Omissions in the BBC Jerusalem correspondent’s story of ‘fanaticism’

Back in July the BBC published a number of items on different platforms which clearly communicated to audiences what they should think about the Nation State law passed by the Knesset that month after seven years of deliberation.

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Two months later the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Tom Bateman returned to that topic in two reports – mixing in a partially told, unrelated story from an Israeli town with a name he could not be bothered to learn to pronounce properly.

On September 19th viewers of the BBC Two programme ‘Newsnight‘ saw a filmed report by Bateman.

On September 22nd listeners to ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on BBC Radio 4 heard an audio version (from 06:24 here) of the same report which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie at the beginning of the programme as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “Today we’re in Israel on the hunt for the finest falafel while hearing what Arab and Jewish Israelis think of the controversial new law which characterises the country as principally a Jewish state.”

Adie’s introduction to the item itself included overt signposting.

Adie: “In July Israel’s parliament – the Knesset – narrowly voted in favour of a new Nation State law. It promotes Israel’s Jewish character and has been celebrated by religious nationalists, among other supporters, and not just within Israel itself but in the USA and Europe. It’s also sparked condemnation at home and internationally. Among its harshest critics have been the country’s nearly 2 million Arab-Israeli citizens who say it underlines their second class status, as Tom Bateman’s been finding out.”

Bateman’s report began in a falafel shop in Afula and listeners were told that he has “set out to gauge reactions to one of Israel’s most controversial new laws” before Bateman introduced his linkage of a local story to his main agenda.

Bateman: “My lunch companion wants to tell me about that. This is the world’s only Jewish state says Ilan Vaknin, a local lawyer turned mayoral candidate. Israel is surrounded by Arab nations and needs protecting, he asserts. He supports the new Nation State law. The legislation is an emblem for the Israeli Right, championed by Benjamin Netanyahu – a prime minister with an eye on elections next year, trying not to be outflanked by more hardline nationalists in his coalition.”

Bateman went on to give a particular view of the legislation.

Bateman: “The single-page law is stacked with symbols of Jewish sovereignty. It states that Jews have the unique right to national self-determination in Israel. That what it calls Jewish settlement is a national value. That Hebrew is the state’s official language – a statement seen as downgrading Arabic. But what of the central complaint from the law’s many critics, I ask, that it shreds Israel’s founding pledge of equality for all the inhabitants regardless of their religion or race?”

Given that account, uninformed listeners could of course be forgiven for reaching the conclusion that Jewish self-determination in Israel is an innovation that first appeared in the Nation State law. What Bateman refers to as “Israel’s founding pledge” is of course the Declaration of Independence which does indeed pledge “equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” but also – he refrains from clarifying – clearly defines Israel as “a Jewish state”.

Bateman continued:

Bateman: “Ilan Vaknin says that the Jewish people in Israel must safeguard their land. There has certainly been a struggle among the people of Afula. When 48 Arab-Israeli families tried to buy plots of land on the edge of this Jewish majority town, there were protests by Jewish residents. Mr Vaknin acted for those who wanted to stop the sales. He claimed the Arab families had illegally coordinated bids. The courts ultimately threw out much of that argument and most of the sales went ahead. Many such land disputes elsewhere have not always gone the way of Arab citizens. Afula’s story seemed to echo a desire in the Nation State law to assert Jewish identity.”

Presuming to tell audiences what Israel “is supposed to stand for”, in his filmed report Bateman described the same story thus:

Bateman: “An empty space to be filled – but by whom? There has been a struggle among the people of Afula. What should this town in northern Israel look like? Who should live here? From whose past should it seek its character? Afula isn’t a story of troops and teargas filling the foreign news but a less visible confrontation between Jews and Arabs that goes to the heart of what the State of Israel is supposed to stand for. Ilan Vaknin wants to be the mayor. The lawyer told me how he tried to stop the sale of land to nearly 50 Arab families in this majority Jewish town. The dispute, which started well before the row over Israel’s new Nation State law, provides an example of the tensions that led to the law’s drafting and why its supporters think Israel’s Jewish character needs protecting. […] He [Vaknin] fought the sale of this land to Arab-Israeli families, saying they illegally coordinated bids But, after two years, Israel’s High Court allowed most of the sales to go ahead.”

The only Israeli politician mentioned by Bateman in these two reports is the current prime minister and so BBC audiences could be forgiven for concluding that it was he who proposed the Nation State law. In fact, the legislation was originally proposed in 2011 by Avi Dichter – who was at the time a member of the Kadima party – together with 39 other MKs. In contrast to the impression given by Bateman, the Afula building plots story began in late 2015.

While some of those who demonstrated against the sale of plots to 48 families from Arab villages in the district may have had racist motives, there are relevant parts of the story that Bateman did not bother to tell BBC audiences – not least the fact that the full complement of tenders in the proposed new neighbourhood was won by Arab applicants.

“The protesters claimed that the winning tender applicants may have coordinated their bids to ensure the neighborhood is populated mainly by Arab residents. They also charged that the tenders were poorly publicized within the city, and only announced in two local newspapers.

Many of the protesters have previously expressed their opposition to having an all-Arab neighborhood in the city.

The tender was run by the Israel Land Administration, which accepted bids on almost 50 plots for homes in a planned community next to the Afula Illit neighborhood. The results, published last month, showed that none of the plots had been won by current residents of Afula and all had been awarded to residents of Arab villages in the area.”

In April 2016 the Nazareth District Court revoked the tenders.

“Court president Justice Avraham Avraham said in his decision that the 48 Arab families violated housing tender rules by coordinating their bids on several of the 50 lots for homes in a planned neighborhood next to the Afula Illit neighborhood in an effort to fix prices for the homes.

“The coordination between bidders severely damages the principle of equality,” Avraham said in his decision. “The bidders joined forces to coordinate their proposed prices in an effort to unfairly divide the market among themselves.””

In August 2017 the High Court found that while a bidding group which had won ten of the 27 available plots had indeed coordinated bids, the other applicants had not. The court ruled that, rather than cancelling all the tenders as the Nazareth court had ruled, only the tenders of those shown to have coordinated bids would be cancelled.

While those parts of the story are missing from Bateman’s account, he did make sure to tell his radio audience of statements made by another interviewee – Ghayadad Zoabi.    

Bateman: “She says when Jewish protests took place against families like hers buying plots in Afula the sense of division felt overwhelming. She worries for her children who she fears have harder days to come. As long as the Right-wing controls Israel, she claims, it is heading for fanaticism. She believes the Nation State law sends a message to people like her that they are citizens second to Jews.”

And that of course is the agenda behind Bateman’s sudden interest in a local story that the BBC has ignored for nearly three years. Despite the fact that Arab-Israelis won tenders organised by a government agency and the 63% of bidders who were shown not to have coordinated bids had their tenders upheld in Israel’s High Court, The BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent still has a tale of “fanaticism” to tell about just one of the 22% of the world’s countries – including the UK – that have a religion enshrined in their constitution or basic law.  

 

 

 

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More to a BBC Radio 4 item on ‘morality’ of aid to Palestinians than meets the eye

The September 23rd edition of the BBC Radio 4 “ethical and religious” programme ‘Sunday‘ included an item (from 19:23 here) described in its synopsis as follows:

“And where politics and morality clash – Edward discusses the cut in funding for Palestinian projects by the US Administration with Nigel Varnell [sic] of Embrace the Middle East and Sarah Elliott from Republicans Overseas.”

The charity representative is actually called Nigel Varndell.  Listeners were not provided with any information concerning the “particular viewpoint” of the charity ‘Embrace the Middle East’ as required under BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality.

Right at the beginning of the programme presenter Edward Stourton told listeners:

Stourton: “Charities are trying to plug the gap left by the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw funding for Palestinian refugees. We’ll debate the morality of that decision with one of the charities involved and a Trump supporter.”

The long item itself was introduced by Stourton as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Stourton: “A group of charities have declared they’re trying to plug the funding gap left by the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw American support for the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees. Nigel Varndell is head of marketing and fundraising for the charity ‘Embrace the Middle East’ and Sarah Elliott chairs the London-based group ‘Republicans Overseas’. Nigel Varndell told me how his charity is trying to help.”

After Varndell had told listeners about his own charity’s £25,000 contribution to a “Catholic health development” project run in “some of the poorest areas of Gaza” by the Vatican-run NGO ‘Caritas‘, Stourton asked:

Stourton: “What do you think the overall impact of the Trump administration’s policy is going to be?”

Varndell: “Well if you look at the overall impact, we’re talking about $200 million potentially of US aid cuts. Also cuts into UNRWA – the United Nations agency – that could be hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re already hearing of cuts to hospitals in East Jerusalem that deal with Palestinians and also money for co-existence projects. Now if you begin to look at the impact of that purely in somewhere like Gaza, that might mean something like 500 to 600 schools closing. That could be 22 health centres in Gaza that might be forced to close. That might be cuts to employment for people who work for UNRWA – maybe another 10 to 12 thousand jobs in an area that already suffers from huge unemployment. It’s going to be very significant.”

Stourton then asked his second contributor:

Stourton: “Sarah Elliott; given what we’ve just heard how do you possibly justify this policy?”

Sarah Elliott mentioned the possibility of other donors stepping up before going on to bring up a topic usually avoided by the BBC – Palestinian Authority funding for terrorists and their families.

After Stourton stated that “the vast majority – all this money – goes to legitimate aid projects, doesn’t it?”, Elliott brought up the topic of UNRWA textbooks, to which Stourton retorted “can you give me evidence for that?”. Elliot’s subsequent mention of weapons discovered in UNRWA schools produced no reaction from Stourton, who went on to ask Varndell for his input.

Stourton: “Well I want to hear from Nigel Varndell now. Well what is your response to the suggestion that this money doesn’t always go to legitimate purposes and is – I suppose contaminated seems to be the accusation – by the political nature of the region?”

Varndell told Radio 4 listeners “that money’s not going astray” and that “we’re talking about education for children, health care for sick people”.

Notably, neither he nor Stourton brought up the fact that aid provided to what Varndell termed “development organisations” frees up the Palestinian Authority’s budget for rewarding terror and Hamas’ budget for expansion of its terror capabilities such as cross border tunnels.

After Sarah Elliott had spoken about transparency and American priorities, Stourton brought up the topic of ‘morality’.

Stourton: “Do you think it’s moral to take money back from various projects that have been…people have got used to, providing them with health, education and so forth?”

He went on to interrupt Elliott’s answer to that question:

Stourton: “Can I…can I just…ahm…point out to you one area where people are suspicious about this, which is the fact that a lot of the money that’s being withdrawn is going to the refugee agency and there is a view that actually this is political; this is about trying to remove the issue of Palestinian refugees and their right of return from the political process.”

Listeners heard nothing on the relevant topic of unique automatic hereditary status for Palestinian refugees or that the so-called ‘right of return’ actually means eradication of the Jewish state and scuppers any chance of a two-state solution to the conflict.

They did however hear Nigel Varndell opining that “it’s deeply immoral to try and use the poorest and the most vulnerable people in Gaza as pawns in a political game” before he went on to make a problematic claim.

Varndell: “This is an area – one of the few areas in the world where under-5 child mortality is not going down in spite of the millennium development goals and everyone’s commitment to those.”

Listeners were not told that Varndell’s claim concerning child mortality rates is sourced from UNRWA itself or that since 2015 UNRWA has been making spurious claims of a connection between child mortality and Israeli counter-terrorism measures which do not stand up to scrutiny. He continued:

Varndell: “What we’re talking about is punishing those people and I was in Gaza in May. I was talking to children, women who have no access to healthcare other than that provided by aid agencies. And to try and say to them that they need to be political pawns in this is completely immoral and I would say wrong.”

Stourton: “And that is what you’re doing, Sarah Elliott, isn’t it?”

Elliott: “No, no, no. It’s what their political leaders are doing. There’s no reason why that region should have 80% of their people on aid. And I think that their political leaders are keeping them down in order to push their own agenda.”

Rather than relating to the issue of why people who live under the rule of fellow Palestinians should be classified as refugees and why the Palestinian Authority and Hamas do not provide education and healthcare for those people, Stourton steered the focus back to the micro:

Stourton: “But the impact of what’s happening at the moment is indeed about people on the ground. […] Let me put this to you please: the people who Nigel Varndell has been talking about are the ones who are going to suffer as a result of this policy, aren’t they?”

Following Elliott’s response, Stourton gave the last word to Varndell who praised the “moral leadership” of British government departments in relation to a pledge of increased funding to UNRWA before closing with threatening speculation:

Varndell: “…it must be moral to keep funding these kind of aid development projects. We need to keep doing that or people like those I met in Gaza in May will lose their lives, their healthcare, their education and their hope. And arguably that will drive them into the hands of extremists and make this worse and more unstable for Israel, for Palestinians, for everyone.”

Given that the BBC’s coverage of the topic of the US decision to cut donations to UNRWA and other projects has been uniformly superficial, it would be easy to dismiss this item as more of the same.

Yet again BBC audiences were denied information concerning UNRWA’s problematic record and were given no insight into the background to its politically motivated perpetuation of the refugee issue. Yet again BBC audiences heard no discussion of why citizens of the Gaza Strip and PA controlled areas are classified as refugees and deliberately kept dependent on foreign aid.

However, in this item Radio 4 listeners heard more than an academic discussion. They heard a significant contribution from the “head of marketing and fundraising” at an NGO that is raising money for this particular cause – a cause that was repeatedly portrayed to the Sunday morning audience as the right “moral” choice.

Obviously it would therefore have been appropriate for Edward Stourton to have explained to BBC Radio 4 audiences listening to this item why a PR firm that describes ‘Embrace the Middle East’ as one of its clients claims to have been involved in the item’s production – and what that entailed.

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BBC’s ME editor continues his ‘Bedouin village’ narrative – part two

As documented in part one of this post, on September 17th viewers of two BBC television channels saw a narrative-driven report blighted by important omissions on the subject of the Bedouin encampment called Khan al Ahmar produced by the corporation’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

On the same day listeners to two different BBC radio stations heard an audio version of Bowen’s report and the following day it was heard yet again by listeners to BBC World Service radio. The almost identical introductions to the report gave clear signposting to BBC audiences in all three cases. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

1) BBC World Service, ‘Newshour‘, September 17th, presented by Tim Franks, from 45:05 here.

Franks: “A tiny Palestinian village made of tents, shacks and with a school built from old tyres and mud faces demolition by Israel. Ten years of legal battles have ended with the Supreme Court authorising the destruction of the village called Khan al Ahmar. Supporters of Israel’s settlement of the occupied territories applaud what they say is Israel’s right to build on its own land. They’re delighted also by the backing that they’ve had from President Trump. Most of the world though regards Israel’s presence in the West Bank as an occupation and that the Jewish settlements are illegal under international law. The consequent fear is that the destruction of Khan al Ahmar will open the way to more building for Israeli settlers which will in turn split the West Bank and make the two-state solution – an independent Palestine alongside Israel – impossible. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Khan al Ahmar.”

2) BBC Radio 4, ‘The World Tonight’, September 17th, presented by Ritula Shah, from 17:35 here.

Shah: “A tiny Palestinian village made of tents, shacks and with a school built from old tyres and mud faces demolition by Israel. Ten years of legal battles have ended with the Supreme Court there authorising the destruction of the village called Khan al Ahmar. Supporters of Israel’s settlement of the occupied territories applaud what they say is Israel’s right to build on its own land. They’re delighted too by the backing they’ve had from President Trump. But most of the world believes Israel is an occupier in the West Bank and that the Jewish settlements there are illegal. They fear the destruction of Khan al Ahmar will open the way to more building for Jews that will split the West Bank and make the two-state solution – an independent Palestine alongside Israel – absolutely and definitively impossible. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Khan al Ahmar.”

3) BBC World Service, ‘World Update’, September 18th, presented by Dan Damon, from 05:10 here.

Damon: “A tiny Palestinian village made of tents, shacks and with a school built from old tyres and mud faces demolition by Israel. Ten years of legal battles have ended with the Supreme Court authorising the destruction of Khan al Ahmar. It’s a village which supporters of Israel’s settlement of the occupied territories say is in the way. They applaud what they say is Israel’s right to build on its own land and they’re delighted that the backing has come from President Trump. Most of the world believes Israel’s an occupier in the West Bank and that Jewish settlements are illegal. They fear the destruction of Khan al Ahmar will open the way to more building for Jews that will split the West Bank and make the two-state solution – an independent Palestine alongside Israel – absolutely and definitively impossible. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Khan al Ahmar.”

As we see, all three of those introductions gave a context-free presentation of ‘occupation’ – with no explanation that Khan al Ahmar is located in Area C and hence under the terms of the Oslo Accords is under Israeli control pending final status negotiations – and a partial representation of ‘international law’. Significantly, all three also promoted the contiguity myth seen amplified in an earlier report by Bowen – despite the fact that any potential building in the area in which Khan al Ahmar is located would in no way render the two-state solution “absolutely and definitively impossible” as claimed by the BBC.

In other words, even before Bowen began his report, a politicised and partisan narrative was in evidence.

The first part of Bowen’s report had been recorded on September 14th.

Bowen: “A small group of demonstrators has surrounded an Israeli army bulldozer at the entrance to the village of Khan al Ahmar. Not very many of them but this is a symbolic and important issue for the Israelis and for the Palestinians. Khan al Ahmar is a small – very small – Bedouin village on the main road down from Jerusalem to Jericho and the Dead Sea. It’s just a settlement of tents and shacks but like so many of these small disputes about land and territory, it’s attracted a lot of international attention.”

Obviously one reason for that “international attention” is the fact that political NGOs and foreign media have – like Bowen himself – made the story a cause célèbre. Bowen then went on to give an account of events at Khan al Ahmar which – as was the case in his filmed report – contradicts accounts of other journalists at the scene.

Bowen: “What they seem to be doing is blocking alternative routes into the village so there’s only one left open and that means that when they come to demolish this place, they will be able to control everybody who goes in and everybody who goes out much more easily.”

In contrast, AP reported that the bulldozers were clearing rock barriers that had been “set up to slow demolition” by local and foreign activists. Bowen went on to pass his unprofessional judgement on the proceedings.

Bowen: “Somebody’s laying down in front of it. There’s a bit of a scuffle going on. A few demonstrators trying to stop the bulldozer and the paramilitary police try and push the demonstrators back. It’s very symbolic. Really there’s no particular need for them to do it at this particular moment – move the bulldozer – and also the demonstrators know they can’t really stop the military. But both sides play their part in what goes on here.”

Listeners then heard a conversation between Bowen and an unidentified man.

Man: “I can’t speak now ‘cos I am breathing. I am tired now.”

Bowen: “Yes but tell me how…”

Man: “To open the way.”

Bowen: “You want to open the way?”

Man: “Yes. Only I can speak that they are criminals. They are the thieves of our souls and spirits.”

Bowen: “They’re gonna come back though you know if you open this; they’ll bring the bulldozer back.”

Man: “If they come back we are all ready to this. Our land mean our blood. Our land mean our blood.”

Bowen of course did not bother to clarify to BBC audiences that the man’s use of the word “our” is inaccurate because the Jahalin tribe does not own the land on which the Khan al Ahmar encampment was set up. Failing to inform listeners of the relocation package offered to the residents – including free building plots – and the Palestinian Authority’s use of the Bedouin as political pawns, Bowen went on to claim that they had “settled there in the 1950s” despite there being photographic evidence to contradict that claim.

Bowen: “The people of Khan al Ahmar have refused to move to another site. They settled there in the 1950s after they were expelled from the new Israel. Britain, France and Germany among others have warned that demolishing the village will make it even harder to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The UN’s warned that Israel would be committing a grave breach of international humanitarian law, which is a war crime.”

Following that repeat amplification of the contiguity myth and the notion that the relocation of squatters from an illegally constructed encampment on land to which they have no claim is a “war crime”, listeners heard the sound of singing.

Bowen: “As they talk the conflict grinds on. Hundreds of Jews at the funeral of an Israeli-American stabbed to death by a 17 year-old Palestinian boy and more Palestinians killed on Gaza’s border with Israel. Naftali Bennett is Israel’s minister of education and the leader of the nationalist right. He doesn’t believe in the two-state solution.”

Bennett: “The Palestinians’ hope to wipe out Israel: as long as that hope endures terror will continue. When they give up on the hope to eliminate Israel and realise we’re here to stay, they’re here to stay, we’ll see terror less.”

Bowen: “President Trump has made a difference. What kind of difference?”

Bennett: “He has. President Trump has brought fresh thinking to a region that’s been fairly stagnant in terms of its methodologies and ideas. What Trump is telling the Palestinians: if you think you’ll continue inciting against Jews and killing Jews and somehow time is on your side, you’re wrong. You’ve got to act. You’ve got to move. Let’s make peace. Don’t wait on the sidelines because time is not on your side.”

Listeners next heard recordings made by Bowen on September 13th.

Bowen: “President Trump believes pressure works and they’re feeling it here at the Augusta Victoria hospital in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. The president has cut the $25 million the US was paying Palestinian hospitals in this part of the city. I’m in the pediatric dialysis department – children’s cancer’s just down the corridor – and I’m with Walid Nammour the CEO here at Augusta Victoria.”

Nammour: “We could not believe that sick children – children with cancer – will be used by any civil state, by an American government as an element for negotiations that were putting pressures to achieve political results or gains. It’s incredible.”

Bowen: “Well the Americans say it’s Palestinians’ fault for not taking part properly in talks and also for taking cases to the International Criminal Court.”

Nammour: “This is politics. Why would a child who has cancer pay the price? Our life has become terrible of catastrophic level since the Trump administration took over. I don’t know what heart he has this man to stop medications from this child. This is an administration that is seeking peace treaty?”

As in his filmed report, neither Bowen nor his interviewee bothered to inform BBC audiences that by September 9th – the day after the US announcement and at least four days before this interview was held – the Palestinian Authority had already announced that it would make up the deficit.

Neither did Bowen raise the issue of the Palestinian Authority’s financial priorities – including the payments to convicted terrorists – when he went to get more backing for his chosen narrative in Jericho.

Bowen: “At his office in hot and dusty Jericho the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat despairs about the impact of Donald Trump on Palestinians and Israelis.”

Erekat: “I think there is no longer a Palestinian moderate camp. There is no longer an Israeli peace camp. He succeeded in getting Palestinians and Israelis off the raft of the two-state solution. Now the kids in my neighbourhood are being taught by Trump’s policies that if you claim something, grab it. This is what he’s teaching and educating and telling in his Twitters every morning to every child in Palestine. If you’re man enough, if you’re woman enough, don’t be silly [and] wait for courts or solving problems by peaceful means or negotiations; grab it! And Trump is succeeding in making Palestinians despair and desperation will lead to desperate acts.”

With apparently nothing to say about Erekat’s barely veiled threats or the Palestinian education system which teaches glorification of terrorism and negates Israel, Bowen closed his report.

Bowen: “The row over Khan al Ahmar touches the big issues of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But it’s also about families who most likely will lose their homes, children who will lose their school and a community that might be dispersed. This conflict has caused great suffering across generations and it seems that more will soon be inflicted on the people of Khan al Ahmar.”

Once again Bowen deliberately refrained from informing listeners that if the residents of Khan al Ahmar had not been exploited by the Palestinian Authority for entirely political purposes they could, like other members of their tribe, have relocated to a site nearby offering free plots of land, utilities and a school, with no need whatsoever for the community to ‘suffer’. Those facts, however, do not help advance the political narrative to which Jeremy Bowen has self-conscripted and so in these three radio items – just as in his previous filmed and audio reports – they were erased from the one-sided and politicised picture he presented.

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BBC WS radio’s Newshour invents an Israeli ‘ban’

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on September 2nd heard presenter James Coomarasamy introduce an item (from 18:56 here) as follows:

Coomarasamy: “When a classical music radio station plays the music of Richard Wagner it’s not usually a problem – unless, that is, the radio station is in Israel where Wagner’s music is banned from broadcast or being played in public because of the composer’s links to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. On Friday night a programme on Israel public radio broke that boycott, playing part of Wagner’s Goetterdaemmerung opera and the complaints inevitably flooded in. Israel public radio has now apologised and said that it won’t happen again.” [emphasis added]

That highlighted claim from Coomarasamy is inaccurate: there is no ‘ban’ on playing Wagner’s music in public in Israel.

In 1938 the Palestinian Symphonic Orchestra (which later became the Israel Philharmonic) decided to exclude Wagner’s works from its repertoire following the Kristallnacht pogroms. That evolved into a long-standing and broad consensus that public performances of the composer’s music would offend many members of the public – especially Holocaust survivors – and so radio stations and orchestras generally refrain from playing Wagner’s works.

In the rest of the programme’s coverage of that story listeners heard one perspective: that of the founder (in 2010) of a group called the ‘Israel Wagner Society’.

The same Jonathan Livny was quoted in a BBC News website report on the same story which appeared on September 3rd under the headline “Israel public radio apologises for playing Richard Wagner music“. That article, however, managed to present the story to audiences accurately:

“In its apology, the broadcaster said the editor had erred in his “artistic choice” and Wagner would not be played.

The Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation added that it recognised the pain such a broadcast would cause among Holocaust survivors. […]

Wagner’s music is not banned in Israel but is not played due to widespread public opposition.”

Oddly, the same minor domestic Israeli story was also featured (from 2:06:33 here) in a news bulletin aired in the September 3rd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. In contrast to the BBC World Service, reporter Steve Jackson managed to accurately describe a “long-standing convention that his [Wagner’s] music is not played in Israel”.

Inaccurate framing of Corbyn remarks continues on BBC Radio 4

As we saw previously when, on August 28th, the New Statesman published an interview with the former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in which he addressed comments made by the current UK Labour party leader in 2013, listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard inaccurate framing of that story repeatedly promoted by the BBC political correspondent Tom Barton.

The same editorial policy was evident in the news bulletin heard by listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ on August 28th (from 02:30 here). [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Newsreader: “Labour has reacted angrily to allegations by the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic. Lord Sacks also described comments about a group of British Zionists made by Mr Corbyn before he became Labour leader as the most offensive by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell in the 1960s. Here’s our political correspondent Tom Barton.”

Barton: “Lord Sacks was referring to a speech Jeremy Corbyn gave in 2013 in which he spoke about a group of Zionists who, he claimed, didn’t understand English irony. The former Chief Rabbi told the New Statesman that was the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968. He said the comments implied Jews were not fully British and described Jeremy Corbyn as an antisemite. Labour said comparing its leader with the race-baiting Enoch Powell was absurd and offensive. The party added that Mr Corbyn had used the word Zionist in the accurate political sense to describe a particular group of pro-Israel activists and not as a synonym or code for Jewish people.”

As noted here previously, by the time Barton was presenting that report he had been provided with a transcript of edited parts of Corbyn’s speech which showed that he was not talking about “a particular group” of people but about British Zionist Jews. He had also been told by the man who recorded Corbyn’s 2013 speech that as far as he knew, he was the only ‘pro-Israel activist’ present. Nevertheless – and even as it was obvious that Rabbi Lord Sacks’ comments were based on the fact that he did not buy into the notion that Corbyn was referring to a “particular group” present at a particular event – Barton continued to amplify the team Corbyn framing which hinders audience understanding of those comments.

Later on in the same programme (from 22:00 here) listeners heard an item described in its synopsis as follows:

“We discuss the latest row over Jeremy Corbyn – the former Chief Rabbi has described some of the Labour leader’s remarks as the most offensive made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech.”

Presenter Chris Mason began by playing a recording of part of Powell’s 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech followed by a recording from the 2013 speech by the person he described as “the then obscure Labour back bencher Jeremy Corbyn”. Listeners next heard a reading of some of Lord Sacks’ related comments including:

“It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”

Declaring that “we’re going to explore both sides of the argument”, Mason went on to introduce his first contributor as “Jewish, a journalist and a member of the Labour Party”. He did not however inform listeners of the relevant fact that Michael Segalov is a Corbyn supporter and apparently a member of Momentum.

After Segalov had tried to persuade listeners that Corbyn’s 2013 comments were “a joke he tried to make” he absurdly went on to claim that:

Segalov: “They came – let’s be clear – at a time when Israel-Palestine wasn’t at the heart of political debate in this country.”

Segalov added:

Segalov [24:10]: “…I don’t think Jeremy would have used those words today but to compare them and to conflate them with, you know, the real abhorrent racism that’s expressed in the ‘rivers of blood’ speech is frankly [a] disservice to that racism that really existed then.”

Sidestepping that signposting of antisemitism as not ‘real’ racism, Mason asked:

Mason: “What about that other point in the line from Jeremy Corbyn? Yes, there was the argument about the use of the word Zionist but there was also that line about English irony – and ultimately belonging – casting in the eyes of some Jewish people as outsiders; as somehow not properly English or British.”

Listeners again heard Segalov try to present Corbyn’s remarks as a joke fallen flat – “it wasn’t funny” and “it was clumsy language” – before he went on to claim that “he wasn’t casting an aspersion on all Jewish people”.

Mason did not bother to clarify to listeners that Corbyn’s reference to “Zionists” in fact describes the majority of British Jews before Segalov was given a platform from which to promote the claim that there is a need to “draw distinct lines between Judaism and Jewishness”.

Segalov: “And it sometimes feels that people on both sides are responsible because we don’t really draw those lines. There are people in the Labour Party, on the Left, who fail to do those things. They conflate Judaism and Zionism. But frankly many of our Jewish leaders do the same thing too. Rabbi Sacks does that in his interview to some extent. Look at our current Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis who wrote in the Telegraph a few years ago and saying those things are one and the same Judaism and Zionism. I mean we deserve better; Jewish people deserve better and Palestinian people do too.”

In the article cited (not for the first time) by Segalov, Ephraim Mirvis wrote:

“Zionism is a belief in the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the centre of the Jewish world for more than 3,000 years. One can no more separate it from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain.

Open a Jewish daily prayer book used in any part of the world and Zionism will leap out at you. The innumerable references to the land of Israel are inescapable and demonstrative. Throughout our collective history we have yearned for a chance to determine our own future, to revive an ancient language and return to rejoice in our love for this tiny sliver of land. Zionism is a movement celebrated by people right across the political spectrum, all over the world, and requires no endorsement or otherwise of the particular policies of any Israeli Government at any time.” 

Listeners heard Segalov go on to claim that in order to “deal with” the issue of antisemitism in the British Labour Party there “has to be a concerted effort by the Jewish community and by the Labour Party” before again promoting the notion that there needs to be a conversation held “in the Jewish community and the Labour Party too: one that says  we need to tackle antisemitism whenever it raises its ugly head but also says Judaism is a religion, Zionism and Israel are in politics” and going on to claim that Rabbi Sacks “conflated those two things”. Segalov proceeded to refer to another part of Lord Sacks’ New Statesman interview which has nothing to do with the Labour antisemitism story, asserting “that level of ignorance does no service to debate”.

Radio 4 listeners next heard Mason read out a Labour Party statement in which it was once again claimed that “Jeremy Corbyn described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in the accurate political sense – not as a synonym or code for Jewish people”.

The second contributor to this item was Jonathan Goldstein of the Jewish Leadership Council who was first asked by Mason:

Mason: “Was Lord Sacks exaggerating?”

Two of Mason’s three subsequent questions presented clear signposting to listeners.

Mason: “Yeah but being precise about this intervention tonight and that comparison with the ‘rivers of blood’ speech.”

Mason: “In specific terms though, is the comparison with the ‘rivers of blood’ speech fair? Not least because Enoch Powell was a shadow minister at the time; he knew his message would be heard by a national audience and he knew it has a capacity to offend. Mr Corbyn didn’t.”

Unless the BBC’s domestic audiences are given both an accurate portrayal of the content and circumstances of Corbyn’s 2013 speech and a critical view of his supporters’ statements after it came to light, they will clearly not be able to “engage fully” with that issue or understand the ensuing criticism of the Labour leader.

However, as Radio 4’s reporting of this latest story shows, the BBC’s funding public continues to be denied that full range of information.

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BBC’s political correspondent continues to push Labour framing

Earlier this week we noted how, on the morning of August 25th, listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard unquestioning amplification of a statement put out by the Labour Party concerning remarks made by its leader in 2013 from the BBC’s political correspondent Tom Barton.

BBC political correspondent fails to fact-check team Corbyn ‘defence’

We observed that Barton had apparently not fact-checked the Labour claim that Corbyn was referring to “a group of people, pro-Israel activists who were made up of both Jewish people and non-Jewish people” before amplifying it to the BBC’s domestic audiences and that the one person who has been identified as having attended that event, Richard Millett, stated in an interview that “he does not recall any other pro-Israel activists in the audience”.

We also noted that a transcript of parts of Corbyn’s 2013 remarks that had been edited out of the video of the speech showed that he had in fact been speaking about Zionist British Jews rather than a specific group of activists at a particular event and that Tom Barton was subsequently provided with that transcript.

Later on August 25th the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM‘ aired an item (from 22:00 here) in which Richard Millett was interviewed by Tom Barton. Mr Millett told BBC Watch that he had informed Barton that as far as he was aware he was the only ‘pro-Israel activist’ at that event but that information was not included in Barton’s report.

In short, by early evening on August 25th one would have expected Tom Barton to be a lot more sceptical of what he had earlier in the day described as follows:

Barton: “And this is it, so Labour’s defence of that point is that he was talking in context, very particular, particularly about a group of people, pro-Israel activists who were made up of both Jewish people and non-Jewish people and he was using it to refer to…ah…this particular group of activists and not – they say – to the Jewish community.”

Three days later, on August 28th, the New Statesman published an interview with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in which he gave his view of Corbyn’s 2013 speech.

“In his first comments since Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis reached new heights this summer, Sacks told the New Statesman: “The recently disclosed remarks by Jeremy Corbyn are the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”

“We can only judge Jeremy Corbyn by his words and his actions. He has given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove from Israel from the map. When he implies that, however long they have lived here, Jews are not fully British, he is using the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism. When challenged with such facts, the evidence for which is before our eyes, first he denies, then he equivocates, then he obfuscates. This is low, dishonest and dangerous. He has legitimised the public expression of hate, and where he leads, others will follow.””

Tom Barton reported on that story for the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ on August 28th.  Listeners first heard a contribution by Barton in the news bulletin (from 02:30 here). [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Newsreader: “The former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has accused Jeremy Corbyn of being an anti-Semite and compared some of his remarks to those of Enoch Powell’s in the 1960s. Mr Corbyn has said his comments – made before he became Labour leader – have been taken out of context. Here’s our political correspondent Tom Barton.”

Barton: “Lord Sacks was referring to a speech Jeremy Corbyn gave in 2013 in which he spoke about a group of Zionists who he said didn’t understand English irony, despite having lived in the UK for a very long time, probably all their lives. Lord Sacks told the New Statesman that was the most offensive comment made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968. Jeremy Corbyn has said that he is now more careful with how he uses the term Zionist, saying it has been hijacked by anti-Semites, while a Labour spokesperson said comparing the Labour leader with Enoch Powell was absurd and offensive.”

Later on in the same programme, presenter Simon Jack introduced an item relating to the same topic (from 16:15 here).

Jack: “Let’s return to that story then in the headlines. The former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has described the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite who has given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate. He made the comments in an interview with the New Statesman. Our political reporter Tom Barton is at Westminster and obviously he also described it as the most offensive since Enoch Powell. Ehm…how significant, you know, remind us of the comments that Sacks was referring to in this interview.”

Obviously Barton’s portrayal of the context to Lord Sacks’ remarks is crucial to audience understanding of the story. After having clarified that the former Chief Rabbi is “a pretty significant figure to intervene in this row about antisemitism in the Labour Party and in particular those comments from Jeremy Corbyn…” Barton went on to repeat the description of Lord Sacks’ comments given previously by Jack. He later addressed the issue of their context.

Barton: “Well first of all just let me remind you exactly what Jeremy Corbyn said that…the former Chief Rabbi was referring to. So this was a speech that Jeremy Corbyn made in 2013. He was talking about pro-Israel campaigners who he said at a meeting a few days earlier after a speech by the Palestinian [sic] Liberation Organisation’s representative in the UK, they said he had been berated by these campaigners. Now he described them as Zionists and said that despite having lived in the UK for a very long time, probably all their lives, they didn’t understand English irony. Now that statement in particular has been taken by some to be a suggestion that Jewish people living in Britain were somehow not properly British and Lord Sacks shares that view. He said today that those comments imply that no matter how long they’ve lived here, Jews are not fully British and he said that that’s the language of classic pre-war European antisemitism. Now Labour have dismissed this intervention, saying that it is absurd to – and offensive – to compare Jeremy Corbyn to – quote – the race-baiting Enoch Powell. They say Jeremy Corbyn described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in, they say, the accurate political sense; not as a synonym or a code for Jewish people.”

As we see, despite having received the transcript of the missing parts of Corbyn’s 2013 speech that clearly shows that Corbyn was not talking about “a particular group of pro-Israel activists” at a specific event and despite having been told that there was not “a group” at that meeting but one man who he had interviewed three days earlier, Barton continued to amplify team Corbyn’s talking points.  

Immediately after that programme Radio 4 listeners heard another report from Barton during a long item in the Six O’Clock News in which both he and the newsreader repeated the same framing.

Newsreader: “One of Britain’s most respected religious figures, the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, has accused Jeremy Corbyn of being antisemitic. Lord Sacks was reacting to remarks which Mr Corbyn made five years ago before he became Labour leader but which came to light last week. During a meeting of pro-Palestinian activists, he accused a group of Zionists of not understanding English irony, despite living in the country for a very long time.”

Barton: “Lord Sacks was referring to a speech made by the Labour leader when he was a back bench MP. He talked about pro-Israel campaigners who, he said, had berated the Palestinian [sic] Liberation Organisation’s representative to the UK at an event a few days earlier. Describing them as Zionists he said that despite having lived in the UK for a very long time, probably all their lives, they didn’t understand English irony. Lord Sacks told the New Statesman that that was offensive. […] The party said the Labour leader had described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in the accurate political sense; not as a synonym or code for Jewish people.”

Although Barton is obviously aware of the fact that Corbyn’s remarks have “been taken by some to be a suggestion that Jewish people living in Britain were somehow not properly British” he did not bother to clarify to the BBC’s domestic audiences how wide that view of the remarks is. He did, however, continue to promote and amplify the inaccurate framing put out by Corbyn’s supporters, thereby hindering audience understanding of the story.

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Reviewing BBC Radio 4 coverage of Corbyn wreath laying story – part two

Over a third of BBC website’s Corbyn wreath laying report allocated to denials

 

 

BBC Complaints says it would not be ‘appropriate’ to correct an inaccuracy

As readers may recall, last month BBC Radio 4 chose to feature a book titled “Where the Line is Drawn” by Raja Shehadeh in its ‘Book of the Week’ programme.

Serialised propaganda, omission and inaccuracy on BBC R4’s ‘Book of the Week’

Among the many issues arising in those five programmes, one factual inaccuracy stood out in particular.

“…in episode five listeners heard a long section relating to an incident in Hebron in March 2016 which was inaccurately portrayed as having begun when:

“Abdul Fattah al Sharif, 21, from the occupied old city of Hebron lay on the ground shot after he allegedly tried to stab an Israeli soldier.” [emphasis added]

As the BBC’s own reports on that incident show, the words “allegedly” and “tried to” are completely superfluous and materially misleading.

“Sharif and another 21-year-old Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, had stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops opened fire on them, wounding Sharif and killing Qasrawi.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that point and has now received the following reply.

If – despite BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy which state that even in factually based drama “we should ensure it does not distort the known facts” – the BBC is of the view that “[i]t wouldn’t be appropriate for us to edit it”, then the obvious conclusion is that the corporation needs to be more careful with its choice of material and that politically motivated polemics that intentionally distort facts and materially mislead BBC audiences are clearly not the best choice for Radio 4’s “[s]erialised book readings, featuring works of non-fiction, biography, autobiography, travel, diaries, essays, humour and history”.

 

Superficial BBC reporting from Gaza recycles jaded narratives

h/t GB

Earlier this month we noted that:

“In addition to holding the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014 – Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul – the Hamas terror group is also keeping prisoner at least two Israeli civilians – Avera Mengistu and Hisham al Sayed – who have not been the topic of any BBC reporting in the three years that their imprisonment has been publicly known.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on the morning of August 27th would therefore have been unlikely to understand what Yolande Knell was talking about when she briefly referred to “two Israelis jailed in Gaza or two soldiers’ remains”.

Presenter Justin Webb introduced that item (from 02:42:00 here) with a reference to another story about which BBC audiences had previously heard nothing: the partial closure last week of the Erez Crossing in response to Palestinian violence the previous Friday.

As is now standard in BBC reporting, Webb euphemistically described violent rioting that includes shootings, IED and grenade attacks and border infiltrations as “protests” and listeners were not told that a significant proportion of those killed during that violence were linked to terror factions.

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

Webb: “Israel is going to reopen the Eretz [sic] border crossing with the Gaza Strip today. The defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has said that it’s going to happen. It’s happening a week after it was closed, he said, because of clashes. And more than 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the end of March when protests began along the border with Israel. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper. And since last month there’ve been three further violent flare-ups. The UN is warning that the Palestinian territory is close to collapse. There are severe water and power shortages. There is a broken economy. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been looking at what can be done to fix Gaza.”

Obviously any serious examination of that question would have to include clarification of the way in which the actions of the Hamas terror group have led to a deterioration in conditions within the Gaza Strip such as its use of water piping to make missiles, its hijacking of cement intended for construction and its diversion of funds to the terrorism which forces neighbouring countries to employ counter-terrorism strategies such as restrictions on the import of dual-use goods. Likewise, that topic cannot be seriously addressed without explanation of the actions of the Palestinian Authority which have included cutting electricity supplies, medical supplies and salaries to Gaza Strip residents.

Yolande Knell, however, chose to present a picture devoid of that context.

Knell: “These children sound like they’re having fun but this is a daily task they have to do: collecting water from a stand pipe at the edge of the Khan Younis refugee camp. They get very little running water at home. What they do get isn’t drinkable. There’s no electricity. Their mother explains another problem. The power here comes on for just 3 or 4 hours a day. Umm Mustafa has only ever been able to leave Gaza once to take her sick son to a hospital. But she knows life doesn’t have to be this way.”

Voiceover woman: “I’ve seen the people outside. They don’t have a crisis like the one we live. I’ve seen how people have running water in their houses and it’s clear and clean. Mothers outside don’t organise their daily routines around when the electricity comes on. Our life is hostage to the electricity.”

The “people outside” did not elect a violent terrorist organisation to power but Yolande Knell’s account does not dwell on the connection between that choice and the current situation in the Gaza Strip.

Knell: “Over a decade ago Hamas took full control of Gaza, ousting Palestinian Authority security forces in bloody fighting a year after it had won elections. Israel and Egypt then tightened a blockade of the territory. Three armed conflicts between Hamas and Israel followed. This year saw the deadly Gaza border protests. Palestinian economist Omar Shaban says people’s desperation played a big role.”

Knell did not bother to inform listeners that in addition to being an economist, Omar Shaban is a policy advisor for Al Shabaka. Predictably for a person who three months ago wrote an article claiming “Gazans are protesting their economy, not Israel’s existence” about the pre-planned agitprop titled ‘The Great Return March’ that openly promotes the elimination of Israel by means of the so-called ‘right of return’, Shaban managed to eliminate the word ‘return’ from his account but did use the inaccurate Hamas-favoured terminology “siege” with no challenge from Knell.

Shaban: “The economy was a key decisive element on the Great March. Unemployment, the siege, the lack of business, Palestinian Authority measures against Gaza that started 2 years ago. To fix Gaza it’s about bringing hope, bringing more jobs to the people, lifting the siege, allowing export from Gaza to get out.”

Neither Shaban nor Knell bothered to ask why – if, as Shaban claims, the violence along the border was driven by the state of “the economy” – Gazans have not been demonstrating against the Hamas regime which is responsible for their “desperation”.

Knell: “Ideas have been suggested to open up Gaza. From a seaport in Cyprus with Israeli security checks to this:

Recording: The artificial island initiative is aimed at providing an answer to a reality that is bad for the Palestinians and not good for Israel.

Israeli security cabinet minister Israel Katz proposes a new multi-million dollar island off the Gaza coast with a port and power and desalination plants.”

Katz: “You solve the two main problems. The first problem is the security of Israel – not endangering the security of Israel – and the other thing; to improve the humanitarian conditions of the people in Gaza. Private companies that are not willing now to act in Gaza, to build things, will do it on the island.”

Knell: “But in the past month tensions between Israel and Hamas have flared up three times with Palestinian militants firing rockets and Israeli airstrikes. The intervention of Egypt and the UN calmed the situation. So what are the chances now for a longer term deal? Not good says Israeli defence analyst Alex Fishman. He points to the Palestinians’ own deep political rift and Hamas’ insistence that it won’t return two Israelis jailed in Gaza or two soldiers’ remains without a release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel.”

Fishman: “Hamas is a terrorist group: nobody will talk with them directly. Therefore we need to bring Palestinian Authority to this agreement otherwise nothing will work. Secondly, the problem with the Israeli missing soldiers – it’s a matter of national pride; nobody will give up. Therefore it will be only a limited agreement.”

As noted above, in the three years that it has been public knowledge that at least two Israeli civilians are being held prisoner by Hamas, BBC audiences have not seen any coverage of that story whatsoever. Knell’s brief mention obviously did nothing to contribute to audience understanding of that issue.

Knell closed her report with a reference to a “new security barrier around the Strip” by which she presumably means the underground barrier designed to thwart the cement and cash guzzling Hamas cross-border attack tunnels which she failed to mention throughout this report.

Knell: “In Gaza the lack of power means untreated sewage is discharged off the coast. Although Israel is building a new security barrier around the Strip, it’s a reminder of how its humanitarian crisis is increasingly difficult to contain. Already waste from here is washing up on southern Israeli beaches.”

There is of course nothing remotely novel about BBC audiences being steered towards the inaccurate belief that all the economic and humanitarian problems in the Gaza Strip are attributable to Israeli counter-terrorism measures while the roles of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in creating and exacerbating the crisis are downplayed or airbrushed from the story.

In this report Yolande Knell managed to combine that politically motivated narrative with yet another dumbed down portrayal of the topic of a potential truce.

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BBC political correspondent fails to fact-check team Corbyn ‘defence’

The August 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item relating to the story which had been reported in the same station’s news bulletins the previous evening: that of Jeremy Corbyn’s 2013 remarks concerning British Zionists who he said:

“…clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.”

Co-presenter Justin Webb introduced that item (from 11:39 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Webb: “A statement last night from Jeremy Corbyn on those remarks about British Zionists and their failure to understand irony. Our political correspondent Tom Barton is here. What’s he saying now, Tom?”

Barton: “Well of course for months Jeremy Corbyn’s faced criticism over the way the Labour Party has handled complaints of antisemitism and one of the key issues has been about the words people use and in particular how that term – Zionist – can be used to attack the Jewish people as a whole. And now Jeremy Corbyn has had to defend his own use of that word after a speech in 2013 where he talked about British Zionists who he said may have lived in this country for a very long time, perhaps all of their lives, but – who he said – didn’t understand English irony. Now he was talking in particular about a group of pro-Israel activists who he said had berated the Palestinian representative to the UK following a speech in Westminster a little before that speech that he made in 2013. It drew criticism though from several Labour MPs including Luciana Berger who said the comments were inexcusable. Well last night Jeremy Corbyn published a statement saying that he used the term Zionists – in his words – in the accurate political sense to describe pro-Israel campaigners and not – he said – as a euphemism for Jewish people. He also though said that he is now more careful about how he uses the term Zionist because he says it has been increasingly hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews.”

Justin Webb then apparently tried to raise a relevant point which had been glaringly absent from BBC Radio 4’s previous coverage of the story.

Webb: “But when he said…when he said ‘having lived in this country for a long time, probably all their lives’, that then doesn’t sound as if he’s referring to a group that isn’t in a sense ‘other’.”

Barton: “And this is it, so Labour’s defence of that point is that he was talking in context, very particular, particularly about a group of people, pro-Israel activists who were made up of both Jewish people and non-Jewish people and he was using…”

Webb: “I see.”

Barton: “…it to refer to…ah…this particular group of activists and not – they say – to the Jewish community.”

Did Tom Barton bother to fact check that Labour “defence” before regurgitating it on air? Did he ask the Labour Party how exactly it had determined the religion/ethnicity of people it claimed attended an event in Parliament over five and a half years ago? Apparently not.

The person who recorded the PLO envoy’s speech in Parliament in January 2013 was Richard Millett. As i24 News reported:

“Millett says he does not recall “berating” the Palestinian envoy at the end of the 2013 event in Parliament, but is convinced that Corbyn was referring to his blog criticizing Hassassian’s remarks, saying he does not recall any other pro-Israel activists in the audience.” [emphasis added]

In the video of Corbyn’s 2013 speech he does not mention “a group of people” – let alone their ethnic/religious origins – but refers only to “Zionists”.

Moreover, from remarks made by Corbyn before that ‘English irony’ claim – remarks which were edited out of the video – it is obvious that he was indeed talking about Zionist British Jews rather than “this particular group of activists”.

And as Tom Barton’s Twitter feed shows, he knew that video had been edited and was later provided with the transcript of the rest of Corbyn’s speech.

Webb and Barton closed the item by discussing the potential effects of Corbyn’s statement would “make a difference” within the Labour Party itself.

As we see not only were the BBC’s domestic audiences once again not given any explanation as to why Corbyn’s remarks were regarded by many as offensive and antisemitic, but the BBC’s political correspondent quickly quashed that line of discussion with unquestioning repetition of an obviously inadequately checked statement given to him by team Corbyn.

So much for the BBC’s public purposes pledge to its funding public:

“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.”

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More promotion of the Livingstone Formulation from BBC News

 

 

 

BBC R4 news reporting of Corbyn ‘irony’ story to domestic audiences

On August 23rd a video emerged of the UK Labour Party leader speaking at a 2013 event hosted by the Hamas-linked Palestinian Return Centre in which he claimed that British Zionists:

“…clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.””

The Jewish Chronicle reported on the same day that a Labour spokesman had claimed that:

“Jeremy is totally opposed to all forms of antisemitism and is determined to drive it out from society. At this event, he was referring to a group of pro-Israel activists misunderstanding and then criticising the Palestinian Ambassador [sic] for a speech at a separate event about the occupation of the West Bank.”

As shown by the part of Corbyn’s speech which preceded those remarks but was edited out of the video, the claim that he was referring to a specific “group of pro-Israel activists” who ‘misunderstood’ a speech given several days earlier is highly questionable.

Nevertheless, listeners to BBC Radio 4 on August 24th heard uncritical amplification of team Corbyn’s ‘explanations’ while the links between the event organisers and Hamas was erased from audience view and no effort whatsoever was made to explain to the BBC’s domestic audiences why Corbyn’s comments were objectionable.

Six O’Clock News (from 07:44), BBC Radio 4, August 24th:

Newsreader: “The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has said that Jeremy Corby’s comments that British Zionists don’t understand English irony have been taken out of context. A number of Labour MPs have strongly criticised Mr Corbyn for the remarks which he made at a Palestinian conference in 2013. Mr McDonnell said the Labour leader had devoted his life to securing peace in the Middle East. Our political correspondent Jonathan Blake has this report.”

Blake: “The comments in question were made by Jeremy Corbyn during a speech at the Palestinian Return Centre, which represents Palestinian refugees, when he was a back bench Labour MP. Mr Corbyn referred to a disagreement between a group of people he described as Zionists and the Palestinian representative to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, after he spoke at an event in the Houses of Parliament.”

Recording Corbyn 2013: “This was dutifully recorded by the thankfully silent Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion, and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he’d said. They clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.”

Blake: “The Labour MP Luciana Berger said Mr Corbyn’s comments were inexcusable and made her feel unwelcome in her own party. She said that she had lived in Britain all her life and didn’t need any lessons in history or irony. Several of her parliamentary colleagues supported her but the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said Mr Corbyn’s comments had been taken out of context.”

Listeners then heard an edited version of part of an interview with McDonnell which had been aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 02:43:39 here) earlier in the day.

McDonnell: “In certain contexts certain phrases are appropriate. To take them out of context is unacceptable and I think is not helping issues. It’s exacerbating the issue. Where we want to get to now is let’s recognize there is antisemitism in our society. Let’s have a real serious debate about the actions needed to tackle that antisemitism wherever it’s displayed.”

Blake: “In a report into antisemitism within the Labour Party in 2016, the Labour peer Lady Chakrabarti said that the term Zionist was used by some as a euphemism for Jew and that it should be used carefully. The party’s code of conduct states that such language may otherwise provide evidence of antisemitic intent. A spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn said he was totally opposed to all forms of antisemitism, adding that he was referring to a group of pro-Israel activists misunderstanding and then criticising the Palestinian ambassador.”

The World Tonight (from 03:38), BBC Radio 4, August 24th:

Newsreader: “The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has denied using the term Zionist to refer to Jewish people. He was recorded making the remarks at a Palestinian conference five years ago. This evening it’s emerged that Mr Corbyn has been reported to the Parliamentary standards watchdog by a Conservative MP in connection with the comments. With the details, here’s our political correspondent Jonathan Blake.”

Blake: “In a speech in 2013 Jeremy Corbyn referred to a group of people who had disagreed with the Palestinian representative to the UK after a speech he’d made at an event in the Palace of Westminster as British Zionists. He said that they had two problems. One is they don’t want to study history and secondly, he said, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. Several Labour MPs criticised Mr Corbyn’s remarks. In a statement he said he used the term Zionist in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people, adding that he’s now more careful using the term Zionists because it has been increasingly hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews.”

Midnight News (from 07:40), BBC Radio 4, August 25th:

Newsreader: “The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has defended comments he made about Zionists when he was a back bencher five years ago. A Conservative MP has reported Mr Corbyn to the Parliamentary standards watchdog after it emerged that he told a Palestinian conference that British Zionists did not understand English irony. Mr Corbyn has denied using the term to refer to all Jewish people. With the details, here’s our political correspondent Jonathan Blake.”

Blake: “For months Jeremy Corbyn has faced criticism that he has not done enough to tackle antisemitism within the Labour Party. Now he has defended his own actions after several Labour MPs spoke out against comments he made during a speech in 2013. Mr Corbyn was addressing a group representing Palestinian refugees and described a group of what he called British Zionists berating the Palestinian representative to the UK after he made a speech at the Palace of Westminster. He said the group had two problems: they didn’t want to study history and didn’t understand English irony either. In a statement the Labour leader said he’d used the term Zionist in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people, adding that he was now more careful because the term had increasingly been hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews. That is something which the Labour peer Lady Chakrabarti warned against in a review of antisemitism within the Labour Party in 2016.”

As we see, the focus of all three of those news reports was amplification of the Labour claim that Corbyn’s remarks had been misunderstood, with no attempt made to explain to the BBC’s domestic listeners why they were so widely seen as offensive and antisemitic.

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