BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the first half of an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Analysis‘ titled ‘The Middle East Conundrum’ provided listeners with a long list of Israeli prime ministers who failed to make peace – while deliberately ignoring the role played by the Palestinian leaders with whom such agreements were supposed to be made.

Having erased post-Oslo Palestinian terrorism and the planning of the second Intifada from audience view entirely and with no reference whatsoever to foreign funding of Hamas terror, presenter Edward Stourton likewise presented three rounds of conflict sparked by Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians as something that simply ‘erupted’.

Stourton: “There have been repeated eruptions of conflict between Israel and Gaza and those who try to mediate in the region have seen trust between the two sides steadily eroded by violence.”

He then introduced his next contributor – Gabrielle Rifkind – as someone who “has been involved in conflict resolution in the Middle East for two decades” but without clarifying (as required by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality) the “particular viewpoint” of the organisation – formerly part of the Oxford Research Group – with which she is associated and without mentioning that her “Palestinian colleagues” included the PLO’s Husam Zomlot

Rifkind: “Well I think post-Oslo there was a moment of hope and even some of my Palestinian colleagues would say things like they threw olive branches to the Israelis. There was a belief that things could change and the two sides could live together. But since then there’ve been so many wars…ahm…three rounds of war in Gaza, we’ve had the Lebanon war.”

The Hizballah-initiated second Lebanon war of course had nothing to do with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and while conjuring up “olive branches”, Rifkind erased the post-Oslo terrorism in which hundreds of Israelis were murdered just as Stourton had previously done.

Stourton also managed to erase the 2008 peace offer made to the Palestinians by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert from his account before going on:

Stourton: “There was a flutter of hope that the peace process could be revived in the aftermath of Barak Obama’s arrival in the White House. In 2009, with an eye to Israel’s ever important American relationship, Benjamin Netanyahu – newly elected as prime minister for a second time – gave a conditional acceptance to the idea of a two-state solution.”

Stourton is of course referring to the Bar Ilan speech – which listeners then heard described thus:

Pfeffer: “It was very much a pragmatic rhetorical compromise made because he was dealing with the Obama administration which at the time was putting a lot of emphasis on trying to solve the Palestinian issue and therefore he had to make that concession. If you read those speeches then – the entire speeches – in the fine print you’ll find that he made so many conditions for the establishment of a Palestinian state as to render it almost impossible to ever exist.”

With no mention of the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to come to the negotiating table throughout most of the 2009-10 freeze on new construction in Judea & Samaria, Stourton’s portrayal continued:

Stourton: “The last real peace-making push came during Bara Obama’s second term when John Kerry was Secretary of State.”

Martin Indyk then told listeners that “neither Netanyahu nor Abu Mazen [Abbas] believed that the other was actually serious about making peace and neither of these leaders was being pressed by their publics to make peace because their publics didn’t believe in it.”

Listeners were not however told the real reasons for the collapse of that particular round of talks – including the announcement of Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ which is relevant to Stourton’s next statement.  

Stourton: “On the Palestinian side the stalemate has been attended by a collapse of confidence in the two-state solution and political chaos. The divisions between the Hamas hard-liners and Mahmoud Abbas’ once dominant Fatah movement have become more intractable than ever.”

Listeners heard Gabrielle Rifkind tell them that “the level of kind of tensions and rivalry there is very problematic” and that Palestinians have “lost faith in their leadership and so they’re no longer believing in the idea of a two-state solution” and “they talk about one state, a binational state”. She did not bother to inform BBC audiences of the relevant fact that Hamas – which garnered the majority of support from the Palestinian public last time elections were held in 2006 – has never pretended to support the two-state solution.

Stourton then introduced Dr Khalil Shikaki “director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah” who told listeners that:

Shikaki: “Most Palestinians are highly pessimistic about the chances of creating a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel. A lot of those who used to support the two-state solution have now shifted to supporting a one-state solution.”

Those interested in a rather less superficial view of Shikaki’s research can find it here.

Stourton: “What do they envisage?”

Shikaki: “Well to be honest we don’t know exactly what they envisage. […] they want a one-state whereby current Israeli Jews and Palestinians would have equal rights. The state itself would have no national or religious identity. [….] some believe in a bi-national state where the two groups would remain, would maintain their national identities…”

Stourton: “So the idea of a state that is both Jewish and democratic, which has been at the heart of the whole project of Israel, that doesn’t really survive either of those scenarios, does it?”

Shikaki: “No absolutely not.”

Stourton then turned to the subject of demography, claiming that “even if you take Gaza out of the equation, the population percentages in what might be described as a greater Israel present a real challenge – not least because the Palestinian population is growing faster.”

Dennis Ross next told listeners that “Israel and the West Bank….60% Jews to 40% Arabs” and went on:

Ross: “…I think that the issue of Israel becoming a bi-national Jewish-Arab state is one that is quite real. Most Israelis are not addressing it now because they’re looking at the region. They see how terrible the wars in the region are where there’s no limits, where civilians are fair game, where hospitals are a natural target and they say why should we take the risk, especially when we don’t see any opportunity. The danger with that is that it maintains this kind of drift towards a new reality which raises basic questions. Will this be one state with two peoples and if so, how are you going to manage that?”

Stourton: “One way of managing a bi-national state would be to relegate Palestinians to second class citizens without full rights which would sit uneasily with Israel’s proud claim to be a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. The alternative would be to accept that the State of Israel will no longer be a Jewish state.”

Listeners heard Yossi Beilin’s comments on that issue, including “in the Holocaust no country in the world was ready to absorb Jews including Palestine because it was under the British mandate. And the most important notion of a sovereign Jewish state is that it will allow Jews to immigrate to it without restrictions”.

Stourton: “On the Israeli side one party in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition government has put forward a radical solution of its own. Naftali Bennett – one of his ministers – has proposed what he calls the Israel stability initiative.”

A recording of Naftali Bennett speaking was heard before Stourton went on:

Stourton: “Under his plan Israel would hand over Gaza to the Egyptians unilaterally, annex most of the West Bank and allow the Palestinian Authority to run what remained with, however, Israel retaining control of security. Mr Bennett is opposed to any kind of Palestinian state.”

Stourton did not bother to clarify to listeners that what he described as “most of the West Bank” is actually Area C and that Bennett’s proposal is to offer “full Israeli citizenship to the 80,000 Palestinians living there”.

Stourton: “Mr Bennett is one of those we wanted to talk to for this programme but his office never responded to our request. On the Palestinian side the Hamas movement also has a radical vision. It has now expressed a willingness to accept the idea of a Palestinian state within those 1967 boundaries but it’s still, in the long term, committed to the liberation of all Palestine which would of course mean the end of Israel.”

After a recording of part of the US president’s announcement concerning the relocation of his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, Stourton continued:

Stourton: “President Trump has taken two steps which reduced the pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu. He moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, thus recognising the city – to which the Palestinians also make a claim – as Israel’s capital. And he pulled out of his predecessor’s nuclear deal with Iran: a step that’s been taken as an endorsement of the Netanyahu view that Palestinians can be relegated to a lower place in the diplomatic running order.”

Listeners were not told who exactly takes that view besides those making the statements they then heard supporting it.

Rifkind: “I think on the Israeli side, certainly among the leadership, it’s quite easy to keep your head in the sand. You can think you’re in quite a strong position. You just need to look at Netanyahu who’s very good friends with Putin and Trump and the relationships have never been better with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States and you can think well maybe we can just manage this conflict.”

Pfeffer: “Even the major Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt seem of have got tired of even paying lip-service to the Palestinian cause. So yeah; he feels that his vision is winning.”

Stourton: “That means the stalemate and the violence associated with it are likely to continue.”

Once again the Iranian part of the story of shifts in the stances of Middle East states was erased from audience view.

With less than three minutes of the programme left, listeners next heard Dennis Ross make the most realistic and relevant comment in the entire discussion.

Ross:  “…I’ll tell you I don’t see – even if we could agree to a two-state outcome – I don’t know how you implement that because right now Hamas is in Gaza and I don’t see anybody moving Hamas out. The Israelis are not going to move them out. Egypt is not going to move them out. The Palestinian Authority is incapable of moving them out. And so even if you could agree to a two-state outcome – which is itself a leap at this point – you couldn’t implement it.”

Stourton: “In Israel that realism has led to a certain resignation and many Israelis now talk about managing the problem.”

Audiences then heard two negative views of that approach:

Beilin: “I hate this idea of managing conflicts”

Pfeffer: “Well you know it’s a dreadful phrase…”

Pfeffer went on to claim that “..there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight; certainly not with the current Israeli and with the current Palestinian leaderships” before Stourton returned to his context-free presentation of the violent rioting and terror attacks along the Gaza border:

Stourton: “So incidents like the shootings in Gaza become just something one has to accept according to that strategy.”

Pfeffer: “Yes, it’s the equivalent of a bad news day really.”

Stourton closed the programme by bringing up the topic of the Trump administration’s “new peace plan”:

Stourton: “Mr Trump is something of a hero in Israel. When America moved its embassy to Jerusalem his picture went up on posters all over the city. Among Palestinians hopes for a new Trump initiative are – to put it mildly – on the low side. According to Dr Shikaki’s data 90% of Palestinians believe no good can come from a Trump administration.”

As Stourton admitted early on, this programme did not even try to give audiences an objective and balanced view of the reasons why the ‘peace process’ has failed to make inroads after so many years and that editorial decision in itself is a topic for discussion. The quaint view that only Israel needs to have “a long-term strategy” because it is “a fully functioning state with military superiority” clearly deliberately ignores the very relevant fact that no such process can succeed without leaders on both sides being committed to its aims.

But even given the programme producers’ bizarre decision to present a one-sided narrative, crucial elements of the story were omitted. The history – which of course includes three full-scale wars initiated by Arab countries attempting – unsuccessfully – to eradicate the Jewish state – is highly relevant to audience understanding of the background to the conflict, as are decades of Palestinian terrorism that peaked when peace seemed to be on the horizon.

The Palestinian Authority’s ongoing incitement to violence, glorification of terrorism and payment of salaries to convicted terrorists is also a crucial part of the picture, as is Iranian funding of Palestinian terrorism. And no less relevant of course are the proposals put forward by Israeli prime minister Olmert and US president Clinton which the Palestinians refused.

While this Radio 4 portrayal presented Palestinians as being in favour of the two-state solution but turning to the one-state option out of disillusion, notably it failed to inform BBC audiences of the crucial context of the Palestinian Authority’s continued rejection of the demand to recognise Israel as the Jewish state – and thus bring an end to any future claims.

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BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part one

 

 

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BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part one

According to the old adage it takes two to tango but an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Analysis’ – which self describes as a “programme examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics” – managed to disregard that maxim throughout the overwhelming majority of its 27 and a half minutes.

Titled “The Middle East Conundrum” and presented by Edward Stourton, the programme – aired on July 2nd and repeated on July 8th – was described in the synopsis as follows:

“Edward Stourton asks if there any chance of a long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tensions have been rising following the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the deadly clashes at the border between Israel and Gaza. The peace process – if it exists at all – seems to be in deep freeze. The idea of a two-state solution does not appear to be getting any closer, while a one-state solution would effectively mark the end of a Jewish state. Does Israel have a long-term strategy?” [emphasis added]

The programme began with a recording of a report by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Bowen: “Palestinians call these protests the Great March of Return. For many of the young people who rushed the borer wire with Israel, it was a one-way journey.”

Stourton: “In mid-May, as Israel marked its 70th anniversary and the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem, some 60 Palestinians were killed during protests along the Gaza border. The story’s dropped out of the headlines but the protests and the dying have continued in a steady attrition. 16 people have been killed since then and the casualty figures over the past two and a half months are now estimated at over 120 dead and more than 14,600 wounded.”

Stourton made absolutely no effort to provide listeners with essential context on the topic of why those ‘protests’ took place and who organised and funded them. He likewise refrained from informing audiences that over 80% of those killed have been shown to have links to various Gaza based terror factions

Stourton: “For this programme we’ve been asking a question that used to make headlines and was once prominent in foreign ministerial in trays: is there a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Here’s a Palestinian perspective.”

Although unnamed, listeners then heard from Sari Nusseibeh.

Nusseibeh: “Each side has become more uncertain of the other. Each side has become less interested, less hopeful of a final or permanent solution with the other. So we have been left in some kind of limbo.”

Stourton: “Here’s the view of a veteran negotiator.”

Also unnamed, that negotiator is Martin Indyk.

Indyk: “Yeah, I think that it is a depressing situation and it didn’t have to be this way. And I do feel a sense of responsibility. Having been involved in the effort over 35 years the sense of failure weighs heavily and especially because in the process of trying to resolve it, a lot of people have died on both sides.”

With no Israeli view presented, Stourton then went on to mislead listeners by referring to “Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War”. Those “frontiers” were of course armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders.

Stourton: “A two-state solution to the conflict with a border drawn roughly along the lines of Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War in 1967 is still the starting point for most Middle East diplomacy and polls suggest it’s still the most widely supported solution among Israelis and Palestinians. But it now seems so remote that people on both sides have begun to talk as if it’s a goal that will never be reached.”

Stourton then went on to reveal why Radio 4 was broadcasting an overtly one-sided programme on what – given the state of the region as a whole – it ridiculously insists on describing as “the Middle East conundrum” and “Middle East diplomacy”.

Stourton: “And because Israel is – unlike the Palestinian Authority – a fully functioning state with military superiority, we’ll be focusing on whether its government has a long-term vision of what the future might look like.”

He continued:

Stourton: “I should say at the outset that we’ve had great difficulty in persuading those members of the coalition now in power who have a reputation for bold thinking on this subject to talk to us.”

The programme’s framing – which can be boiled down to ‘how a succession of Israeli prime ministers rejected the two-state solution and so failed to make peace’ – then came into view:   

Stourton: “One way to approach the subject is through the life and career of the current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and our story begins before Israel even existed, in the debates of early Zionists and the split between pragmatists like Israel’s founder David Ben Gurion and the so-called revisionist movement which counted Mr Netanyahu’s father among its supporters.”

Another unidentified voice – belonging to journalist Anshel Pfeffer – was then heard.

Pfeffer: “Well Professor Ben Zion Netanyahu believed in that very forceful, almost militaristic, way of bringing the Zionist programme to fruition; that the Jews shouldn’t compromise on any of their rights to the land of Israel, that there should be no weakness in any way shown towards the Arabs or towards international powers. Much less pragmatic approach than was being shown by the…by Ben Gurion’s Workers Party.”

Stourton: “Is it fair to say those ideas had a very profound impact on his son?”

Pfeffer: “No doubt about it.”

Stourton: “Anshel Pfeffer who’s just published a biography called ‘Bibi – The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu’. Mr Netanyahu first really claimed international attention at the event which raised the curtain on what became known as the peace process: the Madrid Conference in 1991. He was the prime minister’s spokesman and a real master of the sound-bite.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording:

Netanyahu: “We now have Israel that is ringed with a circle of talks. And we hope that it will replace the circle of guns that surrounds us: that this will bring peace.”

Stourton: “His boss, the prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, had – like Netanyahu senior – been a hard-liner in the days before Israel’s founding and the Americans, who sponsored the conference, had a tense time persuading him to come. Dennis Ross was a member of the American team and he doesn’t think Mr Shamir had accepted the idea of a two-state solution.”

Ross: “I think in Shamir’s case it was not so much he thought it was leading to a two-state solution. It’s just said it was leading to the unknown.”

Stourton: “Do you think he had a vision of where he wanted to end up?”

Ross: “He said that a couple of times to us that you know this is a process that’s beginning now and the issues – the real final status issues – will be dealt with after he was no longer there. I think his real approach was not driven by an objective of what he wanted as much as it was driven by a process that he hoped could be stretched out to the point where any risk that Israel might be running could be managed.”

Stourton: “The Madrid Conference did not in itself produce much movement but it was followed by the so-called Oslo Accords, negotiated in great secrecy in the Norwegian capital, which created a Palestinian Authority and gave the Palestinians a measure of autonomy. The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a new Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, shook hands on the deal on the White House lawn in 1993.”

After a recording of the former US president Bill Clinton speaking at that event, Stourton introduced his next contributor.

Stourton: “But even then many Israeli leaders were reluctant to accept the idea of full statehood for the Palestinians. Yossi Beilin – now a prominent opposition figure in Israeli politics – was a key player in the Oslo negotiations.”

Yossi Beilin in fact retired from political life a decade ago, in 2008.

Beilin: “Only after the agreement with the PLO it became quite apparent that the two-state solution would be the solution but even then, until Rabin’s murder he never spoke about the full two-state solution. He spoke about a Palestinian entity which will be less of a state or something like that.”

Six minutes into the programme, listeners had by now heard three Israeli prime ministers described as opponents of the two-state solution. So would they hear portrayals of the views of Palestinian leaders of the same era on that topic?

Stourton: “In the Oslo Accords the PLO recognised the State of Israel and Israel recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Movement on the Israeli side was matched by movement among moderate Palestinians. Sari Nusseibeh is a leading Palestinian intellectual and was a prominent champion of the two-state solution.”

While there are those who would disagree with Stourton’s portrayal of Nusseibeh, notably Stourton did not ask him for the PLO leader’s views of the two-state solution at the time.

Nusseibeh: “Well it seemed to me at the time on the Israeli side there were enough Israelis who seemed to also be saying they wanted to end the occupation, return to the ’67 borders, be content with the state they have within those borders and they were basically beginning to force a recognition of the Palestinian right of self-determination. And it seemed at the time to me that this would do as a kind of fair solution. It’s not the best solution, but as a fair solution. And on the Palestinian side, especially in the occupied territories, people also seemed to be struggling for primarily for a life of freedom, of independence, of dignity, of self-rule. So on both counts it seemed to me that this would be a good settlement.”

Stourton: “Bibi [sic] Netanyahu however did not change his thinking. In 1993 – the year of that arresting handshake between Messrs Arafat and Rabin on the White House lawn – he published a book called ‘A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World’ in which he argued for firm limits on the amount of autonomy the Palestinians should be given.”

Listeners then heard what is presumably a quote from that book (which was actually published five months before that White House lawn ceremony) which was – for some reason – read in an American accent.

“Under any conception of autonomy Israel should retain the powers and prerogatives of the sovereign including such matters as military defence, foreign affairs and control of the currency and foreign trade while the Arab population could manage many areas of daily life.”

Anshel Pfeffer then told listeners that the book “basically remains Netanyahu’s blueprint” and that in it “Netanyahu presents his version of Jewish history, his version of Jewish nationalism” and that he “pushes away any kind of Palestinian claim” and “denies the fact that there is such a thing as Palestinian nationalism in any historical sense. He treats it as being very much a manufactured notion of the mid-20th century”. Pfeffer went on to claim that the book presents  “Netanyahu’s plan for the future, for what kind of a peace solution can seriously bring peace to the Middle East and ensure Israel’s prosperity and success in the future”.

Stourton: And what does that look like in his book?”

Pfeffer: “Well it doesn’t look like the two-state solution if we have to be very honest. His solution is that Israel does not have to make any kind of concessions towards the Palestinians because Israel is in a much larger battle  for survival, not with the Palestinians but with the wider Arab world and with radical Islam and with Iran.”

By this time listeners were a third of way in to the programme and yet had not heard a single word about the terrorism that followed that White House lawn handshake in 1993 and the fact that the number of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the five years after the Oslo Accords was higher than in the fifteen years before they were signed.

Describing Arafat as “the PLO leader” while failing to clarify that he was by that time also the president of the Palestinian Authority, Stourton then went on to present a debatable picture of the Camp David summit and to portray the second Intifada as something that just “began” rather than the pre-planned terror war that it actually was.

Stourton: “The high point of hopes for a two-state solution came in the summer of 2000 when Bill Clinton brought another Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, and the PLO leader Yasser Arafat together for 2 weeks of talks at Camp David [….]. They came tantalisingly close to a deal but they failed to get there. Two months later the second Intifada – or Palestinian uprising began. It was the beginning of the slide to today’s stalemate. Martin Indyk served two terms as the American ambassador to Israel.”

Indyk: “If we look for the tipping point it really goes back to trying to identify when the population on both sides decided that the other side had evil intent rather than benign intent. The outbreak of the Intifada convinced Israelis that giving up territory or promising to give up territory was only going to lead to more violence – and it was horrendous violence. On the other side I think the Palestinians became convinced that Oslo just brought them more settlements and more occupation. It didn’t actually lead to ending the occupation.”

Of course Indyk’s claim that Oslo “brought…more settlements” is inaccurate – as the BBC has itself reported in the past. Stourton then moved on to another Israeli prime minister.

Stourton: “In the aftermath of the Intifada Israel elected a prime minister with a reputation as the hardest of hard-liners: Ariel Sharon. He surprised everyone by deciding to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.”

Listeners heard an archive report from Orla Guerin which included the following:

Guerin “The night sky over Gaza suggests victory but on this historic night, remember this: there is no peace deal and no Palestinian state and Israel still controls the borders here.”

Stourton: “The logic behind his withdrawal plan – and there was talk of it being extended to the West Bank – was to create separate homes for Palestinians and Israelis not by negotiation but by unilateral Israeli action and on Israel’s terms. But that ran counter to the principle at the heart of all previous peace talks: the idea that Israel would give up land in exchange for peace.”

Indyk “Mahmoud Abbas…begged Sharon to negotiate an agreement for Israel’s withdrawal so that he would have commitments that he could impose – or at least try to impose – on the Palestinians, including on Hamas.”

Listeners were not informed that relevant agreements had already been signed – including the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which laid out exactly the kinds of “commitments” Indyk claimed were lacking.  

Stourton: “Hamas, the radical Palestinian group formally dedicated to the destruction of Israel, won elections not long after the Israeli withdrawal and later secured its power in Gaza by force.”

Indyk: “But Sharon, you know, was insistent on doing a deal with George W Bush rather than with the Palestinian leadership so the withdrawal was without any understanding, any commitment on the Palestinian side, any arrangements. It was effectively pulling out and throwing the keys over the fence.”

Stourton: “So we see the impact of that still today, do we?”

Indyk: “Profoundly, profoundly because Israel withdrew, went through the incredible pain of uprooting the…the settlers there and what it got in return was rockets. Hamas’ rockets. And so that sent a message to Israelis that, you know, giving up territory doesn’t get you peace.”

In other words, BBC audiences heard Hamas terrorism – and conclusions subsequently drawn by the Israeli public – framed as having been caused by Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.  Notably they did not hear any mention of foreign funding of Hamas.

By this time the programme was almost at its half-way point and BBC audiences had first and foremost heard how a succession of Israeli prime ministers failed to make peace. In the second part of this post we shall see whether or not any balance was introduced into the latter half of the discussion.

BBC Radio 4 reframes last month’s Iranian attack on Israel

Last week BBC Radio 4 ran a five-part series of programmes – presented by Edward Stourton and featuring Fawaz Gerges and additional guests – under the title “How Syria Changed the World“.

The fourth episode – titled “Sectarianism” – opened with Stourton telling listeners that:

Stourton: “In early May the Israeli military authorities ordered the opening of bomb shelters on the Golan Heights. Then on the night of May the 9th to 10th the Israelis launched their biggest attack yet on Iranian positions inside Syria.”

Listeners then heard part of what appears to be a news report:

“The Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman told Iran ‘if you bring us rain, you’ll get a flood’. The wave of overnight airstrikes by Israel on Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria has borne his words out.”

In fact, Lieberman’s comment was made after the events of the night of May 9th/10th.

Stourton did not bother to inform Radio 4 listeners that the May 8th order to open shelters on the Golan Heights came as a result of “abnormal movements of Iranian forces in Syria” – detected after a month of threats against Israel from Iran.

Neither did he bother to mention (not for the first time) the rather relevant fact that those “overnight airstrikes by Israel” were preceded by Iran having launched 32 missiles at Israel.

As we see, less than a month after it took place the BBC has reframed the incident in which Iran’s IRGC forces attacked Israel, turning it into a story in which “the Israelis launched their biggest attack yet” – and making 32 Iranian missiles completely disappear from audience view.  

Related Articles:

What do BBC audiences know about the background to tensions in northern Israel?

Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part one

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part two

 

Inaccuracy and omission from ‘parachuted’ BBC Radio 4 presenter in Jerusalem

In recent days we have seen a number of BBC programmes broadcasting ‘special editions’ from Jerusalem. While the benefits to the BBC’s funding public of flying presenters of domestic programmes such as Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ and ‘Sunday‘ out from the UK for a jaunt to Israel may remain a mystery to many, the May 11th edition of Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ provided a prime example of the perils of ‘parachuting’ reporters into an environment with which they are less than adequately familiar.

Presenter Mark Mardell introduced the item (from 27:49 here) with what was by that time an inaccurate claim regarding a “high alert” in northern Israel and a decidedly presumptuous prediction of its continuation. Interestingly though, he had nothing at all to say about the missile attacks by Iran against Israel the previous day.

Mardell: “Northern Israel is still on high alert and will stay so for a few days yet after the full-scale attack on Iranian bases within Syria. It’s obviously a tense time and next week the State of Israel will be 70 years old. My colleague Edward Stourton is in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Evidently – and not only in this programme – the BBC has elected to ignore the fact that Israelis celebrated the 70th anniversary of their country’s independence on April 19th and instead has adopted the staggeringly patronising policy of deciding for itself (in a manner similar to that in which it presumes to decide where Israel’s capital is – and is not) that Israel’s independence day should be marked according to the Gregorian calendar rather than the Hebrew one.

Edward Stourton also began his item by erasing Iranian missile fire at Israel from the picture. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Stourton: “Mark, Israel was of course born in war and – as the exchange of fire into Syria over the past few days has reminded the world – its history has been scarred by conflict ever since. The way events unfolded seven decades ago is a deeply and bitterly contested story but the bare bones of it go something like this: in the autumn of 1947 the newly-formed United Nations voted to partition what was known as Palestine between an Arab and an Israeli state with an internationally managed special enclave around Jerusalem and Bethlehem.”

Stourton made no effort to inform listeners that the Arabs rejected the UN’s Partition Plan recommendation, thus rendering it irrelevant, before going on:

Stourton: “Violence between the two sides escalated into civil war and the British, who had a mandate to run Palestine, lost control.”

Listeners then heard an archive newsreel recording in which the founders of the Jewish state were portrayed as “lawless” and “thugs” – a recording which was also used by the BBC in the same programme last month.

Archive recording: “Against a background which daily gains resemblance to war-scarred Europe, Palestine is now gripped with almost unrestricted racial warfare. With British influence waning and United Nations actions still delayed, the lawless elements of Jew and Arab populations take over from the servants of a policy of law and order. In the back streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Jaffa the thugs of both sides build up the armoured cars for war against each other. In between them – victims of the struggle – stand the great majorities of civil people on both sides.”

Stourton: “Well that was the way Pathé News reported the story and Britain in fact dictated the timetable by announcing its mandate would end on May the 14th 1948. That afternoon, here in Jerusalem, David Ben Gurion – Israel’s first leader – declared independence.”

The declaration of independence was of course made in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem. After listeners had heard an archive recording of Ben Gurion speaking, Stourton went on:

Stourton: “Well the new state came into being at midnight and the following day four Arab states attacked Israeli forces.”

Stourton then introduced his two guests – Sami Adwan from Bethlehem and Israeli ‘new historian’ Tom Segev – who, unsurprisingly, expressed remarkably homogeneous views.

Listeners heard Adwan claim that in 1948 Palestinians were “deprived from their national rights…their rights, their resources and their property, their places”. Awad went on to claim that “they were expelled without any reason, without any cause”.

Stourton – whose sole response to those claims was “well indeed” – refrained from clarifying to listeners that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who left in 1948 were not driven out by the Israelis, but left of their own accord – often because they were urged to do so by their own leaders. He likewise failed to mention that the Palestinians were not the passive actors portrayed by Awad, but also took part in what was intended to be a war of annihilation initiated by the Arab states and then he went on to give a context-free portrayal of the Six Day War.

Stourton: “Well indeed and just staying with you for a moment, this weekend marks Jerusalem Day which remembers the moment in 1967 when Israel took the east of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. Fair to say that that period added another sort of layer of disputed history if you like.”

When Adwan went on to claim that “the British, the Israelis are responsible for our catastrophe”, Stourton made no effort to question him on the topic of Arab and Palestinian responsibility.

Listeners heard highly partisan portrayals of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem from both Stourton and Segev, with the latter describing it as an “unnecessary development” and opining that the Palestinian refugee issue is a “burden…on our [Israel’s] morality and on the justification for the existence of Israel”.

When Adwan later presented a partisan view of the UN Partition Plan, Stourton failed once again to inform listeners that the proposal was rejected by Arab leaders – including representatives of the Palestinians – and hence has no relevance.

Obviously the aim of this unbalanced and partisan report – riddled as it was with important omissions and inaccuracies – was to advance the narrative of “disputed history”. No effort was made to get beyond that falsely ‘balanced’ label and to provide Radio 4 listeners with accurate and impartial information that would enhance their understanding of a complicated story.

Nevertheless, one would expect that if the BBC is going to go to the expense of sending UK based journalists abroad to report on a story off their usual beat, it would at least ensure that they are au fait with the basic historical facts and ensure that they provide them to the corporation’s funding public. 

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BBC R4 ‘Sunday’ adds more confusion to Jerusalem church story

Listeners to the March 4th edition of the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday‘ heard a report (from 01:07 here) billed “The Church of the Holy Sepulchre reopens”. However, not until the very end of that four-minute item did they discover who closed the church in the first place.

Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Stourton: “The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was shut for three days earlier this week because of a row between Christian churches and the Israeli authorities. Jordana Miller is based in Jerusalem and reports for ABC News in the United States. […] And this of course is the church which is said to include the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial so shutting it down is a pretty big deal, isn’t it?”

Miller: “Absolutely. This is one of the most visited churches. I mean 2 million Christians visit Israel each year. The vast majority of them are thought to pass through this church. It is where the tomb of Jesus was just renovated this past year. So always on people’s list as one of the kind of spiritual peaks of their visit to the holy land and closing it was heartbreaking. I was reporting outside the church and people came, some were crying saying that they had, you know, waited years and years to visit Israel and to come into this church and they had to pray actually at its wooden doors instead of going inside.”

Stourton: “And as I understand it one of the sources of dispute between the churches and the authorities is the taxes that the church pays on its properties.”

That dispute is of course about taxes that the church has not paid on its properties for years. Listeners were then led to believe that “Israel” – rather than the Jerusalem municipality, as is actually the case – has demanded payment of those taxes.

Miller: “That’s right. The dispute – there are two – one revolves around Israel’s decision to begin to tax the commercial properties of the church. And now this is done in cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa but for a long time there was an exemption on commercial properties that the church operated in Jerusalem – hotels, restaurants – that may be attached to religious institutions and the city decided to start to tax those institutions. Part of the problem is that there doesn’t seem that there was a lot of communication with the church heads and suddenly priests started getting notices, bills and get visits from, you know, tax authorities from the city. So they decided this was unacceptable.”

Obviously that account does not adequately clarify that – as in the UK – the property tax does not apply to “religious institutions” that are places of worship.

Edward Stourton then gave unqualified amplification to messaging put out by church leaders while inaccurately claiming that the proposed bill is “being debated” when in fact the debate had already been postponed nearly a week before this item was aired.

Stourton: “And at the same time there is this legislation being debated which has an impact on the sales of church land. Can you unpack that for us?”

Miller: “Right. This is such a complicated issue but essentially the Greek Orthodox Church has sold lands – they’re actually leases on lands and they were previously held by the Israeli government for let’s say 75, 85, 99 years.”

In fact the Greek Orthodox Church has sold lands – rather than leases – and the related leases were held by the Jewish National Fund rather than “the Israeli government”.

Miller: “And those leases are about to run out in about 30 years and they sold these leases to a private company. We don’t even know that much about the buyers but the problem is that the lands – there are, you know, thousands of Israeli residents that sit…that own…they think they own their homes because even though they technically didn’t buy the land, they assumed it was going to be held in perpetuity by the church.”

The people concerned do own their properties but pay leasehold fees on the land on which they are built.

Miller: “Now suddenly it’s going to transfer into the hands of private companies and they fear they’re going to get evicted, they’re going to have to re-buy the land. So the Israeli government really is trying to step in and buy these leases from the private companies and the church is saying listen, this infringes on who we can sell our property to and so that was another reason they decided to close the church.”

As has been clarified here previously, the proposed bill would mean that:

“…deals to sell the land would have to be approved by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice committee, that buyers would have to be Israeli citizens or Israeli-owned companies, that lease extensions would be dealt with by a national body, the cost of extensions would not be passed onto residents, and in cases where a national institution was not involved in a church land transaction, the state would use the tools at its disposal to protect the residents against losing their homes.”

Stourton continued:

Stourton: “Well clearly a bit of a tangle there and it’s going to take some sorting out. The church is now open again – does that reflect a better relationship or at least an attempt to sort things out?”

Miller: “Well absolutely. I mean the prime minister actually had to step in because he potentially had on his hands a crisis with the Christian world. I mean this is really the most important Christian holy site – one of them – in the world. To keep it closed would have, you know…he would have had a real crisis on his hands. So essentially he carved out a deal where he set up two adminis…two committees basically that will work on sorting both the tax and the land issues. They’re government ministries that will be set up now so under that arrangement the church agreed to reopen its doors.”

In fact no “government ministries” will “be set up”: a government committee has been established to resolve the issue.

This is the second time that Radio 4’s religious affairs programme ‘Sunday’ has covered this subject in just over three months but neither of the two reports have given listeners a clear, accurate and impartial account of the story.

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The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part one

As documented here earlier this month, the BBC began telling its audiences that the US president had ruined Christmas for Palestinians just hours after his announcement recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was made on December 6th.

At the same time, multiple BBC platforms promoted copious numbers of reports and news bulletins claiming that the US statement would spark violent reactions that were portrayed as being inexorable and irresistible. When reporting on rioting and other acts of violence, including missile fire at civilian communities in Israel, the BBC made sure that audiences were told that ‘reason’ for the violence was Donald Trump’s announcement – rather than the choices made by the people who chose to engage in such acts of violence. 

Two and a half weeks later, we see that the BBC is still perpetuating those themes in its Christmas reporting from Bethlehem.

Listeners to the December 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday‘ heard a report from the Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell (from 14:47 here) that was introduced by presenter Edward Stourton with a dollop of political messaging.

Stourton: “Later this morning the head of the Latin Catholic church in Jerusalem will, in accordance with tradition, set off on a journey to Bethlehem where he’ll celebrate midnight mass tonight. Bur these days the route means he’ll have to go through Israel’s West Bank separation barrier: a reminder that even at Christmas the politics of the place aren’t far away.”

Yolande Knell told listeners that:

Knell: “Santa hat sellers are out in force and all around me there’s a riot of multi-coloured lights. But something is missing: the tourists. Many have cancelled their planned visits here in just the past few weeks because of growing unrest. There have been days of clashes by an Israeli military watchtower built into the high wall at the edge of Bethlehem: part of Israel’s separation barrier. Young Palestinians throw stones and Israeli soldiers fire tear gas. Similar scenes have unfolded at other flashpoints across the West Bank.

While Israel welcomed Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as its capital, saying this reflected Jewish history and the modern reality, Palestinians are furious. They want occupied East Jerusalem to be the capital of their promised future state and say the US has disqualified itself as a mediator for peace talks.

[sound of church bells] Back by the Nativity Church I’ve been talking to local Christians. One woman spoke of her frustration after her son and his family – who live overseas – decided at the last minute not to come home for Christmas, fearing trouble. And a hotelier complained that Bethlehem got all dressed up for Christmas and all of a sudden the streets are empty.”

In a filmed report that appeared on the BBC News website on December 24th under the title “Bethlehem celebrates Christmas amid heightened tensions” Jerusalem bureau correspondent Tom Bateman told audiences:

Bateman: “Well the crowds have turned out in their hundreds for the day but the numbers are much lighter than in previous years. And that’s because tourism has taken a severe dent here because of fears over clashes that have taken place in the last few weeks in the occupied West Bank ever since Donald Trump announced that the US officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

The synopsis to another filmed report – “Bethlehem Christmas: Church of the Nativity hosts pilgrims” – posted in the early hours of December 25th tells BBC audiences that:

“Fewer people than usual were in the West Bank town because of increased tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli army since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

Interestingly, BBC Christmas reporting from Bethlehem has in previous years also included comment on the number of tourists visiting the town. BBC audiences have repeatedly been told sad tales of dwindling crowds that have been attributed to a variety of (inevitably Israel related) factors.

For example, in 2012 BBC audiences heard that:

“We understand around 70,000 people will have visited Bethlehem by the end of the day – those numbers actually down on last year, we think, by around 40,000 or so. So some concerns about the economy and tourism here…” 

“And Christmas is also big business here – or it should be. But this year not everyone is buying. The Palestinian economy is struggling.”

“Actually Bethlehem is not doing well economically. It suffers from a high rate of unemployment, suffers from the occupation.”

In 2015 BBC audiences were told of “dampened” celebrations that were attributed to a wave of Palestinian terrorism that was portrayed by the BBC in euphemistic language – with no mention of the Palestinian Authority’s instructions to limit celebrations.

“Celebrations are taking place in the West Bank town where it is believed that Jesus was born. However this year they are overshadowed by the latest Israeli-Palestinian violence that shows no signs of abating. […] Like many Palestinian Christians, Mary thinks the holiday spirit is dampened this year and that festivities will be relatively low-key.”

And:

“Even as visitor numbers continue to dwindle Christmas upon Christmas, this year the reason is pretty clear: the tensions that have washed over Israel and the occupied territories show no sign of abating.”

However this year it’s not ‘the occupation’, ‘the wall’ or ambiguous ‘tensions’ that have caused allegedly low numbers of visitors to Bethlehem at Christmas: this year the BBC has decided that the blame should be laid at the door of Donald Trump.  

However, one BBC programme went a little off message– as we will see in part two of this post.

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Another BBC report on Iraqi Jews omits the Farhud

The December 3rd edition of the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday’ included an item (from 16:05 here) described as follows in the synopsis:

“The story of what happened to the last Jews of Iraq is the subject of a new documentary “Remember Baghdad”. Edward talks to David Dangoor about his great grandfather who was a former Chief Rabbi of Baghdad.”

However, as was the case in a previous BBC World Service radio item on the same topic, listeners expecting to get an answer to the question of what happened to the ancient Iraqi Jewish community would have been disappointed. Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item:

Stourton: “The story of the last Jews of Baghdad is told in the documentary which is being screened in selected cinemas from tomorrow to mark the 100th anniversary of Britain’s seizing control of the city. It was one of the great world centres of Judaism from the days of Nebuchadnezzar right up to the 1940s and 50s. The film – Remembering [sic] Baghdad – explores that history through the eyes of some of the Jews who left. David Dangoor was one such and he told me how he remembers the city.”

Listeners heard Mr Dangoor’s portrayal of a “good life” with a “rich cultural tapestry” before Stourton went on to ask about “relations with the city’s Arabs” and to what extent Jews were “integrated”. Mr Dangoor told of joint business ventures between Jews and Arabs before saying that:

“During the troubles, many Jewish people were given refuge and protection by their Muslim friends.”

Listeners did not however hear what those “troubles” actually were.

After Stourton had asked questions about Mr Dangoor’s great-grandfather and his mother – the first ‘Miss Baghdad’ – he went on to inaccurately claim that the idyllic life portrayed so far had ended because of the establishment of the State of Israel.

Stourton: “You, I think, were born in the year that the State of Israel came into being. What began to change then?”

Dangoor: “We need to remember that Zionism, which is Jewish nationalism, grew at the same time as Arab nationalism in the early part of the 20th century. So it became a point of contention in many Arab countries between Jewish people in Arab countries and their Muslim neighbours. There were clashes from time-to-time and that began to become a bigger problem until of course in 1948, as you say, the Jewish state was formed and the enmity grew. Jews were seen as potential spies for what they called the Zionist entity and there was some hostility.”

In the rest of the item listeners heard how Mr Dangoor’s family left Iraq in 1958 after the murder of the royal family, of his nostalgia for Baghdad and how he believes Jews will one day return to Iraq.

Nowhere in this item, however, did listeners hear a proper explanation of the Farhud pogrom that took place seven years before Israel came into being and was the real turning point that triggered the demise of the Jewish community in Iraq.

Once again we see that on the rare occasions when the BBC does produce content relating to the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands, it fails to tell a complete story.

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BBC Radio 4, ‘religious freedom’ and a half-told story

The November 19th edition of the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday‘ included an item described in its synopsis as follows:

“Madeline Davies from The Church Times tells Edward why the Greek Orthodox Church is selling it’s [sic] land in Israel.”

However, as listeners quickly found out, it in fact developed into a story about a draft bill currently awaiting debate in Israel’s Knesset.

Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item (from 14:00 here).

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

Stourton: “In the holy land nothing stirs passions like the land itself. The Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem – Theophilos III – seems to be selling off an awful lot of it. Madeline Davies of the Church Times has been following the story and told me what’s happening.”

Davies: “The Greek Orthodox Patriarchy owns a large amount of land in Israel and it’s really the only source of income that the Patriarch has. They’ve got a lot of costs to cover and they have sold some land in order to cover those costs. There’s really a dispute over some of those sales; whether some of those sales were done with the full permission of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and whether some of them were actually done without the approval of the church and should never have gone through.”

Stourton: “And why is it such a sensitive issue?”

Davies: “It’s really a question about the co-existence in Jerusalem. There’s a desire to ensure that the church is able to control its own land; to make its own decisions about whether it sells it and who to, or whether the government can really intervene in who owns land in the area.”

Stourton then promoted extremely partisan – and inaccurate – framing of the story:

Stourton: “So this to some extent is an issue of religious freedom; it’s about the Patriarch’s ability to act independently.”

Davies: “Yeah. There’s a lot of concern about a draft bill which is before the Israeli parliament which would give the Israeli government the power to confiscate land which the Patriarch has sold to third parties. That’s really one of the big concerns and concern has been expressed by other church leaders in the region about what that would mean for them as well. The bill wouldn’t just apply to the Greek Orthodox Church; it would apply to all churches in the region.”

Stourton: “The other issue for Christians, surely, is the risk that by selling off land the Patriarch diminishes the Christian presence in the holy land.”

Davies: “Yeah. So I think what the Patriarch is arguing is that they own quite a large amount of land and they’ve done this in a very planned and strategic way. They haven’t just flogged land sort of left, right and centre to cover their costs.”

Stourton: “Is everybody happy with that or are there some Christian groups who are…who are still concerned?”

Davies: “So he…ehm…the Patriarch is facing controversy within his own church. There’s particularly some Palestinians concerned land has been sold to Israelis by the church. I think what the Patriarch would argue is that land has also been used to build housing and residences for Palestinian Christians and so it’s not only that, sort of, land has been sold to one particular group.”

Listeners were not told that in fact there is criticism of the Patriarch from Palestinians on additional grounds:

“The protests expose long-standing tensions in the Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land. For years, the Greek Orthodox community in Israel has felt the church prevented its local Arab clergy from reaching senior positions, and the leadership of the church has thus remained firmly in Greek hands. The protesters are demanding that the church make major changes and allow Arab clergy to reach the most senior ranks.

Some of the demonstrators even called for an end to Greek patronage of the local Orthodox Church. But the Greek Orthodox Church has yet to show any signs of meeting these demands or deposing Theophilis.”

Stourton continued:

Stourton: “Some of the criticism is not just about the fact of the sale of land but the way he’s doing it.”

Davies: “In, I mean, in the past this land has been leased to Israelis for extremely low sums. And I think the idea is that to by either giving the lease to Israeli property developers or actually giving them the freehold, will actually generate a lot more income than those leases were and that that can really fund some of the core activities of the Greek Orthodox Church.”

Stourton: “Now he’s been here in this country talking to the Archbishop of Canterbury. How does he get wrapped up in all this?”

Davies: “Basically the Patriarch has gone on a tour to drum up support for his case. There’s a lot of concern about the Israeli government’s bill and he’s come over to the UK to try and get Justin Welby and other church leaders to support him and to issue a statement that really says we support the coexistence that exists within Israel and we support the church’s rights to control what it does with its own land.”

Stourton: “And did he get that?”

Davies: “Yeah, so both the Roman Catholic leader Vincent Nichols and Justin Welby have issued statements saying they want to support the status quo, which is really sort of a catch-all term that means we support the right of the church to control its own lands.”

With no effort made to inform listeners that Madeline Davies’ employer, the Church Times, is an Anglican publication Stourton continued: 

Stourton: “And just returning to the bill in Jerusalem; is that something that the government there supports or is this an independent movement?”

Davies: “This has been brought by a number of parliamentarians but it’s unclear yet whether it will actually go through. I think there are concerns that it’s actually being used within coalition, sort of, politics with the government as sort of perhaps to appease certain groups. So it’s still unclear really whether it will go through.”

Stourton: “So he’s really in a very tight position isn’t he? On the one hand he’s facing criticism from – as you say – within his own church and from some other Christians about the whole land process and on the other side he’s under pressure from Israeli politicians.”

Davies: “Yeah. He’s in a really difficult position and I think that’s really why he’s trying to gather solidarity from Christians in the West just to try and say no; this is about more than just a property dispute. This is actually about the church’s rights in the region, their ability to coexist with other groups.”

So what is the story really about and did BBC Radio 4’s presentation of it give listeners an accurate and impartial view?

The story actually began some months ago when it emerged that the Greek Orthodox Church had sold tracts of land in Jerusalem to undisclosed buyers.

“The Greek Orthodox Church — the second biggest owner of land in Israel after the Israel Lands Authority — acquired some 4,500 dunams (1,110 acres) of real estate in the center of Jerusalem during the 19th century, primarily for agriculture. In the 1950s, just after Israel’s independence, it agreed to lease its land to the JNF for 99 years — with an option to extend. […]

Somehow, the church managed to secretly sign contracts — the first in 2011, and another in August 2016 — to sell the land to groups of companies about which very little is known […]

The deal came to light when the Greek Orthodox Church petitioned the Jerusalem District Court last week [July 2017] to have the Jerusalem City Council exempt it from payments relating to the 500 dunams it has sold off.”

The sale creates problems for the owners of properties located on that land. 

“The deal has plunged more than 1,000 homeowners into uncertainty because they sublease the land on which their homes are built from KKL-JNF, which currently holds the primary leases. […]

“There is no doubt that the government of Israel cannot allow a situation in which veteran residents are at the mercy of a group of private investors (whose identity is not completely known), without any regulation of the matter,” A KKL-JNF spokesperson told The Times of Israel. […]

If the leases are not renewed when they run out in the early 2050s, the homeowners who have not sold by then risk being forced to leave, to pay potentially high prices to extend leases or even to rent their own homes. The prices of their homes have already been negatively affected.”

The bill inaccurately described by Davies in this item as being “the Israeli government’s bill” is in fact a private members bill proposed by MK Rachel Azaria – formerly the deputy mayor of Jerusalem.

“The main initiative to advance legislation to protect residents is being driven by lawmaker Rachel Azaria (Kulanu). Just before the start of the Knesset’s summer recess, she signed 40 MKs onto a private members’ bill to allow the state to confiscate land that has been sold. The confiscation would take effect from January 1, 2018, and the private investors would be compensated.”

Ms Azaria’s bill would mean that:

“…deals to sell the land would have to be approved by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice committee, that buyers would have to be Israeli citizens or Israeli-owned companies, that lease extensions would be dealt with by a national body, the cost of extensions would not be passed onto residents, and in cases where a national institution was not involved in a church land transaction, the state would use the tools at its disposal to protect the residents against losing their homes.”

Remarkably, the residents affected by the Greek Orthodox Church’s land sales in Jerusalem did not even get a mention in this BBC item. Obviously that serious omission is highly relevant because the bill currently awaiting reading in the Knesset which was widely discussed in the item is intended to protect those residents rather than – as claimed in this item – to “confiscate” land or “pressure” the church.

As we see, this report presented an entirely one-sided and distorted account of a story that was repeatedly portrayed as being solely about “the church’s rights in the region” and with absolutely no mention of the other side of the story and the rights of the people affected by the church’s actions. One might also question the timing of this story seeing as it actually broke several months ago but BBC audiences heard nothing about it until various church bodies began a PR campaign

As for Edward Stourton’s claim that “religious freedom” includes real estate deals – that one will surely go down as one of the more ridiculous notions promoted by the BBC.

 

BBC’s Yolande Knell touts the ‘1967 borders’ illusion on Radio 4

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sundayclaims that it gives listeners “a look at the ethical and religious issues of the week”. However, the lead item in its January 15th edition fell outside that mission statement and, as its description in the programme’s synopsis shows, was in fact a transparently political story.r4-sunday-us-embassy-15-1

“Yolande Knell reports on the implications of a proposal by President elect Trump to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item (from 00:61 here) as follows:

“Will Donald Trump follow through with his campaign promise to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? The answer to that question could have huge implications for the Middle East. We’re joined from Jerusalem by our correspondent Yolande Knell. Yolande; it matters because the status of Jerusalem is absolutely crucial to the two-state solution that people, until now, say they want.”

Predictably, Knell’s response had the history of the millennia-old city beginning just fifty years ago, with no mention of the preceding 19-year Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem.

Knell: “That’s right and Jerusalem has proven time and time again to be one of the most explosive issues; one of the most difficult issues to solve in this decades-old conflict, not least because of its holy sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians. And of course Israel captured the east of the city – which includes the Old City – in 1967 in the Middle East war. It went on to annex East Jerusalem, declare all of Jerusalem its united, eternal capital – although that’s never been recognised internationally. And the Palestinians are basically saying that any move for a US embassy – bringing it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – would kill the two-state solution; this long-standing goal of international policy on this conflict. It’s enshrined in UN resolutions: the idea of creating a Palestinian state to live peacefully alongside Israel. It will be based in Gaza, the West Bank and have East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Stourton: “I think I’m right in saying the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been in the Vatican this weekend. He’s been talking about some of this, hasn’t he?”

In her response to that question, Knell introduced the falsehood of “pre-1967 borders” – a concept which not only does not exist, but was specifically and deliberately rejected by the parties to the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

Knell: “That’s right – very deliberate timing. He was actually at the Vatican to inaugurate an embassy for the State of Palestine. This is after the Vatican recognised a State of Palestine on pre-1967 borders and he was there for talks with the Pope. He told reporters while he was there that this…again, this move would destroy the two-state solution and he talked to the Pope about the need for Jerusalem to be an open city for three religions, we’re told. The Vatican’s position is that it seeks an internationally guaranteed status for Jerusalem: a status that would safeguard its sacred character.”

Stourton: “The…Donald Trump is not the first American president to have talked about the possibility of moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Ahm…it hasn’t happened though in the past. How strong is the evidence that he’s really serious about this?”

Knell: “Well, because Donald Trump made this campaign promise and so many previous presidential contenders have – George W Bush and Bill Clinton at least and then they didn’t do it – that means that people really didn’t take it very seriously at first. But then we heard from one of his advisors – from Kellyanne Conway – that this was for him a very big priority. There was also the State Department official who came out saying to the press that it had been asked for logistical advice on a move. And then we know as well that the nominee for ambassador to Israel chosen by Mr Trump, David Friedman – somebody with very hardline views – he wants this very much. He issued a statement when he was nominated saying that he looked forward to moving the US embassy to Israel’s eternal capital Jerusalem: those were his words. So when I’ve been briefed by Palestinian officials – even in just the last few days – one of their fears is this announcement could come in the inauguration speech of Mr Trump.”

According to reports from the time, the words Knell claims to quote were actually these:

“In the statement, Freidman said he was “deeply honored and humbled” that Trump selected him to represent the US in Israel, and that he aimed to “strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.””

Stourton continued:

Stourton: “What about the international background to all this because there’s this…as we have in the news, there’s this conference in Paris today on this question.”

Knell: “Yes and it’s also coming after a UN Security Council resolution was passed last month restating this commitment to the two-state solution and well-informed sources are basically saying that a draft statement from the Paris talks is going to come out with a similar kind of statement. It will affirm also the international community will not recognise changes to the pre-1967 lines for Israel unless they’re agreed with the Palestinians. It will make clear that a negotiated solution is the only way to ensure enduring peace but it’s also going to warn, I think, against unilateral moves. That could be a reference to the idea of Donald Trump moving…eh…moving the embassy because that would basically recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.”

In fact, the reference to “unilateral steps” in the text of the conference’s closing statement specifically relates to the two parties to the conflict rather than to the US or any other outside country.

Stourton: “And, Yolande, finally: do you detect internally any appetite for renewed negotiations between the two sides?”

Once again, BBC audiences heard a sanitised version of the breakdown of negotiations in 2014 that promotes false equivalence in Knell’s response to that question. However, Knell made sure to close with some very clear signposting with regard to which side listeners should view as being responsible for the lack of current negotiations.

Knell: “Ahm…both sides say that they’re ready to have talks but then the talks have been frozen since April 2014. They fell apart and I think that’s why there is now this…a lot of frustration from the international community. You have 70 countries and international bodies like the EU, the UN, the Arab League, other organisations, coming together for these talks. When you talk to analysts they really see these as a last-ditch attempt to try to save the moribund peace process but they don’t expect much to come out of these talks because – as much as the Palestinians are supporting them – the Israelis say that these are futile, they’re rigged, this pushes peace backwards and they’re not even going to go for a meeting with President Hollande in the coming weeks to be debriefed on what happened.”

Fatah Facebook account

Fatah Facebook account

Since mid-December the BBC has produced several items concerning or mentioning the proposed relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem. All those reports – including this one – have amplified the Palestinian messaging on that topic but BBC audiences have yet to hear any opposite viewpoint – as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality demand.

Seeing as we now know that Yolande Knell is “briefed by Palestinian officials – even in just the last few days”, that lack of due impartiality is perhaps more comprehensible.

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Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of the Paris conference

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 fails to clarify the agenda of the BDS campaign and the PSC

The September 18th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday‘ included an item (from 11:54 here) described as follows in the synopsis:sunday-18-9-bod-ujs

“Jewish students fight the movement for sanctions against Israel”.

Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item with a specious portrayal of the purpose of the BDS campaign.

“Most universities begin the new academic year around this time. The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Union of Jewish Students are marking the moment by sending round advice on how to combat the activities of the Boycott, Disinvestment [sic] Sanctions movement – or BDS – which, in the words of its website, urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law. We’re joined by Joel Salmon, the Board of Deputies Parliamentary Officer, and Ben Jamal who next month will take up the post of director of the Palestinian [sic] Solidarity Campaign.” [emphasis added]

The majority of listeners would of course lack the knowledge needed to appreciate just how inaccurate and misleading Stourton’s portrayal is because the BBC consistently refrains from informing its audiences that what the BDS campaign really seeks to achieve is the demise of the Jewish state. Moreover, the corporation has even shrugged off the responsibility to clarify the BDS agenda in its frequent amplification of that campaign.

In addition, listeners to this item were not informed of the “particular viewpoint” of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality demand before they heard the fallacious framing of the BDS campaign from Ben Jamal, who previously headed the PSC’s Richmond and Kingston branch.

“…I think what we’d also all want students to do is to engage in and to be involved in discussion and activism around human rights and issues of social and international justice.”

“And I think boycott – as I understand it – is a non-violent tactic that throughout history has been used by those defending human rights and fighting against oppression.”

“…this is the tactic for example that Gandhi used to oppose Britain’s violation of rights in India. It’s the tactic that Martin Luther King used to oppose segregation and it’s the tactic that Nelson Mandela used to defend the rights of black South Africans. I take Gandhi’s framing of boycott. In a way it’s a form of dialogue. It’s a way of saying to someone ‘I respect your humanity but I will not cooperate or give my political or economic support to what you are doing’.”

The uninformed listener would hence not be capable of putting Jamal’s portrayal of the specific BoD/UJS handout which is the subject of the item into its appropriate context or understanding that the undertone of the Livingstone Formulation that portrayal includes is not apparently by chance.

“One of the concerns I’ve got at the leaflet or pamphlet that’s been produced is it’s part of an attempt I think to reframe a tactic of boycott as something that is inherently divisive, hostile or at worst extremist or even quasi-violent.”

“I think my concern is this is an attempt to frame any advocacy of boycott or any criticism of Israel as inherently hostile.”

Clearly the predictable absence of adequate explanation of the BDS campaign’s true agenda in this item once again undermined the BBC’s public purpose remit of enhancing audience awareness and understanding of the issue in general and certainly did nothing to contribute to the general public’s comprehension of the very serious problem of antisemitism on the campuses of UK universities.