Reviewing BBC reporting on the BDS campaign in 2019

Regular readers will be aware of BBC Watch’s long-standing documentation of the BBC’s problematic portrayal of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS). For years the corporation has reported related stories without adequately clarifying to audiences in its own words that what that campaign ultimately seeks to achieve is the end of Israel as the Jewish state.  Moreover, in August 2015, we learned that the BBC considers the provision of such crucial background information “not our role“.

In 2019 we saw that even when covering stories directly related to individual supporters of the BDS campaign, the BBC continued to avoid the obviously central issue of what the campaign they promote is actually about.

Such was the case for example in the generous BBC amplification of the story of Omar Shakir of ‘Human Rights Watch’. Descriptions of the BDS campaign were qualified using the phrase “Israel says” and suggested reading twice included a link to a previous BBC report promoting the falsehood that the BDS campaign solely relates to a “cultural boycott” of Israel.

BBC News report uncritically amplifies political NGO’s talking points

A third superficial BBC News website report on ‘Human Rights Watch’

Listeners to BBC World Service radio were inaccurately informed that the BDS campaign is “Palestinian led” and given a false portrayal of its aims.

BBC WS radio facilitates unchallenged HRW monologue – part one

The same editorial policy was also seen in BBC coverage of stories relating to two BDS supporting US Congresswomen. Although the topic of the agenda of the BDS campaign was obviously relevant to the story, audiences were not provided with a proper explanation.

BBC R4 report on antisemitism in the US uses the Livingstone Formulation

In one report BBC audiences were told that the “aim” of the BDS campaign is “to put economic pressure on the Israeli government”. In others, no effort whatsoever was made to inform audiences what the two Congresswomen actually support.

Superficial BBC reporting of Tlaib and Omar story

BBC Radio 4’s uncritical amplification of Ilhan Omar’s falsehood

BBC WS radio listeners get Ashrawi’s unchallenged propaganda

BBC audiences saw amplification of a specific boycott campaign, inadequate portrayal of the BDS campaign which did not allow readers to put a quote into context and quotes from BDS supporters who were not identified as such.

But by far the most intense campaign conducted by the BBC throughout 2019 related to the Eurovision Song Contest. Having rejected the calls of BDS supporters to boycott the event in Tel Aviv, the BBC then spent four months amplifying such campaigns, with an epilogue two months later.

BBC News Eurovision BDS report follows the usual template

BBC Radio Ulster audiences hear that ‘Israel should be wiped off the map’

BBC News website ignores counter call to boycott it repeatedly promoted

More Eurovision boycott promotion on BBC Radio 5 live

Newsbeat continues the BBC’s Eurovision framing

Context-free amplification of Eurovision boycott calls persists at BBC News

BBC gives multi-platform amplification to antisemitism

BBC’s ‘Newsbeat’ amplifies the BDS campaign yet again

Some of those reports included descriptions of the BDS campaign which were qualified using the phrase “Israel says” while others included inaccurate portrayals of the campaign as a “Palestinian led movement” which “calls on artists to avoid performing in Israel”.  None of that content clarified to audiences in the BBC’s own words that the BDS campaign is opposed to Jews having the basic human right to self-determination in their own country and that denial of Israel’s right to exist is considered – including by the UN Secretary General and according to the definition adopted by the UK government – to be a form of antisemitism.

The adoption of that partisan editorial policy – especially while providing self-conscripted amplification for the BDS campaign – clearly does not serve the interests of the BBC’s funding public but does seriously compromise the BBC’s claim to be ‘impartial’.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC reporting on the BDS campaign in 2017

Reviewing BBC reporting on the BDS campaign in 2018

 

BBC WS radio misrepresents the IHRA definition of antisemitism

h/t SG

The December 22nd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Boston Calling’ – titled “The allegiance edition” – included an item (from 08:56 here) described in its synopsis as follows:

“Also, we look into President Trump’s latest executive order, which relies on a controversial definition of anti-Semitism…” [emphasis added]

The working definition of antisemitism which the BBC World Service found fit to portray as “controversial” is that produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) which has been adopted by governments and bodies around the world.

Presenter Carol Hills (of PRI) chose to introduce the item with an unexplained reference to ‘allegiance’ which might well be considered inappropriate given the subject matter of antisemitism.

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

Hills: “In these divided times there are still some things we agree on. Few people, for example, would not agree that antisemitism is bad and that we should do something about it. But the agreement ends there because as soon as you start asking people what is antisemitism, who is guilty of it and what to do about it, that’s when you run into disagreements and in some cases allegiance comes into question. This became clear after President Trump signed his latest executive order. Our own Rupa Shenoy has more.”

Rupa Shenoy – also of PRI – began with a superficial description of the executive order signed on December 11th which is ostensibly the subject matter of her report.

Shenoy: “Hanukkah came early at the White House as President Trump recounted what he’d done for the Jewish people and said he was adding to that legacy by signing a powerful executive order.”

Recording Trump: “This action makes clear that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits the federal funding of universities and other institutions that engage in discrimination applies to institutions that traffic in antisemitic hate.”

Shenoy: “He noted that Congress and the previous administration had tried to do something similar but those efforts stalled.”

Recording Trump: “But this year there’s no roadblock because I’m doing it myself. It’s much easier.”

Shenoy: “And Trump made the intent of his order clear.”

Recording Trump: “This is our message to universities: if you want to accept the tremendous amount of federal dollars that you get every year, you must reject antisemitism. It’s very simple.”

Shenoy: “The order recommends that universities define antisemitism with this specific language as -quote – a certain perception of Jews which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews including – quote – rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism. Ken Stern helped craft that definition originally for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.”

Ken Stern did not ‘help craft’ the IHRA definition. He did help write – along with some eight others – its predecessor for a now defunct EU agency called The European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. Seeing as Stern has repeatedly voiced his opinion that the IHRC is not suitable for use on campuses because he regards them as a special ‘free speech’ environment, the views he expresses in this report do not come as much of a surprise.

Stern: “It was never intended as something to police speech on campus.”

Shenoy: “Because he says there’s no similar definition of racism for example. And Stern says the Department of Education has made clear that Title VI already covers Jewish students.”

Stern: “Jewish students are being targeted regardless if they’re pro-Israel or anti-Israel, simply because they’re Jewish. That’s something that’s actionable and a concern. But the use of this definition is part of a long-standing pattern to try to curtail political speech about Israel.”

Shenoy then brought in a second voice supporting the same view – but failed to meet BBC editorial guideline requirements to inform audiences of the “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” of her contributor and the organisation she currently represents.  

Shenoy: “Others have come to the same conclusion about Trump’s executive order. Lara Friedman is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.”

Friedman: “What it says is when it comes to criticising Israel, Jews equal Israel, Israel equals Jews. If you are on campus and you only talk about Israel and you’re criticising Israel, you are by definition antisemitic. Under the definition offered here the Palestinian historic and lived narrative becomes antisemitism.”

Shenoy: “She says the order’s goal is to send a message to university administrators and organisers.”

Friedman: “We are watching you and we will make your life miserable; cost you time, there’ll be reputational costs, all of that. You could lose your federal funding if you dare cross the line so don’t even go near the line.”

Shenoy: “Friedman says Trump’s executive order is aimed at campus protests across the country that Trump sees as connected to a larger worldwide movement to boycott Israel called BDS. That’s short for boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

As is inevitably the case in BBC content, audiences did not receive any sort of explanation concerning the BDS campaign – including the particularly relevant fact that what that campaign ultimately seeks to achieve is the end of Israel as the Jewish state.

Recording Trump: “And as president I want to be very clear. My administration vigorously condemns the BDS campaign against Israel.”

Shenoy: “This is Trump earlier this week [actually December 8th] at the Israeli-American Council’s national summit in Florida.”

Recording Trump: “But sadly BDS has also made disturbing headway on American college campuses – you know that, don’t you? Here with us today is Adela Cojab, a recent graduate of New York University who courageously stood for Israel in the face of hostility and bigotry…”

Shenoy: “Adela Cojab got on stage and told the audience she was suing NYU because it failed to protect Jewish students from harassment. Now she tells me she feels validated by the presidential order.”

Cojab: “By signing this order he just expanded the definition of protected groups and it includes Jewish students of course. And that tells Jewish students everywhere that what they’re going through isn’t normal, it’s not OK. And it just clarifies that they can stand up.”

Shenoy: “And Cojab pushes back against the argument that the executive order will stifle free speech.”

Cojab: “I think that the process can very much not be antisemitic. I criticise Israel openly because I have thoughts but there’s a difference between criticising Israel and Israeli policy and Israeli administration and criticising Israel’s right to exist. Because when you say that you’re anti-Zionist you’re saying that you’re against Israel’s right to exist, which is destroying Israel.”

Having apparently brought in Cojab to balance the two voices already heard, Shenoy then promoted a third view opposing the executive order. She did not however bother to clarify to listeners that her interviewee is a member of ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ (SJP) which is one of the main proponents of BDS on US campuses.

Shenoy: “And creating a hostile environment for students, she says. For their part many campus activists for Palestinian rights say they’re not backing down. Nick Galloway is a graduate student at the University of Maryland who’s participated in demonstrations for years.”

Galloway: “They can’t stop us from getting together and fighting for justice and fighting for BDS.”

Shenoy: “He says Trump’s executive order might intimidate some Palestinian or Muslim students on campus from protesting. But Galloway adds that it also might invite a backlash.”

Galloway: “It’s going to strengthen the resolve of student organisers to [unintelligible] that.”

Shenoy: “But the divisions over Israel, Zionism, Palestinian rights and free speech aren’t going away any time soon. Trump’s executive order will have to play out on college campuses and likely court rooms across the country.”

To sum up, BBC audiences heard three voices opposing the US president’s executive order and just one in favour. In breach of BBC editorial guidelines they were not informed of the agendas of the organisations with which two of those voices are associated and neither were they given any relevant background information concerning the BDS campaign which they support.

Most egregiously, listeners were told that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism is “controversial” and that its adoption means that people who “talk about Israel” and criticise Israel “are by definition antisemitic”. That of course is completely false. As Dave Rich of the CST has pointed out, the IHRA definition does not “repress” freedom of speech at all.

“The IHRA definition does no such thing, stating plainly that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.’ This leaves room for the full range of rational, evidence-based opposition to Israeli laws, policies and actions. It doesn’t allow for the kind of obsessive, irrational hatred that depicts Israel as a Nazi state of unparalleled cruelty that needs to be wiped off the map, or that sees “Zionist” conspiracies behind everything from 9/11 to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and for good reason: because, as the IHRA definition recognises, antisemitism sometimes includes ‘the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.’”

If the BBC’s partners at PRI are not capable of portraying the IHRA working definition of antisemitism in a manner that meets BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, that content should obviously not be rebroadcast on ‘Boston Calling’.

Related Articles:

Guardian op-ed: presidential order on antisemitism only supported by right-wing Jews (UK Media Watch) 

 

BBC WS radio facilitates unchallenged HRW monologue – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the first half of a long item (from 14:05 here) that was aired on the November 25th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ and which related to the ‘Human Rights Watch’ employee Omar Shakir whose work visa was not renewed by the Israeli authorities in May 2018 and who – following several court cases – left the country on that day.

Presenter Razia Iqbal continued, providing the cue for another HRW talking point.

Iqbal: “There is a suggestion that the case against Omar Shakir was initially based on statements that he had made in support of a boycott before he took on his role with Human Rights Watch. Is that true?”

Roth: “The Israeli government really kind of resurrected these statements that he had made when he was a university student years ago. But even the government made clear that the anti-BDS law is supposed to be preventative – it’s supposed to look to the future. It’s not supposed to be punitive. So in fact, you know, whatever Omar Shakir said back in his university days is irrelevant. Everything he has done since joining Human Rights Watch – as any Human Rights Watch employee – strictly adheres to Human Rights Watch policy which is not to endorse BDS, it is not to call for boycott. So this is, you know, not about BDS. This is about trying to shut down mainstream human rights advocacy.”

Iqbal made no effort to challenge that spin or to inform listeners that while Shakir was indeed involved in BDS advocacy before joining HRW, that activity has continued, as detailed here, including the FIFA campaign, the Airbnb campaign, the UN BDS data base and the targeting of Israeli banks.

Iqbal: “You have Mr Shakir with you in the car. I’m assuming that you will not be replacing him in his role to cover this particular region.”

Roth: “The Israeli government wanted to get rid of Omar Shakir by deporting him so we are deliberately not playing along with that. Omar will continue his direction of Human Rights Watch’s work on Israel and Palestine. He will do it, as we do in many closed countries, from a neighbouring country so he will set up in one of our offices in the region. We have offices in countries that don’t censor us. Initially he’s going to be operating out of our office in Amman.”

Iqbal: “This Israeli decision has been criticised by the UN and the European Union. The United States sees this just [sic] an issue of freedom of expression. Are you going to appeal against this decision or or is that not possible now?”

Iqbal did not provide a source for her claim of how the US “sees this” but an identical claim appears in an AFP report in which it is also unsourced. Listeners then heard Ken Roth egregiously assert that the ruling given by Israel’s Supreme Court was based on politics rather than legal scholarship, with no challenge whatsoever from Iqbal.

Roth: “We brought this government’s decision to the Israeli Supreme Court. Ahm…the panel we received was a rather Right-wing panel which ruled against us so that they’ve allowed the deportation to go forward. Human Rights Watch has [unintelligible] a full panel which will be more reflective of a more centrist or moderate view of the law should require in light of free speech and human rights principles. That petition is currently pending before the chief justice of the court.”

Listeners did not hear that HRW petitioned – unsuccessfully – for Shakir to be allowed to stay in Israel in the meantime.

Iqbal then asked to speak to Omar Shakir himself.

Shakir: “I am on route to Ben Gurion airport to leave Israel Palestine after two and a half years documenting human rights abuses by all parties as Israel and Palestine director at the organisation. It’s difficult on a personal level to leave but at the same time our work will continue. We will continue to work on the same issues with the same intensity and the same methodologies and I will continue to direct that work and I’m confident I’ll be back one day; one day in which human rights abuses are no longer systematic, in which discrimination is not as deeply entrenched as it is today and until that day comes, I’ll continue to work as hard as I have for the last few years.”

Iqbal: “Are you disappointed that you are not getting perhaps the kind of robust support from the United States – of which you are a citizen – as you are from the United Nations and the European Union?”

Shakir: “It’s been fantastic just seeing the outpouring of support across the world. The world sees through the Israeli government’s narrative. This is about muzzling human rights advocacy. It’s been clear that this Trump administration has moved from failing to use its leverage to safeguard rights to full-fledged green-lighting at serious rights abuse but that position has been rejected whether it be with regard to the illegality of settlements, the status of Palestinian refugees or attacks on human rights defenders. The United States’ position has only highlighted its isolation from the global consensus.”

Iqbal: “And just one final comment on…on what you are being accused of doing by the Israelis – that you have been engaged in advocating boycotting and divestment and sanctions against Israel.”

Shakir: “Look, neither Human Rights Watch nor I as its representative ever called for a boycott of Israel. This is but the latest in a series of allegations used to muzzle Human Rights Watch’s work. The reality here is that Human Rights Watch uses the same methodology we use in a hundred countries around the world. One of our important focuses is business and human rights and we’ve done the exact same work. We’re not going to create a special rule for Israel. We’re going to use the same standards that we use everywhere else and we’ll continue that work.”

Iqbal closed the pre-recorded interviews there, failing to point out to listeners that Shakir’s claim of ‘using the same standards’ in Israel as it does “everywhere else” is patently untrue and that – for example – it did not campaign for Airbnb to de-list holiday rentals in other disputed territories such as northern Cyprus.

Listeners then heard an ‘explanation’ of why ‘Newshour’ completely failed to provide its listeners with any other perspective.

Iqbal: “Our correspondent in Jerusalem has attempted to get reaction from the authorities in Israel but they have rejected requests for interviews. We have also been trying here in London.”

That of course does not excuse the entirely one-sided nature of this long item in which listeners repeatedly heard HRW’s long-standing spin on the story go unquestioned and unchallenged but were told nothing at all about the court’s findings.

Once again we see that when reporting on ‘Human Rights Watch’ – which is one of the political NGOs most quoted and promoted by the BBC in its coverage of Israel –  the BBC tosses its editorial standards on accuracy and impartiality aside, opting for journalistic activism over providing its audiences with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of the story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio facilitates unchallenged HRW monologue – part one

A third superficial BBC News website report on ‘Human Rights Watch’

A BBC promoted BDS myth exposed

 

 

BBC WS radio facilitates unchallenged HRW monologue – part one

The November 25th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included a long item (from 14:05 here) relating to the ‘Human Rights Watch’ employee Omar Shakir whose work visa was not renewed by the Israeli authorities in May 2018 and who – following several court cases – left the country on that day.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced that eight minute and thirty-nine second item as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Now, a controversial fight [sic] between Israel and one of its most vociferous human rights critics. The outcome is the expulsion of the director of Human Rights Watch based in Israel, Omar Shakir, who is a US citizen but was accused by the Israelis of advocating BDS – a Palestinian-led campaign calling for the boycotting, disinvestment and sanctioning of Israel until it meets what it des…what is described as Israel’s obligations under international law.”

Anyone familiar with the long years of BBC refusal to inform its audiences of the BDS campaign’s aims would not be surprised by Iqbal’s blatant whitewashing of that subject. The BDS campaign – which is not “Palestinian-led” as claimed by Iqbal – does not aspire to have Israel ‘meet international law’. Rather it seeks to end the “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” and promotes a right of “Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties”: goals which undermine the fundamental right of the Jewish people to self-determination.

Yet as we see, Iqbal refrained from providing listeners with that obviously relevant background information before she went on to introduce her two sole interviewees – both from ‘Human Rights Watch’. She did however promote one of HRW’s long-standing talking points while referring to “a 2017 law” (actually an amendment to existing legislation) which she failed to explain.  

Iqbal: “The Israelis say that Mr Shakir is in violation of a 2017 law. Human Rights Watch say Mr Shakir’s expulsion places Israel in the same camp as Venezuela, Iran and Egypt in barring Human Rights Watch researchers. I’ve been speaking to Ken Roth. He’s the head of Human Rights Watch.”

In breach of BBC editorial guidelines on “contributors’ affiliations”, listeners were not given “appropriate information” about HRW’s “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” and beyond the short description of Ken Roth’s title, they heard nothing of his record – a serious omission which obviously compromised the ability of audiences to put his assorted claims and allegations into context.

Roth: “I’m actually driving in the taxi at this moment toward the airport with Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director, and I will accompany him out of Israel later today in compliance with the deportation order that the Israeli government has issued for him. The Israeli government wants him out of the country in essence because of his reporting on Israel’s illegal settlements and in particular the advocacy that he has done asking businesses to avoid complicity in that illegality. This kind of advocacy is similar to what Human Rights Watch does around the world, whether it’s child labour in gold and diamond mining or avoiding forced labour in cotton picking in Uzbekistan or the internet companies avoiding censorship in China. But Israel objected to this advocacy with respect to the illegal settlements and it’s retaliating against Omar by ordering his deportation.”

The claim that HRW’s work in Israel is no different to what it does in the rest of the world has long been one of the political NGO’s talking points but as NGO Monitor points out:

“HRW lobbies for boycotts of, divestment from, and sanctions against Israeli institutions and businesses and companies doing business in Israel, including in the UN (“BDS blacklist”), FIFA, and Congress. Even if HRW can point to a handful of isolated calls for businesses to cease their operations in other places due to human rights concerns, there is no parallel in terms of the zeal, intensity, language, and continuous campaigns regarding Israel. […]

HRW misleadingly portrays its support for BDS against Israel as “calling on businesses to uphold their human rights’ responsibilities by cutting settlement ties.” First, there is no such obligation under international law, and every national court that has looked at these issues has rejected attempts to bar or criminalize such activity (for example, France, the UK, Canada, the US, and Israel). Second, HRW does not limit itself to BDS against settlements, seeking to have Israel sanctioned by FIFA and targeting Israeli banks, among other campaigns.

Finally, this claim is irrelevant. At the end of the day, HRW and Shakir are calling for boycotts in a way that expressly and directly meets the criteria in the Israeli law.”

Iqbal failed to challenge Roth on that point – or on his portrayal of Israeli communities as “illegal” – but did presume to present “Israel’s view”, once again without explaining the “law of 2017”.

Iqbal: “Israel’s view is that Mr Shakir is advocating the policies of the BDS movement – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement – which is contrary to an Israeli law of 2017. Are you saying that he is not doing that?”

Roth: “That’s correct. I mean the Israeli pretext is the BDS law but in fact, you know, Human Rights Watch has never endorsed BDS. We have not called for a boycott. We don’t appeal to consumers. This was just kind of a concocted pretext to get rid of Omar Shakir. All this is to avoid complicity in human rights violations which is what we do around the world. This is nothing exceptional and frankly that’s what makes the Israeli government’s move so dangerous because this is not an action against some extremist position. This is an action against completely mainstream run-of-the-mill human rights advocacy. And if they can penalise Human Rights Watch for this completely ordinary position, they can go after anybody.”

Iqbal failed to challenge that spin from Ken Roth. As NGO Monitor explains:

“There are over 350 NGOs in the field of human rights listed with the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits, and an additional 400+ Palestinian and international groups that are active in the West Bank. Many of these strenuously and stridently oppose Israeli policy, with some deploying BDS and antisemitism in their campaigns. They get significant media coverage in Israel and internationally, as well as platforms in the UN and national parliaments. None of this will change, regardless of the court’s decision on Shakir.

In addition, the visa law is only relevant to non-Israelis and non-Palestinians, and as previously decided by the Israeli Supreme Court, is only applicable to active leaders of BDS. HRW, which has other employees in the region and is not in danger of disappearing, could replace Shakir with an Israeli or a Palestinian. If they hire an international staffer, they can select an individual who is not a long-time leader of demonization and BDS.”

Pursuing the same line of questioning but failing to specifically mention HRW’s failed campaign against Airbnb last year, Iqbal handed Roth yet another cue to repeat his talking points.

Iqbal: “Mr Shakir is a US citizen and it is the case, is it not, that Human Rights Watch does urge businesses to stop operating in the settlements and a broad interpretation of that 2017 laws [sic] would suggest that Human Rights Watch and in this case Mr Shakir are breaking that law.”

Roth: “If you want to interpret a call on businesses to live up to their global responsibilities to avoid complicity in human rights violations as a boycott then you get to the Israelis’ extreme position. But in fact it’s not a boycott. We don’t appeal to consumers. We’re not in any sense, you know, urging any boycott of Israel. We’re focusing simply on the illegalities of the settlements and that’s why I say this is such a mainstream position. It’s such an uncontroversial position within the human rights movement that if Israel’s gonna get away with trying to censor this kind of position, then no human rights advocacy is safe in Israel.”

Iqbal could have challenged Roth’s false claim that “we’re not in any sense, you know, urging any boycott of Israel” by reminding audiences that, together with other BDS supporting NGOs, HRW tried – unsuccessfully – to get Israel thrown out of the international football federation FIFA but she did not.

The rest of this item will be discussed in part two of this post.

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A third superficial BBC News website report on ‘Human Rights Watch’

A BBC promoted BDS myth exposed

 

A third superficial BBC News website report on ‘Human Rights Watch’

On the afternoon of November 25th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Israel’s deportation of Human Rights Watch activist condemned”.

With not much having happened since the BBC published its previous article on that story twenty days earlier (except for the Supreme Court’s rejection last week of another petition from HRW), it came as no surprise to see that a significant proportion of this latest report was identical to the earlier one – including the links to additional reading.

As was noted here the last time those links were promoted: 

“The first of those items promotes the falsehood that the BDS campaign solely relates to a “cultural boycott” of Israel. The second is remarkable for its lack of fact checking and the third (from 2015) uncritically amplifies falsehoods promoted by a professional BDS campaigner, including about the campaign’s origins.”

This latest report yet again made no effort to give BBC audiences an accurate picture of the anti-Israel BDS campaign in the corporation’s own words.

“Israel says that BDS opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by anti-Semitism – something the movement denies.”

It did however once again uncritically amplify HRW’s talking points concerning the case.

“HRW rejected the Israeli government’s portrayal of Mr Shakir, saying he neither supported nor opposed BDS.

It stressed that as its representative he had called on companies to stop working in or with Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, and had not called for a consumer boycott of those companies.”

Remarkably, no effort was made to inform readers of the court findings which refute those talking points.  

Readers of course found the BBC’s standard partisan portrayal of ‘international law’.

 “The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Twenty-one percent of the report’s word count was devoted to uncritical amplification of the latest statements from the political NGO ‘Human Rights Watch’.

“Human Rights Watch has accused the Israeli authorities of an “intensifying assault on human rights” following the deportation of one of its activists. […]

“Israel today joins the likes of Venezuela, Iran, and Egypt in barring Human Rights Watch researchers, but it, too, will not succeed in hiding its human rights abuses,” said Kenneth Roth, HRW’s executive director, who accompanied Mr Shakir as he flew out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Monday.

“This decision shows why the international community must reboot its approach to Israel’s deteriorating human rights record. A government that expels a leading human rights investigator is not likely to stop its systematic oppression of Palestinians under occupation without much greater international pressure.””

An additional paragraph was given over to amplification of similar comments from another political NGO which engages in lawfare against Israel, ‘B’tselem’ and yet another paragraph (also seen in the previous report) told readers that:

“Former Israeli officials and human rights groups filed motions to join Mr Shakir’s appeal against the deportation order at the Supreme Court, while the European Union and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called on the Israeli authorities not to deport him.”

BBC audiences were not however informed that among those expressing support for Omar Shakir and ‘Human Rights Watch’ was Hamas.

While the caption to the main image illustrating the article told BBC audiences that “Omar Shakir vowed to continue investigating and reporting human rights abuses”, both a Tweet from Shakir embedded into the article and a Tweet from the head of HRW make it very clear that the NGO’s interest in human rights is far from universal.

This is the third BBC News website report on this topic (see earlier ones here and here) and all three have extensively and unquestioningly amplified the talking points of HRW and other political NGOs while failing to inform BBC audiences of the obviously relevant issue of the aims of the BDS campaign.

Clearly the BBC has no interest whatsoever in providing its audiences with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of the story and its wider related background but that editorial policy is more comprehensible when one appreciates that while for years ‘Human Rights Watch’ has been one of the political NGOs most quoted and promoted by the BBC in its coverage of Israel, that organisation’s political agenda and funding has never been adequately clarified to audiences as required by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality.   

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BBC News website amplifies the NGO echo-chamber

BBC News report uncritically amplifies political NGO’s talking points

BBC News report uncritically amplifies political NGO’s talking points

On the afternoon of November 5th the BBC News website published a report on its ‘Middle East’ page which was presented to audiences with a ‘halo effect’ reference to a “rights activist”.

The report itself (tagged, inter alia, ‘human rights’) is headlined “Israel court rejects Human Rights Watch activist’s deportation appeal” and the caption under the photograph at the top of the article reads:

“Omar Shakir said he had not called for a boycott of Israel during his time at Human Rights Watch”

Obviously the BBC did not fact-check that claim from the person it had already flagged up as a “rights activist” (i.e. good) before amplifying it.

Had it done so, it would know that analysis of Tweets sent from Shakir’s personal Twitter account between June 2018 and February 2019 by NGO Monitor shows that 16% of those Tweets focused on BDS campaigns against Booking.com and TripAdvisor and additional Tweets supported a UN “blacklist” of businesses operating in Judea & Samaria.

45% of the BBC article’s word count is devoted to uncritical amplification of talking points from Omar Shakir (including a link to a Tweet) and his employer ‘Human Rights Watch, including the following claim:

“The group [HRW] insists that neither it nor Mr Shakir promote boycotts of Israel.”

That claim was also seen in a May 2018 BBC report on the same case and as we noted at the time:

“Obviously too, the BBC has ‘forgotten’ that an anti-Israel campaign at FIFA (which it vigorously promoted at the time) was supported by political NGOs including Human Rights Watch. In fact, Shakir even went so far as to fly to Bahrain a year ago to lobby FIFA officials and – as Professor Gerald Steinberg recently noted:

“In the past year alone, HRW pushed divestment from Israeli banks, targeted Israel’s membership in FIFA (the international soccer association), called for arms embargoes and ending security cooperation, lobbied the UN to “blacklist” companies doing business in Israel, and petitioned the International Criminal Court to open prosecutions against Israeli officials.””

32% of the BBC report’s word count describes the position of Israel’s interior ministry. As usual the BBC abstains from providing its audiences with an explanation of the BDS campaign in its own words.

“The interior ministry argued that Mr Shakir was an “activist” for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which campaigns for a complete boycott of Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians.

Israel says that BDS opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by anti-Semitism. In 2017, it passed a law refusing entry to people with links to BDS.”

The body of the report includes links to three items of additional reading:

The first of those items promotes the falsehood that the BDS campaign solely relates to a “cultural boycott” of Israel. The second is remarkable for its lack of fact checking and the third (from 2015) uncritically amplifies falsehoods promoted by a professional BDS campaigner, including about the campaign’s origins.

Readers also find the BBC’s standard partisan portrayal of ‘international law’.

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The report’s final paragraph is devoted to amplification of the support of third parties for Shakir, including unnamed organisations portrayed as “human rights groups” which actually include political NGOs such as ‘Breaking the Silence’.  

“Former Israeli officials and human rights groups filed motions to join Mr Shakir’s appeal, while the European Union and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called on Israel not to deport him.”

Remarkably though, the BBC’s report makes no attempt to provide readers with details of the Supreme Court decision. As NGO Monitor documents:

“The Court firmly rejected a key argument from Shakir’s lawyers. They tried to argue that Shakir’s personal BDS activity ended upon his employment at HRW, at which point all his expressions should be attributed to HRW as an organization. Since HRW is not on the Israeli government’s list of “BDS organizations,” Shakir’s activity as an HRW employee should be granted “immunity” from the Entry into Israel Law. In sharp contradiction, the Court determined that he is responsible for his public statements, especially those on his private Twitter account.”

For years ‘Human Rights Watch’ has been one of the political NGOs most quoted and promoted by the BBC in its coverage of Israel and yet that organisation’s political agenda has never been adequately clarified to audiences as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. Since Omar Shakir’s work permit was not renewed in May 2018 BBC audiences have seen only superficial coverage which, like this latest report, clearly demonstrates that the BBC has no interest whatsoever in providing its audiences with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of the story and its wider BDS campaign related background.

Related Articles:

BBC News website amplifies the NGO echo-chamber

BBC’s Bateman shoehorns anti-Israel NGO into hi-tech story

BBC amplified anti-Israel campaign rejected by FIFA

BBC WS news bulletins amplify HRW delegitimisation campaign

BBC News claims BDS is solely about ‘a cultural boycott’

BBC News uses ‘Israel says’ instead of fact checking

More BBC mainstreaming of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – part one

BBC News report on Airbnb backtrack follows usual recipe

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At the BESA Center, Professor Efraim Karsh addresses ‘Distorting Ben-Gurion’.

“By ignoring millions of declassified documents from the period of the British Mandate (1920-48) and Israel’s early days that show the claim of premeditated dispossession of the Palestinian Arabs to be completely unfounded, “revisionist” journalist Tom Segev’s rewrites David Ben-Gurion’s personal story, and, by extension, the story of Israel’s creation, in an image of his own making in which aggressors are transformed into hapless victims and vice versa.”

2) At the same site, Dr Alex Joffe looks at ‘BDS, Antisemitism and Class.

“Contemporary antisemitism has the ability to graft itself onto a variety of causes and movements. But the social and information environment in the US and Europe is strongly conditioned by virtue-signaling among elites and increasingly among portions of the middle class. Antisemitism, in part through BDS-fueled antipathy toward Israel, is becoming a signal of middle class respectability. At the same time, though left-wing Western elites remain strongly anti-national, the working classes and other parts of the middle class are becoming renationalized. These and other class conflicts will shape antisemitism in the next decades.”

3) Michael Walzer discusses ‘Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism’ at the Fathom Journal.

“Anti-Zionism is a flourishing politics today on many university campuses and on parts of the left, and the standard response from many Jewish organisations and from most of the Jews I know is to call it the newest version of anti-Semitism. But anti-Zionism is a subject in itself; it comes in many varieties, and which ones are anti-Semitic — that’s the question I want to address here. I take ‘Zionism’ to mean a belief in the rightful existence of a Jewish state, nothing more. Anti-Zionism denies the rightfulness. My concern here is with left-wing anti-Zionism in the United States and Europe.”

4) David Collier has been examining a Middle East history textbook used in British schools.

“From the opening sentences, when the book called Jewish people 3300 years ago ‘settlers’ until the final chapters – it is almost impossible for the untrained eye to pick apart fantasy from fiction.

The book spends three pages explaining the Oslo Peace process – and then asks the students to explain the failure of the process – but never once mentioned the exploding buses in Israel’s streets – and only mentioned a single terror attack during this period. How can a student possibly explain the failure of Oslo if you don’t mention the 100s of Israelis slain in Israeli streets?

The book doesn’t avoid violence. Whilst the book drums Jewish violence into the heads of students – through repetitive use of keywords such as ‘Irgun’, Lehi’, ‘the King David Hotel’ and ‘Deir Yassin’ – The Mufti of Jerusalem – a man responsible for much of the violence in the 1920-1939 Mandate – is not mentioned anywhere in the book.” 

Weekend long read

1) Writing at Tablet Magazine, Howard Jacobson asserts that “the reaction to a rescinded European literary award exposes the hypocrisy of cultural boycotts”.

“Whatever BDS means to achieve it is not subtle in its grasp of the rights and wrongs, the causes and the consequences, of Israel’s conflict with its neighbors. Not subtle in its penetration of how things stand for all parties. Not at pains to be evenhanded where evenhandedness might prove fruitful. And not far-seeing in securing the political well-being of actual Palestinians. But these are practical, and some would say desperate, considerations and as such might just be permitted to slip past the vigilance of moral rectitude and intellectual rigor.”

2) Reuel Marc Gerecht of the FDD discusses “The Israeli–Palestinian Struggle, Continued”.

“There is no chance of a “peace party” returning to Jerusalem unless Israelis see that Palestinians have unequivocally denounced the past, that the celebrations of those who’ve died killing Israelis are rejected.   That is impossible to envision in the near-term:  neither Fatah, nor Hamas, nor the Israelis, nor Washington want the Palestinian people voting.  All fear the worst—the wrong side winning.  Perhaps most perversely, the Israelis are invested in a security status quo with Fatah that likely negates the chance of any Palestinian change, and surely makes Hamas more popular on the West Bank than its tyranny in Gaza has earned.  But it’s possible that if there were a free vote among Palestinians the hostility towards Israelis—the fundamental rejection of the legitimacy of a Jewish state—could be the common denominator among Palestinians who otherwise loathe Fatah’s and Hamas’ dictatorships.  Palestinians again voting could lead to intense violence, among Palestinians and against Israelis.  Nonetheless, Palestinian popular sovereignty is likely the only way out of this cul-de-sac.”

3) Also at the FDD, David Adesnik and Andrew Gabel report on the opening of a border crossing between Syria and Iraq. 

“Syria and Iraq on Monday formally opened a key border crossing that lies along the principal route of Iran’s emerging land bridge to the Mediterranean via Baghdad and Damascus. The opening threatens to increase the volume of weapons and materiel that Iran can move across the bridge as part of its effort to establish a dominant position in the Levant. […]

The al-Qaim-Albu Kamal border crossing has unique strategic value for Iran, since the other two official crossings between Iraq and Syria are under the control of U.S. or U.S.-aligned forces. To the southwest, U.S. troops and local partners have secured al-Tanf, while Ya’rubiyah to the northeast is in the hands of Washington’s Syrian Kurdish allies.”

4) At the BESA Center, Dr. Doron Itzchakov takes a look at the Iraqi militias.

“The recent assaults on the militia bases of al-Hashd al-Sha’abi raise questions about Iraq’s future. Despite the Iraqi PM’s ultimatum demanding that the militias, which operate under the Iranian umbrella, integrate into the Iraqi military apparatus, a number of them are not complying, which could have implications for Iraqi sovereignty.”

BBC WS radio listeners get Ashrawi’s unchallenged propaganda

The lead item in the August 15th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was described thus:

“Israel is blocking two US Democratic lawmakers, who are prominent critics of the Israeli government, from visiting.”

Presenter Julian Marshall introduced the item (from 00:10 here) as follows:

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

Marshall: “And we begin today with that decision by Israel – supported by President Trump – to bar entry to two US Democratic Congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who had been planning to visit the Palestinian territories. But Israel has said they won’t be allowed in because of their support for the international movement that urges a boycott of Israel, known as BDS. In 2017 Israel passed a law banning entry to foreigners who support a boycott. Newshour has repeatedly asked the Israeli government for an interview. They’ve instead given us a statement. ‘Congressmen Tlaib and Omar’, the statement says, ‘are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress. Only a few days ago we received their itinerary for their visit in Israel which revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy’. Well in a moment we’ll be speaking to an Israeli journalist but first let’s get the reaction of Hanan Ashrawi, who would have been hosting the two Congresswomen in the Palestinian territories.”

Listeners were not informed that Ashrawi is a member of the PLO executive committee as well as the founder of ‘Miftah’ – the controversial NGO that organised and part sponsored the proposed trip. Neither were BBC audiences told that the person “who would have been hosting the two Congresswomen” was herself denied a visa to the United States earlier this year.

Ashrawi: “I think this is absolutely preposterous and unacceptable. I mean they are denying entry to representatives of another country; I mean their ally, the US. These are Congresswomen who are coming to Palestine, not to Israel. They are coming to reach out to the Palestinian people, to see how things are on the ground and the reality of the occupation. And now Israel gives itself the right to bar them from coming to Palestine, to ban them from entering and the same time to impose a blackout on Palestinian realities in order for them not to find out the truth. This is not acceptable and I believe that this is as affront to the American people and to the representatives themselves. But unfortunately Donald Trump, the president, [laughs] was inciting against them and he was telling the Israelis not to allow them in.”

In fact the Congresswomen’s itinerary included a day two tour of “Al-Aqsa mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall and other historic sites” in the Israeli capital Jerusalem. Marshall made no effort to clarify to listeners that, as the BBC itself states, “[t]here is no independent state of Palestine today” despite Ashrawi’s repeated references to that non-existent entity.

Likewise making no effort to inform audiences of the fact that the BDS campaign promotes the so-called ‘right of return’ for millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees (which would lead to the elimination of the Jewish state and thereby deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination) Marshall went on:  

Marshall: “But Israel would argue that it has a 2017 law that bars foreigners from entering the country who support a boycott of Israel and they [Ashrawi laughs] would argue that that is what these two Congresswomen have been doing.”

Israel of course does not have to “argue” that Omar and Tlaib support the BDS campaign: they have made that quite clear themselves.

Listeners next heard a series of plainly ridiculous claims from Ashrawi concerning Israel and the 2017 amendment to the ‘Entry to Israel law’ which enables Israel to deny entry to people who advocate for a campaign that the BBC serially refuses to accurately portray to its audiences.

Ashrawi: “Well the thing is, Israel cannot tolerate dissent or differences of opinion. There are many people who…who adopt this. There are many people who think that Israel should be held accountable. This is something that is universally acceptable so Israel cannot legislate in order to violate international law and human rights. And Israel now thinks that not only is it above the law and it can do whatever it wants with the occupation, it wants to enjoy full impunity and it wants to punish those who want to hold Israel accountable and act in accordance with their conscience.”

Making no effort to challenge Ashrawi’s propaganda, Marshall continued:

Marshall: “Is this another reason for the Palestinians not to engage with the Trump administration?”

Listeners then heard similarly unchallenged misrepresentation of ‘international law’ from the literature graduate Ashrawi.

Ashrawi: [laughs] “I can’t think we need another reason. I think that the Trump administration has taken illegal, unilateral measures on the issues of Jerusalem, on the issues of refugees, on the issues of funding the Palestinians, on the issue of punishing the most vulnerable segments of our population and of course while refusing the two-state solution, the ’67 borders, by refusing to acknowledge the fact of the occupation itself. So they have effectively violated every aspect of international law pertaining to the Palestinian question. So in a sense I mean there’s nothing left to do other than incite against their own nationals, against the representatives of the American people. An American president is telling a foreign country not to admit members of his own Congress [laughs]. I mean this lacks any sense of logic or political responsibility or respect for his own people even. Certainly we said the moment that they decide to treat us as equals and to respect international law, then of course we are willing to talk to them. But since they are violating the law and violating our rights, there is no reason to engage.”

Failing to clarify to listeners that the US administration has not ‘refused’ the two-state solution and that there is no such thing as “’67 borders”, Marshall closed that completely unchallenged propaganda rant.

Marshall: “That was senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi.”

Despite the BBC being obliged to provide its funding public with “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them” its coverage of this story (see ‘related articles’ below) has been characterised by a complete failure to supply audiences with relevant information concerning the political NGO that organised the trip and the BDS campaign which the two Congresswomen support.

Although, given her record, it was patently obvious that BBC World Service radio listeners were not going to hear any objective or informative comment from Hanan Ashrawi, ‘Newshour’ producers nevertheless sought out her ‘contribution’ and Julian Marshall’s failure to question any of her numerous outlandish claims and statements ensured that the BBC once again failed to meet its public purpose.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting of Tlaib and Omar story

BBC Radio 4’s uncritical amplification of Ilhan Omar’s falsehood