and unquestioned promotion from ‘one-stater’ Ahmad Khalidi and no clarification was provided to BBC audiences to explain that what the Oxford academic is in fact touting is the demise of the Jewish state.

And not only did BBC Radio 4 find it appropriate to provide a stage for promotion of the campaign to end to Jewish self-determination on the very day that it was being celebrated, but the same item was also broadcast to BBC World Service listeners (from 45:05 here) in the afternoon edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day.

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

The second part (see part one here) of the ‘Newshour‘ Balfour Declaration centenary special that was aired on BBC World Service radio on November 2nd began (from 30:04 here) with a reading of the declaration itself after a short introduction from presenter James Menendez.

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

Menendez: “Now to our main story today: the centenary of the Balfour Declaration – the statement by the British government pledging support for the creation of a homeland for Jews.

Menendez then introduced his next guest:

Menendez: “Well let’s get the Palestinian perspective on that declaration and its legacy. I’ve been speaking to Ahmad Khalidi, a former Palestinian negotiator, now senior associate member of St Antony’s College, Oxford University. What does he think the motivation for the deal was?”

Khalidi began by promoting the theme of ‘colonialism’ that appears regularly in Palestinian Authority and PLO messaging.

Khalidi: “There were a number of things. The first was clear British imperial interests in establishing a colony which the British would control and who they believed would be populated by a friendly Jewish Zionist population. The second was to keep the French out because the French had competing interests in the Levant and third was to gain the support of world Jewish communities, particularly in the United States as the British were interested in getting the Americans to come into the war. So they thought that if they could do this then the Jews all over the world would support the British and the allies in the war.”

Menendez: “But was there no humanitarian motivation – the desire to give the Jewish people a homeland given the level – even at that stage – of persecution in Europe even before the Holocaust?”

Khalidi: “Yes there was but it wasn’t matched by any sympathy or understanding for the fact the population of Palestine was 90% Arab – both Muslim and Christian. Second, that this population was not consulted and third that the terms of the Balfour Declaration set up no parity between the two. Balfour decided – or the declaration says – that Jews can have a national home in Palestine and recognises them as a people with national rights but it only refers to the Palestinians as the non-Jewish communities. Balfour made it very clear; he says the Zionist movement has far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit the land.”

Khalidi’s misrepresentation of the context that statement by Balfour conceals from listeners that it was actually made two years after the Balfour Declaration was issued in a memorandum addressing the question of the selection of mandatories in various regions of the Middle East and referred specifically to the debate at the time about consulting the inhabitants of the Middle East with regard to that specific question.

Menendez: “But did everyone think that though? I mean that wasn’t how it was sold to the people at the time. Weren’t there those who felt that both things were possible? That the Jewish people could have their homeland and the Arabs living there also could have a future?”

Khalidi: “Well yes; a future but you know as I keep saying this is a land that had been populated for 1,400 years by an Arab people and that the British, who were not in control of Palestine, decided that the best thing would be to hand it over to somebody else – who was not there!”

Rather than clarifying to listeners that by the time the Balfour Declaration was written Jerusalem had had a majority Jewish population for more than half a century and that Jewish communities had existed in additional towns such as Tsfat, Hebron and Tiberias for centuries, Menendez put his own wind into the sails of Khalidi’s political narrative.

Menendez: “So sort of giving away something that wasn’t theirs to give away.”

Khalidi: “They weren’t even in control of it at the time. It wasn’t theirs to give away and somebody else was there who had as much – if not more – of a claim to the land than anybody else. The Arabs were there for 1,400 years continuously, regardless of who was there before. These were the people of the land; the natives. And they were completely ignored.”

Menendez: “And in fact Winston Churchill came up with this phrase, didn’t he, ‘I don’t agree that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time’.”

That statement by Churchill of course dates from twenty years after the Balfour Declaration and according to Sir Martin Gilbert’s book “Churchill and the Jews” was made in the framework of the 1937 Peel Commission which recommendation partition of Palestine into two separate states – one Jewish and one Arab: a plan that was unanimously rejected by the Arabs. That information of course does not fit it with Khalidi’s narrative of denial of the national rights of Arabs and therefore unsurprisingly listeners were told nothing of that context.

Khalidi: “Isn’t that extraordinary? Frankly, I mean, Theresa May thinks that this is a day to celebrate with pride. I think it’s a day when the British government should hang its head in shame. It’s a day that reveals an extent of duplicity, a lack of concern for the natives of the land. OK you can say that this was the spirit of imperialism at the time. Maybe. But it doesn’t make it any better from the Palestinian point of view.”

Menendez: “But it also gave refuge to the Jews who’d been persecuted for hundreds of years. Surely that is a good thing with the benefit of hindsight?”

Khalidi: “If that could have been done in such a way that it was a consensual act where the Palestinian Arabs and the Jews had come together and agreed on a formula by which this would be mutually acceptable, that would have been wonderful. But the fact is that this is not what happened. We were not recognised as a people with national rights and to a very large extent this is still the case today.”

Refraining from asking Khalidi to clarify why those national rights were not recognised – or demanded – when the Palestinian Arabs were living under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, Menedez went on:

Menendez: “And isn’t the problem at the moment that there are loud voices on both sides of the conflict who do not believe that the other side should have any right to that land – both on the Israeli side and Palestinian side?”

Khalidi: “Yes, I mean, you know, we have a formula that’s been around for decades. The sad thing is that whereas the international community put its weight behind the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, there’s never been a similar international line-up that has made any difference in terms of creating a national home or a state for the Palestinians in what remains of Palestine.”

Had Menendez been playing the role of impartial interviewer rather than facilitator of the amplification of a specific political narrative he would of course have reminded Khalidi – and his listeners – that in 1947 an “international line-up” offered the Palestinians the chance of their own state in the form of the Partition Plan but that it too was rejected by both the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab states. However, Menendez closed the conversation with Khalidi at that point and went on instead to describe to listeners Palestinian media coverage of the centenary before introducing his final interviewee as “the view from Jerusalem”.

Menendez: “…I spoke to Michaela Sieff [Ziv] – her grandmother Rebecca founder of the Women’s International Zionist Organisation [WIZO]. She told me first about her grandmother’s role in those years leading up to the creation of the State of Israel.”

While Ms Sieff’s account was interesting in itself, it did not counter the historical revisionism previously promoted by Khalidi and Menendez who, when told of Rebecca Sieff’s work with Jewish women and children in Palestine asked:

Menedez: “So concern for them. Was she worried at all do you know about what would happen to the Arab inhabitants of Palestine?”

His final question steered listeners back to the theme dominating the entire item:

Menendez: “And what do you think now? I mean can you understand Ahmad Khalidi who we’ve just heard from, you know, his feelings of betrayal, feelings of resentment that Britain betrayed the Palestinians with the Balfour Declaration?”

Obviously this ‘Newshour’ special not only did very little indeed to contribute to audience understanding of the topic of the Balfour Declaration but its blatant promotion of a partisan political narrative based on historical revisionism failed to meet the BBC’s professed  standards of accuracy and impartiality.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part three

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part four

MEMO Balfour event participant hosts BBC Radio 4 discussion on Balfour Declaration

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one