The prison story from Israel the BBC chose to report – and one it didn’t

On June 29th the BBC News website published an article titled “Ehud Olmert, Israel’s jailed ex-PM, to be released early” on its Middle East page. That report remained in situ until July 2nd when it was replaced by a follow-up article titled “Ehud Olmert, Israel’s jailed ex-PM, is released early“.

The article tells readers that:

“Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been released from prison on parole after serving two-thirds of a 27-month sentence for fraud.”

And:

“Earlier, the Israeli parole board said Olmert had undergone a “significant rehabilitation process” in prison and his behaviour had been largely “impeccable”.”

It does not clarify to audiences that Israeli law allows the possibility of reduction of a sentence by a third if certain conditions are met and so Olmert’s case is not exceptional. Neither are readers told of the terms of the parole.

If the appearance of two BBC reports on this topic in four days seems odd, it is worth noting that the BBC News website frequently displays a penchant for covering domestic Israeli stories involving public figures and legal or criminal issues.

Israel court extends ex-PM Ehud Olmert’s jail term by a month (10/2/16 to 11/2/16)

Sara Netanyahu: Israeli PM’s wife mistreated staff, court says (10/2/16 to 12/2/16)

Ehud Olmert jail term: Israel ex-PM begins sentence for bribery (15/2/16 to 16/2/16)

Israel’s Moshe Katsav to be freed on parole (18/12/16 to 19/12/16)

Israel’s Netanyahu denies wrongdoing ahead of investigation (30/12/16 to2/1/17)

Israeli police question PM Netanyahu in corruption probe (2/1/17 to 4/1/17)

Israel PM Netanyahu questioned again in corruption probe (5/1/17 to 8/1/17)

Israel bribery inquiry: ‘Audiotape’ adds to pressure on PM Netanyahu (8/1/17 to 9/1/17)

Netanyahus win libel case over car row in convoy story (11/6/17 to 14/6/17)

However, one story that would definitely fit into that category has not been covered at all by BBC News.

On the same day that Ehud Olmert was released, another former politician began serving a two-year prison sentence.

“Former Joint (Arab) List lawmaker Basel Ghattas on Sunday was set to begin his two-year prison sentence for smuggling contraband to Palestinian security prisoners in an Israeli jail.

In April, the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court accepted the plea bargain reached between state prosecutors and Ghattas, who was convicted of exploiting his position to sneak cellphones and notes to convicted Palestinian terrorists.

After accepting the deal, the court handed down a two-year prison term to Ghattas, as well as 18 months probation and a NIS 120,000 ($33,000) fine.

He will be incarcerated at the Gilboa Prison.

Ghattas’s conviction was found to carry moral turpitude, meaning he will be barred from serving in the Knesset for seven years after completing his sentence.”

Despite its usually lively interest in legal cases and criminal investigations involving Israeli politicians and public figures and although this story has been ongoing for over six months, the BBC News website has not found it at all newsworthy.

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MK’s plea bargain resignation not newsworthy for BBC 

BBC WS ‘Newsday’ promotes Olmert trials conspiracy theory

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BBC WS ‘Newsday’ promotes Olmert trials conspiracy theory

Over the years the BBC has made a practice of covering the various court cases against former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and so it came as no surprise to see that the BBC News website published both written and filmed reports on the day that Olmert began his prison sentence.

What did come as a surprise, however, was the fact that in its February 15th coverage of that story (billed as the lead item on its webpage) the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ found it appropriate to provide a stage to unsupported allegations bordering on conspiracy theory.Newsday 15 2

The item (from 19:30 here) begins with the following introduction from one of the programme’s two presenters.

“The former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will today become the country’s first ex-prime minister to go to jail over a number of corruption charges, including dating back to when he was Mayor of Jerusalem. Now Mr Olmert [who] was in office from 2006 to 2009 is due to serve 19 months in jail. It was actually reduced from a six month sentence which he was originally handed down in 2014.”

The original 2014 sentence was six years (as the BBC has itself noted in a backgrounder on the topic) and so that latter statement is obviously a mistake. The introduction continues:

“Err…there have been appeals and sentences back and forth. To update us let’s speak to the Israeli author – formerly a senior journalist with Ha’aretz newspaper – Danny Rubinstein who joins us now. Danny; welcome to the programme. Ehm…it can be a bit hard to follow what he’s been convicted of. There’s been this legal toing and froing pretty much since he’s been leaving office. What has he actually been found guilty of?”

Listeners – the vast majority of whom will of course be unfamiliar with Danny Rubinstein and his political views – then heard the following:

“He was found guilty of taking bribe of twelve – or I’ll say it’s about £12,000 – which is…which is peanuts. Erm…a bribe, after he was found innocent on one of the larger accusations against him but they eventually said about taking this – you know – this amount of money.”

Presenter; “Because some of the accusations, I mean, these involved property deals – enormous amounts of money – and you’re saying it’s actually a matter of $15,000 that has sent him down.”

Rubinstein: “$15,000 – that’s all – which is really peanuts; it’s really nothing. But people see it as a symbol to corruption. If you take it, it doesn’t matter if it’s one penny or thousands or millions. In here it’s the principle – the principle that he’s corrupt. And this is the atmosphere in Israeli…I would say public opinion. “

The dismissal of a bribe taken by a high-ranking public official as “peanuts” and “nothing” does not raise any reaction from the programme’s presenter and neither does the fact that Rubinstein airbrushes Olmert’s additional convictions for fraud, obstruction of justice and breach of trust. Rubinstein then continues:

“”But I want to add here that I think that there’s also a lot of politics involved here. Eh…the campaign against Ehud Olmert started when he start to be…how to say…moderate or he start to talk with the Palestinians. He was ready to [make] Israeli concessions about ten years ago when he was prime minister. He was the first prime minister of Israel that was ready to divide Jerusalem and to give the Palestinians a lot of – you know – the West Bank and so on and I’m sure that it’s not…I’m sure that also politics involved in this case.”

And what is the BBC presenter’s reaction to the unsubstantiated allegation that the “moderate” Olmert was stitched up by people to whom that description presumably does not apply just because he wanted to make “Israeli concessions”? Did the presenter bother to inform listeners around the world that there is no evidence to support those claims? Did he point out that there were various investigations into alleged corruption on the part of Olmert months and even years before Olmert attended the Annapolis conference in November 2007 and subsequently began negotiations with the PLO? No – instead the BBC’s representative elected to add wind to the sails of Rubinstein’s conspiracy theory by saying:

“That’s very interesting: that makes it a sort of a complicated and murky issue as well.”

The rest of the interview with Rubinstein is largely unremarkable but the presenter closes the item with the following bizarre statement which is of course disconnected from reality:

“The way it’s being written in the Israeli press as well is ‘Olmert set to enter prison’. Ahm…he’s kind of handing himself in, in that way. We’ll see if it happens.”

So – rather than BBC audiences around the world being given an accurate, impartial and realistic view of this story they were instead fed sensational but entirely unsupported allegations which apparently the BBC World Service finds more attractive and newsworthy than the story of a country capable of holding a corrupt former prime minister to account.

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BBC News misleads on past Israel-PA negotiations

BBC WS ‘Newsday’ flouts corporation’s guidance on use of term Palestine

Abbas’ 2008 peace offer rejection not newsworthy for the BBC

Whilst the BBC’s preoccupation with the lack of diplomatic progress in negotiations to bring about an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict is by no means new, as the few examples below show, the stagnated peace process theme has frequently been used as context by BBC journalists reporting on the current wave of terror attacks against Israelis.  

“Violence does not come out of the blue. It has a context. Once again, the problem is the unresolved conflict between Palestinians and Jews. It is at the heart of all the violence that shakes this city.” (Jeremy Bowen, BBC News website, 15/10/2015)

“The current violence stems from decades of unresolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. At its most basic, it is a fight over land and national rights.[…]

Peace talks aimed at ending the conflict by creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel have repeatedly collapsed over the years and many on both sides have lost faith in the process.” (BBC News website, 22/10/2015)

“On the Palestinian side there is a persistent sense of resentment at continuing Israeli occupation which is intensified not just by the circumstances around the al-Aqsa compound but also by the widespread sense that the whole issue of the two-state solution has been allowed to drift off the international agenda.

It is hard to remember a time when so little diplomatic effort was put into the search for a solution to the long-running issue between Israel and the Palestinians.” (Kevin Connolly, BBC News website, 5/10/2015)

One might therefore have expected to see some BBC reporting on a related story which broke earlier this month – as our colleagues at the CAMERA Snapshots blog have recorded.HaMakor Abbas

“Palestinian Authority (PA) President and Fatah movement head Mahmoud Abbas finally admitted in an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 on Nov. 17, 2015 that he had rejected an Israeli offer of Palestinian statehood and peace in 2008.

As the Times of Israel notes, the 2008 Israeli proposal had been previously reported but had not yet been acknowledged by Abbas (“Abbas admits he rejected 2008 peace offer from Olmert,” Nov. 19 2015).

The PA president admitted that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented him with a map that illustrated prospective borders of a future Palestinian state, with Israel giving up 93 percent of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and portions of eastern Jerusalem, in addition to all of the Gaza Strip. In the video-taped interview Abbas was asked by Channel 10 reporter Raviv Drucker about the Israeli proposal which included a swap for most of the nearly seven percent of the West Bank Israel planned to return.

“In the map that Olmert presented you,” Drucker asked, “Israel would annex 6.3 percent [of the West Bank] and compensate the Palestinians with 5.8 percent [taken from pre-1967 Israel]. What did you propose in return?”

Failing to answer the journalist’s question as to whether the PA made a counteroffer, Abbas stated that he rejected the Israeli offer “out of hand.”.”

Notably, despite its frequent promotion of the theme of a stalled peace process (and related negation of Palestinian agency or responsibility on that issue), the BBC apparently did not think this was a story its audiences needed to know about in order to “enhance” their “awareness and understanding of international issues“.

BBC News misleads on past Israel-PA negotiations

An article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 25th under the headline “Israel ex-PM Ehud Olmert given prison sentence” misleads BBC audiences with regard to past rounds of “the peace process”.Olmert art

The report states:

“Olmert served as prime minister from 2006 to 2009.

He was forced to resign amid a flurry corruption allegations, which ended his political career and disrupted the peace process with the Palestinians.”

So the BBC would have its audiences believe that negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (not, as claimed, with “the Palestinians” as a whole, which of course includes Hamas and other factions that reject negotiation with Israel) during Olmert’s term failed to come to fruition because they were interrupted by Olmert’s resignation.

Ehud Olmert’s term of office ended on March 31st 2009. Following the Annapolis conference in late November 2007, his government conducted negotiations with the Palestinian Authority throughout most of the following year.

In August 2008 – half a year before Olmert’s term of office ended – the Israeli daily Ha’aretz ran a story headlined “PA rejects Olmert’s offer to withdraw from 93% of West Bank“.

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday rejected an Israeli peace proposal, which included withdrawal from 93 percent of the West Bank, because it does not provide for a contiguous Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, Abbas’s spokesman, told the official Palestinian news agency WAFA that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan showed a “lack of seriousness.”

Under the proposal, Israel would return to the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank, plus all of the Gaza Strip, when the Palestinian Authority regains control over the Gaza Strip, which the militant group Hamas seized from forces loyal to Abbas in June 2006.

Olmert presented Abbas with the proposal as part of an agreement in principle on borders, refugees and security arrangements between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

In exchange for West Bank land that Israel would keep, Olmert proposed a 5.5 percent land swap giving the Palestinians a desert territory adjacent to the Gaza Strip.”

In September 2008, Olmert and Abbas met again.

“…Olmert presented the details of his offer for a peace deal between the nations, an unprecedented Israeli offer to be tendered to a Palestinian leader. 

Olmert essentially agreed to forgo sovereignty of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site, and proposed that in the framework of a peace agreement, the area containing the religious sites in Jerusalem would be managed by a special committee consisting of representatives from five nations: Saudia Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, the United States and Israel. […]

Olmert and Abbas asked Erekat and Turgeman to meet the next day with map experts in order to reach a final version of the border between Palestine and Israel. 

But the next day, the Israeli side claims, Erekat phoned Turgeman and asked to postpone their meeting by 24 hours. A few hours after this call Erekat called back and said that Abbas had to go to Amman. Erekat explained that Abbas would update the Jordanians and the Egyptians about Olmert’s offer in order to receive their support and the parties would meet again the following week. “From that time, I am still waiting for Abbas’s telephone call” Ehud Olmert told Sof Hashavua.”

The details of the unanswered proposal were publicized by Ha’aretz after Olmert left office.

“Olmert’s office said in response to the disclosure of the plan: “On September 16, 2008, [Olmert] presented Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] a map that had been prepared based upon dozens of conversations that the two held in the course of the intensive negotiations after the Annapolis summit. The map that was presented was designed to solve the problem of the borders between Israel and the future Palestinian state. Giving Abu Mazen the map was conditioned upon signing a comprehensive and final agreement with the Palestinians so it would not be used as an ‘opening position’ in future negotiations the Palestinians sought to conduct. Ultimately, when Abu Mazen did not give his consent to a final and complete agreement, the map was not given to him.””

Interestingly, the BBC’s version of history manages to both erase all Palestinian responsibility for the breakdown of that particular round of negotiations and to suggest that at the time that Olmert resigned, there was still a ‘peace process’ to “disrupt”.

BBC’s Knell erases Hamas and Hizballah terror from history

On May 13th the BBC News website’s Middle East page featured an article titled “Israel ex-PM Ehud Olmert jailed for six years for bribery“. The report, which underwent many amendments before reaching its final form (including a correction to the BBC’s renaming of the judge)  was generally accurate until a side-box of ‘analysis’ from Yolande Knell was added to its later versions.side box knell olmert art

There, BBC audiences were told that:

“But in his [Olmert’s] three years in office [as prime minister] he also took Israel into two bloody, armed conflicts – the 2006 war with the militant Lebanese Shia Islamist group Hezbollah, and a three-week offensive on Gaza in 2008-2009 that left some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.”

The 2006 second Lebanon war of course began because what Knell euphemistically and clumsily describes as “the militant Lebanese Shia Islamist group Hezbollah” (with no mention of its terrorist designation by numerous countries or its Iranian sponsor) killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid whilst simultaneously attacking Israeli civilian communities with missiles. That crucial background information is, however, denied to Knell’s readers.

Likewise, Knell’s description of Operation Cast Lead fails to inform BBC audiences that prior to the commencement of the operation on December 27th 2008, Israeli towns and villages in the proximity of the Gaza Strip had been subjected to intense missile fire from terrorist groups based in the Strip.

Missiles from Gaza 2008

Knell’s statement that “some 1,400 Palestinians” were killed during the operation of course conceals the fact that – according to Hamas’ own Interior Minister – around half of the casualties were Hamas terrorist combatants.

However, readers of this so-called analysis from Knell are steered towards a version of events which clearly implies that both those conflicts were initiated by Israel’s prime minister at the time and conceals all mention of the actions of terrorist organisations which sparked the two bouts of hostilities.