BBC rejects complaint concerning inaccurate claim about Israeli airport security

As readers may recall, on March 22nd the BBC News website published an article by Home Affairs correspondent Tom Symonds in which it was inaccurately claimed that the level of security checks at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv are dependent upon the colour of the traveller’s skin.Brussels airport security art

Symonds wrote:

“Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, often cited as the world’s most secure, relies on profiling. Passengers are closely watched and intensively questioned about who they are and where they are going.

It works because it allows a more fluid and less predictable line of security.”

However, Symonds then went on to tell his readers:

“But it is a technique often criticised as “politically incorrect” because those without white faces, travelling to and from “non-western” countries, face more scrutiny. [emphasis added]

Symonds provided no evidence to support his inaccurate allegation of racial profiling according to skin colour.  One example contradicting that allegation was given by a former director of security at Ben Gurion airport in an article from 2010. 

“Israeli aviation security manages to create a reasonable balance between detection technology and human interaction. While at American airports we deploy people to support technology, in Tel Aviv technology is deployed to support people. Does it work? Ask Anne Marie Murphy, a young Irishwoman who, in 1986, nearly boarded a plane while carrying an explosive device without her knowledge. Her terrorist boyfriend, who was supposed to be on a separate flight, had given her a bag with a concealed bomb. When a profiler began to ask her a standard set of questions, it became clear that she was an anomaly (she had no accommodations lined up, among other issues). The device, which was cleverly hidden, would not have been detected during a pat-down, or even by an X-ray scanner. But the profiler, who was not distracted by her ethnicity, religion, gender, or her obvious pregnancy, saved Murphy and hundreds of other passengers—simply by taking her aside and talking to her.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that inaccuracy. The BBC Complaints department’s response fails to address the issue raised in that complaint and the article has not been corrected.

Response airport complaint

BBC Watch will of course be pursuing the issue further.

BBC News alleges racial discrimination in Israeli airport security

Among the copious BBC News website coverage of the March 22nd terror attacks in Brussels was an article by Home Affairs correspondent Tom Symonds titled “Brussels attacks: Airport security under the spotlight again” which opened as follows:Brussels airport security art

“Global airport security is again under the spotlight following the attacks in Brussels. Is it ever possible to prevent a suicide bomber entering an airport to kill and maim?”

What followed was a fairly superficial discussion of the security measures employed at airports which could have been written by anyone who has ever travelled by air. The topic then turned to differing approaches to security and, predictably, the measures employed at Israel’s international airport came up.

“Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, often cited as the world’s most secure, relies on profiling. Passengers are closely watched and intensively questioned about who they are and where they are going.

It works because it allows a more fluid and less predictable line of security.”

However, Symonds then went on to tell his readers:

“But it is a technique often criticised as “politically incorrect” because those without white faces, travelling to and from “non-western” countries, face more scrutiny.

Passengers complain of being forced to answer personal questions or even hand over personal items deemed to pose a risk. It can be highly intrusive.” [emphasis added]

There is of course no basis to Symonds’ crude allegation of racial discrimination and in fact a CIA report apparently instructed personnel that:

“Security personnel at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, commonly refer military-aged males traveling alone with backpacks to secondary screening, regardless of their nationality or skin color,” the report notes. “Israel’s security personnel focus on frequent travel to Islamic countries.” [emphasis added]

That modus operandi would no doubt sound quite logical to anyone more worried about getting blown up than political correctness but nevertheless, readers of this stocking-filler piece – obviously intended to fluff up the volume of coverage on a particularly busy news day – went away with the inaccurate notion that security checks at Israel’s main airport depend upon the colour of one’s skin.

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BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’: Israeli airport security ‘Kafkaesque intimidation’ and ‘mind-games’


BBC News website report downplays Hamas’ nuclear terrorism

On July 9th the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel ‘to intensify Gaza attacks’” on its Middle East page. In that report, readers were informed that:Dimona attack art 9 7

“The [Israeli] military said its Iron Dome missile defence system had intercepted 21 of the 82 rockets fired on Wednesday, including three above Tel Aviv, three over Ashkelon and three over Ashdod.

It said three missiles were launched toward the southern city of Dimona and its nuclear reactor. Two fell near the town, while a third was intercepted.”

What the BBC did not tell its audiences, however, is that it is not only the Israeli military which “said” that missiles were launched at Dimona:  Hamas clearly stated that it had deliberately aimed warheads at the nuclear reactor there.

“Three rockets were launched at Dimona in southern Israel on Wednesday afternoon. The Iron Dome intercepted one rocket before it could land, while two other rockets landed in open areas.

Dimona is the location of Israel’s nuclear reactor. There was no indication that rockets damaged any part of the reactor.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the rockets, stating that it had been attempting to hit the nuclear reactor.

Militants from Hamas’s Qassam Brigades said they had launched long-range M-75 rockets towards Dimona.”

And what the BBC also did not tell its audiences is that such an act is defined as nuclear terrorism according to the terms of the UN’s 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

Article 2 i

In addition, Hamas has also announced that it is deliberately attacking Israel’s international airport.

“Hamas military wing Izz al-Din al-Qassam claim they fired four rockets at Ben-Gurion airport and five rockets at Be’er Sheva.

Hamas says they intend to fire rockets from the Gaza Strip at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion international airport and warn airlines not to fly to Israel’s main gateway to the world. […]

“The armed wing of the Hamas movement has decided to respond to the Israeli aggression, and we warn you against carrying out flights to Ben-Gurion airport, which will be one of our targets today because it also hosts a military air base,” said a statement by the Islamist group’s Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades.”

Article 2 of the 1997 Convention Against Terrorist Bombings states: [emphasis added]

“Any person commits an offence within the meaning of this Convention if that person unlawfully and intentionally delivers, places, discharges or detonates an explosive or other lethal device in, into or against a place of public use, a State or government facility, a public transportation system or an infrastructure facility:

a) With the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; or

b) With the intent to cause extensive destruction of such a place, facility or system, where such destruction results in or is likely to result in major economic loss.”

Despite being such an avid fan of quoting ‘international law’ on the topic of neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, the BBC is being remarkably coy about informing its audiences of the true significance of actions Hamas itself admits to carrying out.

Additionally, that same BBC report repeated the false claim from a politically motivated NGO that Israel deliberately targets civilians which was published in a prior article.

“The head of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, Raji Sourani, accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians.

He told the BBC: “There is no safe haven in this place and Palestinian civilians are once again in the eye of the storm and are paying heavily. Israelis are trying to pressure militant groups through targeting civilians.” “

So, whilst promoting and amplifying false claims on the one hand, on the other the BBC refrains from adequately and accurately representing serious proven acts of Hamas terrorism.   

BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’: Israeli airport security ‘Kafkaesque intimidation’ and ‘mind-games’

Let’s be honest; it doesn’t take much talent – journalistic or otherwise – to come up with a gratuitous overly dramatic scare story about Israel and one particularly easy option for those not inclined to put any degree of real effort into their Middle East reporting is the topic of airport security.

Just such a vacuous item was broadcast on March 19th in the BBC World Service edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ – available here.  But Marijke Peters also ventures beyond the trite and shoddy into something bordering the world of self-centered paranoid conspiracy theory. And yet for some reason the BBC World Service considered Peters’ unqualified slurs and unsourced anecdotes worthy of broadcast to millions around the globe in a programme which purports to bring audiences “insight, wit and analysis”. FOOC airport 19 3

The item is introduced by presenter Pascal Harter.

PH: “Airport security – it’s a hassle, isn’t it, at the best of times. Did you remember your passport? Have you decanted your shampoo into a smaller bottle? Have you sealed that bottle in a see-through plastic bag? Now go back through, removing your shoes and your belt, and putting your dignity in a separate tray. Passing through security in Israel though is in another league altogether, says Marijke Peters.”

[all emphasis added]

MP: “Whether it’s excessive questioning or having your computer confiscated then sent off for checks, every foreigner living in the West Bank’s got a scare story about Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. And then there are what I call the secret codes. They say the worst is a five; the first of a series of numbers stamped on a bar code stuck to your passport by a security guard that determines whether you spend the next few hours in duty-free or a dingy back room. Is the ‘one’ really for settlers? And should you actually consider the highest number – a six – a blessing in disguise because it means you’re seen as such a security risk you’ll be personally escorted onto the plane?

Requests made through the airport’s press office are an exercise in patience. My questions are met with more questions and I hang up with even less idea if there really is a system or if it’s all in my imagination. I try asking the people who hand the stickers out, pointing at the mathematical Pi symbol preceding the numbers, asking the woman if it’s specifically for journalists. She laughs; no it’s just a random sign the computer generates she says. It changes every month – doesn’t mean anything. I double-check, remembering I’ve had the same sign every time on recent trips. She walks off with my passport to ask her superior. I start to worry. A burly man in a suit walks towards me shaking his head, then assures me again the codes are all random and I shouldn’t read too much into them, suggesting perhaps now I’d like to stop holding up the other passengers. Of course all this insistence makes me even more suspicious.”

Peters goes on to make interesting – and inaccurate – use of the word ‘occasional’; defined as meaning “occurring or appearing at irregular or infrequent intervals”.  

“Israel’s notoriously strict on security and Ben Gurion is no exception. The ongoing threat of terrorism gives the country cause to take safety seriously. Occasional attacks by Palestinians are a reminder that violence is still a real concern. And yes; this is the Middle East where border controls are bad at the best of times. But here the intimidation is cranked up to a level that’s kind of Kafkaesque, which makes you wonder what it’s all about.

I’ve had my hair ruffled by a female guard – presumably to check I wasn’t hiding anything dangerous in it. Another ran her fingers inside the waistband of my underwear – just enough to make me uncomfortable without making me get naked. Because that happens too. One former colleague jokes he gets the marigold treatment every time he travels here – a reference to the yellow rubber gloves worn for strip searches. Plenty of people I know have had the crotch of their boxer shorts swabbed. Things go missing; a friend’s plastic Kindle case was sent on a separate flight. Jars of Marmite are regularly bomb-tested. Foreigners who work illegally in the West Bank on tourist visas memorise fake addresses in Israel, spending hours getting their story straight.”

The majority of BBC World Service listeners will of course be unaware that “foreigners who work illegally in the West Bank on tourist visas” are frequently connected to groups such as the ISM which have connections to terrorist organisations and of course Peters makes no attempt to enlighten listeners with that fact. She concludes:

“But occasionally you steel yourself for a grilling and are greeted with a smile instead – all that pre-flight anxiety proving totally pointless. And as you’re waved out with little more than a shrug you wonder how you managed to avoid the naughty corner this time. And while the experts devote hours to debating how the system works then devising cunning plans to cheat it, perhaps, we conclude, there’s no real point. Because whether you sail through in seconds or have every last bit of luggage pored over, you almost always make the plane.

The question’s really whether you’ll feel like coming back and running the risk of enduring what’s probably just one big mind-game all over again.”

Pascal Harter closes:

PH: “Marijke Peters – still wondering what those numbers really say about her.”

Well, Peters has already been repeatedly told that they mean nothing, but that hasn’t stopped the BBC from indulging and amplifying her puerile paranoid speculations and self-obsessed whining about a system aimed solely at saving lives (a topic which clearly interests her a lot less than the fate of her Marmite), all with the glaringly obvious aim of producing a self-serving instant item which plays to the gallery of prejudice and pre-conceived ideas. 

Listeners may have learned nothing from this item about security at Israel’s main airport, but they have certainly gained a lot of insight into the dubious editorial considerations at ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.  

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BBC headline promotes a lie

A perusal of the BBC News website’s Middle East page turned up a link to a programme called ‘Fast Track’ from July 31st 2012 with the caption “Are tourists being forced to reveal their personal emails to security on arrival in Israel?”.

Clicking on the link leads to a report by Keith Wallace which was apparently broadcast on BBC television news and is headlined with the statement: “Israeli security ‘read’ tourists’ private emails”. 

The blurb asks “How would you feel if when you arrived at your holiday destination, security staff demanded to read your personal emails and look at your Facebook account?” and continues:

“Israel’s attorney general has been asked to look into claims that security officials have been doing just that – threatening to refuse entry to the country unless such private information is divulged by some tourists.”

However, the film report itself tells a somewhat different story – especially if one fills in the blanks left by Wallace. 

The subject of the film is American architect Najwa Doughman, aged 25, who on May 26th 2012 arrived at Ben Gurion airport for her third visit to Israel, together with a friend. In his introduction, Wallace informs viewers that almost three million people visited Israel last year, adding “other people go there for very different reasons”, before showing footage of the April 2012 ‘flytilla’ as an illustration of the political activists and ‘resistance-chic’ genre of tourism which also arrives at the airport. 

Wallace claims that stopping groups of political activists should be “straightforward enough” but then puts forward the assertion that “methods used to security check individuals at Ben Gurion airport have overstepped the mark”.  

Wallace does make it clear that Ms Doughman had “written about the 2008 Israeli assaults on Gaza for her university newspaper” and that she had worked at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon in 2010, suggesting that this might prompt “extra questions” at the airport. 

In fact, Najwa Doughman (whose article on Gaza – complete with Nazi analogy – can be read here) was president of the University of Virginia branch of ‘Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine’; an organization which supports Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, employs ‘apartheid’ rhetoric against Israel and promotes the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees together with their ‘repatriation’ to their previous homes or those of their ancestors, along with the expulsion of all Jews from what it terms ‘Arab’ areas. Ms Doughman’s stay in Lebanon – according to her Linkedin profile – lasted 13 months, ending in January 2011. 

In Wallace’s interview with Doughman she recounts how she was asked by a member of the security staff at the airport to open her e-mail account (which she presumably agreed to do) and that her e-mails were searched and read. Doughman says that the security officer told her to “tell your friends that we don’t only Google your names; we search your e-mails too”.

However, the account of the same story which Najwa Doughman wrote previously for the ‘Mondoweiss‘ site puts a somewhat different light upon the subject. 

In that article, Doughman wrote:

“Little did I know that my father’s Arab name would make me guilty until proven innocent.”

However, the fact that this was her third visit to Israel indicates that her insinuations of racism are far from justified.

Doughman went on to write:

“I typed in my username and password in complete disbelief. She [the security officer] began her invasive search: “Israel,” “Palestine,” “West Bank,” “International Solidarity Movement.” “

“The security officer opened an email from a friend living in Jerusalem who had advised me to remove myself from internet searches. “They are heavy on googling names at the airport recently,” he had written. “See if you can remove yourselves, not crucial but helpful.” “

Next, Wallace goes on to interview Hagai Elad of ACRI  – after giving an anodyne description of that organization quoted from its own blurb –  and after that he conducts an interview with Fred Schlomka of Green Olive Tours who claims to have heard similar stories to that of Ms Doughman from his clients. 

What Wallace does not tell his viewers is that Fred Schlomka was operations manager for ICAHD between 2001 and 2003, is a former member of its board and has written a series of ‘reports‘ for the organization. Wallace does also not inform his readers of the political nature of the congenial, juggling Mr Schlomka’s ‘tour company’, including the fact that for $695 he will arrange a three-day trip to Beit Ummar hosted by an ISM volunteer and a man who has spent time in an Israeli prison due to his activity with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  

Wallace ends the report by showing footage of the terror attack in Bulgaria as an illustration of why security is necessary in Israel and by interviewing an expert on aviation security who explains very clearly why Najwa Doughman would have raised suspicions at the airport. He even admits that ACRI is pursuing only three cases of this type, which – considering that almost three million tourists visited Israel last year – clearly indicates that only a very small minority of visitors with specific intentions which do not include normal tourist activities have any reason to believe that they may be asked to open their e-mail account as part of security measures. 

Clearly, the assertion in the report’s headline – “Israeli security ‘read’ tourists’ private emails” – is not only based entirely on unproven hearsay from Najwa Doughman, but is also inaccurate: genuine tourists to Israel do not have their private e-mails read. 

Clause 3.4.12 of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines states that:

“We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.”

Clause 4.4.14 states that:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

In this report, once again, the BBC has failed to make clear the connections of interviewees to politicized NGOs and/or organisations with a specific political agenda before promoting their claims.

It is particularly regrettable that a respected and trusted organization such as the BBC should be taking its lead from anti-Israel sites such as Mondoweiss and regurgitating the type of politically motivated non-stories designed solely to besmirch Israel which one so often finds there.