Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, much of the first half of the BBC Two commissioned ‘documentary’ titled ‘Alternativity’ which was aired on December 17th presented audiences with an overwhelmingly one-sided portrayal of Israel’s anti-terrorist fence.

The only explanation of why the structure had to be constructed came nearly a quarter of the way into the programme in the grand total of twenty-seven words from Danny Boyle. Viewers saw no images of any of the dozens of suicide bombings which brought about public demand for that counter-terrorism measure and did not hear from even one Israeli whose life was affected by Palestinian terrorism.

That first part of the programme also focused on the Bethlehem area, although interestingly – given the film’s declared subject matter – the problems facing Christians in that city and the sharp decline in their numbers since the PA took control of Bethlehem were not among the topics addressed. At 22:07 narrator Olivia Colman set the scene as Danny Boyle was taken to another location.

Colman: “Bethlehem has the largest Christian population in the occupied Palestinian territories. But the nativity isn’t just a Christian story and Danny’s nativity needs to be relevant to all so he’s visiting the mainly Muslim city of Hebron. Peace talks in the mid ’90s carved the West Bank up into areas A, B and C under Palestinian, combined and Israeli control respectively. But Hebron is especially contested with Jewish settlers occupying specific streets and sometimes specific houses. Here, the heavily defended settlers come and go as they please. But Danny’s guides – Fadi, a Christian and Saeed, a Muslim – are both Palestinians. And neither of them are allowed into the parts of Hebron claimed by the settlers.”

Obviously no viewer lacking background knowledge on Hebron (i.e. the majority) would understand from that ‘explanation’ that the agreement concerning that city signed by Israel and the Palestinians almost twenty-one years ago divided it into two parts: H1 – under Palestinian control – and the smaller H2 – under Israeli control. Not only does this programme fail to explain that the presence of Jews in Hebron is the result of that agreement, but the history of Jews in Hebron – including the fateful 1929 pogrom by Arabs – is completely erased.

At 23:15 viewers see Boyle on a street in H2 on what we later learn is Shabbat – Saturday.

Boyle: “It’s like a ghost town, isn’t it? It’s like a Western, isn’t it? It’s like a showdown or something. It’s crazy to think like that but it makes you feel like that, doesn’t it?”

Having later come across a family out walking, Boyle – clearly no firearms expert – tells viewers:

Boyle: “So that’s extraordinary to see a man out walking peacefully on the Sabbath with his wife and his child in a buggy and he’s got a AK47 [sic] or whatever the machine gun [sic] is…it’s a machine gun [sic]. So his statement that he’s making about what he expects to find, to protect his family – which is a natural instinct – is terrifying really.”

Boyle does not however bother to give viewers any idea of the scale of terror attacks in that area either in the past or in recent months. Standing on Emek Hevron street, Boyle then (22:40) presents pure conjecture as ‘fact’.

Boyle: “And the Star of David on the doorways which is declaring that obviously the…that in these circumstances, declaring that this is…this will become a settlement home…is shockingly reminiscent of something we all…one of the worst horrors of the world. That’s a bit mind-boggling.”

BBC Watch contacted a resident of that area and was informed that the Stars of David painted on those buildings are actually graffiti painted by unknown parties. Additional examples of graffiti on the same street can be seen in the photographs here on the right. 

The doorways mentioned by Boyle are in fact entrances to small Arab market shops that were closed during the second Intifada due to Palestinian violence. Not only are those shops unsuitable for conversion into “a settlement home” – they have never even been considered for that purpose.

As we see, therefore, Danny Boyle – who earlier on in the programme admitted that the nearest he had previously ever been to the region was Majorca – has (presumably with a bit of help from his ‘guides’) let his imagination run wild – and presented his own uninformed assumptions as fact.

Moreover, he appears to be making an oblique reference to Nazi confiscation of Jewish property – an analogy that would be considered antisemitic according to the IHRA working definition adopted by the British government.

Again failing to provide crucial context, the narrator subsequently tells viewers that: “Not all of Hebron has been settled”.

Later on in the film viewers see footage of preparations for the Balfour Declaration centenary ‘street party’ at the Walled Off hotel that was generously covered by the BBC at the time. That segment includes the following statement from the hotel manager:

Salsaa: “This [the Balfour Declaration] is the origin of the modern conflict in the Middle East. Millions became refugees, thousands died and hundreds of thousands suffered because of this.”

At 33:11 the narrator tells viewers that:

Colman: “Most Jewish settlers live in fortified settlements accessible by Israeli-only roads.”

That claim is of course inaccurate and misleading: there are no restrictions whatsoever on the roads leading to the vast majority of communities in Judea and Samaria. She goes on:

Colman: “There are virtually no Jewish people in Bethlehem and Israeli citizens are warned that entering any part of the city is dangerous.”

Boyle then further displays the level of his ‘regional expertise’, telling BBC Two viewers (33:31) that Israelis and Palestinians are “the same nation”.

Boyle: “It’s very difficult, clearly. Certainly I think that one of Banksy’s purposes is to try and illuminate that actually, although this is the same nation, the chances to interact are reduced so enormously by this wall and everything that comes with this wall. So that kind of division means that it’s very, very difficult to get Israelis to come and visit openly and certainly obviously to speak on camera about it. So that’s a big, big problem that we have.”

Needless to say, that problem was not overcome: viewers of this hour-long programme did not hear even one Israeli view.

In a segment of the film about the children participating in the nativity play (in which it is implied that parents might not want their children to take part because of the ‘risk’ of them being shot by the IDF), viewers see a seven year-old child presented only as Sofia and are told that “her father got arrested two days ago”. The narrator then informs BBC audiences (43:07) that all of Israel is “occupied” land and reinforces the previously promoted inaccurate notion that ‘millions’ of Palestinians became refugees in 1948.

Colman: “Over a million Palestinians live in camps which they were settled in when their lands were occupied after 1948. It’s been alleged that Sofia’s father leads the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Dheisheh camp where her family lives.”

Viewers are not informed that the PFLP is a terrorist organisation and although Sofia’s mother is seen giving her tearful account of her husband’s arrest and the story is promoted again later in the film, the mother is not named and so the story remains unverifiable.

It is blatantly obvious that the aim of this BBC commissioned film was not – as BBC Two’s controller claimed in the PR – to present “a challenging and provocative exploration” of the nativity story. Rather, the seasonally relevant topic of Christmas was merely a hook upon which to hang an hour of serially inaccurate and politically biased amplification of an anti-Israel narrative, made all the more attractive to British audiences by the inclusion of ‘national treasure’ names such as Banksy, Olivia Colman and Danny Boyle.

The methodology behind this film can in fact be summed up by one of its scenes (from 34:15) in which an unnamed woman with a British accent who is helping organise Banksy’s Balfour Declaration ‘street party’ agitprop tells the camera that:

“The global news outlets will pick this up a) because it’s Banksy b) because it’s Palestine. People love stunts. They love big, brash stunts. They love it!”

And indeed a big, brash star-studded stunt is exactly what the BBC’s funding public paid for in this BBC collaboration with the agitprop of an anonymous political activist. What they did not get, however, was anything resembling an accurate and impartial programme that would contribute to their understanding of the complex topics that are the components of this story – including that of the issues facing Christians living under Palestinian Authority rule.

Related Articles:

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

A BBC Two commission and the politicisation of Christmas

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

Multiplatform BBC amplification for anti-Israel ‘political statement’ PR campaign

BBC inaccurately promotes Banksy propaganda as a ‘documentary’

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Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

As may have been expected, the BBC Two commissioned programme ‘Alternativity’ that was aired on December 17th did not – as claimed by the station’s controller Patrick Holland – present “a challenging and provocative exploration” of the nativity story at all. Rather, most of that hour-long programme was devoted to context-lite, one-sided political messaging promoted primarily by both its narrator (actress Olivia Colman) and its main character Danny Boyle.

The real ‘star’ of this exercise in the manipulation of Christmas was however the anti-terrorist fence – and although well over 90% of that structure is built of wire mesh, viewers were never informed of that fact and only saw images of the sections constructed from concrete.

The film opens with a description of its main location – Bethlehem – which has of course been under complete Palestinian Authority control for the last 22 years: a fact that was erased from the entire programme. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Colman: “This is Bethlehem: world capital of the international Jesus Christ birthday business. This year Bethlehem became home to a unique hotel. Billed as having the worst view in the world, Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel sits under the gaze of an Israeli watchtower in the occupied Palestinian territories. The place where Christmas was invented now feels like a city under siege and in need of some serious festive cheer. This is the story of what happened when Banksy asked a world-famous movie director to come all the way to the little town of Bethlehem to put on a nativity play like no other in what was once the most Christmassy place on earth.”

A siege is defined as “a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender”. Bethlehem of course does not fit that definition. As we see, the BBC commissioned programme uses the term “occupied Palestinian territories” to describe an area that has been under complete PA control for over two decades.

Later on (04:56) that term is also used to describe areas that – under the terms of the Oslo Accords – the status of which is to be determined through negotiation and are therefore not at this time “Palestinian”.

Colman: “There are no international airports in the West Bank. Tourists fly to Tel Aviv in Israel. From there, Bethlehem is only an hour away by car. But the journey means crossing through a 400 mile long heavily fortified separation barrier into the occupied Palestinian territories. Inside this enclosed region movement is restricted. And most Palestinians are not allowed to leave without permits. It’s a small step for Danny but a huge leap into a very different reality.”

The messaging is reinforced by Boyle’s own comments.

Boyle: “And there’s the wall. Wow! Yeah. Look at that.” […] “Wow! Look at the wall. The wall’s extraordinary, isn’t it? You’ve no idea how…they’re like kind of…it’s like nails driven into the ground. It’s like…you just imagine something different really. It’s so crude and brutal.”

From 11:46 viewers hear the narrator introduce another scene.

Colman: “Fadi – a local guide – is taking Danny to experience Bethlehem’s version of the rush hour at 5 a.m. when thousands of labourers queue to get to work on the other side in Israel.”

She subsequently (12:20) promotes several highly partisan and questionable claims:

Colman: “The separation barrier and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land have sliced through communities, separating neighbours. Thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land and although the exact boundaries are hotly disputed, many have been evicted and are now on black-lists banning them from entering Israel, meaning they are unable to travel for work. One of these is Amin. Imprisoned as a teenager, he now makes his living selling refreshments to the workers.”

Viewers then hear an unverifiable account from a person identified as Amin Jebrein but are not told that gates in the anti-terrorist fence allow farmers access to their crops, that land owners receive compensation for any land used for the fence’s construction or that they have the legal right of appeal.

Jebrein: “They came to my land and they put a fence before my land and they take all my land inside the wall. They take me to the prison and I stay for one year because I am terrorist because I fight them, you know. And I lost my land, lost my life, lost my study. But I hope next year when you come that this will have gone>”

Boyle: “No wall”.

Jeberin: “Inshallah.”

Boyle: “Inshallah.”

Boyle goes on:

Boyle: “You can see the guys going to work. You know, it’s almost like their heads were down so they didn’t see the indignity they were having to go through to pass through this thing.”

Viewers then see Boyle compare the anti-terrorist fence to the Berlin Wall, claiming that it is “double the height” and “so tall compared to that” but with no mention made of the fact that the height of the concrete sections is specifically intended to thwart sniper attacks.

Only nearly a quarter of a way into this programme (at 14:24) and long after the scene has already been amply set, do viewers hear the first – and last – brief mention of why the anti-terrorist fence had to be built.

Boyle: “Obviously reading history and the background, obviously the wall was a response to suicide bombings and shocking acts of terror, really, where innocent people were blown up and a nation clearly reacts in an incredibly aggressive and dominant way to a force that they feel threatens them. So I can understand – although I personally don’t…it’s not a solution that I think works ultimately – nor as I think it is a solution that is fair for any nation to impose upon itself or a community within itself. I find that very, very, very difficult.”

Referring to the part of the nativity story in which Joseph has to go to Bethlehem for a census, Boyle then compares that journey to those of the Palestinian workers just featured, making no mention of Joseph’s religion and ethnicity or the fact that Bethlehem was a Jewish town at the time.

At 17:24 viewers hear an inaccurate – and contradictory – statement:

Colman: “The Church of the Nativity [in Bethlehem] might be cut off from the world by walls and watchtowers but it still gets over a million tourists a year.”

Later on (20:45) another entirely unsupported and evidence free claim is made:

Colman: “The olive tree is hugely important to Palestinian culture but thousands of families have seen their olive groves enclosed by the wall and uprooted.”

The programme’s focus then turns to another location and that will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

A BBC Two commission and the politicisation of Christmas

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

Multiplatform BBC amplification for anti-Israel ‘political statement’ PR campaign

BBC inaccurately promotes Banksy propaganda as a ‘documentary’

A BBC Two commission and the politicisation of Christmas

h/t LV, BF

Over the years we have often seen BBC produced content in which the Christmas season was exploited for the promotion of a chosen politicised narrative and this year, it transpires, will be no exception.

On December 17th at 21:00 BBC Two will screen an hour-long programme titled “Alternativity” which combines the Christmas theme with a much promoted BBC favourite – Banksy.

“This exciting arts documentary film offers an alternative take on the nativity story. The unique, hour-long film follows the production of a contemporary one-off performance of the nativity play quite unlike any other.”

The BBC News website informs us that:

“Director Danny Boyle has teamed up with Banksy to stage an alternative nativity play at the artist’s Bethlehem hotel.

The Alternativity was staged in the car park of the artist’s Walled Off Hotel in the occupied West Bank. The process was filmed for a BBC Two documentary. […]

BBC Two controller Patrick Holland said the programme would show “a challenging and provocative” version of the story. […]

Patrick Holland said: “It is brilliant for BBC Two to be working with Danny Boyle, Banksy and the creative team who together are making this alternative nativity.

“It promises to be a challenging and provocative exploration of a story that speaks to young and old alike.””

Readers are also told that:

“Banksy created a promotional image for the documentary showing a drone watching over the nativity scene.

He also put up two new artworks ahead of the event. One said “Peace on Earth” next to a twinkling star, which doubled as an asterisk. Below was the same asterisk and the words “Terms and conditions apply”.

The other artwork was painted on the wall and showed two cherubic angels trying to prise two panels apart with a crowbar.”

The article employs a formula frequently evident in BBC content: the anti-terrorist fence – constructed after hundreds of Israelis were murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers – is described as “controversial”, but no mention whatsoever is made of the terrorism that caused it to be built.

“The anonymous street artist opened The Walled Off Hotel in March, boasting the “worst view in the world” – next to the controversial barrier Israel has built in and around the West Bank.”

While in the past we have witnessed the BBC repeatedly providing uncritical PR for Banksy’s anti-Israel agitprop, we now see that the corporation has elected to take an active role in the promotion of such politically motivated propaganda by using licence fee funding to commission this ‘documentary’.  

Can readers recall any other examples of public funds being used by the ‘impartial’ BBC to amplify a political activist’s delegitimisation of a particular country?

Related Articles:

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

Multiplatform BBC amplification for anti-Israel ‘political statement’ PR campaign

BBC inaccurately promotes Banksy propaganda as a ‘documentary’

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC has published a paper titled “The Collapse of the Islamic State: What Comes Next?“.

“Will ISIS continue to exist after the collapse of the Islamic State? In ITIC assessment, ISIS will exist but will change its character and the modus operandi of its activities. It will change from an organization which controlled extensive territories and administrated the local inhabitants to what it was before, that is, a terrorist guerrilla organization unconnected to a territorial base. Once it collapses, in all probability ISIS will reorganize, applying lessons learned from the failure of the establishment of the Islamic State. During that time the organization will try to continue carrying out terrorist-guerrilla attacks and eventually to upgrade them to prove it still exists as a leading jihadist organization. Its main targets will probably be the Iraqi army, the Syrian army, the Russian and American presences in Syria and Iraq, and governmental targets in Iraq and Syria, Shi’ite-Alawite targets and targets affiliated Iran and Hezbollah in Syria and Iraq.”

2) Jonathan Schanzer discusses the US president’s announcement concerning Jerusalem.

“…Trump’s announcement is, at its core, a bureaucratic one. He will move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in recognition of the indisputable fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Jerusalem is home to the prime minister’s office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Knesset (legislature), and the Supreme Court, to name a few. So it makes sense that Jerusalem is where the majority of America’s diplomatic activity in Israel will take place once the move is made.

What’s more, the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was not really Trump’s to make. It’s already enshrined in a 1995 law that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Successive presidents have issued waivers to postpone the embassy move. But that does not negate the official American view of the city and its relationship to the Jewish state.”

3) Michael Totten also comments on the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital for a basic and incontrovertible reason. With the single exception of the Ministry of Defense, it’s where Israel’s government buildings are located. That, and nothing else, is what makes a nation’s capital its capital. And as Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) said on CNN Wednesday, “a sovereign nation has the right to choose its capital.” No nation on earth—not the United States nor any other—has the right to deny another nation its capital. One may wish that Israel’s government buildings were located in Tel Aviv—or, in Hamas’ case, nowhere at all—but they aren’t. They’re in Jerusalem. […]

Whatever happens to East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem is not going anywhere. It’s Israeli—period—and everyone knows it, including the Palestinian Authority and the Arab states even if they’re too afraid of their own extremists to say so in public.”

4) Douglas Murray discusses one example from the BBC’s ample coverage of the Jerusalem story.

“The reaction around the world in recent days has been a reminder of the one central truth of the whole conflict. Those who cannot accept that Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel tend to be exactly the same as those who cannot accept the State of Israel. Consider the expert whom the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Newsnight chose to bring on to receive soft-ball questions on this issue. Dr. Ghada Karmi, from the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, a notorious opponent of Israel, was inevitably given the sort of respectful interview style that Newsnight presenters generally reserve for when they are interviewing Madonna or some other mega-star they cannot believe their luck at having gotten to speak with. […]

Ghada Karmi was not challenged on the claim that the Israelis were about to take over any and all Islamic holy places (to do what?), but Ambassador Regev’s suggestion that the State of Israel already has its Parliament, Supreme Court and every wing of government in Jerusalem, and that Jerusalem might just be Israel’s capital, was treated as though it were the most inflammatory nonsense the BBC had ever heard.”

 

An overview of BBC coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary

On October 24th 2017 the PLO’s negotiations affairs department put out a document titled “A Century of Injustice: Q and A on Palestine and the Balfour Declaration”. As well as the theme of ‘injustice’ promoted in its title, the document promotes additional messaging aimed at advancing the PLO’s narrative by portraying the Balfour Declaration as:

  • a ‘colonialist’ act that brought about the ‘colonisation’ of Palestine.
  • a ‘promise’ Britain had no right to make and for which it has not assumed responsibility.
  • ignoring the existence of an Arab majority in Palestine at the time and violating their right to self-determination.
  • having caused the Palestinian refugee issue termed the ‘Nakba’.
  • having brought about a situation in which there is allegedly one state (Israel) with two separate systems and no equal rights for non-Jews.
  • a document Britain is wrong to celebrate and for which it must atone by recognising a Palestinian state and taking a stand against ‘settlements’.

There is of course nothing new about those talking points; as PMW director Itamar Marcus has explained, they have been promoted by the Palestinian Authority for years.

“For the PA, the Balfour Declaration is a necessary component of the Palestinian narrative. The two foundations of Palestinian ideology, both fictitious, are that a Palestinian nation existed for thousands of years and that there never had been a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. But this left one problem: The PA needed to explain to its people why millions of Jews had immigrated from Europe and all over the world, if they had no connection to the land.

The PA’s answer is colonialism, and Balfour is the “proof.”

According to the PA’s adjusted narrative, Balfour and Britain’s support were not one step in the growing Zionist movement, but the beginning of all Jewish history in the land. […]

Defining Israel as a European colony is a fundamental and essential component of PA myth-building, and has been part of the PA narrative since the early years of the PA. […]

In honor of the 100th anniversary of this important document, the PA decided to make the Balfour Declaration and denial of Israel’s right to exist its primary messaging this year.

Mahmoud Abbas is taking the lead with public statements such as: “It must be emphasized that the historical injustice that was caused to our people, and which continues to accumulate, began in fact with the ominous Balfour Promise. Therefore, we call on the government of Britain to bear its historical and moral responsibility and not mark and celebrate the 100th anniversary of this invalid promise. Instead, it must submit an apology to our Palestinian people…””

Between October 1st and November 2nd 2017 the BBC broadcast and published remarkably generous coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary on its various platforms that included the following:

1) October 1st, BBC Radio 4, ‘Sunday’:

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

2) October 8th, BBC Radio Wales, ‘All Things Considered’:

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part two

3) October 28th, BBC Radio 4, ‘The Week in Westminster’:

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

4) October 31st, BBC Two, “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land”, Jane Corbin:

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

5) October 31st, BBC News website, “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“, Jane Corbin:

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

6) November 1st, BBC News website, “Balfour Declaration: Banksy holds ‘apology’ party for Palestinians”:

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

7) November 1st, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’, Yolande Knell:

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

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

8) November 2nd, BBC News website, “Balfour Declaration: The divisive legacy of 67 words“, Yolande Knell:

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

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

9) November 2nd, BBC News website and BBC television, “‘Er… Sorry’: Banksy’s new West Bank work”:

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

10) November 2nd, BBC News website and BBC television, “Palestinians call for Balfour Declaration apology”, Tom Bateman:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

11) November 2nd, BBC News website and BBC television, “Balfour Declaration: 100 years of conflict”, Yolande Knell:

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

12) November 2nd, BBC News website, “Balfour Declaration: Theresa May hosts Israeli PM for centenary“:

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

13) November 2nd, BBC Radio 4, ‘Today’:

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

14) November 2nd, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’:

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

Most of that BBC content adopted and amplified PLO framing of the Balfour Declaration as an ‘injustice’ and advanced the notion that Britain should apologise for the century-old document.

Only five items out of the fourteen accurately informed BBC audiences that the Balfour Declaration’s ‘second part’ – which was for the most part presented as being ‘incomplete’ and ‘unfinished business’ – specifically refers to the “civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities” rather than, as was inaccurately claimed in the rest of the content, rights in general.

With the exception of two of the items, the fact that the vast majority of the Palestinians living in Judea & Samaria and the Gaza Strip do so under Palestinian rule and hence have political rights under that system was erased from audience view.

The narrative of the Balfour Declaration as ‘colonialism’ and an act that Britain had no right to carry out was repeatedly advanced in many of these items, as was the claim that the British government should take a stand against ‘settlements’. The anti-Israel BDS campaign was promoted in two of the items.

The notion that Palestinians were ‘dispossessed’ of ‘their land’ by the Balfour Declaration and that the document was the cause of the ‘Nakba’ was repeatedly promoted in many of these reports. In four of the items BBC audiences were given inaccurate portrayals of the McMahon correspondence and the false notion that the land assigned to creation of a homeland for the Jewish people had already been promised to the Arabs by the British was promoted.

In only one item did BBC audiences hear a reference (not from a BBC journalist) to the significance of Jordan as a location in which the political rights of Arab communities in the area known as Palestine at the time were fulfilled. The part of the Balfour Declaration safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” was erased from BBC coverage, along with the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands.

Sadly for the BBC’s reputation as an ‘impartial’ media organisation, it is all too obvious that the editorial approach adopted throughout the corporation’s remarkably generous coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary bears an uncanny resemblance to the PLO’s political narrative concerning that topic.

 

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

In part one of this post we began looking at two contributions from Jane Corbin to the BBC’s extensive Balfour Declaration centenary coverage: a filmed programme first aired on BBC Two on October 31st under the title “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land” (available for a limited period of time in the UK here, transcript here) and a written article that appeared on the same day in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“.

While both reports repeated themes seen in additional BBC coverage such as incomplete presentation of the entire text of Arthur Balfour’s letter, on the other hand they did present audiences with a very rare glimpse of the grave consequences of British restrictions on Jewish immigration.

Filmed: “In 1939, the British Government bowed to the pressure of the Arab revolt, drastically restricting Jewish immigration. The immediate consequences were to be disastrous for the Jews. The timing could not have been worse. Hitler’s Final Solution was soon to come into devastating effect.”

Written: “Leo was bitterly disappointed at the British cap on Jewish immigration and I visited Atlit, one of the British internment camps, with 80-year-old Rabbi Meir Lau. He spent two weeks here when he arrived in Palestine as an eight-year-old survivor of Buchenwald extermination camp. Many other refugees were turned back – to Europe.

“It was against humanity after six years of horror,” he said, shaking his head in sorrow as we walked along the rusty barbed wire fences. “Where was the nation of the United Kingdom then? Lord Balfour would not have believed it.””

Both reports informed audiences of the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 Partition Plan but in the filmed report Corbin provided a debatable motive for the ensuing attacks by Arab states.

Filmed: “…but the Arabs would not sign up to the UN plan. All-out war followed, as Arab armies from neighbouring countries invaded in support of the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

In her written report Corbin presented a whitewashed portrayal of events:

Written: “But Arab countries refused to sign up to the UN’s plan and, in the violence on both sides that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to flee the new State of Israel.” [emphasis added]

Corbin’s filmed report inaccurately portrayed the PLO as having begun its life as a terrorist organisation after – and because of – the Six Day War rather than three years before any ‘occupation’ existed. 

Filmed: “The occupation sparked an armed struggle by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, under its leader, Yasser Arafat. Exiled from Palestine, the PLO carried out hijackings and bombings on the international stage. They killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Israel sent hit squads to hunt down those responsible.”

Equally inaccurate was her portrayal of the Western Wall:

Filmed: “Israel insists that Jerusalem, the site of their holiest place, the Western Wall of the temple, must be their eternal undivided capital.” [emphasis added]

Her description of the al Aqsa Mosque was no less misleading:

Filmed: “The great mosques of Islam are here, too…”

Corbin presented a highly simplistic portrayal of the failure of the Oslo peace process to achieve its aim which refrained from adequately clarifying that negotiations continued after Rabin’s death and completely airbrushed the Palestinian Authority initiated second Intifada out of the picture.

Filmed: “Despite the hopes, the peace deal was quick to unravel, under pressure from extremists on both sides. The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas rejected the peace deal and set out to undermine it by bombing Israeli buses. And Yasser Arafat’s security forces failed to prevent the attacks. […]

 Two years after the agreement, a Jewish extremist opposed to giving up land for peace, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. […]

The Oslo Accords are the closest I’ve ever known to the kind of peaceful ideal that Balfour and Leo Amery had for Palestine. But for me, despite the progress made, the death of Yitzhak Rabin spelled the end of the Oslo peace process…”

Written: “The optimism created by the historic handshake on the White House lawn between the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was shattered when a Jewish extremist assassinated Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s chairman Yasser Arafat failed to stop suicide bombings launched by the Islamist extremist group Hamas.”

In typical BBC form, Corbin amplified Palestinian messaging by telling viewers of the filmed report that there is one prime “barrier to peace”: Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

Filmed: “Well, it may not look much but I’m actually now crossing over from Israel into the West Bank where the Palestinians live. And here, an even greater barrier to any peace deal has emerged: Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. Since Oslo, Israel has more than tripled the number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There are now more than 500,000 Israelis living in around 140 settlements. Heading north, I’m on my way to an Orthodox Jewish settlement called Tappuah. The international community considers all Israeli settlements illegal. It’s very different today than when I first came on the West Bank 30 years ago. So many more Israeli settlements on all the hills around and so many more Israeli settlers.”

While viewers of the filmed report got some insight into the issue of Hamas’ refusal to “ever recognise Israel’s right to exist” based on their conviction that Israel is “Arab” and “Islamic” land, readers of the written report saw nothing at all on that topic.

Corbin’s take-away messaging in both reports, however, completely ignored the uncompromising approach of Hamas and additional Palestinian factions as she promoted a narrative of equivalent blame for the absence of peace that completely failed to address the century-long key issue of the basic Arab refusal to accept Jewish self-determination in the region.

Filmed: “I do believe that Leo Amery was right when he thought violence wasn’t inevitable here. It resulted from the wrong political decisions. And I think that still holds true today.  For me, what’s needed is the kind of vision that Oslo brought. Strong and inspired leadership, a leap of faith on both sides. And without that, there’s a danger that time is running out. The bloodshed and intransigence will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”

Written: “Was Leo’s vision that Jews and Arabs could live and prosper together in peace doomed to failure and was violence inevitable? These were the questions I wanted to answer when I came to Israel again this time. […]

Leo never thought violence was inevitable here. He believed it was the result of wrong political decisions and the bloody and unpredictable events of history – as I discovered myself after the Oslo peace agreement.

Now there is a danger that extremism and intransigence on both sides will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”

Like most of the rest of the BBC’s Balfour Declaration centenary coverage, these two reports by Corbin promoted the narrative that implementation of that declaration was incomplete. In the filmed report Corbin even went so far as to describe its intention as “[t]he Balfour vision of Arabs and Jews living together in the same country”.

While the Balfour Declaration’s commitment to the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people was eventually realised (some might say despite the best efforts of the British mandate), Corbin made no reference at all in either of her reports to the fact that part of the territory originally assigned to that purpose was subsequently made over by the British (with League of Nations approval) to the creation of the Arab state known today as Jordan.

Another very significant omission in both of Corbin’s reports – particularly in light of her repeated references to Palestinian refugees – is the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands: people whose rights were also supposedly safeguarded by the Balfour Declaration but whose existence and story has barely been acknowledged in the BBC’s coverage of this centenary.

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BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

 

 

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

The BBC’s extensive Balfour Declaration centenary coverage included two contributions from Jane Corbin: a filmed programme first aired on BBC Two on October 31st under the title “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land” (available for a limited period of time in the UK here, transcript here) and a written article that appeared on the same day in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“.

Both of those reports opened with promotion of a theme often seen in BBC content: the exaggerated notion of the Arab-Israeli conflict as the world’s prime dispute.

Filmed: “100 years ago, a British promise – just a few words in a letter – lit a fire in the Holy Land. The Balfour Declaration ignited one of the most bitter and intractable struggles of modern times: the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Written: “One hundred years ago, only 67 words on a single sheet of paper lit a fire in the Holy Land, igniting the most intractable conflict of modern times.” [emphasis added]

Very early on, both reports also included promotion of Palestinian talking points concerning the Balfour Declaration.

Filmed: (synopsis) “But the Palestinians and many Arabs will greet the centenary with protest and bitter accusations – they still hold Britain responsible for a century of injustice, and conflict in the Holy Land.”

Written: “While many Israelis believe it was the foundation stone of modern Israel and the salvation of the Jews, many Palestinians regard it as a betrayal.”

As has been the case across the board in the BBC’s coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary, both Corbin’s reports focused audience attentions on one particular part of the text. Coincidentally or not, it is that section of the text that has also been the focus of anti-Israel campaigners’ Balfour related propaganda.

Filmed: “Leo Amery added a sentence. ‘Nothing should be done’ he wrote, ‘which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities’. The line was intended as a safeguard for the majority population in Palestine – the Arabs. But they would interpret it as anything but.”

Written: “My mother, Olive Amery, told me stories when I was a child about this relative – a British politician involved in the drafting of the declaration. He added a sentence intended to safeguard the civil and religious rights of the majority population, the Palestinian Arabs.”

While Corbin did accurately portray that part of the letter’s text as referring to “civil and religious rights” (rather than ‘rights’ in general, as seen in much other BBC content), nowhere in either of her reports were BBC audiences told of the part of that same sentence likewise intended to safeguard “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

In her filmed report Corbin revisited a previous interviewee.

Filmed: Corbin: “Most Palestinians have certainly failed to reap the benefits of Israel’s success. Their living standards are far lower. There’s a crisis in their economy and public finances. It all stems, many Palestinians believe, from the unfair hand that Britain dealt them 100 years ago. I first met Jawad Siyam, a Palestinian activist, seven years ago, protesting against the takeover by some Israelis of a building in an Arab area of Jerusalem. For Jawad, his battle over the land today is a continuation of the struggles of his grandparents.”

Corbin did indeed meet Siyam in 2010 when he appeared in her highly problematic Panorama programme “A Walk in the Park” in which audiences heard him claim that:

“They are demolishing the houses because they want to. It’s ethnic cleansing for Silwan, for east Jerusalem. … It’s the most racist state in the world, you see. See this state? It’s the most racist state in the world. [To Israeli police:] You are the most racist people in the world!”

Since then Siyam has been featured in BBC content on at least two additional occasions but in this latest film by Corbin , beyond the tepid description “activist”, nothing was done to inform audiences of the nature of his political activities and his agenda – as required by BBC Editorial guidelines on impartiality.

In both reports Corbin visited Lifta.

Filmed: “In the violence, and after attacks by Jewish forces, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, whose homes lay within the new state of Israel, fled or were forced to flee. The village of Lifta, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, was abandoned. Lifta has lain empty for nearly 70 years. Palestinians have never been allowed to return to live here. But, every year they come back with their children and grandchildren to remember.

Written: “One of the most poignant moments for me was visiting the ruins of Lifta – a Palestinian village abandoned nearly 70 years ago – with some of the old residents.

Many Palestinians from here became refugees and have never been allowed to return to live in Lifta. But every year they come back with their children and grandchildren to remember.

Hamid Suhail was seven when he fled – now he leans on a stick as his son Nasir helps him down the overgrown rocky slopes.

“I hope the day will come when we will have the right to come back here and live in peace,” says Nasir. Hamid’s granddaughter, Sohar, is emotional as she says: “It makes me angry and sad at the same time to come here – although it is important to remember the history of these houses.””

Unsurprisingly, Corbin’s account did not make any mention of the violence against Jews perpetrated by residents of Lifta on countless occasions throughout the decades before Israel came into being. Neither were audiences told that in early December 1947, the residents of Lifta received orders from the Arab Higher Committee to evacuate the village’s women and children to Ramallah and that the village was made into a base for the Najada militia, from which attacks were launched on Jewish neighbourhoods on Jerusalem’s western side such as Kiryat Moshe, Givat Shaul and Romema.

Discussion of Corbin’s reports will continue in part two of this post.

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BBC 2’s ‘Newsnight’ squeezes Israel into Bosnia report

Next week the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is due to deliver its verdict following the trial of the former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladić on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

On November 16th BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ aired a report on that story (available in the UK here) by the programme’s diplomatic editor Mark Urban who previously covered the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

In addition to Urban’s filmed report viewers saw a discussion between programme presenter Emily Maitlis and Mark Urban, with the former introducing the item as follows:

Maitlis: “It’s time for the closing arguments in the most serious war crimes trial since Nuremberg at the end of World War Two.”

Later on in the conversation, Maitlis asked Urban:

Maitlis: “We have seen more conflicts since then; will we expect more prosecutions?”

Describing Mladić as “the architect of ethnic cleansing”, Urban noted that “he is coming up for sentencing and it is very unusual” before going on to name Syria’s Bashar al Assad and Libya’s Gaddafi.

In the same breath, he then went on to tell viewers that:

“…some people would like to see the Israelis in front of the criminal court and all of these cases have been vetoed…”

Of course some (and indeed many of the same) people would also like to see Britain in front of the International Criminal Court – particularly in relation to its military action in Iraq – but Mark Urban did not mention that.

Instead, after Maitlis had set the scene with a reference to the Nuremberg Trials and just seconds after viewers had heard two references to ethnic cleansing, he casually put an entire nation – “the Israelis” – in the same category as named heads of regimes infamous for their extreme acts of cruelty towards their own people.

One to watch out for on BBC Two

Via the BBC Media Centre we learn that a one-hour programme by Jane Corbin titled “The Balfour Declaration: Britain’s Promise To The Holy Land” will be aired on BBC Two at 9 p.m. on October 31st.

The BBC describes the programme as follows:

“One hundred years ago, just 67 words on a single sheet of paper lit a fire in the Holy Land, igniting the most intractable conflict of modern times.

The Balfour Declaration was the first time the British government endorsed the establishment of ‘a national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine. While many Palestinians see it as a betrayal, many Israelis believe it was the foundation stone of modern Israel and the salvation of the Jews. 

The legacy of the declaration is one that BBC reporter Jane Corbin has watched unfold over the last 30 years – charting the conflict on both sides. But it’s also a story that Jane has a personal connection to. One of her own ancestors, Leo Amery, a British politician and Cabinet Minister, played a key part in drafting the original declaration and then oversaw Britain’s governance of Palestine in the 1920s.

Now, on a journey starting in her home village, Jane explores what Leo did and whether the aspirations of The Balfour Declaration – for both sides to live peacefully and prosper together – were doomed to inevitable failure. Or is there still hope of a peaceful solution in the Holy Land?”

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Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

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BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ report on extremist group ignores its own role

On June 26th BBC Two’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newsnight‘ aired a report by Richard Watson.

“Newsnight’s Richard Watson has been following the extremist group al-Muhajiroun for 16 years. In this film, he reveals how the group became a crucible of home-grown terror, from the 7/7 London bombings to the recent London Bridge attacks.”

The following day an article by Watson on the same topic appeared on the BBC News website’s UK page under the title “Has al-Muhajiroun been underestimated?“.

“One of the London Bridge attackers was a follower of the banned al-Muhajiroun network. But has the UK been guilty of not taking the Islamist group seriously enough?”

That question crops up repeatedly in both the written and filmed reports. [emphasis added]

“In the late 1990s, Bakri Muhammad toured towns and cities with large Muslim populations in a recruitment drive for his new group. He was largely unchallenged by the British state, which had been preoccupied by the threat posed by Irish republican groups.

They dismissed Bakri Muhammad as a fool. In the wider community, few realised how divisive and dangerous his views were.”

“Fast-forward to 2017 and the terror attack at London Bridge had a strong link with al-Muhajiroun. The attack leader Khuram Butt was a supporter of the network, even appearing in a Channel 4 documentary last year called The Jihadis Next Door.

Butt didn’t exactly hide his extremist sympathies, and this raises a huge question for the British state – was the threat posed by radicals linked to al-Muhajiroun underestimated for years?

“”We’ve been far too tolerant of al-Muhajiroun,” says [Col. Richard] Kemp. Their use of abusive language and threats was not tackled, he suggests.

“It was a major failure and we’ve seen the consequences – we’ve seen Lee Rigby [murdered] by a follower of al-Muhajiroun, we’ve seen numerous attacks around the world.”

“By 2004, it was clear that the al-Muhajiroun network had been at the very least a gateway to terror. […]

So why was more not done? This was ideological extremism and the leaders of the network, like Anjem Choudary, were always careful to stay, just, on the right side of the law so they could not be arrested.”

Indeed the al-Muhajiroun network’s extremism has been glaringly apparent for many years and there were those who tried to raise the alarm on that issue.

However, one topic completely absent from both Richard Watson’s reports is that of the UK media’s frequent provision of a stage for the man who was for many years the face of that network in its assorted forms – Anjem Choudary – as the Telegraph reported last year:

“The BBC and other broadcasters have come under fire for regularly offering Anjem Choudary a platform to air his controversial views.

Ignoring warnings about offering the firebrand cleric the “oxygen of publicity” Choudary became a regular on many of the corporation’s flagship news programmes including Newsnight and Radio 4’s Today.

During his trial Choudary described how he would “bait” the media with controversial statements and relished appearing on air.

The court heard how he had hundreds of media contacts who he would tip off before high profile demonstrations and stunts, including 31 journalists from the BBC.”

As was noted here three and a half years ago:

“…the BBC has been wheeling out Choudary and his template propaganda for over a decade, including a ‘Hardtalk’ interview from 2003 in which he refused to condemn the Mike’s Place suicide bombers, another ‘Hardtalk’ interview from 2005 in which he likewise refused to condemn the London terror attacks, participation in ‘The Big Questions’ and ‘Newsnight’ and an appearance on ‘Newsnight’ in May 2013 (also promoted on the BBC News website) in which his stance on the brutal murder of Lee Rigby was made amply clear.” 

Especially given that ‘Newsnight‘ was one of Choudary’s regular spots, one would have expected to see in Watson’s reports some acknowledgement – and explanation – of the editorial decisions that lay behind over a decade of facilitation of Choudary’s PR efforts, despite recognition of the fact that his various networks were “a gateway to terror”.

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