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

The third item (see the first here and the second here) relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary that was aired on the November 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs show ‘Today‘ was an interview (from 01:32:28 here) with Israeli deputy minister Tzipi Hotovely conducted by the programme’s co-presenter Nick Robinson.

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

Robinson: “Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Downing Street today. The Israeli prime minister’s official residence back home is known simply as ‘Balfour Street’. That name: a recognition of the role of the British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour who, a hundred years ago today, declared Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in the Holy Land. I’ve been speaking to Israel’s top diplomat – deputy foreign minister Zipi [sic] Hotovely about the significance of this day.”

After listeners heard Hotovely describe the Balfour Declaration as the beginning of international recognition of the Jewish right to self-determination and its wording as “very precise” in stating that the Jewish people should have their homeland, Robinson stepped in with yet more inaccurate paraphrasing of its text.

As was the case in the previous two items in this programme as well as in many additional BBC reports on the same topic (see ‘related articles’ below), he erased the all-important words “civil and religious” from his portrayal of the statement “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

Robinson: “It was precise in another way though, wasn’t it? The second half of what’s called the Balfour Declaration said nothing shall be done which prejudices the rights of the people already living in that area. That is unfinished business, is it not?”

Hotevely replied by clarifying that all Israeli citizens have equal rights and quoting the Declaration of Independence on that point. Robinson interrupted:

Robinson: “Those are the people living in Israel proper but of course there are many people living under Israeli occupation on what the world refers to as the occupied West Bank. They do not have equal rights, do they?”

At no point throughout this item were listeners informed that the people to whom Robinson refers are not Israeli citizens and that vast majority of Palestinians living in Judea & Samaria do so under the rule of the Palestinian Authority in Areas A and B as defined under the terms of the Oslo Accords.

While Hotovely was answering that question, Robinson – adopting an increasingly aggressive and patronising tone – interrupted her again:

Robinson: “Let’s be clear: when you deny the notion of occupation you are denying something recognised by every government round the world. You are denying something recognised by the United Nations, which all say that Israel is occupying land after the 1967 war and there should be the prospect at least of a Palestinian state there.”

As Hotovely tried to point out that the Palestinians rejected the 1947 Partition Plan, Robinson interrupted her again:

Robinson: “Yeah but we’re talking about your idea. You’re saying that it is not occupied. In what sense…well forgive me…let’s deal with what you said. In what sense is it not occupied?”

Hotovely’s response referring to the ancient Jewish connections to Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem was again interrupted by Robinson:

Robinson: “Well let’s go back to Balfour. Let’s go back to what he said. […]

Nobody said that Jews don’t have a connection with them. The land is occupied after a war. Now Balfour; let’s go back to him.”

Hotovely appears to have tried to raise the topic of the Six Day War at that point but Robinson interrupted her again with an even more inaccurate paraphrasing of the declaration’s text.

Robinson: “Forgive me. Let’s go back to Balfour. The Balfour [sic] said nothing should be done which prejudices the rights of the Palestinian people. Now you’ve got children. Imagine they were Palestinians living on what the world refers to as the occupied West Bank. Are you really saying that they would have the same rights as your children have?”

Just a few words into her reply, Robinson yet again interrupted:

Robinson: “That wasn’t the question.”

When Hotovely raised the point that there is no occupation or settlements or Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip and that the area is nevertheless under the control of a terrorist organisation, Robinson interrupted once more.

Robinson: “OK. Let me go back to Balfour one more time if I could. The British government said […] OK; so the British government…it is the British government’s position that there is unfinished business in the Balfour Declaration. Your prime minister is in the UK today and will be celebrating the Balfour Declaration. It is the British government’s position that only half of Balfour has been delivered. Let me just put the same question to you again. You have children. Imagine they were Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank. Would they have the same rights was my question. And the answer – you know – is no, they would not.”

Hotovely then spoke about Palestinian incitement and “schools and squares” named after terrorists that glorify violence against Jews but was again interrupted.

Robinson: “Well as you know there are many children who don’t believe that and many schools that don’t teach it. Let’s talk about the future if we could, minister, because that’s what matters now.”

Hotovely’s response to that interruption included the observation “it doesn’t seem like you’re shocked from [by] the idea that young children are being raised on this legacy of terrorism” but Robinson continued with yet another ‘question’ to which he also provided the answer.

Robinson: “Has Israel now abandoned the goal set by so many of a so-called two-state solution? In other words; of Israel living alongside and in peace with a Palestinian state. From everything you say, you have.”

Hotovely’s attempts to reply were repeatedly interrupted.

Robinson: “What’s your policy though? What’s your policy?”

Robinson: “So there will be no Palestinian state?”

Robinson: “Let me ask what you think the future is rather than your view of the Palestinians. Is your view of the future then a larger Israel incorporating what you call Judea & Samaria – what other people call the occupied West Bank – with second class Palestinian citizens live [sic] there? Is that your vision?”

After Hotovely’s reply to that question (and without it being clarified to listeners that her personal political views on that topic are not the majority view in Israel) Robinson continued by asking whether her three year-old and one year-old daughters have “Palestinian friends”:

Robinson: “Well let me ask you finally and personally – do you, do your family, do your children have Palestinian friends?”

Hotovely managed to say that her brothers live in Judea & Samaria and use the same facilities as Palestinians before Robinson interrupted yet again:

Robinson: “They have friends?” […]

He then proceeded to lecture his guest.

Robinson: “Well going to a Palestinian shop is not the same as having friends. The reason I ask you the question is peace needs hope. What the Balfour Declaration did was to give the Jewish people hope. What hope are you offering to the Palestinian people?”

One cannot but arrive at the conclusion that the sole aim of this aggressive, patronising and ultimately tediously uninformative interview was to amplify yet again the BBC’s chosen political message that the Balfour Declaration is ‘unfinished business’ by means of inaccurate representation of its text.

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

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

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

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

 

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

The second item (see the first here) relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary aired on the November 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today‘ was described in the synopsis thus:

“The Balfour Declaration – signed 100 years ago – is reviled by those who campaign for the rights of the Palestinian people and celebrated by supporters of Israel. Nick Robinson reports on the events which led to the declaration and its consequences.”

The item was introduced by co-presenter Nick Robinson (from 01:17:28 here) as follows:

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

Robinson: “Tonight Benjamin Netanyahu the Israeli prime minister will join Theresa may at a dinner in London to celebrate the centenary of a letter sent by Lloyd George’s foreign secretary in 1917. His name: Arthur Balfour. Now it may be just 67 words long but the Balfour Declaration as it’s known is not of mere historical interest. To this day it is reviled by many of those who campaign for the rights of the Palestinian people but celebrated by supporters of Israel.”

After listeners had heard a recording from an unidentified event celebrating the Balfour Declaration, Robinson went on to inaccurately paraphrase the document – airbrushing the words “civil and religious” from his portrayal as has been seen on multiple occasions in additional BBC coverage of this story.

Robinson: “One paragraph in one letter written a hundred years ago, here in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, continues to divide people now as much as it did then. That promise of a national home for the Jewish people alongside another – to protect the rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine: was it a masterpiece of ambiguity by Foreign Office mandarins schooled in the art? Or was it a calculated deceit by a colonial power from which the Middle East has yet to recover?”

Robinson’s first interviewee was the current Lord Rothschild whose great-uncle was, as pointed out, “the recipient of that letter”.

Rothschild: “It had been the yearning of the Jewish community for two thousand years to get back to Jerusalem and Palestine and therefore the moral authority of Great Britain at that time was so great that even though this letter is somewhat ambiguous, I think the Jewish community and my forebear believed that this would lead to a national home for the Jews and many Jews would therefore go there.”

Robinson: “You say the document was ambiguous. Some argue that it was deceptive.”

Rothschild: “I mean I don’t think it’s deceptive, no. I think you know that the Jews took over a land, as Mark Twain said, had been a dreary, desolate place in 1867 and through dint of hard work and labour, they made a huge success of it. But they did feel, the Arabs, that they were being dispossessed.”

Robinson then in effect told listeners – inaccurately – that the land on which Israel was later established was in fact Arab/Palestinian.

Robinson: “You say they did feel that they were dispossessed. The truth is they were dispossessed.”

He subsequently introduced the totally irrelevant and materially misleading theme of ‘colonialism’.

Robinson: “So what do you say to those who say that the British government should apologise for it; that this was an act in effect of colonialism?”

Robinson went on to showcase another event relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary organised by a group set up to specifically campaign on the topic.

Robinson: “…something Britain can be proud of. Not the views of those gathered this week in Westminster’s Central Hall to mark what they call Britain’s broken promise.”

Listeners then heard yet another BBC misrepresentation of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence.

Robinson: “His Royal Highness Prince el Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. Like Lord Rothschild he’s the descendent of someone who received a letter from a British diplomat a century ago. He’s the great-grandson of the Sherif of Mecca who was told back in 1915 that Britain would support Arab independence in return for their support in the fight against the Ottoman Empire.”

Bin Talal: “While one set of promises was being made to the Arabs, another was obviously being made correspondingly to the international Jewish movement. The Emir Faisal recognised the importance of a pluralist Arab state provided – and here’s the caveat – the Arabs obtained their independence as demanded in earlier memorandum. Sadly, the influence from outside to try and create some semblance of a state and a Jewish home; the desire from those within the region, both Jews and Arabs, to live together was confounded by the pressures of demography from Russia on the one side and from Europe.”

At no point did Robinson explain to listeners that – as clarified in the 1922 White Paper and by Sir Henry McMahon himself – “[t]he whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was […] excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge”.

Neither were audiences told anything of the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement or that bin Talal’s own country – and with it Arab self-determination – was established on 77% of the land originally assigned to the creation of a Jewish national home, after Britain activated Article 25 of the Mandate for Palestine.

Bin Talal went on to claim that the two World Wars “resulted in the importance of making space for others without consulting the main issue of how those others could live side-by-side with the indigenous inhabitants”.

Robinson then asked:

Robinson: “Is it right for the Balfour Declaration to be celebrated as many Jews want it to be, to be marked as the British government says, or is it something that Britain should be ashamed of?”

With apparently no sense of irony – considering that his own country (with considerable British help) attacked the nascent Israeli state the day after its creation and subsequently occupied areas assigned to the Jewish national home by the League of Nations – bin Talal replied:

Bin Talal: “I would rather suggest with all due respect that celebrating is – against the background of the bloodshed in this region on an almost daily basis – rather a strong word.”

Robinson’s next interviewee was the Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran who was introduced as someone who “says it’s time the British government recognised Palestine”.

Moran: “I think rather than say apology I’d rather see recognition for the part that Britain played and I think the first step in reparation to that would be recognition of the second state in the two-state solution which is Palestine. The idea that we can achieve real peace without equal players sitting at that negotiation table are…are ridiculous.”

Once again no effort was made to inform listeners of the fact that the Palestinians have turned down repeated opportunities to have their own state alongside the Jewish state.

Listeners next heard from the former Guardian journalist Ian Black who promoted the notion of Jews as a “religious group” rather than an ethnicity or a people.

Black: “The Zionist movement used the language of modern nationalism to say we are one people and we need a land of our own. It had of course the religious and the biblical, the spiritual link to the Holy Land and the tragedy of the story is that that land was claimed and occupied by another people which did not accept that claim. It saw it as an incursion by foreigners who had no right to be there. And those fundamentals remain at the heart of the conflict today.”

Robinson returned briefly to his Jordanian interviewee before closing with messaging implying that the Balfour Declaration has not been implemented.

Robinson: “When Arthur Balfour the foreign secretary wrote his letter – the letter that became the Balfour Declaration – he knew it was controversial. After all, it had been through draft after draft. What he couldn’t know is that a hundred years later the diplomats and the ministers that work in these offices here at the Foreign Office would still be trying to make a reality of his promises.”

And so in this item listeners heard a majority of views from one side of the debate, with Robinson’s own opinions made amply clear. They also again heard inaccurate representation of the Balfour Declaration’s specific reference to the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities, misleading references to Palestinian ‘dispossession’ and an inaccurate portrayal of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, while all mention of the Jordanian part of the story of the Mandate for Palestine was erased from view.

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

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

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

 

 

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

The November 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today‘ included no fewer than four separate items concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary.

In her introduction to first of those items (from 51:49 here) co-presenter Mishal Husain repeated a practice seen time and time again in BBC coverage of this story (see ‘related articles’ below). Her inaccurate paraphrasing of the Balfour Declaration concealed from audiences the fact that the document specifically referred to the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities.

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

Husain: “A hundred years have passed since Britain pledged support for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration, issued by the then foreign secretary in the midst of the First World War has become a source of celebration for Israelis and anger for Palestinians over what they see as the failure to stick to its promise that the rights of non-Jewish communities should not be prejudiced. The British government says it will mark the centenary with pride but its description of the pledges made at the time as ‘unfinished business’ has done nothing to soften Palestinian calls for an apology. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Bateman began his report in Be’er Sheva where commemoration of a battle in 1917 recently took place. Failing to clarify that battle’s First World War context to listeners, he went on to promote a theme previously seen in his reporting of the Balfour Declaration centenary: the notion that Palestinian Arabs were ‘dispossessed‘ – thereby inaccurately implying that the territory on which Israel was established was ‘Palestinian’. 

Bateman: “The Balfour Declaration was issued two days later. Palestinian Arabs would come to view it as a historic source of their dispossession. For many Jews it amounted to a form of salvation; recognition of their claim to their ancestral homeland.”

A brief interview with former MK Shlomo Hillel included a reference to the British Mandate which once again raises the question of whether BBC reporters understand the difference between the Mandate for Palestine – drafted and confirmed by the League of Nations – and the British role as administer of that mandate.

Bateman: “Shlomo Hillel – now 94 – an Iraqi Jew, was among the waves of Jewish immigrants in the years after the declaration was written into Britain’s international mandate for Palestine.”

Listeners heard nothing on the subject of why Hillel and tens of thousands of other Jews left Iraq, even though – as told in an interview some years ago – it is relevant both in the context of the wider topic of the effects of British policies in the Middle East and in relation to the part of the Balfour Declaration that has been consistently and glaringly absent from BBC coverage of the topic: “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

“After World War I, the British took over the country and appointed a king, and in 1932 Iraq became independent. “Suddenly the situation changed,” explains Hillel.

“Already by 1933, my father understood this was the end.”

That was the year of a massacre of Assyrian Christians in the north of the country.

“We were watching the Iraqi army’s ‘victory’ parade from our house in Baghdad and we thought if that’s what they can do to the Christians, what can they do to us?” Hillel moved to Palestine in 1934 to be with his older brothers and was followed by his parents in 1935.

During World War II, a Nazi-inspired pogrom (farhud) erupted in Baghdad in 1941, finally bringing to an end any hopes of continued peaceful existence for the city’s Jewish minority. “This was a huge traumatic event for Iraqi Jews. Young Jews started to organize self-defense organizations and an underground,” Hillel relates.”

Following an archive recording in which listeners heard a reference to “the wandering Jew”, Bateman continued with an airbrushed portrayal of the scope of and reasons for British restrictions on Jewish immigration:

Bateman: “Britain ultimately curbed Jewish immigration. Mandate rule struggled to deal with Arab unrest and Jewish paramilitary groups seeking a state.”

Bateman’s next interviewee was Rima Tarazi.

Bateman: “Rima Tarazi’s father was a civil servant for the British in Jerusalem in those years. She says he helped other Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war after Britain had pulled out.”

Tarazi’s father was Musa Nasir – also a member of the Jordanian parliament and a minister in the Jordanian government. Listeners then heard another inaccurate paraphrasing of the Balfour Declaration.

Tarazi: “My father was a great advocate of our cause – of the Palestinian cause – and he was always trying to make the British understand. Ever since the Balfour Declaration there have been…hard feelings started to arise. And the travesty of the problem is that they said we promise a Jewish homeland provided it doesn’t prejudice the rights of the non-Jews, so we became the non-Jews. We were the majority. We were 90% of the people, the population. It has polarised religion in our region.”

Bateman’s next interviewee, historian and MK Michael Oren, did point out that “the national aspirations of Arabs were widely realised in places like Syria and Iraq” but Bateman did not expand on the topic. His final interviewee was introduced thus:

Bateman: “The political leadership in the West Bank sees Mr Netanyahu’s invitation to Downing Street as an insult. Dr Nabil Shaath is an advisor to the Palestinian president.”

Shaath: “It’s not enough that you…you’ve done this but you celebrate it with the man who runs Israel today and who is doing everything possible not to allow the Palestinians any bit of sovereignty or survival on their land.”

Failing to remind listeners of the numerous occasions on which the Palestinians have rejected the opportunity to have their own state over the past eighty years, Bateman closed his report.

Bateman: “A hundred years after it issued the Balfour Declaration the British government concedes all its pledges have yet to be fulfilled but it has made clear it will not be saying sorry.”

While Radio 4 listeners got to hear a balanced quota of Israeli Palestinian voices in this interview, they also heard two inaccurate portrayals of the Balfour Declaration’s specific reference to the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities, one inaccurate reference to Palestinian ‘dispossession’, a curious portrayal of the Mandate for Palestine and the unchallenged accusation that Israel is exclusively to blame for the absence of a Palestinian state.  

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

As noted in part one of this post, the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell produced two similar reports – audio and written – concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary, one of which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on November 1st (from 14:06 here) and the other published in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd under the title “Balfour Declaration: The divisive legacy of 67 words“.

Both those reports promoted debatable portrayals of history, including a lax representation of the Mandate for Palestine.

Audio: “…his [Balfour’s] declaration had been formally enshrined in the British Mandate for Palestine.”

Written: “By that time, the area was under British administration. The Balfour Declaration had been formally enshrined in the British Mandate for Palestine, which had been endorsed by the League of Nations.”

Knell’s portrayal failed to adequately clarify to listeners that the Mandate for Palestine was drafted and confirmed – rather than “endorsed” – by the League of Nations whereas the British Mandate was the trustee appointed by that body to administer that mandate.

In the written report, readers found the following:

“The [Balfour] declaration by the then foreign secretary was included in a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leading proponent of Zionism, a movement advocating self-determination for the Jewish people in their historical homeland – from the Mediterranean to the eastern flank of the River Jordan, an area which came to be known as Palestine.” [emphasis added]

Whether or not Knell intended to refer to the proposal submitted by the Zionist Organisation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 is unclear but the territory finally assigned to the Jewish Home in 1922 certainly did not include “the eastern flank of the River Jordan”.

“The following provisions of the Mandate for Palestine are not applicable to the territory known as Trans-Jordan, which comprises all territory lying to the east of a line drawn from a point two miles west of the town of Akaba on the Gulf of that name up the centre of the Wady Araba, Dead Sea and River Jordan to its junction with the River Yarmuk; thence up the centre of that river to the Syrian Frontier.”

Knell then went on to refer to the Hussein-McMahon correspondence – but without naming it.

“Palestinians see this as a great betrayal, particularly given a separate promise made to enlist the political and military support of the Arabs – then ruled by the Ottoman Turks – in World War One.

This suggested Britain would back their struggle for independence in most of the lands of the Ottoman Empire, which consisted of much of the Middle East. The Arabs understood this to include Palestine, though it had not been specifically mentioned.”

She did not, however, bother to inform readers that the territory concerned was – as clarified in the 1922 White Paper and by Sir Henry McMahon himself – excluded from that pledge.

“With reference to the Constitution which it is now intended to establish in Palestine, the draft of which has already been published, it is desirable to make certain points clear. In the first place, it is not the case, as has been represented by the Arab Delegation, that during the war His Majesty’s Government gave an undertaking that an independent national government should be at once established in Palestine. This representation mainly rests upon a letter dated the 24th October, 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon, then His Majesty’s High Commissioner in Egypt, to the Sharif of Mecca, now King Hussein of the Kingdom of the Hejaz. That letter is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus. This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty’s Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge.” [emphasis added]

In these two reports BBC audiences found some very rare references to the issue of British restrictions on Jewish immigration. However, while told that “Britain allowed” Jewish immigration, they were not informed that the terms of the Mandate it was charged with administering obliged it to “facilitate Jewish immigration” and “encourage […] close settlement by Jews on the land”.

Audio: “…Britain allowed waves of Jewish immigration during the early mandate times. But amid an Arab backlash and rising violence, it later forced back many Jews facing persecution, particularly during the Holocaust.”

Written: “During the first half of the Mandate period, Britain allowed waves of Jewish immigration. But amid an Arab backlash and rising violence, Israelis remember how it later blocked many fleeing persecution, particularly during the Holocaust.”

The Mandate for Palestine – with Britain as the administering mandatory – came into effect in September 1923 following ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne. Even before that, the White Paper of 1922 had already expressed the intention to ‘regulate’ immigration and the 1930 Passfield White Paper led to further restrictions being placed on Jewish immigration. Knell’s claim that “Britain allowed waves of Jewish immigration” before the establishment of the quota system severely limiting Jewish immigration by the 1939 MacDonald White Paper is therefore not an entirely accurate and objective portrayal.

In both her reports Knell concluded by suggesting linkage between the Balfour Declaration and the modern-day ‘peace process’.

Audio: “And right now the controversy over the past is only highlighting the continuing friction between Israel and the Palestinians. After many failed peace efforts, there’s deep mutual mistrust and few hopes that today’s leaders will be able to make the bold new declarations needed to end this long-running conflict.”

Written: “The British government has invited him [the Israeli prime minister] to London for events to mark the centenary on Thursday.

That decision, at a time of dimming hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace, has infuriated Palestinians, who plan a day of protests.

They want Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration.

“As the time passes, I think British people are forgetting about the lessons of history,” says Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam.

He points out that Palestinians still seek the creation of a state of their own – which alongside Israel would form the basis of the so-called two-state solution to the conflict, a formula supported by the international community.

“The time has come for Palestine to be independent and for that long-due promise to be fulfilled,” he says.”

Knell refrained from pointing out to readers that throughout the last eighty years the Palestinians have repeatedly turned down opportunities to have their own state “alongside” a Jewish state.

While the BBC’s coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary has uniformly and generously amplified related Palestinian messaging and propaganda, it has equally consistently side-stepped the ‘elephant in the room’ that is the century-long Arab and Palestinian refusal to accept Jewish sovereignty in the region.

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

The BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell produced two similar reports – audio and written – concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary, one of which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on November 1st (from 14:06 here) and the other published in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd under the title “Balfour Declaration: The divisive legacy of 67 words“.

As has been the case in all the BBC’s coverage of the centenary (including a previous report by Knell), her portrayal of the document itself erased from audience view the part safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” and no mention was made of the 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands.

In the audio version, Knell’s paraphrasing failed to clarify to listeners that the document specifically referred to the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities.

Audio: “…Britain pledged its support for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine which, it said, shouldn’t prejudice the rights of existing non-Jewish communities.”

Written: “It stated that the British government supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

At the same time, it said that nothing should “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.”

As was seen in additional BBC coverage, these two reports also promoted the notion of “competing narratives” without providing audiences with the tools to judge their validity.

Audio: “Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports now on how the Balfour Declaration is at the heart of two competing narratives.”

Written: “The British peer Arthur Balfour barely makes an appearance in UK schoolbooks, but many Israeli and Palestinian students could tell you about him.

His Balfour Declaration, made on 2 November 1917, is taught in their respective history classes and forms a key chapter in their two very different, national narratives.”

Both reports promoted Palestinian Authority/PLO messaging portraying the Balfour Declaration as the cause of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but without adequate clarification of the fact that the conflict actually began decades before the State of Israel came into being and that the Arab riots of the early 1920s targeted long-existing Jewish communities in places such as Jaffa and Jerusalem.

Audio: “Meanwhile the Palestinians are planning protests and demanding an apology from the UK government. They see its historic decisions as the source of their unresolved conflict with Israel.”

“The Palestinian education minister Sabri Saydam says it [the Balfour Declaration] led to the modern conflict with Israel.”

Saydam: “We continue to remind our pupils of the pain that’s resulted from the Balfour Declaration, the misery the Palestinians continue to witness every day. The prolonging of the Israeli occupation is seen to be a by-product of the Balfour Declaration.”

Written: “It [the Balfour Declaration] can be seen as a starting point for the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

BBC audiences also found some debatable portrayals of history in these two reports – as will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

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BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

In addition to the items relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary already discussed here (see ‘related articles’ below), on November 2nd the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried an article titled “Balfour Declaration: Theresa May hosts Israeli PM for centenary“.

Embedded in that article are two filmed reports by Tom Bateman and Yolande Knell and a link to another article promoting anti-Israel theatricals and amplifying the PA/PLO’s politicised messaging on the Balfour Declaration – all of which also appeared separately on the same webpage.

Comparatively little of this article relates to the subject matter described in its headline but almost 30% of its 538 words (not including the insert of analysis from the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent) are devoted to promotion of the PA/PLO chosen narrative (along with references to “their land”) including – once again – a link to an op-ed by Mahmoud Abbas that appeared in the Guardian.

“…Palestinians regard it as a historical injustice. […]

In the Palestinian territories, thousands of Palestinians held protest marches in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, denouncing what they say is a betrayal which left them dispossessed.

Palestinians regard the Balfour Declaration as having robbed them of their land and have demanded that Britain apologises.

Some held black flags and called for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to land which became Israel.

About 400 protesters from a fringe group of Jewish anti-Zionists marched from Downing Street to the Houses of Parliament, calling on “God to dismantle the Israeli State”. […]

However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Balfour Declaration was “not something to be celebrated”.

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Abbas said the past was still “something that can be made right”, and called on the UK to recognise a Palestinian state in territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

As has been the case in all the recent BBC coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary, portrayal of the document itself erased from audience view the part safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” and no mention was made of the expulsion of ancient Jewish communities from Arab and Muslim lands.

“Britain’s pledge, on 2 November 1917, was made in a letter by the then-Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.

The letter said the government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, so long as it did not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.”

The article failed to adequately clarify that the Mandate for Palestine was issued by the League of Nations and that Britain was selected to administrate that mandate on its behalf.

“The Balfour Declaration was the first international recognition by a world power of the right of the Jewish people to a national home in their ancestral land and formed the basis of Britain’s Mandate for Palestine in 1920.”

Once again, the fact that the armed forces of five Arab countries invaded Israel the day after independence was declared was airbrushed from the BBC’s account, as was the fact that a considerable number of the Palestinian Arabs who left their homes around that time did so at the advice of Arab leaders.

“The British Mandate terminated on 14 May 1948 and the Jewish leadership in Palestine declared an independent Israeli state. In the Arab-Israeli war that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were forced from their homes.”

The above-mentioned insert of analysis from Jonathan Marcus encouraged readers to believe that there are two “competing narratives” concerning the Balfour Declaration (while of course ‘impartially’ refraining from discussing their validity) but avoided the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s long-standing politicisation of that document.

“Much of the current focus on the Balfour Declaration is due to the fact that it supports the competing narratives of the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership.

For the Israelis it highlights the legitimacy of the Jewish national enterprise, while for Palestinians, it underscores the role of the major powers in helping to create Israel, while – in their view – the legitimate Palestinian aspirations to statehood were ignored or side-lined.

Thus both sides have a very different interpretation of the declaration’s significance – one that serves today’s arguments about one of the region’s longest unresolved struggles.”

As we see from this report and others, BBC coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary has conformed to a standard formula focusing on unquestioning amplification of PA/PLO messaging while completely erasing the part of the document relating to “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” and the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

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BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

Mahmoud Abbas’s Guardian op-ed illustrates the dishonesty of the ‘Palestinian narrative’ (UK Media Watch)

 

 

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

A filmed report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell that appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd under the headline “Balfour Declaration: 100 years of conflict” opened with footage filmed in what is inaccurately described as a “museum”.

In fact, that footage was filmed in the same place as two additional reports appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the same day: a location previously correctly described by the BBC as “a political statement”.  

The report opens:

“This exhibit shows the signing of a controversial letter which helped transform the Middle East. It’s the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour 100 years ago.”

Yolande Knell: “And this is actually the same declaration over here and then this is the key bit where it says that the government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. But at the same time, nothing shall be done which prejudices the rights of existing non-Jewish communities.”

“It meant, for the first time, official recognition for a Jewish homeland.”

Knell’s lax paraphrasing of the wording of the Balfour Declaration fails to clarify to viewers that it specifically referred to “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities” rather than “rights” in general.

There is of course a third part to the Balfour Declaration: “nothing shall be done which may prejudice […] the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”. As has been the case across the board in the BBC’s ample coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary, viewers of this report were not told of the existence of that part of the document or of the ancient Jewish communities subsequently forced out of Arab and Muslim lands.

Following archive material, the film continues with some specious history that fails to clarify the Ottoman Empire’s role in the First World War or the fact that British control over the region was achieved through military action.

“During WW1, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and Britain took control of Palestine. It had a large Arab majority but the Jewish population was growing. When Lord Balfour visited in 1925 Jewish residents welcomed him warmly. The Balfour Declaration is now seen as a major step in creating the modern state of Israel in 1948. Balfour’s text was deliberately ambiguous. But Palestinians are taught that it sowed the seeds of their long-standing conflict with Israel.”

That conflict of course began well over two and a half decades before Israel came into existence but the BBC avoids portraying it as being rooted in anti-Jewish violence.

Viewers are told that:

“The current Lord Balfour takes a special interest in the Middle East and in this centenary.”

Lord Balfour: “I think we should commemorate it rather than celebrate it. I don’t think we can celebrate while we have this friction.”

The film closes with promotion of the PA/PLO’s chosen narrative concerning the centenary.

“Now the Israeli prime minister has been invited to London for the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Palestinians are angry. They feel the UK owes them an apology for what they see as an historical injustice. The UK has rejected the call, saying it will mark the occasion with pride.”

Once again we see that the BBC’s ample coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary is focused on amplifying Palestinian messaging on the topic.

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More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

Those familiar with the BBC’s record of promoting the recurrent anti-Israel propaganda produced by the anonymous English political activist known as Banksy would not have been in the least bit surprised to find two reports – one written and one filmed – concerning his latest ‘creation’ on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

On November 1st the website published a written report titled “Balfour Declaration: Banksy holds ‘apology’ party for Palestinians” which opens by telling readers that a location that has been under full control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995 is ‘occupied’ by Israel.

“The British artist Banksy has organised a “street party” in the occupied West Bank to apologise for the Balfour Declaration, ahead of its centenary.”

Readers were also told that the anti-terrorist fence – constructed in order to protect Israeli citizens from Palestinian suicide bombers – is “controversial”.

“An actor dressed as Queen Elizabeth II hosted dozens of children at the event.

She also unveiled a new work by Banksy etched into Israel’s controversial West Bank barrier that said: “Er… Sorry.””

Unsurprisingly, readers were not informed why ‘refugee camps’ (in this case Aida and Dheisheh) still exist over two decades after the PA assumed control of the area.

“Banksy’s tea party in Bethlehem on Wednesday was attended by children from nearby Palestinian refugee camps.”

Readers found a statement from the event’s initiator that echoes a mythical quote used by anti-Israel activists which has previously been seen in BBC content.

“A statement by Banksy said: “This conflict has brought so much suffering to people on all sides. It didn’t feel appropriate to ‘celebrate’ the British role in it.”

“The British didn’t handle things well here – when you organise a wedding, it’s best to make sure the bride isn’t already married.””

The BBC’s portrayal of the Balfour Declaration erased from audience view the part safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

“The British government’s pledge, on 2 November 1917, was made in a letter by the then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.

It said the government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, so long as it did not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.”

Readers were inaccurately informed that the League of Nations mandate administered by the British “expired” rather than being terminated by the British government. The fact that the armed forces of five Arab countries invaded Israel the day after independence was declared was airbrushed from the BBC’s account, as was the fact that a considerable number of the Palestinian Arabs who left their homes did so on the advice of Arab leaders.

“The Mandate expired on 14 May 1948 and the Jewish leadership in Palestine declared an independent Israeli state. In the Arab-Israeli war which followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were forced from their homes.”

In all, six of the article’s eighteen paragraphs promoted the PLO/PA’s chosen narrative on the subject of the Balfour Declaration.

“The Balfour Declaration expressed the British government’s support for a Jewish national home in Palestine, paving the way for Israel’s creation.

Israel and Jewish communities view the pledge as momentous, while Palestinians regard it as an historical injustice.” […]

“Palestinians, who see the Balfour Declaration as something that caused decades of suffering and deprived them of their own state on land that became Israel, have called for an apology from the UK ahead of the centenary.”

Readers were not informed that the Palestinians and their Arab patrons rejected the opportunity to have “their own state” on numerous occasions.  

A further three paragraphs were devoted to uncritical amplification – including a link – of a Guardian op-ed by Mahmoud Abbas and without any clarification on the part of the BBC that, in contrast to Abbas’ implication, the Balfour Declaration referred to “the civil and religious rights” – not political – of “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.  

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wrote in the Guardian newspaper on Wednesday that the act of signing the letter was not something that could be changed, but that it was something that could be “made right”.

“This will require humility and courage. It will require coming to terms with the past, recognising mistakes, and taking concrete steps to correct those mistakes.”

Mr Abbas said recognising a Palestinian state within the boundaries between Israel and East Jerusalem and the West Bank which existed before the 1967 Middle East war, and with East Jerusalem as its capital, could “go some way towards fulfilling the political rights of the Palestinian people”.”

The filmed report on the same story – titled “‘Er… Sorry’: Banksy’s new West Bank work” – appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd and once again BBC audiences were told that a location that has been under complete PA control for over two decades is ‘occupied’.

“A new Banksy work in Bethlehem has been unveiled by an actor dressed as the Queen in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Banksy’s tongue-in-cheek British street party took aim at the British and Israeli governments. They’ve been marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration – the UK’s promise of a homeland for Jewish people in Palestine.”

The Balfour Declaration of course refers to “a national home for the Jewish people”.

The film went on to once again promote the organiser’s use of a theme derived from a mythical quote.

“The British didn’t handle things well here – when you organise a wedding, it’s best to make sure the bride isn’t already married.”

As viewers saw a man plant a Palestinian flag in a cake, they were told that:

“This was Palestinian activist Munther Amira’s contribution.”

Amira is in fact the director of the ‘Popular Struggle Coordination Committee’ and, according to some news reports, he was protesting the event rather than ‘contributing’ to it.

“People from the nearby Aida refugee camp said afterwards they objected to the way the event had used Palestinian children as the centrepiece of the performance. “We came because we didn’t like the use of the British flags or the way they were using Palestinian children,” said Munther Amira, a prominent activist from Aida who planted a large Palestinian flag in the middle of a cake.”

A clue to the nature of those objections can perhaps be found in the BBC’s written account of the event:

“Instead of paper party hats, they [the children] wore plastic helmets painted with the British flag and riddled with pretend bullet holes.” [emphasis added]

The filmed report closed:

“The British government calls the Balfour Declaration “unfinished business” saying it supports a two-state solution.”

Together with Tom Bateman’s filmed report, these two reports brought the number of items giving one-sided amplification to PA/PLO narrative promoting agitprop on the November 2nd edition of the BBC News website’s Middle East page to three.  

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

Mahmoud Abbas’s Guardian op-ed illustrates the dishonesty of the ‘Palestinian narrative’  (UK Media Watch) 

 

 

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

Among no fewer than eight items concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary that appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd was a filmed report titled “Palestinians call for Balfour Declaration apology” (apparently also aired on BBC television) by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman.

“The BBC’s Tom Bateman reports from outside the British consulate in East Jerusalem, where Palestinian representatives have delivered a message to diplomats calling on the UK to apologise for the Balfour Declaration.

One hundred years ago, then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour expressed British support for a Jewish national home in Palestine – something Palestinians regard as a historical injustice.”

In his report Bateman told BBC audiences that Palestinians had been dispossessed of “their land” – thereby inaccurately suggesting to viewers that the territory on which Israel was established was ‘Palestinian’. Bateman’s choice of words when describing Jewish connections to that territory is no less revealing.

Bateman: “We’re outside the British Consulate in East Jerusalem where Palestinian representatives have just been delivering a message to the officials inside. And as they do so, protestors have been gathering outside with the same message; they want the British to apologise for the Balfour Declaration of a hundred years ago today. They’ve been holding black flags; in their view mourning the effects of that historic statement. Palestinians see the Balfour Declaration as the start of a process that led to their dispossession – the dispossession of their land and they say they want the British not only to apologise but also to recognise a Palestinian state in reparation for what they say were the effects of the Balfour Declaration.

Well while this has been going on here, for many Israelis today it’s been a day they have marked with celebrations. The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has travelled to London to meet British prime minister Theresa May.  They see the Balfour Declaration as a moment that their aspirations to what they see as their historical homeland, their ancestral homeland was given international recognition. And so they are marking that day very much in that mood.

As for the British, they have said there will be no apology. They say they’re marking the day with pride. But they also say that Arthur Balfour’s second pledge – to uphold the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities here is unfinished business.” [emphasis added]

The phrase “unfinished business” was used by the British Foreign Secretary in an article published in the Daily Telegraph – but not in the context that Bateman claims.

Interestingly, Bateman made no effort at all to inform viewers of his report of the background to the ‘protest’ to which he gave amplification.

A placard seen at demonstrations in PA controlled areas on November 2nd

“The protest centered around roughly a dozen school girls who arrived at the consulate to deliver thousands of letters written by Palestinian students, demanding Britain apologize for the Balfour Deceleration. […]

The protest — though it was publicized by the combined official media of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Palestinian Authority and the PA’s Fatah ruling party Fatah — was only attended by some 70 people.

The event in Jerusalem was one in a series of protests planned by the Palestinian leadership throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and also in Tel Aviv. […]

“Listen, British: Jerusalem is Arabic,” the crowd chanted.

“Freedom is the right of our Palestinian state, from water to water,” the crowd yelled, referring to the historic borders of Palestine between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.”

And who organised the writing of those letters from Palestinian school children?

“The [PA] Ministry of Education and Higher Education today, Tuesday [Oct. 24, 2017], announced the launching of a campaign in cooperation with the [PLO] Supreme National Committee for Marking the 100th Anniversary of the Ominous Balfour Promise (i.e., Declaration), which is directed towards the high school grades. As part of the campaign, 100,000 letters will be written to British Prime Minister [Theresa May] as a sign of resistance to the government of Britain’s decision to reinforce its harmful policy by marking the 100th anniversary of the ominous Balfour Promise that opposes all norms. These letters will be in different languages, and some of them will be published in the media outlets.”

In other words, the ‘protest‘ and messaging given worldwide amplification by the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau was actually pre-planned political agitprop organised by the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.

“The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) scheduled demonstrations, events and educational classes in schools across Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza, Nablus, Bethlehem, Tubas, Hebron, as well as in Syria and Lebanon. 

Most notably, one hundred thousand letters by Palestinian schools were hand-delivered to the British Consulate General in Jerusalem.

PLO Executive Committee Member, Xavier Abu Eid told Palestine Monitor this was the “most symbolic event that took place” across the day.”

The BBC, however, failed to disclose to its audiences the background to the political propaganda it chose to amplify.

Weekend long read

1) Khaled Abu Toameh discusses an issue on which the BBC has yet to produce any serious reporting in an article titled “Militias vs. Palestinian “Reconciliation”“.

“The notion that Hamas would ever dismantle its security apparatus and deliver the Gaza Strip to Mahmoud Abbas’s forces is a fantasy. Hamas has no problem allowing Abbas loyalists to return to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, as was the situation before 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. But this is the most Hamas would be willing to sacrifice to support the success of the “reconciliation” accord with Abbas and his Fatah faction. […]

The statements of Hamas leaders in the past few days show that they are seeking to duplicate the model Hezbollah uses in Lebanon. Hamas wants to remain in charge of security matters in the Gaza Strip while restricting the Palestinian Authority’s responsibilities to civilian affairs. Hamas’s refusal to disarm and hand over security responsibilities to Abbas could torpedo the Egyptian-sponsored “reconciliation” agreement — especially in light of the PA’s rejection of copying the Hezbollah model in the Gaza Strip.”

2) The Fathom Journal carries an article by Ronnie Fraser titled “Before Balfour: The Labour Party’s War Aims memorandum“.

“Ronnie Fraser tells the little-known story of the British Labour Party’s support for Zionism. Three months before the Balfour Declaration, its War Aims Memorandum made clear that ‘The British Labour Movement expresses the opinion that Palestine should be set free from the harsh and oppressive government of the Turk, in order that the country may form a Free State, under international guarantee, to which such of the Jewish People as desired to do so may return, and may work out their salvation’.”

3) Petra Marquardt-Bigman reviews British sociologist David Hirsh’s new book.

“A recently published book on “Contemporary Left Antisemitism” is an arguably long overdue study of “antisemitism amongst people who believe that they strongly oppose antisemitism.” That’s how the author David Hirsh, a sociologist at London’s Goldsmiths University, puts it in his Introduction, acknowledging that he is examining “a phenomenon whose very existence is angrily contested.” One reason Hirsh’s book is special is that he – a man of the left for all his life, and a veteran opponent of anti-Semitism – has experienced up close and personal just how angry reactions can get when a leftist insists on calling out left-wing anti-Semitism.”

David Hirsh will be giving talks in various locations in Israel this coming week – details here.

4) At the Algemeiner, Dr. Rafael Medoff asks “Why Do Zionists Celebrate Unfulfilled Promises?

“In the coming weeks, numerous Jewish organizations and institutions will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, and the 50th anniversary of the United Nations partition plan for Palestine.

Remarkably, however, the proposals that will be celebrated were just that — proposals. Neither of them actually was implemented, at least not in the way that their authors intended.”