BBC travel show brings in political activist on Jerusalem archaeology

The March 8th edition of the BBC World News and BBC News TV channels programme ‘The Travel Show’ included an item billed as “Jerusalem’s Underground History” (available in the UK here)

“This week, Rajan Datar explores the hidden treasure underneath the streets of Jerusalem. He walks on recently excavated 2,000 year old roads and discovers old church chambers from the time of the crusaders. “

At 38 seconds into the report viewers were told of a “controversial” archaeological excavation and Datar went to visit the City of David site, taking a tour of the Pilgrimage Road. Viewers heard that the site was “discovered by accident” in 2004 but were not informed that British archaeologists actually dug there in 1894 and that further excavations were conducted during the Mandate period and the Jordanian occupation.

Viewers heard that:

Datar: “The Pilgrimage Road runs from the ancient Siloam Pool to Temple Mount – also known as Haram esh [sic] Sharif in Arabic – at the top.”

They were not informed of the road’s purpose – who was making a pilgrimage and to where – and Datar went on to visit additional parts of the City of David site.

At 04:54, the item took a political turn. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Datar: “Whilst the project team insist upmost safety for the local residents is the priority, that isn’t quite how everybody feels, especially among the Palestinian community who live here in Silwan, above the City of David site, which they call Wadi Hilweh. Local residents say cracks and sloping like this to dozens of houses have been caused by the excavation, complaining it’s like enduring an earthquake. None the less, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected those claims.”

In fact, only a small part of Silwan lies “above the City of David” site and related legal cases have been rejected by the Supreme Court on more than one occasion.

At 05:27, Datar brought in “Aziz, a travel writer and guide” to give “the alternative Palestinian perspective”. Despite BBC editorial guidelines concerning contributors’ affiliations, viewers were not told that Aziz Abu Sarah is also (as the BBC should know, having interviewed him in 2018) an activist associated with political NGOs.

After viewers had heard Abu Sarah complain that a project documenting biblical Jerusalem does not “tell you the story of the Palestinian residents” in Jerusalem or “the history of the Islamic groups that have lived in Jerusalem” – without clarifying that the Muslim conquest in Jerusalem took place in the 7th century – they saw Datar visit a Crusader site underneath a business in the Old City. While Abu Sarah claimed that “we didn’t know this exists a year and a half, two years ago”, similar Crusader era structures were discovered long before that timeframe.

At the end of the item Datar told viewers:

Datan: “So here’s the rub: in Jerusalem any excavation is going to be both amazing and controversial at the same time.”

Obviously Jerusalem has multiple layers of history which visitors can explore at a variety of sites and museums in addition to the City of David. What makes archaeology ‘controversial’ however is politicisation of the topic and Datan appears to have bought into that with the help of an inadequately presented political activist whose “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” were not disclosed to viewers.  

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BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ promotes half a story from 2014

In the February 26th edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk’ presenter Stephen Sackur interviewed the director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.

The interview was aired on the BBC News and BBC World News television channels (available in the UK here) and an audio version was aired on BBC World Service radio.

“HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur speaks to Dr Yasser Abu Jamei, director of Gaza’s biggest mental health program. The past few days have seen rising tension in Gaza – Islamist militants fired rockets into Israel; the Israelis responded with air strikes aimed at the Islamic Jihad group. Hardly unusual and certainly not the stuff of international headlines but that in itself is telling. In Gaza conflict is the norm, so too an economic blockade that has long choked the economy. What happens to a people living with trauma and collective despair?”

Despite BBC editorial guidelines concerning “Contributors’ Affiliations” which state that audiences should be informed of “their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints”, that information was not provided in relation to the GCMHP or its founder, whom Sackur brought up during the conversation.

Stephen Sackur’s introduction to the interview made no mention of the core issue of Hamas terrorism and even cancelled out the trauma suffered by residents of southern Israel with his use of the word “unique”. Failing to explain why there are people classed as “refugees” in a territory under the exclusive control of Palestinians for almost a decade and a half, he described his interviewee as: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “…an experienced psychiatrist working in a place which poses unique and daunting mental health challenges. The Gaza Strip is home to 2 million people. The majority are young, impoverished and classed as long-term refugees. They’ve been raised in a place of conflict where bomb-blasts, insecurity and sudden death have been constant facts of life. Not only that, Gaza is a densely populated enclave cut off from the outside world by fortified barriers. Israel and Egypt control access in and out for people and goods. It is, in short, a mental health pressure cooker and from time to time the lid blows off. Anger, violence, despair, drug addiction, childhood trauma: all are commonplace. But what can under-staffed, under-resourced mental health professionals do to help? Are the people of Gaza suffering extreme levels of mental illness or simply reacting normally to a uniquely grim situation?”

The interview followed a sadly predictable pattern, with Sackur failing to effectively challenge most of his interviewee’s politically motivated talking points. Even when he did raise issues such as Hamas’ staging of the ‘Great Return March’, the Hamas-Fatah feud and incitement in Palestinian school text- books, he failed to adequately challenge the inadequate responses given.

After the broadcast of the programme, the BBC News website chose to upload a clip to its ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “Mental health: Coping with the trauma of living in Gaza”. The video’s synopsis includes the following:

“In 2014 Dr Jamei’s family home was bombed in an Israeli strike and he lost a number of family members.”

The clip itself begins with that event.

Sackur: “I am very mindful that in 2014 your own family home was bombed, destroyed, by an Israeli military strike. Tell me how many members of your extended family were lost.”

Abu Jamei: “Ah…well we live in an area that is the eastern side of Khan Younis and unfortunately my family endured the biggest loss when it comes to the number of people. You know every single life matters a lot to everyone, you know, but in that simple attack 27 people were killed including three pregnant women and I think seven…seven children. A three-storey building was levelled to the ground basically, you know…”

BBC audiences were not provided with any further context to that account.

The day after that incident – which took place on July 20th 2014, the political NGO B’tselem noted that:

“B’Tselem’s initial findings indicate that the likely target of the attack was Ahmad Suliman Sahmoud, a member of Hamas’ military wing, who was visiting a member of the family.”

Sahmoud was identified (number 446 on the list here) as an Izz al-Din al Qassam Brigades commander.

The IDF Magistrate Advocate General subsequently launched an investigation into that incident.

The results of that investigation (number 12 here) showed that: [emphasis added]

“…on 20 July 2014, IDF forces carried out an aerial strike on a structure in use by Palestinian terrorist organizations for military activities against IDF forces maneuvering in the area. The strike intended to target the military infrastructure in the structure as well as a command level military operative, who according to real-time intelligence was commanding military operations against IDF forces from within the structure. During the planning and execution stages of the strike, which took approximately 24 hours, additional information about the structure was received, which corroborated the understanding that the structure contained military infrastructure that presented clear and immediate danger to IDF forces maneuvering in the area.[…]

Contrary to the allegation [inter alia from B’tselem – Ed.], it was found that a number of warnings were issued in the area of the strike, using various means, which called on civilians to evacuate from the area. It was further found that it would not have been possible to provide a specific warning to those present in the structure prior to the strike, as such a warning was expected to frustrate the objective of the attack. Moreover, it was also found that because the precise location of the military activity in the structure was not known, the strike could not be limited to a particular portion of the building. […]

After reviewing the investigation’s findings, the MAG found that the attack process in question accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements. The decision to attack was taken by the competent authorities, and the attack was aimed at a military objective – a structure used by Palestinian terrorist organizations for military activities against IDF forces maneuvering in the area, and a command level military operative present therein.”

That information was denied to BBC viewers and listeners worldwide even though it has been in the public domain since August 2018. In other words, BBC audiences were given a partial account which conceals essential information and thus prevented from forming their own opinions on the incident as well as about the interviewer and interviewee presenting it in that one-sided fashion.

Related Articles:

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BBC reports on Wafa hospital shown to be inaccurate

Clarifications required for BBC reports on Shati incident

Revisiting BBC reporting on July 2014 Shuja’iya market incident

BBC News passes up on the chance to correct Gaza misinformation

A BBC story from August 2014 still in need of clarification

Revisiting the BBC’s claims about a 2014 story from Rafah

Revisiting the BBC’s 2014 reports on Gaza’s power plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hamas once again given a platform on the BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’

The BBC ‘frequent flyer’ who told audiences in July 2018 that Israel prevents the people in Gaza from “having fresh air” – Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad – was invited back for a ‘Hardtalk’ interview aired on BBC World Service radio and two BBC television stations on May 22nd.

“Stephen Sackur interviews Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for Hamas. The surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence in Gaza earlier this month was relatively short-lived, and the status-quo remains intact. But could change be afoot? Hamas’s internal grip on Gaza is threatened by rising economic discontent. The Trump Administration will soon unveil a peace plan built on economic incentives for the Palestinian people. The movement’s rhetoric is unbending, but do the Palestinian people long for new ideas?”

Following a similar introduction, presenter Stephen Sackur asked his guest: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “…when the people of Gaza ask you how you and the Hamas movement are going to make their lives better, what do you say?”

It is of course entirely predictable that an interview with a spokesman for a terrorist organisation would yield nothing more than a recitation of that group’s misinformation and propaganda. Hence one would expect an interviewer representing a Western media organisation obliged to provide its audiences with “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming” in order to “build people’s understanding” to robustly challenge all such propaganda.

However, it took Stephen Sackur a full four minutes to present any sort of challenge to the misinformation repeatedly touted by Hamad.

Hamad: “I think we are struggling, we are working day and night in order to ease the life of the people in Gaza. But I think the people they understand very well that the reason of this crisis is the occupation, is the policy of the siege, is the policy of the blockade, is the pressure on Gaza everyday because Israel look to Gaza as hostile region and they try to keep Gaza under siege and blockade, sanctions and striking every day. I think we are trying to stop this.”

There is of course no such thing as a ‘siege’ on the Gaza Strip and there has been no ‘occupation’ in the Gaza Strip for 14 years.

Hamad went on to claim that Hamas was trying to “stop this” by means of reconciliation with Fatah and through a “ceasefire agreement”, concluding:

Hamad: “If we put end for the occupation in Gaza I think people could create freedom, dignity and respect and they can move everywhere, they can do everything that they want.”

Sackur: “Yeah. We understand that there are lots of things that you in Gaza are not able to deliver and you talk about what you call the Israeli blockade and you know that we on ‘Hardtalk’ talk to very senior figures in the Israeli government about their policies towards the Gaza Strip but I’m interested in what you can control…”

Hamad’s reply claiming that Hamas “is not so interested to keep control [of] Gaza” did not elicit a response from Sackur and audiences were not told that the Gaza Strip also has a border with Egypt. 

Hamad: “It is a big challenge for us. It’s not easy because Gaza’s like prison. It’s closed from all sides. The gates of Gaza are controlled by the occupation. Gaza’s under sanctions, under the control of the occupation so it’s not easy to find a genius solution for this situation unless we put end for the occupation in Gaza.”

Sackur: “There’s no genius solution; I agree of course with that. But it does raise questions about the sense of your particular strategy. For example, you know, just a couple of weeks ago Hamas’ military wing – along with Islamic Jihad – took the decision to fire hundreds of rockets into Israel. Now I’m just wondering how you can convince anybody that that is in the long-term best interests of the people of Gaza, given that it just gives license to the Israeli government to yet again impose the sort of economic blockade, maintain the blockade that you’ve just talked about.”

Hamad had obviously not “talked about” an “economic blockade” (which in fact only restricts the entry of dual-use goods which can be used for the purpose of terrorism). Hamad had referred to a ‘siege’ and an ‘occupation’ which do not exist.

Hamad: “Look I think we are living in the big dilemma. We are under occupation and then we have to resist against this occupation because the occupation is the source of all evils and all kinds of troubles in Gaza here. And I think we are fighting the Israeli occupation in order to live in freedom and dignity. I think this is something we could not be blamed for this. I think this is the responsibility of the international community. They should as Israel you have to put an end for the occupation. You have to stop this.”

Only at 05:25 minutes into the conversation did Sackur present any form of challenge to that repeated use of the term ‘occupation’.

Sackur: “Hang on, let’s go through this in detail. You talk about ‘the occupation’. Of course Gaza is not occupied. Israeli forces pulled out of Gaza many years ago. You can talk, as you do, about the economic policies the Israelis implement towards you…”

Hamad: “No, no, you misunderstand. You misunderstand. You have to ask yourself who control the borders? Who control the export and import to Gaza?”

Sackur: “No, I understand what you are saying but there is not…there is not an Israeli military troop occupation of Gaza. There used to be. The Israelis pulled out…”

Of course the main issue hindering audience understanding of this interview is that – as an experienced journalist such as Sackur surely knows – Hamas uses the term ‘the occupation’ as a synonym for Israel, reflecting the fact that it rejects the existence of the Jewish state. Sackur later passed up another opportunity to enhance audience understanding by challenging Hamad on that subject.

06:30 Hamad: “Look, Stephen, you have to understand: we are a peaceful people. We want to live like any people in the world. We want to live in freedom. It is enough for us to live in the seventy years of occupation and dilemma and troubles every day…”

Neither did Sackur challenge Hamad’s subsequent claim that there is “no armed struggle in the West Bank” or his bizarre allegation that Israel “abuse” Mahmoud Abbas and “now dismantle the Palestinian Authority”. Moreover, Sackur had nothing to say about this diatribe:

Hamad: “I think this is Israeli mentality that they want to punish, they want to delete the Palestinian identity, they want to destroy our future. They don’t want Palestinian to establish our state, our future, so I think what happen in the Gaza is the same. It’s the policy of the occupation. They want Gaza starving, suffering, people asking for a piece of bread. They want Gaza to be like this. They want Gaza to be oppressed and to be broken….”

Later on in the interview (from 12:47) Sackur brought up the topic of “a very careful coordination by Hamas security forces of this ‘March of Return’”.  He however failed to challenge Hamad’s repeated portrayal of the ‘Great Return March’ as “peaceful” or the following falsehoods:

Hamad: “…people they went to the borders and they took peaceful people. They don’t have guns, they don’t have even stones, they don’t have grenades, they have nothing – just people protest in order to get the attention of the world that there is a crisis in Gaza, that people they deserve a state, people deserve dignity…”

Hamad’s subsequent false claims concerning the identities of those killed during the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting likewise went unquestioned by Sackur.

Hamad: “Most of them are children, most people are innocent people and most of them are women…[…] It is not a military march and you will never find anyone he is a military.”

Notwithstanding Stephen Sackur’s few symbolic and tepid challenges, this interview failed to provide BBC audiences with accurate and impartial information which would contribute to their understanding of a complex issue. It did however once again provide a member of a terrorist organisation with a platform from which to disseminate misinformation and propaganda.  

 

 

 

 

 

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.