BBC WS radio amplifies claim that a country called Palestine “existed”

The November 2nd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Boston Calling’ – titled “Power and diplomacy” – included an item (from 14:21 here) which was introduced by presenter Carol Hills (of PRI) using some very obvious sign-posting.

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

Hills: “…let’s duck into a museum in Washington DC that’s trying to do its own kind of diplomacy without a diplomat in sight. It’s a museum dedicated to Palestinian history with a mission to spark conversations about Palestinian culture, focused on its people not its politics. Mikaela Lefrak went to check out the Museum of the Palestinian People.”

In fact this is a recycled and slightly edited version of a report produced by Lefrak for PRI’s ‘The World’ in early July which begins with the same sign-posting.

Lefrak: “When visitors walk into the one-room museum the first object they see is a leafy-green water jug. It’s made of glass from Hebron; a city in the West Bank known for its glass-blowing traditions. What visitors won’t see is overtly political content, even in a museum about an area that’s at the centre of a decades-long geo-political conflict.”

Despite the claims from Hills and Lefrak, as we noted when BBC World Service radio previously promoted the museum and its founder back in June, it is essentially the continuation of a project that is very much political – even if Lefrak fails to identify it as such.

Lefrak: “Museum founder Bshara Nassar says his goal is to create a space that’s more personal than political.”

Nassar: “We want to really transform the story and put Palestinians in the light that we’re human beings, right? We’re artists, we’re entrepreneurs, we’re in politics and we contributing a lot to the US as immigrants as well.”

Lefrak: “Nassar immigrated to the US from the West Bank in 2011. When he came to Washington he saw a city full of museums but he didn’t see one that reflected him.”

Nassar: “Really I could not see a place where the Palestinian story can be told.”

Lefrak: “So he decided to open a travelling exhibition that would eventually become the museum. One of the objects in the collection is a 1946 passport for the Palestine Mandate. It was rendered useless the following year after the United Nations voted to establish the State of Israel. Curator Nada Odeh wants visitors to understand that history.”

That passport was of course in fact “rendered useless” in May 1948 when the British terminated their administration of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine – the purpose of which was to create a Jewish national home. In 1947 the UNGA passed a resolution (181) recommending that the area then still under British administration should be partitioned between Jewish and Arab states – a recommendation accepted by the Jews but rejected out of hand by the Arabs and hence never implemented. BBC world Service listeners heard nothing of that history – or the Arab attacks which followed that UN vote – but they did hear the ‘non-political’ museum’s Syrian-born head curator promote the falsehood that a country “called Palestine” used to exist.

Odeh: “We want them to learn that there is a country was called Palestine. It existed.”

Lefrak: “Odeh maintains that the museum is not political and there isn’t any mention of political leaders, protesters or human rights abuses on either side of the conflict. But there are certain phrases that some people will inevitably take issue with like signage about the Nakba or catastrophe – that’s the word Palestinians use to describe the time surrounding the creation of Israel. As Odeh puts it:”

Odeh: “There is a true story. There is people who were displaced because of…ah…someone came and took the land.”

That politically motivated, dumbed-down caricature of history went completely unchallenged by Lefrak – and unedited by the producers of this BBC World Service programme.

Lefrak: “The museum is just a mile away from the White House. President Trump has been a staunch supporter of the Israeli government but Nassar says he started dreaming up the museum before Trump was elected. He wants it to be a place of conversation, not protest.”

Nassar: “We welcome people with open hearts, you know, with open hearts – right? – to come and have a conversation with us. And it doesn’t matter if they agree or not; it’s the most important the conversation.”

Lefrak then came up with a debatable description of the J Street campaigning group.

Lefrak: “In the museum’s first few weeks a group of monks visited and a group from the liberal pro-Israel organisation J Street. But most of the visitors have been Palestinian Americans like one young man named Yussef Hamid. He showed off his Palestinian flag necklace.”

Having interviewed that visitor, Lefrak closed her report.

Lefrak: “Hamid said that seeing a museum like this about people like him gave him hope that the long-standing conflict might one day end.”

Carol Hills also had closing comments to make:

Hills: “Mikaela Lefrak at the Museum of the Palestinian People. It opened in Washington DC this past summer. As we heard, Ahmed [sic] wants his museum to provide hope: hope that the Palestinian people will finally find peace. That has long defied diplomatic efforts.”

A fitting end indeed to a ‘report’ in which Palestinians were portrayed as passive victims with no responsibility for their situation, history was distorted to the point that BBC audiences were led to believe that a country called Palestine “existed” and the political motivations behind a ‘museum’ were repeatedly whitewashed.

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What the BBC World Service edited out of a ‘Boston Calling’ report

The May 7th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Boston Calling’ included an item (from 09:44 here) described by presenter Marco Werman in the introduction to the show as follows:Boston Calling 7 5

“This week: taking a stand – from an Israeli-born author writing about the occupation of the West Bank.”

That simplistic sound bite “the occupation” was repeated in Werman’s introduction to the item itself, with no effort made to inform listeners of the background history and context to the subject which is essentially at the story’s core.

“So here are a couple of lines you hear all the time when American politicians talk about the Middle East: ‘the United States stands with Israel’ and ‘Israel is America’s most important ally in the region.’ It’s a topic that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will surely have to address quite a bit in the coming months. And so too will the Israeli-born author Ayelet Waldman. Waldman is a writer best known for her frank essays and books about love, motherhood and abortion but her latest project is a stark departure from all that. She’s collaborating with her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon, on a book of essays coming out next year to mark fifty years of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Daniel Estrin sat down with Waldman on a recent trip to the region to talk about her complicated relationship with her homeland.”

Estrin’s report begins with portrayal of Waldman’s background, including the following description of her short-lived return to the country she had left as a toddler.

DE: “After she graduated from Wesleyan she moved to Israel to live on a kibbutz.”

AW: “And that’s when the kind of the cracks started appearing in the wall.”

DE: “As a feminist she noticed there wasn’t true gender equality on her kibbutz. She moved back to the US and enrolled in Harvard Law School.”

Notably, that portrayal bears little resemblance to the one Waldman gave in an interview with Haaretz two years ago.

“She was born in Jerusalem in 1964, and even though her parents returned to Canada when she was two and a half years old, she had several encounters with Israel, including a failed six-month attempt at aliya in 1986. “The kibbutz killed me,” she says. “It was a kibbutz of yekkes — Jews of German origin. It was a lovely place with nice people, but yekkes pass each other without saying hello.””

Later Estrin tells listeners:

“Things changed two years ago when Waldman was invited to a writers’ conference in Jerusalem. She went on her first trip to the West Bank city of Hebron. What she saw shocked her; the reality of many hard-line Israeli settlers living among the Palestinian urban population.”

Estrin makes no effort to provide BBC World Service audiences with any information concerning Hebron’s long Jewish history (including the 1929 massacre) or to bring in the very relevant context of the Oslo Accords which would enable them to understand why Israelis live in Hebron. Neither does he inform listeners that the trip Waldman took to Hebron in 2014 was organised by the foreign-funded political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.

Listeners then hear the following stereotyping of Jewish residents of Hebron from Ayelet Waldman:

“This graffiti. These horrific gr…this graffiti, you know, ‘death to Arabs’. Vicious, angry, thugs wearing yarmulkes. I mean, they’re thugs. Like – and I know from [sic] thugs. I was a public defender. Like, I know what a thug looks like. I know what a bully looks like. I know what a criminal looks like. Those are thugs.”

It is of course difficult to imagine that the BBC would broadcast such a crude – and entirely unchallenged – stereotype were it to relate to other ethnic/religious groups but not only did it do just that in this programme; it also saw fit to include the same segment in a clip from the item promoted separately on Twitter.Boston Calling 7 5 clip

So what BBC World Service listeners were fed in this item is the context-free story of an author with links to Israel who, together with her husband and other writers, is in the process of compiling what Estrin describes as “a collection of essays from top writers with something new to say about a military occupation fifty years in the making”.  But what is really interesting about this BBC report is what it did not tell listeners.

Daniel Estrin was of course not the only journalist accompanying Waldman et al on their much publicised road-show-cum-book promotion. The Washington Post’s William Booth was also there and, despite the many issues arising from his report, he did at least bother to inform his audience of the involvement of ‘Breaking the Silence’ in Waldman’s project. So did the Guardian and – particularly remarkably – so too did Daniel Estrin in the almost identical version of this report broadcast on the BBC’s partner station PRI.

The part of Estrin’s report which was cut from the BBC World Service programme tells listeners that:

“The book project is organised in part by ‘Breaking the Silence’ – an Israeli veterans group that’s controversial here because it’s critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. And Waldman herself has stirred up controversy among some American Jews on Twitter this month, drawing rebukes from prominent journalist Jeffrey Goldberg.”

(Details of that latter story concerning Waldman’s stereotyping of Israel’s “national character” as “dickish” can be found here.)

Whilst Estrin’s explanation of why ‘Breaking the Silence’ is considered controversial in Israel is whitewashed to the point of inaccuracy, he does at least clarify the political NGO’s involvement in this project, enabling informed listeners at least to comprehend that Waldman’s “collection of essays” is not a literary exercise but political agitprop.

The question that therefore arises is why did the BBC World Service edit out that very relevant piece of information from its promotion of this project?

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BBC WS behind the times on Israel – California water collaboration

The BBC World Service’s weekly radio show ‘Boston Calling’ focuses on American issues and its December 12th edition included an item concerning the drought in California which can be found from 18:19 here or in an abridged version here.Boston calling

That report is about “one immigrant [Israeli] farmer in California who’s brought a few lessons from his homeland” concerning water conservation and it is introduced by presenter Carol Hills as follows:

“To California: the state produces half of America’s fruit, nuts and vegetables. It’s also heading into its fifth year of drought. So California is looking at ways to be more efficient with its water. Maybe it should look at Israel.”

However, listeners to this otherwise interesting item are not informed that California understood some time ago that it “should look at Israel”. 

“In an agreement signed earlier in September, LA County will work with Israel to study Israeli water technology, seeking the most appropriate systems to be used in the county to conserve water resources.

“The technology Israel has developed and employed to stretch its meager water resources is truly impressive,” said LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “I look forward to working together on ways that Los Angeles County can benefit from their work on technology and research concerning point of reuse, recycling and groundwater recharge. ” […]

In March 2014, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a deal with California Governor Jerry Brown to export Israeli desalination, water recovery and recycling, water filtration, and water security technology to the state.”

The results of collaboration are already evident on the ground.

“Israeli water sector giant IDE Technologies dedicated the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere on Monday – a facility that will produce some 190 million liters of water daily for the residents of southern California.

Providing a new source of water in a state that has long suffered severe droughts, the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant will be quenching the thirst of roughly 10 percent of San Diego County, according to IDE. Employing advanced pretreatment and seawater reverse osmosis technologies, the plant is able to generate potable water of the highest quality while significantly reducing energy consumption, the company explained.”

Given the BBC’s keen interest in reporting on environmental issues, one would have thought that it would be capable of providing audiences with an up to date report on this topic.

BBC WS airbrushing of the Iranian regime – part two

A segment heard in a BBC World Service radio programme on August 15th displays similar issues to those evident in the programme discussed in part one of this post. The synopsis of that edition of ‘Boston Calling’ states:Boston Calling 15 8

“Iranian hardliners have long chanted “Death to America” at Friday prayers and government rallies. But in the wake of a nuclear agreement, are the slogan’s days numbered?”

The item itself (from 1:00 here) opens with some very clear signposting for listeners from presenter Marco Werman.

“…’yes or no’: that is the stark choice US Congress is facing on the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. The president laid it out in these terms:

[Obama] ‘Let’s not mince words. The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war – maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.’

One thing that keeps coming up in the argument against the nuclear deal is a chant: ‘death to America’. Hardliners in Iran belt it out at Friday prayers and demonstrations so critics here say how can we trust people who regularly call for the death of our country? Here’s what President Obama had to say about that:

[Obama] ‘Just because Iranian hardliners chant ‘death to America’ does not mean that that’s what all Iranians believe.'”

Obviously not, but Werman fails to point out that Obama’s argument can be regarded as redundant as long as Iran is a theocratic regime in which “all Iranians” have scant influence on their country’s policies and actions.

He goes on to introduce journalist Nazila Fathi who recently wrote an opinion piece on the topic which is very similar to her contribution to this programme.

Werman also introduces his own anecdote into the conversation:

“I heard the chant used by the Iranian delegation to an anti-apartheid conference in West Africa of all places in 1987 and a couple of the Iranians seemed to have this little smile on their faces as if they knew it was kind of crazy to wish death on a whole country. Do you think the majority of people, you know, older than you who chanted it actually believed the words they were saying?”

More signposting from Werman comes later on in the segment:

“So has the nuclear deal basically made this phrase obsolete for all intents and purposes?”

Interestingly though, he chooses not to pick up on the following part of Fathi’s answer to his question.

“But I can’t say that this is an empty slogan because as you know a lot of these regimes that rely on propaganda they can use them, they can snowball it into something bigger and take advantage of them for their own benefits.”

So as we see, the take-away message of this item – based on one opinion piece from one journalist – is that a point allegedly raised by “critics” making “the argument against the nuclear deal” is invalid because Iranians never believed what they were chanting anyway and apparently the signing of the nuclear deal has made Iranian regime animosity towards the US “obsolete”.

Again – had BBC audiences been provided with objective critique of the arguments for and against the terms of the JCPOA deal reached last month then this obviously partial item would have been less problematic. However, BBC presentation of that topic has been as monochrome, lacking in curiosity and predictable as its airbrushing of the Iranian regime on other issues.

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Thinly disguised promotion of anti-Israel activism on BBC WS ‘Boston Calling’

The Tweet below appeared on the BBC World Service Twitter account on August 25th.

Tweet BBC WS Ferguson

The item promoted is from the August 23rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme “Boston Calling” and it can be heard here. The presenter introduces the segment as follows:

“Keeping communities safe seems like it should be the very first duty of any police officer but that mantra has been cast under a shadow in Ferguson – a small city just outside St Louis in the state of Missouri. That’s where the police shot Michael Brown – an unarmed 18 year-old African American – catalysing a protest movement that quickly descended into violent clashes between demonstrators and authorities. ‘Welcome to Fergustan’ people said. Perhaps that’s too flippant a way to describe the scene there but the phrase does capture the sense of chaos on the ground; the kind of chaos that’s familiar to Daniel Estrin. He’s a reporter based in Jerusalem. He’s also a native of St Louis and as he found out, he’s not the only one connecting dots.”

The item then cuts to Estrin’s audio report which was already featured previously on Boston Calling’s sister programme ‘The World’ on PRI, with a very similar transcript being available here.Boston Calling WS

But what the BBC World Service promotes as a simple story of people on different continents finding “Tear Gas Camaraderie” as it is dubbed in the segment’s title is actually not quite as straightforward as it seems.

Estrin tells listeners:

“Some opposed to the police force in Ferguson have pointed out on Twitter that the former head of the St Louis County police received counterterrorism training in Israel. Others have Tweeted that the two situations are not alike.”

Why the editor of this BBC World Service programme found it news-worthy to advance a conspiracy theory promoted by anti-Israel activists and cooked up by someone widely held to be a lobbyist for the Iranian regime is a mystery.

No less notable is the fact that Estrin’s account fails to clarify to listeners the political motives behind the ‘camaraderie’ of the Palestinian activists he cites: the attempt to paint Palestinian rioters and African-American demonstrators in Ferguson as mutual victims of racist policies. That motive can be easily discerned in the statement of solidarity signed, among others, by two of the people quoted in his report – Mariam Barghouti and Linah Alsaafin – which includes the following in its preamble as it appeared on Electronic Intifada.

“Although Ferguson and Palestine are two different contexts, both places and their people are fighting against white supremacist regimes of oppression which continue to view them as “disposable others” and act accordingly.” […]

“But the Civil Rights, anti-apartheid and anti-colonial movements in the United States, South Africa and foreign colonies across the African continent in the past offer us various models from which we should learn. In the present, Palestinians (though this does not apply to sell-outs such as Mahmoud Abbas and his minions) stand up against the despotism which the US, the settler-colony known as Israel, and various European and Arab governments embody.”

In other words, BBC World Service radio has provided free publicity for a political campaign which seeks to promote the inaccurate notion of Israelis as “white colonialists” and to procure sympathy and support for anti-Israel activism and terrorism by depicting those involved as ‘civil rights’ campaigners.

Far from assisting BBC audiences to build an “understanding of international issues“, this thinly disguised promotion of political activism does the exact opposite.