BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

In part one of this post we began looking at two contributions from Jane Corbin to the BBC’s extensive Balfour Declaration centenary coverage: a filmed programme first aired on BBC Two on October 31st under the title “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land” (available for a limited period of time in the UK here, transcript here) and a written article that appeared on the same day in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“.

While both reports repeated themes seen in additional BBC coverage such as incomplete presentation of the entire text of Arthur Balfour’s letter, on the other hand they did present audiences with a very rare glimpse of the grave consequences of British restrictions on Jewish immigration.

Filmed: “In 1939, the British Government bowed to the pressure of the Arab revolt, drastically restricting Jewish immigration. The immediate consequences were to be disastrous for the Jews. The timing could not have been worse. Hitler’s Final Solution was soon to come into devastating effect.”

Written: “Leo was bitterly disappointed at the British cap on Jewish immigration and I visited Atlit, one of the British internment camps, with 80-year-old Rabbi Meir Lau. He spent two weeks here when he arrived in Palestine as an eight-year-old survivor of Buchenwald extermination camp. Many other refugees were turned back – to Europe.

“It was against humanity after six years of horror,” he said, shaking his head in sorrow as we walked along the rusty barbed wire fences. “Where was the nation of the United Kingdom then? Lord Balfour would not have believed it.””

Both reports informed audiences of the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 Partition Plan but in the filmed report Corbin provided a debatable motive for the ensuing attacks by Arab states.

Filmed: “…but the Arabs would not sign up to the UN plan. All-out war followed, as Arab armies from neighbouring countries invaded in support of the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

In her written report Corbin presented a whitewashed portrayal of events:

Written: “But Arab countries refused to sign up to the UN’s plan and, in the violence on both sides that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to flee the new State of Israel.” [emphasis added]

Corbin’s filmed report inaccurately portrayed the PLO as having begun its life as a terrorist organisation after – and because of – the Six Day War rather than three years before any ‘occupation’ existed. 

Filmed: “The occupation sparked an armed struggle by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, under its leader, Yasser Arafat. Exiled from Palestine, the PLO carried out hijackings and bombings on the international stage. They killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Israel sent hit squads to hunt down those responsible.”

Equally inaccurate was her portrayal of the Western Wall:

Filmed: “Israel insists that Jerusalem, the site of their holiest place, the Western Wall of the temple, must be their eternal undivided capital.” [emphasis added]

Her description of the al Aqsa Mosque was no less misleading:

Filmed: “The great mosques of Islam are here, too…”

Corbin presented a highly simplistic portrayal of the failure of the Oslo peace process to achieve its aim which refrained from adequately clarifying that negotiations continued after Rabin’s death and completely airbrushed the Palestinian Authority initiated second Intifada out of the picture.

Filmed: “Despite the hopes, the peace deal was quick to unravel, under pressure from extremists on both sides. The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas rejected the peace deal and set out to undermine it by bombing Israeli buses. And Yasser Arafat’s security forces failed to prevent the attacks. […]

 Two years after the agreement, a Jewish extremist opposed to giving up land for peace, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. […]

The Oslo Accords are the closest I’ve ever known to the kind of peaceful ideal that Balfour and Leo Amery had for Palestine. But for me, despite the progress made, the death of Yitzhak Rabin spelled the end of the Oslo peace process…”

Written: “The optimism created by the historic handshake on the White House lawn between the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was shattered when a Jewish extremist assassinated Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s chairman Yasser Arafat failed to stop suicide bombings launched by the Islamist extremist group Hamas.”

In typical BBC form, Corbin amplified Palestinian messaging by telling viewers of the filmed report that there is one prime “barrier to peace”: Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

Filmed: “Well, it may not look much but I’m actually now crossing over from Israel into the West Bank where the Palestinians live. And here, an even greater barrier to any peace deal has emerged: Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. Since Oslo, Israel has more than tripled the number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There are now more than 500,000 Israelis living in around 140 settlements. Heading north, I’m on my way to an Orthodox Jewish settlement called Tappuah. The international community considers all Israeli settlements illegal. It’s very different today than when I first came on the West Bank 30 years ago. So many more Israeli settlements on all the hills around and so many more Israeli settlers.”

While viewers of the filmed report got some insight into the issue of Hamas’ refusal to “ever recognise Israel’s right to exist” based on their conviction that Israel is “Arab” and “Islamic” land, readers of the written report saw nothing at all on that topic.

Corbin’s take-away messaging in both reports, however, completely ignored the uncompromising approach of Hamas and additional Palestinian factions as she promoted a narrative of equivalent blame for the absence of peace that completely failed to address the century-long key issue of the basic Arab refusal to accept Jewish self-determination in the region.

Filmed: “I do believe that Leo Amery was right when he thought violence wasn’t inevitable here. It resulted from the wrong political decisions. And I think that still holds true today.  For me, what’s needed is the kind of vision that Oslo brought. Strong and inspired leadership, a leap of faith on both sides. And without that, there’s a danger that time is running out. The bloodshed and intransigence will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”

Written: “Was Leo’s vision that Jews and Arabs could live and prosper together in peace doomed to failure and was violence inevitable? These were the questions I wanted to answer when I came to Israel again this time. […]

Leo never thought violence was inevitable here. He believed it was the result of wrong political decisions and the bloody and unpredictable events of history – as I discovered myself after the Oslo peace agreement.

Now there is a danger that extremism and intransigence on both sides will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”

Like most of the rest of the BBC’s Balfour Declaration centenary coverage, these two reports by Corbin promoted the narrative that implementation of that declaration was incomplete. In the filmed report Corbin even went so far as to describe its intention as “[t]he Balfour vision of Arabs and Jews living together in the same country”.

While the Balfour Declaration’s commitment to the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people was eventually realised (some might say despite the best efforts of the British mandate), Corbin made no reference at all in either of her reports to the fact that part of the territory originally assigned to that purpose was subsequently made over by the British (with League of Nations approval) to the creation of the Arab state known today as Jordan.

Another very significant omission in both of Corbin’s reports – particularly in light of her repeated references to Palestinian refugees – is the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands: people whose rights were also supposedly safeguarded by the Balfour Declaration but whose existence and story has barely been acknowledged in the BBC’s coverage of this centenary.

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MEMO Balfour event participant hosts BBC Radio 4 discussion on Balfour Declaration

A journalist known for his promotion of the notion of a secretive ‘pro-Israel lobby’ allegedly influencing British politics who regularly writes for one media outlet linked to Hamas and participated in a Balfour Declaration/Israel bashing ‘conference’ organised by another outfit with Hamas connections might not seem like the ideal presenter for an item discussing the Balfour Declaration centenary aired by a broadcaster supposedly committed to ‘impartiality’.

Nevertheless, Peter Oborne did present the October 28th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Week in Westminster’ and that programme included (from 22:03 here) “reflections on the letter which paved the way for the creation of the state of Israel, 100 years ago”.

One of the other people ‘reflecting’ was MP Stephen Kinnock who last December accepted an award from the Hamas-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’ as thanks for his support during its campaign for UN accreditation. Mr Kinnock’s views on Israel have long been clear: shortly after the conflict of summer 2014, for example, he wrote the following:

“This devastating onslaught on Gaza has triggered yet another humanitarian crisis, and that’s what’s creating headlines in the here and now. But it is also possible that it has inflicted such damage on Gaza’s already crippled infrastructure that it will become an unliveable place well before 2020. You just can’t help wondering whether the Israeli government factored this into its calculations when it opted to launch such a wide-ranging attack on the Gaza Strip.” [emphasis added]

Kinnock is also on record as an enthusiastic supporter of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign but Radio 4 listeners were not informed of that fact before they heard him promote it in this item – introduced by Peter Oborne as follows:

Oborne: “Parliament did note one other momentous event last week: the centenary of the famous letter from foreign secretary AJ Balfour in 1917 which paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel. A hundred years on and this declaration is as contentious as ever. Tory MP Robert Halfon and Labour’s Stephen Kinnock took part in this week’s debate and afterwards they came into the studio. How does Robert Halfon view the centenary?”

Halfon: “Well I thought it was an incredibly important moment in British history as well as in terms of the creation of the State of Israel. I thought it was another example of why Britain is a truly great country. The Jewish people should have a homeland and had a right to return to their homeland and it was an incredible moment both – as I say – in the history of the Jewish people but also in the history of our country.”

Oborne: “Stephen Kinnock.”

Unsurprisingly, Kinnock’s response reflected PLO messaging on the topic of the Balfour Declaration – although in contrast to much other BBC coverage of the centenary (see ‘related articles’ below), listeners did at least get to hear an accurate portrayal of the text’s reference to “civil and religious rights”. However, Kinnock’s promotion of context-free, spurious and misleading linkage between the text of the Balfour Declaration and what he described as ‘violations’ – including the unsupported notion of ‘illegal’ trade – predictably went completely unchallenged by Oborne.

Kinnock: “Well, I think it’s very important as well to remember the crucial phrase in the Balfour Declaration: ‘it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’ and..err…I think the conclusion we have to draw is that that sentiment has simply not held and has been repeatedly violated by Israeli governments down the ages. We now see vast expansion of illegal settlements, violations of human rights, businesses trading illegally out of the occupied territories of the West Bank and all that is undermining peace and undermining security. We know that we can’t have one without the other so my intervention in the debate was very much in the hope that we could see a change in attitude and behaviour from the Israeli side, which I think is the key to any kind of forward progress in this.” [emphasis added]

Halfon: “It’s worth remembering that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East: one man one vote. There are Arab MPs in the Israeli Knesset. It’s worth remembering that it is a place of refuge, a place of scientific advancement. It’s been a place of tolerance; it’s one of the few places in the Middle East where gay people live normal lives…”

Oborne [interrupts]: “If you could try answering Mr Kinnock’s question that you haven’t yet addressed, which is the Balfour Declaration certainly achieved the Jewish homeland but what about the point about looking after the non-Jewish people – in the phrase of the Balfour Declaration – who were already there?”

Halfon: “If you originally remember, when Palestine, which had the British mandate, was carved up the vast majority of it became Jordan: 77% of it. The rest – smaller, much more small part of that; smaller than the size of Wales – was given to the Jewish people. The Arabs refused to accept that in 1948. We had the war in 1948, we had the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War. Israel has faced the threat of terrorism almost every day since its existence and despite that, is a democracy, has been prepared to make significant moves towards peace. It should be a place that should be celebrated and supported by the United Kingdom and anyone who believes in freedom and democracy.”

Oborne: “Stephen Kinnock.”

Kinnock: “I think all the Palestinian people are asking for is to be treated equally in the eyes of the law.”

Oborne: “Would you like a change in British government policy – a different kind of pressure on Israel if you come to power?”

Listeners then got to hear what may be a preview of the policy of a government under Mr Kinnock’s party. They were not however provided with any background information concerning the goals of the BDS campaign promoted by Kinnock and his factually baseless references to Judea & Samaria as “illegally occupied” were not challenged by Oborne.

Kinnock: “Yeah. I think what certainly one of the things we must do is contribute to the campaign for any business that is located in the illegally occupied West Bank to be sanctioned; that British companies should not do any trade with those businesses and this also means indirectly; through – for example – financial institutions. There’s quite a lot of British money going into financing a lot of commercial activity going on in the illegally occupied West Bank. So I think that would be a very good start.”

Halfon: “The settlement issue; all those things will come under a negotiation of a proper peace process but there should be a Palestinian state – something I believe in – but the Israelis are right to say we want a Palestinian state but we also need to be sure that we will be free from terrorism and attacks from Islamist groups, from Hamas and so on.”

Oborne: “Anyway, let me wrap things up, gentlemen, by drawing attention to the fact that the 2nd of November will be the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. I’ll ask each of you in turn whether you agree with the prime minister that this is a matter for celebration. Robert Halfon.”

Halfon: “Absolutely. I think it’s a very special moment that should be celebrated.”

Kinnock: “No. I think it’s a matter of regret because the phrase in there which is absolutely critical that the interests of non-Jewish communities will be protected has been violated countless times.”

No-one familiar with the views of Peter Oborne and Stephen Kinnock would have expected to hear an accurate and impartial discussion of either the Balfour Declaration centenary or Israel in this item. The problem, however, is that Radio 4 listeners were not made aware of the “particular viewpoint” of the contributors as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality require.

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BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part three

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part four

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

The November 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today‘ included no fewer than four separate items concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary.

In her introduction to first of those items (from 51:49 here) co-presenter Mishal Husain repeated a practice seen time and time again in BBC coverage of this story (see ‘related articles’ below). Her inaccurate paraphrasing of the Balfour Declaration concealed from audiences the fact that the document specifically referred to the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities.

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

Husain: “A hundred years have passed since Britain pledged support for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration, issued by the then foreign secretary in the midst of the First World War has become a source of celebration for Israelis and anger for Palestinians over what they see as the failure to stick to its promise that the rights of non-Jewish communities should not be prejudiced. The British government says it will mark the centenary with pride but its description of the pledges made at the time as ‘unfinished business’ has done nothing to soften Palestinian calls for an apology. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Bateman began his report in Be’er Sheva where commemoration of a battle in 1917 recently took place. Failing to clarify that battle’s First World War context to listeners, he went on to promote a theme previously seen in his reporting of the Balfour Declaration centenary: the notion that Palestinian Arabs were ‘dispossessed‘ – thereby inaccurately implying that the territory on which Israel was established was ‘Palestinian’. 

Bateman: “The Balfour Declaration was issued two days later. Palestinian Arabs would come to view it as a historic source of their dispossession. For many Jews it amounted to a form of salvation; recognition of their claim to their ancestral homeland.”

A brief interview with former MK Shlomo Hillel included a reference to the British Mandate which once again raises the question of whether BBC reporters understand the difference between the Mandate for Palestine – drafted and confirmed by the League of Nations – and the British role as administer of that mandate.

Bateman: “Shlomo Hillel – now 94 – an Iraqi Jew, was among the waves of Jewish immigrants in the years after the declaration was written into Britain’s international mandate for Palestine.”

Listeners heard nothing on the subject of why Hillel and tens of thousands of other Jews left Iraq, even though – as told in an interview some years ago – it is relevant both in the context of the wider topic of the effects of British policies in the Middle East and in relation to the part of the Balfour Declaration that has been consistently and glaringly absent from BBC coverage of the topic: “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

“After World War I, the British took over the country and appointed a king, and in 1932 Iraq became independent. “Suddenly the situation changed,” explains Hillel.

“Already by 1933, my father understood this was the end.”

That was the year of a massacre of Assyrian Christians in the north of the country.

“We were watching the Iraqi army’s ‘victory’ parade from our house in Baghdad and we thought if that’s what they can do to the Christians, what can they do to us?” Hillel moved to Palestine in 1934 to be with his older brothers and was followed by his parents in 1935.

During World War II, a Nazi-inspired pogrom (farhud) erupted in Baghdad in 1941, finally bringing to an end any hopes of continued peaceful existence for the city’s Jewish minority. “This was a huge traumatic event for Iraqi Jews. Young Jews started to organize self-defense organizations and an underground,” Hillel relates.”

Following an archive recording in which listeners heard a reference to “the wandering Jew”, Bateman continued with an airbrushed portrayal of the scope of and reasons for British restrictions on Jewish immigration:

Bateman: “Britain ultimately curbed Jewish immigration. Mandate rule struggled to deal with Arab unrest and Jewish paramilitary groups seeking a state.”

Bateman’s next interviewee was Rima Tarazi.

Bateman: “Rima Tarazi’s father was a civil servant for the British in Jerusalem in those years. She says he helped other Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war after Britain had pulled out.”

Tarazi’s father was Musa Nasir – also a member of the Jordanian parliament and a minister in the Jordanian government. Listeners then heard another inaccurate paraphrasing of the Balfour Declaration.

Tarazi: “My father was a great advocate of our cause – of the Palestinian cause – and he was always trying to make the British understand. Ever since the Balfour Declaration there have been…hard feelings started to arise. And the travesty of the problem is that they said we promise a Jewish homeland provided it doesn’t prejudice the rights of the non-Jews, so we became the non-Jews. We were the majority. We were 90% of the people, the population. It has polarised religion in our region.”

Bateman’s next interviewee, historian and MK Michael Oren, did point out that “the national aspirations of Arabs were widely realised in places like Syria and Iraq” but Bateman did not expand on the topic. His final interviewee was introduced thus:

Bateman: “The political leadership in the West Bank sees Mr Netanyahu’s invitation to Downing Street as an insult. Dr Nabil Shaath is an advisor to the Palestinian president.”

Shaath: “It’s not enough that you…you’ve done this but you celebrate it with the man who runs Israel today and who is doing everything possible not to allow the Palestinians any bit of sovereignty or survival on their land.”

Failing to remind listeners of the numerous occasions on which the Palestinians have rejected the opportunity to have their own state over the past eighty years, Bateman closed his report.

Bateman: “A hundred years after it issued the Balfour Declaration the British government concedes all its pledges have yet to be fulfilled but it has made clear it will not be saying sorry.”

While Radio 4 listeners got to hear a balanced quota of Israeli Palestinian voices in this interview, they also heard two inaccurate portrayals of the Balfour Declaration’s specific reference to the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities, one inaccurate reference to Palestinian ‘dispossession’, a curious portrayal of the Mandate for Palestine and the unchallenged accusation that Israel is exclusively to blame for the absence of a Palestinian state.  

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More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

As noted in part one of this post, the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell produced two similar reports – audio and written – concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary, one of which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on November 1st (from 14:06 here) and the other published in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd under the title “Balfour Declaration: The divisive legacy of 67 words“.

Both those reports promoted debatable portrayals of history, including a lax representation of the Mandate for Palestine.

Audio: “…his [Balfour’s] declaration had been formally enshrined in the British Mandate for Palestine.”

Written: “By that time, the area was under British administration. The Balfour Declaration had been formally enshrined in the British Mandate for Palestine, which had been endorsed by the League of Nations.”

Knell’s portrayal failed to adequately clarify to listeners that the Mandate for Palestine was drafted and confirmed – rather than “endorsed” – by the League of Nations whereas the British Mandate was the trustee appointed by that body to administer that mandate.

In the written report, readers found the following:

“The [Balfour] declaration by the then foreign secretary was included in a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leading proponent of Zionism, a movement advocating self-determination for the Jewish people in their historical homeland – from the Mediterranean to the eastern flank of the River Jordan, an area which came to be known as Palestine.” [emphasis added]

Whether or not Knell intended to refer to the proposal submitted by the Zionist Organisation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 is unclear but the territory finally assigned to the Jewish Home in 1922 certainly did not include “the eastern flank of the River Jordan”.

“The following provisions of the Mandate for Palestine are not applicable to the territory known as Trans-Jordan, which comprises all territory lying to the east of a line drawn from a point two miles west of the town of Akaba on the Gulf of that name up the centre of the Wady Araba, Dead Sea and River Jordan to its junction with the River Yarmuk; thence up the centre of that river to the Syrian Frontier.”

Knell then went on to refer to the Hussein-McMahon correspondence – but without naming it.

“Palestinians see this as a great betrayal, particularly given a separate promise made to enlist the political and military support of the Arabs – then ruled by the Ottoman Turks – in World War One.

This suggested Britain would back their struggle for independence in most of the lands of the Ottoman Empire, which consisted of much of the Middle East. The Arabs understood this to include Palestine, though it had not been specifically mentioned.”

She did not, however, bother to inform readers that the territory concerned was – as clarified in the 1922 White Paper and by Sir Henry McMahon himself – excluded from that pledge.

“With reference to the Constitution which it is now intended to establish in Palestine, the draft of which has already been published, it is desirable to make certain points clear. In the first place, it is not the case, as has been represented by the Arab Delegation, that during the war His Majesty’s Government gave an undertaking that an independent national government should be at once established in Palestine. This representation mainly rests upon a letter dated the 24th October, 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon, then His Majesty’s High Commissioner in Egypt, to the Sharif of Mecca, now King Hussein of the Kingdom of the Hejaz. That letter is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus. This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty’s Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge.” [emphasis added]

In these two reports BBC audiences found some very rare references to the issue of British restrictions on Jewish immigration. However, while told that “Britain allowed” Jewish immigration, they were not informed that the terms of the Mandate it was charged with administering obliged it to “facilitate Jewish immigration” and “encourage […] close settlement by Jews on the land”.

Audio: “…Britain allowed waves of Jewish immigration during the early mandate times. But amid an Arab backlash and rising violence, it later forced back many Jews facing persecution, particularly during the Holocaust.”

Written: “During the first half of the Mandate period, Britain allowed waves of Jewish immigration. But amid an Arab backlash and rising violence, Israelis remember how it later blocked many fleeing persecution, particularly during the Holocaust.”

The Mandate for Palestine – with Britain as the administering mandatory – came into effect in September 1923 following ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne. Even before that, the White Paper of 1922 had already expressed the intention to ‘regulate’ immigration and the 1930 Passfield White Paper led to further restrictions being placed on Jewish immigration. Knell’s claim that “Britain allowed waves of Jewish immigration” before the establishment of the quota system severely limiting Jewish immigration by the 1939 MacDonald White Paper is therefore not an entirely accurate and objective portrayal.

In both her reports Knell concluded by suggesting linkage between the Balfour Declaration and the modern-day ‘peace process’.

Audio: “And right now the controversy over the past is only highlighting the continuing friction between Israel and the Palestinians. After many failed peace efforts, there’s deep mutual mistrust and few hopes that today’s leaders will be able to make the bold new declarations needed to end this long-running conflict.”

Written: “The British government has invited him [the Israeli prime minister] to London for events to mark the centenary on Thursday.

That decision, at a time of dimming hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace, has infuriated Palestinians, who plan a day of protests.

They want Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration.

“As the time passes, I think British people are forgetting about the lessons of history,” says Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam.

He points out that Palestinians still seek the creation of a state of their own – which alongside Israel would form the basis of the so-called two-state solution to the conflict, a formula supported by the international community.

“The time has come for Palestine to be independent and for that long-due promise to be fulfilled,” he says.”

Knell refrained from pointing out to readers that throughout the last eighty years the Palestinians have repeatedly turned down opportunities to have their own state “alongside” a Jewish state.

While the BBC’s coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary has uniformly and generously amplified related Palestinian messaging and propaganda, it has equally consistently side-stepped the ‘elephant in the room’ that is the century-long Arab and Palestinian refusal to accept Jewish sovereignty in the region.

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In addition to the items relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary already discussed here (see ‘related articles’ below), on November 2nd the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried an article titled “Balfour Declaration: Theresa May hosts Israeli PM for centenary“.

Embedded in that article are two filmed reports by Tom Bateman and Yolande Knell and a link to another article promoting anti-Israel theatricals and amplifying the PA/PLO’s politicised messaging on the Balfour Declaration – all of which also appeared separately on the same webpage.

Comparatively little of this article relates to the subject matter described in its headline but almost 30% of its 538 words (not including the insert of analysis from the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent) are devoted to promotion of the PA/PLO chosen narrative (along with references to “their land”) including – once again – a link to an op-ed by Mahmoud Abbas that appeared in the Guardian.

“…Palestinians regard it as a historical injustice. […]

In the Palestinian territories, thousands of Palestinians held protest marches in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, denouncing what they say is a betrayal which left them dispossessed.

Palestinians regard the Balfour Declaration as having robbed them of their land and have demanded that Britain apologises.

Some held black flags and called for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to land which became Israel.

About 400 protesters from a fringe group of Jewish anti-Zionists marched from Downing Street to the Houses of Parliament, calling on “God to dismantle the Israeli State”. […]

However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Balfour Declaration was “not something to be celebrated”.

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Abbas said the past was still “something that can be made right”, and called on the UK to recognise a Palestinian state in territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

As has been the case in all the recent BBC coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary, portrayal of the document itself erased from audience view the part safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” and no mention was made of the expulsion of ancient Jewish communities from Arab and Muslim lands.

“Britain’s pledge, on 2 November 1917, was made in a letter by the then-Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.

The letter said the government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, so long as it did not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.”

The article failed to adequately clarify that the Mandate for Palestine was issued by the League of Nations and that Britain was selected to administrate that mandate on its behalf.

“The Balfour Declaration was the first international recognition by a world power of the right of the Jewish people to a national home in their ancestral land and formed the basis of Britain’s Mandate for Palestine in 1920.”

Once again, the fact that the armed forces of five Arab countries invaded Israel the day after independence was declared was airbrushed from the BBC’s account, as was the fact that a considerable number of the Palestinian Arabs who left their homes around that time did so at the advice of Arab leaders.

“The British Mandate terminated on 14 May 1948 and the Jewish leadership in Palestine declared an independent Israeli state. In the Arab-Israeli war that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were forced from their homes.”

The above-mentioned insert of analysis from Jonathan Marcus encouraged readers to believe that there are two “competing narratives” concerning the Balfour Declaration (while of course ‘impartially’ refraining from discussing their validity) but avoided the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s long-standing politicisation of that document.

“Much of the current focus on the Balfour Declaration is due to the fact that it supports the competing narratives of the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership.

For the Israelis it highlights the legitimacy of the Jewish national enterprise, while for Palestinians, it underscores the role of the major powers in helping to create Israel, while – in their view – the legitimate Palestinian aspirations to statehood were ignored or side-lined.

Thus both sides have a very different interpretation of the declaration’s significance – one that serves today’s arguments about one of the region’s longest unresolved struggles.”

As we see from this report and others, BBC coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary has conformed to a standard formula focusing on unquestioning amplification of PA/PLO messaging while completely erasing the part of the document relating to “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” and the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

Mahmoud Abbas’s Guardian op-ed illustrates the dishonesty of the ‘Palestinian narrative’ (UK Media Watch)

 

 

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

Those familiar with the BBC’s record of promoting the recurrent anti-Israel propaganda produced by the anonymous English political activist known as Banksy would not have been in the least bit surprised to find two reports – one written and one filmed – concerning his latest ‘creation’ on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

On November 1st the website published a written report titled “Balfour Declaration: Banksy holds ‘apology’ party for Palestinians” which opens by telling readers that a location that has been under full control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995 is ‘occupied’ by Israel.

“The British artist Banksy has organised a “street party” in the occupied West Bank to apologise for the Balfour Declaration, ahead of its centenary.”

Readers were also told that the anti-terrorist fence – constructed in order to protect Israeli citizens from Palestinian suicide bombers – is “controversial”.

“An actor dressed as Queen Elizabeth II hosted dozens of children at the event.

She also unveiled a new work by Banksy etched into Israel’s controversial West Bank barrier that said: “Er… Sorry.””

Unsurprisingly, readers were not informed why ‘refugee camps’ (in this case Aida and Dheisheh) still exist over two decades after the PA assumed control of the area.

“Banksy’s tea party in Bethlehem on Wednesday was attended by children from nearby Palestinian refugee camps.”

Readers found a statement from the event’s initiator that echoes a mythical quote used by anti-Israel activists which has previously been seen in BBC content.

“A statement by Banksy said: “This conflict has brought so much suffering to people on all sides. It didn’t feel appropriate to ‘celebrate’ the British role in it.”

“The British didn’t handle things well here – when you organise a wedding, it’s best to make sure the bride isn’t already married.””

The BBC’s portrayal of the Balfour Declaration erased from audience view the part safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

“The British government’s pledge, on 2 November 1917, was made in a letter by the then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.

It said the government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, so long as it did not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.”

Readers were inaccurately informed that the League of Nations mandate administered by the British “expired” rather than being terminated by the British government. The fact that the armed forces of five Arab countries invaded Israel the day after independence was declared was airbrushed from the BBC’s account, as was the fact that a considerable number of the Palestinian Arabs who left their homes did so on the advice of Arab leaders.

“The Mandate expired on 14 May 1948 and the Jewish leadership in Palestine declared an independent Israeli state. In the Arab-Israeli war which followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were forced from their homes.”

In all, six of the article’s eighteen paragraphs promoted the PLO/PA’s chosen narrative on the subject of the Balfour Declaration.

“The Balfour Declaration expressed the British government’s support for a Jewish national home in Palestine, paving the way for Israel’s creation.

Israel and Jewish communities view the pledge as momentous, while Palestinians regard it as an historical injustice.” […]

“Palestinians, who see the Balfour Declaration as something that caused decades of suffering and deprived them of their own state on land that became Israel, have called for an apology from the UK ahead of the centenary.”

Readers were not informed that the Palestinians and their Arab patrons rejected the opportunity to have “their own state” on numerous occasions.  

A further three paragraphs were devoted to uncritical amplification – including a link – of a Guardian op-ed by Mahmoud Abbas and without any clarification on the part of the BBC that, in contrast to Abbas’ implication, the Balfour Declaration referred to “the civil and religious rights” – not political – of “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.  

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wrote in the Guardian newspaper on Wednesday that the act of signing the letter was not something that could be changed, but that it was something that could be “made right”.

“This will require humility and courage. It will require coming to terms with the past, recognising mistakes, and taking concrete steps to correct those mistakes.”

Mr Abbas said recognising a Palestinian state within the boundaries between Israel and East Jerusalem and the West Bank which existed before the 1967 Middle East war, and with East Jerusalem as its capital, could “go some way towards fulfilling the political rights of the Palestinian people”.”

The filmed report on the same story – titled “‘Er… Sorry’: Banksy’s new West Bank work” – appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd and once again BBC audiences were told that a location that has been under complete PA control for over two decades is ‘occupied’.

“A new Banksy work in Bethlehem has been unveiled by an actor dressed as the Queen in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Banksy’s tongue-in-cheek British street party took aim at the British and Israeli governments. They’ve been marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration – the UK’s promise of a homeland for Jewish people in Palestine.”

The Balfour Declaration of course refers to “a national home for the Jewish people”.

The film went on to once again promote the organiser’s use of a theme derived from a mythical quote.

“The British didn’t handle things well here – when you organise a wedding, it’s best to make sure the bride isn’t already married.”

As viewers saw a man plant a Palestinian flag in a cake, they were told that:

“This was Palestinian activist Munther Amira’s contribution.”

Amira is in fact the director of the ‘Popular Struggle Coordination Committee’ and, according to some news reports, he was protesting the event rather than ‘contributing’ to it.

“People from the nearby Aida refugee camp said afterwards they objected to the way the event had used Palestinian children as the centrepiece of the performance. “We came because we didn’t like the use of the British flags or the way they were using Palestinian children,” said Munther Amira, a prominent activist from Aida who planted a large Palestinian flag in the middle of a cake.”

A clue to the nature of those objections can perhaps be found in the BBC’s written account of the event:

“Instead of paper party hats, they [the children] wore plastic helmets painted with the British flag and riddled with pretend bullet holes.” [emphasis added]

The filmed report closed:

“The British government calls the Balfour Declaration “unfinished business” saying it supports a two-state solution.”

Together with Tom Bateman’s filmed report, these two reports brought the number of items giving one-sided amplification to PA/PLO narrative promoting agitprop on the November 2nd edition of the BBC News website’s Middle East page to three.  

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

Mahmoud Abbas’s Guardian op-ed illustrates the dishonesty of the ‘Palestinian narrative’  (UK Media Watch) 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Spectator, Jake Wallis Simons proposes that “The left’s sinister disdain for Israel betrays their movement’s pro-Zionist origins“.

“In the beginning, the Guardian was a friend of the Jews. Or rather, those Jews who believed that after millennia of persecution in exile, they deserved the right to live freely in their ancestral homeland. The overwhelming majority, in other words. The Zionists. The Labour party liked them, too. Three months before the Balfour Declaration, Britain’s key declaration of support for Jewish national aspirations – the centenary of which will be marked next month – Labour compiled a memorandum of policy priorities. ‘Palestine should be set free from the harsh and repressive government of the Turk,’ it said, ‘in order that the country may form a Free State, under international guarantee, to which such of the Jewish People as desired to do so may return, and may work out their salvation, free from interference by those of alien race or religion.’”

2) The Jerusalem Post recently published an editorial titled “Celebrating Balfour“.

“More pernicious, however, than the attempt to discount the Balfour Declaration’s importance or to claim that it was the product of a British government under the sway of Christian Restorationists (which has no basis in documented facts) is the ongoing attempt to discredit the declaration as a criminal act committed against the indigenous Palestinian people.

If 20th century history has taught us anything it is that the real “crime” committed by Britain was the postponing of the creation of the State of Israel. If Britain’s 1939 White Paper had not been issued as Nazi Germany prepared to articulate and implement its Final Solution, millions of Jews living in Europe at the time could have been saved. Six years later, when six million of them were dead, the British remained steadfast in their opposition to immigration.”

3) The National Library of Israel has a post about “The Secret Drafts of the Balfour Declaration“.

“On November 2nd, 1917, a declaration that changed the course of history was published.

The document that would become the foundation of the state of Israel was sent in the form of a letter by Lord Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild. Rothschild was to pass it on to the Zionist Organization headed by Dr. Chaim Weizmann.

The unpublished drafts of the declaration open a window to an entirely different and equally significant history.”

4) Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks reflects on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

“First of all, this was the ultimate anti-imperialist gesture. Don’t forget, between the Roman Conquest and the First World War, Israel had simply been a part, an administrative district, in an empire. Christian empires, and then the various Islamic empires, ultimately by the Ottoman Empire. So it had never been a nation in its own right. So as part of this new world brought into being in the First World War, one consequence of which was the final death of the Ottoman Empire, was the sense of giving lands back to their original inhabitants. All the lands given back to Arabs, given back to Jews. So it was the anti-imperialist gesture.”

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part two

In part one of this post we saw how listeners to the October 8th edition of the BBC Radio Wales “religious affairs” programme ‘All Things Considered’ heard a politicised account of the Balfour Declaration that included numerous inaccuracies and omissions.

The second half of that programme (from 13:00 here) was devoted in part to ‘personal stories’ – which actually have no direct link to the stated subject matter – told by two of the three studio guests. Presenter Sarah Rowland-Jones gave the cue for Jasmine Donahaye’s story while once again portraying the Balfour Declaration as ‘controversial’.

Rowland-Jones: “…we’re discussing the Balfour Declaration in which, 100 years ago next month, the British government controversially expressed support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Jasmine; you researched a family link to the history of 1920s-30s Palestine. What did you discover?”

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

Donahaye: “Yeah I did. My mother was born in 1941 in what was then Palestine on a kibbutz. I grew up with a fairly standard sort of Zionist narrative; a very strong sense of identification with Israel as…as…as my family origin. I didn’t know anything really about the history and I still didn’t understand how it pertained directly to my family because my mother’s kibbutz had been established on land that – and this was repeatedly emphasised – land that had been legally bought; not land that had been emptied during 1948 as a result of the war. Of course when I started to examine that – and it was in relation to a passing remark by my mother – I found that in fact land sales in the 1930s were a lot more complicated and a lot more problematic in the 1920s and 1930s. Arab farmers were being put off their land, being emptied, villages were being emptied as a result of land sales and that’s precisely what happened in the case of the land upon which my mother’s kibbutz was established. It resulted in the depopulation of a village called Shatta; some 200 plus people were made landless and it was a great shock to me to discover that and all that flowed from it. So I do think that we need to look at the 1930s as well as the 1940s and I think Britain has a great deal to answer for.”

Donahaye did not tell listeners the name of her mother’s kibbutz – Beit HaShita in the Jezreel Valley – and while she claimed in this programme that “Arab farmers were being put off their land”, the account in her book “Losing Israel” makes it clear that she knows full well that the land was not owned by those tenant farmers but by an Arab landowner from Haifa. 

Donahaye does not however clarify that the case went to court and on April 15th 1931, the Beisan [Bet Shean] Civil Court (run under the auspices of the British mandate authority) found in favour of the landowner Raja Ra’is. The sale went through only after both tenant farmers and agricultural labourers had alternative lands to work.

In that book Donahaye’s complaints are not directed towards the Arab landowner who sold the land but at the Jews who legally bought it.

Little wonder then that in this programme BBC audiences heard an inaccurate, stylised and obviously politically motivated account of Arab farmers put off ‘their’ land and made ‘landless’ even though they were compensated and resettled elsewhere. Notably though, listeners did not hear anything on the topic of the British mandate authority’s subsequent placement of restrictions on land purchases by Jews and on Jewish immigration.

The second personal story heard by listeners to this programme came from Mones Farah, who earlier on had already described his family as being “made refugees”- according to him “as a direct result of” the Balfour Declaration .

Rowland-Jones: “And moving on to the 1940s, as we’ve referred to the State of Israel finally came into being in the aftermath of the Second World War. Mones; tell us what happened to your family.”

Farah: “I come from a village called Bir’am or Bar’am which is originally that’s my main family roots. It’s right on the borders with Lebanon. The main interesting thing about our village is during the 1917 British mandate [sic – the mandate began in 1920] there was…the whole village was almost surrounded by barbed wire either side of it because the land of the village was separated from the village itself by the British mandate [for Palestine] and the French mandate [for Lebanon].”

Bar’am Synagogue

After describing the ancient synagogue in Bar’am and noting that at the time of his story the population were Maronite Christians (as had been the case since the 19th century), Farah continued:

Farah: “There were 1,010 people in that village and then in 1948 after the declaration of independence of the State of Israel and after our people had been included in the census of the citizens of the State of Israel, they were asked to evacuate their village with the promise that they would return within two weeks. And those two weeks have actually stretched out to this very day. […] The village wasn’t a threat to the State of Israel…

Farah did not bother to explain to listeners that the War of Independence was still ongoing at the time and that the request that the villagers evacuate Bir’am was made immediately following Operation Hiram, which aimed to break the siege on Israeli communities by the Arab Liberation Army (ALA) led by Fawzi el Kaukji that had begun six days before the operation was launched.

Most of the residents of Bir’am resettled in Jish (Gush Halav) around 9 kilometers away and would not be classified as “refugees” as Farah earlier claimed. They continue their peaceful campaign to return to their former village and – as Farah correctly stated – have won a number of court cases on that issue. However, Farah then went on to inaccurately imply that there is one sole reason why Palestinians became refugees:

Farah: “And our village is one among so many. There were about 400 villages destroyed in that time which created a huge problem of Palestinian refugees.”

Nazareth-born Farah continued:

Farah: “So the situation is so complex because what do you do with the return of refugees to Israel? I mean there’s a huge minefield to deal with politically. But I think the impact stays so deep within you that you actually…I think it creates something in you that says you become a weak man and so you begin to actually behave with less than the true identity that you have because you’re coming against an occupying power. In whatever way you say it, there’s control of the population and that needs to change…”

The programme then took another turn as Dan Cohn-Sherbok stated that “the Arabs never accepted the creation of a Jewish homeland or a Jewish state” and was quickly rebuked at length by Donahaye. A subsequent discussion on the question “what role do you see faith playing in all of this?” included both Cohn-Sherbok and Farah claiming that Jewish scripture can “pave the way for a sympathetic appreciation of the plight of the Palestinians” and Farah giving context-free promotion to several political NGOs, including the one with which he is associated and B’tselem.

Farah: “…the concept of the image – the B’tselem – which is the organisation B’tselem which is very important now which is not liked much by the Israeli government and the political discourse in the Israeli government because they’re seen as aggressively against the state, where the reality is that trying to keep the state accountable for some actions that actually dehumanise the others and we need to humanise the people.”

BBC Radio Wales audiences obviously learned very little about the Balfour Declaration from this largely one-sided and highly politicised discussion. They certainly heard nothing at all on the question of whether Britain lived up to the pledge it made in the Balfour Declaration or how it subsequently failed to execute the task assigned to it as administrator of the Mandate for Palestine:

“The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country [Palestine] under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.”

Instead, the aim of this programme appears to have been to steer BBC audiences towards the partisan view that – as Sarah Rowland-Jones inaccurately claimed in her introduction – the Balfour Declaration “sits behind the lasting conflict in the region”, while the relevant issue of Arab violence against Jews and later Israelis was once again whitewashed from a BBC account of history.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

BBC News amplifies Balfour agitprop yet again

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at emerging developments in the Middle East.

“In looking to locate the pattern of events, one becomes immediately aware that the activities of only one player add up to a unified whole. That player is Iran. In backing the Shia militias as political and military forces, opposing Kurdish aspirations to independence, seeking by all possible means to establish forces along the border with Israel, and seeking to draw Turkey away from the west and toward itself, Teheran is pursuing a coherent, comprehensive policy and strategy. This strategy ignores any distinction between Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, treating all three as a single arena of conflict. Allies and assets are all utilized to build the project of maximizing Iranian geographic reach and political and military potency within this space.”

2) Khaled Abu Toameh reports on a story which – predictably – has not received any BBC coverage to date.

“The Palestinian Authority (PA) is facing sharp criticism over its attempt to “encroach” on the judicial authority and turn it into a tool in the hands of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian lawyers, judges and legal experts say that a new bill proposed by the PA government in the West Bank would have a negative impact on the independence and integrity of the judiciary system.

The controversial draft bill aims at amending the law of the judicial authority so that Abbas and his government would be able to tighten their grip over the work of the courts and judges. […]

Palestinian judges and lawyers say they are going to put up a fight against Abbas’s latest bid to turn the judicial system into his personal instrument of reprisal. They have already begun a series of public protests to demand that the PA government abandon its plan to amend the law of the judicial authority in a way that allows the executive body to interfere with the work of the judges and courts.”

3) The Fathom journal has an interview with Yossi Kupperwasser in which he gives his view of the prospects for the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

“If there was a change in the Palestinian narrative, for example if the Palestinians – now under pressure on the issue of the salaries to terrorists – cancelled the law of 2004 according to which salaries are paid to terrorists, and stopped calling terrorists the fighting sector of their society, Israelis would see this as a wonderful move and be more forthcoming on the issue of peace.

The Palestinian narrative says there is no such thing as a Jewish people, and because of this, Palestinians argue that Jews should not be allowed a state of their own under the principle of national self-determination. If the narrative was changed, and Palestinians recognised that there is a Jewish people, so they must be allowed a state of their own under the principle of national self-determination, with full civil rights for minorities, then many Israelis would change their mind about the viability of the peace process and the Palestinian partner for peace.”

4) David Collier has posted some fascinating documents from the British Archives that he found while researching a project.

“It has meant spending time, inside the files that recorded the British view of the events of the Mandate. Engaging with the mindset of those that wrote the documents. This ‘perspective’, and the bias behind the written conclusions, are often missed by researchers. The British records highlight the growing adversarial nature between the British and the Zionists as the Mandate evolved.”

 

BBC News website removes offensive statement after complaints

On June 27th the BBC News website published an article titled “Muslim girls complain of Polish racism on Holocaust study trip” on its ‘Europe’ page.

In the original version of that report, readers found a statement completely unrelated to its subject matter:

“The Holocaust is a sensitive topic for many Muslims because Jewish survivors settled in Palestine, on land which later became the state of Israel.”

About an hour later, that sentence was amended to read:

“The Holocaust is a sensitive topic for many Muslims because Jewish survivors settled in British-mandate Palestine, on land which later became the state of Israel.”

The gratuitous statement remained in place in that form in two additional versions of the report before being removed completely some 17 hours after the article’s original publication following complaints.

“Marie van der Zyl, vice-president of the BOD, together with Mr Mughal, said: “In a story about Muslim schoolgirls suffering racism as they learn about the Holocaust, why have the BBC included the gratuitous line – offensive to both Muslims and Jews – that ‘the Holocaust is a sensitive topic for many Muslims’? Together, we call on the BBC to delete the offending passage and apologise.””

However, no footnote has been added to the article to inform BBC audiences of that change or why it was made and despite the calls for an apology, none has been forthcoming.