BBC Radio 4, ‘religious freedom’ and a half-told story

The November 19th edition of the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday‘ included an item described in its synopsis as follows:

“Madeline Davies from The Church Times tells Edward why the Greek Orthodox Church is selling it’s [sic] land in Israel.”

However, as listeners quickly found out, it in fact developed into a story about a draft bill currently awaiting debate in Israel’s Knesset.

Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item (from 14:00 here).

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

Stourton: “In the holy land nothing stirs passions like the land itself. The Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem – Theophilos III – seems to be selling off an awful lot of it. Madeline Davies of the Church Times has been following the story and told me what’s happening.”

Davies: “The Greek Orthodox Patriarchy owns a large amount of land in Israel and it’s really the only source of income that the Patriarch has. They’ve got a lot of costs to cover and they have sold some land in order to cover those costs. There’s really a dispute over some of those sales; whether some of those sales were done with the full permission of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and whether some of them were actually done without the approval of the church and should never have gone through.”

Stourton: “And why is it such a sensitive issue?”

Davies: “It’s really a question about the co-existence in Jerusalem. There’s a desire to ensure that the church is able to control its own land; to make its own decisions about whether it sells it and who to, or whether the government can really intervene in who owns land in the area.”

Stourton then promoted extremely partisan – and inaccurate – framing of the story:

Stourton: “So this to some extent is an issue of religious freedom; it’s about the Patriarch’s ability to act independently.”

Davies: “Yeah. There’s a lot of concern about a draft bill which is before the Israeli parliament which would give the Israeli government the power to confiscate land which the Patriarch has sold to third parties. That’s really one of the big concerns and concern has been expressed by other church leaders in the region about what that would mean for them as well. The bill wouldn’t just apply to the Greek Orthodox Church; it would apply to all churches in the region.”

Stourton: “The other issue for Christians, surely, is the risk that by selling off land the Patriarch diminishes the Christian presence in the holy land.”

Davies: “Yeah. So I think what the Patriarch is arguing is that they own quite a large amount of land and they’ve done this in a very planned and strategic way. They haven’t just flogged land sort of left, right and centre to cover their costs.”

Stourton: “Is everybody happy with that or are there some Christian groups who are…who are still concerned?”

Davies: “So he…ehm…the Patriarch is facing controversy within his own church. There’s particularly some Palestinians concerned land has been sold to Israelis by the church. I think what the Patriarch would argue is that land has also been used to build housing and residences for Palestinian Christians and so it’s not only that, sort of, land has been sold to one particular group.”

Listeners were not told that in fact there is criticism of the Patriarch from Palestinians on additional grounds:

“The protests expose long-standing tensions in the Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land. For years, the Greek Orthodox community in Israel has felt the church prevented its local Arab clergy from reaching senior positions, and the leadership of the church has thus remained firmly in Greek hands. The protesters are demanding that the church make major changes and allow Arab clergy to reach the most senior ranks.

Some of the demonstrators even called for an end to Greek patronage of the local Orthodox Church. But the Greek Orthodox Church has yet to show any signs of meeting these demands or deposing Theophilis.”

Stourton continued:

Stourton: “Some of the criticism is not just about the fact of the sale of land but the way he’s doing it.”

Davies: “In, I mean, in the past this land has been leased to Israelis for extremely low sums. And I think the idea is that to by either giving the lease to Israeli property developers or actually giving them the freehold, will actually generate a lot more income than those leases were and that that can really fund some of the core activities of the Greek Orthodox Church.”

Stourton: “Now he’s been here in this country talking to the Archbishop of Canterbury. How does he get wrapped up in all this?”

Davies: “Basically the Patriarch has gone on a tour to drum up support for his case. There’s a lot of concern about the Israeli government’s bill and he’s come over to the UK to try and get Justin Welby and other church leaders to support him and to issue a statement that really says we support the coexistence that exists within Israel and we support the church’s rights to control what it does with its own land.”

Stourton: “And did he get that?”

Davies: “Yeah, so both the Roman Catholic leader Vincent Nichols and Justin Welby have issued statements saying they want to support the status quo, which is really sort of a catch-all term that means we support the right of the church to control its own lands.”

With no effort made to inform listeners that Madeline Davies’ employer, the Church Times, is an Anglican publication Stourton continued: 

Stourton: “And just returning to the bill in Jerusalem; is that something that the government there supports or is this an independent movement?”

Davies: “This has been brought by a number of parliamentarians but it’s unclear yet whether it will actually go through. I think there are concerns that it’s actually being used within coalition, sort of, politics with the government as sort of perhaps to appease certain groups. So it’s still unclear really whether it will go through.”

Stourton: “So he’s really in a very tight position isn’t he? On the one hand he’s facing criticism from – as you say – within his own church and from some other Christians about the whole land process and on the other side he’s under pressure from Israeli politicians.”

Davies: “Yeah. He’s in a really difficult position and I think that’s really why he’s trying to gather solidarity from Christians in the West just to try and say no; this is about more than just a property dispute. This is actually about the church’s rights in the region, their ability to coexist with other groups.”

So what is the story really about and did BBC Radio 4’s presentation of it give listeners an accurate and impartial view?

The story actually began some months ago when it emerged that the Greek Orthodox Church had sold tracts of land in Jerusalem to undisclosed buyers.

“The Greek Orthodox Church — the second biggest owner of land in Israel after the Israel Lands Authority — acquired some 4,500 dunams (1,110 acres) of real estate in the center of Jerusalem during the 19th century, primarily for agriculture. In the 1950s, just after Israel’s independence, it agreed to lease its land to the JNF for 99 years — with an option to extend. […]

Somehow, the church managed to secretly sign contracts — the first in 2011, and another in August 2016 — to sell the land to groups of companies about which very little is known […]

The deal came to light when the Greek Orthodox Church petitioned the Jerusalem District Court last week [July 2017] to have the Jerusalem City Council exempt it from payments relating to the 500 dunams it has sold off.”

The sale creates problems for the owners of properties located on that land. 

“The deal has plunged more than 1,000 homeowners into uncertainty because they sublease the land on which their homes are built from KKL-JNF, which currently holds the primary leases. […]

“There is no doubt that the government of Israel cannot allow a situation in which veteran residents are at the mercy of a group of private investors (whose identity is not completely known), without any regulation of the matter,” A KKL-JNF spokesperson told The Times of Israel. […]

If the leases are not renewed when they run out in the early 2050s, the homeowners who have not sold by then risk being forced to leave, to pay potentially high prices to extend leases or even to rent their own homes. The prices of their homes have already been negatively affected.”

The bill inaccurately described by Davies in this item as being “the Israeli government’s bill” is in fact a private members bill proposed by MK Rachel Azaria – formerly the deputy mayor of Jerusalem.

“The main initiative to advance legislation to protect residents is being driven by lawmaker Rachel Azaria (Kulanu). Just before the start of the Knesset’s summer recess, she signed 40 MKs onto a private members’ bill to allow the state to confiscate land that has been sold. The confiscation would take effect from January 1, 2018, and the private investors would be compensated.”

Ms Azaria’s bill would mean that:

“…deals to sell the land would have to be approved by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice committee, that buyers would have to be Israeli citizens or Israeli-owned companies, that lease extensions would be dealt with by a national body, the cost of extensions would not be passed onto residents, and in cases where a national institution was not involved in a church land transaction, the state would use the tools at its disposal to protect the residents against losing their homes.”

Remarkably, the residents affected by the Greek Orthodox Church’s land sales in Jerusalem did not even get a mention in this BBC item. Obviously that serious omission is highly relevant because the bill currently awaiting reading in the Knesset which was widely discussed in the item is intended to protect those residents rather than – as claimed in this item – to “confiscate” land or “pressure” the church.

As we see, this report presented an entirely one-sided and distorted account of a story that was repeatedly portrayed as being solely about “the church’s rights in the region” and with absolutely no mention of the other side of the story and the rights of the people affected by the church’s actions. One might also question the timing of this story seeing as it actually broke several months ago but BBC audiences heard nothing about it until various church bodies began a PR campaign

As for Edward Stourton’s claim that “religious freedom” includes real estate deals – that one will surely go down as one of the more ridiculous notions promoted by the BBC.

 

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MEMO Balfour event participant hosts BBC Radio 4 discussion on Balfour Declaration

A journalist known for his promotion of the notion of a secretive ‘pro-Israel lobby’ allegedly influencing British politics who regularly writes for one media outlet linked to Hamas and participated in a Balfour Declaration/Israel bashing ‘conference’ organised by another outfit with Hamas connections might not seem like the ideal presenter for an item discussing the Balfour Declaration centenary aired by a broadcaster supposedly committed to ‘impartiality’.

Nevertheless, Peter Oborne did present the October 28th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Week in Westminster’ and that programme included (from 22:03 here) “reflections on the letter which paved the way for the creation of the state of Israel, 100 years ago”.

One of the other people ‘reflecting’ was MP Stephen Kinnock who last December accepted an award from the Hamas-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’ as thanks for his support during its campaign for UN accreditation. Mr Kinnock’s views on Israel have long been clear: shortly after the conflict of summer 2014, for example, he wrote the following:

“This devastating onslaught on Gaza has triggered yet another humanitarian crisis, and that’s what’s creating headlines in the here and now. But it is also possible that it has inflicted such damage on Gaza’s already crippled infrastructure that it will become an unliveable place well before 2020. You just can’t help wondering whether the Israeli government factored this into its calculations when it opted to launch such a wide-ranging attack on the Gaza Strip.” [emphasis added]

Kinnock is also on record as an enthusiastic supporter of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign but Radio 4 listeners were not informed of that fact before they heard him promote it in this item – introduced by Peter Oborne as follows:

Oborne: “Parliament did note one other momentous event last week: the centenary of the famous letter from foreign secretary AJ Balfour in 1917 which paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel. A hundred years on and this declaration is as contentious as ever. Tory MP Robert Halfon and Labour’s Stephen Kinnock took part in this week’s debate and afterwards they came into the studio. How does Robert Halfon view the centenary?”

Halfon: “Well I thought it was an incredibly important moment in British history as well as in terms of the creation of the State of Israel. I thought it was another example of why Britain is a truly great country. The Jewish people should have a homeland and had a right to return to their homeland and it was an incredible moment both – as I say – in the history of the Jewish people but also in the history of our country.”

Oborne: “Stephen Kinnock.”

Unsurprisingly, Kinnock’s response reflected PLO messaging on the topic of the Balfour Declaration – although in contrast to much other BBC coverage of the centenary (see ‘related articles’ below), listeners did at least get to hear an accurate portrayal of the text’s reference to “civil and religious rights”. However, Kinnock’s promotion of context-free, spurious and misleading linkage between the text of the Balfour Declaration and what he described as ‘violations’ – including the unsupported notion of ‘illegal’ trade – predictably went completely unchallenged by Oborne.

Kinnock: “Well, I think it’s very important as well to remember the crucial phrase in the Balfour Declaration: ‘it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’ and..err…I think the conclusion we have to draw is that that sentiment has simply not held and has been repeatedly violated by Israeli governments down the ages. We now see vast expansion of illegal settlements, violations of human rights, businesses trading illegally out of the occupied territories of the West Bank and all that is undermining peace and undermining security. We know that we can’t have one without the other so my intervention in the debate was very much in the hope that we could see a change in attitude and behaviour from the Israeli side, which I think is the key to any kind of forward progress in this.” [emphasis added]

Halfon: “It’s worth remembering that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East: one man one vote. There are Arab MPs in the Israeli Knesset. It’s worth remembering that it is a place of refuge, a place of scientific advancement. It’s been a place of tolerance; it’s one of the few places in the Middle East where gay people live normal lives…”

Oborne [interrupts]: “If you could try answering Mr Kinnock’s question that you haven’t yet addressed, which is the Balfour Declaration certainly achieved the Jewish homeland but what about the point about looking after the non-Jewish people – in the phrase of the Balfour Declaration – who were already there?”

Halfon: “If you originally remember, when Palestine, which had the British mandate, was carved up the vast majority of it became Jordan: 77% of it. The rest – smaller, much more small part of that; smaller than the size of Wales – was given to the Jewish people. The Arabs refused to accept that in 1948. We had the war in 1948, we had the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War. Israel has faced the threat of terrorism almost every day since its existence and despite that, is a democracy, has been prepared to make significant moves towards peace. It should be a place that should be celebrated and supported by the United Kingdom and anyone who believes in freedom and democracy.”

Oborne: “Stephen Kinnock.”

Kinnock: “I think all the Palestinian people are asking for is to be treated equally in the eyes of the law.”

Oborne: “Would you like a change in British government policy – a different kind of pressure on Israel if you come to power?”

Listeners then got to hear what may be a preview of the policy of a government under Mr Kinnock’s party. They were not however provided with any background information concerning the goals of the BDS campaign promoted by Kinnock and his factually baseless references to Judea & Samaria as “illegally occupied” were not challenged by Oborne.

Kinnock: “Yeah. I think what certainly one of the things we must do is contribute to the campaign for any business that is located in the illegally occupied West Bank to be sanctioned; that British companies should not do any trade with those businesses and this also means indirectly; through – for example – financial institutions. There’s quite a lot of British money going into financing a lot of commercial activity going on in the illegally occupied West Bank. So I think that would be a very good start.”

Halfon: “The settlement issue; all those things will come under a negotiation of a proper peace process but there should be a Palestinian state – something I believe in – but the Israelis are right to say we want a Palestinian state but we also need to be sure that we will be free from terrorism and attacks from Islamist groups, from Hamas and so on.”

Oborne: “Anyway, let me wrap things up, gentlemen, by drawing attention to the fact that the 2nd of November will be the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. I’ll ask each of you in turn whether you agree with the prime minister that this is a matter for celebration. Robert Halfon.”

Halfon: “Absolutely. I think it’s a very special moment that should be celebrated.”

Kinnock: “No. I think it’s a matter of regret because the phrase in there which is absolutely critical that the interests of non-Jewish communities will be protected has been violated countless times.”

No-one familiar with the views of Peter Oborne and Stephen Kinnock would have expected to hear an accurate and impartial discussion of either the Balfour Declaration centenary or Israel in this item. The problem, however, is that Radio 4 listeners were not made aware of the “particular viewpoint” of the contributors as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality require.

Related Articles:

The significance of the BBC’s promotion of Peter Oborne’s Brotherhood washing

BBC contributor on ME links up with UK Hamas supporters

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

BBC Watch complaint on Partition Plan inaccuracy upheld

Readers may recall that in an edition of the Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ broadcast back in June, the BBC’s Hugh Sykes portrayed the 1947 Partition Plan as follows:

“And 70 years ago in 1947, the UN General Assembly passed the partition resolution, recommending the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states with economic union and an international regime for a shared Jerusalem. The two-state resolution 181 seventy years ago was rejected by Palestinians and by most Jewish organisations.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“The Palestinians – in the form of the Arab Higher Committee – did indeed reject the Partition Plan outright – but so did the Arab states; unmentioned by Sykes. While some groups such as Etzel and Lehi expressed opposition to the Partition Plan, the organisation officially representing Jews in Palestine – the Jewish Agency – both lobbied for and accepted it. Sykes’ attempt to portray the plan as having been rejected by both Arabs and Jews is egregiously inaccurate, although unfortunately not unprecedented in BBC content.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that issue that was acknowledged on June 13th. Ten days later we received a reply from BBC Complaints stating:

“Thanks for contacting us about ‘PM’ on June 8.

We realise you were concerned about the item on the significant anniversaries in the Middle East this year. It’s clear you felt there was an error which required correction.

You’ve stated that the Jewish Agency was the official voice of the Jews in Palestine at the time, and that it was therefore incorrect and misleading to say ‘most Jewish organisations’ rejected the Two State resolution in 1947.

We raised this with the programme team and with Hugh Sykes. Hugh explains:

“My ‘most’ was intended to embrace the hugely significant, influential and powerful Jewish organisations like Hagganah and the Stern Gang who rejected the partition plan, so I think ‘most’ was a fair distillation of the balance between the organisations (not necessarily the Jewish people) who accepted or rejected UN res 181.”

So the statement was not that the organisations opposed to the resolution were official; he was highlighting the fact that there was a significant and powerful opposition.

We hope this clarifies the issue and explains why we are satisfied with its accuracy for listeners.”

BBC Watch submitted a second complaint in light of that response:

“The response to my previous complaint is unsatisfactory. Not only does it inaccurately claim that the Haganah opposed the Partition Plan but it also claims that Lehi (referred to by Sykes using the pejorative title ‘Stern Gang’) was “hugely significant, influential and powerful” when in fact that group never had more than a few hundred members and was rejected by the mainstream Jewish population.

Most importantly, however, this response does not address the body of my complaint. Sykes’ claim that “The two-state resolution 181 seventy years ago was rejected by Palestinians and by most Jewish organisations” inaccurately leads listeners to believe that the plan was rejected by Jews and Arabs alike and therefore materially misleads audiences with regard to a significant historic event. In fact, while two small Jewish organisations (not “most”) – Etzel and Lehi – expressed reservations regarding the Partition Plan, the mainstream Jewish establishment both lobbied vigorously for it and accepted it. A correction needs to be issued – including on the webpage still available to audiences – clarifying that the Partition Plan was not rejected by Jews at all.”

On July 20th we received a reply to the second complaint:

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us and we appreciate that you felt strongly enough to write to us again. We’re sorry to learn that you were not satisfied with our earlier response.

We’ve noted your points but do not consider they have suggested a possible breach of the BBC’s standards to justify further investigation or a more detailed reply. Opinions can vary widely about the BBC’s output, but may not necessarily imply a breach of our standards or public service obligations.

For this reason we do not feel we can add more to our reply or answer further questions or points. We realise you may be disappointed but have explained why we are not able to take your complaint further.”

BBC Watch then submitted a Stage 2 complaint to the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) and received a reply on September 19th informing us of the ECU’s decision to consider it as an editorial complaint.

On November 10th – over five months after the programme was originally broadcast – we were informed by the Head of Executive Complaints that the ECU had upheld our complaint.

Of course the vast majority of people who listened to ‘PM’ on June 8th will be highly unlikely to search out the relevant page on the BBC website on the off-chance that a correction may have been made to something they heard over five months ago.

And so, the BBC’s partly outsourced complaints system (which one could be forgiven for thinking is primarily designed to make members of the public give up and go away) continues to do a disservice to licence fee payers by ensuring that by the time a material inaccuracy is addressed, virtually no-one will receive the corrected information.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Hugh Sykes tells R4 listeners that Jews rejected the Partition Plan

Another ‘stealth’ correction on the BBC News website

Another BBC News correction misses its point

New BBC complaints procedure finalised following consultation

 

 

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

The fourth item (see the first here, the second here and the third here) relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary that was aired on the November 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs show ‘Today‘ was an interview (from 02:36:33 here) with the Palestinian Authority’s Manuel Hassassian conducted by the programme’s co-presenter Mishal Husain.

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

Husain’s introduction to the item included the exaggerated claim that the Balfour Declaration “shaped the map of the Middle East”.

Husain: “A letter written a hundred years ago that shaped the map of the Middle East; seen by Israelis as the foundation stone for their country and by Palestinians as the beginning of a disaster. We’ve been marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration on the programme this morning. After hearing from Israel’s deputy foreign minister earlier, we’ll be talking to a senior Palestinian in a moment.”

After listeners had heard – for the first time in the programme – a reading of the Balfour Declaration in full, Husain continued by upgrading the title of the head of the “Palestinian Representative Office” (rather than embassy, because the UK has not recognised a Palestinian state) in London.

Husain: “With us in the studio is Manuel Hassassian who is the Palestinian general delegate to the UK: effectively the Palestinian ambassador. […] We’ve been hearing the Israeli view already this morning that this is a moment of celebration for them. What do the words of the Balfour Declaration mean to you?”

Hassassian opened with promotion of a crucial element in the Palestinian narrative: the notion of Jews as European ‘colonialists‘. That falsehood went completely unchallenged by Husain.  

Hassassian: “This letter that Arthur Balfour has published…had published in the past, it’s a one sentence with 67 words that meant the destruction and the destitution of the Palestinian people. Bringing the Jews from Europe to Palestine, you know, that in itself, you know, was a crime against humanity. This is how we look at Balfour because today, when we go back retrospectively 100 years, we have seen how this letter had been…had become part and parcel of the mandatory rule of Great Britain over Palestine in facilitating the Jewish immigration and in creating a national home for the Jews without any respect to the political rights of 95%; then the Palestinians who were the majority…”

As was the case in the first three items in this programme (as well as in much of the BBC’s additional coverage of the centenary – see ‘related articles’ below), Husain then misrepresented the part of Balfour’s letter that referred to “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.  

Husain: “Which…which are included in that letter, the second part of which does acknowledge that nothing in what has been said about Jewish…the creation of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine should prejudice those rights. But from what you are saying it sounds as if your objection is to the first part as well: the creation in the first place of a home for the Jews in Palestine.”

Ironically, Hassassian then clarified to listeners what the BBC has put much effort into concealing before promoting some highly dubious ‘history’.

Hassassian: “And to the second part because it meant only the civil and religious rights. It did not mention the political rights and the Palestinians have fought the Arabs with the allied in order to get the promise of an independent Palestine.”

Husain: “Your objection to the first part of that – the creation of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine – that is at the heart of the creation of Israel.”

Hassassian: “Yes.”

Husain: “So you are…you are opposed to the existence of Israel today?”

Hassassian then advanced the inaccurate notion that the “second part” of the Balfour Declaration meant the establishment of a “Palestinian state”.

Hassassian: “Today it’s a different reality. We are talking about the second part which was not fulfilled – i.e. the independent Palestinian state. Now in 1988 we have made our painful historic concession in recognising the State of Israel. We have embarked on the peace process. We have signed the Oslo Accords. We have recognised the State of Israel on 75% of the land. Today we’re not talking about, you know, the extermination of Israel. What we’re talking is about the fulfilment of the second part of this Balfour Declaration.”

With Husain making no effort to clarify to listeners that some Palestinian factions do indeed have “the extermination of Israel”at the top of their agenda, he went on:

Hassassian: “Instead of celebrating and marking and adding insult to injury, I think we Palestinians would have expected the moral and historic responsibility to be shouldered by this government and to apologise to the Palestinian people and to go ahead in the execution of the second part by recognising the State of Palestine.”

Husain: “You mean the British government?”

Hassassian: “Yes ma’am.”

Husain: “And the foreign secretary Boris Johnson has spoken about that second part – the protection of the non-Jewish communities of the area that was then Palestine – as being unfinished business. So there is a recognition of what you are saying. “

Husain’s portrayal of the article by Johnson to which she refers is inaccurate: the British foreign secretary did not say “that second part” of the Balfour Declaration was “unfinished business”. He did however refer to “the vision of two states for two peoples” as proposed in the 1937 Peel Commission report – a proposal that listeners were not told was rejected by the Arabs at the time and again on repeated occasions.

Hassassian: “Well that recognition is equated to hollow promises. We have been hearing this for the last several years. That the…the recognition of the fact that there should be a two-state solution, that they are against settlement building and which is true: the British government has taken a stand – a firm stand – by accepting and voting for Resolution 2338 [sic – actually 2334]. But by the same token we haven’t seen any concrete action plan. No pressures have been put on Israel. No BDS on Israel products, you know…”

Husain: “The boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

Hassassian: “The boycott…yes and sanctions. We haven’t seen any concrete action. It’s talking the talk but not walking the walk. We do appreciate what Mr Johnson has said. We do appreciate the position of the British government when it comes to the support of a two-state solution but we don’t see any action. Look at the situation in Palestine. The two-state solution is slipping because of the continuous building of settlements by the Israelis.”

Failing to challenge the specious claim that the two-state solution is endangered by Israeli construction and making no effort to clarify to listeners that the building there is takes place in existing communities rather than – as Hassassian implied – new communities being built, Husain continued by raising a topic rarely discussed on BBC platforms: Palestinian responsibility. She refrained, however, from using the word terror and under-represented the number of victims of Palestinian terror.

Husain: “Right. Well let’s talk about the Palestinians’ own responsibility; about Palestinian actions that have been seen particularly since the Oslo Accords which you mentioned were signed. The Palestinian Authority was set up in 1993. Between 1994 and 2005 hundreds of Israelis died in attacks that were carried out by Palestinians and the numbers only came down after Israel built its security barrier…or wall. What that means is that the basic premise of Oslo – the exchange of land for peace – was never honoured and Palestinian violence is part of that.”

Hassassian: “I am really shocked at your question because you have negated the fact that thousands of Palestinians have died at the hands of the Israelis and that this apartheid wall is a political statement and it’s not for security reasons because they wanted to change the facts on the ground by building more settlements and carving Palestinian land. Why did they build this apartheid wall ten kilometres deep into the West Bank and not on their borders of 1967?”

None of those falsehoods promoted by Hassassian was even remotely challenged by Husain who went on:

Husain: “Mr Hassassian, we’ve talked already on the programme this morning to the Israeli deputy foreign minister and we’ve talked about the situation in the West Bank. I’m asking you to acknowledge the deaths of Israelis because of Palestinian attacks.”

Hassassian: “You…you…we have also to expect the acknowledgement of the Israelis for the death of thousands – and not hundreds – of Palestinians. I don’t think this is a fair statement. For us to acknowledge the death of hundreds of Israelis who are occupiers, who have been, you know, uprooting us from our land…”

Husain: “They were civilians. They were civilians, they were children on buses – just one example – that were targeted.”

Hassassian: “And there were…and we have hundreds… thousands of children have been killed by settlers and by the what’s so-called the IDF forces. I mean why do we talk about one side and not the other side? We are the occupied. We have the right to resist. We have the right to establish our own independent state. Why do we equate the occupier with the occupied? Is this a fair statement? It’s not a fair statement. We have the right to resist because we have the inalienable right for self-determination.”

Husain: “But listening to you it seems to me that the chances of peace, the chances of a process that leads to the establishment of a Palestinian state, is further away than ever.”

Hassassian: “No. My position as Palestinian ambassador [sic] is to promote the two-state solution. I personally have always believed that political accommodation and negotiations is the only way out of this quagmire. I believe that no military solution will ever be a solution. I believe that convulsive violence breeds more violence.”

Husain made no effort to question Hassassian regarding his claim that he promotes the two-state solution even though he is on record as promoting a very different ‘solution’.

“The Palestinian Ambassador to UK, Professor Manuel Hassassian, said ideally he would prefer a one-state solution but pragmatically and politically the two-state solution is the best option that the Palestinians could realistically achieve. Although, he said even that seems to be rather impossible under the current political climate.” September 2016

“Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic representative in the UK, condemned the Balfour Declaration. He said the Palestinians had been denied the right to self-determination and their basic human rights “due to the pledge by Great Britain to the Zionists”.

He said the Palestinian “right of return” was a “sacred right” and that the “non-Judaisation of the state of Israel is our red line”.” November 2013

“There is no two state solution. Democracies don’t fight each other. If Israel is a democracy I would claim that the Palestinians are also a democracy. If democracies cannot fight each other then why not have one state?; one man, one vote.” January 2013

“Ladies and gentleman, there is no two state solution left. We have to look to other, what I call, ingenious ideas and look outside the box and the only thing that comes to my mind is very simple; there is only one solution, which is a one state solution.November 2012

Hassassian continued with yet more falsehoods and context-free claims that went completely unchallenged:

Hassassian: “We have done our share as Palestinians in order to promote peace. But look at Israel? What did Israel do? Since the Oslo agreement they have quadrupled the building of settlements. They have killed many thousands: two wars against our people in Gaza. So where is the intention of peace on the other side? On the occupier that claims to be a democracy?”

The final part of the interview was devoted to the topic of the Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation with Husain raising the issue of the significance of Hamas’ refusal to recognise Israel in the context of its potential participation in a Palestinian unity government and Hassassian claiming that the Palestinian Authority is “trying to bring Hamas on board in a political programme that will recognise the State of Israel”.

Notwithstanding Mishal Husain’s atypical question regarding Israeli victims of Palestinian terror, this lengthy interview – over ten minutes long – obviously primarily provided a platform for yet more amplification of PA/PLO messaging concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary.

In all, listeners to the ‘Today’ programme on November 2nd heard over thirty-three minutes of coverage relating to that topic during which the part of the Balfour Declaration relating to the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities” was misrepresented no fewer than six times. They did not, however, hear even one mention of the part of the same text that states that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice […] the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ returns to an old trope

h/t NS

In the past we have documented on these pages numerous examples of the BBC’s promotion of the notion of an all-powerful “Israel lobby” and – even more frequently – the notion of a “Jewish lobby“. In November 2014, for example, listeners to BBC Radio 5 live heard the following

“I mean if we’re not careful we’re going to turn into the east coast of America where, you know, where all of politics is in thrall…ehm…to the Jewish lobby and to the Irish lobby and as a result you get very, very distorted politics and good sense goes out of the window.” […]

“We can’t all observe dietary laws because it might offend the more powerful lobby – the Israeli lobby – which already has big brother America cow-towing to its every wish. I mean it really is unacceptable. It’s kind of un-British anyway…”  [all emphasis added]

Over the past couple of years, however, the BBC has been noticeably more cautious about promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope.

The November 8th edition of the BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ included several items relating to a story broken by the BBC several days earlier concerning a British cabinet minister and allegedly “undisclosed” meetings in Israel that actually took place several months ago and in some cases were posted on social media.

One of those items included a discussion (from 02:13:45 here) between presenter Nick Robinson, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt and former Labour politician Lord Falconer who accused Priti Patel of “colluding with a foreign government” and looking “like she’s much more the emissary of the Israeli government than a member of the British government”.

When Robinson asked “if she’d told the Foreign Office would that have made it OK?”, Falconer painted a garish caricature of the actual story that went completely unchallenged by Robinson.

Falconer: “I doubt it because the whole feel of the thing is that she – without officials, without telling anybody – which I think is one element only, was talking to them and instead of saying look I come with the British government’s view, I come with my own view. Let’s work out – the Israeli government and Miss Patel – how we can get assets out of the British government to help Israel. That does not look to me like the activity of a British government minister.” [emphasis added]

Later on in the conversation (02:16:57) Nick Robinson posed the following question:

Robinson: “Isn’t part of a subtext here, Charlie Falconer, that some people dislike the fact that Priti Patel is pro-Israel? Maybe the Foreign Office dislikes that and that this is a particular case rather than a general one? You’ve even accused her of trying to raise money for a leadership bid.”

Falconer: “Well I don’t know whether she’s doing that or not but I mean it obviously positions her well with those who are very pro-Israel, who would like to see a pro-Israel leader of either the Tory or the Labour party.”

Clearly understanding Falconer’s insinuation, Robinson then made an observation that – in light of the BBC’s ‘Jewish lobby’ record – is worthy of note.

Robinson: “I’ve got to put it to you, you know, there’ll be some people in the Jewish community listening to that and saying that’s the sort of paranoia about the Jewish community that is unacceptable.”

Falconer: “It’s nothing to do with paranoia about any particular country or any particular group. You do not want a prime minister who is in hock to the United States of America. You do not want a prime minister who is in hock to any particular group.”

“In hock” is defined as meaning “owing money to a person or organisation, or forced to do things for them because they have lent you money or have helped you”.

The conversation then moved on, with Robinson posing no further challenge to Falconer’s barely veiled promotion of the type of age-old tropes concerning scheming “pro-Israel” groups, governments, power and money that, until now, the BBC had over the last couple of years appeared to try to expunge from its content.  

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robinson: “That wasn’t the question.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hotovely’s attempts to reply were repeatedly interrupted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robinson: “They have friends?” […]

He then proceeded to lecture his guest.

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

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

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robinson then asked:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

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More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bateman’s next interviewee was Rima Tarazi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

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

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

 

 

BBC Radio 4 puff piece on an anti-Zionist

On October 15th BBC Radio 4 aired a half-hour long programme called “My Father’s Israel” that is described in its synopsis as follows:

“How a bitter dispute over Israel’s future split a country and divided a family. In June 1967, Israel had just won the Six Day War, defeating the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and occupying much new territory. Israelis sensed a transformation in their country’s destiny. Most were euphoric. A few were fearful. Two declarations drawn up in neighbouring Tel Aviv cafes and published on the same day symbolised this bitter divide.

One, now seen as hugely significant in shaping Israeli history, declared that ‘The Land of Israel is now in the hands of the Jewish people’. It was signed by more than fifty members of the country’s leading cultural and political elites. It encouraged the wave of settlements that would arise in the territories which Israel had recently occupied. The other declaration, concocted by two friends over an espresso, warned that the Israeli victory was a ‘fateful’ moment, and that holding onto occupied territories ‘will make us a nation of murderers and murdered’. It was signed by just 12 people.

These heretical views, published in a leading daily newspaper, prompted intense criticism and its signatories were called traitors to the Zionist cause. Some received threats of violence, amongst them Shimon Tzabar, who was one of the authors. In this programme, his son Rami explores what this moment of dramatic change meant for Israel, and for his family. He travels to Tel Aviv and talks to those involved in making the two declarations, as they recall the extraordinary atmosphere surrounding them.

This is also a personal story, as Rami discovers the consequences of his father’s passionate actions. After ostracism in Israel, his father went into exile in London (where Rami was born), and continued his campaigns with weapons of art, satire and unshakeable faith in his cause. The cost for the family was high.

Arguments still rage today about Israel’s actions and destiny – an argument within Israeli society, within the international community and among individuals. This programme reveals, in one dramatic story, the roots of that argument, and how it reverberated so strongly across a family’s life.”

Neither in the programme’s trailer, its synopsis nor in the programme itself are audiences informed of the relevant fact that the narrator and producer Rami Tzabar is a BBC employee.

The programme itself is likewise dogged by omission. At no point are listeners told that Shimon Tzabar – who is described as “playful, profound and …just a little bit annoying” – was a member of the Communist  Party of Israel (Maki). Later on, while in conversation with one of two of the featured co-signatories to Shimon Tzabar’s “declaration” – Moshe Machover (who was recently expelled from the UK Labour Party and is still doing the anti-Zionist rounds) – Rami Tzabar describes his father as a “naughty boy” and a “thorn in (the) side” of “the establishment” without bothering to mention his association with the extreme-left anti-Zionist group ‘Matzpen’.

Omission likewise plagues the programme’s portrayal of the event that led to Shimon Tzabar’s “declaration”. Listeners hear nothing of the background and context to the Six Day War or the Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria.

“Jerusalem – always hugely symbolic in the region – was a divided city between 1948 and ’67; the east controlled by Jordan, the west by Israel. But with victory the city was united once more.”

Neither does Rami Tzabar make any mention of the attacks launched upon Israelis before the Six Day War – for example from the Golan Heights – which are crucial to the understanding of his commentary at 14:32.

“What’s so surprising about the greater land of Israel petition is that these are not the people you tend to associate with the settlement movement today: the religious parties. These were poets, philosophers, artists, writers. Zionists, of course, but secular ones, many aligned with the centre left Labour movement. And though the settlement project would later be led by religious groups, then it was rooted in the elites of the political mainstream.”

While Shimon Tzabar is described by his son as an “exile”, a reading of his own writings later clarifies that his departure from Israel was self-imposed.

“At the beginning of December 1967 I left my wife and my son in Tel Aviv and embarked on a Turkish liner at Haifa and sailed to Marseilles. I had no intention of leaving Israel for good. I just wanted to do something, to carry on the fight against the occupation abroad and then to return home.”

Listeners even hear a cheap stereotype when Rami Tzabar describes his parents as being:

“…argumentative, of course, but that’s Israelis for you.”

Towards the end of the programme Rami Tzabar tells listeners that his father designed a “new flag” for Israel featuring a tank instead of the Star of David and that he was sued for copyright infringement after publishing a “Michelin guide to Israeli prisons”. Tzabar neglects to tell listeners that the full title of that booklet was “Guide to Israeli prisons, jails, concentration camps and torture chambers” or that in it, his father promoted Nazi analogies

Framed as a ‘family story’, this one-sided, romanticised account makes no effort to explain to Radio 4 listeners why Shimon Tzabar’s demand for immediate and unconditional withdrawal from the land taken during the Six Day War was so unpopular with a nation that had at the time been under existential threat throughout the nineteen years of its existence.

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

In part one of this post we saw how an item by Trevor Barnes relating to the Balfour Declaration that was aired in the October 1st edition (from 18:14 here) of the BBC Radio 4 ethics and religion show ‘Sunday‘ promoted assorted historical inaccuracies.  

Trevor Barnes’ fourth interviewee likewise began by promoting an inaccurate claim, suggesting (from 21:10) that “Israel and Palestine” were British colonies.

“I think Britain doesn’t come out of any of the colonial history of Israel and Palestine in that good a light.”

Barnes: “Chris Rose – director of the Amos Trust; a Christian organisation working in the West Bank and Gaza.”

That description of the Amos Trust is grossly inadequate and fails to inform listeners of that NGO’s political agenda and anti-Israel activities as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality require.

Rose: “Even Balfour himself a couple of years later on said that Zionism be right or wrong is more important than the wishes of the 700,000 Arabs. Our call is to the British Government now, if it is determined to celebrate the Balfour Declaration, to do so in the only real meaningful way by working tirelessly for full equal rights for everybody who calls it home.”

The statement by Lord Balfour shoddily paraphrased by Chris Rose (who has in the past attributed Palestinian terrorism to “high unemployment and poor amenities“) comes from a memorandum written by Balfour in 1919 and its context – the question of the selection of mandatories in various regions of the Middle East – is important. 

“Without further considering whether the political picture drawn by the Covenant [of the League of Nations] corresponds with anything to be found in the realms of fact, let us ask on what principle these mandatories are to be selected by the Allied and Associated Powers

On this point the Covenant speaks as follows:—

‘The wishes of these communities (i.e., the independent nations) must be a principal consideration in the selection of a mandatory.’

The sentiment is unimpeachable; but how is it to be carried into effect? To simplify the argument, let us assume that two of the ‘independent nations’ for which mandatories have to be provided are Syria and Palestine? Take Syria first. Do we mean, in the case of Syria, to consult principally the wishes of the inhabitants? We mean nothing of the kind. According to the universally accepted view there are only three possible mandatories—England, America, and France. Are we going ‘chiefly to consider the wishes of the inhabitants’ in deciding which of these is to be selected? We are going to do nothing of the kind. England has refused. America will refuse. So that, whatever the inhabitants may wish, it is France they will certainly have. They may freely choose; but it is Hobson’s choice after all.

The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‘independent nation’ of Palestine than in that of the ‘independent nation’ of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the form of asking what they are. The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

Referring to Chris Rose, Trevor Barnes continued – with noteworthy use of the word Jewish rather than Israeli:

Barnes: “His claim is that the second half of the declaration has still to be honoured. While the first half favoured a Jewish homeland, the second reassured explicitly – quote – ‘that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities’ which Chris Rose says hasn’t happened in practice, though for the Board of Deputies Richard Verber defends the Jewish record on religious freedom post-Balfour.”

Verber: “Well there are many cases in Israel proper where religions do indeed co-exist in harmony. Jerusalem has its flash-points but you go and you see Jews, Muslims, Christians, Bahai, Druze walking around. Many have their own areas and places of worship. Israel is of course the only place in the Middle East where Christians are free to worship without persecution.”

Rose: “If you live in Bethlehem you may well not be able to go up to Temple Mount to pray, to worship. If you want to go and worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre you pretty won’t be able to do that and so while yes there’s religious freedom in that respect, there has to be recognised that there’s also major constrictions on freedom of movement which restricts people from having their religious freedom.”

Unsurprisingly Chris Rose did not bother to tell listeners that residents of Bethlehem and other areas that have been under Palestinian Authority control for over two decades can apply for permits to visit religious sites in Jerusalem (among other reasons) or that “constrictions on freedom of movement” are the unfortunate outcome of Palestinian terrorism. While Trevor Barnes did tick the impartiality box by paraphrasing the Israeli view, he too failed to make any reference to Palestinian terrorism. Listeners were then told that Jewish self-determination is a “hotly contested concept”.

Barnes: “Chris Rose of the Amos Trust. For its part the Israeli government has repeatedly said that such restrictions as there are are driven solely by security concerns and by the imperative legitimately to ensure the country’s survival. And in essence, says Richard Verber, the right of Israel to exist in the first place is at the heart of any religious definition of that hotly contested concept Zionism.”

Verber: “Zionism is a religious imperative. It’s a core belief in Judaism today. The word Zionism is clearly a newer invention – we’re talking here 19th century – but the idea of there being a desire among the Jewish people to have autonomy in their own homeland dates back 3,300 years when the Jewish people first entered what was then the land of Canaan – Cna’an. I think Jewish people have long understood the importance of living alongside their religious brethren; whether that be Christian or Muslim or indeed any other stripe or people of no faith at all.”

Barnes: From its inception Zionism itself did not have the backing of all Jews – especially religious Jews who argued that a return to the land of Israel was to be the work of the Messiah and couldn’t be engineered by any human agency. Events of the Second World War and the Holocaust, however, put paid to many reservations and the promise of the Balfour Declaration was made actual in 1948. Indeed Richard Verber for the Board of Deputies argues that the founders of the State of Israel referenced the Balfour Declaration, repeating and reinforcing a commitment to civil and religious freedom. The Amos Trust, however, isn’t convinced and they’ve launched a campaign ‘Change the Record’ calling for equal rights for all in the holy land.”

Listeners then heard a recording promoting that political campaign currently being run by the inadequately presented political NGO: a campaign which aims to persuade the British government that “the seeds of today’s injustice, inequality and violence were sown by the Balfour Declaration in 1917”. 

Barnes went on to say:

Barnes: “Those celebrating – rather than mourning – the Balfour Declaration dispute that reading of events. But either way Nicolas Pelham says it changed the religious make-up not just of Palestine but of much of the Middle East.”

Pelham: “Until the Balfour declaration, under the Ottoman Empire religious communities had lived essentially as that – as holy communities – and what the Balfour Declaration does is to transform religious communities into religious national movements so that instead of sharing space they have conflict over space. Instead of having holy communities in the region, we have holy lands and the battle between sects for control of the land.”

Listeners to this unbalanced item heard inaccurate and blatantly politicised ‘history’ and were steered towards the false impression that the Middle East was a region blessed with idyllic inter-religious harmony until the day Arthur Balfour put pen to paper. They were also informed that Jewish self-determination is a “contested concept” and exposed to an ongoing political campaign run by a partisan NGO that engages in delegitimisation of Israel.

How this item by Trevor Barnes can be said to meet BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality is unclear.  

Related Articles:

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Reviewing BBC portrayal of the Balfour Declaration

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

BBC’s Connolly contorts Israeli – and British – history to fit his political narrative