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

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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.”

 

 

 

Israeli guest tells BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ host ‘you rewrite the history’ – part one

On the same day that Moshe Ya’alon resigned from the post of Minister of Defence in May 2016, the BBC World Service aired a radio programme with the extraordinary title “Has Israel Lost its ‘Moral Compass’?”

That BBC fixation on the ‘moral health’ of Israeli society was again in evidence when, on June 28th, Ya’alon gave an interview to the BBC World News channel programme ‘Hardtalk‘.

The interview is available in the UK on iPlayer here or alternatively here. An audio version that was broadcast on BBC World Service radio on June 30th with the following synopsis is available here.

“Moshe Ya’alon served in the Israel Defence Force for 38 years including as Chief of Staff from 2002 to 2005. He then entered politics and served as Minister of Defence for three years until his resignation in May 2016. At the time warned that Israel had been taken over by “dangerous and extreme elements.” He wants to run for prime minister at Israel’s next election and he tells HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur “I found too many politicians generating hatred against someone, against the Arabs, against leftists, against the media, against the Supreme Court, which is a challenge”.”

That same theme was also amplified in a clip from the interview that was promoted separately on social media and on the BBC News website.

“Certain Israeli politicians are moving towards racism, the former defence minister Moshe Ya’alon has told BBC Hardtalk’s Stephen Sackur.

“I found too many politicians generating hatred against someone, against the Arabs, against leftists, against the media, against the Supreme Court, which is a challenge,” said Mr Ya’alon, adding he thought it could be dealt with.

“This is not the vast majority of politicians, but it is unfortunately not stopped by the prime minister and that is why I had too many disputes with him,” he said.

Mr Ya’alon resigned from the government in May 2016 and warned that Israel had been taken over by “dangerous and extreme elements”.”

The focus on that theme will of course be unsurprising to anyone familiar with the BBC’s long-standing and recurrent portrayal of Israel as ‘shifting to the right’. Host Stephen Sackur made sure that the first part of the interview was similarly devoted to the topic of Israel’s ‘moral health’ using a succession of statements-cum-questions.

“Israel has just marked and celebrated 50 years since the victory in the Six Day War but you seem to feel right now there are some very serious questions about the direction Israel is going in and about national cohesion. Why are you so worried?”

After Ya’alon had spoken about a “relatively calm” security situation, Sackur asked:

“So it’s not an existential security threat that you feel is most concerning to Israel today?”

Ya’alon then pointed out that Israel’s vibrant democracy includes independent law enforcement authorities, expressing confidence in the ongoing investigation into allegations of corruption concerning Netanyahu. Sackur continued:

“But it’s not just about Netanyahu is it? I mean you said this not long ago; it caused a real stir in Israel. You said ‘to my great sorrow extremist and dangerous elements have taken over Israel and in particular the Likud party and are shaking the foundations of the country and threatening to hurt its residents. Those are very powerful words.”

“Extremism, you said, extremism in your own government that you loyally served for 7 years.”

After Ya’alon had pointed out that Israel’s “vibrant society” means that he is able to criticize the government, Sackur pressed him further:

“You also have a responsibility to be clear about what you mean so I want you to tell me exactly what you mean by this extremism you see from inside the Israeli government.”

Although Ya’alon expressed confidence that “we are able to deal with it” in relation to what he described as “too many politicians generating hatred against someone”, Sackur was not done.

“Isaac Herzog – formerly of the Labour party, now the Zionist Union – he coined this extraordinary word. He called it the ‘fascistisation’ of Israel under Netanyahu. Sounds like you’re almost agreeing with him.”

“You would use that phrase – fascistisation – would you?”

Ya’alon clarified that “it is not the vast majority of politicians” stating that “it is unfortunately not stopped by the prime minister and that’s why I had too many disputes with him”, to which Sackur responded:

“I am very puzzled as to how you could sit in cabinet as, I think, deputy premier for 3 or 4 years and then as defence secretary – the senior security post in the cabinet for –what – more than three years serving as a loyal ally of Binyamin Netanyahu and then you fall out with him after 7 years of service and come out saying that he’s fostering extremism and possibly fascistisation of Israel. It seems extraordinary.”

In response to Ya’alon’s statement that the issues arose around the time of the 2015 election Sackur interjected:

“What; he [Netanyahu] suddenly changed, did he?”

A significant proportion of the interview was also devoted to discussion of allegations concerning a third party not afforded the right of reply, despite that condition being stipulated in BBC editorial guidelines.

“We’ll get to the bigger strategic picture in a moment but let’s just stick to the internal politics of Netanyahu, the Likud party and the right-wing in Israel because you have become a critic now but you’ve been intimately involved for an awful long time. How can you say that you have absolutely no doubt that Binyamin Netanyahu is guilty of these allegations – all of which he absolutely adamantly denies – some of which concern his personal behaviour, some of which concern the behaviour of others – to do with a defence contract particularly involving submarines which Netanyahu himself isn’t involved with but people close to him are. You say you have no doubt that…if he is not indicted, you say, I will go on a speaking tour and tell all. What is it you know that the rest of Israel doesn’t?”

“People don’t change their spots, do they? I mean you say Netanyahu somehow flipped in 2015 around the time of the election. You’d served him by then for – what – six years. You can’t tell me that the man you knew for six years became somebody completely different after that election.”

Relating to the allegations of corruption against Netanyahu, Sackur quipped:

“Well of course he denies it.”

After Ya’alon had once again expressed confidence in the ability of the Israeli law enforcement authorities to “deal with it properly”, Sackur commented:

“Netanyahu dismisses everything you say about him with a smile and says that you are just desperate to try to launch your own political career; frankly a political career which looks right now like it’s really struggling.”

Sackur then returned to the topic of Israel’s ‘moral health’, dabbling in pseudo-psychological analysis of “the Israeli psyche”.

“Is…ahm…is this not just about Netanyahu? Do you think this is about something corrosive at the heart of the Israeli state which says something about Israeli values today?”

“It’s not just about money and corruption in politics though, is it? It’s about values connected to the very biggest of pictures. For example Israel’s continued occupation after 50 years of the West Bank and what that does to the Israeli psyche and to young Israelis in particular.”

Sackur continued with a selective presentation of Rabin’s approach to the peace process of the type that is commonly found in BBC content.

“You’re the same Moshe Ya’alon who supported Rabin, supported the two-state process, supported Oslo.”

Opting not to enhance audience understanding of the topic of the peace process by exploring further Ya’alon’s statement that his views on Oslo changed when he was “exposed to the details when I became the head of the intelligence”, Sackur insisted:

“Rabin continued to believe. Rabin – and I lived in Israel in Israel at the time and I remember it very well – Rabin repeatedly said Israel has no choice: we simply have to make peace with our enemies. There is no alternative.”

“He[Rabin] never gave up on the two-state solution.”

After Ya’alon reminded him for a second time of Rabin’s final speech in the Knesset, Sackur slightly changed his tack.

“My point is not just about the two-state solution. It’s about the idea of no alternative. Just the other day Ehud Barak – another chief of staff of the Israeli defence forces, another former prime minister – said that this government – he’s talking about the Netanyahu government – is putting the country on the path to becoming an apartheid state and it should be brought down if it fails to change course.”

Ya’alon then listed the repeated Palestinian rejections of peace offers and partition, to which Sackur responded:

“But as Israelis do you not have a duty to keep searching, to keep working for a solution? Because if not, your own people will suffer the consequences.”

After Ya’alon had noted that the Palestinians have their own parliament, government and president, audiences got some noteworthy insight into the kind of politicised sources used by Sackur as the basis for his ‘questions’ and statements.

“But, forgive me, you do rule them [the Palestinians] and I just…look, because I knew I was going to talk to you today I did a little bit of research about your post as defence minister and what happened. A series of reports crossed your desk from UNICEF in 2013 saying the ill-treatment of children who came into contact with the military detention system in the West Bank appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised. Human Rights Watch; a very detailed report how Israeli security forces use unnecessary force to arrest and detain Palestinian children as young as eleven, choking them, throwing stun grenades at them, beating them in custody. These are reports that crossed your desk as defence minister: the work of your IDF. This is what the occupation means.”

Former IDF Chief West Bank Prosecutor Lt.-Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch addressed that UNICEF report quoted by Sackur in an interview given to the Jerusalem Post earlier this year.

“Hirsch said that UNICEF’s March 2013 report, which made headlines in countries and government offices on multiple continents, had an “almost zero” connection to reality in terms of the law or the applicable facts. […]
“Having started a dialogue with UNICEF, it soon became clear that we weren’t necessarily dealing with another UN organization that was just Israel-bashing… I realized that much of the report was basically plagiarized from a previous report by DCI [Defense for Children International] Palestine,” and that “the actual authors themselves didn’t necessarily understand what had been written… or have the factual background to understand the reality,” commented Hirsch. […]

“The unfortunate side of the discussions was that even though I had unequivocally shown the UNICEF members that what they had written was factually and legally flawed, they remained stubborn in their refusal to put out a clear statement that the initial report was simply erroneous.””

Sadly for the BBC’s reputation for accuracy and impartiality, Stephen Sackur’s “little bit of research” obviously did not include familiarising himself with the full background to that UNICEF report and he is clearly unperturbed by the records of political campaigning groups such as DCI Palestine and Human Rights Watch (frequently quoted and promoted in BBC content).

Sackur then came up with the grossly inaccurate claim that led Ya’alon to charge him with “rewriting the history”.

“Your government – that is the Netanyahu government which you loyally served until 2016 – decided not to negotiate with the Palestinians.”

After Ya’alon had clarified that the Palestinians were the party that in fact refused to continue the nine months of negotiations that took place in 2013/14, Sackur tried to sidestep his inaccuracy by invoking yet another political NGO popular with the BBC‘Breaking the Silence‘.  

“With respect, minister; you’re playing this tit for tat game of who was responsible for the breakdown of talks. 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.”

The interview then took an even more bizarre turn which will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC audiences get a blinkered look into Israeli politics

BBC’s WHYS discusses Israel’s ‘moral compass’ 

BBC News portrays political NGOs as ‘human rights activists’

On April 25th an article billed “Israel PM snubs German foreign minister” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page with the sub-heading “Sigmar Gabriel had refused to call off talks with Israeli human rights activists”.

The report itself – headlined “Israel’s Netanyahu scraps talks with German minister over rights groups” – opens with a description of the NGOs concerned in the same terms.

“Israel’s prime minister has cancelled talks with Germany’s foreign minister after he refused to call off a meeting with Israeli human rights activists.

Sigmar Gabriel had been due to meet Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu had warned he would not see Mr Gabriel if he met the groups Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.”

The fact that the BBC chose to describe those two political NGOs as “human rights activists” should not be surprising: after all, both ‘B’tselem‘ and ‘Breaking the Silence‘ are among the campaigning NGOs (overwhelmingly from one end only of the political spectrum) that are routinely quoted and promoted in BBC content.

However, in breach of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality, the BBC has a longstanding policy of consistently refraining from adequately informing its audiences with regard to the foreign funding, agenda and “particular viewpoint” of the NGOs it promotes in Israel-related content – including ‘B’tselem‘ and ‘Breaking the Silence‘.

In this particular report readers are told that:

“Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers, gathers anonymous testimony from within the military about alleged abuses of Palestinians by the army.

Israeli authorities have accused it of making unreliable accusations.”

They are not however informed that a significant proportion of those ‘testimonies’ have been shown by persons completely independent of the “Israeli authorities” to be false, exaggerated or unverifiable.

With regard to B’tselem, the BBC’s report states:

“B’Tselem is one of Israel’s leading human rights groups and has come under similar criticism.”

Readers are not told that B’tselem was one of the sources of dubious casualty figures (also used by the BBC) during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas or that it engages in ‘lawfare‘ campaigns intended to delegitimise Israel – the one country it openly admits to wanting to see “punished” by the international community.

Both ‘B’tselem’ and ‘Breaking the Silence’ are generously foreign funded campaigning NGOs with a clear and specific political agenda. The BBC’s anodyne portrayal of those groups as ‘human rights activists’ is a barrier to audience understanding of this story.

Related Articles:

Investigative report highlights BBC’s NGO impartiality fail

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

BBC News producer breaches impartiality guidelines on social media

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

BBC News portrayal of Israeli law airbrushes political NGOs

 

 

 

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ jumps on the ‘cultural censorship’ bandwagon

h/t JS

For well over a year the BBC has been telling its audiences dark – though consistently inaccurate – tales of supposed cultural censorship in Israel.

December 2015, BBC World Service: BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist.

January 2016, BBC News website: How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?.

January 2016, BBC World Service: BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’.

February 2016, BBC Radio 4: How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom.

March 2016, BBC World Service: BBC WS yet again promotes inaccurate claim of Israeli book ‘ban’.

November 2016, BBC World Service: In which the BBC WS stereotypes over 7,000 Israelis as ‘fanatic’ and ‘racist’.

On April 12th BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight‘ jumped on that bandwagon with a filmed report by the BBC’s West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy that was heavily promoted (see here, here, here and here) on Twitter.

The seven minute long report was also uploaded to Youtube where it is presented as follows:

“While the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians remains frozen, Israel is itself divided, not least on issues of culture. There have been fights over plays, music, books, the funding for the arts and academic awards. The populist culture minister – a rising star of the right – is rarely out of controversy. So what is that culture war all about? Thomas Fessy has been finding out.” 

Fessy’s report opens with showcasing of a play called ‘Palestine, Year Zero’ and viewers are told that “it deals with an insurance assessor who is estimating the cost of damage done to Palestinian homes by the Israeli authorities” before they see equally context-free subtitles on screen saying “In 2016: 34 homes demolished, 130 people evicted”.

A journalist committed to providing his audiences with an objective view of the story would of course have clarified at this point that the play in question is a political as well as artistic project and that its writer received ‘guidance’ and ‘assisstance’ from individuals and NGOs (eg ‘Zochrot’) that campaign for the elimination of the Jewish state. Fessy, however, tells his viewers that:

“Before it was first performed the office of the culture minister, Miri Regev, assessed it. A complaint had been lodged because the play apparently contained messages of incitement that undermined the state and insulted its symbols.”

Viewers then see the play’s writer and director recount how “scared” she was of people coming to watch rehearsals because of the suspicion that they “had been sent by the culture minister”.

While a complaint concerning the play was indeed lodged, the ominous picture painted by Fessy does not – according to the play’s writer – reflect the whole story and in fact no ministry representative ever visited rehearsals.

Having presented BBC audiences with that partial story, Fessy then goes on to explain the ‘rationale’ behind his report.

“Israel likes to project an image around the world that it is an open society in which dissent is not persecuted. But there’s a growing fear here that a new generation of political leaders wants to shut down critical voices. Some say the culture minister, Miri Regev, is trying to gain control over cultural production, putting the vitality of this country’s culture and its freedom of creation in jeopardy. Many talk of a culture war that has been declared against Israeli artists.” [emphasis added]

Exactly who those “some” and “many” are is not disclosed to viewers.

The antagonist in Fessy’s story is very clearly the Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev. Although at no point do viewers get to hear a response from her or her office, Fessy tells them that:

“Here is a culture minister who has called artists arrogant, hypocritical and ungrateful and she rails against the liberal elite. She set out a so-called loyalty in culture plan, threatening to condition support for cultural institutions or on the contents they present or the place where they perform.”

Later viewers see footage from last November taken in Kiryat Arba as Fessy tells them:

“One of her [Miri Regev] other battlefields: the Jewish settlements. We followed her to Kiryat Arba in the occupied West Bank. That night was the first time that the national theatre had ever come to perform here – a move that many say normalises the residence of settlers in occupied territory, or Judea and Samaria in biblical terms.” [emphasis added]

Fessy once again refrains from disclosing to viewers who the “many” he quotes actually are and he makes no effort to clarify that the financial aid given to theatre groups is financed by taxes paid by Israeli citizens living on both sides of the ‘green line’. He fails to tell audiences that while that may indeed have been the first performance by ‘Habima’ in that specific location, the theatre company has appeared in what he would call “the occupied West Bank” (i.e. in communities in Area C) in the past – long before Miri Regev became culture minister and despite his transparent attempt to create false linkage.

“The culture ministry issued a memo that’s become known as the loyalty form. From now on, cultural institutions that would perform in the occupied West Bank would benefit from a financial bonus. Those that wouldn’t may face funding cuts.”

Failing to provide viewers with the name of the organisation he describes as campaigning “to end the occupation”, Fessy devotes part of his report to a tour of Hebron by an Israeli actress, portraying it as an effort on her part to express dissent.

“But some of the performers want to make their feelings clear. […] Not a word – but her tour said it all.”

According to Israel’s Channel 2, however, that political tour was in fact initiated by the NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.

Throughout the whole seven minute and twelve second-long report, viewers see just 37 seconds of footage presenting an alternative view of the story. A man at the ‘Habima’ performance in Kiryat Arba is given three seconds of airtime while commentator Isi Leibler accurately and succinctly explains the issue in 34 seconds.

Nevertheless, Fessy chooses to close his report with take-away messaging concerning “a society turning its sights inward” and “censorship”, invoking “the peace process” which of course has absolutely nothing to do with the story.

“As the peace process with the Palestinians remains frozen and with new leaders leaning to more populist agendas, Israel is for now busy fighting on the cultural front.”

Once again we see that the BBC is intent upon promoting – with more than a pinch of artistic licence – a politically motivated non-story concerning an alleged “shut down” of “critical voices” and a “culture war” that simply does not exist. 

Investigative report highlights BBC’s NGO impartiality fail

Over the past fourteen months we have documented several cases in which the BBC has amplified the messaging of what it labels an “Israeli activist 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’.BtS written

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’

The context of the BBC’s 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

Last week Channel 10’s investigative journalism programme ‘HaMakor’ presented an interesting report on ‘Breaking the Silence’ in which the issue of the reliability of the NGO’s ‘testimonies’ was examined.

Our colleague Gidon Shaviv has now translated the results of that investigation in an article titled “Breaking the Silence Gets Failing Grade in Channel 10’s Fact-Check“.

 The findings of Channel 10’s investigation show that the BBC’s repeated unquestioning and uncritical amplification of ‘Breaking the Silence’ is not conducive to meeting its public purposes and yet again underscore the urgent need for the corporation to adhere to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality when quoting and promoting that – or any other – political NGO. 

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?

Related Articles:

Washington Post’s Letter from Israel Should be Marked ‘Return to Sender’  (CAMERA)

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

 

BBC’s ME Editor gives unchallenged amplification to Palestinian defamation

In late April BBC television audiences saw a report by Yolande Knell which gave entirely unchallenged amplification to defamatory falsehoods concerning Israel and Israelis from the families of Palestinian terrorists. An audio report by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on May 4th (from 02:39:47 here) indicates that Knell’s report was not an isolated case of lapsed editorial judgement.Today 4 5

Presenter Sarah Montague introduces the report as follows:

“Tension is rising once again between Israelis and Palestinians. Seemingly random attacks by Palestinians on Israelis continue. Israel continues to expand settlements for Jews in the occupied territories that contravene international law. There are no peace talks and no attempt is being made to revive them. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

In addition to making no effort to meet BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by informing audiences of the existence of legal opinions which contradict the view that settlements “contravene international law”, Montague fails to tell them that just last month the Israeli prime minister attempted to “revive” talks by inviting the PA president to Jerusalem.

Bowen’s report opens with a recording of the voice of a girl who was prevented from carrying out a stabbing attack in Karmei Tzur on February 9th – a story not covered by the BBC at the time.

“You can hear how young Dima al Wawi is in her voice. She’s a 12 year-old Palestinian schoolgirl sitting with her parents in the kitchen, engrossed in Facebook. But instead of checking out her friends, she’s looking at video of her arrest. Dima has only recently been released from an Israeli jail. She served 75 days of a four-month sentence for planning to stab an Israeli at a Jewish settlement. She was arrested near her home in Halhoul on the west Bank. Dima didn’t get close to any Israelis as security guards stopped her.”

Apparently Bowen does not count the security guard himself as Israeli. Listeners then hear a voice-over of al Wawi speaking:

“The settlers saw me and stopped me. They made me lie on the ground, tied my wrists with plastic handcuffs and they stepped on my back.”

Bowen goes on:

“She pleaded guilty but now she says she was innocent and bullied into confessing. Twice her parents said she was questioned without a lawyer present.”

Voice-over: “I [unintelligible] we’re young kids. It’s sad that they do this to us. We’re oppressed. What I know is that I’m from Palestine. I don’t know about politics.”Knife al Wawi

Had the BBC covered the story at the time, Bowen would perhaps know about the knife found in al Wawi’s possession. After listeners hear the sound of a siren, Bowen continues – severely downplaying the number of terror attacks which have taken place during the last seven months. [emphasis added]

“Israelis are nervous. Since October last year Palestinians – mostly armed with knives – have launched dozens of attacks.  A Palestinian exploded a bomb on a bus in Jerusalem last month. For Israelis that revived horrific memories of bus attacks that killed hundreds in the last Palestinian uprising. I’ve come to Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital which is the main hospital in Jerusalem and here one of the victims is still being treated. She’s a girl called Eden Dadon…eh…15 years old, very badly burned in the bus attack and I’m here with Eden’s older sister Shiran. When you’re walking down the street or if you go somewhere and you see a Palestinian person – I mean, what do you think?”

Listeners are not informed that Eden and Shiran Dadon’s mother was also injured in the same attack either before or after they hear the following voice-over.

“I think why are they so evil? Why are they so bad? Why can’t we live in peace? These are wars that we’ve been living with for years and we’ll never find a resolution to them because they hate us. We hate them – it’s mutual. But the difference between us is they’re the ones who come to attack.”

Bowen then goes to meet the family of the perpetrators of another attack which was not reported by the BBC when it took place at Qalandiya checkpoint on April 27th.Knives Qalandiya attack 27 4

“Back in the ’90s when the peace process started there was a sense of hope that things might get better but now there is nothing like that. In fact here on the West Bank there’s a lot of anger. I’m in Bidu – a Palestinian village – and the village is close to Jerusalem as the crow flies but actually it’s a world away. Most of the Palestinians who live here can’t travel to Jerusalem – to the holy city – because of Israel’s security regulations.”

Bowen of course neglects to remind listeners that those “security regulations” came into being because of Palestinian terrorism. Like Yolande Knell before him, he then goes on to amplify unsupported claims and blatant falsehoods from family members of attackers. [all emphasis added]

“Mourners gathered at the house of the Taha family. They were angry because Israeli private security guards had shot dead Ibrahim Taha aged 16 and his sister Maram who was 23 at a checkpoint into north Jerusalem. Maram allegedly threw a knife at the police. The family say they were both innocent – shot in cold blood by trigger-happy guards. Tahri [phonetic] Taha said her brother and sister didn’t have a chance.”

Voice-over: “They’re used to this. It’s normal for them. They kill us. They kill innocent children in cold blood. Our martyrs are in heaven – that’s enough for us. They’re used to this. It’s in their blood. They want to get rid of us in any way. They have a law: whenever they see an Arab their policy is to kill them. Killing is their policy – even old people and kids.”

Bowen: “Her uncle Abdallah joined in.”

Listeners then hear a man speaking in Arabic – including the words ‘al Yahud’ – the Jews. Bowen paraphrases his words as follows:

“He’s gesturing at the moment, saying if you scratch your head, they’ll kill you. If you just pick something off the ground, they’ll kill you. If you pick the phone out of your pocket, they’ll kill you.”

Jeremy Bowen of course knows full well that the claims made by both those interviewees are gross falsehoods. He does not however tell his listeners that but instead confines himself to saying:

“The Israeli government says that’s untrue. That Palestinians attack Israelis because they’ve been taught to hate them from childhood.”

Making no attempt whatsoever to inform BBC audiences on the very relevant issue of incitement, Bowen moves seamlessly on to showcase his next interviewee.

“Some Israelis disagree. One of them is Yehuda Shaul. He leads a group of former soldiers from the Israeli Defense Forces – the IDF. They campaign against the occupation in a group called ‘Breaking the Silence’.”

Shaul: “We believe the occupation is morally indefensible. We believe the occupation is morally unacceptable. We believe that it’s destroying the morality of the IDF. It’s destroying the morality of Israeli society. It’s destroying the professionalism of the IDF. Armies are not designed to rule an occupation for 50 years over millions of people. And we believe that ultimately in the long term, it destroys the strategic and security standing of Israel in the region. That’s why we’re against the occupation.”

Bowen does not bother to remind Radio 4 listeners of the fact that the ‘occupation’ came about because Jordan – itself the occupier of Judea & Samaria and sections of Jerusalem at the time – chose to join Egypt, Syria and various other forces in what was intended to be a war of annihilation against Israel.

Bowen: “We were in Hebron; a major flash point. When Jewish settlers spotted Yehuda Shaul they swore at him and called him a traitor.”

No context concerning the record, methodology – and foreign funding – of ‘Breaking the Silence’ is provided to audiences. Bowen then closes his report:

“The atmosphere between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – is more combustible than it’s been since the end of the second Palestinian uprising over a decade ago. History has shown that neither side can decisively beat the other. One day they might be able to make a peace deal. If not they face the slow drip of hate and the certainty of more killing.”

So what did licence fee payers get from this report? In addition to the one-sided promotion of a political NGO and trite slogans such as ‘occupation’ and ‘international law’ without any context or balance, they heard the generous amplification of blatantly false and defamatory claims bordering on the blood libel from Palestinians which went unchallenged in any serious fashion by Jeremy Bowen.

That genre of material is of course amply available to anyone with access to the internet and – rather than jumping on that already overcrowded bandwagon – the BBC with its remit of enhancing “UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues” should obviously be helping audiences to look beyond such flagrant propaganda.

Given the proliferation of uninformed commentary from UK politicians and public officials of late, that remit carries particular importance and the fact that even the man in charge of the BBC’s Middle East related content fails to meet it clearly indicates a serious problem. 

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

As readers no doubt recall, at the beginning of this month the BBC produced three items on various platforms promoting a collection of anonymous ‘testimonies’ issued by the foreign funded political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’. In clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, none of those reports provided audiences with any meaningful information about the organisation’s political agenda.BtS written

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’

Writing at the Mosaic magazine, journalist Matti Friedman brings some crucial context not only to the issue of the claims touted by ‘Breaking the Silence’ but also to the wider – and no less important – topic of the mainstream media’s uncritical promotion and amplification of the story.

“As a reporter, you wouldn’t be able to get away with publishing purely anonymous testimony that you have collected, but it is one of the peculiarities of Israel-related journalism that you are allowed to use anonymous material if it has been pre-packaged for you by a political NGO. […]BtS audio

The vast media coverage devoted over the past week to this little piece of agit-prop from a little country—its claims parroted without proof, shorn of context and comparison, and presented as journalism to people around the world—must lead us to ask what, exactly, is going on. What is motivating all of this? No one observing our planet of violence and injustice in 2015 can claim any longer that Israel is covered the same way other countries are covered; that the coverage is proportional to the scale of events; or that the tone of moral condemnation—growing in its hysteria, and crawling from the fringes deeper and deeper into the mainstream press—is in the realm of reasonable reportage.

In all the talk purporting to be about the Gaza war, many are beginning to see more clearly the outlines of another war entirely. What is the nature of this war? That is where the real silence lies.”

Read the whole article here