BBC Arabic’s tendentious Hebron feature – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, a BBC Arabic feature titled “Hebron: One street, two sides” included eight short videos which were largely taken from two much longer films made in Hebron.

The credits to both films mention BBC Arabic’s documentaries editor Christopher Mitchell – once in that capacity and once as ‘executive producer’. Both films are credited to Tom Roberts and one names Israel Goldvicht as its producer. Roberts and Goldvicht have previously collaborated on a number of projects relating to Israel.

The first of the two films is titled “Hebron: A War of the Narrative”.

“In a two-part investigation BBC Arabic goes deep inside the divided city of Hebron in the West Bank, the only place where Palestinian residents live alongside Jewish settlers. This first film reveals the world of one of the most controversial communities in Israel – the settlers of Hebron.

The holy city of Hebron is the most divided in the West Bank, the only place where Palestinian residents live cheek by jowl with Jewish settlers. It’s a scene of raw tensions and countless killings. Jews have lived in Hebron almost continuously for 4,000 years, enduring periods of repression and violence. But the settler community is little known outside Israel and widely stigmatised; to many, they’re a byword for fanaticism and stubbornness. Their mission is to re-establish a lasting Jewish community in the city, and – as this film shows – their mood is changing. Optimism is replacing the gloom. Today’s settlers are convinced they’re winning the struggle to stay, and that history is now on their side; violent incidents are on the wane, the government openly supports the expansion of settlements, and the US has recognised Jerusalem as capital of Israel.

Hebron’s settlers are busy delivering this new message of permanence and immovability to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to the city. This film, with its unique access to key individuals driving the new narrative, goes deep into the settlers’ world. Yet, under the surface, there’s disharmony amongst the voices emanating from the settlement. We meet Israelis who criticize the settlement because of its military domination of the Palestinians, and others who believe that Palestinians will never be real partners for peace – or even accept their presence in Hebron.”

The film’s ”Israelis who criticise the settlement” is in fact the spokesman of the foreign funded political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’. Other than that viewers are presented with a monochrome portrait of extremist ‘settlers’, some of whom are identified not only by name but with the film-makers’ own labels such as “the agitator” or “the activist”.

The second film is titled “Hebron Exposed: A Weapon of Life”.

“In a two-part investigation BBC Arabic goes deep inside the divided city of Hebron in the West Bank, the only place where Palestinian residents live alongside Jewish settlers. This second film follows a unique project in which Palestinian teenagers are taught how to use video cameras to capture suspected abuses of human rights in the streets around them.

The holy city of Hebron is the most divided in the West Bank, the only place where Palestinian residents live among Jewish settlers. It’s a scene of raw tensions and countless killings. In March 2016 human rights activist Emad Abushamsiya filmed the shooting of a wounded Palestinian by the Israeli soldier Elor Azaria. The video went viral, landing Azaria with a manslaughter conviction and turning Abushamsiya into a figure of hate for the Israeli right. As this film shows, he received dozens of death threats, his house was firebombed and he was harassed continually. The pressure became too much for his eldest son, splitting the family apart.

Abushamsiya’s response was to assert the importance of non-violent resistance and the necessity of submitting to the rule of law. He formed a group called the Palestinian Human Rights Defenders and began training a group of local teenage activists, some as young as 12, to use video cameras in order to document alleged human rights abuses. His ultimate ambition – to alter the course of the Israeli occupation – may or may not be realised, but as this film shows, the video camera has given him and his young trainees a new sense of power and purpose. We follow Abushamsiya as he prepares his team for the intense reality of confronting violence with video cameras. The film includes several extended examples of their work, revealing the hostility between the two communities with rare immediacy.”

Like that synopsis, the film itself presents Palestinian residents of Hebron as peace-loving individuals engaged in “non-violent resistance”. Viewers are not informed that the aim of ‘Palestinian Human Rights Defenders’ is – according to their own Facebook page – to secure the “Removal of all illegal Israeli settlements from Hebron” by means of a campaign they call “Dismantle the Ghetto, take the settlers out of Hebron”.At no point during the 51 and a half-minute film are any of the PHRD interviewees asked how their alleged concern for ‘human rights’ aligns with their campaign for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Hebron.

PHRD Facebook campaign

In contrast to the first film’s portrayal of ‘extremist settlers’, viewers of the second film are not told of the PHRD’s support for the BDS campaign, its use of extremist language such as ‘apartheid’ and ‘colonisation’ or its whitewashing of terrorism.

At no point during the 51 and a half-minute film are any of the PHRD interviewees asked how their alleged concern for ‘human rights’ aligns with their campaign for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Hebron.

In two different showcased examples of PHRD filming, the BBC’s ‘documentary’ promotes the falsehood that Israeli soldiers planted knives next to Palestinians in order to frame them as terrorists. The aim of that falsehood is to promote the notion of ‘extra-judicial killings’. 

The two main protagonists in this film are PHRD founder Emad Abu Shamsiya (with viewers not told that he spent several years in prison) and Zidan Sharabati. No mention is made of both those men’s links to the political NGO B’tselem and specifically its ‘camera project’ which has also included Palestinian political activists such as the Tamimi family. At no point are viewers informed of the origins of PHRD’s funding.  

Notably the BBC commissioned film crew did not interview any Palestinians involved in terror attacks against Israelis in Hebron or any members of that city’s armed factions and so the story told in these two ‘documentaries’ is one of extremist settlers and non-violent Palestinian victims protected only by children carrying video cameras.

In other words the BBC did not try to give audiences an accurate and impartial picture of the “two sides” of the story of Hebron but rather framed that story in a manner conducive to the amplification of its chosen political narrative.

Related Articles:

BBC Arabic’s tendentious Hebron feature – part one

BBC WS radio programme on Hebron omits vital background

BBC stays mum on convicted terrorist’s success in PA election 

 

 

Advertisements

BBC Arabic’s tendentious Hebron feature – part one

On February 18th a feature titled “Hebron: One street, two sides” (erroneously dated February 14th) appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

The link leads to an English language BBC Arabic project, a version of which was also promoted on the BBC Arabic website with additional Arabic and Hebrew versions.

The feature commences by showing three separate screens of ‘background information’, including promotion of the BBC’s usual partisan mantra on ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ and portrayal of the subject matter as being all about ‘narratives’.

BBC audiences next reach a screen which offers several short videos reached by clicking on arrows termed “hotspots”. In order to see all eight videos it is necessary to click and drag to rotate the screen.

The eight videos include:

1) A video about a tour in Hebron conducted by Dean Issacharoff of the foreign funded political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ which is inadequately described thus:

2) A video showing Israeli soldiers being briefed ahead of a Purim procession followed by footage of drunk Israeli residents.

3) A video showing Hebron spokesman Ishai Fleisher in which viewers see the sole superficial mention of the 1997 Hebron Protocol signed by Israel and the PLO.

4) A video about an emergency responder, Ofer Ohana, who notes some of the Palestinian terror attacks that have taken place in Hebron.

5) A video about a 14 year-old girl identified only as Waad who films for an organisation presented as ‘Palestinian Human Rights Defenders’ (PHRD) with no further details of its background and funding.

6) A video about one of the founders of PHRD – Emad (or Imad) Abu Shamsiya – whose footage is used in some of the videos.

7) A video showing some Palestinian youths trying to fly a kite and an unexplained conversation between a Palestinian man and a youth.

8) A video using B’tselem footage showing a confrontation between a Palestinian and an Israeli.

All those videos are taken from two much longer films which can be accessed by clicking on the “film version of this project” on the first screen.

Those films will be discussed in part two of this post.

 

 

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2018

As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), Israel related content produced by the BBC during 2018 frequently included contributions or information sourced from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Often portrayed by the BBC as ‘human rights groups’, those agenda-driven organisations make no claim to provide unbiased information and are not committed to the BBC’s editorial standards. When political agendas and journalism meet, questions obviously arise concerning accuracy, impartiality and reliability. Currently one of the few safeguards in place comes in the form of the section in the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality that states:

“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.”

However, throughout 2018 BBC Watch once again documented numerous examples of that clause not having been upheld in Middle East related content which was sourced in one way or another from political NGOs or their representatives.

The BBC’s collaboration with political NGOs comes in a variety of forms. In some cases people associated with NGOs are interviewed or quoted in BBC reporting – but their links to those organisations are not always adequately clarified to audiences.

In January 2018, for example, the BBC’s Yolande Knell quoted “an Israeli peace activist” but refrained from identifying him as a founder of the extremist group ‘Anarchists Against the Wall’. Also in January, a BBC News website report quoted “an Israeli anti-settlement watchdog” but failed to provide readers with the name of the organisation.

In July 2018 the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Woman’s Hour’ featured a “writer and cook” who had “worked as a human rights campaigner for a very long time” but failed to inform listeners of the relevant fact that her campaigning had been done with the anti-Israel NGO ‘War on Want’. In October BBC Radio 4 interviewed a “Palestinian academic” without clarifying that he was the founder of the political NGO PASSIA

More frequently the BBC directly amplifies statements and/or material produced by NGOs and throughout the past year such content – including direct links to campaigns on NGO websites – featured particularly prominently in some of the stories the BBC chose to highlight.

BBC coverage of the Ahed Tamimi story, for example, included repeated promotion of the viewpoint of B’tselem including interviews with its research director (see here and here) but with no mention made of the Tamimi family’s connections to that organisation. Additional coverage of the same story included quotes from Amnesty International even promoted a link to the NGO’s relevant campaign webpage. Another report promoted the views of Human Rights Watch without clarifying that it had been campaigning on Tamimi’s behalf and the same report even included a link directing audiences to a petition promoted by the political campaigning group Avaaz

BBC coverage of the ‘Great Return March’ story included promotion of a link to a campaign calling for Israeli soldiers to refuse orders on the website of B’tselem. A representative of B’tselem was interviewed in another BBC report and the NGO was referred to as “a leading Israeli rights group” in another. A BBC News website live webpage on the same story featured quotes from B’tselem and Amnesty International and a BBC radio presenter quoted “the Israeli rights group” Adalah. The political NGO ‘Gisha’ was quoted in two related reports.

Amnesty International was quoted in a BBC Sport report about a cycle race and later the same month the same NGO was quoted in another report along with Human Rights Watch and B’tselem. In June the BBC uncritically quoted a “campaign director at Avaaz” and later the same month BBC Radio 4 interviewed the “executive director of the international human rights organisation ‘Human Rights Watch’”.

Adalah was quoted in a BBC report concerning Israeli legislation in July and BBC News website coverage of the Khan al Ahmar story included promotion of a link to the B’tselem website. BBC News website coverage of the Airbnb story included quotes from Human Rights Watch as well as a link to a report produced by that political NGO and another called ‘Kerem Navot’. Another report by Human Rights Watch was the topic of a BBC News website report in October.

A member of the NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ was featured on the BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ programme in February and on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme in May. Additional examples of the BBC’s failure to adequately clarify to audiences the political agenda of NGOs represented by interviewees involve the ‘Norwegian Refugee Council‘, ‘Minds of Peace’, the ‘Foundation for Middle East Peace’, the ‘Oxford Research Group’, ‘Save the Children’ and ‘Embrace the Middle East’.

Once again the most widely promoted local NGO in 2018 was B’tselem. Among the foreign NGOs quoted and promoted in BBC content, Human Rights Watch (HRW) was once again the most prominent, closely followed by Amnesty International.

As in previous years, more often than not the political agendas of the NGOs quoted and promoted were not adequately clarified to audiences as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. The BBC’s serial failure to meet its own editorial guidelines by clarifying the “particular viewpoint” of quoted NGOs and representatives of those organisations interviewed by the BBC (including in certain cases the fact that they are involved in lawfare campaigns against Israel) means that audiences remain unaware of the fact that the information they are receiving comes predominantly from one side of the political spectrum and hence is consistently unbalanced.

Related Articles:

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred Middle East NGOs

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2015

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2016

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2017

BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs

 

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ inaccurately portrays Israeli legislation

The final item in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on July 17th was introduced by presenter Razia Iqbal (from 48:53 here) as follows:

Iqbal: “Now, Parliament in Israel has passed a law that could see groups critical of the government prevented from entering Israeli schools and speaking with pupils. The amendment to the education act grants new powers to the education minister Naftali Bennett – head of the religious nationalist Jewish Home party – to order schools to bar certain groups from giving lectures to students.” [emphasis added]

So is Iqbal’s portrayal of the story accurate?

First of all the legislation which passed its third reading in the Knesset on July 17th is an amendment to an existing law – the 1953 Law of State Education. The legislation adds a clause to the second section of that law in which the objectives of state education are defined. The new clause adds the objective “to educate to significant service in the Israel Defence Force or to civilian national service…” and goes on to state:

“The minister [of education] will establish rules in order to prevent activity in an educational institution on the part of an individual or organization who is not part of the educational system whose activity grossly contradicts the mission of the state educational system outlined in sub-clause (a) and rules to prevent activity in an educational institution of an outside party which initiates legal processes outside Israel against IDF soldiers for activity that they undertook as part of their service.”

Obviously the reference to “the minister” does not mean merely the current minister named by Razia Iqbal and the amendment does not relate to “groups critical of the government” as she inaccurately claims.

Razia Iqbal then went on to introduce MK Sharren Haskel who was allowed to say six sentences before Iqbal jumped in with the following portrayal of a foreign funded political NGO regularly quoted and promoted in BBC content:

Iqbal: “Let’s deal with one of the organisations that’s going to be affected by this law – it’s called ‘Breaking the Silence’ and it’s made up of Israeli citizens, veteran combatants, who have served in the IDF and they endeavor to stimulate public debate and going into schools and talking about what life is like for a soldier working in the occupied territories, they want to convey that as an issue of debating, so why is it that you are stopping that from taking place?”

Iqbal of course did not clarify to BBC audiences that much if not most of the activity of ‘Breaking the Silence’ takes place outside Israel and is not designed to “stimulate public debate”. When her interviewee noted that information promoted by the NGO has been proven false, Iqbal interrupted her.

Iqbal: “There is a member of the Knesset who belongs to the Zionist Union, Shelly Yachimovich, and she says that her two children grew up in Tel Aviv, they were exposed to all sorts of pluralistic views at school, including lectures by ‘Breaking the Silence’ and her two children served significant service in the IDF and they were officers. She doesn’t seem to think that ‘Breaking the Silence’ is a dangerous group. What is it that you are so afraid of?”

After Haskel had clarified that she doesn’t think the group is dangerous either and that there is no limitation on their activities outside of schools, Iqbal continued on the same theme.

Iqbal: “There are other Knesset members in addition to the one that I quoted to you who are saying that this law is dangerous, that the education system is not the property of a minister. Surely schools should be allowed to make decisions about which groups they allow in?”

With Iqbal focusing audience attentions primarily on ‘Breaking the Silence’, listeners did not get to hear that the legislation would apply to other groups as well.  

Clearly Iqbal’s introductory portrayal of this domestic Israeli story gave inaccurate and misleading impressions of the legislation to listeners, which the rest of the item did nothing to dispel. 

 

 

Inaccuracy, omission and oddity in a BBC Radio Ulster item on Israel – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the May 20th edition of the BBC Radio Ulster “religious and ethical news” programme ‘Sunday Sequence‘ included a long item (from 34:04 here and also aired on BBC Radio Foyle) supposedly about the state of the ‘peace process’ after the May 14th chapter of the ‘Great Return March’ publicity stunt on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

“After a week of horror in Gaza, is the roadmap to peace now in complete ruins? Dr Julie Norman, Rev Gary Mason and Tom Clonan discuss how peace could somehow yet be found.”

After listeners had heard Tom Clonan’s inaccurate account of Operation Grapes of Wrath – and been led to believe that Israel was essentially to blame for the 9/11 terror attacks – and Julie Norman’s concealment of the fact that the overwhelming majority of those killed on May 14th were males in their twenties and thirties, presenter Roisin McAuley (once again exaggerating the significance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict) asked guest Gary Mason:

[39:01] “Now, given that situation, Gary, intractability, the importance for all of us of finding a way out of this absolute morass, where do you begin?”

Mason’s response [from 39:13] included the predictable – yet invalid – claim that it is possible to use the Good Friday Agreement as a template for solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Picking up on Mason’s reference to “the role of civic society” in peacemaking, Julie Norman then inaccurately claimed that violent actions such as the ‘Great Return March’ or the rioting in Bili’in are grassroots peace initiatives.

[42:47] Norman: “…but what you see with the kind of protests at the border, what you see with weekly demonstrations against the separation barrier – these are activists and people who refuse to give in to that despair and who are trying to take some kind of action despite the odds and despite the limitations of the larger political reality…”  

Following some echo-chamber agreement between Mason and McAuley with regard to the US administration’s role in solving the conflict – and the claim that the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem was “a real slap in the face to Palestinians” – the presenter continued:

[45:07] McAuley: “So Tom, who in your opinion can help then? If the US is not in a position to be seen as an honest broker, who is?”

Clonan: “I would strongly hope that the European Union would step up to the plate and begin to impose sanctions and trade embargoes on Israel. And I certainly think individually as nations we could begin by boycotting the Eurovision Song Contest next year. And I say that with great regret because I’m on the record…I’ve written to all of the newspapers in the [Irish] Republic repeatedly over the years saying that we should not boycott Israel. But unfortunately of late Israel has been behaving like a rogue state and should be treated as pariah by the international community. I mean there was a great deal of unanimity of condemnation, quite rightly, of a chemical attack – or a suspected chemical attack – on civilians in the suburbs of Damascus. We also expelled diplomats on suspicion of a chemical weapon attack in Salisbury which injured – seriously injured – two people. Now we need to have that same level of unanimity when it comes to Israel’s actions this week.”

Following some reminiscing from Clonan about the Irish peace process, McAuley revisited his BDS messaging while again promoting her own pet ‘most important thing in the world’ theme.

[48:54] McAuley: “What you’re underlining, Tom, is the importance of this for the region and indeed for the wider world. But are you seriously suggesting that in some way that boycotting a song festival would make any difference at all? I mean why not try to seriously engage with Israel and with everybody on this?”

Clonan: “Israel isn’t interested in engagement just now. I think they feel that their military or their use of force has been rewarded and their behaviour has deteriorated somewhat. I think unfortunately that the situation with Iran – the US withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal at a point where you have youth unemployment in Iran at 60%, where 90% of those arrested in recent civil unrest are under 25 – there’s a youth bulge in Iran that threatens to destabilise the old guard, the ageing Ayatollah. President Rouhani’s government, you know, they’ve managed with considerable pushback to get the Iran deal. I think there’s a sense – and this is what I’m being told by my contacts amongst the international defence and international community – that Israel, the United States and their Gulf state allies detect a last moment of weakness in…within Iran as Shia ascendency reaches its zenith in the region.

What all that has to do with the item’s professed subject matter is of course as clear as mud. McAuley however chose to continue the ‘youth bulge’ theme.

[48:25] McAuley: “You mentioned a youth bulge. There is a youth bulge in Palestine as well. There is a growing number…this is a numbers game to some extent is it not, Julie?”

While acknowledging a “very high youth demographic in Palestine“, Norman responded that she would not equate that with destabilisation.

Norman: “Whether it’s Iran or Palestine, I don’t think we need to fear the youth bulge.”

McAuley then claimed that “eventually, in Israel and the occupied territories as a whole, there will be more Palestinians than there are Israelis”. Norman’s answer to that included the claim that:

[49:22] Norman: “…Israel is wielding power in very violent ways as we saw on Monday and throughout the past several weeks. And it’s not just numbers when one group is living under occupation.”

The fact that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip 13 years ago of course did not get a mention at all in this entire item.

At 50:06 Gary Mason raised the topic of the role of women in making peace, stating that he is a member of the advisory board of an Israeli organisation called ‘Women Wage Peace’. He did not however bother to inform listeners that the group’s activities have been:

“…denounced by Hamas in an official statement, as well as by the Palestinian branch of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, both of which accused Palestinians participating in the initiative of “normalizing” relations with Israel.”

Again ignoring the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip and parts of Samaria in 2005, Mason went on to say that Israelis “may have to give up land for peace […] and we just need, I think, to bring that concept into it…”. Listeners were next treated to Mason’s home-grown psychological analysis of “the Israelis”.

In response to McAuley’s question [53:30] “from where can hope come?” Julie Norman again promoted the inaccurate notion that there are Palestinian civil society groups working for peace. Tom Clonan’s reply to the same question [54:15] included the following:

Clonan: “…essentially this is Semitic peoples killing Semitic…Arabs are a Semitic people. And I think with Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump you see the very essence of patriarchal thought which has led to so much destruction in the Middle East over the last two decades and if civil society, religious leaders and other leaders in society and women can be a part of the key to this solution to this, that would be wonderful because I don’t see a solution in the unilateral military intervention strategies that we’ve had post 2001 and 9/11 unfortunately.”

Notably, no-one in the studio bothered to question Clonan’s omission of Hamas from his list of those guilty of “patriarchal thought”.

At 56:33 – after Mason had again invoked the Northern Ireland comparison and claimed that people with a “military background” could also contribute to peacemaking, McAuley came up with the following bizarre claims:

McAuley: “I know that Peace Now – the big Israeli movement for peace and defence of the Palestinians and sitting down in front of tanks and so on that are about to destroy houses – that was founded by veterans of the 1948 war who had driven their tanks into Israel to take the land.”

Where those tanks had supposedly been driven from was not clarified to listeners before Clonan jumped in with a plug for yet another political NGO.

[56:58] Clonan: “And the Breaking the Silence movement as well: you know Israeli serving and ex-serving military. And I mean even from my own experience I mean I had my epiphany in the Middle East […] and to just witness man’s inhumanity to man and I mean it was only after becoming a parent myself that I was able to put my experiences into context. It was only after I buried my own little daughter that I understood what it was like for those Lebanese men, women and children to suffer in that way. And the Israelis in the settlement towns of Sderot and on the border that were being attacked by Hizballah indiscriminately. […] The constant disinhibited [sic], indiscriminate use of force at the moment, I think with that they’re sowing the seeds of their own destruction and what Israel needs in the Middle East is friends. And what better friends to have than the Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians. It is possible but we need imagination, we need leadership.”

The item closed soon after that. Only then, after nearly twenty-five minutes of hopelessly uninformed – and often downright ignorant – discussion, were listeners told that:

[58:56] McAuley: “The Israeli government response to the events on Monday was that the military actions were in keeping with Israeli and international law. They asserted that the demonstrations along the border were – quote – part of the conflict between the Hamas terrorist organisation and Israel. The military’s open fire orders, they said, were therefore subject to international humanitarian law – also known as the law of armed conflict – rather than international human rights law.”

Clearly this long item cannot possibly have contributed to audience understanding of the professed story and its context, riddled as it was with gross inaccuracies, deliberate distortions and important omissions – and not least the important issue of Hamas terrorism. The repeated inappropriate comparisons to the Northern Ireland conflict likewise detracted from listeners’ understanding of the background to the topic supposedly under discussion and the one-sided claims and comments from contributors and presenter alike – including promotion of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – are ample evidence that the prime aim of this item was to promote a specific political narrative.

Related Articles:

Inaccuracy, omission and oddity in a BBC Radio Ulster item on Israel – part one

 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ presenter vilifies Israeli soldiers – part two

In part one of this post we looked at a ‘Hardtalk’ interview with a representative of the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ that was aired on the BBC World News TV channel on February 15th (available in the UK here) as well as on BBC World Service radio on February 16th.

From the start of the programme presenter Stephen Sackur refrained from sticking to asking questions, instead indulging his own political pronunciations. However, BBC audiences next heard the following mini-monologue from Sackur. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Sackur: “Yeah and I want to come back to the politics of this in some detail but just to stick for now with testimony, because ‘Breaking the Silence’ is all about gathering together the voices of soldiers – former soldiers – who are no longer prepared to be silent about what they have seen. I just want you to be very clear with me about some of the other behaviours because you’ve talked about the day-to-day dull routines of the occupation but the other behaviours like for example testimony about looting, stealing, Israeli soldiers stealing from inside Palestinian homes. Other testimony about deliberate acts of violence, striking youths, striking people in their own homes, beating them. Also firing rubber bullets, transgressing the limits that are supposed to be imposed on the firing of those bullets and undoing the packaging so they do more damage. All of these aren’t just about the occupation. They suggest to me an army that has within it significant numbers of soldiers who want to do bad things.”

Gvaryahu: “I mean you could choose to look at it like that.  I think it’s more complex.”

Sackur: “But isn’t it important to be honest that there are Israeli soldiers, if this testimony is true – many say it’s not – but if it’s true there are people in the IDF doing very bad things.”

Those four words – “many say it’s not” – were Sackur’s only allusion throughout the whole programme to the fact that many of the frequently anonymous testimonies published by ‘Breaking the Silence’, including Gvaryahu’s own, have been disputed by fellow soldiers and disproven by investigative journalists. Sackur also failed to inform audiences that the IDF Military Attorney General examines all allegations of improper conduct by soldiers and conducts a criminal investigation where necessary – but that ‘Breaking the Silence’ refuses to cooperate with such investigations.

Similarly, Sackur’s sole vague allusion to Palestinian terrorism throughout the whole programme came in the following question:

Sackur: “Can you afford the luxury of this delicate conscience of yours when there is – whatever you say – there is a struggle; a struggle which involves violence on both sides between Israel and the Palestinians?”

When – in response to a question from Sackur about “threats” – Gvaryahu cited “an individual who was caught with about 20 gallons of gasoline trying to burn down our offices”, Sackur did not clarify to BBC audiences that the individual concerned was not in fact “caught trying to burn down” the ‘Breaking the Silence’ office but was indicted for intent to commit arson.

Despite providing a platform for Gvaryahu’s claim of a “smear campaign led from the highest echelons of the Israeli government” against his organisation, significantly, at no point in this interview did Sackur bother to ask Gvaryahu about the highly relevant topic of the considerable amounts of foreign funding accepted by ‘Breaking the Silence’ or the agenda behind that funding.

There is of course nothing remotely novel about the BBC providing a friendly platform for the amplification of politically motivated messaging from ‘Breaking the Silence’ – it has been doing so at least since 2009. It is however interesting to see once again that despite the existence of BBC editorial guidelines stating that “minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus”, the corporation’s generous promotion of this political NGO – that was accurately classified in this interview by Stephen Sackur as “a fringe” and “an extreme” which influences “only a very tiny minority” – continues.

No less remarkable was Stephen Sackur’s own departure from editorial guidelines stating that “our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters” in his lengthy promotion of the notion of “soldiers who want to do bad things” and his repeated amateur diagnosis of Israel’s moral health.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ presenter vilifies Israeli soldiers – part one

The context of the BBC’s promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

Investigative report highlights BBC’s NGO impartiality fail

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ presenter vilifies Israeli soldiers – part one

In the past we have documented several cases in which the BBC has amplified the messaging of what it labels an “Israeli activist group” or a “human rights” group but failed to comply with its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by informing audiences of the agenda and ideology that lies behind the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.

BBC editorial guidelines flouted in promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’ booklet

Another breach of editorial guidelines in yet more BBC promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

BBC’s ME Editor gives unchallenged amplification to Palestinian defamation

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

BBC News portrays political NGOs as ‘human rights activists’

Last July, during a ‘Hardtalk‘ interview with Israel’s former minister of defence, BBC presenter Stephen Sackur used allegations made by that political NGO to advance the notion of moral failures in Israeli society.

“I’m trying to dig to something deeper about the morals, the values, the cohesion of an Israeli society that has always prided itself on having the very best of humane values. And I’m putting it to you, if you listen to Israeli soldiers who have served the occupation like Yehuda Shaul of ‘Breaking the Silence’ – a group that is now opposed to the occupation of former IDF soldiers – he says this is the moral consequence of prolonged occupation of the Palestinian people; that is, the corruption of young Israelis who serve that occupation.”

Sackur returned to that theme in another ‘Hardtalk’ interview which was aired on the BBC World News TV channel on February 15th (available in the UK here) as well as on BBC World Service radio on February 16th. The programme was also made available as a podcast.

“The Israeli Defence Force sees itself as an institution that binds the nation together. Most young Israelis serve in its ranks after leaving school. It claims to combine defence of the state with a sense of moral purpose. Avner Gvaryahu served in the IDF but he sees an institution in denial – corroded and corrupted by the military occupation of Palestinian communities over a fifty year span. Avner Gvaryahu and like-minded soldiers turned dissidents say they are breaking the silence. Are they patriots or traitors?”

In his introduction, Stephen Sackur told audiences that Israelis ‘enroll’ for military service rather than being conscripted. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Sackur: “My guest today is a young man whose experiences as a soldier changed his life in ways that have severely tested his ties to family, community and nation. Avner Gvaryahu was brought up in a suburb of Tel Aviv; an ordinary Israeli in an Orthodox household who, like pretty much all young Israelis, enrolled for military service after leaving school. He served as a sergeant in a unit of paratroopers deployed in the northern West Bank. He was part of Israel’s five decade-long military occupation. What he did and saw on active duty deeply disturbed him. After leaving the army Gvaryahu shared his feelings about the occupation and its corrosive impact on the Israeli army with other former soldiers. They formed a group – ‘Breaking the Silence’ – which gave voice to the troubled consciences of soldiers who recounted stories of harassment, intimidation and violence. It was time, they said, for Israel to confront the corrosive reality of the occupation and end it. The Israeli government reacted with fury. The dissident soldiers have been called traitors, puppets of anti-Israel interests, even aiders and abeters of terrorism. Avner Gvaryahu broke his silence but has it made any difference?”

Sackur’s framing of the story is of course patently obvious in that introduction – and it continued with more promotion of Sackur’s basic – but unquestioned – premise of Israeli wrongdoing.

Sackur: “I think it’s fair to say the IDF is probably the most sacrosanct institution in all of Israel. Was it hard for you to cross a line, to break the taboo and speak out against what the IDF is doing?”

Sackur: “Are you saying that the very act of going into the house of an innocent Palestinian family to you was, and is, totally unacceptable and corrosive and doing serious damage to the sort of moral values of Israel’s army and indeed the nation-state? Or are you saying that that’s just the tip of an iceberg of behavior, much of which is worse than that?

After Gvaryahu had cited “the flying checkpoint or entering houses for searching or checkpoints or making our presence felt” as additional examples of what he described as “instilling fear into the Palestinian population”, Sackur moved from asking questions to making pronunciations.

Sackur: “It’s the imposition of a basic power dynamic, the message being we are in control, we’re in charge of you and your lives and we, in essence, can do what we want.”

While mirroring Gvaryahu’s messaging – with which he clearly sympathises – Sackur made no effort to introduce audiences to the history and context of ‘the occupation’. Neither did he bother to remind them – or his guest – of the pertinent fact that when Israel withdrew all its forces and civilians from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Palestinian terrorism did not come to an end.

Sackur: “… what you’re outlining as your critique of what is happening in Israel and that the IDF, as the agent of occupation, is doing, is essentially political. I mean you’re saying, if I understand you correctly, that the very act and policy of occupation is corroding Israel’s values and must end. But the truth is time after time the Israeli public votes in elections for parties which sustain and believe in that occupation.”

Gvaryahu: “That’s true but when you look at this democracy, it’s basically a democracy that is controlling and ruling millions of people that don’t have a right or a say in that democracy. So between the river and the sea we have about 13 million people where half of them do not go and elect anyone. So a big part of our mission – and that’s where we spend as ‘Breaking the Silence’ the vast majority of our energy and our time – is speaking to our fellow citizens all across Israel.”

Sackur made no effort to challenge that latter claim from Gvaryahu by asking him why his organisation has been conducting foreign speaking tours since shortly after its founding or why 40% of its activities in Israel are with non-Israelis.

Sackur also did not bother to point out to BBC audiences that Gvaryahu’s claim that Palestinians “do not go and elect anyone” is misleading because the vast majority of them have lived under Palestinian Authority or Hamas rule for over two decades and have the right to vote in PA elections which have nothing to do with Israel at all. He did, however, go on to promote at length his own ideas about Israeli soldiers – as we shall see in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

The context of the BBC’s promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

Investigative report highlights BBC’s NGO impartiality fail

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2017

As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), Israel related content produced by the BBC during 2017 frequently included contributions or information sourced from NGOs.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“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.”

However, in the vast majority of cases audiences were not informed of the political agenda of the organisations and their representatives promoted in BBC content and on some occasions the connection of an interviewee to a particular NGO was not revealed at all.

For example, an interviewee who was featured on BBC World Service radio at least three times between September 3rd and December 7th (including here and here) was introduced as “a mother of two” from Gaza but audiences were not informed that she works for Oxfam.

Similarly the founder of Ir Amim and Terrestrial Jerusalem was introduced to BBC audiences in February as “an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem” and in June as “an Israeli lawyer specialising in the geo-politics of Jerusalem”.

In September a BBC World Service history show featured an interviewee without mentioning her significant connection to Medical Aid for Palestinians and related anti-Israel activism. In October the same programme featured a sole interviewee whose connections to the NGO Euro-Med Rights were not revealed to audiences.

Interestingly, when BBC radio 5 live recently conducted an interview concerning a UK domestic story with a political activist who was inadequately introduced, the corporation acknowledged that “we should’ve established and made clear on air this contributor was a political activist”. 

On other occasions, while contributors’ connections to NGOs were clarified, the political agenda of the organisations concerned was not.

In October, when an interviewee from the Amos Trust appeared on BBC Radio 4, the NGO was inadequately described as “a Christian organisation working in the West Bank and Gaza” with no mention made of its anti-Israel activities.

A TV debate concerning the BDS campaign that was aired in February included representatives of War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign with no background information concerning the rich history of anti-Israel campaigning by both those organisations provided to viewers.

In September the BBC World Service interviewed the director of ‘Forward Thinking’ which was described as a “mediation group” while listeners heard no clarification of the relevant issue of the interviewee’s “particular viewpoint” on Hamas.

Audiences also saw cases in which BBC presenters amplified unsubstantiated allegations made by political NGOs during interviews with Israelis. In June, for example, while interviewing Moshe Ya’alon, Stephen Sackur invoked Human Rights Watch and Breaking the Silence.

In November Andrew Marr employed the same tactic during an interview with the Israeli prime minister, amplifying allegations from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International without informing viewers of the political agendas of those NGOs.

BBC audiences also saw Human Rights Watch quoted and promoted in various reports throughout the year including:

BBC promotes political NGO in coverage of Azaria verdict

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

Political NGO gets unreserved BBC amplification yet again

Additional NGOs promoted by the BBC without disclosure of their political agenda include Adalah and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (see here) and UJFP.

Material produced by the UN agency OCHA was promoted in BBC content without that organisation’s political stance being revealed and audiences saw a partisan map credited to UNOCHA and B’tselem used on numerous occasions throughout the year.

The political NGO Peace Now was frequently quoted and promoted (including links to its website) in reports concerning Israeli construction plans – see for example here, here and here – as well as in an amended backgrounder on the subject of ‘settlements’.

In April the BBC News website described Breaking the Silence and B’tselem as “human rights activists” without fully informing audiences of their records and political agenda.

B’tselem was by far the BBC’s most promoted NGO in 2017 with politically partisan maps it is credited as having produced either together with UNOCHA or on its own appearing in dozens of BBC News website reports and articles throughout the year, including the BBC’s backgrounder on ‘settlements’.

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

BBC Watch prompts amendment to inaccurate BBC map

BBC audiences were on no occasion informed that the organisation from which that map is sourced engages in lawfare against Israel and is a member of a coalition of NGOs supporting BDS.

The NGOs quoted, promoted and interviewed by the BBC come from one side of the spectrum as far as their political approach to Israel is concerned and some of them are even active in legal and propaganda campaigns against Israel. Yet the BBC serially fails to meet its own editorial guidelines by clarifying their “particular viewpoint” and – as in previous years – in 2017 audiences hence remained unaware of the fact that the homogeneous information they are receiving about Israel is consistently unbalanced.

Related Articles:

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred Middle East NGOs

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2015

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2016

BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs

Weekend long read

1) Back in April the BBC News website told audiences that the Israeli prime minister had ‘snubbed’ the German foreign minister over the latter’s insistence on meeting what the BBC described as “human rights activists”. At the Fathom Journal, Gadi Taub takes a closer look at that story.

“Gabriel, on the occasion of an official visit for Holocaust Memorial Day, announced that he would meet the representatives of two radical left-wing civil society organisations – Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. When Netanyahu said that if those meetings went ahead he would boycott the visit and refuse to meet Gabriel, many thought he was overreacting. Few, however, expected Gabriel to choose those two organisations over Israel’s prime minster (and acting foreign minister). And when he did, things began to appear in a new light. It no longer seemed that the German foreign minister made an honest mistake, not knowing how controversial these organisations were among Israelis. It appeared, instead, that he knew exactly what he was doing and that it was us, the Israeli public, who had made a mistake in our assumptions about German-Israeli relations.”

2) At the JCPA, Ambassador Alan Baker examines the issue of Palestinian refugees and UNRWA.  

“Unlike its sister organization, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), mandated since 1950 to coordinate the handling of all refugee communities worldwide, UNRWA was established in that same year to deal exclusively with Palestinian refugees, thereby excluding them from the protection of the UNHCR.

While the aims and operations of the UNHCR are based on international instruments – mainly the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees – UNRWA was never provided with a specific statute or charter. It has operated since its inception under a general mandate, renewed every three years by the General Assembly.

The major distinction and main reason for the establishment of a separate agency to deal with Palestinian refugees, was to crystallize their sole aim – not rehabilitation and resettlement, as was the aim of UNHCR – but solely “return.” Inclusion of Palestinian refugees under the general UNHCR definition of “refugees” would have been interpreted as a waiver of their claim that “return” was the sole solution.”

3) The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has a new report on a topic habitually absent from BBC coverage of the Middle East: Hamas’ indoctrination of children in summer camps.

“This year, as in previous years, summer camps were held throughout the Gaza Strip, attended by tens of thousands of Gazan children and adolescents. Most of the camps were organized by Hamas, some by other terrorist organizations and institutions. The camps provide a wide range of activities, from ordinary summer pastimes (sports, arts and crafts, computers, day trips, etc.) to military training and ideological indoctrination. Hamas attributes great importance to the summer camps, considering them an effective means for influencing the younger generation and training a cadre of operatives and supporters for its military wing and movement institutions.

An examination of some of the closing ceremonies of the 2017 summer camps shows they emphasized military topics coordinated to the age of the participants. The older the campers were, the more and varied military training they received. The adolescents, some of them who would join Hamas military wing in the near future, wore uniforms and learned how to dismantle and reassemble weapons. They also practiced simulating infiltrating Israel through tunnels, attacking IDF posts, taking control of tank positions, and capturing IDF soldiers and abducting them to the Gaza Strip. They trained with real weapons, mostly light arms and RPG launchers.”

4) At the FDD, Grant Rumley takes a look at Mahmoud Abbas’ handling of last month’s violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere following the murder of two Israeli policemen in a terror attack on July 14th.

“The closest the Israeli-Palestinian conflict got to an actual third intifada, or uprising, happened late this past month when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas mobilized the shadowy militia elements of his party for widespread Friday protests. What the lone-wolf stabbing attacks that have plagued Israel for the past several years lacked—and what both the first and second intifadas had—was political leadership and support. In activating the Tanzim, a faction of his own party that Abbas has struggled to control, the Palestinian President was sanctioning his people’s unrest.”

Weekend long read

1) At Mosaic magazine, Martin Kramer explains why “The Balfour Declaration Was More than the Promise of One Nation“.

“In 1930, the British Colonial Office published a “white paper” that Zionists saw as a retreat from the Balfour Declaration. David Lloyd George, whose government had issued the declaration in 1917, was long out of office and now in the twilight of his political career. In an indignant speech, he insisted that his own country had no authority to downgrade the declaration, because it constituted a commitment made by all of the Allies in the Great War:

In wartime we were anxious to secure the good will of the Jewish community throughout the world for the Allied cause. The Balfour Declaration was a gesture not merely on our part but on the part of the Allies to secure that valuable support. It was prepared after much consideration, not merely of its policy, but of its actual wording, by the representatives of all the Allied and associated countries including America, and of our dominion premiers.

There was some exaggeration here; not all of the Allies shared the same understanding of the policy or saw the “actual wording.” But Lloyd George pointed to the forgotten truth that I sought to resurrect through my essay. In 1917, there was not yet a League of Nations or a United Nations. But, in the consensus of the Allies, there was the nucleus of a modern international order. The Balfour Declaration had the weight of this consensus behind it, before Balfour signed it. This international buy-in is also why the Balfour Declaration entered the mandate for Palestine, entrusted to Britain by the League of Nations. Those who now cast the Balfour Declaration as an egregious case of imperial self-dealing simply don’t know its history (or prefer not to know it).”

2) Yaakov Lappin reports on a worrying development in Lebanon.

“Israeli leaders are continuing to issue public statements on an Iranian underground missile factory that was apparently built in Lebanon. […]

The first report about this missile factory surfaced back in March, in Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida.

That report quoted “an aid to the IRGC commander” who said that “Iran has built factories [for manufacturing] missiles and [other] weapons in Lebanon and has recently turned them over to Hizbullah.”

The original story (translation by MEMRI) has some interesting initial information:

“In response to statements by Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan several days ago – who said that Hizbullah is capable of manufacturing missiles [that can] hit any part of Israel [but] gave no details or explanations – a knowledgeable source who wished to remain anonymous said that, after Israel destroyed an Iranian arms factory in Sudan several years ago that had supplied arms to Hizbullah, and after [Israel also] bombed an arms convoy that was intended to reach Hizbullah via Syria, the IRGC launched a project for establishing arms factories in Lebanon [itself].””

3) With a BBC presenter having promoted and endorsed the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence‘ only last week and that group currently making headlines, an op-ed by Ben Dror Yemini at Ynet concerning an ongoing story makes interesting reading.

“Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak is furious about the investigation against the organization’s spokesperson, Dean Issacharof, who stated that he had committed a war crime of beating a Palestinian until he bled. Why is he being interrogated of all people, Novak complained. There are, after all, hundreds of other testimonies. […]

The Military Advocate General wanted to investigate the testimonies that point to a suspected offense, but the organization’s members demanded protection of its sources. And now Novak is complaining that testimonies are not being investigated.”

4) At the Tablet, Tony Badran has more on a story we reported here last week.

“After the second Lebanon war in 2006, when the IDF uncovered the elaborate network of underground Hezbollah tunnels and bunkers in southern Lebanon, the Israelis dubbed these fortifications “nature reserves.” Hezbollah used the “nature reserves,” which were built in forested areas and hillsides, to launch short-range rockets on northern Israel continuously as its fighters hunkered inside, safe from aerial and artillery bombardment.

Eleven years later, the term, intended as a joke, has proved more apt than perhaps the IDF initially imagined. Last week, Israel filed a complaint with the United Nations Security Council in which it charged that Hezbollah had set up observation outposts along the border under the cover of an environmental group called Green Without Borders. Israel released photos and a video backing up its claim.”