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.

Related Articles:

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

BBC again amplifies church leaders’ PR hyperbole

BBC News amplifies church leaders’ Nazi analogy yet again




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.”


“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.

Related Articles:

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

Palestinian falsehoods on Christianity amplified by BBC’s Plett Usher

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part one

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part two



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.

Related Articles:

BBC WS claims Israeli ‘pressure’ and ‘incentives’ led Jews to flee Iraq




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.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC omits key context in account of potential US embassy move

The consequence of BBC failure to make online corrections

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.

Obscure slot for rare BBC report on Palestinian social issues

As we have often noted on these pages, the framing adopted by the BBC in its reporting on Israel and the Palestinians barely allows for the inclusion of stories which fall outside the subject matter of ‘the conflict’ and the corporation’s journalists overwhelmingly stay away from topics such as Palestinian social issues and internal affairs. Neither does that editorial policy leave any room for nuanced views of relations between Israelis and Palestinians. Hence, when such stories do slip through the net they are all the more remarkable – especially if the BBC’s UK audiences are hearing them for the first time.R4 Sunday 5 6

On June 5th the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ included an item described thus in its synopsis:

“In his first UK media interview, Ed Stourton talks to John Calvin, grandson of the co-founder of Hamas, whose conversion to Christianity meant he had to flee the Middle East.”

Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the interview (from 19:30 here) as follows:

“A couple of months ago a young man going under the assumed name of John Calvin was told he could remain in the United States rather than being sent back to the West Bank where he grew up. His journey to New York, where he now lives, was all the more remarkable because he was born into a family committed to the radical Palestinian group Hamas. Indeed, his grandfather was one of the organisation’s founders. John Calvin converted to Christianity – his name will give you an idea which flavour – and he’s since come out as gay. In his first British broadcast interview he told me about growing up in a Hamas family.”

The interview is not particularly long but it does provide listeners with very rare glimpses into issues such as the status of women, the indoctrination of children and the treatment of apostates and homosexuals in certain sectors of Palestinian society. The audience also heard an account which is starkly different to the usual BBC caricature of Palestinians and Israelis.

Calvin: “…in early 2006 I’ve had a fight with my family and ran from home and went to Israel where I was detained for crossing the Israeli West Bank border without proper documentations. In the minors’ prison I had a cellmate who is a Palestinian young guy about two years older than me at the time. And I ended up being sexually assaulted heavily and repeatedly until I gathered my courage and ended up reporting that to the prison administration. There was an overwhelming amount of support both emotionally and physically and attempts to secure me – to make sure that that doesn’t come out. Being raped is still the victim’s fault in the West Bank. And that just countered everything I was told: stories about how Jewish people’s deepest desire is to hurt us, is to make sure that we don’t overcome anything. That was a breaking point.”

Stourton: “So you…you’d been told all your life that the Israelis were evil people and when you went to them with a problem in jail, you found that actually wasn’t true.”

Calvin: “No – they…as a matter of fact they showed me more compassion than what my own mother did.”

Unfortunately, this interview was broadcast at around half past seven on a Sunday morning on Radio 4: a slot which obviously does not ensure optimal outreach to BBC audiences serially deprived of such information.


BBC ‘explains’ its claim that Western Wall is Judaism’s holiest site

Back in February we noted that an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ had promoted inaccurate information concerning the Western Wall.Sunday 7 2 R4

“Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item by telling listeners that:

“The Israeli government’s decision to approve a new area by Jerusalem’s Western Wall where men and women can pray together will mean some big physical changes at Judaism’s holiest site.”

The Western Wall is of course not “Judaism’s holiest site” – Temple Mount holds that title – and it is difficult to understand why that inaccuracy is repeatedly found in BBC content, especially in a programme which purports to focus on “religious issues”.

Later on, while discussing the story with journalist Judy Maltz, Stourton materially misled listeners by inaccurately claiming that the Waqf has authority over the Western Wall.

“There is also of course opposition from outside – isn’t there – from the Palestinians and from the Muslim authorities responsible for the area.” [emphasis added]

As the Times of Israel explains:

“While the Jordanian-run Waqf governs the top of the Temple Mount […] Israel maintains control over access to the site as well as areas below the Mount, as part of a status quo agreement in place since 1967. Israel does not allow Jews to pray atop the mount.””

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on those two topics which, as readers may recall, received an inadequate response from the BBC Complaints department.

“We’ve reviewed the programme for you and the Western Wall was referenced within a discussion about prayer. The description of the Western Wall as ‘Judaism’s holiest site’ was within this context- that it is the holiest place where Jews can pray.

Our presenter Edward Stourton also referred to “the Muslim authorities responsible for the area” which, I’m sure you can appreciate, is different from saying that Waqf have jurisdiction over the Western Wall.””

BBC Watch then pursued the complaint further and recently received the following reply:

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us and apologies for the delay in responding.

We contacted the series producer Amanda Hancox, who has forwarded the following:

“I’m sorry you weren’t happy with the response to your complaint about ‘Sunday’. You are right to say that the Temple Mount is regarded as Judaism’s holiest site. However, given the Western Wall is the last remnant of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount today many people do consider it to be the most sacred spot in Judaism because it is the last tangible remains of the Temple complex. I’m aware of the sensitivities about this so in future I will ask the presenter to say “one of….” rather than “the…”.” [emphasis added]

Precisely who those “many people” are and what is their level of expertise on the topic is not disclosed. The reply goes on:

“As regards the query about the presenter’s use of the phrase “Muslim authorities”, listening back to the interview the presenter said: “There is opposition from outside isn’t there, from the Palestinians and from the Muslim authorities responsible for the area.” In the context of the interview “the area” he was referring to was the expanded prayer plaza which Muslims believe is an inseparable part of al-Aksa Mosque, and the yard adjacent to the Western Wall which is Muslim- owned property. It was not his intention to refer to the Western Wall as being under Muslim control, which of course it is not. As such I’m sorry if it came across like that as it was not his intention.”” [emphasis added]

The discussion was actually about the establishment of a new mixed gender prayer area at the Western Wall and did not concern Temple Mount but it is nevertheless remarkable to see once again that the BBC has adopted the PLO’s directive concerning the description of the whole of Temple Mount as ‘Al Aqsa Mosque’.

The claim that “the yard adjacent to the Western Wall” – i.e. the Western Wall plaza – is “Muslim-owned property” is inaccurate: the area is actually state land as shown on the map on page 88 in this document compiled by Professor Ruth Lapidot.

BBC Watch will be pursuing the complaint further.

In which BBC Radio 4 tries to explain Zionism without the history

The April 10th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ included an item (from 25:21 here) described in the synopsis as follows:R4 Sunday Zionism

“In the on-going anti-Semitism row in the Labour party, one issue being raised is about how the term Zionism is used and whether there is confusion about the term. Jonathan Freedland writes for the Guardian and the Jewish Chronicle – he gives his analysis.”

Freedland begins as follows:

“It’s been used probably in the way that we understand it now since the middle or late 19th century where it referred to the movement of Jewish nationalism – the Jewish yearning for self-determination – that felt itself to be alongside other almost romantic nationalist movements of the same period.”

He then continues with an explanation of the term itself which refrains from informing listeners that – far from being “abstract” – the word Zion is a synonym for Jerusalem which appears over a hundred times in the Hebrew bible.

“The word itself was…it was the obvious one because the biblical liturgical term the Jews will have used in synagogues around the world, even this weekend, was Zion – meaning the abstract Jewish homeland.”

Host Edward Stourton then comes in:

“At the time all sorts of ideas were kicked around – as I recall – of a Jewish homeland in bits of Africa, bits of Latin America. But Zionism came, did it not, to symbolise or to mean quite specifically a Jewish homeland in what we now call Israel.”

Had listeners been accurately informed of the real meaning of the word Zion and of the significance of the topic of the ingathering of the exiles to the place that word describes in Jewish prayer and tradition, they would obviously have been better equipped to understand that point.

Freedland responds:

“That’s right. So I think probably historians would want to call early movements Jewish nationalist movements. If you were a Zionist rather than just any old Jewish nationalist it meant you saw the Jewish homeland as being in Palestine.”

Significantly, neither Freedland nor Stourton make any effort to inform listeners why Jews see their homeland as being in the place Freedland elects to call “Palestine” no fewer than three times during this item but which most Jews would call Eretz Israel – the Land of Israel. Audiences hear absolutely nothing about the Jewish nation’s history in that location, the connection of Jewish traditions and festivals to its land and seasons or the significance of specific sites and landmarks in Jewish religious practices such as the direction of prayer or the mention of Jerusalem at the Pessah Seder and in the Jewish marriage ceremony.

Thus, the portrayal presented by Freedland and Stourton steers listeners towards the inaccurate impression that Zionists just happened to haphazardly prefer that location (which, as noted above, is repeatedly referred to as “Palestine” – crucially without any clarification of what that meant in the 19th century) to the additional options available.

Freedland then goes on to introduce a borrowed device that he has used on several occasions in past articles.

“Now I think probably if you’re using it you’re referring to it to mean one is no more or no less than somebody who supports the existence of a Jewish home in Palestine. Where that home is, what its exact borders are, are arguments within Zionism if you like and the best description I’ve heard is by the Israeli novelist Amos Oz who says that Zionism is a family name. You need a modifier – a first name – in front of it to know what kind of Zionist someone is. Because you could have a moderate, liberal Zionist; you can have a socialist Zionist, religious Zionist. Those people will all have arguments about what shape and size and content this Jewish state in Palestine should be but that there should be a home at all – that makes you a Zionist.”

Stourton later goes on to say:

“But just to confuse things further, you referred earlier to religious Zionists which I take to mean for example settlers who believe that land was given to them by God – and that despite the fact that originally most Zionists were secular.”

That stereotype of course conceals the fact that over a third of the people the BBC terms “settlers” are not religious.

Freedland continues, managing to ignore the immigrants from Yemen during the First Aliyah, religious Zionists such as Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever and Rabbi Jacob Reines and the fact that by the time the Second World War broke out there had been five waves of immigration to Israel spread over 57 years.

“The very first modern political Zionists were if anything anti-religious because the religion had taught until the mid-nineteenth century that the return to Zion was something that was the work of God alone and if anything, it was an act of usurpation for the Jews to take themselves.  The experience of the Second World War – and of course the Holocaust – if you like converts the Jewish world to Zionism because Zionism is seen to have – very glumly – to have won the argument because it’s been saying it’s impossible for Jews to live permanently as a minority around the world; we need a place of our own. And therefore the Jewish world shifts. But Jewish religion doesn’t shift entirely. To this day ultra-orthodox Jewish religious communities often stand against Israel and Zionism but there was this shift and it did even happen among religious Jews who suddenly got their heads around the idea that they could – rather than waiting for God’s will – they could give God’s will a nudge if you like.”

Remarkably, a significant portion of this item is devoted to Freedland’s own preferences concerning the term he has supposedly been brought in to explain to BBC audiences.


“And it’s partly why I tend to almost never use the word now myself because it’s so misunderstood that it’s actually become almost functionally useless as a word. People think it means you support what the Israeli government did yesterday. That’s a complete misunderstanding of the term.”


“And if you want to avoid getting embroiled in the sort of conversation we’ve just had, don’t use the word I suppose.”


“Unless they’re speaking really about this historical, philosophical argument I think it’s not a useful word and it can sometimes have a rather ugly connotation and that’s because Zionism has become in part a kind of bridging code word that enables people to get from attacking or criticizing Israel to hinting at a wider global Jewish force that sometimes is a bit shadowy and sinister and that is the traditional anti-Semitic idea of a global Jewish conspiracy. Ah…and therefore it’s just…it’s a word that carries so much baggage it’s almost collapsing under the strain.”

In his introduction to this item Edward Stourton told listeners that the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews had:

 “…complained that the word Zionist was being treated as if it were some kind of term of abuse by certain circles on the far-Left.”

Stourton then went on to ask “So what does it mean?” and we might therefore reasonably conclude that the aim of the item was to provide listeners with an answer to that question, thereby to enhance their understanding of the above statement from the President of the Board of Deputies and to enable them to be better informed with regard to the various stories concerning the British Labour party and antisemitism such as the one recounted by Stourton at the beginning of his introduction.

Effective explanation of any term hinges upon the provision of an accurate definition and in this case an appreciation of the rich background to the term Zionism is obviously crucial to understanding. The absence of accurate representation of the historic context of the millennia-old bond between Jews and Israel in this item prevented its aim from being met.  

Mainstreaming the Livingstone Formulation on BBC Radio 4

Listeners to the March 20th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ heard an item (from 20:32 here) described in the synopsis as follows:R4 Sunday 20 3

“The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has written to the government expressing his shock and concern about rising reports of anti-Semitism at UK universities. Bob Walker reports.”

Listeners heard from a variety of contributors including York University undergraduate Zachary Confino who noted the recent staging there of the play ‘Seven Jewish Children’ – considered by some to be at best inflammatory and by many to be antisemitic – and that decision was defended by Habib Nasser; a member of the university’s Palestine Solidarity Society which organized the performance.

Additional contributors highlighted the issue of social media before Walker turned to the Oxford University Labour Club story and reactions to that ongoing issue were heard from Labour party members John Mann and Lucy Powell.

However, the most remarkable feature of this item – which supposedly intends to inform listeners about the issue of antisemitism in UK universities – came at 27:45 when Bob Walker introduced his final contributor.

BW: “Pro-Palestinian students say they’re worried that legitimate debate and criticism of Israel is being wrongly interpreted as antisemitism. Sai Englert is a Jewish student who supports the Palestinian solidarity movement.

Englert: “I don’t think it particularly comes from Jewish organisations; it comes from all sorts of pro-Israeli organisations that tried to use this as a defence mechanism. I think that’s very worrying. We need to be able to be very effective and very unified in our struggle against racism, against Islamophobia, against antisemitism and that these attempts to muddle [sic] the waters and conflate all Jews with Israel in order to avoid addressing the political questions by defenders of Israel, I think is very worrying.”

In other words, listeners to BBC Radio 4 were told that “defenders of Israel” deliberately employ false claims of antisemitism in order to shut down debate.

Known as the Livingstone Formulation, the purpose of that claim was described by the person who named it, David Hirsch, as follows:

 “the use of the Livingstone Formulation is intended to make sure that the raising of the issue of anti-Semitism, when related to ‘criticism of Israel,’ remains or becomes a commonsense indicator of ‘Zionist’ bad faith and a faux pas in polite antiracist company.”

Lesley Klaff describes it as:

“…the practice of responding to claims of contemporary antisemitism by alleging that those making the claim are only doing so to prevent Israel from being criticised; in other words, they are ‘playing the antisemitism card.’” 

So who is the person selected by the BBC to inform its audiences that what they hear about antisemitism on UK campuses might actually be a “mechanism” to shut down “criticism of Israel”?

Sai Englert is indeed a PhD candidate at SOAS. He is also an anti-Israel activist who believes that “[t]he colonisation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 are today well documented and generally recognised as facts” and a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign aimed at bringing an end to Jewish self-determination.

In an article published by the ‘Socialist Worker’ in October 2015, Englert described the scene of the October 3rd terror attack in Jerusalem in which Nechemia Lavi and Aharon Benita were murdered as follows:

“In the street where two armed settlers were killed on Saturday, a large crowd of their accomplices were holding a sit-in: guitars, songs, candles and flags, as well as signs in English and Hebrew calling for revenge, for retaliation, for justice. They laugh and chat, for the most part in perfect North American English accents–or terrible Hebrew–about “their neighborhood,” “their land,” “their houses.” […]

Zionism is unleashing its military power once more on the Palestinian population, and the West continues to foot the bill and support the colonial project. Demonstrations, actions and BDS campaigns should pop up across the globe in response to this situation. It won’t free Palestine or stop the current onslaught, but it can continue to increase the pressure on our leaders and their Israeli friends. It can make clear that the world is not only watching, but fighting back, in solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people, against colonialism and racial supremacy.”

Englert has previously described objections to the BDS campaign as ‘smears’ – using language which amply clarifies his position.

Englert tweet

It is hence entirely unsurprising that Englert would make use of the platform provided by BBC Radio 4 to promote the Livingstone Formulation because doing so serves his ideological and political agenda.

The question which must be posed is why the producers of this programme found Englert’s allegations worthy of inclusion, promotion and mainstreaming in an item ostensibly intended to inform audiences about the growing – and serious – problem of antisemitism in UK universities.