Israeli election coverage continues to advance a new narrative

In a previous post we saw how a September 18th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday’ promoted the claim that “Arab Palestinian parties” had run in the recent Israeli election.

We also saw how two written reports published on the BBC News website on September 21st and 22nd described Arab Israelis as “Israel’s Palestinian citizens”.

In a later September 18th edition of ‘Newsday’, presenter Karnagie Sharp interviewed Israeli journalist Lahav Harkov (from 00:42 here) and one of her questions (at 03:34) was phrased as follows:

Sharp: “OK but we also saw another interesting development here. The Arab Palestinian parties, they did really well, didn’t they? The third…now forming the third largest party in the Knesset.”

Harkov explained:

Harkov: “Yeah, they’re Israeli. These are Arab citizens of Israel.”

In its coverage of previous Israeli elections in 2013 and 2015 the BBC described the Joint Arab List as being comprised of “Israeli Arab parties” and used the term “Israeli Arabs” to describe that list’s target electorate. So why has the BBC now taken to inserting the confusing term “Palestinian” into its reporting? A clue may be found in a conversation aired (from 23:03 here) in the September 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme.

After having inaccurately claimed that “for a fifth of its existence Israel has had Benjamin Netanyahu as its prime minister”, presenter Evan Davis brought in the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

Davis [26:05]: “Ahm, Jeremy, tell us about the Arab Israelis because as I understand it their turnout in this election rose pretty significantly compared to the last one which was, what, back in April.”

Bowen: “Yeah, ahm, 20% of the citizens of Israel are not Jews. They’re Arabs, or more specifically, they’re Palestinians. Not the Palestinians of the West Bank or of Gaza, though related of course, but Palestinians who are Israelis, who have an Israeli passport and are supposed to have full rights though in practice they don’t.”

In fact, as of May 2019, 25.76% of Israel’s population are not Jews. 20.95% are Arabs and 4.81% are ‘others’ including non-Arab Christians and non-Arab Muslims. A poll conducted in April 2019 indicated that 46% identified as Arab Israelis with the pollsters commenting that when compared to a previous poll from 2014:

“…the findings in the current poll show that the number of respondents self-identifying as “Arab-Israeli” has risen, and the number of those identifying only as “Palestinian” dropped.”

While other polls may give slightly different results, one thing is clear: the BBC’s Middle East editor has apparently adopted the political narrative according to which all Israeli Arabs are Palestinians – regardless of how they actually chose to self-identify – and that patriarchal approach is increasingly finding its way into BBC reporting.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio promotes a political NGO’s disinformation

Reviewing BBC News website coverage of Israel’s election

 

BBC WS radio promotes a political NGO’s disinformation

The early edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ on September 18th included two items relating to the previous day’s election in Israel, the second of which was introduced (from 27:01 here) by presenter Karnagie Sharp as follows:

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

Sharp: “First to Israel…ah…where Netanyahu…this is a headline from one of the main [sic] daily newspapers in the country: ‘Netanyahu fails to secure majority, Gantz leads, Arabs surge exit polls show’. Final results of the election are still to be announced but according to exit polls Benjamin Netanyahu – the longest-serving prime minister in the country – has failed to secure a ruling majority…ah ah…and his challenger Ben [sic] Gantz leading the Blue & White centre coalition has a lead. Arab countries have condemned a campaign pledge by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.”

Given the BBC’s record of interviewing Palestinians when reporting Israeli elections listeners may not have been surprised to then learn that they were about to hear “a Palestinian view” of the previous day’s poll. The presenter of that view – and the BBC’s perhaps unintentionally frank portrayal of his starting point – may however have been less expected.

Sharp: “For a Palestinian view on these elections let’s now speak to Hagai Elad, the executive director of B’Tselem, the Israeli information centre for human rights in the occupied territories. Welcome to the programme. So I’m going to read you another headline from Ha’aretz. It says ‘Magician Bibi has run out of rabbits’. What do you make of the exit polls so far?”

Sharp made no effort to inform listeners – as required by section 4.3.12 of the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – of the “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” of B’tselem

Elad: “…the votes are still being counted and we may be facing still weeks of negotiations about the future government. And all this is discussed in the context of as if a celebration of democracy. But in fact all…all of what this does is to paint a false democratic façade hiding a deeply undemocratic reality that has been in place already for decade after decade. When the election results are clear or not clear, when there’s deadlock or no deadlock, when there’s a Right-wing government or a Left-wing government or a national unity government, the continuation of Israel’s oppression, dispossession and occupation of the Palestinian people.”

That blatantly false and obviously partisan portrayal of Israeli democracy failed to prompt any reaction from Sharp.

Sharp: “OK. So when you look at the results at the moment, you know, we know that the results are still coming in but if prime minister Netanyahu…if he were to lose will this change things in the region?”

Elad: “So of course the personality of the prime minister makes a big difference but if I take a broader perspective about this reality and for instance the context of potential annexation of parts of the West Bank was mentioned, then we actually put the centre of attention not on what may have been but what has already happened: de facto annexation. The fact that Israel does whatever it wants in the 60% of the West Bank known as Area C and that all this is happening above the heads and beneath the feet of the Palestinians living in that area that are never asked, never counted as they were also not counted in yesterday’s election.”

Sharp made no effort to remind listeners that the PLO agreed to Israel being in control of Area C when they signed the Oslo Accords or to clarify that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians live in Areas A and B which are under Palestinian Authority control. She continued with a description of four Israeli political parties as “Palestinian” and the uninformed suggestion that they are “in the government”.

Sharp: “What’s really interesting though…I want to bring that…because you also called it undemocratic; the Arab Palestinian parties did well though this time, didn’t they? Third largest party now in the Knesset, never seen before in the government. So there’s a bit of hope there.”

Elad: “So we’re talking about the 20% of the – or so – of the citizens of the State of Israel who are Arab and also of course there are also Jewish voters to this party. But between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea there are 14 million people or so – thirteen and a half, fourteen million people. And there is one government that controls the lives of all the people in this area and controls all the territory in this area and in this area there are 5 million Palestinians in the occupied territories – in the Gaza Strip, in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank – and they are not citizens. They live under Israel’s military occupation and they do not participate in the political process. They have no political rights.”

Sharp once again failed to challenge Elad’s blatant and materially misleading claims. Arab residents of East Jerusalem are of course entitled vote in Israeli general elections if they have chosen to take Israeli citizenship (and in municipal elections even if they have not) and Palestinians living under Palestinian Authority rule in parts of Judea & Samaria or under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip (which, contrary to Elad’s claim, has not been under Israeli control for fourteen years) of course vote – when their rulers allow it – for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

The Joint Arab list secured 13 seats in this election – the same number as in the 2015 election – but the embarrassingly under-informed Sharp went on to make another inaccurate claim.

Sharp: “OK. You still haven’t reacted to the fact that for the first time we’re seeing that these Arab Palestinian parties have done well in these new elections. Who are they likely to align with do you think and how can that make a difference?”

Elad: “They have done perhaps somewhat better than in previous elections but they’ve been part of parliament already for many years, including in this formation of one unified party, already for quite some time. The situation is that this comes at the backdrop of an extremely racist election campaign, especially from Likud but also from others and also what statements that already were made by Netanyahu denying any potential involvement of Arab parties in Israel’s government.”

Sharp: “Yeah.”

Elad: “A deeply racist position.”

Sharp: “OK. Thank you very much for speaking to us. That’s Hagai Elad the executive director of B’tselem speaking to us.”

Sharp failed to clarify to listeners that some of the Arab parties hold anti-Zionist positions which can be regarded as racist or that those parties have traditionally refused to participate in any Israeli government.

So what did BBC World Service listeners get in this item? They heard the crude propaganda of a political NGO which engages in lawfare against Israel go completely unchallenged by an interviewer who was clearly very much out of her depth – with the result that audiences were materially misled. 

 

Reviewing BBC News website coverage of Israel’s election

In contrast to previous election campaigns in 2013, 2015 and April 2019, BBC News website coverage of the September 17th election was relatively limited with just seven written reports appearing between September 16th and September 22nd.

Nevertheless, some familiar themes were evident in that coverage along with some new ones.

September 16th: Israel election a referendum on Netanyahu, Jeremy Bowen

In that article the BBC’s Middle East editor – whose job it is to provide “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” and “to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting” – employed the standard BBC tactic of presenting history as having begun in June 1967 while erasing the Jordanian occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem from audience view.

“The southern end of the [Jordan] valley, where I am, has been occupied by Israel since 1967, a big part of the land it captured in that year’s Middle East War.”

As has been the case in BBC coverage of all Israeli elections throughout the past six years, this time too the topic of the ‘peace process’ was framed as being exclusively dependent on Israeli actions.

“Usually the valley is a sleepy place. But Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed it into his country’s general election, which is coming up this Tuesday. He declared that if he was returned as prime minister, he would annex the Jordan Valley, and Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The suggestion has been condemned by many of Israel’s friends, including Britain, on the grounds that it would be yet another nail in the coffin containing hopes for peace. Israel would have absorbed land Palestinians want for a state.”

Bowen told BBC audiences that:

“Israel’s electoral system always produces coalitions. Would-be prime ministers need to add their own party’s seats to those of smaller parties who exact a price for giving their support. The ultra-Orthodox have been staunch supporters of Mr Netanyahu. Without their seats, he would not be able to form a government.”

Apparently the BBC’s Middle East editor has forgotten that in 2013, Netanyahu did form a government without the ultra-Orthodox parties.

September 17th: Israel’s election: The most important things to know

In this article BBC audiences found both a problematic video dating from June 2019 in which Israeli citizens living in certain locations are portrayed by the BBC’s Yolande Knell as “illegal” and a partisan map produced by the political NGO ‘B’tselem’ which has often been promoted in previous BBC content.

Once again audiences saw promotion of the Palestinian narrative according to which the prognosis of the ‘peace process’ depends entirely upon Israel, along with the BBC’s habitual but partial mantra concerning ‘international law’.

“The fate of the Palestinians depends on who is in power in Israel, since Israel occupies land which they seek for a state of their own.

Mr Netanyahu says he will never agree to a sovereign Palestinian state with powers like any other country (something which he says will be a serious threat to Israel).

He has also pledged to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and a swathe of land known as the Jordan Valley (which comprises about 30% of the West Bank). Because they are built on occupied territory, the settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

The Palestinians, who want the settlements removed, say such a move would make a Palestinian state impossible and kill the peace process once and for all.”

The BBC promoted the unsupported claim that:

“…Mr Netanyahu is politically right wing and ideologically driven by Jewish claims to the land based on the Bible…”

Readers were told that: [emphasis added]

“In April’s election, Mr Netanyahu won the most votes but failed to form a coalition, which is he why he called a snap poll for 17 September.”

In fact, rather than Netanyahu acting alone as claimed by the BBC, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself and to hold another election.

September 17th: Israel election: Netanyahu in tough fight in this year’s second vote

At the beginning of this report readers were again wrongly informed that Netanyahu alone called an election.

“Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting to hold on to power following one of its closest election races in years.

He called Tuesday’s snap election after failing to form a governing coalition in the wake of an election in April.”

However the article’s final paragraph indicates that in fact the BBC knows that is not the case.

“After April’s election, Mr Netanyahu’s attempts to form a new government failed and he ran out of time in May. He pressed for new elections and Israeli MPs voted by a significant margin in favour of a new poll.”

Readers again found Yolande Knell’s problematic video branding people “illegal” in this report along with the previously seen Palestinian talking points concerning the ‘peace process’ and the BBC’s ‘international law’ mantra.

“Last week, Mr Netanyahu declared he would “apply Israeli sovereignty” in the Jordan Valley if he won. The announcement amounted to a promise to effectively annex 30% of the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians want to be part of a future state.

Amid international condemnation, the Palestinian leadership called the move a war crime which would bury any prospects for peace.

Mr Netanyahu also reiterated a pledge from the last election to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

September 18th: Israel election: Netanyahu and rival headed for deadlock

The same narrative concerning the ‘peace process’ was evident in this report too.

“Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has been in office for 10 years and is vying to win a record fifth term in office.

The 69-year-old, who leads the right-wing Likud party, has pledged to annex Jewish settlements and a swathe of other territory in the occupied West Bank if he is returned to power.

Palestinians, who seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in occupied East Jerusalem, have warned such a move will kill any hopes for peace.”

Readers also discovered that, according to the BBC, Israelis are not allowed to decide on their own capital city:

“Like Mr Netanyahu, he [Gantz] has ruled out ever dividing Jerusalem, which Israel considers its capital.”

September 19th: Israel election: Netanyahu and Gantz compete over leadership

September 21st: Israeli elections: What do the results reveal? Tom Bateman

The problematic video by Yolande Knell was promoted in this report too along with the same messaging concerning the ‘peace process’.

“The campaign led to a hardening of the view among Palestinians that the so-called two-state solution – the long held international formula for peace – is no longer viable, according to the pollster Dr Khalil Shikaki.

“There is no doubt that the debate during the election campaign in Israel has been significantly damaging to the Palestinian willingness to support diplomacy and negotiations,” he says, citing Mr Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the Jordan Valley and all Israeli settlements in the West Bank.”

Once again no effort was made to delve into the question of where that Palestinian “support” for “diplomacy and negotiations” has been throughout the past 26 years since the Oslo Accords were signed or to clarify that some Palestinian factions. including Hamas. explicitly reject such ideas. Significantly though, Bateman did find it appropriate to tout the so-called ‘one-state solution’.

“Dr Shikaki says that instead around a third of Palestinians opt for the idea of a “one-state” outcome – meaning a single country between the Mediterranean and the river Jordan in which every individual has an equal vote; something Israelis would see as risking the end of the Jewish state.”

Bateman also elected to promote disinformation concerning the voting rights of Palestinians.

“While around five million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza cannot vote in Israeli elections, they are affected by the decisions of those who can.”

Arab residents of East Jerusalem are entitled vote in Israeli elections if they have chosen to take Israeli citizenship and Palestinians living under Palestinian Authority rule in parts of Judea & Samaria or under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip of course vote – when their rulers allow it – for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Bateman also chose to use politicised terminology to describe Israel’s Arab population:

“In fact, with nearly all the votes counted, turnout went up to nearly 70%, from 68.5% in April.

Some of that rise was because many more of Israel’s Palestinian citizens – Arab Israelis – voted this time than they did in April.”

Once again we see the BBC promoting a politicised description of Arab Israelis despite the fact that only a minority self-identify as Palestinian.

September 22nd: Israeli elections: Arab parties back Gantz to oust Netanyahu

This article included the same politicised terminology (has there been a memo?) in analysis by Barbara Plett Usher:

“The leader of the Arab grouping, Ayman Odeh, said it wasn’t endorsing Mr Gantz and his polices: but was moving to try and block Benjamin Netanyahu from securing another term, and to send a clear message that Israel’s future must include the full and equal participation of its Palestinian citizens.”

Apparently the BBC considers it acceptable for its journalists to identify people according to their own political narrative rather than to reflect how those people self-identify.

All versions of this report told readers that:

“The Joint List won 13 seats in the election. If Mr Gantz had the endorsement of all 13 seats, he would still fall short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120-seat legislature.”

By the time the later versions were published it was known that the Joint List’s ‘Balad’ faction had rejected inclusion in that endorsement but the BBC did not bother to update its report accordingly.

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. 

Broadly speaking – and we see this reflected time and time again in its reporting; not only in relation to the elections – the BBC absolves the Palestinian side of the equation of any responsibility for the progress of the peace process (or lack of it) and turns Palestinians into child-like creatures lacking all agency.”

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 of this year 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’.

In order to promote that framing, the BBC of course has to ignore the fact that no matter which Israeli political party has won elections over the past twenty-seven years, all attempts to bring an end to the conflict have been met with a negative response from the other side.  

And yet, despite its obligation to “build people’s understanding” the BBC continues its dumbed-down, narrative-driven portrayal of the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon the paper placed in the ballot box by Israeli voters.”

As we see, the BBC’s overriding interest in promoting a political narrative means that it continues to adhere to that well-worn formula.

Related Articles:

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

BBC widens its ‘illegal under international law’ mantra to include people