Radio 4’s Hugh Sykes joins the BBC’s ‘it’s all down to the occupation’ binge

On June 8th BBC Radio 4 listeners heard two reports from the latest BBC correspondent on a flying visit to Israel – Hugh Sykes.

The first of those reports was broadcast on the “World at One’ programme (from 14:30 here). Presenter Mark Mardell gave an introduction devoid of any context concerning the reasons for the outbreak of the Six Day War.

Mardell: “Now it’s…in Israel it’s 50 years since two major events which changed the history of the region. On the 5th of June 1967 a war began between Israel and Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Six days later Israel emerged victorious. At the end of that war a half a century ago, Israel’s occupation and settlement of Gaza and the Palestinian West Bank began.”

The 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of what Mardell terms “the Palestinian West Bank” is clearly not deemed relevant to the story. Mardell continues:

“The Gaza settlers were evacuated in 2005. Those in the West Bank – more than half a million now – are still there. Our correspondent Hugh Sykes is in Jerusalem for the World at One.”

After a recording of music playing, Hugh Sykes begins his item. Curiously (but, given BBC editorial policy, predictably) Sykes’ descriptions of the second Intifada do not include any mention of the word ‘terror’. [all emphasis in italics in the original]

Sykes: “A saxophone player on Jaffa Street [sic – Jaffa Road]. People sitting at café tables under parasols on a sunny spring day here in Jerusalem. The first time I walked here 15 years ago the shops had security guards with automatic rifles checking your bags. There was a wave of almost routine suicide bombings, many of them killing dozens of people on buses here in Jerusalem. Between 1989 and 2008 across Israel altogether 800 people were killed by Palestinian suicide bombers.”

Sykes’ information – apparently gleaned from Wikipedia – of course does not tell the whole story. In just five of the 19 years cited by Sykes – 2000 to 2005 – 1,100 Israelis were murdered in terror attacks that included – but were not limited to – the suicide bombings on which he has chosen to focus. He continues:

“Since then the security barrier – the walls and the fences and the extensive checkpoints –have been put up, cutting off the West Bank; the main source of the suicide bombings. Though the counter argument is that the bombings have stopped because the Palestinians have largely stopped trying to send suicide bombers here, partly because it led to the security barrier being put up and their lives being made much more difficult. So, it’s calm here now. But this is an illusion Daniel Seidemann tells me. He’s an Israeli lawyer specialising in the geo-politics of Jerusalem.”

Of course BBC regular Daniel Seidemann is not just a “lawyer”: he is also the founder of two politicised campaigning groups – ‘Ir Amim’ and ‘Terrestrial Jerusalem’ – both of which receive foreign funding including, in the case of the latter, from the UK tax payers listening to this programme. Despite the existence of BBC editorial guidelines stating that the “particular viewpoint” of contributors should be made clear in advance to audiences, Hugh Sykes makes no effort to clarify Seidemann’s political agenda and links to politicised campaigning NGOs to listeners before they go on to hear that contributor’s cliché-ridden statements.

Seidemann: “I consider the greatest threat to the Jewish people in this generation to be perpetual occupation and Israelis are in a state of clinical denial.”

Sykes: “Why is occupation a threat to Israel?”

Seidemann: “We are sipping cappuccino on the edge of a volcano. Go to my friends in Tel Aviv and ask them about occupation. They’ll say ‘occupation – what occupation?’ We live in a bubble and bubbles burst. Israel has no future if we continue to occupy. It may take 50 years, it may take a hundred years.”

Sykes: “What’s the mechanism that brings Israel to an end if you don’t disengage from occupation?”

Seidemann: “Decay, isolation, ahm…”

Sykes: “That’s all psychological.”

Seidemann: “No, no it’s not.”

Sykes: “The rest of the world doesn’t care anymore. Sympathy for the Palestinians was pretty much lost when they mounted the second Intifada and started blowing up children with suicide bombers on buses here in Jerusalem. And the rest of the Arab world doesn’t care about the Palestinians, do they? So Israel is secure, isn’t it?”

Seidemann: “Both Israelis and Palestinians are deeply traumatised people and we’re living something on an emotional overdraft. I am not telling you what will happen tomorrow morning. Look out the window, OK? In that city there are 850,000 people. 37% of them are Palestinians. This is a bi-national city and in this bi-national city one national collective has all the power and the other is politically disempowered.”

Of course even those Arab residents of Jerusalem who chose not to exercise their right to apply for Israeli citizenship (and hence the right to vote in legislative elections) are entitled to both run and vote in municipal elections in the city. Hugh Sykes however does not bother to clarify those facts relating to people who have just been inaccurately described as “politically disempowered” before continuing:

Sykes: “And more than half a million settlers now live in the West Bank. If there’s ever going to be any progress towards agreeing two nations here, a plan that’s often been discussed is land swaps, allowing more than 400,000 Jewish settlers to remain in what are now substantial high-density suburbs of Jerusalem. But this would leave 156,000 settlers in settlements which would have to be evacuated, as all the settlements in Gaza were 12 years ago but that was just 8,000 people.”

Seidemann: “It can be done. If Israel has the will and the capability to relocate 156,000 settlers, the two-state solution is alive. If we don’t – it’s dead. Israel needs and deserves recognition in order to assume our rightful place among the family of nations. And that will happen when a Palestinian embassy opens down the street here in West Jerusalem and an Israeli embassy opens in East Jerusalem. That provides as much security as another brigade of tanks.”

Obviously any serious examination of this topic would at this point go on to address the issue of what happened after those 8,000 Israelis were uprooted from their homes and livelihoods in the Gaza Strip (along with residents of four communities in northern Shomron which Sykes and his guest appear to have forgotten) twelve years ago. Such a discussion would have to address the fact that the move did not advance peace and in fact the number of terrorist missile attacks on Israeli civilians increased. It would also have to address the fact that international bodies and nations which lauded the Gaza disengagement, promising understanding should Israel subsequently have to act against terrorism in Gaza, quickly swapped that pledge with condemnation.

Sykes, however, chooses to ignore those inconvenient facts, opting instead to reinforce his messaging.

Sykes: “Daniel Seidemann. And the recent retired director of the Mossad – Israel’s equivalent of MI6 and the CIA – Tamir Pardo, said last month that the occupation and conflict with the Palestinians was – as he put it – Israel’s one existential threat; a ticking time-bomb. But there are non-negotiable absolutists on both sides here. Palestine is Palestine from the River Jordan to the sea. And this is Jewish land: God gave it to us.”

Remarkably, only the Jewish “absolutists” in Sykes’ portrayal are religiously motivated.

Sykes’ last contributor is Jerusalem Post journalist Amotz Asa-El. During their conversation listeners hear the following:

Sykes: “Does the compromise include having Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and of Israel?”

Asa-El: “I can envisage splitting it, which I’m told is simpler to do than to share.”

Nevertheless, at the end of the item Sykes inaccurately sums up that response as follows:

Sykes: “Amotz Asa-El raising the possibility that Jerusalem could be the shared capital of Israel and of a new state of Palestine.”

Obviously this report is yet another contribution to the campaign of opportunistic politicised messaging already seen on the BBC News website. It too advances a narrative according to which the modern-day conflict is exclusively rooted in the outcome of the inadequately explained Six Day War – in particular the ‘occupation’ and ‘settlements’ – while erasing from audience view the underlying and far older refusal of Arab states and Palestinian leaders to accept and recognise the existence of the Jewish state.

Sykes’ second report of the day will be discussed in a future post.

 

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Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part two

The first part of the opening report in Tim Franks’ currently ongoing series of features on Israel which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on January 30th (from 30:12 here) was discussed in a previous post.newshour-30-1

Following his visit to Givat HaMatos with the founder of the political NGOs Ir Amim and Terrestrial Jerusalem, Daniel Seidemann, Franks went on to present a view of the topic of the proposed relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem which conforms to the framing of that topic seen in all BBC content to date.

That framing fails to inform audiences why there should be objection to the relocation of the embassy to an area of Jerusalem to which the BBC repeatedly tells its audiences the PA does not lay claim. In addition, Franks amplified Seidemann’s view of the issue, which is strikingly similar to that expressed by Palestinian officials.

Franks: “There’s some other building work in Jerusalem which, if it went ahead, would be controversial. Danny Seidemann puts it rather more strongly. He says it would be destabilising, dangerous and a death certificate for America’s role as a mediator. And that would be moving the US embassy here. No other country has their embassy in Jerusalem because under the UN resolution which paved the way for the establishment of a Jewish homeland and an Arab homeland seventy years ago, the status of Jerusalem was left unresolved.”

Franks clearly misled listeners here: UN GA resolution 181 was non-binding and no more than a recommendation – the implementation of which depended upon the agreement of the parties concerned. As is well known, the Arab nations rejected the Partition Plan en masse and even threatened to use force to oppose it. The recommendation hence became a non-starter and its various clauses – including the Jerusalem corpus separatum proposal – irrelevant. Franks’ inaccurate portrayal of that resolution will come as no surprise to those familiar with the BBC’s serial misrepresentation of the topic. He continued:

Franks: “But the Trump administration and the man it wants here as its ambassador have strongly signalled that they want to move the embassy here from Tel Aviv and it might well – if it does move – come to this big purpose-built building I’m standing next to: the US Consulate. For those in the governing Likud party, moving the US embassy here would be a great coup.”

Listeners were not informed that the US Consulate is located on the Israeli side of the 1949 Armistice Agreement lines. Audiences then heard a conversation between Franks and an Israeli MK in which Franks further promoted without question the notion that building houses in Givat HaMatos would prevent a two-state solution.

Franks: “Among those sensing a change in the weather are members of this place: the Knesset – the Israeli parliament. Sharren Haskel is a Likud MK. She’s just back from Washington after being invited to the inauguration and she’s still outraged at the UN Security Council resolution last month condemning Israeli building on occupied territory.”

Haskel: “The international community comes and says it’s working with Israel to better the future of Israel but then they come and literally they stab us in the back, saying wording like that…that Jerusalem is not our capital? That this is the barrier to peace?”

Franks: “I don’t think they said Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.”

Haskel: “Well part of those areas that they are calling – they’re calling it the occupied territories – part of that is Jerusalem. And so the one who is actually the barrier towards peace are these declarations that come time after time, that are –you know – giving hope to the Palestinians that maybe one day the Jews will leave Jerusalem; that Jerusalem will not [no] longer be the capital of Israel. This is the barrier to peace. And for me, when the international community come and punch us in that kind of way, we can punch back. And the punch back can be 2,100 homes that are going to be built in Jerusalem, because it is our capital, and it is to have the flag of America flown on the new embassy in Jerusalem.”

Franks: “And yet the argument that is advanced by those in the Security Council and elsewhere who say that this building is a barrier to peace is that for example these new developments in East Jerusalem, they say that they cut Jerusalem off from the West Bank, from a future Palestinian state. If there were building, for example, in Givat HaMatos, that would mean Jerusalem is encircled and you couldn’t have a Palestinian state. So it’s not about the Jews being kicked out of Jerusalem but it’s about whether there is any hope of there being a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel.”

Haskel: “I’ll show you a map now of Jerusalem. You will see that it’s absolutely impossible to divide Jerusalem into a capital of two different countries. If we want to narrow this gap of hatred and violence, if we really want to create peace and co-existence, it’s very difficult by separating and creating physical borders on the field.”

Franks: “So a two-state solution; it’s fine words but it’s unrealistic, you’re saying.”

Haskel: “I’m saying any kind…you know the world is trying to picture as if there’s only one solution to the problem between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It’s not just one. It’s like this scale; like a grid that goes all the way from two states to two people to one state to two people. And then there’s many more solution on that grid too.”

Franks: “Except – I’m sorry, I’ve got to come back on you because as far as much of the rest of the world is concerned, unless you have a separate Palestinian state, Israel cannot continue to be a Jewish and democratic country.”

Haskel: “Why?”

Franks: “Because you wouldn’t be affording the Palestinians, whom you are currently ruling over, full rights.”

With that statement Franks erases from audience view the fact that for more than two decades the majority of Palestinians in Judea & Samaria have in fact lived under Palestinian Authority rule, with “full rights” to vote in PA elections and that those located in the Gaza Strip have not been under Israeli ‘rule’ for well over a decade.   

Haskel: “Well this is just your idea. It’s your idea how you picture one state if that’s happen. It can be with an Israeli citizenship to everybody. How does that contradict democracy?”

Franks: “But then you wouldn’t be able to ensure that there would be continued Jewish majority rule if it was citizenship for everybody because the demography is against you.”

Haskel: “Well that’s not true. But more than that, you know the reality that we will choose to live in, this is our decision. This is a decision that we will need to live and die by. So what I would say to the international community is just give us a little bit of credit that we know how to run our life. We know how to be the only democracy in the Middle East and we know how to maintain that.”

The item then turned to a conversation between Franks and programme presenter Razia Iqbal.

Iqbal: “Likud member of the Knesset Sharren Haskel. Eh…Tim, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown himself to be a tenacious politician. How strong a position is he in now given that he’s facing some serious corruption allegations?”

Franks: “Well the police have interviewed Mr Netanyahu several times, most recently at the end of last week, about these allegations. Ahm…allegations that he for example took gifts like more than $100,000 worth of cigars and pink champagne, apparently, possibly in return for asking the Americans to fast-track a visa for a businessman friend. There’s also been allegations that the publisher of a newspaper – it’s one of Israel’s big newspapers called Yediot Ahronot – ahm…he was asked to give more favourable coverage in return for new rules and the government reining in a free sheet called Israel HaYom which is very pro-Netanyahu and whose distribution – ‘cos it’s a free sheet – has been killing the newspapers which charge.

The legal system here is very strong and very independent. Other top politicians have gone to jail in the past but Mr Netanyahu is not a quitter and there doesn’t appear to be any great appetite in parliament or in his party or among coalition partners to bring him down. That said, the view is that all this pressure does make him more biddable to the Right and that’s something we’re going to be looking at later in the week. And before that, I should say, we’re heading to the place where the product of political dysfunction is at its most extreme, is most compressed, and that’s Gaza and that’s where we’ll be broadcasting from on Wednesday.”

In this very long report – over twelve and a half minutes – we once again see the BBC pushing a political narrative which frames the PLO’s interpretation of the two-state solution as the sole option. Yet again we see that the BBC steers audiences towards the view that the two-state solution is endangered by Israeli actions, while concealing no less relevant issues such as Palestinian terrorism, Palestinian Authority incitement, Hamas’ refusal to accept the two-state solution, the PA’s refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state and the Hamas-Fatah split.

While those editorial policies certainly advance the corporation’s chosen narrative on the issue of the peace process, they obviously do not contribute to meeting the BBC’s remit of building “global understanding” concerning the range of factors preventing the two-state solution from becoming reality.

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Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part one  

 

 

 

Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part one

Just over two years have gone by since Tim Franks did a special feature on Jerusalem (see ‘related articles’ below) for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ in which he went to visit the Givat HaMatos neighbourhood, where he discussed what was inaccurately represented as a ‘new’ development project with a representative from the political NGO ‘Ir Amim‘.

The January 30th 2017 edition of ‘Newshour’ found the same BBC reporter revisiting the same location with the founder of that same NGO.newshour-30-1

Franks’ very long report – over twelve and a half minutes – was billed by presenter Razia Iqbal as follows at the start of the programme:

“In about half an hour we’ll be live from Jerusalem with Newshour’s Tim Franks discussing settlements, the two-state solution and the impact of President Trump.”

The report itself (from 30:12 here) commenced with Franks explaining its rationale as being based on things “some say”:

Iqbal: “Let’s go now to Newshour’s Tim Franks in Jerusalem.”

Franks: “Razia, I’ve been coming to Jerusalem a fair bit over the last ten years. I used to live here as the BBC’s Middle East correspondent and there’s one refrain I’ve heard ahead of this trip which it feels like I’ve heard pretty much every time I’ve been back: nothing’s changed – it’s all just a bit worse. So is that right? Are we in a slightly dispiriting holding pattern or are we, as some say, at a tipping point? A moment when the reality on the ground, the new administration in Washington, mean that the stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians is going to enter a new, decisive phase? It’s a question we’re going to look at through the week in strikingly different locations across this small patch of land that Israelis and Palestinians share.”

First, the city that means so much to so many. We’re going to begin in the religious, the historical, the emotional heart of it all: in Jerusalem. I say Jerusalem; the Old City is about six or seven kilometres up the road from here. This is Givat HaMatos – an area of scrubland really – on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Just a couple of kilometres behind me to the south is the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. And I’m here with a man called Danny Seidemann – he’s an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem. And Danny; Givat HaMatos matters in what way?”

As was the also case when Franks provided Seidemann with a platform in the programme from just over two years ago, that introduction is inadequate. Once again Franks failed to inform audiences that Seidemann is the founder of the foreign government funded (including the UK) political NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem and that he also founded Ir Amim.  That context – had it been supplied with an explanation of the political agenda of the organisations to which Seidemann is linked – would have better allowed BBC audiences to put his ensuing words – including his interpretation of the two-state solution – into their appropriate context.

Seidemann: “Givat HaMatos is pretty unique. It’s one of two or three schemes that we call a Doomsday settlement. These settlements are in and of themselves capable of making the two-state solution impossible. Why? The heart of the two-state solution is a very simple deal: end of occupation in exchange of a recognized border, legitimacy and security. End of occupation means that in any permanent status agreement, no Palestinians in East Jerusalem would be left under Israeli rule. And what that means is that all of East Jerusalem – the Palestinian built-up areas – will become part of the Palestinian state: a contiguous and viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and with all of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem no longer living under Israeli rule.”

Franks: “Danny, can I just interrupt you. How does that square with the avow by this government, by the mayor of Jerusalem, by countless generations of Israeli politicians, that Jerusalem will never be divided again?”

Seidemann: “I assert that the only place that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel that will never be re-divided is in the fertile imaginations of Right-wing ideologues. Jerusalem is a bi-national city. It is de facto a divided city and it is a hotly contested city. The question that remains is is it possible to take a pen and draw a line on a map that will carve out a viable and contiguous Palestinian city and leave in its wake an equally robust and viable Israeli city? Today that is possible. Once Givat HaMatos will be built it will no longer be possible. This can take place without further warning. As early as tomorrow morning the tenders for the construction of the first 1,500 units can be issued.”

Franks refrained from informing listeners that there is nothing remotely new about the plan to build housing in Givat HaMatos and that the neighbourhood was the site of temporary housing for new immigrants from the former USSR and Ethiopia from 1991 onwards, with initiatives to replace caravans with proper housing having first been proposed over a decade ago. He continued:

Franks: “What’s to stop, in that case, the Israeli government or the mayor of Jerusalem deciding that they do want to build here? There’s a terrible housing shortage in Jerusalem. Prices are through the roof. You’ve got a friendly administration in Washington. Why not build?”

Seidemann: “The popular image that Netanyahu has is that he is impervious to engagement and is not deterred. I disagree with that. There is a…has been…a wall to wall consensus internationally that there will be serious consequences in relations between Israel and the rest of the world should we pursue this and this has clearly deterred Netanyahu from doing so. Having said that, for the first time since 1967 and for the past ten days, we have a situation where there is an administration in Washington that apparently does not oppose settlements and some of the key people in the administration embrace settlements. And that means that the discreet mechanism that has applied the brakes on some of these detrimental developments is now gone. And nobody knows what the dynamics is going to be. The eventuality of construction in Givat HaMatos is greater today than ever it was in the past and its impact will be devastating.”

The BBC has been reporting on the Givat HaMatos project since 2012. Tim Franks should therefore be aware of the fact that since the beginning, half the proposed housing units there have been ear-marked for Arab residents of the adjacent neighborhood of Beit Safafa. However, he chose not to inform listeners of that fact before providing the next cue for his interviewee.

Franks: “What’s to say that – if there were building here in Givat HaMatos – that it would be, as you describe it, Israeli building? I mean the mayor of Jerusalem says ‘look, we build for Arabs, we build for Jews’. There’s not going to be any flags on the building saying ‘Jews only’.”

Seidemann: “As a rule that claim is entirely disingenuous. Israel built 55 thousand homes on lands expropriated from Palestinians and on paper it’s…”

Franks: “In East Jerusalem.”

Seidemann: “In East Jerusalem. On paper it’s available to everybody. The patterns of life are that Israelis and Palestinians live in separate areas and there are very, very few Palestinians residing in these areas and it is false innocence to claim otherwise.”

The interview with Seidemann ends there, with Franks failing to question the basic assertion which the BBC has been dutifully repeating and amplifying since 2012: that development of the Givat HaMatos neighbourhood would mean an end to the two-state solution. Likewise, Franks made no effort to challenge the assumption of ‘Palestinian land’ and failed to provide the all-important historical context of the 19-year Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem or the expulsion of Jews from parts of Jerusalem in 1948.

The inadequate introduction of Seidemann as “an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem” breaches BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality which state that:

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

Clearly audiences should have been informed of Seidemann’s links to NGOs with a very clear political agenda on this topic and the fact that they were not means that this item steered audiences towards viewing particular and partial political claims as fact.

The rest of this audio report will be discussed in part two of this post.  

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BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special edition from Jerusalem – part one

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special edition from Jerusalem – part two