BBC’s Connolly amplifies Ha’aretz columnist’s fallacious claims

On March 24th the BBC News website published an article headlined “Israeli soldier ‘shot wounded Palestinian attacker dead’” which concerns an incident that took place on that day after a terror attack in Hebron. That article remained on the website’s Middle East page for two consecutive days.

On March 31st an additional report concerning developments in the case appeared under the title “Israeli soldier ‘faces manslaughter’ for killing wounded attacker” and it too remained on the website for two days.

Although the soldier concerned has yet to be indicted and the investigation into the incident is still ongoing, on April 11th a third article on the same topic appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. Written by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly, the article is titled “Video of Israeli soldier’s killing of Palestinian attacker fuels debate” and it opens in Connolly’s trademark style.Connolly Hebron shooting art

“Almost everything about the shooting of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif made it a very modern moment of news.

There was the time and the place.

It occurred on the edge of the Jewish sector of the divided city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – a kind of crucible of the troubles here, where so many of the stabbings and shootings in the latest wave of violence have happened.”

Connolly makes no effort to inform his readers that Hebron is “divided” because the representatives of the Palestinian people agreed to such an arrangement nearly two decades ago.

But for all its repeated promotion of one-sided politicized terminology such as “the occupied West Bank”, the real aim of Connolly’s piece is to reinforce a theme that has been frequently promoted by the BBC in the past: a supposed political shift to the Right in Israeli society.

He therefore has to explain the Israeli Chief of Staff’s description of the incident as coming “from a slightly unusual source” – although in fact there is of course nothing ‘unusual’ at all about a senior IDF commander giving an accurate account of an incident. Connolly then touts the conclusion that “this appears to be an issue on which the army is out of step with Israeli society” and the ‘evidence’ he presents for that conclusion is based on a factor of which (given their past experiences of  burnt fingers) one might have thought he and his colleagues would be rather more wary: an opinion poll.

“In one opinion poll, only 5% of those questioned thought the soldier’s actions amounted to murder – and more than 80% expressed at least some degree of support.”

Connolly brings in two interviewees to support his theory, the first of whom is a representative of B’tselem which earlier on in the article he has already described as “an Israeli human rights organization”. The person who filmed the incident in Hebron on behalf of B’tselem is similarly portrayed as “the human rights activist”.

“There are some Israelis who see B’Tselem as the villain of the piece – a view that does not surprise Sarit Michaeli, who speaks for the group.

“I don’t lose any sleep over being called a traitor,” she told me. “What I do lose sleep over is whether we’ve done enough every day to expose the harms of the occupation… We’re in the run-up to the 50th year of military control over the Palestinian people… this is the meaning of occupation.””

Connolly makes no attempt to conform to the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality by clarifying that B’tselem is one of the foreign funded political NGOs involved in the lawfare campaign against Israel.

Connolly’s second interviewee is Ha’aretz journalist Ari Shavit. 

“But Israeli liberals, like the columnist from the Haaretz newspaper Ari Shavit, appear a little taken aback at the strength of right-wing sentiment surrounding the case and are inclined to attribute it to a change in the nature of right-wing politics here from old-fashioned conservatism to radical populism.

“The new kind of populist right-wingers don’t respect the rule of law and human rights in the way the old conservative right used to,” Mr Shavit told the BBC.

“You have a very complex surprising situation where there is a lot of positive popular pressure in the wrong way, while the military establishment in many ways is trying to keep Israel’s old values.””

Ari Shavit (who clearly does not see a need to wait for completion of the investigation into the incident before pronouncing judgement) bases his premises on his recollections of the ‘Bus 300’ affair from 1984 as outlined in an article he published in Ha’aretz in Hebrew on March 31st and in English on April 1st.  

“But this time the uproar was very different. There was a total role reversal. The security establishment tried to maintain the image of the State of Israel, while the pressure from the media and the public supported the brutality. While the defense minister, the chief of staff and the IDF acted in a cultured and upright fashion, the Facebook society demanded that they not conduct a fair and orderly legal procedure. With a deafening roar, the masses applauded cruelty.

In many ways the Bus 300 case was a far more serious and complicated affair than what happened in Tel Rumeida. But the similarities between the cases and the polar opposite response to them cast a revealing and cruel light on the changes we’ve undergone in the past few decades. They indicate what is happening to us. Where we were then and where we are now. What we were and what we have become. And where we are going.”

Our colleagues at Presspectiva took a look at Shavit’s claims (Hebrew) and found that they do not however match the historical record.

 “From a poll by ‘Yediot Aharonot’ which was published on 30.5.1986, two years after the incident, it emerges that most of the public (61%) was against the interrogation of the head of the Israel Security Agency in connection with the circumstances of the killing of the terrorists. […] Another poll which was taken on 11.7.1986 and published in the paper showed that although there had been a fall in the percentage of those opposed to the investigation, the majority (57%) were still against it.”

In other words, Shavit’s analysis is a fiction of his own selective memory.

Kevin Connolly echoes Shavit’s fallacious conclusions in his closing words:

“But slowly the political debate that surrounds the case whatever the outcome will help to define how Israeli attitudes towards such cases are changing over time.”

Were Kevin Connolly able to read Hebrew or had he consulted one of his colleagues who can, he could have saved himself the embarrassment of promoting that redundant theory based on Ari Shavit’s inaccurate memories. However, given the BBC’s record of repeated promotion of the theme of an ominous ‘shift to the Right’ in Israeli society, the question is whether or not accuracy would even then have trumped agenda. 

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BBC commissioning editor ‘explains’ his claim of ‘half-covered-up atrocities’ in Israel

h/t A

Earlier this month we noted a passage in an article which appeared in the Observer and was written by the commissioning editor of the BBC 4 documentary series ‘Storyville’, Nick Fraser. In that article Fraser wrote: 

Think of other half-covered-up atrocities – in Bosnia, Rwanda, South Africa, Israel, any place you like with secrets – and imagine similar films had been made. Consider your response – and now consider whether such goings-on in Indonesia are not acceptable merely because the place is so far away, and so little known or talked about that the cruelty of such an act can pass uncriticised.” [emphasis added]

Thanks to a reader who wrote to Nick Fraser regarding his decision to broadcast the film ‘5 Broken Cameras’, some insight has now been gained into exactly which “half-covered-up atrocities” Fraser was thinking of when he wrote those words. Here is a part of his reply as it was received:

“First, I intend no slur in relation to Israel by referring to half-reported atrocities – you will notice that among those I noted in my piece was the British collusion in the Bengali famines, which was the work of British officials. The half-failure to acknowledge events is alas quite common – democracies are not immune to this trendency [sic]. Most Israelis would agree with me that the story of the massacre at Sabra and Chatila – not the work of Israeli soldiers – falls in this category. So, too, do the events that occurred in Lod in the war that occurred at the time of the founding of Israel – and the New Yorker excerpted an account from a book recently published.”

So, whilst Fraser is clearly aware that the Sabra and Shatila massacres were “not the work of Israeli soldiers”, he nevertheless did not see fit to include Lebanon on his list. He also elects to ignore the fact that Israel (unlike Lebanon) initiated a commission of inquiry into the events at Sabra & Shatila: a fact which clearly negates Fraser’s claim of a “half-failure to acknowledge events”.

But most revealing is Fraser’s citation of “the events that occurred in Lod” which, from his reference to the New Yorker, we can conclude he learned about from Ari Shavit’s book “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” because the chapter of that book relating to Lod was indeed reproduced in that magazine in October last year.

However, Fraser does not seem to have sought out any additional information on the battle which took place in Lod (Lydda) in 1948 from other sources and he appears to have adopted Ari Shavit’s narrative as accurate despite the fact that – as noted in this review of Shavit’s book:

“The section on Lydda focuses on another nameless IDF “brigade commander.” The source notes claim these are composite characters, but it harms the narrative and makes it read like historical fiction.”

Other issues concerning Shavit’s book in general and his portrayal of the events in Lod in particular have been raised by Allan Gerson and Professor Ruth Wisse. Our colleague at CAMERA, Alex Safian, took the time to fill in the parts of the story not told by Ari Shavit – and hence presumably unknown to Nick Fraser.

“In Shavit’s very deceptive and even contradictory recounting, Israeli soldiers led by a certain Lt. Col. Moshe Dayan, and armed with:

a giant armored vehicle mounted with a cannon, menacing half-tracks, and machine-gun-equipped jeeps

joined other Israeli forces attacking Lydda (and its neighbor Ramle) during Israel’s War of Independence. Led by Dayan’s marauding forces the Israelis took control of “key positions” in the town, but the next day fighting flared again, and:

in thirty minutes, two hundred and fifty Palestinians were killed. Zionism had carried out a massacre in the city of Lydda.

Is this really what happened? Well let’s start with the matter of the “giant armored vehicle,” a phrase which could only stun anyone the least bit familiar with Israeli military history. It was actually just a lightly armored scout car – with regular inflated rubber tires – standing about seven feet high and just six feet wide. Here’s a picture of the actual vehicle, at the Israeli Armored Corps Museum at Latrun:

"Giant" Armored Vehicle

Read about the rest of Ari Shavit’s numerous – and more grave – distortions and omissions in this article.

Clearly, Fraser’s promotion of the notion of “half-covered-up atrocities” in Israel is based on the wobbly foundations of a half-covered-up story which he obviously did not bother to research fully before putting into the public domain, but which fits in with his already existing narrative. Rather like the commissioning process for ‘5 Broken Cameras’, it seems.

In the same reply Nick Fraser wrote:

“As for your observations about FIVE BROKEN CAMERAS, the film-makers would dispute them. The film appears to us to be an honest account of some aspects of the Israeli occupation. It doesn’t pretend to be other than what it is – a partial account from one side. And, importantly, one of the film-makers is an Israeli, and thge [sic] film has been widely shown in Israel. STORYVILLE, the series in which the film was shown, exists to show provocative, interesting films. Having read all accounts of the film – in Israel and elsewhere – we felt it was appropriate to show FIVE BROKEN CAMERAS.”

Fraser continued:

“We are showing THE GATEKEEPERS, another excellent Israeil [sic] film, later this year.”

What a surprise.