Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

As we saw last week, the BBC Jerusalem bureau already briefed audiences on the topic of Coronavirus in the Gaza Strip over a week before the first two cases were diagnosed. Listeners to at least four programmes on different platforms heard the following long-employed talking points concerning the Gaza Strip repromoted in Tom Bateman’s preemptive reports:

  • The territory was described as “one of the world’s most densely crowded places” where “more than two million people live in tightly packed” and “densely populated conditions”.
  • The territory was portrayed as having “weak, underdeveloped health services” that are “far weaker than those of the developed Western world” and which are “already under significant pressure”. Hospitals in the Gaza Strip were described as “outdated, hard pressed and lacking many medicines and supplies” and audiences were told that an outbreak of Covid 19 “could stretch their health system to the limit.”
  • The territory was described as having “an unclean water supply and regular power cuts”.
  • Audiences heard of “deep poverty” and “crowded refugee camps”.

However when it came to explaining to audiences why health services, power supplies and water supplies in the Gaza Strip are as they are, the BBC was distinctly less forthcoming.

“…problems […] are compounded by the tangled politics here. Israel and Egypt’s crippling blockade – meant to stop weapons getting to Hamas militants – the recent bouts of fighting with Israel and the deep split between the two main Palestinian factions all add to the crisis.”

Of course the sole reason for that partially portrayed “blockade” is the terrorism perpetrated by Hamas and additional terrorist organisations since Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip nearly a decade and a half ago. The BBC, however, provided no serious background information on that topic – including the issue of Hamas’ budgetary priorities which place terrorism over healthcare and other services – while employing its standard euphemism “militants” to describe Hamas.

Neither were audiences given any significant information on how “the deep split” between Hamas and Fatah has affected the standard of living and services such as water, power and healthcare in the Gaza Strip.

The main story on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 24th was headlined “Gaza: Virus fears in crowded strip” and the sub-heading read:

“The first two cases have been reported in one of the world’s most densely populated areas”

The link led to a report by Yolande Knell which appeared on the website’s ‘Coronavirus’ live page.

Readers found many of the talking points regularly promoted in BBC content.

“Since the start of the pandemic, health officials have worried about it reaching this impoverished coastal enclave – one of the world’s most densely populated places.”

As we have noted here in the past when the BBC has promoted the same mantra about population density, there are of course many other cities in the world with a higher population density than Gaza City and other places with higher population densities than the Gaza Strip as a whole. Interestingly, a map produced by the BBC in 2018 shows a higher population density in London than in Gaza.

“Social distancing is almost impossible among large families living in Gaza’s crowded refugee camps and built-up neighbourhoods, raising fears that infection could spread fast and that overstretched hospitals could be overwhelmed.”

According to a WHO report published in May 2019:

“There are 81 hospitals in total in the occupied Palestinian territory, with 51 in the West Bank and 30 in the Gaza Strip. Bed capacity is approximately 1.7 beds per 1000 population and is the same for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

According to the OECD, Colombia has the same ratio of beds per 1,000 population and Mexico, Costa Rica, Indonesia and India have lower ratios.   

“Gaza has been kept under blockade by Israel and Egypt since the militant group, Hamas, took full control of the territory in 2007. Up to now, some Gazans had been commenting on the irony of how their enforced isolation appeared to be protecting them during this health crisis.”

Apparently Knell did not recognise the irony of promoting the notion of “enforced isolation” while having earlier in her report noted that the first Covid 19 patients in the Gaza Strip were “two men returning from Pakistan”. She also refrained from disclosing that according to reports “more than 2,700 people are in home isolation [in the Gaza Strip], mostly having returned from Egypt”.

As we see, the BBC’s messaging in reports about the Gaza Strip and the Coronavirus epidemic is no different from the narratives it has been promoting for years, including the inaccurate notion that the standard of healthcare stems from Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

On the day that Knell’s report was published the Israeli journalist Hezi Simantov (a veteran Arab affairs reporter) noted that Hamas’ Khalil Al-Hayya had declared that “we will place the full responsibility on Israel in the event that the Corona virus spreads in Gaza because our ability to deal with the pandemic is lessened because of the blockade”.

The fact that the deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau in Gaza and the BBC are promoting the same talking points while both avoiding the topic of Hamas’ responsibility for the state of health services in the territory is obviously noteworthy.  

Related Articles:

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

COGAT contradicts Guardian claim on Gaza medicine ‘restrictions’ (UK Media Watch)

 

Does the BBC know the difference between government and state?

A BBC News website report headlined “US museum Dead Sea Scroll collection found to be fakes” which was first published on the ‘US & Canada’ page on March 16th now also appears on the ‘Middle East’ page.

Readers of that article are told that:

“The scrolls are a set of ancient manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible.

The first of the scrolls were found in caves in Qumran on the western shore of the Dead Sea in 1947. They were reportedly first discovered by a young Bedouin shepherd searching for lost sheep. Their discovery is considered to be among the most significant archaeological finds in history.

The majority are held in a collection by the Israeli government.” [emphasis added]

As many readers will know, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are exhibited at the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. As that only partly government-funded museum explains:

The first seven Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by chance in 1947 by Bedouin of the Ta’amra tribe, in a cave (later given the name “Cave 1”) near Khirbet Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Three of the scrolls were immediately purchased by archaeologist Eliezer Lipa Sukenik on behalf of the Hebrew University; the others were bought by the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, Mar Athanasius Samuel. In 1948 Samuel smuggled the four scrolls in his possession to the United States; it was only in 1954 that Sukenik’s son, Yigael Yadin, also an archaeologist, was able to return them to Israel, and they were ultimately entrusted to the Shrine of the Book Foundation. They have been on display in the Shrine of the Book at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, since 1965.

Shrine of the Book

Over the next few years, from 1949 to 1956, additional fragments of some 950 different scrolls were discovered in ten nearby caves, both by Bedouins and by a joint archaeological expedition of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française and the Rockefeller Museum, under the direction of Professor Father Roland de Vaux. The richest yield, from Cave 4, just opposite the site of Qumran, consisted of some 15,000 fragments. The last cave, Cave 11, was discovered in 1956, and the scrolls found there were in a reasonable state of preservation. Since then, only a few small scraps of parchment have been found in the Judean Desert (though not in the close vicinity of Qumran).

Apart from the first seven scrolls, which are entrusted to the Israel Museum, the majority of the fragments found by archaeologists and Bedouin are property of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). Others are in the possession of institutions outside of Israel, such as the Jordan Archaeological Museum in Amman and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, or in private hands (the Schøyen Collection, Norway).” [emphasis added]

The Israel Antiquities Authority (founded in 1990) is a partly government funded body which is classified as an independent government authority and which is responsible for implementing the 1978 Antiquities Law which states that:

“When an antiquity is discovered or found in Israel after the coming into force of this Law, it shall within boundaries fixed by the Director become the property of the State.”

So where did the BBC get the idea that “[t]he majority [of the scrolls] are held in a collection by the Israeli government” rather than by the Israel Antiquities Authority?

Perhaps the answer to that question can be found in the Wikipedia entry for the Dead Sea Scrolls which states:

“Almost all of the Dead Sea Scrolls are currently in the collection of the Government of the State of Israel…”

Apparently the BBC journalist who wrote this report does not understand the difference between government and state.

Related Articles:

Revealed: BBC’s Kevin Connolly knows how to use Wikipedia

BBC News continues to avoid the issue of Joint Arab List politics

Following the election in Israel at the beginning of March we documented the BBC’s provision of brief descriptions of various competing parties’ locations on the political map, with the exception of one list.

BBC News signposts Israeli political lists – except one

As efforts to form a coalition government proceed, that practice continues.

Listeners to a news bulletin aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 16th heard a report from Tom Bateman (from 2:09:05 here) about the president of Israel having tasked the leader of the Blue & White party with forming a government after he received the most endorsements from members of the Knesset.

Newsreader: “Benny Gantz, the main political rival to the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been given the chance to form a government after winning the support of two key parties. There have been three inconclusive elections in Israel in the last 12 months. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Bateman: “The backing for Benny Gantz is a blow to Benjamin Netanyahu but it does little to break the deadlock that has paralysed Israeli politics. Most MPs supported Mr Gantz for the first go at putting together a coalition but their appetite to dislodge Mr Netanyahu is all some of them really agree on. The groups backing Mr Gantz include the Arab Israeli parties who won record support in the election and a nationalist, hawkish former defence minister who turned on Mr Netanyahu a year ago. The under pressure prime minister is seeking, among other options, to forge an emergency government to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak.”

In other words, while BBC audiences heard Avigdor Lieberman – leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party – described as “nationalist, hawkish”, no political categorisation was given for the Joint Arab List.

A written report on the same story appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 16th under the headline “Israel election: Gantz vows to form ‘broad’ unity government within days” and with the tag “Coronavirus pandemic”. There readers found the following:

“The election on 2 March was Israel’s third in less than a year. Neither of the main party leaders was able to command a majority following the last two rounds.

This time, Likud won 36 seats, and allied right-wing and religious parties another 22. But that left Mr Netanyahu three short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Blue and White meanwhile won 33 seats; the Joint List representing Israel’s Arab minority came third with 15 seats; the centre-left Labour-Gesher-Meretz list won seven; and the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party also got seven.” [emphasis added]

Once again we see that while the BBC apparently thinks it useful to provide audiences with tools to navigate the Israeli political map, it does not provide any such signposting regarding the Joint Arab List. Instead, that list is portrayed as “representing Israel’s Arab minority” – the 16% of the Israeli electorate that the BBC inevitably chooses to portray as one monochrome group.

Information about the politics and ideologies of the four parties that make up the Joint Arab List is however crucial for members of the BBC’s audience who wish to understand both this story about Gantz trying to form a coalition government and another alternative apparently on the table but not adequately explained by the BBC – an emergency government. As Haviv Retting Gur notes at the Times of Israel:

“The Arab factions united in the Joint List are a diverse collection of liberals, Islamists, progressives and ultra-nationalists. Most are openly anti-Zionist and some have expressed proud and open support for ruthless terrorists responsible for some of the most infamous atrocities ever inflicted on Israelis. […]

One signal of a political faction’s seriousness can be found in its willingness to soberly prioritize its many goals and to sacrifice less-important ones for those that matter more. That may sound obvious, but a party like Balad, one of the four factions that make up the Joint List, had proved over the years that it could not look past its obeisance to radical Palestinian nationalism. Its members have joined the 2010 Turkish flotilla to Gaza, praised a murderer of Israeli children, and even spied for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.”

So while the BBC is capable of identifying “religious” parties allied to the Likud and describes Yisrael Beitenu as “nationalist”, it refrains from informing its audiences that, for example, one of the parties making up the Joint Arab List (Ra’am) is also a religious group and another (Balad) is no less nationalist.

Another point worthy of note in this BBC report concerns the following statements:

“Meanwhile, Mr Gantz also criticised what he said were “the illegitimate efforts by the current prime minister to evade justice”.

Mr Netanyahu had been due in court on Tuesday to face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three separate cases. But the hearing has now been postponed until at least 24 May because of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Readers trying to make up their own minds about that statement from Gantz would have benefited from the knowledge that the court session originally scheduled for March 17th was postponed by the judges assigned to the case.

 

 

 

 

A UN human rights story the BBC reported and the one it ignored

On March 11th the BBC News website published a report on its ‘Middle East’ page about a statement issued that day via the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Headlined “UN experts demand Iran ceases harassing BBC Persian staff”, the article opens:

“UN human rights experts have demanded Iran cease harassing and intimidating journalists working for BBC Persian and other Persian-language news outlets.

The journalists have endured death threats, criminal investigations, the freezing of assets and defamation.

Some relatives have been held in degrading conditions and ordered to tell family members to leave the BBC.

The harassment reportedly intensified when the journalists covered the mass anti-government protests in November.”

While that story was obviously newsworthy, so was another related one concerning a communication put out by the same UN office the following day. As reported by the Times of Israel:

“The UN Human Rights Council on Thursday praised Tehran in a periodic review of Iran’s rights record.

The 47-nation council adopted the report after a debate which featured lengthy praise for the Islamic Republic, according to UN Watch, a Geneva-based nonprofit organization. […]

“In the UNHRC report and at the debate, countries including North Korea, Syria, Russia and China applauded Iran’s rights record.

Tehran refused to allow the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Iran, Javaid Rehman, to tour the country to investigate its human rights conditions.

Iran’s ambassador to the council, Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh, said Iran was “scapegoated for human rights violations,” and that the US was “viciously” targeting the Iranian health care system amid its severe coronavirus outbreak.

Deputy chief of Iran’s High Council on Human Rights, Majid Tafreshi, said that all citizens in Iran are “equally protected by the law,” and said that journalists and NGOs have freedom of expression.”

UN Watch reported that among those praising Iran at that session was the Palestinian representative who stated that “We commend Iran’s commitment to promote and protect human rights.”

The executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, said:

“Cynical politics have hijacked this council, giving a free pass to a regime that subjugates women, tortures human rights dissidents, executes gays and spreads hatred, war and terror across the region, including aiding and abetting mass atrocities in Syria.”

No reporting on that story is to be found on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page or under its ‘United Nations’ or ‘Iran tags.

As we all too frequently have cause to document on these pages, the BBC regularly but uncritically quotes and promotes Israel related reports and resolutions produced by the UN Human Rights Councilmost recently concerning its blacklist of companies operating in Judea & Samaria.

However when the bias and redundancy of that UN body is on display, the BBC is nowhere to be found.

BBC News erases relevant background from report on Palestinian riot

On March 11th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Palestinian teenager killed in West Bank clash”. BBC audiences were told that:

“A Palestinian teenager has reportedly been shot dead by Israeli forces during a clash in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian medics said Mohammed Hamayel, 15, was hit in the face by live ammunition near the village of Beita, south of the city of Nablus.

Israel’s military said 500 Palestinians took part in what it called a violent riot, hurling rocks towards its troops and setting tyres on fire.”

Apparently the BBC is not convinced that 500 people throwing rocks and petrol bombs is a violent riot and so found it necessary to qualify that description. No such qualification was seen however concerning the claim of the use of “live ammunition”. AP reported that witnesses stated that the IDF had used rubber coated bullets and in response to an enquiry from CAMERA, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus confirmed that the army used only rubber bullets.

The BBC’s account of the background to the story is based entirely on Palestinian sources:

“The area has been the scene of growing tension in recent weeks.

Palestinians say a group of Jewish settlers has been trying to take control of a hill in the middle of several of their villages.

A witness told the BBC that Palestinians had gathered on Wednesday following rumours the settlers were heading to the hill.

When Israeli forces arrived Palestinians threw stones at them, and the soldiers fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas from drones, the witness said.

Palestinian health officials said a further 17 people were injured.

The settlers had reportedly been organising an archaeological tour of the hill, saying it hosted a site of Biblical significance.”

The actual background to the story was reported by Kan 11’s Gal Berger a week before the BBC’s report on the March 11th incident was published.

The hill is called Tel Aroma and it is located between the Palestinian village of Beita and the Israeli community of Itamar, south of Nablus/Schem. It is situated in Area B (i.e. the Palestinian Authority has civil control and Israel controls security) and is the site of a fortress dating from Hasmonean times (1st century BCE).

In late February a tour to the site was planned by a group of Israeli families. Palestinians – organised by the Nablus branch of Fatah – had previously erected a flagpole at the site and the night before the planned trip hundreds gathered on the hilltop in order to prevent it from taking place. The Palestinians rioted throughout the day and the trip was cancelled. Similar disturbances have continued since then and those acts of violence were praised by the PA president Mahmoud Abbas at a televised Fatah meeting on March 1st.

“What I saw in Nablus was great. This was the right thing to do. They need to understand that we are fighting with our eyes, our hands, our legs, and with everything, and that we will not allow them to toy with us. We are teaching them lessons. When they see unarmed people, people who have no weapons… Women and children chase [the Israelis] who run away from them… It makes me happy to see this. Really. This is our way to accomplish what we want. This is our way to accomplish what we want. By means of peaceful resistance, and with these efforts… The sisters should be in front at the protests. This is the most important thing. Seeing the girls beating up a policeman or a soldier really fills my heart with joy. This is how we want our peaceful popular resistance to be. This is our way to vanquish our enemies, and to achieve our independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Abbas’ blatant incitement and the fact that the rioting at Tel Aroma is organised by the Nablus branch of Fatah naturally did not make it into the BBC’s report. Unverified allegations from PA officials concerning “settlers…trying to take control” of the hill of course did.

Predictably, the final part of the BBC’s report included amplification of the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ along with exclusive promotion of the Palestinian narrative.

“About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel has always disputed this.

Palestinians have long called for the removal of the settlements, arguing that their presence on land they claim for a future independent Palestinian state makes it almost impossible to make such a state a reality.”

As we see, the account provided by the BBC relies on and dovetails with the narrative promoted by PA and Fatah officials. So much for the corporation’s obligation to provide “accurate and impartial news”.

BBC News misleads on “limits” on Iranian nuclear programme

On March 3rd a report appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “IAEA ‘asks Iran to explain possible nuclear activities at three sites’”. The article opens:

“A global watchdog has reportedly criticised Iran for not answering questions about possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities at three locations.

A leaked International Atomic Energy Agency document sent to member states said requests for access to two of the unidentified sites had been denied.”

The IAEA is of course not merely “a global watchdog”: it is autonomous organisation within the United Nations system and it is charged with verifying Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA.

The report goes on:

“It is not clear what IAEA inspectors suspect might have happened at them.

But it is thought the activities took place in the early 2000s.

That is long before Iran struck a landmark deal with world powers that placed limits on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.”

That framing whitewashes the fact that Iran ratified the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970, that the IAEA found Iran to be non-compliant in 2005, that the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in 2006, passed a related resolution in 2007, another in 2008 and another in 2010. In other words, the BBC’s suggestion that “limits” on the Iranian nuclear programme only came into effect after the JCPOA was agreed is inaccurate and misleading.

Later in the report readers find the inevitable BBC amplification of the claim that “Iran insists its nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes” and a misleading map which has appeared in previous BBC reports. Only in the article’s final sentences are they told that:

“Despite Iran’s denials, evidence collected by the IAEA suggests that until 2003 the country conducted “a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device”. Some of those activities allegedly continued until 2009.”

Readers are told that:

“The confidential IAEA report seen by journalists in Vienna on Tuesday said Iran had failed to co-operate with investigations into three sites of interest.

“Iran has not provided access to the agency to two locations… and not engaged in substantive discussions to clarify agency questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities,” Reuters news agency quoted it as saying.”

And:

“Diplomats said the three sites did not include one where the IAEA said last year that inspectors had detected uranium particles of man-made origin.

The inspectors are believed [sic] to have taken samples from a location in Tehran’s Turquzabad district – the area where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has alleged Iran had a “secret atomic warehouse”. Iranian officials have insisted the site was merely a carpet-cleaning factory.”

However the BBC did not inform readers that Reuters also reported that:

“…the IAEA at first resisted public pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit a site he cited in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 2018, calling it a “secret atomic warehouse” mentioned in a trove of data seized by Israeli intelligence agents. Tehran has said the site is a carpet-cleaning facility.

But the IAEA inspected the site in February of last year, diplomats say, and gathered environmental samples that showed traces of uranium that Iran has yet to fully explain.

Now the agency is seeking access to one or more sites mentioned in that trove, which Israel refers to as the “atomic archive” of information on Iran’s former nuclear weapons program.”

Towards the end of the BBC’s report readers are informed that:

“The leaked IAEA report said Iran had responded to the questions about the three sites by saying it would “not recognise any allegation on past activities”.”

The report did not clarify that, contrary to Iranian claims, the IAEA has the authority to carry out inspections it deems necessary.

When, in 2018, Israel made public the data obtained concerning Iran’s nuclear programme, the BBC reported that information as being “nothing new”. Apparently the IAEA now believes that it is necessary to investigate sites named in that data but the BBC has not clarified that point to its audiences.

Related Articles:

BBC News continues to parrot Iran’s nuclear messaging

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – February 2020

The Israel Security Agency’s report on terror attacks (Hebrew) throughout February 2020 shows that throughout the month a total of 332 incidents took place: 142 in Judea & Samaria, 29 in Jerusalem and inside the ‘green line’ and 161 in the Gaza Strip sector.

In Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem the agency recorded 141 attacks with petrol bombs, 9 attacks using pipe bombs, ten arson attacks, two shooting attacks, one vehicular attack, four stabbings, two incidents of rock throwing and two grenade attacks.

Incidents recorded in the Gaza Strip sector included two shooting attacks, eighteen petrol bomb attacks, nine IED attacks, one incident of sniper fire, three pipe bomb attacks, one incident of anti-aircraft missile fire and 127 incidents of rocket fire.

Sixteen people – all but one members of the security forces – were wounded during February including one in a petrol bomb attack in Hebron on February 3rd, ten in a vehicular attack in Jerusalem on February 6th, one in a shooting attack in Jerusalem on February 6th, one in a shooting attack near Dolev on February 6th, one civilian in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem on February 21st, and two in rock-throwing incidents on February 10th and 21st.

The BBC News website published two reports relating to terrorism throughout February. In a report that appeared on February 6th – “Israeli-Palestinian violence flares up”, discussed here – readers were told of the vehicular attack and two shooting attacks which took place on that day. The report also made brief mentions of explosive devices being thrown in Jenin and a petrol bomb in Hebron. Readers saw a second-hand reference to attacks from the Gaza Strip which had not been reported by the BBC at the time:

“There were also further Israeli air strikes on militant sites in Gaza Strip after militants fired mortars into Israel. […]

Israeli warplanes also struck a number of Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip early on Thursday, including an underground complex and a maintenance facility, after mortars and balloons loaded with explosives were launched towards Israel, the Israeli military said. […]

On Wednesday, the military said 13 rockets had been fired from Gaza in a week.”

The second report – “Israel-Gaza sees surge of cross-border violence”, discussed here – appeared on February 24th. BBC audiences were told that:

“On Sunday [February 23rd], more than 20 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel, causing some damage. […]

On Monday [February 24th], the Israeli military carried out further air strikes on PIJ targets in Gaza, after at least 14 rockets were launched from the territory into southern Israel.”

Although BBC audiences would therefore have concluded from that report that around 34 projectiles were fired from the Gaza Strip on February 23rd and 24th, the actual number of attacks was over 110.

Hence, it can at best be said that the BBC News website reported around 55 of the 332 attacks which took place during February and that during the first two months of the year its audiences saw coverage – sometimes in the form of a brief second-hand mention – of less than 10% of the Palestinian terror attacks which took place.

Related Articles:

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – January 2020

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – February 2020

 

BBC News signposts Israeli political lists – except one

Last week the BBC News website published three written reports concerning the general election held in Israel on March 2nd.

1) Israelis vote in unprecedented third general election in a year 2/3/2020

2) Israel election: Netanyahu claims ‘biggest win’ amid vote count 3/3/2020

3) Israel election: Netanyahu seeks defectors after failing to secure majority 4/3/2020

In all those reports BBC audiences were provided with brief descriptions of various competing parties’ locations on the political map. [emphasis added]

Article 1:

“In December, he [Netanyahu] comfortably won a primary election for leadership of his right-wing Likud party.

His main opponent in the general election is Benny Gantz, 60, a retired general who served as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) before entering politics to lead the centrist Blue and White party.”

“If Blue and White wins, it will bring to an end more than 10 years of rule by Likud, which advocates a right-wing nationalist agenda.”

Article 2:

“With 90% of votes counted, his [Netanyahu’s] Likud party and its right-wing allies were on course to win 59 seats, Israeli media reported.”

“With about 90% of votes counted, Likud had 29.35%, compared to 26.34% for Mr Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance, the Central Elections Committee said.”

“…the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism 10 and seven respectively; the centre-left Labour-Gesher-Meretz list seven; the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party seven; and the right-wing Yamina alliance six.”

Article 3:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc appears to have failed to secure a parliamentary majority in Monday’s general election.

With 99% of votes counted, Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party was on track to win 36 seats, and allied right-wing and religious parties another 22.”

“Likud is encouraging defections from the rival centrist Blue and White alliance, which is set to win 33 seats.

The nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party could also tip the balance with its seven seats, although it has ruled out joining a Likud-led coalition that includes religious parties.”

“Nitzan Horowitz, leader of left-wing Meretz party, said there would be a clear majority for the law in the Knesset and that it was “the moral thing to do”.

But Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina alliance, said it would be “extremely undemocratic and spit in the face of half the country”.”

There was however one notable exception made to that editorial practice of helping readers navigate the Israeli political map.

Article 1:

“A strong election result for the Joint List, an alliance of Arab parties, could favour Benny Gantz’s chances of forming a government propped up by their support.”

Article 2:

“The Joint List alliance representing Israel’s Arab minority was on track to get 15 seats…”

Article 3:

“The Joint List representing Israel’s Arab minority is set to come third with 15 seats.”

“Israel’s Arab Joint List had its best ever election and is the third largest group in parliament.”

As we see, in contrast to the other lists running in the election, the BBC did not make any effort to inform its audiences where the Joint Arab List lies on the political map or which four separate parties make up that “alliance”.

Evidently as far as the BBC is concerned, all its audiences need to know about the ideologies of parties included on Joint Arab List such the communist Arab-Jewish party Hadash, the Muslim religious party Ra’am and the anti-Zionist Balad is that they ‘represent’ the 16% of the Israeli electorate that the BBC inevitably chooses to portray as one monochrome group.

Related Articles:

How will the BBC cover Israel’s election?

BBC News promotes non-starter topic to advance Israel election narrative

BBC’s Bateman sketches a simplistic portrait of the Arab Israeli vote

More BBC Israel pre-election framing from Tom Bateman

BBC promotes linkage between elections on two continents

BBC’s Donnison misleads on Israel’s election result

Contrary to The Times’ claim, Joint List is not “left-wing” (UK Media Watch)

BBC’s Bateman sketches a simplistic portrait of the Arab Israeli vote

On March 1st – the evening before Israel’s election – the BBC put out a report by its Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman which focused on the Joint Arab List.

Visitors to the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page found a filmed report titled “Israel elections: Will the Arab Israeli vote swing the third election in a year?”.

“Parties representing Arab citizens of Israel believe they could see a high turnout among their voters in the country’s third election in less than a year, on 2 March.

The success of the ‘Joint List’ alliance – a bloc of Arab parties, could help shape the overall result by boosting support for Benny Gantz, the main rival to long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But many Arab Israelis feel their rights have been eroded by Israel’s right wing government, and some are refusing outright to take part in the election.”

Bateman travelled to Haifa to interview four Arab Israelis – one boycotting the election and three intending to vote.

Bateman: “Israel has been in political deadlock for a year. They are now onto their third election. And this time round one of the groups claiming to have momentum are the Arab Israeli parties. There are getting on for 2 million Arab citizens of Israel, that’s about a fifth of the population.”

Bateman: “If more Arab Israelis turn out to vote [than last time] and vote for their parties and get more MPs in parliament it could on the one hand, create more of a block to Benjamin Netanyahu being able to put together a right-wing coalition and potentially more support for his main rival, Benny Gantz.”

By the time that latter statement was aired, the head of the Joint Arab List had made it clear that scenario was unlikely.

Viewers were told that:

“The Joint List of Arab parties became the third biggest group at the last election.”

The Joint Arab List was also the third biggest group in the 2015 election but in the April 2019 election the four parties it comprises did not run as a combined list.

“Their leader Ayman Odeh thinks that their turnout will grow this time because his voters say they are fed up with Mr Netanyahu’s policies. During this election, his party has also been reaching out to left-wing and minority Jewish voters. Last time, a fifth of Arab citizens voted for majority Jewish parties.”

Interestingly, BBC audiences did not get to hear from any of those Arab Israelis who do not vote for the Joint List and so with the exception of that one sentence, the Arab Israeli vote was misleadingly portrayed as a uniform block – as reflected in the film’s opening caption: “Arab Israelis and the third election”.

“Mr Netanyahu often cites democratic participation by all groups as a source of pride for Israel. Historically, participation by Arab citizens has been high. In a close race, Arab Israeli turnout could help shape the overall result.”

Obviously the level of turnout of 20% of any nation’s citizens would “help shape the overall result”, regardless of ethnicity.

Also remarkable is the fact that at no point in this report were BBC audiences informed which parties make up the Joint List and what kind of political views they represent. Ayman Odeh did indeed court certain sectors outside his list’s usual base during this year’s campaign but, as the Times of Israel pointed out:

“A more significant obstacle between the Joint List alliance and its coveted Jewish votes is its inclusion of the Islamist Ra’am party and the Balad party, which contests Israel’s Jewish character.

Odeh is the secular leader of Hadash, a political offshoot of the Israeli Communist Party and other leftist groups. […]

But it’s not just Hadash that’s on the ballot. It’s the entire Joint List alliance — and many potential Jewish voters recoil at the words of Balad’s terrorist-supporting female MK Heba Yazbak, feel threatened when they see Palestinian flags at protests, and can’t vote for a party of which some members oppose LGBTQ rights.”

So while BBC audiences heard the opinions of a philosophy student who would not vote and three women who would – along with claims such as “a lot of racism against us” and “second class citizens” – they were told nothing of the policies of “their parties” which make up the Joint Arab List or how those policies have affected efforts to form past governments.

This of course is not the first time that BBC audiences have seen simplistic reporting on the topic of Arab Israeli voters: Kevin Connolly likewise portrayed that sector in monochrome terms in 2013 and 2015

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BBC News promotes non-starter topic to advance Israel election narrative

A report published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on the morning of March 2nd under the headline “Israelis vote in unprecedented third general election in a year” closed with a section headed “Does this election matter?” in which – predictably – the BBC brought up the topic of the US Administration’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal that was made public in January.

Readers were told, inter alia, that:

“The US plan also proposes ceding a cluster of Israeli-Arab towns and villages into a future Palestinian state – effectively transferring Arab citizens out of Israel.

Israeli Arabs, who comprise about 20% of Israel’s population and often complain of discrimination, have been angered by the suggestion.”

Similar messaging was promoted by the BBC’s Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman in a report aired in the March 1st edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 45:05 here). [emphasis in italics in the original]

Bateman: “There’s been a deep anger among many Arab Israelis. There were new laws [sic] asserting Jewish sovereignty by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Right-wing nationalist government and recently the Trump plan; offering to swap hundreds of thousands of people in Arab Israeli towns into a Palestinian state in return for Israel getting the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.”

The “new laws” to which Bateman refers is actually one law – the Nation State Law passed in July 2018 – which the BBC covered badly at the time.

The US proposal states: [emphasis added]

“Land swaps provided by the State of Israel could include both populated and unpopulated areas.

The Triangle Communities consist of Kafr Qara, Ar’ara, Baha al-Gharbiyye, Umm al Fahm, Qalansawe, Tayibe, Kafr Qasim, Tira, Kafr Bara and Jaljulia. These communities, which largely self-identify as Palestinian, were originally designated to fall under Jordanian control during the negotiations of the Armistice Line of 1949, but ultimately were retained by Israel for military reasons that have since been mitigated. The Vision contemplates the possibility, subject to agreement of the parties that the borders of Israel will be redrawn such that the Triangle Communities become part of the State of Palestine. In this agreement, the civil rights of the residents of the triangle communities would be subject to the applicable laws and judicial rulings of the relevant authorities.”

An explanation of that reference to “negotiations of the Armistice Line of 1949” can be found here.

Neither Tom Bateman nor the writer of the BBC News website report bothered to inform BBC audiences that both the main contenders for the post of prime minister of Israel in this election have already rejected that possibility raised in the US proposal.

“The Triangle area in Israel’s North will not become part of a Palestinian state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with Israeli Arabic-language channel Hala TV on Tuesday night.

Asked about the section of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan that raises the possibility of trading the predominately Arab Triangle area – which includes Umm el-Fahm, Kafr Kara, Baka al-Gharbiya and more – to the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu responded: “There is some vague statement [in the plan] that has no meaning.”

“There will not be any population transfers under any circumstances: I oppose it in principle,” he added.

In recent years and in the immediate aftermath of the plan’s release last month, Netanyahu said that he will not have people forced from their homes on the Israeli or Palestinian side.

The US “Peace to Prosperity” plan did not call for any populations to be moved but did suggest that the border could be redrawn such that the Triangle’s approximately 250,000 Arab citizens of Israel be in a future Palestinian state. However, this was not a core point: the map in the 180-page plan shows Israel swapping land in the Negev near Gaza and Egypt with the Palestinians, and keeps the Triangle in Israel.

The idea of swapping the Triangle was highly controversial and sparked protests in the North and in Tel Aviv. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has said he opposes it.”

In short, worldwide audiences were once again denied information that erodes the narrative the BBC has chosen to promote – in this case that of supposed background to the “anger” of Arab Israeli voters.  

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