In which BBC Radio 4 insists on describing a fence as a wall

As readers most likely know, 95% of the anti-terrorist fence constructed from 2002 onward in order to prevent terrorists from Palestinian Authority controlled areas reaching towns and cities in Israel is made out of wire mesh and the remaining 5% is constructed from concrete in order to prevent shooting attacks in sensitive locations.  

The BBC’s ‘style guide’ instructs its staff to use the term ‘barrier’ to describe the structure.

“BBC journalists should try to avoid using terminology favoured by one side or another in any dispute. 

The BBC uses the term ‘barrier’, ‘separation barrier’ or ‘West Bank barrier’ as an acceptable generic description to avoid the political connotations of ‘security fence’ (preferred by the Israeli government) or ‘apartheid wall’ (preferred by the Palestinians). 

The United Nations also uses the term ‘barrier’. It’s better to keep to this word unless you have sought the advice of the Middle East bureau.   

Of course, a reporter standing in front of a concrete section of the barrier might choose to say ‘this wall’ or use a more precise description in the light of what he or she is looking at.” 

Nevertheless, on February 27th listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard the anti-terrorist fence repeatedly and predominantly described as a “wall” during a forty-minute edition of ‘Start the Week‘ titled “‘Build That Wall’: Barriers and Crossings” (available here).start-the-week-feb-27

The programme’s synopsis reads:

“On Start the Week Kirsty Wark explores what it means to live either side of a wall, and whether barriers are built to repel or protect. Supporters of the US President urge him to ‘build a great wall’ along the Mexican border but the journalist Ed Vulliamy points out that there is already a wall and border guards, supported and funded by US Presidents for decades. And yet still drugs, guns, money and people continue to move north and south. Israel has been building its own separation barrier since the turn of the century, but Dorit Rabinyan is more interested in psychological barriers that drive Palestinians and Israelis apart. The map-maker Garrett Carr travels Ireland’s border to explore the smugglers, kings, peacemakers and terrorists who’ve criss-crossed this frontier, and asks what it will become when the United Kingdom leaves the EU. The historian Tom Holland looks back at the successes and failures of wall-building from Offa’s Dyke to Hadrian’s Wall and asks whether they work more as statements of power than as insurmountable barriers between people.”

Presenter Kirsty Wark introduced the programme as follows:

Wark: “Hello. Trump, Brexit: the talk is all about building walls and controlling borders. But there’s nothing new in that. Today we’re setting out to explore the real and the imaginary walls and borders that exist – some of them from almost two millennia – and what use they are. Do they keep people out, or in? Do they fulfil some visceral need to mark territory, to set us apart, to keep out the barbarians – whoever they may be? And what does it mean to live either side of the border?”

Israel’s anti-terrorist fence made its first appearance in the discussion at 09:42 with Wark describing a structure which is 95% wire mesh as looking like a “solid thing”.

Wark: “And just talking to you about that, Dorit, because the thing about the security barrier is that it is there, you can see it, separation barrier is there. It is a physical fact. People who look out on it – and although it’s got a lot of crossing points – it looks like a solid thing…”

Dorit Rabinyan then raised a point rarely heard by BBC audiences:

Rabinyan: “Yes, it’s actually a scar in the landscape. It’s really ugly and it’s nasty but we must agree, we must look on reality that the past 15 years that the wall is up and separating Israeli territories to the Palestinian territories, there’s a huge reduction on the number of terror attacks that we knew in the mid-90s and early years of millennium.”

Wark, however, chose to take the conversation in a different direction, ignoring the fact that around a million people cross the fence each month and that special gates provide access to Palestinian farmers:

Wark: “But when it went up, the idea was it was to be temporary.”

Rabinyan: “Yes.”

Wark: “And of course, when is the end of temporariness [sic]? Because although it stops terror attacks – as you would say – it also separates Palestinian farmers from their agricultural land. It separates families who are on this side because it is not a perfect thing, a wall. It’s got displaced people on both sides.”

Rabinyan: “This path that the wall goes through is decided only upon the Israeli government; it’s not agreed on with the Palestinians. That’s what makes it so high and what makes it into a barrier and not a border line. This not agreed, this is disputed by those Palestinians living nearby. But it’s actually based more or less on the ’67 lines.”

Wark: “On the ‘green line’?”

Rabinyan: “Yeah.”

The conversation moved on to extensive and often unrelated discussion of Rabinyan’s novel, towards the end of which (15:50) Wark even went so far as to impugn Rabinyan’s description of the structure as a fence.

Wark: “…but what absolutely separates you is this idea that there has to be this physical wall, this – as you call it – ugly scar, that Hilme [a character in the novel] thinks is for no good reason at all but your view, I think, through your character and also your own view is that in order to be good neighbours we need a wall rather than being bad enemies. And of course that is entirely disputed by the Palestinians.”

Rabinyan: “In Israel we don’t call it a wall; we call it a fence…”

Wark [interrupts]: “Yes, but it is a wall.”

Still later in the conversation, after Rabinyan described borders as being “something that protects you”, Wark opined:

Wark: “Is that possible when the two sides do not agree at all on the reason and the nature of the wall? Because, you know, if it is to protect you, it is not to protect the Palestinians…”

As readers may recall, Rabinyan’s novel has on several occasions been inaccurately described in previous BBC content as being ‘banned’ and Radio 4 had to edit a recording after a complaint from BBC Watch was upheld. The myth of the ‘banned’ book surfaced in this programme too – and was challenged – when Wark noted (from 18:16) that mixed Catholic and Protestant marriages were a “problem” in Northern Ireland and Garrett Carr responded:

Carr: “Yes, although such books…there were similar love stories told by Northern Irish writers but they were certainly never banned in schools; in fact they were encouraged.”

Rabinyan: “Thank you for defending me on this.”

Wark: “But of course Dorit’s book’s not been banned from the point of view of being…”

Carr: “Just not included on the curriculum.”

Wark: “Yes.”

Carr later promoted another myth – that of ‘1967 borders’ – while apparently not being aware of the fact that the 1949 Armistice line and the ‘green line’ are one and the same thing. 

Carr: “And I was struck – you could almost call it a cruelty for the Palestinians and the Israelis – that their nations are not framed in a way that seems like an important…seems like an important absence for people. That you need to know the shape of where you’re from and for both those peoples the edges of the country shimmer completely and there is that sense of not being located on the map and having…yes…your sense of nationhood framed cleanly. And even though Ireland’s border’s contested and probably always will be, it is still a clean line that actually hasn’t changed in a hundred years. […] Whereas Israel Palestine have been denied that. Their frame’s still more about…there’s the ’48 borders, ’67 borders, the green wall….ah the green line…and the wall.”

Discussing the US-Mexico border and the question of “what do people want”, Ed Vulliamy opined (21:25):

Vulliamy: “I mean maybe when you say what do people want, they want to see what the Israelis have built because that’s a real bloody wall and, you know, good enough for Banksy to have to do the wonders he does with it with his, with his…all the marvelous graffiti. I think that’s what people want.”

The fact that around a third of this programme was devoted to Israel’s anti-terrorist fence, together with the numerous additional references to it as a “wall” in spite of clear BBC guidance, leaves little doubt that listeners would have gone away with misleading and inaccurate impressions of a structure which is in fact 95% fence.

Related Articles:

In which BBC Radio 4 links Israel’s anti-terrorist fence to Donald Trump

Variations in BBC portrayal of fences, walls and barriers

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC Radio 4 programme edited following BBC Watch complaint

 

 

 

The BBC and book bans – real and imagined

Readers may recall that in late 2015 and early 2016, various BBC radio programmes misled their audiences by promoting assorted versions of the inaccurate claim that Dorit Rabinyan’s book ‘Gader Haya’ (‘Borderlife’) has been banned in Israel.

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

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’.

A BBC Watch complaint on the topic was eventually upheld.book-ban

Recently a Middle East author really did have a book banned. However, the writer is Palestinian and the government department that ordered the ban is part of the Palestinian Authority. Coincidentally or not, BBC audiences have heard nothing of that story.

“Palestinian Authority Attorney General Ahmad Barak announced on Monday that he was banning the distribution of a new novel on the grounds that it contained “indecent texts and terms that threaten morality and public decency, which could affect the population, in particular minors.”

The book, Crime in Ramallah by Abbad Yahya, reportedly contains explicit sexual content, including masturbation.

The attorney general’s office stated that all copies of the novel would be seized because the book “breaches both international treaties and Palestinian press and publication ordinance.””

In addition, the author apparently faces an arrest warrant.

“In a telephone interview, Yahya told The Associated Press that he was visiting Doha when he learned of the ban and the arrest warrant, published by the official governmental news agency. He said he is now stuck in the Qatari capital, fearing he would be arrested as soon as he returns home.

“I don’t know what to do. If I go back, I will be arrested, and if I stay here, I can’t stay far from my home and family,” he said.”

Oddly, the media organisation that gave so much coverage to a non-existent ‘book ban’ while citing unfounded concerns of “political interference in Israeli culture” does not appear to be interested in reporting this actual Palestinian Authority banning of a novel.

 

 

BBC Radio 4 programme edited following BBC Watch complaint

Back in July the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit upheld a complaint submitted by BBC Watch which had previously been twice rejected by the corporation’s complaints department. The complaint concerned the inaccurate claim that the book ‘Borderlife’ by Dorit Rabinyan had been ‘banned’ by an Israeli minister. 

Borderlife ECU

As was noted here at the time:Front Row 22 2

“During our correspondence with the ECU, we raised the question of how the listeners who were misled by the inaccurate broadcast would be made aware of that fact and suggested that an on-air correction in the same programme would be the most efficient way of ensuring that a correction reached the original audience.

We learned from the ECU that the practical steps to be taken after a complaint has been upheld are left to the discretion of the division of the BBC concerned.

“At this stage, it’s for the management of the Division responsible for the programme (BBC Radio in this case) to notify me of the action they propose to take as a result of the finding, so any decision about broadcasting a correction will be theirs in the first instance (though it’s also open to me to say whether I consider the action adequate).”

As we have previously noted here in connection to the absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website, the whole point of making corrections is to ensure that audiences receive the corrected information.”

We can now report that the programme concerned has been edited and the recording available online no longer includes the inaccurate claim (previously from 27:03) that the book ‘Borderlife’ was ‘banned’ by the Israeli Minister for Culture. At the beginning of the recording an insert advises listeners of the edit and the webpage now includes a footnote with the URL of the ECU decision.

front-row-footnote

The action taken by the ‘Front Row’ team is of course welcome and appropriate: new listeners to the recording will now not be misled by inaccurate information. However, it remains highly unlikely that audience members who heard the original broadcast nearly seven months ago would at this juncture return to that webpage and see that a correction has been made.

Related Articles:

How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom

BBC responds to a complaint about inaccuracy with more inaccuracy

BBC Watch complaint on ‘banned’ book upheld

BBC Watch complaint on ‘banned’ book upheld

As readers may recall, since late last year various BBC radio programmes have misled their audiences by promoting assorted versions of the inaccurate claim that Dorit Rabinyan’s book ‘Gader Haya’ (‘Borderlife’) has been banned in Israel.

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

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’.

With previous efforts to alert BBC World Service programme makers to the inaccuracy having proved fruitless, after the February 22nd broadcast of ‘Front Row’ on Radio 4, BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the following inaccurate claims made in that programme:

“…recently the [Israeli] culture minister banned a novel about a mixed Israeli-Palestinian relationship…ahm…Dorit Rabinyan’s ‘Border Life’.”

As readers may recall, the complaint was twice rejected by the BBC Complaints department, with the second response including the programme production team’s claim that:

“This was a discussion that wasn’t specifically about the Rabinyan case – it was about another author’s work and the discussion strayed into political interference in Israeli culture. As such, Samira used the shorthand “banned” in reference to the book. The book was removed from the school syllabus, but in a discussion as wide ranging as this, the point about political involvement in arts and culture still stands whether the book has been banned from society at large, or removed from the school syllabusThe decision to interfere in the distribution of this book was made by, or under pressure from, politicians. That was the point the interviewee was making and to which the presenter responded.” [emphasis added]

As we noted at the time:

“The book ‘Borderlife’ was not “banned” in Israel and is freely available to all would-be purchasers in book shops. Neither was it “removed from the school syllabus” – because it was never on it. The decision not to include the book in the curriculum was made by a professional pedagogic body – not “by, or under pressure from, politicians”.”

BBC Watch pursued the matter further and the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit upheld our complaint, as is now noted on the BBC website’s ‘corrections and clarifications’ page.

Borderlife correction

The ECU’s reporting of its findings includes a section titled ‘Further action’.

Borderlife ECUGiven the production team’s above response to the second stage complaint, one must obviously question whether in fact it is in a position to “ensure that presenters are appropriately briefed”.Front Row 22 2

During our correspondence with the ECU, we raised the question of how the listeners who were misled by the inaccurate broadcast would be made aware of that fact and suggested that an on-air correction in the same programme would be the most efficient way of ensuring that a correction reached the original audience.

We learned from the ECU that the practical steps to be taken after a complaint has been upheld are left to the discretion of the division of the BBC concerned.

“At this stage, it’s for the management of the Division responsible for the programme (BBC Radio in this case) to notify me of the action they propose to take as a result of the finding, so any decision about broadcasting a correction will be theirs in the first instance (though it’s also open to me to say whether I consider the action adequate).”

As we have previously noted here in connection to the absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website, the whole point of making corrections is to ensure that audiences receive the corrected information.

One cannot but question the efficacy – and commitment to transparency – of a publicly funded complaints system which apparently does not include a mechanism to ensure that audiences are automatically informed in the most efficient manner possible of the fact that they were given misleading information, rather than the outcome being dependent upon decisions made by individual departments. 

 

BBC responds to a complaint about inaccuracy with more inaccuracy

Readers may recall that back in February, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s culture show ‘Front Row’ were inaccurately informed that:Front Row 22 2

“…recently the [Israeli] culture minister banned a novel about a mixed Israeli-Palestinian relationship…ahm…Dorit Rabinyan’s ‘Border Life’.”

That was not the first – or last – time that BBC audiences had been given inaccurate information concerning that book (see related articles below) and so BBC Watch submitted a complaint on the topic.

The initial response received failed to address the points raised.

“Samira asked AB Yehoshua to comment on his own statement that was reported widely in the media when he referred to a ban of the book by Dorit Rabinyan called Gader Haya, (Borderlife in English). He expressed the opinion that politics and culture need to be separated and that attention needed to be paid to human experiences. He further highlights this is why he made the lead character in his new novel ‘The Extra’ a woman who did not have children, but that his work is always related to politics by others. The focus was on the impact of politics on literature.

That said, we appreciate you feel that more detail could have been given to give context to the comments made by AB Yehoshu [sic] in realtion [sic] to the book.” [emphasis added]

BBC Watch therefore submitted a follow-up complaint which received the following no less unsatisfactory reply.

“Thank you for contacting us again regarding Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ on 22nd February.

We’re sorry to hear you feel our previous response didn’t address your concerns over the availability of the book ‘Border Life’.

We forwarded your concerns to the production team who explained the following:

“This was a discussion that wasn’t specifically about the Rabinyan case – it was about another author’s work and the discussion strayed into political interference in Israeli culture. As such, Samira used the shorthand “banned” in reference to the book. The book was removed from the school syllabus, but in a discussion as wide ranging as this, the point about political involvement in arts and culture still stands whether the book has been banned from society at large, or removed from the school syllabus. The decision to interfere in the distribution of this book was made by, or under pressure from, politicians. That was the point the interviewee was making and to which the presenter responded.”” [emphasis added]

To recap the facts:

The book ‘Borderlife’ was not “banned” in Israel and is freely available to all would-be purchasers in book shops. Neither was it “removed from the school syllabus” – because it was never on it. The decision not to include the book in the curriculum was made by a professional pedagogic body – not “by, or under pressure from, politicians”.

This second-stage response clearly shows that neither BBC Complaints nor the production team of the programme concerned is familiar with the facts behind this story and it is therefore little wonder than the fiction the BBC began promoting at the end of December 2015 has taken on a life of its own.

BBC Watch is of course pursing the matter further.

Related Articles:

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist

How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?

BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’

BBC WS yet again promotes inaccurate claim of Israeli book ‘ban’

BBC WS yet again promotes inaccurate claim of Israeli book ‘ban’

Between December 31st 2015 and February 22nd 2016, assorted BBC platforms produced five separate reports or programmes which falsely described a certain book as having been ‘banned’ by the Israeli government.

On March 13th inaccurate information concerning that book – Dorit Rabinyan’s novel ‘Borderlife’ – was once again promoted in an item appearing in the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Cultural Frontline’.Cultural Frontline WS 13 3 full

The item (from 14:33 here and with an abridged version promoted separately on social media) was introduced by presenter Tina Daheley as follows:

“Our next stop this week is Egypt and a new development in the country’s historically difficult relationship with neighbouring Israel. The improving diplomatic situation between the two countries was challenged last week when the Egyptian MP Tawfik Okasha was voted out of parliament by his colleagues for inviting the Israeli ambassador to dinner at his house. Apparently the problem was that his invitation normalised relations with Israel.”

Listeners would have little idea of what that story is about because the BBC did not cover it at the time. The introduction continued:

“And these frosty relations aren’t confined to the political sphere, as the Israeli novelist Ayelet Gundar-Goshen – author of ‘Waking Lions’; a novel which looks at integration within Israeli society – explains.”

Gundar-Goshen’s account concerns a controversy which arose last month when an Arabic language version of a book by an Israeli journalist was discovered at the Cairo International Book Fair. Despite having told listeners that among the books available in Egyptian book stores are ‘Mein Kampf’ and the antisemitic forgery ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, Gundar-Goshen nevertheless claimed that the Egyptian cultural scene “refuses any normalisation with the Israeli state due to the Israeli occupation of Palestine”.Cultural Frontline WS 13 3 clip

Having mocked the Egyptian authorities’ reaction to the discovery of the Israeli journalist’s book at the Cairo Book Fair, she then went on to state:

“Only a month ago I heard the same music from Israeli politicians after the Israeli minister of education decided to ban from school curriculum an Israeli novel about an Israeli-Palestinian love affair. Now it’s our neighbours from the south who is banning Israeli books. The Right-wing government in Israel isn’t so different from the Egyptian politicians: both afraid of the power of the written word.”

The book ‘Borderlife’ was not ‘banned’ from the school curriculum: it was not included in a list of books upon which high school students will be examined for their GCSE equivalent certificate in literature.

The BBC’s repeated misrepresentation of Dorit Rabinyan’s book as having been ‘banned’ is by now far too recurrent to be excused as a mere error. That falsehood has been serially promoted over the last two and a half months, with BBC audiences being repeatedly herded towards the inaccurate and politically motivated narrative of a dark Israeli regime which bans books on ideological grounds.

Related Articles:

BBC World Service conflates fact and fiction in promotion of ‘racist’ Israel

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist

How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?

BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’

How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom

How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom

At the end of December 2015 the BBC World Service radio programme ran an item about what it inaccurately portrayed as a “book ban” in Israel. As was noted here at the time:

“Rabinyan’s book ‘Gader Haya’ was published in Israel six months ago and subsequently won a literary prize. The book has not been “banned” as she also later claims in this interview and no-one – including high school students – is ‘barred’ from reading it. Rabinyan’s freedom of speech and artistic freedom have clearly neither been “harmed” nor “threatened” by the fact that a pedagogic committee of the kind also found in other countries decided that – like countless other books and for assorted reasons with which one can agree or not – hers would not be included in the curriculum.”

Nevertheless, two subsequent BBC World Service programmes about the same topic similarly inaccurately described Dorit Rabinyan’s book as having been banned or barred. [emphasis added]

“Israel bars an Arab-Jewish love story written by Dorit Rabinyan from schools”

“A banned book and a Facebook video highlight the taboo of love between Jews and Arabs in Israel.”

Nearly two months on, that malaise has now spread to BBC Radio 4.

The February 22nd edition of that station’s culture show ‘Front Row‘ included an interview (from 19:51 here) with the Israeli author AB Yehoshua about his book ‘The Extra’ which has been translated into English.Front Row 22 2

During the discussion of the book listeners heard several debatable claims and conjectures but towards its end (from around 27:03) presenter Samira Ahmed steered the conversation in a clearly political direction.

“You said before we started this interview that you didn’t want to get sucked into talking about politics [laughs] but inevitably, partly because of your status now – you know, you’re a very great figure in Israeli culture and in literature in particular – you’ve spoken out against the fact that recently the culture minister banned a novel about a mixed Israeli-Palestinian relationship…ahm…Dorit Rabinyan’s ‘Border Life’. And of course you’d written a book – ‘The Lover’ – which had such a relationship. Are you concerned about the way politics is trying to shape culture in Israel now?” [emphasis added]

As we see, the BBC’s failure to correct the inaccurate claim that Dorit Rabinyan’s book had been ‘banned’ when it first arose has not only resulted in its transformation into “the fact” in the mind of Samira Ahmed but – in true Chinese whispers fashion – the lie has now been embroidered to include Israel’s “culture minister” who actually had nothing to do with the story whatsoever.

This is just one small example of how the BBC’s failure to live up to the standards of accuracy laid down in its constitutional documents leads to false information about Israel becoming conventional wisdom in the minds of BBC journalists and members of the British public alike.

Related Articles:

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist

How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?

BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’

Resources:

‘Front Row’ contact details

BBC Radio 4 contact details

 

BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’

Not content with having misled audiences worldwide on December 31st by propagating the inaccurate notion of a ‘ban’ on Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan’s novel ‘Gader Haya’, the BBC World Service has continued to promote more inaccurate information about that same story.Rabinyan Arts Hour

The January 12th edition of ‘The Arts Hour’ included Lyse Doucet’s interview with Rabinyan already broadcast on ‘Newshour’ on December 31st. As was noted here in connection with that programme:

“…during her subsequent conversation with the book’s author, Doucet makes no attempt to relieve listeners of the inaccurate impression given by Dorit Rabinyan that the decision not to include the book in the curriculum was made by politicians rather than by a pedagogic committee.

Rabinyan: “This is a time of extremers [sic]. I think deciding to reject a book is an act of the regime that has been controlling Israel in the past decade.” […]

“There is a professional artistic committee who had recommended this book to be taught and the ministerial committee had rejected it and then they appealed again […] the ministerial guys rejected it again.”

Neither does she challenge Rabinyan’s later inaccurate and misleading allegations concerning the significance of the committee’s decision. 

“and it’s [purchase of the book by members of the public] a big declaration of support and belief that the freedom of speech – the artistic freedom – shouldn’t be harmed, shouldn’t be even threatened….”RAbinyan arts hour menu

On the menu page for ‘The Arts Hour’ the item is described as follows: [emphasis added]

“Israel bars an Arab-Jewish love story written by Dorit Rabinyan from schools”

The programme’s synopsis states:

“Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan responds as her prize-winning novel about a love affair between an Arab and an Israeli is taken off the school curriculum.”

Both those statements are inaccurate and misleading. Rabinyan’s book was never on the school curriculum and it has not been ‘barred’.

The synopsis to the January 8th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘World Have Your Say’ is equally inaccurate and misleading.WHYS radio main

“A banned book and a Facebook video highlight the taboo of love between Jews and Arabs in Israel.” [emphasis added]

That inaccurate description was repeated – with no challenge from presenter Chloe Tilley – by one of the interviewees in the programme itself.  Listeners were also told by another interviewee (ironically, from Haifa) that: [emphasis added]

“You need to understand that Israel is not going…it’s going into a very dark place. This means that the segregation that they have between Arabs and Jews makes a certain demonification of the Arabs.”

And:

“A whole society is united behind a hatred for Arabs.”

And – again from the previously mentioned interviewee:

“…in 2016 the Ministry of Education in Israel still afraid from Palestinians, still says oh don’t mix it up, don’t hang up [out] with Palestinians, don’t marry, don’t kiss, don’t love Arab men or Arab women.”

As has been the case in all the BBC’s coverage of this story, no effort was made to inform audiences what the literature curriculum in Israeli schools does already include. Writer Liel Leibovitz recently provided some insight into that topic.

“Because I aced my Bagrut in literature, and was taught very well at HaRishonim High School how to closely read text, I was a bit puzzled as to why a decision by professional educators not to include a book in a list of mandatory novels amounted to anything akin to a ban. And because it hasn’t been that long since I graduated high school—or at least that’s what I like to tell myself while shaving away those gray patches in my beard—I remember the list of mandatory novels quite well: It already includes Sami Michael’s A Trumpet in the Wadi, the moving tale of Huda and Alex—she a young Arab woman, he a musically inclined Jew, both beautiful and doomed in Haifa in the 1980s; Amos Oz’s My Michael with its Jewish heroine, Hannah, overcome with erotic fantasies about her friends, the Arab twins Halil and Aziz; and I.B. Singer’s The Slave, in which an indentured Yid falls in love with his master’s shiksa daughter Wanda. For a ministry allegedly run by a bunch of right-wing guardians of racial purity, that’s quite a list.”WHYS FB main

Only one of this programme’s six interviewees was a Jewish Israeli and Tilley twice noted that it was “a real challenge to get an Israeli Jewish perspective”. Although the topic of gay relationships did feature in the conversation, the fact that three of her gay Arab interviewees live in the Tel Aviv area did not prompt Tilley to enquire about the level of tolerance for gay and/or mixed couples in their home towns. The impression listeners to this show received from the personal stories of participants was overwhelmingly that their Muslim Arab families are far more tolerant of mixed relationships that the Jewish families of their partners.

As usual, listeners to the programme were invited to participate via social media and as has all too often been the case in the past, the ‘World Have Your Say’ Facebook page moderators failed to handle offensive comments appropriately.

WHYS FB 1

WHYS FB 2

WHYS FB 3

WHYS FB 4

While this story has been covered very generously by the BBC, it is starkly obvious that the corporation’s interest in it has been fueled primarily by the opportunity it presented to promote existing politically motivated narratives of a ‘dark’ society which ‘bans’ books, ‘silences’ free speech and frowns upon the multi-cultural icon of racially mixed relationships. So keen has the BBC been to promote that narrative that its reporting has failed to meet the basic editorial standards of accuracy which would supposedly have ensured that audiences would not be repeatedly fed a story about a ‘book ban’ which does not exist.

Related Articles:

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist

How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?

Resources:

BBC World Service contact details   

How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?

Following on from the inaccurate portrayal by the BBC World Service on December 31st of the decision by a pedagogic committee not to include a novel in the Israeli high school curriculum as a “book ban”, visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 8th found an article headlined “Israeli-Palestinian love story becomes a bestseller“.Rabinyan book written

As was also the case in Lyse Doucet’s item for the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ (the abridged version of which is included in this report as a link), quotes from author Dorit Rabinyan are used to promote inaccurate impressions of Israeli “democracy”, “freedom of choice” and free speech.

“Ms Rabinyan’s agent said more than 5,000 copies of the book had been sold in a week, a large number in Israel’s small market, and many stores had sold out.

“I think this whole march to bookstores is a demonstration,” Ms Rabinyan told AFP. “It is not only my fans that buy Borderlife, it is the fans of Israeli democracy.

“By buying my novel they reconfirm their trust and belief in Israel’s liberalism, in Israel’s freedom of choice and speech,” she said.”

Apparently though, the writer of this article considered it necessary to include further ‘evidence’ in order to promote the theme of ‘dark’ Israel suppressing culture and artistic freedom.

“However, the apparent block has angered cultural figures and left-wing sections of Israeli society. […]

There has long been friction between the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu and cultural figures.

In June, Education Minister Naftali Bennett removed state funding from a play that he said showed a Palestinian attacker in a sympathetic light.

And in November the country’s most famous living author Amos Oz said he would not attend events at Israeli embassies around the world in protest at government policies.” [emphasis added]

Let’s take a closer look at that penultimate paragraph composed of 23 words.  

The play concerned is called “A Parallel Time” and it was produced by the Arabic language Al Midan Theatre in Haifa. Based on the life story of an Israeli Arab terrorist (not a “Palestinian attacker” as stated by the BBC) from Baka al Garbiya called Walid Daka who was part of a cell that kidnapped, tortured and murdered 19 year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984, the production prompted understandable objection from Moshe Tamam’s family.

As a result, Haifa municipality suspended its publicly sourced funding provided to the theatre company until the results of an investigation were presented. At the recommendation of the chairman of the Israel Arts and Culture Council, state funding from the Ministry of Culture and Sport was also frozen pending investigation. That decision prompted a protest by some of those “cultural figures and left-wing sections of Israeli society” mentioned in this article which, as the Jerusalem Post noted, included an incident which one might have thought would be of interest to those claiming to be concerned about freedom of speech in Israel.

“Two things happened at Sunday night’s gathering in Jaffa of several hundred performing arts celebs who protested against Culture Minister Miri Regev’s decision to withhold government funding from a theatrical production based on the writings of terrorist Walid Dakka. It should be recalled that Dakka abducted, tortured and then murdered 19-year-old soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984. […]

Tamam’s niece Ortal attended the anti-Regev rally and sought to appeal to the conscience of the participants. She asked that they not forget the nature of Dakka’s brutal crime. As soon as she began speaking, Ortal Tamam was loudly heckled and booed by the purported upholders of freedom of expression. Some even shouted: “Shut up! Get off the stage!” In the end, she did. She was not allowed to say her piece.

Nothing underscores the hypocrisy of the assembled luminaries more than their insensitivity toward a bereaved family’s pain. They refused to let another viewpoint be sounded.”

So what has the minister named by the BBC in this article to do with the story? The play was initially included in the Ministry of Education’s ‘culture basket’ of state-funded performances for school pupils. Education Minister Naftali Bennet decided in June that this particular play should no longer be included in that programme.   

In other words, whilst the Minister of Education decided that it was not appropriate to use public money to take schoolchildren to see a play about a convicted terrorist, it was not – as claimed by the BBC – he who “removed state funding” from the play or the theatre company but the Minister of Culture and Sport.  

And what of the BBC’s claim that it was only Bennett who “said” that the play portrays its protagonist in a “sympathetic light”? The play’s writer and director Bashar Murkus would most likely agree with that seeing as he is on record as saying that he “identified with Daka” and that the play “shows the “human angle” of the prisoner”. Together with the inaccurate description of Walid Daka as “Palestinian” and an “attacker”, that means that BBC audiences have been misled four times in this 23 word sentence.

It is very obvious that the purpose of the inclusion of this paragraph in the article was to add weight to the overall theme of a dark, “right-wing government” censoring enlightened “cultural figures”. However, the theatre company has not been censored and – as Israeli journalist Ben Dror Yemini pointed out at the time – democracy is not endangered.

“In an interview with Israel Radio, Prof. Nissim Calderon argued that democratic states don’t intervene in cultural content. Calderon is right. Democratic states also fund critical cultural performances. And that’s how it should be. No one in a democracy, however, requests funding for shows that glorify terrorists, or turns a murderer, from al-Qaeda or the Taliban, into a “political prisoner.””

Had the writer of this article intended it to be a balanced report, he or she would also have had to give readers some idea of the additional agenda of the “cultural figures” which staged the play mentioned. As Yemini notes in his article:

“Over and above being merely a theater, Al-Midan in Haifa is a political institution. The following are some of the establishment’s landmark events in recent years: In October 2007, Al-Midan staged a convention against the enlistment of Arab youth in national service programs, with MK Jamal Zahalka branding the volunteers as “lepers” in an address to the audience. Islamist Raed Salah, a convicted agitator, participated in the conference.

In January 2009, the theater was scheduled to host a gathering in support of the Popular Front organization. The police commissioner issued a closure order.

In June 2010, Al-Midan held an event in support of two individuals arrested for spying for Hezbollah. The two were subsequently convicted.

In February 2012, on the backdrop of atrocities committed by Bashar Assad against his own people, the theater staged a convention in support of the Syrian president.

In March 2015, it hosted a festival in conjunction with a radical group that flies the flag for the so-called right of return. A similar event at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque sparked a demand from former culture minister Limor Livnat to suspend its funding.

In May 2014, Al Midan staged A Parallel Time at a theater in Qalansuwa. Convicted terrorist Samer Issawi, released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner-exchange deal, spoke at the event. Issawi has since been returned to prison after violating the terms of his release and indulging in terrorist activity. The play was staged again in April 2015, in the framework of “Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.” And again a convicted terrorist was in attendance Mounir Mansour, who was released in the Jibril deal.”

And despite all that (and bearing in mind that Israel has had what the BBC would classify as a “right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu” since March 2009):

“…most of its budget comes from the state (more than NIS 1 million from the Culture Ministry, and another NIS 1.25 million or so from the Haifa Municipality).”

Of course the inclusion of that information would not have furthered the fictional and facile impressions that the writer of this report is trying so hard to create. 

 

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist

“Well now to a brighter story” says ‘Newshour’ presenter Lyse Doucet at the end of an item (available here from 34:00) broadcast on that BBC World Service radio programme on December 31st.Rabinyan story WS

That remark of course serves to underscore the ‘darkness’ of the previous story: one which is misleadingly described in the programme’s synopsis as “Israeli author’s school book ban” and was also promoted by the BBC on social media as a separate abridged item under the title “Israel bars Arab-Jewish love story from schools”.

This, however, is not a story about the ‘banning’ or ‘barring’ of a book as those two inaccurate and sensational descriptions suggest, but one which actually relates to the decision of a pedagogic committee at the Ministry of Education not to include the book in the curriculum of the Bagrut (equivalent to GCSE) in literature. Doucet’s introduction to the item suggests that she is well aware of the background to the story.

“It [the book] was recommended for an advanced literature course in Israeli high schools but it’s now been rejected by the Ministry of Education.”

Nevertheless, during her subsequent conversation with the book’s author, Doucet makes no attempt to relieve listeners of the inaccurate impression given by Dorit Rabinyan that the decision not to include the book in the curriculum was made by politicians rather than by a pedagogic committee.

Rabinyan: “This is a time of extremers [sic]. I think deciding to reject a book is an act of the regime that has been controlling Israel in the past decade.” […]

“There is a professional artistic committee who had recommended this book to be taught and the ministerial committee had rejected it and then they appealed again […] the ministerial guys rejected it again.”

Neither does she challenge Rabinyan’s later inaccurate and misleading allegations concerning the significance of the committee’s decision. 

“and it’s [purchase of the book by members of the public] a big declaration of support and belief that the freedom of speech – the artistic freedom – shouldn’t be harmed, shouldn’t be even threatened….”

Rabinyan’s book ‘Gader Haya’ was published in Israel six months ago and subsequently won a literary prize. The book has not been “banned” as she also later claims in this interview and no-one – including high school students – is ‘barred’ from reading it. Rabinyan’s freedom of speech and artistic freedom have clearly neither been “harmed” nor “threatened” by the fact that a pedagogic committee of the kind also found in other countries decided that – like countless other books and for assorted reasons with which one can agree or not – hers would not be included in the curriculum.

The inaccurately worded synopsis and clip title, the obvious lack of fact-checking of the source of this story and Doucet’s failure to adequately clarify the above points do little to convince the observer that the producers of this BBC World Service item intended listeners to go away with anything other than impressions of a ‘dark’ story about ‘Israelis banning books’.