BBC News reports fatal terror attacks over 27 hours later

On the morning of Sunday, March 17th terror attacks took place at two locations in Samaria.

“One Israeli was killed and two were critically injured in a pair of shooting attacks in the northern West Bank on Sunday, the military said.

The attack began at around 9:45 a.m. near the Ariel Junction, where the terrorist assaulted a soldier with a knife and managed to gain control of his weapon, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said.

The attacker then fired at passing vehicles, hitting a civilian in the first vehicle. A second vehicle was hit, but managed to flee the scene. A third car stopped, and the attacker, whom Conricus said “appears to be a Palestinian,” took it and fled the scene. […]

Conricus said that the suspect then continued to the nearby Gitai Junction, where he shot at a soldier standing at a hitchhiking post, injuring him. […]

According to Conricus, the attacker then drove to the nearby Palestinian village of Bruqin, leaving the vehicle near the entrance before fleeing inside the village where Israeli security forces are currently in pursuit of him.”

The victim of the initial attack was later identified as Staff Sergeant Gal Keidan, aged 19, from Be’er Sheva. The following morning the civilian driver – Rabbi Achiad Ettinger, a father of 12 from Eli – also succumbed to his injuries. At the time of writing the soldier shot at Gitai Avisar Junction remains in serious condition and the search for the terrorist continues.

The Jerusalem Post reports that:

“Both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror groups welcomed the attacks, but did not claim responsibility.

The attack in Ariel was a “response to the crimes of the Israeli occupation, and to the events in Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Hamas said in a statement, adding that “all the acts of oppression and attempts to undermine the resistance will not succeed in defeating the will of our people or preventing them from following the path of jihad.”

PIJ said that the attack “was carried out in order to move the compass and bring the struggle to its natural location.We welcome the attack and salute the rebel heroes in the West Bank.””

Although locally based BBC journalists were aware of the attacks having taken place, it took the BBC News website audiences over 27 hours to produce any reporting on this story.

In line with BBC editorial policy the article – titled “Israeli soldier and rabbi killed in West Bank attack” – only mentions the word terror in a direct quote from a family member of one of the victims. 

The report closes with a formulation the BBC has used in the past.

“More than 50 Israelis have been killed since late 2015 in a series of stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks, predominantly by Palestinians or Israeli Arabs.

More than 260 Palestinians have also been killed over the same period. Most have been assailants, Israel says. Others have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops.”

In fact the number of Israelis killed in the type of attacks described by the BBC since September 2015 is nearer to seventy

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BBC misrepresents cabinet decision in report on Ariel terror attack

At around 2:30 p.m. on the afternoon of February 5th a terror attack took place near the town of Ariel.

“An Israeli man was killed on Monday afternoon after he was stabbed in the chest in a terror attack outside the West Bank settlement of Ariel, the army and medics said.

He was identified as Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal, 29, a father of four from the nearby settlement of Har Bracha.”

At the time of writing, the search for the terrorist continues.

“The terrorist, investigators found, is 19-year old Israeli-Arab resident of Jaffa Abed al-Karim Adel Assi, a son of an Israeli mother and Palestinian father from Nablus. […]

After he was stabbed, Ben Gal ran to a bus that stopped at a station nearby while al-Karim gave chase. Reaching the bus, the rabbi knocked on its door for help before immediately collapsing.

The terrorist then fled the scene. An off duty IDF officer who witnessed the attack then chased the assailant in his car and rammed him. 

Despite being hit, al-Karim was able to escape with the help of an unidentified driver who picked him up near the scene of the incident.”

Some three hours after the attack took place a report was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israeli man stabbed to death at West Bank settlement“. The incident and its victim were described in 137 words in the article’s second version and in 117 words in its third version published the following day. [emphasis added]

“An Israeli man has been stabbed to death outside a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, in what Israeli police say was a terrorist attack.

The victim, Rabbi Itamar Ben Gal, was attacked at a bus stop near Ariel.

Israeli security forces are searching for the assailant, who they identified as a Palestinian man.

CCTV footage of Monday’s attack shows Rabbi Ben Gal, a 29-year-old father of four from the settlement of Har Bracha, waiting on a roadside when another man crosses the road and stabs him in the chest.

The Israeli military said a soldier had pursued the suspect in his vehicle and hit him after witnessing the incident, but that he managed to escape.”

The fourth paragraph of the article’s first and second versions implied linkage between the attack near Ariel and a different story.

“It [the attack] comes a day after Israel retroactively legalised an unauthorised settlement outpost in response to the killing of a resident last month.”

In the third version readers were told that:

“Israel retroactively legalised Havat Gilad, an unauthorised settlement, in response to the murder [of Rabbi Raziel Shevach].”

Both those statements are inaccurate and misleading: Havat Gilad was not “retroactively legalized” on February 4th as the BBC claims. Rather – as the Times of Israel reported: [emphasis added]

“The cabinet on Sunday voted unanimously to begin the process of legalizing the Havat Gilad outpost less than a month after the murder of resident Raziel Shevach.

The approved proposal declares the government’s intention to establish the hilltop community southeast of Nablus as a full-fledged settlement “on lands that are privately owned by Israelis or state lands.”

The proposal authorized Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to instruct relevant government bodies to examine the legal aspects of recognizing Havat Gilad as an official settlement. It also tasked the Finance Ministry with auditing the financial costs of establishing a new settlement. […]

However, the proposal’s language regarding the legal ownership of the land hinted at a significant hurdle that still remains ahead of the outpost’s legalization.”

The third version of the report includes an amendment relating to events that took place after its original publication.

“Israeli troops meanwhile have killed a Palestinian who they say shot dead a rabbi as he drove near Havat Gilad outpost in the West Bank last month.

Ahmad Jarrar was shot when security forces raided his hideout in al-Yamoun village near Jenin in the northern West Bank on Tuesday, Israeli media said.

Jarrar is suspected of killing Rabbi Raziel Shevach, a father of six, in a drive-by shooting on 9 January.”

As noted here previously, the BBC did not report the arrest of one member of that terror cell and the killing of another on January 18th.

Readers once again found statements that have been recycled using different numbers on numerous occasions for more than two years. Although the information is readily available, the BBC did not cite the actual number of Israelis murdered in terror attacks since September 2015 but made do with an approximation which is lower than the actual number of victims.

“The attack is the latest in a wave of stabbings, shootings and car-rammings against Israelis, predominantly by Palestinians or Israeli Arabs, since late 2015.

At least 52 Israelis and five foreign nationals have been killed.

Some 300 Palestinians – most of them assailants, Israel says – have also been killed in that period, according to AFP news agency. Others have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops.” [emphasis added]

Notably, the BBC continues to use the “Israel says” formula in that statement and – despite having had over two years to do so – has apparently not bothered to independently confirm how many of the Palestinians killed during that time were in the process of carrying out terror attacks.

While the terror attack which is ostensibly the subject matter of this report got 117 words of coverage in its third version, one hundred and eighteen words were devoted to the topic of ‘settlements’ – including the BBC’s standard portrayal of ‘international law’ which fails to inform audiences of the existence of additional legal opinions. Readers were not told that the Clinton Parameters of 2000 also proposed keeping the larger blocs of Israeli communities under Israeli control.

“Israel has previously said it intends to keep Ariel and some other large settlements blocs in any final peace agreement with the Palestinians. The Palestinians want all the settlements, built on land they claim for a future state, removed.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

There are also some 100 outposts – small settlements built without the government’s authorisation.

Last year, the Israeli parliament passed a law allowing for the retroactive legalisation of 55 of them, including in some circumstances those built on private Palestinian land, whose owners would be compensated.”

Clearly the BBC News website needs to amend its inaccurate portrayal of the February 4th cabinet decision concerning Havat Gilad and to inform audiences of the correction.

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BBC World Service tells sports fans tall tales of ‘stolen Palestinian land’

Three days after amplification of Jibril Rajoub’s delegitimisation campaign against Israel at FIFA was heard by listeners to the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’, another show on the same station picked up the baton on May 12th.

‘World Football’ – presented by Alan Green – included an item (from 14:30 here) described as follows in the programme’s synopsis:

“And we visit the West Bank settlements to find out more about the football clubs at the centre of a political row between Israel and Palestine.”

The BBC Academy’s ‘style guide’ lays out best practice concerning the use the term ‘Palestine’ thus:

“There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel.

In November 2012 the PLO secured a vote at the UN General Assembly, upgrading its previous status as an “entity” so that the UN now recognises the territories as “non-member observer state”.

The change allows the Palestinians to participate in UN General Assembly debates. It also improves the Palestinians’ chances of joining UN agencies.

But the UN vote has not created a state of Palestine (rather, it failed in its bid to join the UN as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support in the Security Council).

So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.

But clearly BBC journalists should reflect the changed circumstances when reporting on the UN itself and at the Olympics, where the International Olympics Committee recognises Palestine as a competing nation.

Best practice is to use the term Palestine firmly and only in the context of the organisation in which it is applicable, just as the BBC did at the Olympics – for example: “At the UN, representatives of Palestine, which has non-member observer status…”” [emphasis added]

Alan Green’s introduction to the item included unqualified amplification of inflammatory Palestinian messaging and a one-sided portrayal of ‘international law’. [emphasis added]

Green: “Now to a very controversial argument which could have serious repercussions for football in the Middle East: an argument that has led to calls for Israel to be suspended by FIFA. The Palestinians are angry. They say that there are six Israeli football teams playing on their land: territory which was stolen from them following the Six Day War in 1967. The Israeli settlements, which have grown and developed over the years, are illegal under international law and considered to be a violation of the Geneva Convention. And to have football clubs playing there goes against FIFA rules. The Israelis deny any wrong-doing, insisting that the teams are free to participate in Israeli leagues.”

Green’s references to “their [Palestinian] land” and “territory which was stolen from them [the Palestinians]” obviously do not meet the requirements of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. While Green may of course claim to have been paraphrasing the Palestinian position, he clearly should have informed listeners that the said territory was captured from Jordan (rather than the Palestinians) in 1967 after 19 years of unrecognised occupation and that agreements signed between Israel and the PLO – the Oslo Accords – clearly state that the region concerned, Area C, will have its status determined in negotiations, meaning that it is both premature and highly partial to portray that territory as ‘Palestinian land’. Additionally, Green’s one-sided presentation of ‘international law’ and the Geneva Convention does not inform listeners of the existence of differing legal opinions on those topics.

Neither did Green provide listeners with a proper presentation of the “FIFA rules” that he claimed are being breached by football clubs in Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Givat Ze’ev, Oranit and the Jordan Valley.  While article 72.2 of the FIFA Statutes says that “Member associations and their clubs may not play on the territory of another member association without the latter’s approval”, had Green bothered to clarify to audiences that the territory concerned is disputed and subject to final status negotiations, their understanding of this story would have been greatly improved.  

He continued:

“Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu even got involved this week. He personally called the FIFA president Gianni Infantino. The issue was supposed to be on the agenda in Bahrain. But shortly after that telephone call, the FIFA council decided it was too early to take any final decision, much to the annoyance of the president of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub.”

World Service listeners then heard Jibril Rajoub’s propaganda for the second time in three days.

Rajoub: “This is a clear-cut violation of FIFA’s mission, principles, statutes. How does the prime minister of Israel has [have] the right to exert pressure on the president of FIFA? I think they have to face sanction by FIFA. We are insisting to have a solution. As long as the Israelis want to continue behaving like the bully of the neighbourhood, I think they should be punished.”

Green: “The president of the Palestinian FA, Jibril Rajoub. There are six clubs based in the Israeli settlements which are now at the centre of this political storm. World Football’s Raphael Gellar travelled to the West Bank to find out more about them.”

Listeners next heard freelance reporter Raphael Gellar give a context-free description of the journey to Ma’ale Adumim which made no mention whatsoever of the Palestinian terrorism that brought about the construction of the anti-terrorist fence.

Gellar: “We’re driving by the separation wall where essentially two peoples are split by this massive wall that Israel built. You can see several armed soldiers. Now we’re heading into the security checkpoint to cross into the Israeli settlements.”

Gellar interviewed Ben Hadad, sports director of Beitar Ma’ale Adumim, before he too promoted the canard of “stolen land” and gave amplification to a delegitimisation campaign run by a political NGO active in lawfare against Israel which has received similar BBC promotion in the past.

Gellar: “But the Palestinians say these settlements are built on land which is part of their future state. In September Human Rights Watch published a report accusing FIFA of tarnishing football, saying they’re allowing games to be played on stolen land. There have also been protests.”

Listeners then heard a voice which Gellar did not bother to identify promote the following falsehoods:

“This protest is to show the FIFA council that there is racism. The land that we are marching towards is land that belongs to these children and their families behind us yet they’re not allowed to access it and they’re not allowed to build football stadiums or even schools on their land.”

That voice would appear to belong to Fadi Quran – an employee of the political NGO ‘Avaaz’ who received similarly partisan promotion from Yolande Knell last year.

Gellar went on to interview the chairman of FC Ironi Ariel, Shai Berntal, who also appeared in the previous World Service report on this topic three days earlier before continuing:

Gellar: “Well back here in Tel Aviv things are getting personal. The International Legal Forum, headed by lawyer Yifa Segal, filed a law suit this week against the Palestinian FA president Jibril Rajoub. They accused him of violating FIFA’s code of ethics.”

In fact the International Legal Forum (which is based in Jerusalem rather than “Tel Aviv”) appears to have filed a complaint with FIFA rather than a “law suit” as Gellar claimed.

After listeners heard Yifa Segal explain why the complaint was made against Rajoub, Gellar closed his report as follows:

Gellar: “Following the intervention of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu the situation has reached another stalemate. But it is a stalemate which will suit the Israelis more than the Palestinians. For the moment at least, these football clubs will continue playing in the West Bank settlements.

The item then returned to Alan Green who also claimed that a “law suit” has been filed against Rajoub.

Green: “Raphael Gellar reporting and during his speech in Bahrain the FIFA president Gianni Infantino confirmed that any decision on the issue will be pushed back until October. And with regard to the law suit filed against the Palestinian FA president, we put those complaints directly to Jibril Rajoub and this was his response.”

Rajoub then got yet another chance to promote completely unchallenged falsehoods, including the claim that “the Israeli security services and government” are “behind” the complaint.

Rajoub: “OK. If all those accusations against me, why the Israelis so far let me free? Why they don’t put me in jail? You know all those incitements the Israeli security services and the government is behind. And if I am so criminal and I’m doing all those bad things, why did the Israelis let me be free and even let me travel and so and so. I think this is some kind of a very cheap character assassination against me.”

Failing to inform BBC audiences of Rajoub’s record, his additional political roles, his past actions and statements and his previous attempts to use sporting bodies to delegitimise Israel, Green closed the item simply saying “the Palestinian FA president Jibril Rajoub”.

This latest installment in the BBC’s generous portrayal of the campaign against Israel at FIFA initiated by Jibril Rajoub and assorted politically motivated NGOs once again shows that the corporation has no intention of presenting its audiences with the full range of background information necessary for proper understanding of both the story itself and the political motivations behind that delegitimisation campaign.

Moreover, the unnecessary use of unqualified and highly partial terminology such as “stolen land” clearly calls into question the BBC’s intent to report this story accurately and impartiality.

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Wind in the sails of Jibril Rajoub’s anti-Israel campaign from BBC WS WHYS

Kevin Connolly continues the BBC’s amplification of anti-Israel delegitimisation

BBC WS news bulletins amplify HRW delegitimisation campaign

BBC’s Knell relegates impartiality to the bench in campaigning football report


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BBC World Service contact details

PA’s anti-Israel campaign at FIFA gets BBC WS amplification again

For years Jibril Rajoub has been exploiting his various sports-related positions in the Palestinian Authority to advance delegitimisation of Israel.

In May 2012, he volunteered to lead a campaign to have Israel expelled from all Olympic unions and committees, stating that he opposes any form of ‘normalisation’ with Israel, including in the field of sports. In June 2012 Rajoub demanded that UEFA cancel Israel’s hosting of the 2013 European Under-21 Championship. 

Not infrequently, Rajoub’s assorted campaigns have been covered on BBC platforms: see for example here, here and here. Over the last two years, the BBC has repeatedly amplified Rajoub’s current campaign against the Israeli football association at FIFA (which is supported by the political NGO HRW) on multiple platforms:

BBC frames anti-Israel delegitimisation campaign as a sports story

Wind in the sails of Jibril Rajoub’s anti-Israel campaign from BBC WS WHYS

Kevin Connolly continues the BBC’s amplification of anti-Israel delegitimisation

BBC WS news bulletins amplify HRW delegitimisation campaign

BBC’s Knell relegates impartiality to the bench in campaigning football report

The latest installment in the BBC’s coverage of Rajoub’s campaign was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on May 9th.  The report by Tom Bateman (from 14:00 here) was introduced by presenter Tim Franks as follows:

Franks: “One of the great myths perpetuated by sports administrators is that sport somehow transcends politics; can fill a pristine space unsullied by grubby squabbling and nationalism. Well this week football’s world governing body FIFA is being asked to wade into one of the most intractable conflicts of the lot: that between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s being asked to rule whether football clubs from Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank should be allowed to carry on playing in Israel’s official leagues. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

As is almost inevitably the case in BBC content, the BBC’s new man in Jerusalem ignored the context to the events which led to Israel taking control of areas previously occupied by Jordan for 19 years.

Bateman: “Fragments of past conflict are hard to avoid here. Beyond Jerusalem’s suburbs, past the checkpoint soldiers under a weight of flack-jackets in the afternoon sun, you can hear the sound of bagpipes. This particular British military remnant belongs to the band of a Palestinian football club in the West Bank premier league – Hilal al Quds. On the sidelines – at least for the match if not in his political life – is Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian football association. Israel, he believes, is breaking FIFA’s rules by allowing in its leagues at least six clubs based in Jewish settlements on the West Bank: land captured by Israel 50 years ago.”

Rajoub: “It’s a crime by the international law. The Israeli federation has no right to organize and administer an official league within occupied territories. The Israeli federation has the right to develop the game within the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel.”

Bateman: “The Israelis say you’re politicising football.”

Rajoub: “No, I’m playing football and I hope that Israelis do understand that they cannot from one side enjoy the statutes and from the other side deny it for the Palestinians.”

Bateman then went to meet the chairman of the football club in Ariel, Shai Berntal.

Bateman: “Well we’re just driving west at the moment and we are heading to Ariel which is one of the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Shai Bernthal [sic] founded the football team when he came here in the 1980s.”

Berntal: “I feel that I belong to this land because [it] is the land of our fathers and mothers from the Bible era. I want to manage the football and to manage the very, very important mission to do a good and genuine football club in Ariel – that’s all.”

Erasing the fact that Ariel is situated in one of the areas that would remain under Israeli control in any realistic agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Bateman continued:

Bateman: “Of course Palestinians will say that this land, this very turf that we’re standing on here is the land that they want for their future state.”

Berntal: “The Jews live here from 2,000 years before them.”

Citing unidentified “critics”, Bateman went on:

Bateman: “He is interested in football, he tells me, not politics. But critics say the two cannot be disentangled in this case. These settlements are considered illegal under international law. Israel disputes this.”

As we see, despite only recently having taken up the post of Middle East correspondent, Bateman has embraced the BBC’s standard mantra on ‘international law’ which fails to inform audiences of the existence of legal opinions that contradict the corporation’s chosen narrative.

Listeners then heard the sound of a clip from a film.

Bateman: “As a new spoof documentary – ‘The 90 Minute War – suggests one of the world’s longest conflicts can be solved in a football match, the real drama may be played out at FIFA’s congress this week. The dispute between the two football associations is now several years old. Israel rejects the complaints. It has long accused Palestinian officials of using sport to glorify terrorism.”

Of course BBC audiences are consistently denied the information which would enable them to know whether “Palestinian officials” do indeed use sport to glorify terrorism and Bateman failed to inform listeners that just a day prior to his report, Rajoub’s Palestinian Football Association organised a tournament named after a terrorist responsible for the murders of 125 Israelis.

Listeners then heard a voice say “I think it’s just a game”. Failing to provide listeners with necessary context concerning Rajoub’s political standing within the PA and Fatah – information which the BBC has repeatedly refrained from providing to its audiences – Bateman went on:

Bateman: “Opponents of the Palestinian FA focus on its boss. Jibril Rajoub – once jailed by Israel for throwing a grenade at a military convoy – has high political ambitions, they say. Alan Baker – a former Israeli diplomat – knew him well. They became Jacuzzi partners during Israeli-Palestinian talks.”

Baker: “We spent hours and hours and hours negotiating and he’s in this for the political power that this gives him among the Palestinian public. The Palestinians are taking an honourable organisation whose purpose is to regulate international football and hijacking it for political ends and politicising it.”

Bateman: “FIFA’s role as referee in this dispute has already seen any decision delayed. This week’s congress may see that extra time extended even further.”

In fact –as Bateman knows – FIFA issued a press release exactly to that effect prior to the broadcast of his report.

The BBC World Service chose nevertheless to broadcast this report once again amplifying Rajoub’s campaign.

While Bateman’s report is certainly not one of the BBC’s worst on this topic, his pseudo-impartial ‘he said-she said’ presentation does not contribute to audience understanding of the story. Considering that BBC audiences have a permanent deficit of information concerning Palestinian glorification of terrorism through sport (and in general), that they rarely receive information on Palestinian Authority internal politics and that their understanding of delegitimisation campaigns against Israel is decidedly limited, it would have been appropriate for Bateman to supply listeners with actual facts rather than repeatedly and unhelpfully telling them what “Israel says”.  

BBC R4 “Little Moscow in Israel” programme fails on accuracy and impartiality

On June 10th 2013 BBC Radio 4 aired a programme made by Ladbroke Productions – produced by the company’s director Richard Bannerman, with presentation/narration by Dennis Marks (both former BBC employees) – entitled “Little Moscow in Israel”. Commissioned programmes are, of course, required to meet the same editorial standards as content produced by the BBC itself. 

The programme can be heard for a limited period of time here or for those with access to iPlayer, here.

Little Moscow

Whilst claiming (according to its less than accurate synopsis) that it “explores the life of the 1.2 million Israelis of Russian origin”, the programme actually has three levels. At first hearing, it may seem like a rather benign portrait, with sympathetic sketches of the Gesher Theatre Company and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. But underneath that level lies a second one made up of stereotypical generalisations about the Israelis who came from the former USSR and subjective individual experiences. Underneath that level, we find a third one consisting of the advancement of the programme makers’ own personal prejudices and stereotypes about Israel which are hung on the hook of the subject of USSR-born Israelis. 

At 03:26 Dennis Marks informs listeners that:

“Practicing Jews don’t speak of immigration to Israel. They talk of making aliyah – going up.”

Of course the use of the Hebrew word aliyah has nothing whatsoever to do with the user’s level of religious observance and hence Marks’ claim is – in contravention of BBC editorial guidelines – inaccurate. 

One of the programme’s interviewees is Lily Galili – a senior journalist at Ha’aretz for 30 years. We will never know what parts of the conversation with Galili were edited out of this programme, but what was left in creates a bland caricature of over a million people with sweeping claims such as “they hated the climate”. 

Next, listeners hear from Elizabeth Tsurkov  (with Marks conveniently forgetting to inform readers that she is a contributor to the radical far-Left ‘+972 magazine’) who claims that:

“There wasn’t much housing available, so Russians were pushed to the periphery”.

Housing was indeed a big issue, as it would be in any country with such a large number of new immigrants arriving in such a short period of time, and naturally much of the new building to accommodate their needs took place on cheaper land outside the Gush Dan metropolitan area –as indeed had been the case with previous large waves of immigration. But Tsurkov’s generalised observation ignores both the large communities of immigrants from the former USSR in places such as Bat Yam (just south of Tel Aviv) or Petah Tikva, the subsequent independent relocation of many immigrants in the following years and projects such as ‘First Home in the Homeland’ (Beit Rishon B’Moledet) in which new immigrants were housed in kibbutzim for their first six months in Israel. 

At 12:37 Marks says:

“In the early nineties indigenous Israelis known as sabras stigmatized the new arrivals. They may have been invited to swell Jewish numbers to match those of the Palestinians, but for the sabras they also constituted a threat.”

Listeners are not given any factual evidence to support those highly politicised statements by Marks (or any information about the Law of Return) and the insinuation of stigma and discrimination is continued when Tsurkov says:

“Doctors, for example, managed to do exams and prove that they are real doctors even though they studied in the USSR”.

The facts, however, are very different. The wave of immigration in the early 90s included a very high number of doctors, with nobody doubting for a moment that they were “real doctors”, but not enough job openings for all of them. In common with the standard practice in most Western countries, immigrant doctors were required to take training courses designed to familiarize them with the local language in general, the local medical terminology and the very different methods of practicing medicine in Israel whereby doctors first qualify in general medicine and only then specialize in a certain field – in contrast to the system in the USSR. They then sat exams in order to qualify to practice medicine in Israel and those able to meet the required standards were absorbed into the medical system according to the quotas available. 

At 14:22 Marks’ commentary moves into the sphere of the overtly political. 

“One contentious prospect for ‘generation one and a half’ [people who immigrated to Israel as children] is offered by the settlements in the occupied territories. We’re driving down Route 5. Turn right out of Tel Aviv, cross a checkpoint and you’re in the West Bank. We’re on our way to Ariel – not so much a settlement; more a small town. It began as a hilltop encampment for a handful of settlers in 1978. Now it has light and heavy industry, new shopping centres and schools. It’s the archetypal fact on the ground. More than half its citizens are Russians.”

In Ariel, Marks meets an Israeli who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 1991 and who explains to him that his reasons for living there are primarily ones of convenience.  Rather ironically, Marks continues:

“Another stereotype bites the dust. Moshe isn’t the Zionist settler of journalistic cliché. He isn’t an ideologue, he’s not even religious. He’s firmly secular like the majority of new Russians.”

It is revealing that Marks insists upon calling Moshe and other Israelis who have lived in the country for 22 years “new Russians”.  One presumes that any attempt by a foreign journalist to describe British citizens of two decades’ standing in their own multicultural country as “new Pakistanis” or “new Jamaicans” would be met with fierce disapproval from most BBC editors and journalists.

The synopsis to the programme which appears on the BBC website claims (inter alia) that:

“He [Marks] hears of Russian/Israeli weddings which rabbis have refused to solemnise, because the bride cannot prove that she has a Jewish mother.”

Whilst Marks may have heard of such things, his listeners do not. His next interviewee – Dima Motel – states quite clearly that the rabbinate did recognize him as being Jewish when he went through the standard process of registration for a religious marriage.  The insinuation that such a process is confined to immigrants from the former USSR is of course untrue and constitutes another inaccuracy.

The next notion which Marks tries to advance is that of supposed identification with the political right by immigrants from the former USSR. He interviews Arik Elman – a former spokesman for ‘Israel B’Aliyah’ – who explains to him that the ‘Russian vote’ can be found across the political spectrum, with concentration on the Right and Centre. Marks is not apparently curious enough to wonder if the reality of years spent under communist oppression might influence the political opinions of immigrants from the former USSR. Instead, the programme cuts directly to Elizabeth Tsurkov who says:

“I think Russians are…will continue to identify with the Right, but as the older generation dies out and becomes less influential there is room for other voices. Voices that are more liberal. People who don’t feel the need to prove that we are real Israelis by hating others, by hating Palestinians, by hating Arabs.”

Not only does that grotesque caricature of Israeli conservative politics and Israelis in general somehow get past BBC editorial standards of impartiality, but Marks adds his own ominous commentary.

“Elizabeth Tsurkov again, speaking for the young, liberal minority. But they are most definitely a minority.”

Marks continues: 

“Back in Ariel’s Russian bazar, life may appear stable and comfortable. Secular Russians are free to eat their pork sausages. Today is Saturday and the shops in Jerusalem are firmly shut. Here the Sabbath opening hours are 9 a.m to 6 p.m. But scratch the surface and you’ll quickly remember that you are seventeen miles into the West Bank. Ariel is named after the former premier Sharon who coined the phrase ‘facts on the ground’. For Moshe these facts offer nothing but benefit to the Palestinians who once cultivated these hilltops.”

Marks’ claim that Ariel lies “seventeen miles into the West Bank” is not even supported by ‘Peace Now : the western entrance to Ariel is some ten miles from the ‘green line’. His claim that the town is named after Ariel Sharon is only partly correct. It was actually originally named after one of Jerusalem’s synonyms, but in 2009, whilst keeping the same name, was ‘renamed’ after Sharon. 

Immediately following his interviewee’s explanation of how many Palestinians from the surrounding area work in Ariel’s industrial zones, Marks interjects:

“Is that really the case? No Palestinians live in Ariel. You won’t see them in the Russian supermarket. Nor can they use the gym and the swimming pool in what Russians call Ariel’s country club. Its funding comes from American benefactors, but the water in the pool is diverted from the nearby Palestinian aquifer.”

No Israelis of course live in Nablus or Tulkarem and you won’t see them in the supermarkets or gyms there either, but that fact – or mention of the Oslo Accords and Palestinian Authority-controlled Areas A and B – does not fit in very well with the narrative of discrimination which Marks is trying very hard to promote. What Marks calls the “country club” is the Milken Sports and Recreation Complex. It does indeed receive contributions from benefactors abroad, but Marks neglects to inform his listeners why it was built

“In reaction to the violence and terrorism that began with the Intifada … in the year 2000, Mayor Ron Nachman initiated the construction of a comprehensive sport facility. He envisioned a family center where Ariel residents could build themselves both physically and emotionally.”

And what of Marks’ claim of water diverted from some “nearby Palestinian aquifer” to Ariel’s swimming pool? As we know only too well, the BBC excels in weird and wonderful tales of ‘stolen Palestinian water’ – keeping a highly problematic permanent feature on the subject on its website.  Apparently Marks and Bannerman – along with subsequent BBC editors – did not bother to fact check the veracity of their claim – but BBC Watch did just that.

Mr Yigal Rosental – Director of the Ariel Water Corporation – informed us that:

“The water in the swimming pool is received in the framework of the general town water supply which is supplied to us by the company ‘Mekorot’. The source of the water supplied by Mekorot’s pipelines is in the coastal lowlands.”

Yigal Rosental

In other words, the water in Ariel’s swimming pool does not come from “Palestinian” sources at all and Marks’ claim that it does represents a serious breach of both accuracy and impartiality. 

Mark’s next interviewee is Liza Rozovsky, whom he describes as a “Russian-born journalist and human rights worker”. Once again, Marks is not completely candid: Rozovsky is “Spokesperson of the OPT Department at Association for Civil Rights in Israel” and her organization is of course one of the many political NGOs operating in the region using the ‘apartheid’ trope to delegitimize Israel.

Towards the end of the programme Marks turns his attentions to the subject of multiculturalism. 

“It goes back to the very beginnings of Zionism in the 1890s when the Austrian journalist Theodore Herzl imagined the Judenstaat  – the Jewish state – as a multicultural rainbow nation. When the state was finally founded sixty years later, its first prime minister, Ben Gurion, had a very different vision. Israel would be a melting pot in which Jews from Western Europe, North Africa, the Levant and beyond would combine together to create a new national identity. But have they?”

Herzl certainly did not use the modern catch-phrase “rainbow nation” and Marks’ claim that he was a committed multiculturalist is arguably very far-fetched, with one of the few references to that subject in his pamphlet being little more than an afterthought.

“And if it should occur that men of other creeds and different nationalities come to live amongst us, we should accord them honorable protection and equality before the law.”

But Marks’ romanticized portrayal of the founder of Zionism serves as background to the point he really wants to make and that is that Israelis have supposedly betrayed the multicultural Zionist ideals as he perceives them.

Marks concludes:

“I first met Russian immigrants here almost thirty years ago. In the 1980s many of them seemed lost and confused. Returning in the early decades of the 21st century, with Russians in the Knesset, with Russian towns in the desert, with Russian theatre companies and Russian technocrats dominating the new industries, I imagined that confusion would have given way to confidence. But I wonder. How many more generations will it take for the schism between melting pot and rainbow to be resolved? How long before Israelis address the much greater gulf between facts on the ground like Ariel and the people who can’t shop in its bazar and can’t swim in its pool?”

What exactly “Russian towns in the desert” are supposed to be is a mystery. There are Israeli towns in the desert in Israel, but “Russian” ones? Does Marks also make a habit of referring to ‘Pakistani towns on the moors’ in his own country? One very much doubts it.

But that is precisely the issue with this whole programme. Marks’ anachronistic intellectual colonialism allows him to be judge and jury, making sweeping generalisations and promoting jaded stereotypes and glaring inaccuracies in order to promote his own political agenda. Rather than making an honest attempt to explore and understand “the life of the 1.2 million Israelis of Russian origin” and to discover the ways in which Israel has succeeded in absorbing them, Marks is unable to resist using those people as a springboard from which to advance well-worn themes of Israeli racism and discrimination.

That is a pity, because had he actually approached the subject with an open mind and tried to learn something from the experience, he might have been able to provide Radio 4 listeners with some food for thought regarding approaches to the subject of immigration which have turned out to be considerably more successful than those with which they are familiar in their own country. Instead, Marks and Bannerman merely spoon-feed  BBC audiences more fertilizer for their already warped impressions of Israel. 

BBC Radio 4: adding fuel to the BDS fire

The October 17th 2012 edition of the “Today” programme on BBC Radio 4 ran an item by Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly on the subject of the proposed upgrading of the town of Ariel’s 30 year-old college to university status. 

The programme is available for listening here (for a limited period of time), with the item concerned starting around 1:17: 00.

The programme’s presenter John Humphrys introduces the item with the words:

“The Israeli settlement of Ariel was built inside what the rest of the world regards as the occupied Palestinian West Bank”.

Kevin Connolly commences his report by saying:

“In the Israeli settlement of Ariel, built twenty kilometres or so inside what the rest of the world calls occupied Palestinian territory…”

Later – referring to the building of Ariel – Connolly talks of the “accusation that it’s all been done on land stolen from the Palestinians”. 

So, less than two minutes into the report, listeners have been informed that Ariel is located in a place called “the West Bank”, which is “occupied” and which is actually “Palestinian”, according to the “rest of the world”. 

The term “West Bank” had, of course, never been heard of before the Jordanian invasion, occupation and subsequent – unrecognised – annexation of that area. Even the Arab League refused to recognise Jordan’s territorial claims to the region west of the Jordan River which was – and remains – part of the territory allocated to the establishment of the Jewish National Home by the League of Nations. 

Connolly fails to inform his listeners that the 1949 Armistice Agreement signed between Israel and Jordan specifically states – at the insistence of the Arab States which did not recognise the consequences of the war – that the ceasefire line (the ‘green line’) should not be construed in any way as a political or territorial border. 

“Article II 2: It is also recognised that no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.”

“Article VI 9: The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”

Needless to say, during the 19 years of Jordanian rule over the captured territory, no Palestinian state was established there. 

In what is presumably supposed to be a nod to requirements of impartiality, Connolly informs listeners that one of his interviewees – Professor Robert Aumann of the Hebrew University –

“…defends Israel’s right to build on land that others call the occupied West Bank, but that he – like the settlers – prefers to call Judea and Samaria”. [emphasis added]

In other words, Connolly is now suggesting that not only does “the rest of the world” call it the “West Bank”, but that within Israel too, only “settlers” use the term Judea and Samaria.

Of Connolly’s three interviewees in the item, two (Ariel’s mayor, Ron Nachman and Professor Aumann) are in favour of the upgrading of Ariel College – which was established in 1982 – to university status. The third interviewee, Professor Alon Harel, is opposed to the move, with Connolly describing him as saying that:

“Reinforcing the settlers’ grip on the land they hold is a top priority for Israel’s current political leaders”. 

Harel himself then says:

“There is a feeling that there is nothing important but the settlements; there is nothing which is of value in Israel but the settlements. […] The success of the settlements is the only project that politicians in Israel – the leading politicians – the government – cares about.”

Many Israelis might be of the opinion that Harel’s words are – to say the least – over the top. 

Interestingly, both John Humphrys and Kevin Connolly choose to introduce into the item the subject of the fringe movement promoting the calls for an academic boycott of Israel, but neither of them take the trouble to inform their listeners just how unrepresentative of mainstream opinion that movement actually is. 

Humphrys’ introduction to the item includes the claim that the establishment of a university in an existing college in Ariel:

“…will enrage critics of Israel’s settlement policies and perhaps add new fuel to calls for an academic boycott of Israel”

Connolly winds up his report by suggesting that a university in Ariel would “energise”

“… those critics around the world already calling for an academic boycott of Israel in protest at its settlement policies.”

Significantly, Connolly and Humphrys both elect not to clarify the fact that the BDS movement – of which the calls for an academic boycott are part – is about much more than “protest” at “settlements” and that its underlying aim is the dissolution of the Jewish State and the implementation of the right of return to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees. 

The vast majority of Israelis – in accordance with prevailing international opinion – accept that the only viable solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is that of two states for two peoples and that territorial compromise and exchange on both sides will be a necessary part of that, as proposed in numerous plans – including the one put forward by Israeli PM Olmert in 2008

Under such proposals, the main blocks of Israeli towns and villages in Judea and Samaria – including Ariel – would remain under Israeli control, with land elsewhere given in exchange. 

It is a pity that the BBC does not appear to find it necessary to inform its audience that those ‘absolutists’ (including members of the BDS movement) refusing to engage with pragmatic solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict in fact represent minority opinion rather than “the rest of the world”. It is even more regrettable that, through selective reporting, the BBC appears to have no qualms about stoking fires to advance the destructive BDS cause.