The April 1st edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included a report by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent Barbara Plett Usher which was introduced by presenter Julian Marshall (from 45:11 here) as follows:
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Marshall: “The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life in hotly contested elections next week, trying to win another term in office despite facing possible indictments on corruption charges. His election campaign has made much of his ability to deliver dividends from Israel’s relationship with America and has highlighted his friendship with President Trump but for some time his Right-wing policies have been chipping away at America’s strong bi-partisan support for the Israeli government and that fracture is becoming ever more public. Barbara Plett Usher takes a closer look.”
Listeners heard no justification for the use of the buzz words “Right-wing policies” and no explanation of what those policies supposedly involve. They were given no evidence to support the claim that American support is for “the Israeli government” rather than Israel as a whole. Neither was any evidence provided supporting the claim that such support has been diminished solely and exclusively because of the Israeli prime minister’s policies. Plett Usher’s report opened with a recording of the Israeli prime minister speaking.
Recording Netanyahu: “Thank you President Trump. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your friendship.”
Plett Usher: “Benjamin Netanyahu has always believed he’s best at reading the wind when it comes to Americans and he felt that wind at his back on a trip to Washington last week.”
Recording Trump: “Under my administration the unbreakable alliance between the United States and Israel has never been stronger.”
Barbara Plett Usher went on to repeat the buzz words heard in the introduction but while this time listeners learned that those policies supposedly relate to “the Palestinians and Iran”, they were not told what those policies are or in what way they are “Right-wing”.
Plett Usher: “President Trump has embraced him and his Right-wing policies on the Palestinians and Iran.”
As Jonathan Spyer recently pointed out, there is in fact “an almost complete consensus between a broad mass of the Israeli (Jewish) public” on the issue of Iranian threats against Israel and “a decline in the level of polarisation within the Jewish voting public over the last two decades” concerning “the security challenge of Hamas-controlled Gaza, and of the unresolved conflict with the Palestinian Arab national movement”.
“Regarding Iran, former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White list, which forms the main challenger to the ruling Likud party in the 2019 campaign, has made clear that there are no disagreements between himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the question of Iran and the threat it poses.
The consensus, however, goes beyond the rightist Likud and centrist Blue and White party. Labor and Meretz, representing the centre-Left and left-wing spots on the political map, are similarly supportive of the government’s stance on Iran.”
Quite how Plett Usher justifies her claim of “Right-wing policies on Iran” is therefore unclear.
On the subject of the conflict with the Palestinians, Spyer notes that:
“…this debate has lost much of its passion. On the Left, the belief that a partner for historic compromise had been found in the PLO lost many adherents after the collapse of the peace process and the commencement of Palestinian insurgency in late 2000. On the Right, the fervent and ideological commitment to avoidance of any land concessions west of the Jordan River also faded.
This has been reflected in the 2019 campaign. The main contenders – Likud and Blue and White, are clearly competing for the centre ground. “
Once again the justification for Plett Usher’s use of the slogan “Right-wing policies” is unclear.
She continued with a segment including unidentified interviewees at the recent AIPAC conference –using another label for which she did not bother to provide evidence.
Plett Usher: “But outside the White House the wind is shifting. [music] Not here. Support was rock solid at this conference of the powerful pro-Israel lobby the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee – or AIPAC. It has promoted Israel’s relationship with the US for decades in both political parties. But a few young, newly elected Democrats have been challenging that orthodoxy, triggering a controversy over charges of antisemitism and the level of bi-partisan support.”
Man 1: “The three vocal Democratic representatives are just vocal. They’re loud mouths. And I feel their uproar – people like uproar, they like a tumult, OK – and I think it’ll die down.”
Man 2: “I think that there’s enough love and support in the United States for Israel and an understanding of the importance of the alliance that it really will not affect the relationship.”
Referring to a small demonstration against AIPAC in March, Plett Usher went on to introduce a representative of a political group which, interestingly, she did not find it necessary to locate on the political spectrum.
[shouting: ‘Free Palestine, Free Gaza’]
Plett Usher: “Only a handful of demonstrators showed up but in fact opposition to Mr Netanyahu’s policies has been building for some time, especially when it comes to treatment of the Palestinians and especially in the younger generation. [shouting] That includes many American Jews who say Israel has lurched so far to the Right they no longer share its values. Ethan Miller belongs to a protest group called ‘If Not Now’.”
Miller: “You know, we’re a rising movement – a rising grassroots movement – of American Jews but I think we’re starting to see changes in Congress as well. We’re starting to see members of Congress both in the house and in the Senate actually start to speak up for Palestinian human rights in a way that we haven’t seen for a long time.”
The group ‘If Not Now’ claims to be “working to transform the American Jewish community’s support for occupation into a call for freedom and dignity for all”. Apparently Plett Usher would have her listeners believe that “the occupation” – which of course began as the result of a defensive war during the term of a Left-wing government when the current Israeli prime minister was still four months short of his eighteenth birthday – is one of “Mr Netanyahu’s policies”.
Plett Usher: “It’s a trend that’s never been so pronounced or contentious.”
Recording: “Breaking news coming out of the House of Representatives where a resolution has just passed condemning antisemitism and other forms of bigotry.”
Plett Usher then presented a highly selective version of a story from February, failing to clarify that the congresswoman did in fact use an antisemitic trope.
Plett Usher: “A Muslim congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, was accused of using antisemitic language. That broke open divisions within the party in a public and messy way. Still, there was an upside says Jeremy Ben Ami. He heads a liberal pro-Israel lobby called J Street that is challenging AIPAC and he organised a conference call on the controversy.”
Recording Ben Ami: “The space that we need to have is the space to discuss the occupation. I think that we are in a place now where those conversations can actually start to be had.”
Plett Usher did not bother to inform listeners that J Street – which some would dispute is “pro-Israel” – was founded in 2007 when the prime minister of Israel was Kadima’s Ehud Olmert or that, in contrast to AIPAC which does not donate to candidates or campaigns, J Street donated some $4 million to exclusively Democratic candidates in 2018. She went on:
Plett Usher: “Or maybe not.”
Recording Trump: “But they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly I think they’re anti-Jewish.”
Plett Usher: “President Trump has seized the moment to go after the Democrats, even though he’s been accused of enabling antisemitism. Republicans are claiming to be better defenders of Israel and Democratic lawmaker Tom Malinowski says there’s now less space for conversation about Israel within the party – not more.”
Malinowski: “I am absolutely convinced it is possible to have a debate about our foreign policy towards Israel or any other country but when people start using blatantly antisemitic tropes in that debate, it actually makes it harder. It actually tends to shut down serious debate about foreign policy because everybody becomes defensive and angry rather that thoughtful about the choices that are before us.”
Plett Usher finished by building up what she apparently knows to be an imaginary story about a ‘boycott’ of the recent AIPAC conference.
Plett Usher: “The young and outspoken lawmakers have received an outsized amount of coverage but it is not just about them. Democrats who’ve announced they’re running for president include a mix of liberals and ethnic minorities who have also been more critical of Israeli policy.”
Recording Pence: “And as I stand before you, eight Democrat candidates for president are actually boycotting this very conference.”
Plett Usher: “The vice-president Mike Pence brought up the 2020 election at the AIPAC conference.”
Recording Pence: “It is wrong to boycott Israel and it is wrong to boycott AIPAC.”
Plett Usher: “In fact only one candidate – Bernie Sanders – explicitly said he was not attending because of policy differences. But it does look as if Israel will be an issue in America’s presidential campaign long after the Israeli prime minister has finished his.”
Plett Usher’s framing of this story is abundantly clear: ‘liberal’ Americans are, according to her, abandoning Israel solely because of its prime minister’s “Right-wing policies”. Unsurprisingly she ignored the relevant issue of the Democratic party’s leftward shift over the years in order to uncritically and unquestioningly promote a narrative advanced by the anti-Israel group showcased in her report.
“My generation sees the occupation and what’s happening in Israel-Palestine as a crisis the same way we do climate change,” said Simone Zimmerman, 28, a co-founder of a progressive group, IfNotNow, that opposes what it calls Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. Ms. Zimmerman scorned what she called “the Trump-Netanyahu” alliance and said “too many in the American Jewish establishment and the Democratic establishment have let them off the hook.”
So much for the BBC’s obligation to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming” intended to “build people’s understanding of…the wider world”.
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