BBC’s Stephen Sackur does ‘the Israeli psyche’

The guest appearing in the March 13th edition of the BBC’s interview programme ‘Hardtalk’ was Israeli author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen who has previously appeared in BBC content.

Hosted by Stephen Sackur, the programme was aired on the BBC World News television channel, on BBC World Service radio and is also available as a podcast. A clip from the programme was posted on the BBC News website.

“Stephen Sackur speaks to Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, a prize-winning Israeli novelist who brings a trained psychologist’s eye to compelling stories set in her home country. Hers is a world of moral ambiguity where truth, memory, right and wrong aren’t necessarily what they seem. Does her work tell us something important about the Israeli psyche?”

On several occasions throughout the interview, Stephen Sackur employed fictional characters and quotes from Gundar-Goshen’s novels to try to support his own narratives concerning Israel and Israelis and many of his questions were – predictably – aimed at framing Israel in a specific fashion. [emphasis in italics in the original]

0:40 Sackur: “That is interesting ‘cos it’s searching for the nuance, for a deeper understanding of actions and events. It seems to me that may be difficult in a country, Israel, which I know from personal experience is such a very intense place where people, in a sense, always feel there are existential questions and there are always sides to be taken – our side, their side, good against bad.”

8:29 Sackur: “In some ways your books have magic in them but they also have very difficult, dark stuff in them and when we come back to this theme of your take on truth and lies, you examine and challenge some of the truths that all Israelis think they know and hold very dear, some of them connected with the Holocaust which in your books hangs over so much of your fiction and it’s interpreted in different ways and frankly some people tell lies about what happened […] But also, the story of Israel’s creation. The coming about of the state, the fight in ’47 and ’48 that established the nation. You suggest in one of your books that people who fought in that war don’t always tell the truth about it. That there are serious lies told about how Israel was created.”

11:41 Sackur: “Do you think Israel has a problem with empathy with those who are not – well, we’re talking about Israeli Jews – those who are not Jewish?”

18:46 Sackur: “You live in a country where, if one looks at politics, the majority opinion right now is pretty Right-wing. Binyamin Netanyahu’s been prime minister for a long time. The Likud party looks like it, you know, might well win the next election too. You and a whole bunch of Israeli writers – if I can put it this way – of the progressive Left seem to be out of sync with the majority of the people in your own country.”

In one part of the conversation Sackur brings up the topic of African migrants in Israel in relation to one of Gundar-Goshen’s books. After his guest has clarified that the dilemmas raised in that novel do not apply solely to Israelis, Sackur goes on to contradict her with some obviously pre-prepared material.

13:45 Sackur: “I think that is a really powerful point you make but nonetheless there are some interesting statistics around this which do suggest there’s a difference between Israel and some European countries. For example many people won’t know but there is a significant number of Eritreans and other Africans – but mostly Eritreans – who illegally migrated into Israel in search of a better life. They’re mostly kept in detention centres. Some live illegally in the country. There are believed to be 40 – 50 thousand of them. Israel has recognised the refugee status…actually I think literally of a handful of Eritreans. In…in Europe the EU says that Eritreans who actually make it onto European territory, 90% of them – because of the way Eritrea is – are given refugee status. So there is a difference and it does seem that Israel is absolutely adamant that it doesn’t want to help the outsider in that way.”

Let’s examine Sackur’s claims one by one. Firstly, according to the government office responsible, there were 37,288 migrants in Israel at the beginning of 2018 rather than “40 – 50 thousand” as claimed by Sackur. Those migrants are not “mostly kept in detention centres” – the Holot detention centre was closed a year ago – they “mostly” live in southern Tel Aviv and in additional towns.

While failing to clarify how many of the people he admits “illegally migrated into Israel in search of a better life” have actually made applications for refugee status, Sackur compares an unspecified number – “a handful” – with a percentage. He quotes an EU statistic but without clarifying that in 2017 for example, “90%” in fact related to some 26,900 Eritreans granted protection status (rather than exclusively “refugee status” as claimed by Sackur) in 28 EU countries with a collective population of well over 500 million. So while in 2017 for example Croatia accepted 100% of the applications made by Eritreans, that actually amounted to ten people. Lithuania also accepted 100% of applications – 25 people – as did Latvia – 20 people in all. 

Of course those familiar with Stephen Sackur’s track record when interviewing Israelis would not be in the least surprised by this latest promotion of his long evident chosen narrative concerning their country.

 

 

BBC ‘Global Questions’ from Jerusalem rescheduled

Readers may recall that last November the BBC invited members of the public to take part in an edition of ‘Global Questions’ to be broadcast from Jerusalem the following month. That broadcast was however subsequently cancelled.

Now the BBC is advertising that event – and another in Arabic – once again.

“Global Questions is your chance to put questions to a high-level panel of politicians and decision makers. Moderated by Zeinab Badawi, one of the BBC’s most respected journalists, the discussion is shaped by questions from the audience.

The Future for the Israelis and Palestinians

The Middle East awaits President Trump’s much vaunted peace plan – billed as the ‘deal of the century’. But the Palestinians say it was dangerously provocative to declare the disputed city of Jerusalem as the capital, and to move the American Embassy there. A quarter of a century on from the Oslo Accords, what chance is there now of the ‘two-state solution’, where an independent Palestinian state sits alongside Israel?

Having marked the 70th anniversary of its creation, Global Questions travels to Israel to ask what the next 70 years might bring.

Ever since its birth, the country has been mired in conflict with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours. Is further conflict inevitable or could there be a lasting peace that allows the next generation to live without war

BBC Global Questions will record a debate in English on Wednesday 27 February followed by a debate in Arabic on Thursday 28 February. You are welcome to join one or both programmes.

On the panel:
Naftali Bennett Israel’s Minister of Education
Diana Buttu Palestinian lawyer and former PLO spokesperson
Jake Walles Former US ambassador and peace negotiator
Jawad Anani Former Deputy PM of Jordan”

Registration and further details here.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newsday’s one-sided ‘peace process’ reporting – part one

Guardian op-ed by Diana Buttu claims Palestinians are arrested for ‘criticising Israel’  (UK Media Watch)

Diana Buttu is at it again, Harvard Edition  (CAMERA)

Countering Propaganda: Focus on Diana Buttu  (CAMERA)

 

 

 

BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview highlights presenter’s Israel fixation

h/t RH, DK

A recent edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk’ was presented to viewers of the BBC World News channel and the BBC News channel on January 10th as follows:

“HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur speaks to Pinchas Goldschmidt, Chief Rabbi of Moscow and president of the Conference of European Rabbis. There is plenty of disturbing data pointing to a significant rise in overt anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States but why? How should the Jewish community respond? And how much reassurance and protection is being offered to Jews whose past has so often been written in blood? Is rising anti-Semitism a symptom of a liberal democratic order that is starting to crumble?”

A similar synopsis was presented in an audio version of the programme aired on BBC World Service radio on January 11th.

While the first part of the programme largely stuck to some of the subject matter presented in that synopsis, from around the middle of the interview presenter Stephen Sackur shifted the focus of the discussion, beginning by questioning whether opposition to the existence of the Jewish state is antisemitism. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

[14:07] Sackur: “Interesting you put it in the historical context throughout this interview. I felt from you a consciousness not just of the present but of the past in Europe and what has happened to Jews in the past. And it’s interesting that the former Chief Rabbi in Britain, Jonathan Sacks, he said, you know, ‘in the Middle Ages Jews were persecuted because of their religion, in the 19th and 20th centuries they were reviled because of their race and today in the 21st century Jews are attacked because of the existence of their nation-state, Israel’. Do you feel that Israel has now become front and centre in ways in which people who have antisemitic intent are now using the Israel issue to get at the Jewish people?”

Pointing out that not everyone who criticises Israel is an antisemite, Rabbi Goldschmidt went on:

Goldschmidt: “However, if you go and you delegitimise Israel […] and you say that every people in the world have a right to a nation-state besides the Jews, so that’s also another form of politically correct antisemitism which…”

Sackur [interrupts] “Is it? It’s anti-Israel and its government and its policies in occupied territory but is it antisemitism?

Sackur – who is apparently embarrassingly unaware that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism adopted by his own government categorises “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” as a form of antisemitism – next moved on to the topic of the leader of the British Labour party.

[15:44] Sackur: “When you observe in Britain the fall-out between the Jewish community and the leader of the main opposition party in the United Kingdom – Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party – with clear overt allegations from the Jewish establishment that Jeremy Corbyn has aided and abetted antisemitism, do you worry about the degree to which there is now this gulf between one of the main political parties and the Jewish community in Britain?”

When Rabbi Goldschmidt stated that the meaning of security for Jews is that they would fare equally well regardless of which political party was elected Sackur interjected:

[16:51] Sackur: “Well only if you’re suggesting to me that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party is an existential threat to the future of the Jewish community in Britain. Are you seriously saying that?”

Goldschmidt: “I think that the British Jewish community is the best to answer that. However I’ve seen the turbulence….”

Sackur [interrupts] “Let us remember that despite all of the allegations about Jeremy Corbyn and his actions in the past and his words in the past, Jeremy Corbyn insists that throughout his political career he has been a fighter against, an enemy of all forms of racism including, he always says, antisemitism.”

The remainder of the programme saw Sackur focus somewhat obsessively on one political figure who is of course unconnected to the supposed topic of the programme, beginning with employment of the ‘some people I’m not going to name say’ tactic.

[17:54] Sackur: “You see some observers of this debate and this argument and this rift that has developed see a fundamental hypocrisy amongst many Jewish people because while they castigate Jeremy Corbyn for some of his associations in the past, they look across the water to Israel, to the leader of Israel prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu who just recently hosted for five days of warmth and friendship prime minister Viktor Orban of Hungary who has long associations with far right elements including antisemitic elements in Hungary. Also they see Binyamin Netanyahu making a point of journeying all the way to Brazil to declare his friendship, alliance and partnership with the new president of Brazil, Mr Bolsonaro, who has a record – a long record – of making statements which are deeply troubling in terms of his attitude to minorities, to gay people, to women. Where’s the consistency here?”

The Hungarian prime minister’s July 2018 visit to Israel in fact lasted two days rather than five as inaccurately claimed by Sackur, who predictably had nothing to say about the representatives of 59 additional counties who attended the recent inauguration of Brazil’s new president.

When Rabbi Goldschmidt pointed out that British Jews do not vote for the prime minister of Israel Sackur interrupted him again:

Sackur: “But nobody’s accusing Binyamin Netanyahu of antisemitism because he develops a very warm friendship with Viktor Orban, who many Jews regard as deeply dangerous to the future of Jewish communities in Europe.”

Sackur did not provide any evidence for his claim of “a very warm friendship” between the prime ministers of Israel and Hungary and did not clarify whether or not he believes that, by the same standard, the British prime minister should be criticised for hosting the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince last year.

Interrupting his guest yet again, Sackur pursued his point:

[20:04] Sackur: “…let me ask you a very blunt question. What do you – as the chief of the Conference of European Rabbis – what do you think of Binyamin Netanyahu cosying up to Viktor Orban and the leadership in Poland, both of which have very troubling attitudes to many Jews in Europe?”

Goldschmidt: “I think that…”

Sackur [interrupts] “Just tell me what you think.”

Sackur then posed his fourth question relating to Israel’s prime minister.

[20:55] Sackur: “Just a final thought and it involves your personal life as well. You’ve made a life for the last 3 decades in Russia and actually the position for Jews in Russia appears on the face of it to have improved over the last 30 years. I dare say you’ve been involved in that. Binyamin Netanyahu – again quoting him – when there are serious, horrible terror attacks which involve Jewish people being killed in Europe, he always says to the Jews of – in this case I’m quoting France but the Jews of Europe – he says ‘listen, Israel isn’t just the place in whose direction you pray; the State of Israel is your home and Israel is waiting for you with open arms’. As a European Jew who’s made a life in Russia, do you think it is wise and helpful for the Israeli prime minister to constantly tell Jews that ultimately, by implication, the only safe place for Jews is in Israel?”

Failing to listen to Rabbi Goldschmidt’s answer – which included clarification of the importance of the existence of Israel “to all Jews” – Sackur interrupted him again.

Sackur: “I’m not sure you’re answering my specific point. Is it your perspective that Israel is ultimately the only safe place – truly safe place – for the Jewish people?”

This programme could have provided BBC audiences – both domestic and international – with some insight into the issue of antisemitism in Europe and how the Jewish minority living on the continent perceives its future.

Unfortunately, Stephen Sackur’s often aggressive focus on getting his own points across – including promotion of the notion that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism, defending Jeremy Corbyn, downplaying the fears of British Jews and his bizarre but long-held obsession with the current Israeli prime minister – meant that viewers and listeners lost a good deal of the opportunity to hear from one of the better informed voices on those issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC audiences materially misled by inaccurate claims from ‘Hardtalk’ host

Earlier this month we noted that the BBC had ignored a protest march organised by teenagers living in communities close to the border with the Gaza Strip.

“Since the BBC began reporting on the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting over seven months ago, BBC audiences have seen the grand total of one minute and twenty seconds of coverage reflecting the point of view of residents of the Israeli communities close to the Gaza Strip-Israel border who are affected by the violence.”

That particular protest did eventually get a very brief mention in one radio programme over a week later but BBC audiences have heard nothing of the many additional protests organised by those affected by terrorism from the Gaza Strip, both before and after the last serious incident in mid-November.

“Residents of the Gaza border and their supporters protested in Tel Aviv on Saturday night [August 18th 2018 – Ed.], demanding the government to “restore the sense of security.”

The protesters called out “We’re not cannon fodder” and “Bibi, Bibi, wake up, the south is burning”—referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.

They carried signs saying: “The south is on fire” and “We’re tired of burned fields and weeping children.””

And:

“Hundreds of residents from southern communities, which were battered by recent rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, protested in Tel Aviv on Thursday [November 15th, 2018 – Ed.] against a truce reached with the Hamas terror group and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign. […]

It followed two days of protests in which southern residents burned tires and blocked the entrances to cities battered by Gaza rocket fire in protest of the ceasefire, which they say has left Hamas poised to renew attacks at will. […]

The truce prompted Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to resign on Wednesday and has drawn criticism from some residents of southern Israel who accuse the government of being soft on Hamas.”

That serially withheld context is critical to audience understanding of the subject matter of an edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ that was aired on the BBC World News and BBC News channels on November 23rd (available in the UK here) and on BBC World Service radio on November 26th.

“Israel’s seemingly indestructible Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dodged another political bullet. After the recent flare up of violence in Gaza, his defence minister quit and another key cabinet hawk- Naftali Bennett, said he would go too if he wasn’t given the defence portfolio. The prime minister called his bluff, and Mr Bennett, who speaks to HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur has decided to stay put after all. What’s behind the chaos in Israeli politics? Are the right wing factions putting their own interests before those of the nation?”

A similar introduction was given by presenter Stephen Sackur. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “Israeli politics is always fractious but the last few days have taken the plotting and manoeuvering to another level. The spark was a major flare-up of violence in and around Gaza. An Israeli Special Forces raid [sic] was followed by a sustained volley of militant rockets fired into Israel, with Israeli bombers then responding from the air. The violence ended in an uneasy ceasefire which the hawkish defence minister opposed and prompted his resignation. Another key Israeli cabinet hawk said he would go too if Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t give him the defence job. The PM called Naftali Bennett’s bluff. Rather than prompt a government collapse, the education minister then backed down. So what on earth is causing this political chaos in Israel? Why is there so much mutual mistrust and loathing on Israel’s right-wing? Well the man at the centre of recent storms, Naftali Bennett, joins me now from Jerusalem.”

The programme followed the usual format employed by Sackur when interviewing an Israeli official or public figure in which he lays out pre-prepared lists of things he considers to be wrong with Israel based on quotes from usually predictable sources – in this case mostly the UN. The opening third of the programme was devoted to domestic Israeli politics: a topic which to most viewers and listeners would be unfamiliar and of little interest.

At 08:15 minutes into the interview, Sackur posed a question-cum-monologue which promoted inaccuracies that are materially misleading to audiences.

Sackur: “You’ve decided to stay in the government. You’ve said – and I’m quoting you again – ‘the ship of Israel’s security has sailed in the wrong direction’. It seems to me that what you’re saying is that – particularly with regard to Gaza – what Israel has done in recent years – including, let us not forget, several wars, the last of which in 2014, Protect…Operation Protective Edge, killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, the UN says at least 65% of those Palestinians were civilians and we know that hundreds of them were children – you’re saying that Israel’s besieging tactics in Gaza – the fact that Gaza doesn’t really have power supplies that work, it doesn’t have clean water, it has a jobless rate of 60% or more – you’re saying all of this isn’t tough enough; that Israel should be hammering Gaza harder. Is that it?”

As long-time readers know, the BBC has made absolutely no effort to independently verify the casualty figures and the debatable civilian-combatant ratios that it has been quoting and promoting for over four years, despite their dubious and partisan sourcing.

Notwithstanding the BBC’s efforts to persuade audiences otherwise, the Gaza Strip is not subject to “besieging tactics” and – as the BBC well knows – the chronic shortages of electricity and potable water in the territory have nothing to do with Israel’s counter-terrorism measures but are the result of internal disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Equally misleadingly, Sackur presented the youth unemployment rate (age 15 to 29) as the general unemployment rate, which is actually lower.

After his interviewee had clarified that his calls for firmer action relate to Hamas rather than the people of the Gaza Strip, Sackur interjected with a re-run of his questionable statistics.

Sackur: “Just look at the record, Mr Bennett. I don’t want to repeat myself but the last big assault on Gaza killed more than two thousand Palestinians, most of whom were civilians. We see in our media every week the images of the stand-off between Palestinian protesters who have…sometimes they have stones, sometimes they have flaming torches. They go to the fence. They are shot by Israeli service personnel. We have seen hundred…more than a hundred killed, thousands wounded. And you’re telling me that you want the Israeli army and the Israeli air force to up the ante and kill more people? That’s what you’re saying.”

Readers may recall that just two months ago in an interview with another Israeli official, Sackur used a very similar and equally inaccurate portrayal of what he – and the BBC in general – portrays as ‘protests’, thereby erasing both the severity of the violence and the fact that a significant proportion of those killed had links to the Gaza terror factions which initiated, organise and facilitate the violent rioting. The conversation continued:

Bennett: “I have a better suggestion: that the Palestinians stop shooting rockets at Israel.”

Sackur: “I’m…I don’t know if you’re maybe not understanding my question but when you respond to the rocket fire that we saw as part of that recent flare-up in Gaza, you respond with your air force. Sometimes you respond with troops on the ground. But the reality is – and the record shows it – that the people who suffer are the civilian population, including children. That is the reality. And you want more of it.”

Sackur later pursued his chosen theme further:

Sackur: “Let’s talk about the reality of the UN reaction. We’ve seen the recent – now he’s retired – but the recent UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Zayd Raad al Hussein, say that Israel’s response is suggestive of something entirely and wholly disproportionate and he looks at the casualty figures on the Palestinian side. We also know that the International Criminal Court is still investigating what you did in Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Do you understand that the scrutiny being brought to bear upon Israel goes right through the international community and runs the risk of tarnishing Israel’s reputation in a very significant way?”

Further on in the programme audiences heard Sackur misrepresent Bennett’s proposals concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before claiming that “if Israel pursues your vision it will end up being an apartheid style state”. When Bennett noted the failure of the 2005 Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip to bring calm, Sackur retorted with yet another inaccurate and misleading reference to a ‘siege’ which does not exist.

Sackur:”If, if you intended to besiege…if you intended to lay siege to the West Bank as you did to Gaza, there might be some relevance to that but of course that’s not on the table because you’ve got all these Jewish settlements which you intend to annex…”

photo credit: Sderotnet

Leaving aside the issue of Sackur’s style of interviewing, it is perfectly obvious that his aim in this programme was not to provide BBC audiences with insight into the context to the defence minister’s resignation, not to explain the differences between the approaches of different Israeli politicians to the 17 year long plight of Israeli civilians living under the shadow of terrorism that includes attacks using military grade projectiles and not to answer the questions posed in its own synopsis:

“What’s behind the chaos in Israeli politics? Are the right wing factions putting their own interests before those of the nation?”

Rather – as usual – Sackur was intent on promoting his own agenda: in this case primarily to focus audience attentions on civilian suffering in Gaza and allegedly ‘disproportionate’ Israeli actions. In promoting that agenda, Sackur tossed accuracy and impartiality out of the window, citing dubious casualty ratios, promoting the notion of a non-existent ‘siege’, distorting unemployment figures and falsely claiming that Israel’s actions have brought about power and potable water shortages.  

So much for the BBC’s obligation to provide audiences with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards…”

Related Articles:

The Gaza related protest the BBC ignored

BBC’s Hardtalk presenter claims Israel ‘slaughters civilian protesters’

 

A BBC programme from Jerusalem – and you can take part

The BBC television and radio programme ‘Global Questions’ will be visiting Jerusalem next month.

“As the state of Israel celebrates the 70th anniversary of its creation, Global Questions travels to Jerusalem to ask what the next 70 years might bring.

Ever since its birth, Israel has been dominated by conflict with Palestinians and its neighbouring Arab states. Is more conflict inevitable or could there be a lasting peace that allows the next generation to live without war?

The Middle East is awaiting President Trump’s much anticipated peace plan – billed as the “deal of the century”. But the Palestinians see America’s Embassy move to Jerusalem as a dangerously provocative gesture.

Global Questions brings together a high-profile panel and an audience of young Palestinians and Israelis to see whether they believe the next 70 years could bring an end to the conflict that has scarred the region for so long.”

Members of the public can take part in that December 5th programme by emailing globalquestions@bbc.co.uk.

Alternatively, questions can be submitted using the webform here.

BBC Gaza ‘documentary’ makes no pretence of impartiality

The September 22nd edition of the documentary series ‘Our World’ aired on the BBC World News channel and the BBC News channel was titled ‘Gaza Dreams’.

“With nearly two million people living in miserable conditions in Gaza, the Israeli blockade has taken its toll on mental health there. 
Against the backdrop of the border clashes earlier this year this film goes deep inside the minds of the people of Gaza to explore the mental health issues affecting many there.”

Produced by Christine Garabedian of BBC Arabic, the film is remarkable for the fact that it fails to mention the all-important context of Hamas terrorism even once – despite opening by telling viewers that:

“Gaza has been under a strict blockade for eleven years. Israel and Egypt say that the blockade is in place for their security.”

Garabedian, however, failed to provide audiences with the information which would help them understand why “Israel and Egypt say” such a thing. Moreover, audiences repeatedly heard various interviewees use Hamas-preferred terminology as they referred to a non-existent “siege” of the Gaza Strip.

Viewers were also told that the film was made “between the 30th March and 15th May 2018 during the ‘Great March of Return’ protests” but Garabedian failed to provide any background to inform audiences who organised that violent rioting and why.

Moreover, despite viewers being told that “protesters were demanding the right to return to what is now Israel and calling for an end to the blockade”, they were not informed that the aim of the so-called ‘right of return’ is to eliminate the Jewish state.

And so what BBC audiences saw in this film is twenty-three minutes of unverifiable, completely context-free stories told by inadequately identified interviewees and accompanied by ominous music and carefully selected imagery such as shots of birdcages.

Amazingly, that exercise in blatantly one-sided politicised messaging which contributes nothing to audience understanding of what lies behind the picture Garabedian chose to paint is classified by the BBC as a ‘documentary‘.

Related Articles:

Stats defy the BBC’s repeated portrayal of a ‘siege’ on Gaza

BBC Arabic film on collaborators promotes Hamas messaging – part one

BBC Arabic film on collaborators promotes Hamas messaging – part two

 

BBC’s Hardtalk presenter claims Israel ‘slaughters civilian protesters’

The September 5th edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ was devoted to an interview with Israel’s ambassador at the UN, Danny Danon.

“In the turbulent recent history of the Middle East, has there ever been a time when Israel has seemed more powerful – militarily, diplomatically and economically? Israel has the fulsome support of the Trump Administration and also has common strategic interests with Saudi Arabia and Arab nations preoccupied with perceived threats from Iran. HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur speaks to Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon. Is Israel making wise choices from its position of strength?”

The interview – which was aired on the BBC World News channel, the BBC News channel and on BBC World Service radio, with a clip also posted on the BBC News website – followed the usual format employed by presenter Stephen Sackur in which he lays out pre-prepared lists of things he considers to be wrong with Israel in front of an Israeli official or public figure based on claims from a particular brand of sources – in this case including Michael Sfard, UNRWA’s Chris Gunness, the EU, Amnesty International and the FMEP‘s Lara Friedman.

However, one section of this programme is particularly noteworthy because it once again provides evidence of the BBC’s efforts to rewrite the narrative concerning one particular recent news story in the minds of its audiences.

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

[03:37] Sackur: “Yeah but…but of course many of the engagements and conflicts that we see Israel…ah…occupied with are actually not about Israel in an existential struggle for survival – in fact, quite the contrary. Since March of this year we’ve seen 5 months of the Israeli military lining up along the border with the Gaza Strip using live fire ammunition against Palestinian protesters. More than 165 have been killed including 23 Palestinians under the age of 18. I guess Mr. Netanyahu just regards that as proof that the Middle East is, again, quote ‘no place for the weak. The weak crumble and are slaughtered’. And that’s what Israel’s doing.”

As Danon then tried to explain, the out of context and edited quote employed by Sackur in fact related to Iranian threats against Israel. Interrupting him, Sackur however persisted.

Sackur: “No, no Ambassador. With respect my question…my question is not about Iran. My question is about civilian protesters in the Gaza Strip who for many months have been protesting along the border fence. They do not carry guns. Admittedly some of them throw stones; they even fly kites with flaming torches on them at times. But what they do not have is guns and the Israeli military responds with live fire.”

After Danon had noted that the ‘Great Return March’ is “orchestrated by Hamas”, that violent rioters have indeed used guns and Molotov cocktails and tried to infiltrate Israeli territory and that calling the events of the past five months a peaceful demonstration “is a lie”, Sackur retorted:

Sackur: “You’re sitting in New York. I’m sitting in London. I’m inclined to take the word of a very experienced Israeli human rights lawyer, Michael Sfard, who has looked at cases where the Israeli military opened fire in the last five months and he says it is quite clear lethal force against unarmed civilians who do not pose a danger is illegal and this is the crux of many cases there on the Gaza border.”

Sackur of course did not bother to inform BBC audiences of the fact that the “human rights lawyer” whose word he is “inclined to take” and the political NGOs cast as ‘human rights groups’ which Sfard represents come from a very specific side of the political spectrum.

As regular readers know the BBC refrained from providing its audiences with information concerning the organisations and motives behind the ‘Great Return March’ events that have been staged since March 30th – even though that information was publicly available in advance.

The BBC has repeatedly whitewashed the links of terror factions to the weekly agitprop, downplaying and erasing their role in its encouragement, organisation, financing and facilitation.

The fact that a significant proportion of those killed during the violent rioting – including under 18s – have been shown to have links to Gaza Strip based terror factions has been downplayed and ignored by the BBC.

Violent incidents have also been serially ignored and the BBC’s editorial approach to this story has been to repeatedly portray it as one that is about ‘peaceful protesters’ killed by Israel’s armed forces.

As we see, Stephen Sackur has fully taken that editorial policy onboard. Carefully avoiding mentioning the name of the pre-planned violent rioting – the ‘Great Return March’ – he inaccurately told BBC audiences that a project with the self-proclaimed aim of having millions of people categorised as Palestinian refugees ‘return‘ to Israeli territory is “actually not about Israel in an existential struggle for survival”.

Describing violent rioters and would-be infiltrators – including proven members of terror factions – as “Palestinian protesters” and “civilian protesters” who are being “slaughtered”, Sackur twice inaccurately told BBC audiences that they “do not carry guns” while making a facetious reference to “stones” and “kites“. In order to present that distorted picture, Sackur deliberately ignored numerous border infiltrations, hundreds of petrol bomb attacks, scores of IED attacks, dozens of shooting attacks, at least nine attacks with grenades.

It is all too obvious that Sackur’s inaccurate portrayal is not merely the product of months of shoddy news reporting or uninformed discussion of current affairs. It is part and parcel of the BBC’s creation and promotion of a politically motivated false narrative which does nothing to serve its public purpose of helping audiences understand this story.

Related Articles:

Palestinian envoy’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ – part one

 

 

 

 

Palestinian envoy’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, in the first part of the July 19th edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ (aired on the BBC News channel and the BBC World News channel and available to viewers in the UK on BBC iPlayer for the next eleven months) BBC audiences were exposed to a series of falsehoods, distortions and whitewashing of the ‘Great Return March’ violence that has been taking place throughout the past four and a half months.

After presenter Stephen Sackur had allowed his guest the PA envoy Riyad Mansour to get away with pretending not to have heard violent threats against Israelis from Hamas’ top man in the Gaza Strip, he changed the topic of the conversation.

Sackur: “You earlier referred to Gaza as a prison. You talked about the desperate conditions – humanitarian conditions – that people live in; pretty much 2 million people inside the Gaza Strip. In that circumstance, why is it that over recent months the Palestinian Authority has been imposing its own financial punishments and sanctions on the people of Gaza?”

Mansour retorted “I would not use, you know, these words that you are using” before going on to state that the Palestinian National Council had authorised the payment of salaries to employees of the Palestinian National Authority in Gaza.

Viewers were not told that those employees – who have not worked since 2007 – have repeatedly had their salaries cut and withheld by the Fatah dominated PA since April 2017. Instead, interrupting Mansour, Sackur went on:

Sackur: “Well forgive me Ambassador; maybe it’s slipped your mind but you know in recent months, after the failure it seems of the last reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah, what we’ve seen is Mahmoud Abbas – the president of the Palestinian Authority – impose different punishments on Gaza including holding shipments of medicine, cutting payments for Gaza’s electricity; all sorts of different ways in which the people of Gaza are suffering – not at the hands of Israel or even Egypt which closes its border crossing with Gaza – but at the hands of fellow Palestinians.”

As regular readers will be aware, BBC audiences have not been informed of the PA’s cuts of medical supplies and treatment referrals to Gaza Strip residents. Moreover, since that PA policy began, the BBC has continued to mislead audiences with regard to the background to the chronic crisis affecting healthcare in the Gaza Strip by leading them to believe that it is connected to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

Similarly, with the exception of one report on the BBC News website, audiences have been repeatedly led to mistakenly believe that the chronic electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip is also related to those same counter-terrorism measures. It is therefore highly unlikely that viewers of this programme would be able to recognise Mansour’s denial as the falsehood it is.

Mansour: “I don’t think that this is accurate but if you’re saying that there is much more that can be done to help our people in Gaza, that is true. And the Palestinian government – including President Mahmoud Abbas – is trying with many parties, including the Egyptians and the United Nations and other parties, to alleviate the situation, the difficult situation of our people in the Gaza Strip.”

Sackur then asked:

Sackur: “I mean you say you represent all Palestinians: have you seen the various protests and demonstrations by Palestinians against the policy of the Palestinian Authority inside Gaza? Have you also heard another senior Palestinian – I’m sure a man you know well; Mohamed Dahlan – who has called the PA government corrupt, fascist for punishing the Palestinians of Gaza. He says ‘I can understand the hardships facing the Palestinians. I cannot understand that the Palestinian leadership is imposing additional burdens on the people of Gaza’.”

Seeing as the internal Palestinian power struggles that are the background to Sackur’s chosen quote have been completely concealed from BBC audiences, it is highly unlikely that viewers would be able to put Mansour’s reply into its appropriate context.

Mansour: “Well I wouldn’t use quotation from the individual that you refer to. He used to be representing the Palestinian National Authority in the Gaza Strip. If he is referring to his conduct at that time then one can talk more of that. But he cannot speak with authority or respect about the behaviour of the Palestinian National Authority and the leadership of the Palestinian people, whether in the Gaza Strip or other parts of the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Sackur went on to pose two questions relating to Hamas-Fatah reconciliation and viewers heard Mansour state that the PA’s top priority is reuniting the “land of the State of Palestine”, even though no such state currently exists. Despite the BBC’s style guide recognising that fact – “There is no independent state of Palestine today” – viewers then heard Sackur use the same term.

Sackur: “There is another development which may or may not come to fruition in the next few weeks and that is the grand plan, the ultimate deal, the deal of the century that Donald Trump and his team say they’re going to put on the table to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Jared Kushner, his son-in-law is in charge of it. He said recently after a trip to the Middle East where he saw the Israelis, he saw the Saudis, he saw the Gulf leaders – he didn’t see any Palestinians ‘cos you appear to be absolutely unwilling to talk to the Trump team – Kushner said this: ‘the Palestinian leadership is scared that we will release our peace plan and the Palestinian people will actually like it’. Are you scared?”

Referring to Kushner, Mansour claimed “He is on one hand talking tough and on the other hand he is begging for us to engage with him” before going on:

Mansour: “For us if Jerusalem is off the table, refugees off the table and those who say that they are concerned about our people in the Gaza Strip they cut off $300 million from the budget of UNRWA, so how could you be helping the people in the Gaza Strip by depriving them of this large sum of money that helps 1.2 million Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip? And also they say settlements now is not objectionable and they don’t refer much to the occupied Palestinian territories. What is left on the table to talk about?”

Sackur “Why are the Saudis, the Gulf State leadership, the Egyptians and the Jordanians all very happy to talk to the Americans and appear to be involved in trying to figure out how a peace plan might work? It seems you’re dangerously isolated.”

Mansour: “We are not isolated. They are engaging them for their own reasons including things related, you know, to the role of Iran in the region.”

Mansour went on to state that the PA wants to convening “an international conference” of “all relevant parties including the Americans, including the Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese, the Japanese and others” while claiming that the Americans “disqualified themselves from being honest broker”.

Sackur pointed out that there “won’t be a process without the Americans”, asking:

Sackur: “Are you Palestinians seriously saying that as long as Donald Trump’s in the White House you will not in any way whatsoever engage with the Americans?”

Mansour: “We will engage with them in collective process, through an international conference.”

Mansour then claimed that the UN Security Council had “legislated a decision to call for an international conference to be convened in Moscow”. Sackur did not clarify to viewers that he was apparently referring to the decade-old UN SC resolution 1850 which Abbas tried to resurrect in February of this year.

Sackur next raised the subject of opinion polls showing dissatisfaction with Palestinian leadership, stating “more than 60% of Palestinians…think Abbas should resign” and pointing out that he has “no obvious successor”.

Unchallenged by Sackur, viewers heard Mansour promote the fiction that the Palestinians have been ‘peacefully’ negotiating with Israel “for more than 20 years”.

Mansour: “One cannot blame the Palestinian people for their frustration. We tried the peaceful negotiation process for more than 20 years after the Oslo agreement and instead of putting an end to this occupation and enjoying independence, the reality on the ground moved from bad to worse, especially in the field of settlements. So one cannot but, you know, understand this frustration and the negative feeling among the Palestinian people.”

In response to Sackur’s statement that a generation of Palestinian leaders have failed, Mansour claimed “we assume our share of the responsibility” and went on to say that as a result the Palestinian National Council decided “to dissociate ourselves from the occupation and also not to continue on the path that did not lead us to the end of occupation, meaning the old style of negotiation.”

When Sackur again asked why Mahmoud Abbas has no obvious successor his guest replied:

Mansour: “I am confident that the Palestinian people will be able to elect the appropriate leader to lead us for the ongoing stage.”

Refraining from pointing out that the Palestinian people have not been able to elect their leaders for over twelve years, Sackur ended the interview there.

As we see, BBC audiences did not see any serious challenge from Stephen Sackur in response to Riyad Mansour’s lies about the ‘Great Return March’ and although Sackur twice insisted in the course of the interview that it was his job to ask ‘hard questions’, he continued to allow him to promote falsehoods on numerous other issues and to whitewash Palestinian violence.

It is of course difficult to see the point of an interview which includes questions relating to topics which the BBC has serially seriously under-reported (such as internal Palestinian power struggles and corruption) or inaccurately reported (such as medical supplies and electricity shortages in the Gaza Strip) – meaning that viewers do not have the basic knowledge necessary to understand the background to the question or form an opinion on the answer.

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Palestinian envoy’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ – part one

 

Palestinian envoy’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ – part one

As we have sadly had cause to note here on countless occasions over the past four and a half months, the BBC’s coverage of the ‘Great Return March’ propaganda stunt has not included providing audiences with details of the terror factions involved in its planning and organisation.

The BBC has repeatedly and exclusively promoted Hamas-sourced casualty figures while failing to clarify that the terror group is one of the factions involved in financing and facilitating what it repeatedly blandly describes as “protests”.

Many of the BBC’s reports have ignored or severely downplayed the violent rioting which has included hundreds of petrol bomb attacks, IED attacks, grenade attacks and shooting attacks as well as infiltration attempts and for three months the BBC ignored the issue of the arson attacks launched as part of the weekly agitprop. When it emerged that a significant proportion of those killed during the violent rioting were linked to various Gaza based terror factions, the BBC did a disappearing act.

Those editorial policies were on display once again in the July 19th edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ aired on the BBC News channel and the BBC World News channel, which will remain available to viewers in the UK on BBC iPlayer for the next eleven months.

“There have been three costly spasms of violent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza over the last 11 years. In the past week, a fourth seemed dangerously close. HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur speaks to Palestine’s Ambassador at the United Nations, Riyad Mansour. With the Trump administration claiming a new US peace plan is coming soon, is there any prospect of change in the grim status quo?”

The programme commenced with presenter Stephen Sackur asking Riyad Mansour the same question three times while quoting Hamas sourced casualty figures and portraying violent rioting as ‘protests’.

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

Sackur: “Let me begin with a very grim figure. It now seems 140 Palestinians at least have been killed by Israeli forces during protests that began in March along the Gaza-Israel border. Is it not time now for senior Palestinians such as yourself to make a clear call to all Palestinians in Gaza to stop those protests in the interests of saving life?

Mansour: “Well I think you have it the wrong way. It is in the interest of saving lives that Israel should stop killing Palestinian civilians and injuring more than 15,000 since March 30th. And the international community is on the side of this kind of articulation because when we went to the Security Council seeking protection for the civilian population from Israeli attacks and aggression against our civilian population, the great majority of members of the Security Council endorsed the draft resolution which was denied by casting one single vote. And then we went to the General Assembly and we have a resolution that was adopted by 120 countries versus 8 calling for providing international protection for the civilian population in the occupied Palestinian territory and the Secretary General was asked to submit a report with recommendations and suggestions to provide protection for the civilian population – the Palestinian civilian population – including international protection mechanism and he has until the 13th of next month to submit that report. We are engaging his teams with ideas and suggestions to fulfil such a demand for providing protection for the civilian population under Israeli occupation.”

Sackur did not bother to clarify to viewers that the UN GA resolution to which Mansour referred is non-binding.

Failing to challenge his guest’s repeated inaccurate and misleading portrayal of those involved in the ‘Great Return March’ as exclusively ‘civilians’ Sackur went on:

Sackur: “There is no doubt that governments and human rights groups as well have issued words of condemnation of the way Israel’s forces have handled this on the border.”

He then repeated his question while severely downplaying the violence, attacks and border infiltrations which have characterised the weekly events since their inception.

Sackur: “Is it not time for Palestinian officials to tell all of those who gather at the border – including those who go with Molotov cocktails and those who go with the kites and the balloons which carry those firebombs over the fence and onto Israeli farmland – is it not time for you to call a halt to all of that?”

Mansour: “I think that when you have people living in that huge prison in the Gaza Strip – 2 million of them – for a long period of time, there is a tremendous amount of poverty, a dire situation and frustration. So when the civilian population decided from the 30th of March to peacefully protest against that miserable, disgusting situation why is it that, you know, that somebody to suggest for the Palestinian civilian population to stop, you know, their civilian activities, peaceful activities against this occupation, to lift the blockade and to allow the Palestinian civilians to enjoy in the Gaza Strip the access and movement…”

With no challenge to his guest’s inaccurate description of the violent rioting and attacks as ‘peaceful protest’ and making to effort to remind viewers that the Gaza Strip has not been ‘occupied’ for thirteen years, Sackur interrupted Mansour in order to pose his question for a third time.

Sackur: “Whatever the situation in terms of Israel’s open fire policy on that border, you know and Hamas leaders in Gaza know that if people go down to that border – particularly if they go with an intent to throw Molotov cocktails or fly their kites – they are going to be targeted and in the interests of saving life, is it not time for this to end?”

Mansour: “I think that it is in the interest of saving lives to do the following: one, for the Israeli armed forces not to be trigger happy to aim at civilians and to shoot them. Secondly, if international presence to get closer to the borders – whether UN international presence or Red Cross teams – I think that that would lead to saving civilian lives. It is the right of not only the civilian Palestinian population but all civilian populations in any corner of the globe have the right to peacefully protest against certain issues that are influencing them in a very negative way. That is also including the Palestinian civilian population in the occupied territory including in the Gaza Strip.”

Sackur: “Things have escalated in the last week or so as you know. Last weekend we saw roughly 200 rockets and mortars fired towards Israeli territory from positions inside Gaza. Sderot – one Israeli town – was hit. In return the Israelis used their war planes to bomb targets across Gaza. What is your message to those inside Gaza who resumed the rocket and mortar fire?”

Sackur failed to clarify that those events in fact began when an Israeli officer was wounded in a grenade attack during what only seconds before had been portrayed to BBC audiences as ‘peaceful protest’, thereby paving the way for Mansour’s subsequent distortion of events.

Mansour: “Well first of all I’m not so sure that, you know, that this cycle of violence was initiated by the Palestinians. I think it was initiated by the Israeli aircraft and their bombardment, by their artillery in which a number of children were killed – at least four – and more than 65 have been injured through this violence from the Israeli side. I don’t believe that there is, you know, but maybe one or two from the Israeli side that were injured through this cycle of violence. From our position that we declare very repeatedly, we are against the killing of innocent civilians from any side and under any conditions.”

Failing to ask Mansour exactly how that ‘position’ aligns with the Palestinian Authority’s provision of financial rewards for terrorism, Sackur allowed Mansour to claim that an “international presence” would “provide protection for our people and would put an end to any justification from the Israeli side to unleash its massive military and armed fire against the civilian population.”

Quoting a speech made by Yahya Sinwar in April, Sackur went on:

Sackur: “One more question about Hamas. Obviously you represent the Palestinian Authority as the ambassador at the United Nations. Hamas – not the Palestinian Authority – is in control in Gaza and the leader of Hamas – I think he’s styled the prime minister – Yahya Sinwar, he said of the continued protests ‘we will ultimately take down the border and we’ll tear out their hearts from their bodies’. Of course he’s talking about Israelis – Israeli citizens. What is your view of language like that?”

Mansour: “First of all, I am the representative of the State of Palestine at the United Nations and I represent not only the Palestinian National Authority – I represent all Palestinians inside the occupied territories and outside the occupied territories.”

Sackur: “So you represent Yahya Sinwar?”

Mansour: “I represent everyone.”

Sackur: “So tell me what is your message to Yahya Sinwar?”

Mansour: “I represent all the Palestinian people, including those in the Gaza Strip, here at the UN. With regard to the statement that you refer to, I did not hear it – I am a man of peace, I work under international law, I promote and uphold international law at the UN. In defending the interests of the Palestinian people I do not advocate war. I stand against aggression against all people including the Palestinian people who live under the Israeli occupation including in the Gaza Strip.”

Sackur: “It’s not so much a question of what you advocate it’s a question of what you’re prepared to unilaterally and categorically condemn. Will you condemn those words that I quoted to you?”

Mansour: “I condemn all words that harm civilian populations, whomever they’re emanating from and whomever they’re directed against.”

Refraining from exploring the obviously interesting topic of Hamas being represented at the UN according to the Palestinian envoy and ignoring Mansour’s convenient side-stepping of the issue of Hamas’ blatant agression, Sackur then changed the subject – as we will see in part two of this post.