BBC Travel yet again dishes up political narrative in a food item

August 3rd saw the appearance of yet another BBC Travel article belonging to the genre of ‘food as a hook for political messaging’ on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and – like the previous example – this one too was written by a freelancerMiriam Berger – rather than by BBC staff.

Titled “The Palestinian dessert few can enjoy“, nearly half of the article’s 1,037 words are devoted to political topics rather than the Middle Eastern sweet (confusingly presented in this piece with three different names: knafa, kunafa and knafe) that is supposedly its subject matter.

That becomes rather less surprising when one is aware that the quoted ‘culinary expert’ Laila el Haddad is in fact a long-time anti-Israel activist who has used food for the promotion of her political narrative in the past – including at the BBC

“Today you need a hard-to-procure permit to enter or exit Gaza. […]

“[Knafa Arabiya] reflects Gaza itself,” said Laila El-Haddad, author of The Gaza Kitchen. “It’s a more rustic dessert that’s richly spiced.”

She added, “In modern times, as it’s [Gaza] become more closed off, these flavours have become relatively unknown, even to other Palestinians.”

In fact, today most people physically can’t access the dessert. After decades of rule by the Turks, Brits and Egyptians, Israel then occupied Gaza from 1967 to 2005; two years later Hamas, a designated terror group, violently seized power from its rival, the more moderate Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank. Israel and Egypt then imposed travel and trade blockades on Gaza. Over the last nine years, Israel and Hamas have fought three devastating wars; many in Gaza have still not recovered from the last one three years ago. 

Today, Israel restricts most border crossings. At the Erez crossing in southern Israel, the only point of entry and exit for people between Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian West Bank, “Food is not permitted to be exported from Gaza for regulatory purposes,” according to Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories. Informally, however, half a kilo or a kilo of sweets – or about two big plates of Knafa Arabiya – will get through.”

Of course many countries restrict the import of foodstuffs by travellers for reasons of pest and disease control but in other locations such rules do not usually prompt half-baked politicised articles.

The writer does not bother to inform readers of the Hamas terrorism that brought about not only counter-terrorism measures in the form of border restrictions but also the “three devastating wars” she mentions. The piece goes on to give an equally context-free portrayal of the Gaza electricity crisis caused by internal Palestinian feuding.

“When I visited Abu al Saoud’s shop in July, times were tough and getting tougher. Gaza was a month deep into a severe electricity crisis that left the strip’s two million people with just two to three hours of power a day – down from only eight hours in the months before. The lucky ones, like Abu al Saoud, can keep lights on longer with generators. Even at just five shekels per slice – the same price as in Nablus – the knafe is unaffordable for many in Gaza, which has some of the highest unemployment in the world.”

As we see, BBC Travel’s promotion of sub-text political messaging in ‘life-style’ articles that potentially reach audiences less familiar with the political ins and outs of the Middle East continues.

Related Articles:

BBC Travel politicises food to promote a narrative

LA Times, Gaza Kitchen Cooking Up Falsehoods  (CAMERA)  

A fishy tale of literary promotion by the BBC

 

BBC Travel politicises food to promote a narrative

Visitors to the BBC News and BBC Travel websites on June 14th were no doubt rather surprised to learn that “…you can’t get Jewish food in Israel”.

The article to which that link leads is headlined “Why isn’t there more ‘Jewish food’ in Israel?” and its by-line makes the unsupported claim that:

“One of the biggest shocks for many foreign visitors to Israel is the lack of familiar Jewish cuisine.” 

The article’s Jerusalem-based Canadian writers Sarah Treleaven and Jamie Levin are not BBC journalists: the duo have published jointly written articles relating to Israel at various outlets in the past.

The article promotes two main notions – the first being that ‘Jewish food’ is of one particular genre.

“One of the biggest shocks for many foreign visitors to Israel is the lack of familiar Jewish cuisine. Where are the smoked salmon, bagels and cream cheese at breakfast? What about the delis that define Jewish cuisine from Montreal to Los Angeles? Or the kugel (a casserole made from egg noodles or potato), gefilte fish (an appetizer made from poached fish) and matzoh ball soup served at Jewish tables around the world?”

Traditional Sephardi and Mizrachi Jewish cuisine barely gets a mention.

“Later, as Jewish immigrants from Morocco to Ethiopia began piling in, each with their own unique style of cooking, the creation a national cuisine became ever more important.”

However, the ethnocentric writers apparently do not consider that cuisine to be ‘Jewish food’.

“In recent years, Israelis have developed a more diversified palate, with Thai and Mexican restaurants easy to find on the streets of Tel Aviv. Still, Jewish food remains scarce.”

But the main point of this article is promotion of the notion that European Jewish ‘settlers’ deliberately co-opted ‘indigenous Palestinian’ food. [emphasis added]

“The early Zionists eagerly adopted Palestinian dishes, such as falafel, hummus, and shawarma, while in recent years Israelis have developed a more diversified palate. Still, ‘Jewish food’ remains scarce. But very few visitors know the reasons behind the dearth of it in Israel: despite the fact that the early settlers were mostly Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, they forsook traditional Jewish food both because of scarcity but also in deliberate service to the formation of a new national narrative.”

“Early adherents to the Zionist project, committed to creating a Jewish state in the territory now known as Israel, sought to abandon vestiges of their past. Just as the European settlers favoured Hebrew over Yiddish and khakis over frock coats and homburgs, they also purposefully chose to eat indigenous foods over Ashkenazi ones.” 

The adoption of indigenous food lent the early European implants an air of authenticity. The production of local ingredients – the things that grew well in the desert and along the Mediterranean coastline, and the many dishes adapted from Arab kitchens – became part of the Zionist narrative.”

Shawarma is of course Turkish in origin and some consider falafel to have been invented by Egyptian Copts and hummus to also have originated in Egypt. Regardless of their actual origins, to describe those foods as “Palestinian dishes” is inaccurate.

But of course the purpose of that inaccuracy is to serve a transparent attempt to promote a blatantly politicised narrative of ‘indigenous’ Palestinians and “European implants” – and obviously BBC Travel had no problem with that. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Travel still having trouble locating Acco

Back in May 2016 the BBC News website published an article by BBC Travel about the Knights Templar which included a geographical error.

“By that point, the knights were no longer needed as crusaders. Their military stronghold of Acre, in present-day Syria, had fallen in 1291. The knights were still engaging in smaller-scale raids, but the Crusades had effectively ended – and, for the Church, had not ended well.” [emphasis added]

Several days after publication, that inaccuracy was corrected and Acco (Acre) was accurately described in the body of the article as being located in “present-day Israel”.

The same article was republished on the BBC News website on January 3rd but it still includes an inaccurate footnote added after that correction was made nearly eight months ago.

footnote-templars-art

To get from Acco to the border with Lebanon one has to drive for about half an hour and to get to the border with Syria – right across the other side of the country – takes at least an hour and a half by car. In order to be “near the borders of Lebanon and Syria”, Acco would have to be located in the Upper Galilee – over 80 kms from its actual location.

map-acco

Clearly BBC Travel’s geographical knowledge still leaves much to be desired.    

 

BBC Travel’s basic geography fail

h/t @jasonlax

On May 13th the BBC website’s ‘Travel’ section published an article by Amanda Ruggeri – editor of the ‘BBC Britain’ website – which was also promoted on the BBC News site.

Titled “The hidden world of the Knights Templar“, the article is described as follows:

“Tucked behind London’s Fleet Street, a patchwork of gardens and graceful buildings tell the story of the most famous knights of the Crusades.”

SONY DSC

Acco – Israel

Unfortunately, that interesting piece is marred by a rather basic geographical inaccuracy:

“By that point, the knights were no longer needed as crusaders. Their military stronghold of Acre, in present-day Syria, had fallen in 1291. The knights were still engaging in smaller-scale raids, but the Crusades had effectively ended – and, for the Church, had not ended well.” [emphasis added]

Acre (Acco), with its beautifully restored Crusader buildings is of course located in northern Israel.

Update, 18/5/16:

BBC Travel has now corrected the inaccuracy.

Before:

Acre in Syria before

After:

correction Acre

 

BBC Travel article on Israeli Druze

An article from the BBC Travel section recently promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page will not do what it says on the tin.

Druze BBC Travel

No, readers will not “discover the secrets of the Druze” by reading Dan Savery Raz’s article titled “Israel’s forgotten tribe“, but it is nevertheless well worth the read and the author is to be commended for having avoided the inaccuracies all too frequently promoted by many journalists when writing about the Druze. 

Related articles:

Postcard from Israel – Kal’at Nimrod

BBC travel writer consistently accurate and impartial

Guardian misleads on Israeli Druze, part 1: False claims