BBC ME editor recycles his ‘Israeli Right killed the peace process’ theory

Part five of Jeremy Bowen’s series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on May 19th. Titled “Recipe for Disaster“, the programme’s subject matter is described as follows in the synopsis:

‘How the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin changed the region’s history, as remembered by BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen. “No political killing in the twentieth century was more successful,” he argues, observing the dramatic effects on the Oslo peace process. “Perhaps there was a moment for peace, and it came, and went.”‘

Like additional episodes in the series, this programme revisits a topic that Bowen has addressed before: in this case in November 2015 when he produced an article headlined with what is for him a rhetorical question – “Did Rabin assassination kill the best chance for peace?”. Nothing in Bowen’s approach has changed since then and his take away messaging once again leaves audiences in no doubt as to which side in the Arab-Israeli conflict killed off “hope” and “peace”.

Remarkably, Bowen’s 25 years in the Middle East have not done anything to improve his Hebrew pronunciation skills and listeners hear the former Israeli prime minister’s surname presented as ‘Ra-bean‘ throughout the programme.

The episode begins with Bowen’s personal recollections of reporting Rabin’s assassination on November 3rd 1995. From 03:58 he turns to the event itself.

“He [Rabin] was shot in the back by a Jewish extremist; a religious ideologue called Yigal Amir. […] Amir believed that Rabin was putting Jews in danger by turning land over to the Palestinians that he and the rest of the Israeli religious right believed had been given by God to the Jewish people. The prime minister had been getting a lot of flack from right-wingers in Israel, where being right-wing means opposing concessions to the Palestinians. He’d faced daily abuse, was accused of treachery and was even portrayed on posters in a Nazi uniform. Rabin’s supporters believed the leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu, was inciting and rabble-rousing against him.” [emphasis added]

Here is what Yitzhak Rabin’s daughter had to say on that topic two years ago:

“I don’t think Bibi sent Yigal Amir. And I don’t think Bibi thought that someone would murder the prime minister.

He understood one thing: that Yitzhak Rabin was standing in his way to becoming prime minister. But I don’t think it ever entered his mind that there could be a murder. This “pulsa denura” (death curse) comes from the darkest realms of religion – where Bibi has not been. I don’t think he ever connected to them. That is where it came from — from those rabbis that preached, preached openly, that Yitzhak Rabin had to be killed because he was going to bring upon us annihilation and disaster.” 

Bowen’s remarkably trite portrayal of the Israeli political map does not include any explanation of the fact that the land to which he refers was designated by the League of Nations as part of the Jewish homeland or that it was subsequently occupied by invading Arab armies in 1948. Likewise, completely absent from Bowen’s recollections of the atmosphere prior to Rabin’s assassination is the surge in Palestinian terror attacks that took place after the Oslo Accords were signed in September 1993.

Referring to the Oslo II agreement, Bowen tells listeners that:

“People on both sides opposed what was happening. The peace rally in Tel Aviv [at which Rabin was assassinated] came as Israel was preparing to hand over the main cities and towns in the West Bank to Palestinian control. The prospect of giving occupied land to the Palestinians sent the Israeli Right into a fury.”

He then gives a highly debatable cameo of the atmosphere at the time:

“Some on the Israeli Left had worried the rally would be a flop. The Right had been making the most noise, shouting the rest of the country down.” [emphasis added]

Listeners are told that: [emphasis in italics in the original]

“If Rabin had lived the Oslo process might still have failed. It had serious flaws for both sides. Some Israelis, especially on the Right, argue that plenty of Palestinians would never accept a Jewish state. They didn’t trust Arafat and looked with loathing on Hamas and Islamic Jihad; two groups that wanted to destroy Israel – not make peace.”

BBC audiences are, as regular readers know, serially deprived of information which would enable them to understand that the Palestinians themselves make it quite clear to this day that they refuse to accept a Jewish state. Bowen again refrains from providing listeners with the essential context of the intense campaign of devastating terror attacks that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were running against Israelis at the time and – as David Horowitz has documented – the effects those attacks were having on public support for the Oslo process.

“…the terrorism that had accompanied the efforts at peacemaking had eaten away at his [Rabin’s] popularity, and he was up against a potent political rival in Benjamin Netanyahu — so potent that mere months after the assassination, even as Israel reeled in horror at itself for the killing, the Likud leader was able to defeat Peres, the interim prime minister and natural heir. In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, Netanyahu was politically toxic, the leader of the camp from whose most radical fringe an assassin had sprung. But Netanyahu was carried to victory, by a nailbiting 29,457 votes, by those very same waves of terrorism — specifically four suicide bombings in February and March 1996 that persuaded a narrow majority of Israelis, however much they mourned for Rabin and for a country that could produce his killer, that the Oslo path, the Arafat path, was a bloody disaster.”

Bowen goes on:

“But many Palestinians accepted Israel’s existence while rejecting Oslo as a bad deal. They argued that Israel was deceiving them while it tightened its grip on the occupied territories, hugely expanding the number of Jewish settlers. Oslo was flawed but it was all they had and until Rabin was killed, it was working – just about. […] Without Rabin the Oslo peace process slowly collapsed. […] No political killing in the 20th century was more successful. Amir set out to kill the prime minister and the peace process.”

In fact, the building of new Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria had ceased with the signing of the Oslo Accords and people who went to live in the existing communities did so of their own accord; not because of any government policy. The Oslo Accords – willingly signed by the Palestinian leaders – of course do not place any limitations on construction in Israeli communities in Area C. 

Bowen tells listeners that:

“The Oslo peace process staggered on for a few years mainly thanks to the energy of American negotiators.”

He fails to inform listeners that additional agreements were signed throughout the five years following Rabin’s assassination, including (paradoxically, as far as Bowen’s theory on the Israeli Right-wing and “opposing concessions to Palestinians” goes) the 1997 Hebron Protocol and the 1998 Wye River Memorandum under the government of Netanyahu.

Conveniently and crucially erasing from the picture Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip – including the evacuation of all communities there – and with only a token, tepid reference to the second Intifada, Bowen goes on to promote the ‘settlements destroy peace’ illusion and the usual partisan BBC presentation of ‘international law’.

“A generation on, Palestinians and Israelis have changed. Palestinians are disunited. Israelis are more Right-wing. Attempts to revive the peace process have failed. Trust and hope were sucked out by escalating Palestinian violence, the built-in violence of the Israeli occupation and the growth of Jewish settlements that are illegal under international law. It’s become commonplace to argue that the chance for a two-state solution has gone because Israel has settled so many of its Jewish citizens in the occupied territories. I think that if the will was there, with clever diplomacy it could still be done. But the will doesn’t exist. On both sides the most dynamic forces are inspired by religious certainty rather than the art of the deal. Religious Zionists drive the Jewish settlement movement forward. They believe that the West Bank and Jerusalem were a miraculous gift from God and cannot be given up. Palestinians do not have good political choices. They’re desperately in need of a political reboot. Fatah, the dominant faction in the PLO is moribund. Its Islamist rivals in Hamas are badly tarnished.”

Bowen’s subsequent and closing portrayal of the Camp David summit in 2000 is equally superficial and predictably he refrains from informing listeners that Arafat’s decision to launch the pre-planned second Intifada did no less damage to the ‘peace process’ than Rabin’s assassination.

“The problems were too big, distance between them too wide. Jerusalem and the land they both wanted could not, in the end, be bargained away. The summit in 2000 ended in a disastrous failure and ushered in years of violence in the second Intifada. Perhaps there was a moment for peace and it came and went.”

Bowen’s story ends there, with no mention of the Clinton peace plan, the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, the fact that Israelis elected Ehud Olmert – who ran on a platform of disengagement from Judea & Samaria – in 2006 or Olmert’s 2008 offer to the Palestinians.

Such inconvenient facts would of course detract from Bowen’s very transparent aim to steer BBC audiences towards the simplistic and inaccurate view that the Israeli Right-wing murdered the peace process, while propagating the illusion of passive Palestinians devoid of all agency or responsibility.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 launches a new ME series by Jeremy Bowen

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

A predictable view of Jerusalem from the BBC’s ‘Man in the Middle East’

BBC ‘world view’ of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations laid out by Jeremy Bowen

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ inverts history in Manchester

h/t MS

Almost 24 hours after the horrific terror attack in Manchester, on May 23rd  the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ was broadcast from Albert Square in that city.

The programme included a discussion (from 34:15 here) between presenter Ritula Shah and local interviewees. After one interviewee had described Manchester as a “resilient city”, Shah turned to historian Michala Hulme of MMU (from 38:10). [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “Michala Hulme: resilient – but every city has its tensions. I imagine that Manchester is no exception.”

Hulme: “Yes; I think if we go back historically there have been tensions within Manchester. However, I don’t want to reiterate what everybody’s already said but Manchester, you know, is a tolerant city. We’re a multi-cultural city…”

Shah [interrupts]: “But, but just remind us of the kind of tensions that have riven the city in the past. I think we’ve seen Jewish riots in the 1940s. There’ve been all sorts of incidents where communities in Manchester – I mean Manchester is no exception – but have pitted one against the other.”

Hulme: “I think in most major big cities if we go back through history, you know, if we go back to the Victorian times for example you have got a lot of different cultures coming together and, you know, and they have to work together and they have to get along and they’ve got different beliefs. And so I think yeah; there has been tensions in the past but we’ve moved on. That was 250 years ago, you know, 200 years ago. So we have moved on since then but, you know, something needs to be done. People are angry.”

If Hulme the historian seems to be somewhat at a loss regarding Shah’s specific claim of “Jewish riots in the 1940s”, that should not come as much of a surprise. We too have been unable to find any record of rioting by Jews in Manchester during that decade.

Records do however show that in early August 1947, during a bank holiday, rioting against Jews took place over a number of days in Manchester, Salford and additional towns and cities. In an article published by the New Statesman, Daniel Trilling described the events:

“On Sunday afternoon the trouble reached Manchester. Small groups of men began breaking the windows of shops in Cheetham Hill, an area just north of the city centre which had been home to a Jewish community since the early 19th century. The pubs closed early that day because there was a shortage of beer, and by the evening the mob’s numbers had swelled to several hundred. Most were on foot but others drove through the area, throwing bricks from moving cars.

Soon the streets were covered in broken glass and stones and the crowd moved on to bigger targets, tearing down the canopy of the Great Synagogue on Cheetham Hill Road and surrounding a Jewish wedding party at the Assembly Hall. They shouted abuse at the terrified guests until one in the morning.

The next day, Lever said, “Cheetham Hill Road looked much as it had looked seven years before, when the German bombers had pounded the city for 12 hours. All premises belonging to Jews for the length of a mile down the street had gaping windows and the pavements were littered with glass.””

As we see, BBC Radio 4’s listeners have been given an inaccurate impression of a seventy year-old event in the history of their own country and a correction clearly needs to be made.

Resources:

‘The World Tonight’ on Twitter

BBC Radio 4 contact details

 

Trump visit coverage on BBC Radio 4 promotes unchallenged inaccuracies

The BBC’s coverage of the US president’s visit to Israel included two items broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ on the morning of May 22nd.

The first item (from 2:05:36 here) was part of the 8 a.m. news bulletin and listeners were told that the proposal to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem is a “break with decades of US policy” while the existence of the 1995 US Embassy Relocation Act was not mentioned.

Newsreader: “President Trump will arrive in Israel this morning on the second leg of his first overseas tour. He’s due to meet both Israeli and Palestinian leaders and visit a number of holy sites. It’s unclear if Mr Trump will repeat a previous aim to break with decades of US policy and move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Here’s our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.”

Amplifying the Palestinian narrative by referring simplistically to “occupied territory” rather than informing listeners that Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria are all located in Area C and that the final status of that area is – according to agreements already signed between Israel and the Palestinians – to be determined in negotiations, Bowen told listeners:

Bowen: “During the US election candidate Trump expressed views that seemed to fit neatly with those of the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, favouring expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied territory and a tough line towards Palestinian aspirations for independence. But in office, President Trump has been more nuanced so there’s been some nervous speculation on the Israeli right that he might demand concessions from their side. During the visit he’ll meet both Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Reports in the Israeli press quoting White House sources say that President Trump will ask them to undertake confidence building measures to try to improve the climate enough eventually to resume direct talks.”

The second item in the same programme (from 2:50:24 here) was introduced by presenter John Humphrys – using a highly questionable claim:

Humphrys: “Donald Trump says he can bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s the ultimate deal, he says, and today he goes to Israel to prove it – or not. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Tom Bateman’s report commences in Eilat with the space-filling and rather pointless story of a proposed visit by Trump to that town in 1989 which did not materialise. Echoing his ME editor’s previous statements, Bateman went on to tell listeners that:

“Trump’s campaign energised many on the right of Israeli politics who felt shunned – betrayed even – by President Obama. Candidate Trump could close the gap, they felt, by moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, by giving a green light to settlement building in the West Bank.”

Having interviewed an Israeli who ran the Trump election campaign aimed at Israeli-American voters and after visiting a church in Bethlehem and speaking with two ‘man on the street’ Palestinian interviewees, Bateman went on introduce his final contributor.

Bateman: “Majed Bamya is a Palestinian diplomat acquainted with the view from Washington. It was noticeable of course at President Trump’s press conference with President Abbas that Mr Trump never used the expression ‘two-state solution’; it was notably absent. Does that concern you?”

Majed Bamya (who, despite the claim in his Twitter handle to be ‘from Yaffa’ was actually born in the UAE) was then given an unhindered platform from which to mislead BBC Radio 4 listeners.

Bamya: “We are hoping that President Trump will be able to shape his message and his positions – including during his upcoming visit – on things as important as the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, which is enshrined in international law, on the two-state solution – and the two-state solution means ’67 borders – on settlements. We believe that’s an important issue as well and we hope that his feeling of the ground will reveal to him that we are facing an occupation that is annexing land instead of withdrawing from it, which is the basis of peace.” [emphasis in bold added]

Rather than explaining to listeners that (as the BBC well knows) there is no such thing as “’67 borders”, that the two-state solution does not necessarily mean the establishment of a Palestinian state according to 1949 Armistice lines and that land is not being ‘annexed’, Bateman instead encouraged listeners to believe that it is all about “narrative”:

“Donald Trump will not only have to deal with the competing narratives in this conflict but attempt to restart talks with the two sides deeply polarised”

While narratives undoubtedly exist, so do facts. It is the BBC’s job to help it audiences distinguish between narratives and facts –as defined in its public purposes.

“The BBC will provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”

The failure to challenge inaccurate claims promoted as part of politically motivated messaging actively hinders that public purpose.

Related Articles:

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BBC Radio 4 amplifies PLO interpretation of the two-state solution

A predictable view of Jerusalem from the BBC’s ‘Man in the Middle East’

On May 18th listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard the fourth part in Jeremy Bowen’s series of programmes ‘Our Man in the Middle East’.

Titled ‘Jerusalem’, the programme is both rambling and predictable, with Bowen’s portrayal of the city focusing on blood, violence, religion, power and nationalism at the expense of any mention of its diversity and eclectic coexistence.

From his opening sentences onward, Bowen places the spotlight firmly and exclusively on ‘the conflict’:

“The first thing to understand about the struggle for Jerusalem is that they’re fighting over a tiny piece of land. Down there in that walled compound around the golden dome is the single most contested piece of land in the Middle East; probably the most contested piece of ground in the world.”

Following reminiscences of a poorly explained incident during the first Intifada, Bowen tells audiences that:

“The incident in Azariya was a soft introduction to the hard reality of the city of peace – which is the Hebrew translation of Jerusalem. In real life I can’t think of a city with a more blood-stained history. Tension, hatred and violence simmer alongside piety. Sometimes they’re part of it.”

Seeing as the name Jerusalem in English and other European languages derives from Latin and Greek translations of Hebrew texts, it would clearly have been more accurate for Bowen to refer to the Hebrew meaning of Jerusalem rather than “translation”.

Recalling his first trip to Jerusalem, Bowen downplays Palestinian terrorism – including international aircraft hijackings – by making a generalised and falsely equivalent reference to “violence in the Middle East”.

“When I changed planes in Zurich I saw flights to Israel had their own separate terminal [sic]. A small armoured car lumbered behind the bus to the aircraft. Violence in the Middle East had leaked into the rest of the world.”

Following archive recordings of news reports of events including the Munich Olympics massacre and the Entebbe operation, Bowen indulges himself with the claim that mere reporting from the region – rather than inaccurate or biased reporting – sparks objection.

“The tectonic plates of religion and culture come together in Jerusalem. When they move, we all feel it. Reporting the conflict between Arabs and Jews is a great way to make enemies. Many people feel connected to it even if they’ve never been to the Middle East.”

The man who once invented a new quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem goes on to provide a context-free account of “access restrictions” which again erases Palestinian terrorism and violence from the picture.

“Jerusalem is one of the most complicated issues and you can get a good idea just by walking around the walled Old City, which is what I’m going to do. I’m going in through Damascus Gate which is the main entrance for Palestinians more or less. It’s early evening so the shops are starting to close up. There’s a boy there who’s shouting out; selling bread to the Palestinians going home. There used to be more people selling things outside Damascus Gate: women who’d wear embroidered village dresses selling herbs. Now you see fewer of them these days and the reason for that is that they simply can’t get into Jerusalem and that’s because of the access restrictions that Israel has put in.”

In a section about “European imperial powers”, Bowen once again promotes his misrepresentation of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence to BBC audiences.

“In fact the British were without any humility at all, carving up the Middle East, making contradictory promises to Arabs and Jews and setting them up for conflict.”

Bowen goes on to give an inaccurate description of the Western Wall.

“So it’s dark now and the moon’s out and I’m at the place really that is the hub of it all. This is the Western Wall Plaza; the big open space going down to the…what was known for many hundreds of years as the Wailing Wall; the holiest place in the world for Jews to pray.”

The Western Wall is of course the holiest site at which Jews can currently pray but Bowen refrains from informing his listeners that Jews are not allowed to pray at the holier site of Temple Mount due to objection by the Waqf.

Delaying the start of the Muslim siege of Jerusalem by two years, Bowen tells listeners that:

“Then in 638 Arab followers of the new religion of Islam besieged the city. It was by Jerusalem’s blood-soaked standards a peaceful conquest.”

Later he recycles a visit he made to an archaeological site in 2014, telling listeners that:

“East Jerusalem was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war and it’s claimed by the Palestinians as capital of their future state.”

No further context is provided and as was the case in his original report, audiences are not told of Jordan’s belligerent occupation of part of the city in the 19 years prior to the Six Day War or that those nineteen years were the only time that the city was divided.

Quoting writers Amos Elon (whom he calls Amos Alon), Amos Oz and Mahmoud Darwish, Bowen closes the item while reinforcing his main message:

“It’s impossible in Jerusalem to disentangle religion from power.”

In summary, Radio 4 listeners heard nothing new: the same jaded themes that Bowen has promoted over the last 25 years have simply been recycled and condensed into this latest item. Deliberately short on context, downplaying Palestinian terrorism and misrepresenting history, Bowen’s report tells BBC audiences nothing of real life in a city which is much more than just part of the much wider conflict.

Related Articles:

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BBC Radio 4 launches a new ME series by Jeremy Bowen

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

 

BBC’s Bowen on CAMERA complaint result: still ‘indignant’ after all these years

The digital edition of the Radio Times recently included an interview with the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen which is part of the promotion campaign for his current BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’.

Titled “Jeremy Bowen on reporting in the Middle East: “I kept getting dreams about having to bury the cameraman”“, the article opens with context-free presentation of a story which Bowen retells at every opportunity and an unverifiable allegation:

“When Jeremy Bowen offered to relive more than a quarter of a century of Middle East reporting for a new “personal” 25-part Radio 4 series, I wonder if he had bargained for the memories it would unleash. Death, depression, and years on the road in near-constant danger have all left their mark on one of the BBC’s most distinguished correspondents. 

Today is proving particularly tough because he’s writing about Abed Takkoush, his Lebanese driver who was killed by Israeli mortar fire in May 2000 while they were covering Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. Bowen, 57, suffered “symptoms of PTSD”, and retreated from the field for a time to co-host a relaunched BBC Breakfast show with Sophie Raworth. 

“It was a really, really awful event, Abed’s death and its repercussions,” he says. “His wife died not long after, sadly; she had cancer and I’m sure it was related to the grief. Some of his kids went off the rails for a while… they were teenage boys and suddenly they didn’t have a dad.” He still sometimes works with Abed’s nephews, who are also drivers.” [emphasis added]

Later on in the article, readers find the following:

“As well as being attacked physically – in 2013 he was caught in crossfire from the Egyptian military in Tahrir Square in Cairo – the veteran reporter is regularly ambushed verbally. He remains indignant about being ticked off eight years ago by the BBC Trust for breaching the corporation’s guidelines on accuracy and impartiality during his reports on the history of 1967’s Six Day War. A pro-Israel group in the US accused him of bias on 24 occasions; the BBC Trust fully or partially upheld three of the allegations.

“That was totally unjust. The complaints were made by professional complainants, including one in the United States… [who] intended to give ammunition to [the BBC’s] enemies. I was backed very well in private by the management; I wasn’t backed well enough in public by them.””

One of the two complaints which eventually reached the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee was submitted by CAMERA. The aim of that complaint was of course to ensure that BBC audiences were provided with accurate and impartial information in a report concerning a particularly significant Middle East event. However, Jeremy Bowen is clearly unable to accept that fact, preferring instead to promote the bizarre notion that it was “intended to give ammunition to [the BBC’s] enemies” – whoever they are supposed to be.

Eight years have passed since that BBC Trust ESC ruling about which Bowen “remains indignant” and remarkably, his ability to accept and embrace criticism does not appear to have improved over the years. As was noted by CAMERA in 2009:

“Instead of admitting error, Bowen and others in the BBC redoubled their commitment to the flawed article, spending their time (and British stakeholder resources) coming up with disingenuous defenses to the article’s distortions.”

The subject has been raised by Bowen in interviews before and as we can see from this latest one, the man entrusted with ensuring that all BBC reporting on Israel meets standards of accuracy and impartiality has made no progress whatsoever in the decade since the article which was the subject of the complaint was published – and is still apparently entirely convinced of his own infallibility.

Related Articles:

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BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

Article ruled not impartial by ESC five years ago remains on BBC website

An Inside Look at the BBC Ruling Against Jeremy Bowen (CAMERA)

BBC’s Bowen revives five year-old grudge in Indy interview

 

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

The first episode in Jeremy Bowen’s new BBC Radio 4 series of programmes about the Middle East was aired on May 15th.

The programme – titled “The Giant Awakens” – is ostensibly about the build-up to the First Gulf War in 1991. However, around a third of the episode is actually devoted to other topics and a transcript of most of that section of the programme was also uploaded to the programme’s webpage under the title “The three most significant foreign interventions in the Middle East“.

Bowen tells Radio 4 listeners and website visitors that: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

“Big powers have intervened in the Middle East to reshape it to their requirements since ancient times.

It’s strategically placed, connecting Europe with Asia and Africa. It’s the home of the world’s three great monotheistic religions. And for the last 100 years or so, great powers have needed its oil reserves – the biggest in the world.

Two imperial grandees created – and some say cursed – the modern Middle East when they carved up the Ottoman Empire at the height of the First World War. One was a French diplomat, Charles Francois Georges Picot; the other, Sir Mark Sykes, was British.

The Sykes-Picot agreement was designed to win the peace for Britain and France. It defined zones of influence in the Middle East for the two imperial powers. Borders of new states came later.

But to win the war, the British had already made promises to the Arabs.

The Sharif of Mecca, Hussein Ibn Ali, led an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. In return, he believed the British had promised him an independent Arab kingdom across much of present day Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Hussein kept his word. The duplicitous British did not.

The requirements of Empire came first. The promise of Arab self-determination was part of the collateral damage.”

Bowen is of course referring to the Hussein-McMahon correspondence. However, as has been previously noted here on several occasions, Sir Henry McMahon himself pointed out in a letter to the Times in 1937 that the claim that Hussein was promised all of the territory described by Bowen is incorrect.

That point had earlier been clarified in the British government’s White Paper of 1922.

“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]

Nevertheless, the BBC – and the man whose job it is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” – continues to promote that politically motivated myth.

Bowen continues:

“Within 20 years, a Palestinian scholar called Sykes-Picot a shocking document – the product of greed, stupidity and double-dealing.”

That “Palestinian scholar” was George Antonius and he was actually born in 1891 in Lebanon to an Eastern Orthodox Christian family. Having graduated from Cambridge, Antonius became a civil servant in the British Mandate administration in Palestine. The phrase quoted by Bowen appears in Antonius’ 1938 book ‘The Arab Awakening’ and it was refuted by Efraim Karsh in his book ‘Rethinking the Middle East’ (from page 58).

Bowen continues:

“Another vision of the future cut across Hussein Ibn Ali’s hopes: Zionists lobbied Britain, successfully, to support the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine.

In November 1917, Britain’s foreign secretary Arthur Balfour declared that Britain would “view with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people”. Britain also promised “that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

Making promises to both sides built a deadly contradiction into the Balfour Declaration. By the early 1920s, Arabs and Jews in Palestine were killing each other. They are responsible for what they’ve done. But Britain started the fire.

For Palestinians the Balfour Declaration was a milestone on the road to catastrophe. For Israelis it led to statehood.

A century on it’s still politically resonant – triumphant or toxic, depending on your view of history.”

Bowen’s promotion of the notion that the Balfour Declaration includes “a deadly contradiction” is of course the product of his own chosen political narrative. Notably, he fails to inform BBC audiences that the principle expressed in the Balfour Declaration was given the unanimous stamp of approval by the League of Nations in 1922 and that in the same year, 77% of the territory originally designated to the Jewish homeland was given over to the Hashemites when Transjordan was created.

In the audio version listeners next hear Bowen say:

“Earlier this year Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, showed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu round his grand corner office overlooking St James’ Park.”

A recording of the British Foreign Secretary showing Arthur Balfour’s desk is then heard before the report goes on:

“The deals made in World War One were designed to strengthen the British and French empires. The Ottoman Empire was breaking up after nearly 500 years and the European imperial powers were creating a new order in the Middle East.”

Jeremy Bowen’s presentation of this topic is far from accurate and impartial and it is clearly motivated by the political narrative he has chosen to adopt and advertise. Unfortunately, there is nothing new about that: the politicised misrepresentation of this subject by the gatekeeper of the BBC’s Middle East content goes back many years. However, that misrepresentation is all the more egregious at a time when political campaigns concerning the Balfour Declaration are in the news

Related Articles:

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Reviewing BBC portrayal of the Balfour Declaration

The BBC and the myth of the ‘twice promised land’

Resources:

How to complain to the BBC

BBC Radio 4 launches a new ME series by Jeremy Bowen

Although it did take nearly four years, the BBC has finally given its Middle East editor a foodie slot as suggested on these pages in 2013.

Jeremy Bowen’s Middle Eastern food quiz” is however just the appetizer for a new series of programmes – 25 in number – on BBC Radio 4 titled “Our Man in the Middle East” which began on May 15th.

“Over these 25 programmes, Jeremy reflects on the present and the past of the Middle East, after reporting from the region for more than a quarter of a century. He combines first-hand accounts from the front line with an in-depth look into the region’s history. He has witnessed endless wars between individuals, religious groups and full-sized states, jostling for military, political and economic power. He has interviewed dictators, fanatics and fundamentalists as well as the ordinary people caught up in their dangerous games. In that time, the past has always been present, providing motivation and political ammunition. Bowen has made headlines himself and he has paid a personal price, coming under fire and losing a colleague in the course of reporting – on the worst day, he says, in his life.”

The incident to which that last sentence refers took place in 2000 and has been revisited by Bowen on numerous occasions since.

Middle East Editor – Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Jeremy Bowen’s pink shirt

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen’s annual reminder of why BBC coverage of Israel is as it is

Of the six episodes advertised so far, three relate to Israel:

Thursday, May 18th – “Jerusalem“:

‘BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen reflects on the allure and intractable challenge of the Holy City. “The tectonic plates of religion and culture come together in Jerusalem,” he observes. “When they move, we all feel it.”‘

Friday, May 19th – “Recipe for Disaster“:

‘How the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin changed the region’s history, as remembered by BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen. “No political killing in the twentieth century was more successful,” he argues, observing the dramatic effects on the Oslo peace process. “Perhaps there was a moment for peace, and it came, and went.”‘

Monday, May 22nd – “Crossing the Divide“:

‘How a gas container explains the divide between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East Editor, was only trying to warm his home during the winter in Jerusalem. During the process, he discovered that the Palestinians are even at loggerheads over simple things like heating. “It’s a place where the conflict is always in your face. So is religion, ” he says.’

As the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War approaches, we can assume that Bowen will be revisiting that topic too in future episodes of this series.

Related Articles:

BBC ‘world view’ of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations laid out by Jeremy Bowen

Article ruled not impartial by ESC five years ago remains on BBC website

An Inside Look at the BBC Ruling Against Jeremy Bowen (CAMERA)

 

BBC’s Yolande Knell reports on Archbishop of Canterbury’s ME visit

May 8th saw the appearance of an article by Yolande Knell titled “Archbishop of Canterbury to meet Palestinian and Israeli leaders” on the BBC News website’s Middle East and UK pages.

Much of Knell’s report is devoted to coverage of Justin Welby’s itinerary, which included a very short visit to Christian institutions the Gaza Strip. Knell tells readers that:

“The archbishop has been careful to hear voices from both sides in the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict.

In a previously unannounced move, he visited Gaza – which has seen repeated conflicts between Palestinian militants and Israel in the past decade.

He also met Israelis living under threat of rocket fire from Palestinian militants in a kibbutz near the border.”

Residents of the Israeli communities located near the border with the Gaza Strip are not just “under threat” from the terrorists that Knell coyly describes as “militants”: attacks do frequently happen. However, seeing as the BBC has refrained from informing its English-speaking audiences of any of the eight incidents of missile attacks that have taken place since the beginning of this year and throughout the whole of 2016 only reported one attack, readers would be unlikely to be able to fill in the blanks for themselves.

The archbishop also visited Christian institutions in Nazareth including a school and four churches. Regardless of how the people he met there choose to self-identify, Yolande Knell collectively describes them as follows: [emphasis added]

“The archbishop has visited Palestinian Christian communities in Nazareth and in Bethlehem, where he prayed and ate falafel with Christian mayor, Vera Baboun.”

Referring to a story she has often promoted in the past, Knell also tells readers that:

“He [Welby] was due to meet Christian families in the Cremisan Valley, whose land is affected by the construction of Israel’s West Bank barrier.”

One item on the archbishop’s itinerary which Knell left out of her coverage was a visit to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to pay tribute to UK student Hannah Bladon who was murdered last month in a terror attack in the city.

One of the stranger features of this report is Knell’s opening of her article with the promotion of some unfounded linkage.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury is to meet Palestinian and Israeli political leaders as part of a 12-day tour of the Holy Land.

His visit comes two weeks before US President Donald Trump is due to arrive in Jerusalem to try to revive the moribund peace process.

However, the Most Reverend Justin Welby indicated there should not be too much significance read into the timing.”

Welby’s latest trip to the region was announced back in March while Trump’s upcoming visit was announced on May 4th and there is no indication of any link between the two visits. Although Knell tells BBC audiences that the purpose of the US president’s 26 hour visit is “to try to revive the moribund peace process”, the official announcement lays out additional (and no less newsworthy) aims.

“President Trump has also accepted the invitation of President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Israel, where he will further strengthen the United States-Israel partnership.  The leaders will discuss a range of regional issues, including the need to counter the threats posed by Iran and its proxies, and by ISIS and other terrorist groups.  They will also discuss ways to advance a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

President Trump has also accepted the invitation of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to meet with him to discuss ways to advance peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as efforts to unlock the potential of the Palestinian economy.”

Moreover, the day before this article was published, the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ aired an item about Welby’s trip (from 01:00 here) that was mostly devoted to an interview with the archbishop by Yolande Knell. The last question she asked (at 05:45) was:

Knell: “You’ve come at a very sensitive time as attempts to get peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians restarted. Was that your intention?”

Welby: “I would not presume that. I come to pray, to share, to listen, to encourage. It would be very presumptuous to go further.”

Despite that very clear answer, Knell nevertheless decided to include a totally superfluous mention of the US president’s upcoming visit and “the moribund peace process” in her BBC News website article. 

Related Articles:

BBC’s Knell continues Cremisan crusade with promotion of inaccurate information

BBC reports on Jordan Rift Valley mine clearance lack essential context

 

BBC’s Knell tells audiences that convicted terrorists are ‘political prisoners’

When some mostly Fatah-linked Palestinians serving sentences in Israeli prisons began a hunger strike on April 17th, the BBC produced three reports on that story on consecutive days. As was noted here at the time:

“…in all three of the reports, readers find (not for the first time) amplification of the PLO’s narrative concerning Palestinian prisoners – as promoted, for example, in a PLO ‘media brief’ from June 2015. [emphasis added]

Report 1: “Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. Many have been convicted of attacks against Israelis and other offences.”

Report 2: “Palestinians say the detainees are political prisoners, while Israel describes them as “terrorists”” (photo caption)

                  “Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. Many have been convicted of attacks against Israelis and other offences.”

Report 3: “Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. Many have been convicted of attacks against Israelis.”

The idea that people who have been convicted of perpetrating acts of terrorism are ‘political prisoners’ is rejected in Europe and we certainly do not see the BBC promoting the notion that people imprisoned in the UK for terror related offences may be defined in such terms.”

On May 2nd the BBC went one step further. Apparently not content with the above uncritical and unqualified amplification of the partisan narrative of the PLO, Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell dispensed with the nicety “Palestinians regard”, electing to describe convicted terrorists as “political prisoners” in her (and hence the BBC’s) own words.

Knell’s audio report was broadcast to Radio 4 audiences in the programme ‘The World Tonight’ (from 39:09 here) and an almost identical version of the report was broadcast to BBC World Service audiences in the programme ‘Newshour’ (from 38:11 here).

After listeners heard the sound of chanting, Knell began her report as follows: [emphasis added]

Knell: “Chants of support for Palestinian political prisoners in Israel jails who’ve been refusing food for two weeks in a protest about conditions. As President Abbas prepares to meet President Trump, tensions are rising back home, leading to renewed clashes with Israeli soldiers. In Ramallah I meet Fadwa Barghouti. Her husband Marwan – a popular figure in the president’s Fatah faction – is serving five life sentences for murder in Israel and is leading the hunger strike. She says Palestinians care deeply for the prisoners.”

With Fadwa Barghouti speaking in Arabic in the background, Knell then told listeners:

Knell:”The whole Palestinian people’s been subjected to imprisonment, she tells me. Every Palestinian home knows what it means to have a prisoner, knows suffering and injured pride.”

Of course very many Israeli homes know suffering too: the suffering of having had a loved one murdered by Palestinian terrorists in attacks such as those directed by Fadwa Barghouti’s husband. In her typical style Yolande Knell, however, erased that terrorism and its victims from her pathos-rich yet obviously biased portrayal of terrorists on hunger strike (albeit in waning numbers – which Knell neglected to mention) as “political prisoners”. She continued:

Knell: “Earlier there was another rally in Gaza where Palestinians burnt posters of their president. Here the anger is driven by the damaging internal split between Fatah and its Islamist rival Hamas – which controls Gaza – as well as the moribund peace process.”

Knell provided no evidence to back her bizarre claim that the demonstrations in Gaza on May 2nd were motivated by “the moribund peace process”. She went on:

Knell: “At Birzeit University politics professor George Giacaman now sees Mr Abbas in a tricky position in Washington. He thinks he’ll come under pressure to return to peace talks with Israel without a deal to stop Jewish settlement growth on land the Palestinians want for their future state. That would be very hard to sell to the public.”

Making no effort to inform BBC audiences that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – do not place any limitations of construction in Israeli communities in Area C but do state that the final status of that area is to be determined in negotiations and its portrayal as “Palestinian land” therefore amplifies a partisan position, Knell allowed her interviewee to promote the myth of “new settlements”: a notion she and her editors know perfectly well is false. [emphasis added]

Giacaman: “The Palestinian side has insisted throughout the past years that before negotiation starts, there has to be a hold to the settlement process. You have to keep in mind that this occupation of Palestinian land spearheaded by the establishment of new settlements in the West Bank undermines any political process, including of course the two-state solution.”

Listeners then heard a recording from the press conference at the meeting between the Israeli prime minister and the US president earlier in the year.

Trump: “As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We’ll work something out but I would like to see a deal be made. I think a deal will be made.”

Knell next recycled the ‘policy shift’ theme the BBC has been pushing since mid-February even though it was quickly refuted by US officials.

Knell: “President Trump speaking to Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February. Israel had announced plans for several thousand new settler homes during his first month in office with relatively little criticism. And the new US leader appeared ready to break with long-established American foreign policy backing the creation of a Palestinian state as the only way to end the Middle East conflict.”

Trump: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but, honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians…if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like best.”

Knell: “Palestinians don’t expect the meeting between Mr Abbas and Mr Trump to be so friendly. But the Palestinian president has tried to strengthen his hand by meeting the leaders of Washington’s close Arab allies Egypt and Jordan on his way to the White House. So could the US be about to broker another round of peace talks?”

Giacaman: “I doubt if anything would come of it. I don’t think President Abbas has anything new to offer and I doubt Mr Trump is in a position to give the Israeli-Palestinian issue all his concentrations. The exposure to American public opinion and to the American leadership; this will help a lot because they are the only people in the world who can influence the Palestinians, Israelis to go to peace.”

Knell closed her report:

Knell: “Recently Palestinians have seen their cause overshadowed by other regional concerns. Their leaders now hope that the unpredictable approach of Mr Trump could work in their favour. Their official line is that he offers a rare chance for peace.”

Knell’s portrayal of the chances of renewal of negotiations of course airbrushed very pertinent context such as the increasingly acrimonious rift between the PA and Hamas and the related fact that the long since unelected Mahmoud Abbas cannot even set foot in the Gaza Strip, let alone claim to represent all the Palestinians.  

However, Knell’s aim in this report was obviously not to provide domestic and foreign BBC audiences with a realistic, accurate and impartial report on the story but to promote PLO talking points – primarily the false claim that imprisoned terrorists are “political prisoners”.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part three: BBC Radio 4

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part two: World Service radio

BBC News promotes PLO narrative in copious coverage of prisoners’ strike

BBC fails to provide crucial background in reports on Fatah prisoners’ strike

Identifying the BBC’s anonymous “mother of a Palestinian inmate”

Inaccuracies and omissions in BBC News reporting on Abbas White House visit

Resources:

How to complain to the BBC

 

 

 

Former BBC interviewee on antisemitism resurfaces on Holocaust denial list

Via the CST we learn of the compilation by an Israeli government department of a list of social media accounts promoting Holocaust denial.   

“On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, anti-Semitism on the Internet is thriving, completely undeterred. The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs published today (Sunday) worrisome information regarding Holocaust denial on social networks on the internet, including a list of the most virulently anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers, which was determined in turn by the number of their posts, the number of their followers, the frequency with which they posted and “virility” of the various accounts. […]

According to data provided by Ministry of the Diaspora, over 7,500 tweets purporting denial and ridicule of the Holocaust have been posted on Twitter in English over this past month, and more than seven million visitors have been exposed to them. The average number of followers garnered by anti-Semitic posters is 4,500, a number indicating that the networks of incitement are rapidly expanding.”

Number seven on that list of antisemitic Holocaust deniers is Alain Soral and number eight is Dieudonné.

Readers may recall that in early January 2014 both BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ covered a story that was portrayed by the then ‘Newsnight’ presenter Jeremy Paxman as follows:

“Now a French comedian has managed to short-circuit his country’s professed commitment to free speech. President Francois Holland, with support from both Right and Left, today encouraged local authorities to ban performances by Dieudonné M’bala-M’bala – usually known just as “Dieudonné”. It’s being done on grounds of public order because his alleged antisemitism has tested to destruction Voltaire’s supposed belief that ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ “

The ‘Newsnight’ item included an interview with a man introduced by Paxman as “the French writer and film-maker Alain Soral” and “a close friend of Monsieur Dieudonné” who “helped him popularise the infamous quenelle gesture”.

On BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, Sarah Montague introduced recycled sections of that interview thus:

“Well a number of French cities have now banned the comedian and although Dieudonné has vowed to appeal against those bans. His close friend Alain Soral told ‘Newsnight’ last night that Dieudonne’s words had been taken out of context; that he’s anti-establishment, not antisemitic.”

As was noted here at the time, in spite of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, no effort was made to inform audiences of the far-right background and political agenda of the interviewee selected to supposedly enhance their understanding of the story.

The BBC’s funding public never did find out why in the first place ‘Newsnight’ editors considered the airing of Soral’s antisemitic conspiracy theories and whitewashing of the racism of his ‘close friend’ to be of any contribution to the public’s understanding of the issue under discussion.

Nearly two years after his ‘Newsnight’ interview, Soral was convicted by a French criminal court in a case relating to antisemitism and Dieudonné also since been convicted on similar charges. Nevertheless, in a 2015 report on one case , BBC News found it appropriate to inform audiences that the latter “insists he is not anti-Semitic” and as recently as April 2017 visitors to the BBC News website were informed that:

“…on one issue Alain Soral undoubtedly has a point: speech is being policed with increasing zeal in France.” 

It of course comes as no surprise whatsoever to find Soral – together with his associate  – on a list of antisemitic Holocaust denying social media accounts. What is still chilling, however, is that the BBC even considered inviting him to appear as a commentator on antisemitism.

Related Articles:

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ breaches editorial guidelines, fudges on antisemitism

BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ joins ‘Newsnight’ in breach of editorial guidelines

BBC Sport amplifies Anelka excuses, downplays antisemitism

BBC again dithering (impartially, of course) over antisemitism

BBC interviewee selected to comment on antisemitism story convicted of antisemitism